Two students sit inside an empty classroom at Madrid's El Espinillo high school during a general students' strike

College hoops grades are making news

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It’s a long weekend, and college sports hounds are focused on baseball tournaments and the upcoming College World Series. Therefore, stories about college hoops are few and far between at the moment. Of the writers who have cast an eye toward college hoops, many have focused on academics, as terms end and grade point averages are calculated. So, what the heck, let’s see what’s on everyone’s mind.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats not only nailed down a national title with a raft of freshmen, but they secured a very respectable team GPA as well. A 3.12 may not sound super-impressive until you consider the context. Historically speaking, some one-and-done players have quite simply given up during the second semester, secure in the knowledge that they were planning to declare for the NBA. John Calipari told the newspaper that his freshmen were “well above 3.0”.

And how about the academic culture at the national runner-up? Gary Bedore of the Lawrence Journal-World reports that KU’s highly-anticipated 6’8″ forward Perry Ellis graduated from Wichita Heights high school with a perfect 4.0 and served as one of four valedictorians for his graduating class. Perry also served as a volunteer in support of child literacy and was a motivational speaker for young people in Wichita.

The news is not so good at San Diego State. The Aztecs are concerned about  rising APR standards, for a very good reason. Steve Fisher is recruiting Norvel Pelle, a 6’11” behemoth who was scheduled to go to St. John’s before academic issues derailed his plans. Per the San Diego Union-Tribune:

The NCAA Clearinghouse never approved him academically and Pelle ultimately de-committed, spending the year bouncing from prep academy to prep academy. At last check he was reportedly taking online classes while continuing to seek academic clearance from the NCAA.

Mid-majors often live or die on their ability to take in academic refugees and tweeners, so this could make things much tougher in Viejas Arena.

Finally, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported on Cuonzo Martin’s continuing attempts to clean up the mess left behind by Bruce Pearl. Progress has been incremental, but it’s going the right direction. According to the paper, team GPA was 2.25 in the spring of 2011, then increased to 2.37 in the fall of that year. The spring 2012 number went up to 2.55. Not quite Kentucky numbers (on the court or off), but a definite improvement.

Alright, let’s stop talking numbers. Play some catch in front of a sizzling grill on your speedboat for me, will ya?

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.