Chaz Williams, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson

Five more under the radar teams

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On Thursday evening, ESPN.com’s Fran Fraschilla put together a list of five teams — plus about ten honorable mentions — that he believes are under-the-radar programs.

It’s a good list. I agree with most of it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t add to it. Here are five more programs that are currently flying under the national radar:

UMass: The Atlantic 10 has the potential to be absolutely loaded next season, and that was before both VCU and Butler were added to the mix. And while St. Louis, St. Joe’s, Temple and Xavier will get plenty of preseason attention, there is a strong argument to make that the UMass Minutemen will be conference champions come March. They are led by point guard Chaz Williams, who might be the best point guard in the country that you’ve never seen play. He averaged 16.9 points, 6.2 assists and 4.4 boards last season.

If the Minutemen — who upset No. 1 seed Temple in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament last season — can get more consistent perimeter play from Raphiael Putney, Terrell Vinson and Jesse Morgan at the same time that Sampson Carter, Sean Carter and Cady Lalanne are providing a stronger interior presence, don’t be surprised to see Derek Kellogg’s team spend some time in the top 25 next season.

Arkansas: There are three big reasons that I think the Razorbacks will surprise some people next year: 1) BJ Young, who averaged 15.3 points as a freshman coming off the bench, returned to school. 2) Marshawn Powell should be healthy and back to 100% by the time the season starts. 3) Everyone important on that roster was young last season. Maybe, with a year experience under their belt, they’ll be able to win a game on the road?

Tennessee: I love the way that the Vols play, embodying the grittiness and toughness of their head coach, Cuonzo Martin. Trae Golden looks like he has a chance to be an all-conference caliber point guard, while the front line of Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes has as much muscle as any in the country. Two keys for the Vols: can Jordan McRae become a a consistent scoring threat on the wing? Will Skyler McBee be a guy that can be counted on for 8-10 points and 43% shooting from three?

Davidson: Creighton and Murray State are the mid-major programs that have gotten all the love since the end of the 2012-2013 season, but Davidson is a team that you will have to keep an eye on as well. They bring back all eight members of their rotation, and that includes the five starters that averaged in double figures. Remember, this Wildcat team beat Kansas in Kansas City last season.

Pittsburgh: There is no way that a Jamie Dixon coached team puts together another season as ugly as 2011-2012 was for the Panthers. Losing Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson hurts, but with Tray Woodall coming back healthy, a solid core of young players returning and a talent like Steven Adams entering the program, Pitt should once again be relevant in their final season as a member of the Big East.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(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)
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.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.