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College basketball outside the BCS is in for a GREAT year

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For those of you that watch college basketball strictly as a way to become familiarized with the next generation of NBA stars, next year may not be ideal for you.

That’s because, as a whole, the upper echelon of college hoops in 2012-2013 isn’t really all that impressive. Indiana has one guy that’s a lock for the lottery in Cody Zeller. Kentucky has Nerlens Noel, who will go somewhere near the top of the 2013 NBA Draft, but the rest of their roster still has to prove themselves to NBA scouts. It’s unlikely, but it’s still possible that Louisville doesn’t see a player from this year’s team go in the first round.

And those are the consensus top three teams in the country?

For college hoops junkies, this is, in fact, a good thing. As entertaining as it was to watch Kentucky steamroll their way through the 2011-2012 season, having a number of teams jumbled at the top of the rankings, without much in the way of separation from the second or third tier programs, creates excitement and uncertainty. We may not be watching many future all-stars, but there will be many upsets and exciting finishes and box scores that leave you scratching your head.

College basketball is wide-open this season, and it couldn’t be more perfect timing for fans of mid-major hoops. There is as much power outside of the BCS conferences as there has been in recent years.

Think about it like this: Andy Glockner put together a primer for non-power conference teams over at SI.com on Tuesday, and in that primer he ranked the top ten teams. It looked like this:

  • 1. UNLV
  • 2. SDSU
  • 3. VCU
  • 4. Creighton
  • 5. Saint Louis
  • 6. Murray State
  • 7. Butler
  • 8. Memphis
  • 9. Northern Iowa
  • 10. Gonzaga

That’s scary.

Why?

Because both Butler and Memphis are potentially top 20 (if not better) teams this season. Butler loses Ronald Nored to graduation, but returns a young, talented and more-athletic-than-you-think team that adds senior Rotnei Clarke, arguably the best shooter in the country, and top 100 recruit Kellen Dunham. The Bulldogs are changing conferences, they might still be a year away from peaking and there’s no telling how much the loss of Nored is going to hurt. But that doesn’t change the fact that this could end up being Brad Stevens’ best team at Butler.

As for Memphis, we’re looking at a team that is finally able to call themselves experienced. The core of the roster — Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Tarik Black — are all juniors and Memphis natives eager to bury the disappointing finishes of their first two years. Adonis Thomas is back and healthy. Shaw Goodwin has been added to their front line, and Geron Johnson is a talented x-factor in the back court. The deck is set for Memphis to have a memorable final year in the Conference USA.

And, to be frank, the only quibble I would have with Glockner’s rankings is that I think both Butler and Memphis should be a notch above Murray State. Could there really be seven top 20 teams from outside the power six conference this season?

Absolutely.

But that’s not even the end of it, because there are a number of teams that didn’t make this list that will see their names pop up in the top 25 a time or two this year.

St. Mary’s returns one of the most underrated back courts in the country in Matthew Dellavedova, Stephen Holt, Jorden Page, and Paul McCoy and has enough of a front court presence to be a favorite to win the WCC. They didn’t make the top ten. Neither did BYU, who returns Matt Carlino, Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws.

That’s not it. Colorado State returns the majority of the roster of a team that made the NCAA tournament while adding a pair of high-profile transfers, and the Rams may not even be a top three team in the MWC if Nevada figures out a way to put all of their talent together. If Norvel Pelle gets eligible, Iona has the talent to compete in the Big East. Lehigh returns the majority of their roster, including CJ McCollum, from a team that beat Duke in the opening round of the tournament, and they may not even be the best team in their conference with Bucknell around. Should I mention the fact that Davidson brings back all five starters from the team that beat Kansas in Kansas City or that Ohio brings back everyone from a team that made the Sweet 16? (Edit: It’s worth noting that mid-major hoops is good enough this year that I completely blanked on mentioning Drexel — and, for that matter, George Mason — and St. Joseph’s in this post.)

This is a great year to be a fan of mid-major hoops.

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

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)
(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.