C.J. Aiken, Micheal Eric

Top 25 Countdown: No. 24 St. Joseph’s

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 20-14, 9-7 Atlantic-10 (t-5th); Lost in the First Round of the NIT

Head Coach: Phil Martelli

Key Losses: None

Newcomers: Kyle Bolock, Isaiah Miles, Javon Baumann

Projected Lineup:

G: Carl Jones, Sr.
G: Langston Galloway, Jr.
F: Halil Kanacevic, Jr.
F: Ronald Roberts, Jr.
F: CJ Aiken, Jr.
Bench: Chris Wilson, So.; Daryus Quarles, Jr.; Papa Ndao, So.

Outlook: Back in 2010, when Phil Martelli landed a recruiting class that included CJ Aiken, Langston Galloway and Ronald Roberts, St. Joe’s, quite frankly, wasn’t any good. They were coming off of a season that saw the Hawks win just 11 games and finish 5-11 in the Atlantic 10. And while there was considerable hype for the incoming class, that first season on Hawk Hill didn’t go any better; St. Joe’s again won just 11 games and finished 4-12 in league play.

But St. Joe’s impressed last season, and while they still missed out on the NCAA tournament, it wasn’t because they were overmatched; St. Joe’s was still learning how to win. The Hawks held a second half lead in 11 of their 14 losses. The only games they lost by double-digits came at Xavier, at Temple and at home against St. Louis. With a roster that can now be called experienced — every player from last year’s rotation returns, with six of the eight now registering as upper-classmen — the expectation is that this is the year Martelli’s club turns around their misfortune.

The commonly held belief with this group is that their strength lies in the back court, which is the result if the extent of your research into this group is checking box scores. That’s not necessarily wrong, as Martelli has one of the best returning guard duos in the country. Senior Carl Jones has led the team in scoring for the past two seasons. A 5-foot-11, 160 pound spark-plug, Jones is capable of putting up big numbers in a hurry. His average of 17.0 points last season would have been even higher if he hadn’t been dealing with a bum ankle throughout late January.

Jones’ running mate is junior Langston Galloway, who is the Hawk’s resident sharpshooter. Galloway is an excellent complement to Jones. Where Jones was somewhat of a chucker, Galloway was by far the most efficient player in the Hawk lineup a year ago. He took more threes than he did twos, knocking them down at a 46.6% clip, while keeping the floor spread and avoiding turning the ball over. Junior Daryus Quarles and sophomore Chris Wilson round out the back court for the Hawks.

But where the difference gets made for this team is with their burgeoning trio of junior forwards.

The guy that will likely make the headlines is 6-foot-9 CJ Aiken. Aiken’s strength is his athleticism and wingspan. He’s already one of the best shotblockers in the country — he averaged 3.5 bpg during his first two years in college — and takes quite a bit of pressure off of his teammates with his ability to finish around the rim. Aiken is a string bean, however, which means that most of his damage on the offensive end of the floor comes from pick-and-pops (he has three-point range) and cuts to the rim. The bully on the block for the Hawk’s is 6-foot-7 Ronald Roberts, who is a ferocious athlete in his own right. There isn’t much about Roberts’ game that would be considered pretty or smooth, but he’s your prototypical, undersized A-10 forward: strong, aggressive and athletic.

The x-factor for this team is Hofstra transfer Halil Kanacevic, a 6-foot-8 forward who will remind some people of a poor man’s Draymond Green. Kanacevic was the team’s leading rebounder a season ago as well as their best passer, averaging 3.7 assists. He’s not all that efficient — he turns the ball over quite a bit and didn’t shoot the ball all that well last year — but his ability to pass out of the high post is important with the amount of talent on the floor with him.

Predictions?: The Atlantic 10 is just loaded this year. With Rick Majerus getting sick, there may not be a top 15 team in the league. But there are six teams that got serious consideration for the preseason top 25, which should be an indication of just how difficult and balanced the top of the conference is, and, in turn, just how easy it will be to finish in fifth or sixth place. This team is good enough not only to make the NCAA tournament, but to make a run to the second weekend once they get there given the  size, athleticism and back court production they have. Another trip to the NIT and anything outside of a top four finish in the conference would be a major disappointment.

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)
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
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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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.