NCAA Basketball Tournament - Kansas v North Carolina

Top 25 Countdown: No. 20 North Carolina Tar Heels

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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: 32-6, 15-3 ACC (1st); Lost to Kansas in the Elite 8

Head Coach: Roy Williams

Key Losses: Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson

Newcomers: Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Joel James, JP Tokoto, Luke Davis

Projected Lineup:

G: Marcus Paige, Fr.
G: Dexter Strickland, Sr.
G: Reggie Bullock, Jr.
F: Brice Johnson, Fr.
C: James Michael McAdoo, So.
Bench: Leslie McDonald, Jr.; PJ Hairston, So.; JP Tokoto, Fr.; Joel James, Fr.; Desmond Hubert, So.

Outlook: Roy Williams has been here before.

After he won the national title in 2005, Williams watched Ray Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants and Marvin Williams all make their way to the NBA, leaving him with an unproven and youthful roster to work with the following year. That team, led by freshman All-American Tyler Hansbrough, had some ups-and-downs that first season, but eventually grew into a national champion four years later. That 2009 title team lost quite a bit of talent as well, with Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson and Danny Green joining Hansbrough in the NBA.

Williams didn’t win a national title in 2012, but that wasn’t due to a lack of talent on his roster. Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall are all making seven figures this season as first round NBA Draft picks, meaning that, once again, the Tar Heels are going to be heading into a season having to reload.

While there is some talent on this roster, including a potential lottery pick in sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo, there are a couple of question marks as well, the biggest being the smallest guy on the roster — Marcus Paige.

Paige, a freshman from Iowa, is the heir-apparent to Marshall at the point guard spot. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again quite a few times before the season starts, but I believe that Marshall is one of the two most difficult players to replace this season (the other being Anthony Davis, for obvious reasons). North Carolina’s system thrives on point guard play, and what made Marshall so valuable wasn’t only his unreal playmaking ability (he averaged almost 10 assists per game) but how good he was at hitting ahead in transition. He made the Heels’ fast break just that much more deadly, and there’s certainly no questioning how much better he made his teammates — specifically Barnes — simply by being on the floor. Remember what UNC looked like before he took over for Larry Drew in 2010-2011? Remember what they looked like when he was injured in last season’s tournament?

The bottom-line is this: that role is going to fall into the hands of a freshman — a talented one, but still a freshman — who will be backed up by a transfer from Gardner-Webb, Luke Davis, and a senior combo-guard, Dexter Strickland, coming off of a torn ACL. With so much youth and inexperience on this roster, how Paige handles the pressure at the point could end up making or breaking North Carolina’s season.

The good news is that Paige will have plenty of perimeter talent surrounding him. Strickland, a senior that doubles as UNC’s best perimeter defender, should be back to 100% by the time the season starts. Leslie McDonald should be as well; he tore his ACL before last season even began. One of the more interesting subplots of UNC’s season will be seeing how Williams divvies up minutes on the wings. Strickland and McDonald are the vets that have earned their playing time, but both PJ Hairston — a sophomore — and Reggie Bullock — a junior — are bigger and more talented scorers, and that’s before JP Tokoto, a talented freshman, is factored into the equation.

McAdoo will be UNC’s anchor up front. A top ten recruit coming out of high school, McAdoo spent much of last season watching Zeller and Henson from the bench. He averaged just 6.1 points and 3.9 boards in less than 16 minutes as a freshman, but some impressive play during the postseason — McAdoo averaged 10.6 points and 4.8 boards in the final seven games after Henson hurt his wrist, including a 15 point performance against Kansas and Thomas Robinson in the Elite 8 — combined with his size, strength and athleticism has many predicting McAdoo to become an all-american candidate.

The question is who joins him up front? Will it be athletic-but-slender freshman Brice Johnson? Will it be burly freshman Joel James? Or seldom-used sophomore Desmond Hubert? Will Williams be willing to use a four-guard attack given the size of Bullock, Tokoto and Hairston?

Predictions?: UNC unquestionably has talent on their roster, as always. But there are also question marks. How good is Paige? How good is McAdoo? What happens in the front court? Who makes the leap from role player to secondary scorer? The Heels will still make the tournament and should finish in the top three in the ACC — and they could be even better than that — but given the youth, the inexperience and all the new faces in new roles, this is a tough group to project.

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
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.