NCAA Basketball Tournament - Xavier v Notre Dame

Notre Dame in an unfamiliar position entering the 2012-13 season

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In each of the last three seasons Big East coaches have predicted that Notre Dame would finish somewhere in the middle of the conference pack.

In 2009 Mike Brey’s team was picked to finish eighth place, followed by predictions of seventh (2010-11) and ninth (2011-12). With Big East media day set for Wednesday, Brey’s program will be in a far different position this season.

While Louisville seems to be the generally accepted favorite to win the conference, no one’s conceding anything and Notre Dame is one of the teams with enough firepower to make sure the Cardinals don’t win the Big East.

And with their time in the conference winding down, the Fighting Irish are hoping to accomplish some things they’ve never done as a Big East member.

“A phrase I used on Tuesday, and I’ll put up in their lockers tomorrow, is, “Work to deliver.” Work to deliver on those expectations, but those expectations are our expectations,” said Brey at the team’s media day on Thursday.

“We’re honored by some of the things people say about us, but we lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. We didn’t get to the Big East championship game. We didn’t win a regular season Big East title.

“I think it’s very key for me and our leaders to keep talking about our expectations, and that starts with trying to chase down a regular season title.”

All five starters from last season’s squad, which went 22-12 (13-5; 3rd in Big East) and helped Brey win his third Big East Coach of the Year award in the last six years, return with guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant leading the way.

Atkins averaged 12.1 points and 4.1 assists per game while leading the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio, and Grant averaged 12.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest last season.

From a leadership standpoint the Irish can call on graduate student Scott Martin and senior Jack Cooley, with the latter being lauded for his improvement in that area during the offseason.

“I just became more vocal really, and put all caution to the wind,” said Cooley. “Whatever we were doing at the time I needed to fix or someone needed to fix and I figured there’s no one better than me to do it. I just stepped up.”

Cooley led the Irish in both points and rebounds while Martin was a steadying influence for a team that had to deal with the loss of small forward Tim Abromaitis, and this season they’ll be joined by Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman in the paint.

Brey referred to Sherman as their “sixth starter” at media day, and with the return of Pat Connaughton and the addition of newcomers such as Zach Auguste and Cam Biedscheid give the head coach talented options that weren’t as readily available last year.

Feel free to look ahead to Notre Dame’s ACC future if you wish, but the Irish can accomplish some big things in the present as well.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.