NCAA Basketball Tournament - Louisville v Florida

Top 25 Countdown: No. 15 Florida Gators

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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: 26-11, 10-6 SEC (t-2nd); Lost to Louisville in the Elite 8

Head Coach: Billy Donovan

Key Losses: Erving Walker, Bradley Beal

Newcomers: Braxton Ogbueze, Michael Frazier, DeVon Walker, Dillon Graham

Projected Lineup:

G: Scottie Wilbekin, Jr.
G: Kenny Boynton, Sr.
F: Will Yeguete, Jr.
F: Erik Murphy, Sr.
C: Patric Young, Jr.
Bench: Mike Rosario, Sr.; Casey Prather, Jr.; Braxton Ogbueze, Fr.; Michael Frazier, Fr.; DeVon Walker, Fr.; Dillon Graham, Fr.

Outlook: Last season, Florida was just a couple of possessions from the Final Four. If they don’t blow a 11 point lead in the final eight minutes to Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals, Billy Donovan would have been taking his team to the fourth Final Four of his career. But the Gators lost that game, and in the process they watch as Bradley Beal and Erving Walker played their final games in Florida uniforms.

If Florida wants to match that level of postseason success again this season, it is going to hinge on the play of two of Donovan’s most highly-touted recruits in the last four years — Kenny Boynton and Patric Young.

Boynton entered Florida four years ago as a top ten recruit, a 6-foot-2 combo-guard known for his ability to put up impressive scoring numbers. And through three seasons in Gainesville, Boynton’s backed up that hype, averaging at least 14.0 points every year, capped of by the 15.9 points he averaged as a junior. But Boynton has yet to make the jump from a quality scorer on a good team to an elite player, and part of the reason has been his shot selection and his consistency.

Boynton’s always been a shoot-first player, rarely seeing a three that he didn’t like. With Beal and Walker on the roster, that wasn’t as much of a problem, as he was able to play more off-the-ball and rely on the open looks that were created for him within the flow of the offense. Those initial open looks seemed to be a boon for his confidence, as he all-the-sudden became a dangerous shooter off the dribble. While he struggled a bit with his shot towards the end of the season, Boynton’s efficiency as a junior was through the roof. It’s amazing the difference in effectiveness for a jump-shooter when he has his confidence.

The question this season will be whether or not he reverts back into his old form now that Beal and Walker have been replaced with guys like Scottie Wilbekin, Mike Rosario, Will Yeguete and a group of freshmen guards that are a long way from being a one-and-done talent like Beal. Will he still be knocking down threes at the same rate? Will he still be as reliable with the ball in his hands? More importantly, will he be more a more willing facilitator for his teammates? While he doesn’t do it often, Boynton was underrated as a distributor and decision-maker last year.

The other question mark is going to be Patric Young. Young has always been an overpowering physical presence. He’s big, he’s strong, he has broad shoulders and he’s hyper-athletic. But he’s always been a bit of an underwhelming rebounder and shot-blocker for a guy with his physical tools, and his postgame has always had quite a bit of room for improvement.

Young has lottery-level potential, but he hasn’t yet scratched the surface of what he’s capable of. Some of the blame for that goes to the guards he played with last season. Young’s touches in the paint were few and far between as a sophomore. Will be become more assertive as a junior? Will he ever becoming the dominating presence that we all want him to be in the paint?

Beyond that, the Gators do have some quality role players. Wilbekin is a steadying presence at the point, a guy that doesn’t make all that much happen but that also doesn’t make all that many mistakes. Rosario, like Boynton, is a shoot-first ball-handler that will provide Donovan will a nice complement to Wilbekin and a scoring pop off the bench. Yeguete was one of the most valuable pieces for the Gators last season as a defender and an energy guy, running the point on their press. Murphy is a knock-down shooter at 6-foot-10 and will create space for Young in the paint. And the trio of freshman guards should be able to find a way to contribute.

And while Donovan has some pieces at his disposal, the question I find myself asking is just how well all of those pieces are going to fit together.

Predictions?: Florida is a year away. If we’re being perfectly honest, the more I look at this Florida team, the more I think that we have them ranked too high at 15th. With the freshmen and transfers Donovan has coming in next season, the Gators will be better prepared to compete nationally. I think this is still a tournament team, but this is not a group that should be ranked in the top 15.

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.