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Conference Preview: Montana aims for Big Sky repeat

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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 was a very good one at the top of the Big Sky, as both Montana and Weber State were both teams that college basketball fans had to take notice of. In addition to both of those teams winning 25 games the Big Sky also had its first NBA Draft lottery pick ever as Weber State’s Damian Lillard was selected 6th overall by Portland (Michael Ray Richardson was the 4th pick in 1978, before the lottery was instituted in 1985).

But it was Montana who won both the regular season and postseason titles, and with guards Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar back the Grizzlies are the favorites in the eyes of many. But they’ve incurred a couple of losses before a game’s been played, as Cherry is out for three months due to a knee injury and junior college transfer Marko Kovacevic (will enroll at Utah next season) was not cleared academically.

So while the Grizzlies remain the favorites the door has opened a bit wider for the competition in the Big Sky, with Weber State once again the chief challenger. Scott Bamforth and Gelaun Wheelwright are back along with front court standouts Kyle Tresnak and Byron Fulton. Northern Colorado returns four starters led by guard Tate Unruh from a team that was a bit young to be expected to contend last season, but the Bears are ready to go in 2012-13.

Portland State may have lost leading scorers Charles Odum and Chehales Tapscott, but the return of Renado Parker and Lateef McMillan makes them a threat as well. Eastern Washington welcomes back Collin Chiverton and Saint Joseph’s transfer Justin Crosgile will help them on the perimeter, while Freshman of the Year Dylan Garrity leads four returning starters at Sacramento State. Idaho State and Montana State had tumultuous offseasons, and there’s optimism for the future in Flagstaff as former Memphis assistant Jack Murphy takes over at Northern Arizona.

The Big Sky also welcomes two new members, as North Dakota (Great West) and Southern Utah (Summit League) now call the conference home. While it would be tough to expect Southern Utah to contend under first-year head coach Nick Robinson, the same can’t be said for the Fighting Sioux. Four starters led by guard Troy Huff return to Grand Forks, and this is a program that has made consecutive trips to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Montana is the favorite to repeat in the Big Sky, but they won’t lack for challengers either.

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Will Cherry (Montana)*
G Scott Bamforth (Weber State)
G/F Kareem Jamar (Montana)
F Collin Chiverton (Eastern Washington)
C Kyle Tresnak (Weber State)

Predicted Standings
1. Montana
2. Weber State
3. Northern Colorado
4. Sacramento State
5. North Dakota
6. Eastern Washington
7. Portland State
8. Montana State
9. Idaho State
10. Northern Arizona
11. Southern Utah

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.