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Burning Questions: Who will be this year’s surprise All-American?

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Real, live college basketball games start on Friday, and with all of our glorious preseason content finally finished, this week we will be providing you with water cooler fodder as we roll through a series of Burning Question. You can read them all right here.

Which player not on one of the NBCSports.com All-American teams is the most likely to become a first-teamer this year?

Phil Pressey, Missouri (Eric Angevine): Pressey showed he could dish and defend at a high level last season in the Big 12. With Kim English matriculated and Michael Dixon in the doghouse, Pressey will have ample opportunity to show he can score, too. I believe he’s up to the task.

Gorgui Dieng, Louisville (Troy Machir): The Louisville center is in the perfect position to excel this season. First and foremost, he has made tremendous improvements in each of his first two seasons, and if healthy, he will continue his upward progression this season. Second, He has players around him that him him the best chance to succeed. Guys like Montrezl Harris, Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock, skilled forwards and wing players, will divert attention away from the big-man, which will allow Dieng to get more high quality looks. Dieng won’t be forced to do too much, which will allow him to excel at his craft. Finally, what real pressure is there on Dieng? He’s not the star and doesn’t have to be. Plus, Pitino does a good job keeping the media out of his player’s heads, so they can remained focused.This season was tailor-made for Gorgui Dieng to recieve All-American praise.

Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State (Daniel Martin): Franklin became a full-time contributor last season and capitalized. Now he has the reins of a team that will fight for the Mountain West title and has the potential to become a household name. He averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last season, including just a shade up 20 points and 10 boards in MWC play.

Nate Wolters, South Dakota State (David Harten): Wolters has every tool that gets a college basketball player recognition. He can score (21.1 ppg), rebound (5.1 rpg), distribute (5.9 apg) and guard (1.7 spg). Problem is, he plays for a Jackrabbits’ team that just made its first trip to the NCAA Tournament and plays in the Summit League. His game translates against better teams — need I remind you how hard he clowned Washington last season? — and he’s proven countless times he can play on the big stages (19 points, 4 boards, 4 assists and 3 steals against Baylor in the NCAA Tournament last season). He could be on everyone’s All-American list by season’s end.

Andre Roberson, Colorado (Raphielle Johnson): Andre played the four for the Buffaloes last season, and while that may be the same in 2012-13 he’ll get to expand his game some. 11.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season, and with a better jump shot I’d expect the scoring average to increase. And there may be some motivation to be derived from the Pac-12 media picking Colorado to finish sixth in the conference this season. My money’s on Roberson.

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.