John Calipari

Weekend Preview: The most important story lines as CBB kicks off

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So about this new Kentucky team…

There are a myriad of intriguing and important story lines surrounding the headline game of the Barclays Center Classic between No. 3 Kentucky and Maryland. It’s the first college basketball game to be played in Jay-Z’s new arena. (I don’t care if it’s not ‘technically’ Jay-Z’s arena.) It’s the first game that Maryland will play with Dez Wells, who was surprisingly cleared to play on Wednesday. It’s the first game the two teams will play after Kentucky beat out the Terps for the Harrison Twins. It’s the launch of Maryland’s relevancy under Mark Turgeon. The reigning national champs. Nerlens Noel’s first game. The list goes on and on and on.

But for me, the most intriguing part of this game will be seeing just how Kentucky’s rotation is built. Coach Cal will find a way to make this team work well together, but I’m struggling to figure out a way that can happen. The best shooter on the team is a power forward, Kyle Wiltjer, who can’t defend and who is the fourth-best front court player on the roster. Getting the five best players on the floor requires using two seven-foot centers, Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein, together while playing a combo-forward, Alex Poythress, at the three. Ryan Harrow isn’t at the same level as the likes of Derrick Rose and John Wall, and may not be on the same level as Marquis Teague. How will they all mesh?

Five more story lines to follow:

  • I’m on a boat: After last year’s inaugural Carrier Classic, there are three games that will be played on the decks of an aircraft carrier this Friday. How long will this gimmick last? Look, I’m all for supporting our troops, but basketball wasn’t meant to be played outside unless it’s the middle of the summer and there is a blacktop involved. Last season, Michigan State and North Carolina were two of the best teams in the country, and they put together a fairly ugly game to watch. As picturesque as the games are, it’s not exactly great basketball that will be played. How long will it be before the novelty wears off?
  • No one can see Tony Mitchell vs. Doug McDermott: The best individual matchup of the weekend will take place in the mid-major ranks, as an all-american will be squaring off with a future lottery pick. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that both of these teams could feasibly be playing during the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. But when they tip at 8:05 p.m. in Omaha on Friday night, the only people that will be able to see the game are the folks in the stadium and those that pay for the live-stream on Creighton’s website. I’m not here trying to pass around blame, but I will say that it’s a bummer it won’t be on TV anywhere.
  • UConn kicks off their season of irrelevance: Kevin Ollie is coaching for a contract. That’s essentially what this season comes down to. He’s not officially an interim coach replacing the legendary Jim Calhoun, but he may as well be; he’s working with a one-year contract. Will he be able to get a young UConn team with a talented back court to play well enough to earn an extension?
  • The new Pauley Pavilion opens: After spending last season playing all over Southern California, UCLA returns to their newly-renovated digs at 11:00 p.m. on Friday night to take on a good Indiana State team. And not only will it be our first glimpse at the new arena, it will be our first chance to see one of the nation’s most enigmatic teams. Is Josh Smith in shape? Can Kyle Anderson be a point guard? Will the Bruins, without Shabazz Muhammad, come close to living up to their lofty preseason expectations?
  • Steve Masiello takes Manhattan into Louisville: Former Cardinal assistant Steve Masiello takes his MAAC-favorite Manhattan Jaspers into the KFC Yum! Center to take on national title favorite Louisville. Will his boys be able to put up a fight? Is Louisville going to be able to iron out their offensive issues?

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.