Barclays Center Classic - Kentucky v Maryland

Maryland lost, but proves itself as an ACC contender

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NEW YORK – Maryland lost to Kentucky 72-69 on Friday night in the inaugural Barclays Center Classic in a game that will surely leave a bitter taste in the Terrapin’s mouth.

After digging themselves a 15 point hole with a combination of poor shot selection and abysmal defense, Mark Turgeon’s club completely changed the game in the second half. A 21-4 run turned what had been a 53-38 deficit into a 59-57 lead over the No. 3 ranked Wildcats, and if it wasn’t for the heroic efforts of a walk-on that didn’t even make the Maryland scouting report, the Terps could have very well left New York with a statement victory.

A tough loss indeed.

But it was one that showed the Terps truly will be a factor in the ACC race this season.

The biggest reason, quite obviously, is Maryland’s biggest player — 7-foot-1 Ukranian Alex Len. Len finished with 23 points, 12 boards and four blocks, thoroughly outplaying Kentucky’s vauned pair of seven-foot freshmen, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Things may be different when he is forced to go up against a more physical post defender — like, for example, Miami’s Reggie Johnson or NC State’s Richard Howell, someone that can force him off of the block — but all indications, to this point, are that Len will live up to his preseason hype. And in this day and age, how many teams can say they have a legitimate, seven-foot center that is a scoring threat on the block?

“He was a huge weapon for us,” Turgeon said after the game. “We expect great things out of him. Hopefully we can give him a little more help on the perimeter moving forward.”

The end of Turgeon’s statement may actually be the most important takeaway from Friday night’s loss.

Maryland’s top four perimeter players — Dez Wells, Nick Faust, Pe’Shon Howard and Seth Allen — combined to shoot 9-43 from the field and 2-14 from three. That is, quite frankly, atrocious. But it’s also not the kind of performance that you should become accustomed to with this group. On the one hand, Maryland did get a lot of good looks from the perimeter; they just missed them. And when the Terps finally put the ball on the floor and got to the rim, they ran into a pair of seven-foot shot-blockers that will end up being first-round draft picks. That won’t happen again this season.

They fought. They battled in the paint (28 offensive rebounds). And they came back from 15 down against one of the favorites to win the national title. No one likes moral victories, but any coach would take a loss where there team went down swinging than a 20 point drubbing on national television.

I still believe that Maryland is a year away from truly contending in the ACC. But if they proved anything on Friday, it’s that they will be a factor in the league race in February and March.

“We’re gonna win, and we’re gonna win this year,” Turgeon said. “I promise you that. We just didn’t win tonight.”

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)
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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
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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.