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Do inter-league challenges mean anything?

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I’m not going to play coy and ask why we have these inter-league challenge series. It’s about money and television rights like everything else we have in college sports these days. For me, that ship of disillusionment sailed years ago.

But we, as consumers, have bought into the spectacle, providing the impetus for the TV and the money.

Do we honestly still care? Does an inter-league challenge mean anything any more?

There was a lot of cachet to the ACC/Big Ten challenge and the SEC/Big East invitational when they first started to appear on the schedule a few years back. These were long-established leagues with regional character. The basketball played by a conference like the Big Ten could be said to have a certain flavor, as could that played by the ACC. That began to erode even when the ACC brought in teams like Miami and Virginia Tech from one of the old-school Big East raids, but it will make even less sense when Maryland jumps to the Big Ten and the ACC brings in Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville. Quite aside from the fact that the Big East won’t be an appealing dance partner for the SEC any more, there’s hardly any bragging rights at stake with such a motley assemblage of league-hoppers in a new, passionless marriage.

At least the Big 12 and (then) Pac-10 canceled their series in 2011, sparing us the cognitive dissonance of watching a West Virginia/Colorado pairing this season.

These new leagues will be like seasons of The Real World or Big Brother. A bunch of cocky strangers chosen by a committee and thrown into a fancy house, with cameras trained on them in hopes they’ll do something interesting.

Athletic leagues are now little more than well-marketed corporations. Yamaha makes snowmobiles, semiconductors, stereo receivers, grand pianos and archery equipment. None of those things have anything to do with one another in the real world, other than the fact that the same company puts them in boxes, stamps a logo on them, and trades them for consumer dollars. There’s no meaning to their association beyond that. Sound familiar?

Will Maryland play Pitt in an upcoming ACC/Big Ten challenge? That would be like me asking neighbors from down the street to play flag football in my yard, and then declaring my family the winner because it was played on my grass.

I’d wager I love college basketball more than the next 1,000 people I’ll speak to (fellow CBT writers excluded), but conference pride is starting to feel hollow, meaningless and self-deluding. SEC fans crowed about the possibility of an all-SEC national title game in football this year (before that possibility faded), but would they have been so happy if it had been Mizzou vs. Texas A&M? or was the notion enticing because it was “old school” SEC teams in contention?  

I’ll continue to root for my favorite laundry (as Jerry Seinfeld pointedly tagged sports fandom) but I can’t bring myself to care much which stainless steel industrial washing machine it ends up in.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

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.