Iowa Virginia Tech Basketball

Weekend Preview: Five storylines to follow

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Biggest story line this weekend: Is Virginia Tech for real?

Beating a young Iowa team at home is really not all that impressive, even if Iowa is supposed to be better this season. Beating an under-manned Oklahoma State team pulls a little bit more weight, but even then, the Cowboys were probably overranked as a top 15 team. And, again, that win came in Blacksburg. On Saturday at 4:00 p.m., the Hokies will get their first true test of the season, as they travel to Morgantown to take on a tough and physical West Virginia team.

Road games are a different beast than playing at home, and we’ll see just how well Virginia Tech responds. The Hokies, led by Erick Green, who is having an all-american caliber season, are playing a more run-and-gun style this year, but with a lack of depth and no home crowd backing them, it will be interesting to see if they can sustain their success in a different arena. It’s also worth noting that the Mountaineers, while just 3-3 on the year, are still a good basketball team. They have a pair of talented guards in Juwan Staten and Jabarie Hinds and a couple of big, physical bodies up front.

Five other story lines to follow this weekend:

The battle of the disappointments: At 5:15 p.m. on Saturday night, UCLA heads to Austin to take on Texas in a matchup that features two teams that have failed to live up to expectations. For the Longhorn’s, it’s not exactly their fault. They didn’t ask Myck Kabongo to get suspended by the NCAA and they didn’t injure Jaylen Bond intentionally. Without those two players in the fold, Texas has looked downright atrocious on the offensive end of the floor. UCLA, on the other hand, has struggled despite bringing in Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad while watching two players up and leave the team just a few weeks into the season.

Old rivalries salvaged?: Over the last few years, as both VCU and Old Dominion managed to push their way into the national consciousness while playing in the CAA, the two teams developed a nice, healthy rivalry. Well, as you know, the Rams took off for the Atlantic 10 this summer while the Monarchs will be headed to Conference USA this summer. While ODU has been bad this season, expect them to put up a fight against some old faces. You can check out VCU vs. Old Dominion on Friday night at 9:00 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network.

Will Duke get their revenge on Temple?: The Blue Devils went into Philly last year and left with a loss after getting smacked around by the Owls. This season, Temple makes the return trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium with an undefeated record and coming off of a 15 point win over Villanova. And while Temple has some talent on their perimeter, I’m not sure how they plan on trying to slow down Mason Plumlee in the paint.

What do you know about Butler and Northwestern?: Because the only thing I know about those two teams is that I don’t really know anything at all. Butler has lost to Xavier, gotten blown out by Illinois, beaten Marquette and embarrassed North Carolina. Northwestern beat Illinois State, got blown out by Maryland, lost at home to Illinois-Chicago and beat Baylor in Waco. Huh? Hopefully, something that happens on Saturday will help us get a feel for this group.

There just aren’t many good games this weekend: This happens every year. As we get closer to finals week, we get uglier and uglier basketball games. There is only one game between two ranked teams all weekend, and that game doesn’t come close to being must-see TV and happens at 10 p.m. on a Saturday. We had a terrific first month of the season, complete with great matchups and better performances. We’ll have to deal with one ugly week.

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.