Brandon Paul, Sam McLaurin, Elias Harris, Kevin Pangos

College Hoops Player of the Week: Brandon Paul, Illinois

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Player of the Week: Brandon Paul, Illinois

Paul has made quite a transformation during his time in Champaign. He entered college as an athlete and slowly morphed himself into a chucker, a guy capable of doing things like this that usually needed 12-15 shots to get his 14.7 points and shot under 40% from the floor. This season, however, Paul looks like he’s playing with a completely different mindset. He’s more efficient, more potent and, against Gonzaga, showed that he has the ability to take and make big shots in the most important moments of a game. In short, Paul has turned himself from a guy with NBA potential to a player that will, barring a collapse, hear his name called in June.

The performance against Gonzaga wasn’t the best of Paul’s career, but it was one of the most impressive of the young season. He finished with 35 points on 10-16 shooting, hitting 5-9 from beyond the arc and adding four boards, three assists, three steals and two blocks. He sparked a second half run that allowed Illinois to take control of the game late and he hit the shots down the stretch that ensured the Zags would not be able to make a comeback. We’ve been fooled by hot starts from the Illini before, but in the same way that this appears to be a different Brandon Paul than last season, I think that this may be a different Illinois team from the last few years of Bruce Weber’s tenure.

The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team

  • G: Kevin Dillard, Dayton: The Flyers big win of the week came on Wednesday, when they went into Tuscaloosa and knocked off Alabama on the strength of 25 points and six assists from Dillard. They followed that up with a win over Miami-Ohio at home where Dillard tallied 15 points. No one expected by the Flyers to be in the mix at the top of the Atlantic 10 this season, but with some of the early-season struggles we’ve seen out of St. Louis, St. Joe’s, Butler and UMass, there’s no reason the Flyers can’t make a run at a top three finish in the league.
  • G: Grant Gibbs, Creighton: You want to know how good Gibbs was this week? Doug McDermott scored 59 points in wins over Akron and at in-state rival Nebraska, and I didn’t even consider him for this list. In those two games, Gibbs had 12 points, 11 boards and 18 assists while committing just a single turnover. Those numbers don’t include the nine assists without a turnover that Gibbs had in a 29 point drubbing of St. Joe’s last Saturday. In his last 102 minutes of basketball, Gibbs has 27 assists and just one turnover, which is probably why his assist to turnover ratio right now is 7.4:1.
  • G: Geron Johnson, Memphis: The Tigers bounced back from a rough performance in the Bahamas with a pair of impressive wins, including a 26 point victory over a good Ohio team. Johnson averaged 17.5 points for the week, while also adding nine assists, seven steals and 10 boards in the two games, shooting 15-24 from the floor. With Adonis Thomas, Joe Jackson and Tarik Black still trying to find a rhythm, it looks like Johnson may end up being this group’s most talented and dangerous player.
  • F: Anthony Bennett, UNLV: Bennett came up huge in the absence of Mike Moser in two games this week. He went for 18 points and six boards as the Rebels came-from-behind to knock off Portland in Portland and followed that up with 25 points and 13 boards in a win at Cal on Sunday. With Moser expected to miss quite some time after injuring his elbow on Sunday, Bennett’s ability to produce will only become more important.
  • C: Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State: For the second time this season, a player has recorded a triple-double involving blocked shots. Jeff Withey did it against San Jose State, and Bachynski did it against Cal State-Northridge, going for 13 points, 12 boards and 12 blocks in the win.
  • Bench: Adrian Coleman (Bethune-Cookman), Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse), Deonte Burton (Nevada), Aaron White (Iowa), Kyle Fuller (Vanderbilt)

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.