Anthony Marshall

Christmas Wish List: UNLV needs players to step up after Mike Moser’s injury

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Over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams need. It’s the spirit of the holidays. We’re in a giving mood.

What do other teams have on their Christmas Wish Lists? Click here to find out.

Gotta have it list-topper: Someone to fill Mike Moser’s shoes

When Mike Moser went down with an elbow injury in UNLV’s win over Cal on Sunday, Rebel nation held its collective breath. After tests, it was revealed that he will likely miss about a month as he recovers from a dislocated elbow.

Luckily for UNLV, Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch will come into the fold at the start of the second semester, which should help to fill the frontcourt gap while Moser works his way back. Birch is likely not the silver bullet that fixes everything for Dave Rice’s team, but his presence should take some pressure off of Anthony Bennett.

The freshman Bennett, in his own right, is having an All-American-type season, averaging 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Without Moser, they’ll like look to him more, but it will be the responsibility of Birch, Quintrell Thomas, and Carlos Lopez-Sosa to pick up the slack.

Looking at the UNLV schedule over the next four-to-five weeks, there are three major tests that stand out. The Rebels meet No. 21 North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Dec. 29, then No. 17 New Mexico at the start of conference play on Jan. 9. If Moser takes more time to recover, that could keep him out for the Jan. 16 game against No. 18 San Diego State.

Stocking Stuffer: Better shot selection

It is often the case with young teams that they can fall into the trap of taking bad shots, and sometimes taking bad shots in large numbers. UNLV has fallen victim to that at points this season, ranking 203rd in the nation with an overall shooting percentage of 42.7 percent.

Much of the problem is in the backcourt, with Katin Reinhardt, Bryce Dejean-Jones, and Justin Hawkins all shooting 37 percent or less from the field. Dejean-Jones and Reinhardt are also shooting close to 30 percent from behind the three-point line.

As the Rebels move into Mountain West play, close games can be decided by shot selection down the stretch. They’re doing fine in other major statistical categories (scoring, rebounding, assists), which means patience can go a long way.

Without Moser for the next month, Anthony Bennett will likely become even more of a focal point, as well as Khem Birch as he becomes acclimated to the program and the system. Both are options around the rim, with Bennett shooting 54 percent from the floor.

Planning on re-gifting: Turnovers

A byproduct of both pace and inexperience, the Rebels are turning the ball over 15 times per game. Granted, they’re one of the best teams in the country at sharing the ball and have a solid assist/turnover ratio, but working to reduce turnovers will go a long way. Anthony Marshall is still settling into his role as a point guard and is leading the team in assists, but also leading in turnovers (5.8/2.8).

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
Jon Lopez/Nike
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

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.