Mississippi State and Loyola (IL) honor a game that should never be forgotten: In March of 1963, three years before Texas Western went and beat Kentucky for a national title with a team that included black players and earned themselves a spot in Hollywood history with the movie ‘Glory Road’, Mississippi State had to sneak out of their own state just for the chance to play Loyola in the NCAA tournament. At 8:00 p.m. on Saturday night, the two programs will pay tribute to that game on ESPNU. Dana O’Neil wrote a terrific story about the event on Thursday, and if this intrigues you, I would suggest you check out Kyle Veazey’s book on the game.
Is West Virginia going to be able to turn their season around?: The Mountaineers struggled at the start of the year, losing three of their first four games and looking like they were a long way from being a tournament team. But with three transfers in the fold, a slow start was to be expected. And after following up those losses with wins over VMI, Marshall and Virginia Tech, it looked like the ‘Eers might have actually turned their season around. That was until they lost to Duquesne.
So will WVU be able to compete for a tournament spot? They’ll get a chance to make a statement on Saturday evening when they take on No. 3 Michigan.
The Battle of Anthony Grant: Anthony Grant took over for Jeff Capel at VCU when he took the head coaching job at Oklahoma. Grant didn’t last long with the Rams, as he took over at Alabama when Mark Gottfried resigned in the middle of the 2008-2009 season. That opened up a job for Shaka Smart, who may have actually turned VCU into a better program than Alabama. Those two teams will take the floor at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
Who is the best team in Iowa?: For my money, it is either Northern Iowa or Iowa, and it’s just our luck that the Panthers and the Hawkeyes happen to be playing on Saturday afternoon on the Big Ten Network. Northern Iowa is a tough, defensive-minded team with a couple of versatile big guys and one of the nation’s more underrated back courts. Iowa is a bit more uptempo and wants to score more than UNI. It should be an interesting contrast of styles. It’s also not the only game of the event, as Drake and Iowa State will be playing the same day in Des Moines in the Big Four Classic.
Indiana will be doing the same thing: Iowa’s not the only state that will be putting together a mini-state tournament. Indiana will do the same with the Crossroads Classic at Conseco Fieldhouse tomorrow afternoon. It kicks off with Butler taking on No. 1 Indiana and ends with Purdue and No. 22 Notre Dame tangling.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.