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Pregame Shootaround 12.16.12: No. 10 Illinois faces undefeated Eastern Kentucky

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Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will lay out a preview for the slate of games that night. We’ll take a look at some key match-ups and important games, as well as make some predictions and point out what you need to watch for. Take a look below at today’s edition:

Note: The weekend editions of Pregame Shootaround will be published half an hour prior to tip-off of the day’s first game.

Game of the Day: No. 10 Illinois vs. Eastern Kentucky

Illinois showed that it had some legitimate staying power with last week’s 85-74 win on the road over Gonzaga. Guard Brandon Paul launched himself into the early conversation for Player of the Year and John Groce proved that he can make his inherited group of players a threat in the Big Ten.

They now face a 9-0 Eastern Kentucky team that makes for an unlikely match-up of undefeated teams. The Colonels have yet to meet a BCS team this season, but bring a high-scoring and highly efficient team to Champaign on Sunday.

The Illini aren’t a particularly dominant rebounding team, but should have the advantage against a team ranked 342nd in the country in that department. Guard Glenn Cosey (17.7 points per game) is Eastern Kentucky’s biggest asset in the backcourt. He matches up with Illinois’ biggest offering, the backcourt of Paul, D.J. Richardson, and Tracy Abrams.

Who’s Getting Upset? Villanova against Delaware

Delaware has had one of the toughest schedules in the country for a mid-major so far this year, having lost to Kansas State, Pittsburgh, Temple, and Duke. Against young Ryan Arcidiacono and Villanova, the scoring of Delaware guard Devon Saddler (20.7 points per game) and rebounding of forward Jamelle Hagins (12.5 rebounds per game) might be too much for the Wildcats. Look for the Blue Hens to give ‘Nova a game Sunday.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Western Kentucky vs. Murray State (3:00 p.m. ET)

With Isaiah Canaan in the national spotlight, the Racers (7-1) welcome Western Kentucky (8-2). WKU might be overmatched against Canaan (21.7 points per game) and Ed Daniel (17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds per game), but it should be a quality mid-major match-up.

The Hilltoppers are a Top 30 team in the country on the backboards, helping to make up for their deficiencies from the floor (43.7 percent). T.J. Price and Jamal Cook will be the focal points Sunday, together averaging over 32 points per game.

Five Things to Watch

1. Marcus Smart is coming off a slow 2-of-8 game against Missouri State, including 0-of-4 from three-point range last week. With time off for finals to regroup, we’ll see if the impact freshman can bounce back vs. Central Arkansas.

2. Drexel has been one of the mid-major underachievers so far this season, but a match-up with Fairfield could help get them back on track.

3. Illinois State’s high-powered offense meets Morgan State Sunday. Jackie Carmichael has momentum after a 24-point, 6-block performance against Western Michigan least week.

4. Villanova got a key confidence-boosting win over St. Joe’s this week, but runs into a battle-hardened Delaware team. Maurice Sutton had nine rebounds against the Hawks and he will have his hands full with Jamelle Hagins down low.

5. Quinnipiac ran Connecticut to the wire earlier in the season and takes on Boston University today in Massachusetts. They scored just 46 points in a loss to Vermont in their last time out and hope to reach closer to their average of 67 points per game.

Rest of the Top 25

No. 10 Illinois vs. Eastern Kentucky

No. 24 Oklahoma State vs. Central Arkansas

Other Notable Games

UAB vs. Rutgers

Delaware vs. Villanova

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

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.