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College Hoops Team of the Week: UCLA Bruins

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Team of the Week: UCLA

UCLA struggled through the early parts of the season. There was the loss to Cal Poly. There were the struggles in their marquee matchups. There was out of shape Shabazz Muhammad. There were the transfers and the freshmen wanting more playing. There were the massive question marks on the defensive end of the floor. There was the speculation that Ben Howland’s job could be on the line. But on Friday night, the Bruins eased the minds, for now, of the fans in Westwood as they knocked of then-No. 7 Missouri in overtime in Pauley Pavilion, 97-94.

It’s a win that has a chance to be season-changing for the Bruins. This is not the same kind of UCLA team that we are used to seeing under Howland. They are never going to be good defensively. They can, however, score points in bunches with a lethal transition attack. It’s nice to see Howland embracing their strengths. This doesn’t mean that UCLA is back amongst the elite — they are really, really bad defensively (especially against the pick-and-roll) and Missouri has some issues of their own — but this was a statement win for the Bruins. It’s too early to write this team off, not with the amount of talent that they have on the roster.

Seven more teams deserving of a shoutout:

Arizona: Is it time to start taking Arizona seriously as one of the nation’s elite teams? They are 12-0 for the first time since 1987-1988, currently own wins over Florida and San Diego State and are only going to get better as their trio of freshmen bigs continue to improve. I’m still concerned about Mark Lyons at the point, but guys like Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Nick Johnson have stepped up as facilitators while Lyons has proven capable of taking, and making, big shots in big moments. And in the end, that’s why Sean Miller brought him in.

Harvard: The best news for Harvard wasn’t the fact that they went into Berkeley on Saturday evening and left with a win over Cal. That’s impressive, even if this Cal team isn’t necessarily one of the Pac-12’s elite. The Crimson weren’t supposed to be great this year, not with Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry sitting the season. No, the best news wasn’t that an Ivy League team went into a Pac-12 team’s house and won, it’s that they were able to do so when their stud freshman, point guard Siyani Chambers, shot 2-15 from the floor.

Louisville: The Cardinals got the win that they desperately needed aginst Kentucky on Saturday. Big Blue has dominated that rivalry in recent years. They had won the four matchups since John Calipari arrived in Lexington, including last season in the Final Four, and are coming off of a national title. With Louisville looking like a national title favorite and the Wildcats struggling this year, a loss by Louisville could have been crushing for the fan base.

New Mexico: The Lobos bounced back from a tough home loss to South Dakota State by going into Cincinnati and knocking the Bearcats from the ranks of the unbeaten, earning themselves a marquee win to hang their hat on this season.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels picked up a much-needed victory on Saturday when they knocked off visiting UNLV 79-73. UNC has been underwhelming this season, and given the fact that they were missing their second-leading scorer in Reggie Bullock, few gave the Heels a chance in this one. But the Heels ended up dominating the Rebels in the first half, hanging on down the stretch when Dave Rice’s club made a run.

Valparaiso: The Crusaders went into Murray and knocked off Isaiah Canaan’s Racer squad. Ryan Broekhoff led the way with 18 points and eight boards.

Wichita State: The Shockers are crippled by injuries right now, which includes leading scorer and rebounder Carl Hall, but they still managed to smackdown league rival Northern Iowa on Sunday.

You can find Rob 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
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.