Keith Appling, Julien Lewis

Pregame Shootaround 12.31.12: Loaded slate for New Year’s Eve

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Game of the Day: 2:00 p.m.: No. 19 Michigan State at No. 11 Minnesota (ESPN2)

How good are the Gophers this year? Well, they’re ranked in the top 15. And they’re 12-1 on the season. And they’ve beaten … Memphis? Stanford? Florida State? South Dakota State without Nate Wolters? You can only play who is on the schedule, and the Gophers have beaten everyone they’ve lined up against with the exception of the No. 1 team in the country, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Gophers’ ranking is a bit inflated due to the struggles of some of their opponents.

Michigan State is legit. They are big, they have athletic, they have a veteran ball-club and they’re coached by Tom Izzo. Keeping in mind that this game is played in Minneapolis, this may be our best chance to truly gauge how good Minnesota is this season.

Who’s Getting Upset?: 4:00 p.m.: No. 5 Indiana at Iowa (ESPN2)

You want to know how to make some money in Vegas? Bet on ranked teams playing solid unranked teams on the road. Especially in league play. Iowa is better than you think this season, and while they are a young team that is still getting better, I think they have the pieces to give Indiana some trouble. Roy Devyn Marble has been on fire of late, and Hawkeye fans will be hoping that a nine day layoff won’t change that.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: 8:00 p.m.: Harvard at St. Mary’s (ESPN2)

Harvard is coming off of a win at Cal in which their star point guard, freshman Siyani Chambers, struggled. St. Mary’s is better than Cal, but Chambers should put on a better performance than he did on Saturday night. Seeing the freshman go up against Matthew Dellavedova should be great entertainment for all those watching.

Five Things to Watch

1. 12:00 p.m.: No. 8 Cincinnati at No. 24 Pitt (ESPN2): Outside of a game against Michigan in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT, Pitt has been wholly untested in the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ll be hosting a Cincinnati team that is coming off of their first loss of the season, which came at home against New Mexico. Are the Panthers for real? (And don’t call it an upset if they win.)

2. 6:00 p.m.: No. 13 Gonzaga at No. 22 Oklahoma State (ESPN2): Hard to believe that this could end up being the fourth-best game of the day, but that’s the truth. This should be a terrific gauge for both the Zags and the Pokes. Gonzaga finally has a tough road test while Oklahoma State will be playing their best opponent of the season.

3. 7:30 p.m.: New Mexico at St. Louis (CBS Sports Net): We know how good New Mexico is, but St. Louis is still a question mark. A lot of people picked them to win the A-10 this season, but they just got their star point guard Kwamaine Mitchell over the weekend. He had four points, five assists, three turnovers and shot 2-7 from the field in 19 minutes in his season-debut.

4. 4:00 p.m.: St. Joseph’s at Drexel: An intra-city battle between two schools from Philly that both need to prove themselves. Drexel has been a massive disappointment this season, while the Hawks have been far too inconsistent to be considered a threat for an at-large bid.

5. 2:00 p.m.: Bowling Green at Temple: The last time Temple played, they beat Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. The last time Temple played at home, they lost to Canisius. Which team shows up against Bowling Green?

The Rest of the Top 25

  • 2:00 p.m.: South Dakota at No. 25 Kansas State
  • 3:00 p.m.: Central Connecticut State at No. 9 Syracuse (ESPNU)
  • 5:00 p.m.: UNC Greensboro at No. 23 NC State (ESPNU)

Other Notable Games

  • 5:00 p.m.: Utah State at Texas State
  • 7:00 p.m.: Nevada at Oregon (Pac-12)
  • 8:00 p.m.: North Texas at Middle Tennessee State (ESPNU)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.