Eric Atkins

Pregame Shootaround 1.7.2013: Notre Dame plays … Cincinnati?

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Game of the Day: 6:30 p.m.: No. 21 Notre Dame at No. 14 Cincinnati (ESPN2)

We know how good Louisville is and we think we know how good Syracuse is, but what we don’t quite have a firm handle on yet is where Notre Dame and Cincinnati fall in the Big East’s pecking order. We should get a chance to gauge that on Monday evening, as the Irish visit the Queen City to take on the Bearcats. (Note the 6:30 tip!)

I think Notre Dame is a better team than the Bearcats this season. I love their back court almost as much as I love Jack Cooley. The problem, however, is that Cincinnati matches up particularly well with Notre Dame. The Bearcats can really pressure the ball defensively — watching Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins go up against Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick may be the best back court battle we get in the league this year — and they play four perimeter players, just like the Irish. They also have enough size inside to potentially negate Cooley.

How does Cincinnati respond to losing their last two games at home?

Who’s Getting Upset?: 7:00 p.m.: No. 5 Indiana at Penn State (Big Ten)

Ranked Big Ten team on the road in league play. That’s usually my standard for picking an “upset”. The problem here? Penn State isn’t all that good and Indiana is really, really good. We’ll call this the exception that proves the rule.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Illinois-Chicago at Cleveland State

UIC has been one of the nation’s most pleasant surprises after putting together wins against the likes of Mercer, Iona, Northwestern and Colorado State. A recent three-game losing streak aside, the Flames look to be a serious contender in the Horizon. Cleveland State was a favorite to win the league in the preseason, but after a series of injuries — including one to stud sophomore Anton Grady — the Vikings have fallen back to the pack.

Five Things

1. Parker Smith of North Florida went for 33 points and hit nine threes on Saturday. The last two times he’s suited up against Florida-Gulf Coast, he went for 23 points, combined for 11 threes in those two games. How many can he hit tonight?

2. Southern Utah is currently sitting at 3-0 in the Big Sky, two games ahead of the teams behind them but a half-game behind Weber State and Montana at the top of the league. SUU travels to Sacramento State tonight. Can they keep pace with the Big Sky favorites?

3. Afternoon hoops! Florida International and Bethune-Cookman tip-off at 1 p.m.

4. The Southland title will likely go through Oral Roberts or Stephen F. Austin, but neither Northwestern State not Sam Houston State have a league loss yet. They play tonight at 8:45 p.m.

5. Lipscomb’s Stephen Hurt and USC-Upstate’s Torrey Craig are two of the better forwards in the Atlantic Sun. They go toe-to-toe at 8:15 p.m.

No Other Top 25 games scheduled

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)
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.