Kentucky v Vanderbilt

Kentucky avoids bad loss but has offensive issues to address

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With 13:48 left in Thursday night’s game at Vanderbilt, Kentucky was up 47-31 on the Commodores.

It was the kind of performance — dominating at times, inconsistent at others — that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the Wildcats. But regardless of the issues that Vanderbilt has had this season, the bottom line was that Kentucky was getting ready to win an SEC road game, more-or-less a first for everyone on this roster.

But then Vanderbilt switched to a zone. And Kentucky completely lost the ability to function offensively.

The Wildcats missed their next 12 shots. Vanderbilt scored the next 18 points. By the time that Ryan Harrow finally hit a three to give UK the lead back at the 4:58 mark, it was quite clear that this was no longer going to be a laugher. The team that lost by 17 to Marist would be giving Kentucky everything they could handle.

Kentucky would eventually survive 60-58 — thanks, in large part, to a bucket with 17.3 seconds left from Nerlens Noel that quite clearly came after the shot clock had expired — but some wins mean more than others.

Let’s ignore, for a second, the fact that Kentucky was completely and utterly lost against the zone. They needed to hit their last three field goals just to finish 4-17 from the floor against the Vanderbilt zone. They turned the ball over seven times during that stretch.

At the same time, they got abused on the defensive end of the floor because Vanderbilt targeted the defensively-challenged Kyle Wiltjer. But UK needed Wiltjer on the floor because of his zone-busting ability.

While Wiltjer clearly has value on the offensive end, if he can’t improve defensively John Calipari will have a decision to make: either play the sophomore knowing that he’s a matchup opponents will look (and be able) to exploit, or have one of his better offensive weapons sit because of those defensive issues.

“So now I told him: ‘You don’t think anybody was watching the tape, right? No one watched that game? Don’t think every team now is going to go right at you. Good luck.’ And I think he can do it, but he’s got to make his mind up that, ‘I’m not settling for this.’ There’s a couple plays where he broke down; then just rebound. He didn’t rebound, and they scored on him. I mean, fight man. Come on. Where is it?”

And given the value that Calipari places on the defensive end of the floor, there’s a better chance of Wiltjer sitting than Kentucky simply deciding that they’ll accept his defensive struggles in exchange for points on the other end.

“Figure it out. You either don’t stay in the game or figure it out. Fight or we’ll figure it out,” Calipari said according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Add to this the prolonged slump that Alex Poythress has been mired in and that opened the door for Vanderbilt to scrap their way back into a game that should have been a blowout.

Another concern here is that Kentucky doesn’t have much room to spare in terms of the NCAA tournament. This win was just their third RPI top 215 win this season (Maryland and Eastern Michigan), and given how weak the SEC is this season — there just aren’t going to be many chances for the Cats to pick up RPI boosting wins — we could be looking at a situation where UK is sitting somewhere around an eight or a nine seed.

And if they slip up against a Vanderbilt or a South Carolina or a Mississippi State?

I won’t go there.

Yet.

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
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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.