Paul Lusk

Pregame Shootaround 1.11.13: Can Missouri State continue its improbable turnaround?

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Game of the Day: No. 13 Creighton at Missouri State (8:00 p.m.; ESPN3) 

After going 2-10 in non-conference play Paul Lusk’s team has proven to be a headache for their Missouri Valley foes, as the Bears are off to a 3-1 start. But tonight brings on an incredibly difficult task: slowing down Doug McDermott and a Creighton team that’s averaging 80.2 points per game. On the season Creighton is shooting 51.9% from the field and 44.9% from beyond the arc, and the many quality looks that the Bluejays find offensively make them one of the tougher matchups in the country. Guards Anthony Downing and Marcus Marshall lead the way offensively for Missouri State but it would be unrealistic for them to have any thoughts of winning a shootout with Creighton. Can they slow down the Bluejays? Doubtful, but few had them getting off to a 3-1 start either.

Who’s Getting Upset? Utah State (vs. San Jose State; 9:05 p.m. ESPN3) 

The Dee Glenn Smith Spectrum is one of the toughest environments for a road team to deal with, thanks not only to the fans but also the fact that Stew Morrill’s program is 219-19 during his tenure. Led by shooting guard Preston Medlin the Aggies have won 12 games in a row, but with San Jose State having a perimeter marksman of its own there’s a chance the Spartans can pull the upset. His name: James Kinney. Kinney, who casual fans may not have seen since he scored 30 in a loss at Kansas in late November, is averaging 20.6 points per game and has scored 20 points or more in eight of the 14 games in which he has played. If he can get hot don’t be surprised if San Jose State hangs around.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: Fairfield at Loyola (MD) (7:00 p.m.; ESPNU) 

With wins over Rider and Saint Peter’s last week more than a few pundits were quick to make Loyola (MD) the clear favorite to win the MAAC. But the conference race is a wide-open affair and that’s something the visiting Stags hope to prove tonight. Fairfield (2-2) trails Loyola (3-1) by a game in the standings but they’ve won three of their last four games on the road, which includes wins at Saint Joseph’s and Canisius. The perimeter matchup between Fairfield’s Derek Needham and Loyola’s Dylon Cormier should be fun to watch, but the key for the Stags will be whether or not their front court can neutralize Loyola forward Erik Etherly (15.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg).

Five Things to Watch For 

1) Siena has lost 11 straight games entering tonight’s game against Canisius and at first glance it would be safe to assume that Billy Baron and company will make short work of the Saints. But Siena has won 13 of the last 14 games in the series and they own a 13-2 record against the Golden Griffins at the Times Union Center. Is this weekend a “last stand” of sorts for forward O.D. Anosike and company? It just might be.

2) Wright St. looks to move to 4-0 in Horizon League play tonight with a win at Loyola (IL). Billy Donlon’s Raiders are off to the program’s best start since the 1989-90 season and they’ve done so thanks in large part to their work on the defensive end. Opponents are shooting 39.7% from the field and 29.5% from beyond the arc, and junior forward Cole Darling leads the way offensively with an average of 10.6 points per game.

3) Northern Kentucky and Lipscomb meet for the first time since the 1971-72 season, and strangely enough all three prior meetings in the series took place during that season (Lipscomb winning two). Both teams are 1-3 in Atlantic Sun play, and if they’re to defend their home floor the Norse have to hold their own on the boards (minus-4.2 rebounding margin).

4) Niagara swept the season series with Saint Peter’s last season and have won eight of the last 12 meetings entering tonight’s game in Jersey City. With high-scoring guards Antoine Mason and Juan’ya Green at his disposal Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich will look to crack the Peacocks’ tough half-court defense.

5) San Jose State’s James Kinney is averaging 20.6 points per game on the season but he’s coming off of a 3-of-18 outing in the Spartans’ 71-64 win over New Orleans on Tuesday night. It’s safe to say that San Jose State can’t afford a similar performance if they’re to win at Utah State.

Other Notable Games 

7:00 p.m. Lipscomb at Northern Kentucky

7:00 p.m. Canisius at Siena

7:00 p.m. Niagara at Saint Peter’s

9:00 p.m. Wright St. at Loyola (IL) (ESPNU)

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.