Miami v North Carolina

Weekend Preview: Five Storylines

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Who is the third best team in the ACC?: I think that it’s pretty safe to say that Duke is the best team in the conference, followed by NC State. Those two will square off at noon on Saturday. But that’s not what’s important heading into this weekend. We already know what we’re going to get out of those two teams this season, and any result that comes with Ryan Kelly sidelined will have an asterisk next to it.

Who is the best of the rest? Is it Miami, who just went into the Dean Dome and beat North Carolina but also lost to Florida-Gulf Coast? Is it Florida State, who has losses to Mercer and South Alabama and a win at Maryland this week? Is it UNC or Maryland after all? At 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, the Heels visit Tallahassee, where they were embarrassed a season ago. At 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, Miami plays host to the Terps. I think we’ll know a lot more about all four teams come Monday morning.

Some Pac-12 clarity: UCLA is playing their best basketball of the season right now, sitting at 3-0 in the conference and finally getting the kind of production out of Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson that we all expected. But they will be visiting Colorado on Saturday afternoon in a game that should be able to tell us two things: Is Colorado a serious contender in the conference? And is UCLA tough enough to win on the road?

We should also get a good gauge on both Arizona State and Oregon. The Ducks are still unbeaten in the league after handing Arizona their first loss of the season on Thursday night, but Arizona State is also without a loss. The Sun Devils went into Oregon State and knocked off the Beavers on Thursday. They will play Sunday night at 9:00 p.m.

Shaking out the Big East: There are two games early on Saturday that will help clear some things up about the conference. The first is Georgetown’s 11:00 a.m. tip at St. John’s. The Hoyas have had all kinds of issues scoring the ball this season, but now those struggles are starting to seep into the defensive side of the ball. This is the kind of thing that JT III needs to fix immediately if Georgetown wants a real chance at being competitive in the league. But both Marquette and Pitt are looking for answers as well. The Golden Eagles are 2-0 in the league, but they won two close games at home. Pitt is 1-2 in conference play, but the ‘1’ was an undressing of Georgetown in which the Hoyas simply rolled over and died.

First place in mid-majors on the line: There are a pair of games on Saturday afternoon that will determine who will be sitting in first place. Northeastern and Towson, surprisingly enough, are both 3-0 in the CAA right now. They square off at noon. When that one is over, Hartford will trek down to Stony Brook to put their undefeated America East record on the line.

Bob Huggins takes on his old team: At 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Huggy Bear and West Virginia will be taking on No. 18 Kansas State in Morgantown. The matchup itself should be interesting enough — WVU used a 13-0 run at the end of regulation to force overtime at Texas and keep their tournament hopes realistic — but don’t forget about the importance of KSU to Huggins’ career. They gave him a chance after he was fired by Cincinnati.

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)
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.