Adriean Payne, Jared Berggren

Weekend Preview: ‘Sterling’ reason to think Illinois gets upset at Wisconsin

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Who’s Getting Upset?: Sat. 2:15 p.m.: No. 12 Illinois at Wisconsin (Big Ten Net)

This was a fairly easy pick for me to make for three reasons:

1. Wisconsin is so tough to beat in the Kohl Center. I don’t care if this is a down year for the Badgers. I don’t care if they have point guard issues or if they are still a year away from truly being a contender. None of that matters to me, because the Kohl Center doesn’t differentiate. It’s as good of a home environment as you will find in the Big Ten.

2. The Badgers are always going to be the kind of team that is tough to get into a rhythm against because they are so good at controlling the pace and so good at frustrating you defensively. They don’t force a ton of turnovers, but they box out, they are disciplined and they challenge jump shots.

3. Illinois is a three-point shooting team. Wisconsin uses Sterling basketballs. They are the only major conference program to use that brand. Shooters are very particular about the kind of basketball they like. That’s a factor that cannot be ignored.

Who else is on upset alert?:

  • Fri. 8:05 p.m.: No. 13 Creighton at Missouri State (ESPN3): I know this sounds weird. The No. 13 team in the country on upset alert against a team that had exactly zero Division I wins in non-conference play? Well, Missouri State has won three out of four since league play started. The Bluejays better come to play.
  • Sat. 11:00 a.m.: No. 19 Georgetown at St. John’s (ESPN2): Would this even count as an upset? This is as intriguing of a game as any on the schedule this weekend. Can the Hoyas ever solve their scoring issues? Given their level of confidence right now, my men’s league team — Webb Construction, the Wisconsin Badgers of the Northern Virginia suburbs — might be able to beat them.
  • Sat. 3:00 p.m.: Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (ESPN2): Oklahoma has been one of the more disappointing teams in the country for me this year. I thought the Sooners had a chance to make some noise in the Big 12 this year. They have a good front line and some scorers in the back court. The Pokes are such a tough matchup, however, because Markel Brown, Marcus Smart and LeBryan Nash are all big, physical scoring threats on the perimeter.
  • Sat. 4:00 p.m.: No. 11 Florida at LSU (ESPNU): LSU isn’t great, but they are probably better than you think. Florida’s beat up right now — Will Yegeute and Erik Murphy have nagging injuries — and on the road. That’s never a good sign.
  • Sat. 8:00 p.m.: No. 21 Cincinnati at Rutgers (ESPN3): Has Cincinnati figured out their issues yet? Going on the road after losing three of four at home isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
  • Sat. 8:00 p.m.: No. 10 Missouri at Ole Miss (ESPN3): Marshall Henderson actually said this: “I never lose confidence. I could go 0-for-25 and it’s still going up.” That’s amazing. Missouri, who will be without Laurence Bowers for this game, better not let him get hot. Ole Miss only gets so many chances at big wins in league play. This would be huge for their bubble hopes.
  • Sun. 4:35 p.m.: No. 23 Wichita State at Evansville (ESPN3): I have the utmost respect for what Gregg Marshall has done, but eventually someone is going to catchup with those injuries.

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.