Villanova v Syracuse

Weekend Preview: Five games between ranked teams on Saturday

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Game of the Weekend: No. 6 Syracuse at No. 1 Louisville (Sat. 4:00 p.m. ESPN)

Were you wondering who the best team in the Big East is this season? Well, you may be getting your answer on Saturday, as Syracuse heads down to Louisville to take on the Cardinals. At full strength, this would be a tough matchup for the Orange. As good as Michael Carter-Williams has been this season, he’s a bigger, slightly slower guard that is turnover prone. He’s going to have Russ Smith and Peyton Siva and Kevin Ware up in his jock for 40 minutes. That’s not exactly ideal for anyone, especially a guy whose dribble is that much higher than a standard point guard.

The other issue for Syracuse is that they will be playing without James Southerland, their best shooter and a key piece in their zone defense. What makes him so valuable is that not only can be be a zone buster and help get the Cardinals out of their 2-3, but he had the length and athleticism to be a threat defensively in the Syracuse zone. It will be interesting to see how Syracuse responds, but until Southerland returns to the lineup, Syracuse is going to be behind the 8-ball, especially on the road.

Six more games you have to watch

  • No. 17 Missouri at No. 10 Florida (Sat. 2:00 p.m. ESPN): The big news here is that it looks like Laurence Bowers will be out on Saturday, meaning that the Tigers are going to be going up against one of the nation’s toughest defensive teams without their best offensive player. That doesn’t mean they won’t have a fighting chance, mind you; if Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross are hitting their threes, Phil Pressey is playing under control and the Tigers are defending, they are still a dangerous club.
  • No. 12 Creighton at Wichita State (Sat. 4:00 p.m. ESPN2): Wichita State is getting closer to being back to full strength as they just got Carl Hall back from his broken thumb. He joins Cleanthony Early along the front line, meaning that the Shockers have the mismatch they can exploit against the Bluejays. Last season, with Creighton and Wichita State in similar situations from a nation perspective, the Shockers smacked Creighton around. If the Bluejays truly want to be the favorite in the Missouri Valley and prove they are a threat in March, they need this win.
  • No. 21 Oregon at No. 24 UCLA (Sat. 4:00 p.m. CBS): Can you believe this? Two top 25 teams in the Pac-12, and they’re playing each other? For my money, these are the two best teams in the league. And while both like to get up-and-down the floor, the Bruins don’t play nearly as much defense or rebound nearly as well as the Ducks. That said, Oregon doesn’t have the same kind of talent on their roster. The key matchup: Kyle Anderson vs. whichever big man Oregon puts on him.
  • No. 11 Ohio State at No. 18 Michigan State (Sat. 6:00 p.m. ESPN): The Buckeyes are coming off of a stellar win over Michigan on Sunday, but so much of that win had to do with the fact that Ohio State simply matched up well with the Wolverines. Will that be the case against the Spartans? OSU doesn’t have nearly the same amount of size, and if the Spartans go small and put Branden Dawson at the four, they can nullify Deshaun Thomas.
  • UNLV at Colorado State (Sat. 7:00 p.m. NBC Sports Net): UNLV picked up a huge win at San Diego State on Wednesday night, but does this mean that they’ve gotten past their road woes? CSU is a tough team at home and they have a big, physical front line. If the Rams are truly going to make noise in the Mountain West this season, these are the kind of games they need to win.
  • No. 9 Gonzaga at No. 13 Butler (Sat. 8:00 p.m. ESPN): This game took a bit of a hit last weekend when Rotnei Clarke took a nasty fall against Dayton and sprained his neck in a scary incident that required his to be taken off the court on a stretcher. But that doesn’t mean this won’t be an entertaining matchup. How about this: Kelly Olynyk matching up with the most physical defender he will have faced this season in Andrew Smith? Remember the job Smith did on Cody Zeller? If he can slow down Gonzaga’s Big Canadian, Butler will have a chance.

And the mid-majors?

  • Stony Brook at Vermont (Fri. 7:00 p.m. ESPNU)
  • La Salle at Xavier (Sat. 2:00 p.m.)
  • Wagner at Bryant (Sat. 4:00 p.m.)
  • Charleston at Davidson (Sat. 7:00 p.m. ESPN3)
  • Tennessee State at Belmont (Sat. 8:00 p.m.)

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)
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.