Arsalan Kazemi, Larry Drew II

College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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Wild finishes: We were treated to plenty of them this week. There was Marshall Henderson’s 35-foot game-tying three against Vanderbilt. There was Alex Len’s game-winning tip-in. Matthew Dellavedova answered a go-ahead jumper from Tyler Haws with a running, double-pump 40-footer at the buzzer. VCU erased a four-point deficit in the final 14 seconds against St. Joe’s. Walt Lemon Jr. banked-in a running 25-footer as Bradley won at the buzzer on Saturday. Michael Carter-Williams won a game in the final seconds by dunking on Gorgui Dieng. Wichita State survived Creighton when Ethan Wragge missed two looks at a game-tying three. And, of course, there was Butler.

But you’re right. This is a down year in college hoops.

Was there a more important addition this season than Arsalan Kazemi?: Kazemi has long been one of the best rebounders in college basketball, but he was hidden at Rice as the Owls failed to have any kind of national relevance. But over the summer, Kazemi made the decision to leave the school prior to his senior season, in large part due to alleged racial discrimination he experienced at the school. Kazemi was allowed to play immediately at Oregon as a result, and it’s been the key to Oregon’s early season success.

The Ducks already had a talented and versatile front line, but Kazemi added a blend of physicality and toughness that wasn’t previously present. He’s far and away the leading rebounder for the Ducks despite coming off the bench. As good as the trio of Tony Woods, EJ Singler and Carlos Emory can be, none of those three guys are really willing to do the dirty work in the paint. Kazemi is, and that’s a huge reason that the Ducks are currently sitting alone in first place in the Pac-12.

Gonzaga will be fine: I’m not overly concerned about Gonzaga’s loss to Butler even when you factor in the absence of Rotnei Clarke. If not for a fluky play with 3.5 seconds left — a miscommunication on an inbounds, combined with a possible push-off by Roosevelt Jones, led to a running one-hander, and another possible push-off by Jones, that potentially came after the buzzer sounded. That’s how Gonzaga lost. At Hinkle. On the night they hosted College Gameday.

There may not be a program in the country that can handle losing their most talented player better than Butler, because the Bulldogs are as much about the system as any program in the country. Clarke provides some scoring, but Butler wins by being physical, chasing shooters off the three-point line and executing offensively. And they did just that on Saturday.

Ben McLemore’s best attribute? His ability to fit into a system: Here’s the thing that interesting about Ben McLemore as a player: he’s a star, he’s been labeled a top five pick, he’s been christened the Jayhawk’s go-to guy, yet he only uses 22.9% of the Kansas possessions when he’s on the floor, a value that’s typically found in role players.

What’s more impressive, however, is that he’s the most significant contributor to the Jayhawks offensively. Kansas is as balanced as any team in the country, which comes a year after they were as unbalanced as just about any team that’s ever made the national title game. McLemore’s really good at picking his spots and lethal in those situations — his shooting splits: 54.9/44.4/88.1 — but he doesn’t dominate the Kansas offense the way that Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor did a year ago.

Pay attention to Bryant: The best story of the season that no one is paying attention to? The Bryant Bulldogs. After winning just 20 games in their first four years at the Division I level, Bryant is 13-4 and 6-0 in the NEC.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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)
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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.

ESPN.com was the first to report White’s commitment.

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.