UCLA has been on one heck of a roller-coaster ride this season. Fans were preparing to run Ben Howland out of town on a rail after a November home loss to Cal Poly, and another round of midseason player defections. Then came a ten-game win streak and solid play from freshmen Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad that put the Bruins right back in the heat of the Pac 12 race. Now inconsistency has crept into the mix again.
There was a time when a trip to Tempe was a rather easy win for the Bruins, but it was not this day. The Sun Devils made an emphatic statement today, beating visiting UCLA by 18 points, and staking a legit contender’s claim. Herb Sendek did it with Iron Man minutes from his starting five, including a full 40 minutes played by freshman point guard Jahii Carson. Ruslan Pateev scored two points in ten minutes off of the bench; the rest came from the starting lineup.
Center Jordan Bachynski – he of the triple-double against Northridge – played the fewest minutes of any starter, logging just 30, but he was the most effective part of a sterling group effort. The big man scored 22 points to go with 15 boards and six blocked shots, which is very much the kind of performance basketball fans have come to expect. Carrick Felix was actually the leading scorer for the Sun Devils, however, notching 23 to complement eleven boards, three steals and two blocks.
UCLA struggled to score, shooting just 34.7 percent from the floor against the stolid interior play of Bachynski and Felix. The dysfunction that characterized UCLA’s early season returned to some degree, with David Wear putting in a mediocre effort while his brother Travis sat due to injury, and Anderson fouling out with just six points to his credit.
The Sun Devils are in good shape for a tourney bid right now, with the toughest part of their schedule already behind them. They won’t face a currently ranked team until they close the season against arch-rival and current No. 6 Arizona.
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.
I want to thank God, my family & Coach Todd of X for helping me get to where I'm at now. I'm officially a Wildcat🔵⚪️ pic.twitter.com/ddsxSfxUZS
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 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.
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.
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.