Darrun Hilliard

College Hoops Team of the Week: Villanova Wildcats

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Team of the Week: Villanova

For the first time since Ball State did it back in 2001 a team knocked off two top five teams in the same week. On Wednesday, the Wildcats knocked off then-No. 5 Louisville and followed that up with a win over then-No. 3 Syracuse. Darrun Hilliard was the star against the Orange, hitting for 25 points, while Ryan Arcidiacono had 15 points in the win over Louisville and his the game-tying three to force overtime against Syracuse.

The bigger news here is that Villanova, a team that had been pushed into the back of the mind of every Big East fan thanks to a couple of disappointing seasons in a row, is now firmly back into the NCAA tournament discussion, something that I doubt even the most die-hard fans thought possible. I mean, this is the same Villanova team that lost to Columbia — by 18! — earlier this season. Jay Wright’s team still has work to do, but those two wins likely mean that Villanova will make the tournament barring a dumpster fire taking place over the next month and a half.

Basketball is better when hoops in Philly is relevant, and Villanova certainly is relevant now.

Teams deserving a shout out:

La Salle: Villanova wasn’t the only team from Philly to win two games against ranked teams this past week. The Explorers did as well, beating Butler at the buzzer at home on Tuesday before going into Richmond and knocking off the Rams thanks to 31 points from Ramon Galloway. La Salle is loaded with talented guards and thrives playing small ball, but they also have enough quality size that they can battle with the big boys. Dr. Giannini’s team can also claim a win over Villanova this year.

La Salle has mostly been an afterthought in Philly over the last decade. All of a sudden, they look like they might be the best team in the city.

Georgetown: The Hoyas have now won four of their last five since Greg Whittington was suspended thanks to wins at Notre Dame and at home against Louisville this week. Otto Porter Jr. was the star, but it needs to be noted that Georgetown is a different team on the days that Markel Starks is playing and scoring at a high level.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils got drubbed at home by Arizona last week, which sent them off of the radar as a Pac-12 contender until Herb Sendek’s team when and swept the LA schools this weekend. The overtime win over USC was alright, but beating UCLA by 18 points after the Bruins trounced Arizona in the McKale Center sent a statement.

Miami: As if the win over then-No. 1 Duke wasn’t enough, the Hurricanes also managed to blow out Florida State at home this week. Miami is now 6-0 in the ACC with a two-game lead over the entire conference. Reggie Johnson is now back, and while he’s not playing his best basketball yet, Julian Gamble has made sure that no one has noticed. Miami is unquestionably the best team in the ACC so long as Ryan Kelly is out with an injury, and they may be when he returns.

Montana: The Grizzlies moved to 10-0 in the Big Sky this week, with the biggest win coming on Saturday as the knocked off a good Weber State team. WSU was 8-0 in the league heading into the weekend, but the Wildcats also dropped a game at Montana State. Will Cherry had 28 in the win.

Five more teams that deserve mention: Belmont, Kansas, Oregon, Sacred Heart, San Diego State

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)
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.

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.