Kentucky Mississippi Basketball

Kentucky quiets Marshall Henderson, beats No. 16 Ole Miss

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We all bought a ticket to the Marshall Henderson Show, but instead, what we got on Tuesday night was a feature on just what Kentucky is capable of being when it all comes together.

They went into the Tad Pad and knocked off No. 16 Ole Miss 87-74 thanks to 26 points from Kyle Wiltjer, 24 points from Archie Goodwin and a scintillating defensive performance from Nerlens Noel, who blocked a school-record 12 shots.

And while I singled out some impressive stat-lines for three of Kentucky’s biggest stars, the fact of the matter is that this was a team victory for the Wildcats in every sense of the word.

In the first half, as UK was battling a shortened bench — Willie Cauley-Stein missed yet another game — and a quick whistle that led to massive foul trouble, John Calipari was forced to use a lineup that included Jarrod Polson, Jon Hood and Kyle Wiltjer for an extended period of time. Despite that, Kentucky managed to head into the break trailing Ole Miss by just a single point.

In the second half, Wiltjer continued his hot shooting, reaching his career-high of 26 points with 17 minutes left on the game. When the Rebels started to focus in on him, Alex Poythress took over, helping push Kentucky’s lead to 73-56 with 12 points and four boards during the surge.

And when foul trouble once again destroyed Kentucky’s momentum, aiding a 16-0 run that cut the Wildcat lead to just a single point, it was Noel that took control of the game.

Ole Miss was able to cut their deficit in large part because they used Henderson as a decoy to spread the floor and create mismatches before pounding the ball into the paint, where Noel couldn’t afford to foul out. But the flip-switched for Noel when he took an elbow and got into a bit of a shoving match with Reginald Buckner on a free throw block out at the six minute mark.

From that point on, Noel blocked five of the six shots that Ole Miss took in the paint, including a pair of incredible blocks on dunk attempts. The only shot he didn’t block was a driving dunk attempt by Murphy Holloway that he changed into a missed lay-up.

What makes the win all the more impressive is that Kentucky did all this on the road in a game that they just about had to win.

Beating teams in the top 50 in the RPI on the road is not an easy thing to do, and it’s an opportunity that’s not going to come along that often in the SEC this season. Kentucky did that.

But this win does more than simply bolster a resume that was is desperate need of work.

It builds their confidence. Poythress and Wiltjer have both been inconsistent, but they dominated for stretches during this game. Goodwin has had issues with shot selection and decision-making, and he scored 24 points on 11 shots while getting to the line 14 times and finishing with a 4:3 assist-to-turnover ration. Kentucky went deep into their bench and got contributions from everyone that contributed.

And, most importantly, they withstood a run by a good team on their home floor.

Ole Miss may be overrated at No. 16 in the country, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is the kind of win that can change the course of Kentucky’s season.

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)
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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
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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.