Jerian Grant

Notre Dame holds off red-hot Villanova at home

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Following back-to-back home wins over Louisville and Syracuse — the first unranked team to beat consecutive top-5 teams since 2001 — Villanova put itself back into NCAA tournament talk. In the first road test, the Wildcats proved to be human after a surreal week, falling to Notre Dame 65-60 Wednesday night.

Notre Dame left the door open down with only seconds remaining, leaving Darrun Hilliard — the hero in Saturday’s overtime win against Syracuse — had a chance to tie the game at 61, but Hilliard couldn’t connect, as the Fighting Irish were able to hold on for the victory.

The Fighting Irish trailed by two, 31-29, heading into the break. That was before Cameron Biedscheid went off for a career night. Biedscheid, the freshman, made 1-of-2 three’s in the first half, but went 4-of-5 from deep, en route to a team-high 18 points off the bench. Biedscheid and Grant — who hit four 3-pointers — sparked the Notre Dame shooting, which ended 9-of-21 from behind the arc.

This was a big boost to Notre Dame, who had lost two out of three at home, a rarity for a Mike Brey team. Notre Dame played well in several facets of the game. Biedscheid and Grant provided the offensive lift with the deep shooting, Jack Cooley — 17 points and 16 rebounds — continued to add a post presence. And as a team, Notre Dame limited the turnovers, only six to the same Villanova team that forced 17 miscues against Louisville.

With the performance from Biedscheid, Notre Dame has seen the rise of another player. Sophomore Tom Knight, who ended with 10 points and four rebounds, has played well in increased minutes over the last few games. Zach Auguste, another freshman, didn’t put up the numbers, but was active in his time on the floor.

For Villanova, it’s a return to earth. Not many teams can produce the kind of week the Nova had last week, but remember this is the same team that dropped three straight in November, including an 18-point loss to Columbia. Villanova has gone from a postseason afterthought to right back in the conversation for an invitation to the dance. A loss might not be the worst thing. They wanted a road test and got it. And lost. Now for Jay Wright and the Wildcats it’s time to regroup and with the upcoming schedule Villanova should grab a few more wins before another opportunity to score a key win on the road.

Up next for Villanova is Providence, DePaul and South Florida. After that on Feb. 12, the Cats travel to Cincinnati to try and pull off what them almost did in South Bend.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

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.