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Pregame Shootaround 1.31.13: Arizona, Butler with tough road tests

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Game of the Day: No. 8 Arizona at Washington (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

After starting out Pac-12 play 4-0, Washington has dropped three straight games and found themselves two back of conference leader Oregon. The Huskies record, while far from impressive and including a loss to Utah, may be a bit inflated as well; five of their 11 remaining league games will come against UCLA, Arizona and Oregon. But if you’re a Washington fan, that’s a good thing. Because right now, the Huskies are not an NCAA tournament team, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance of playing their way in. Beating Arizona at home is a good place to start.

As far as the Wildcats are concerned, I don’t think I’m alone in trying to figure out just how good this team truly is. I like Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom. I think Nick Johnson and Mark Lyons make up a solid back court. There is potential in the Wildcat front court. But when it’s all put together, I’m just not sure I see one of the top ten teams in the country.

Sean Miller has never won at Washington as the head coach at Arizona. Can he change that tonight?

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 9 Butler at St. Louis (9:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Net)

Butler has Rotnei Clarke back and St. Louis now has Kwamaine Mitchell healthy and playing well, which means that this should be just as good of a game as we all expected it to be back in October. Butler is sitting all alone atop the Atlantic 10 standings with a half-game lead on what feels like two-thirds of the conference. St. Louis is looking to makeup for losing to Rhode Island at home earlier this month. Will the Billikens be able to defend Butler’s perimeter attack well enough to get the win at home?

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Drexel at George Mason (7:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Net)

Drexel has been one of the most disappointing teams in the country, and while some of that is the result of bad luck on the injury front, they also simply haven’t played up to their potential this season. Neither has George Mason, for that matter, which is what makes this game so interesting. This was one of the best games of the CAA season when the schedule game out, and a tough start to the year doesn’t necessarily change that.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Illinois visits No. 13 Michigan State tonight. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN) Their next three games? Wisconsin, Indiana and at Minnesota. They still have roadies to Michigan and Ohio State. They’re 2-5 in the Big Ten right now. They need to turn this thing around, and quickly.

2) It’s been seven years since UConn has won at Providence. That’s not a long time considering it’s been 32 years since Dayton has won at Xavier, but considering how good UConn has been and how bad Providence has been, that’s a rather incredible number. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

3) First place in the MAAC is on the line as Iona and Niagara square off at Niagara. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

4) Loyola Marymount has struggled this season, but Anthony Ireland is one of the best point guards on the west coast. He’ll be on ESPN2 tonight at 11:00 p.m. ET squaring off with Gonzaga.

5) We wrote about Jahii Carson today. He plays tonight at Washington State. If you haven’t watched him yet this year, he can do things like this. Might wanna tune in. (11:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Net)

The Top 25

  • No. 7 Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount (11:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
  • No. 8 Arizona at Washington (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • No. 9 Butler at St. Louis (9:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Net)
  • Illinois at No. 13 Michigan State (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Other Notable Games

  • Stetson at Jacksonville (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • Middle Tennessee State at Florida International (7:30 p.m. ET)
  • Morehead State at Belmont (8:00 p.m. ET)
  • Arkansas at Alabama (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

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)
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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.