Indiana v Purdue

10 tidbits to know: Saturday night showdown in Bloomington, the A-10 and more

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Vin Parise is a former assistant college coach and the college basketball insider for NBC Sports. Look for his Top 10 Tidbits every week.

1. It doesn’t get much better than No. 1 Michigan at  No. 3 Indiana this weekend. Not only can this be a preview of the Big Ten Championship Game — it can also be a possible preview of the Sweet 16, Elite 8 or Final 4. If you’re not watching live at 9:00 pm ET Saturday night…you better have a good excuse.

2. Speaking of the Big Ten, remember when Illinois was one of the top 15-20 teams in the nation? It’s amazing what a few weeks of conference play reveals. Illinois is 3-7 in their last 10 games and is currently 2-6 in Big Ten play.

3. The A-10 has taken the slogan ‘middle of the pack’ to another level. After VCU and Xavier as the top 2 teams, Butler, Charlotte, St. Louis, UMass, George Washington and La Salle all own a 4-2 conference record. And St. Joe’s and Temple are currently at 3-3 in league.

4. I thought the leader in Blocked Shots conversation would always be between Chris Obekpa from St. John’s and Jeff Whithey from Kansas. But freshman Nerlens Noel from Kentucky now leads the nation in rejections. Noel’s school record 12 blocks in the win over Ole Miss helped his cause.

5. Speaking of St. John’s, Steve Lavin’s Red Storm are rolling right now. After losing back to back games to Rutgers and Georgetown, St. John’s has now won 5 straight conference games. It was a great stretch of the schedule for Lavin – the 5 games were DePaul twice, Rutgers, Seton Hall and an upset home win vs Notre Dame. 3 of the next 4 are on the road for St. John’s – and those road wars are at Georgetown, at Louisville and at Syracuse. The Red Storm are in 3rd place by themselves in Big East standings.

6. After good non-conference wins vs Western Michigan and West Virginia, the reality of how much rebuilding needs to actually be done has hit Jim Ferry at Duquesne. The Dukes are the only A-10 team that hasn’t earned a conference win. But expect Ferry’s program to make a significant jump the next few years.

7. Do you think Marshall Bjorklund from North Dakota State gets and takes high percentage shots? The 6-8, Bison Junior leads the nation in Field Goal Percentage – shooting 70.7% from the floor this season.

8. The CAA didn’t forecast the season well at all this year. Northeastern was picked to come in 5th — they are 8-1 in 1st place. Townson was picked 10th — they are tied for 5th. Drexel was picked 1st — they’re in 7th. Old Dominion was picked 4th — they’re in last place at 0-8.

9. MAAC Coach of the Year right now has to be Joe Mihalich from Niagara. The Purple Eagles are 10-1 in MAAC play and sit at 1st place all by themselves. The scary part for MAAC opponents is how many young players Mihalich has. The future is bright in Niagara Falls.

10. Take Belmont in your March Madness brackets when the time comes. The Bruins are 18-4 overall and undefeated in Ohio Valley conference play. The year started with Belmont winning at Stanford and they haven’t looked back. Rick Byrd’s team is currently 14th in RPI rankings.

Follow Vin on Twitter @VinParise and check him out in studio for NBC Sports Network and SNY.

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.