Elston Turner, Willie Cauley-Stein

Five Weekend Storylines: Kentucky’s rematch with Texas A&M

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Kentucky’s rematch with Texas A&M: Kentucky has had a number of lowpoints this season, but I don’t think there’s been a worse moment for UK fans than when they lost at home to Texas A&M on a night where Elston Turner lit up the Wildcats for 40 points. Every other loss has an explanation — they’re young, they were on the road, they were playing a talented team — except for this one.

And on Saturday night (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Wildcats get their shot at revenge. But it’s more than just a payback game. Kentucky looked they best they have all season long on Tuesday night in their win over Ole Miss. Kyle Wiltjer dominated. Alex Poythress took over for 10 minutes in the second half. Nerlens Noel owned the game while scoring just two points. That’s something that they need to build on, because that was the first time all year long where we sat back and said, “Hey, maybe this team actually is getting better.”

Oh, and there may be a special guest in attendance. That should be fun.

What is going on with Missouri? The No. 17 Tigers host Auburn on Saturday (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3) just three days after they lost their third SEC game of the year. But instead of the loss coming at the hands of a league favorite, Missouri fell at LSU. In a game where Laurence Bowers was back in the lineup.

What gives?

Is this group actually any good?

Because if they are, than that loss is unacceptable. Good teams simply do not lose to the bottom of their conference, especially when they play in a conference as weak as the SEC. If Missouri is a good team, that lose could end up lighting a fire under them, and Auburn could end up being the unknowing victims of a pillaging on Saturday.

We’re about to find out if the Johnnies are for real: Pop quiz hotshot: Who is all alone in third place in the Big East? Any guesses? Would you be surprised if I were to tell you that, at 6-3, St. John’s is sitting in third place by themselves, a half-game in front of four teams in the Big East standings? Steve Lavin’s group has been a revelation early on this season. They’ve won four straight games and have already knocked off Cincinnati and Notre Dame this year.

Now it gets serious. On Saturday, they’re at Georgetown (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS). They host UConn on Wednesday and then follow that up with trips to Louisville and Syracuse. If this group is really going to compete for a tournament spot, we’ll know in two weeks.

Philly hoops is a confounding mess: Villanova lost by 18 to Columbia at home and has since beaten both Syracuse and Louisville. La Salle beat Butler and VCU, on the road, and then lost at home to UMass. Drexel is, well, Drexel.

But the two teams in the city that have confused me the most are Temple and St. Joseph’s, who square off on Hawk Hill on Saturday (6:00 p.m. ET, CBS). St. Joe’s was picked to win the A-10 in the preseason, but got off to a 1-3 start in league play before winning their last two games. Temple beat Syracuse in the Garden earlier this year, but they’ve been the epitome of inconsistency since that win.

If anyone wants to take a shot at explaining any of those five teams, please, the comments section is below. Don’t hesitate.

When do we write off Illinois?: The Illini host Wisconsin on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten) in what has become a must-win game for them. Yes, they’ve beaten Gonzaga, Butler and Ohio State. Those wins are great. They’re also 2-6 in the Big Ten with a stretch coming up that consists of Wisconsin, Indiana, at Minnesota and Purdue, with trips to Ann Arbor and Columbus left on their schedule as well.

Yes, they have plenty of chances to right their ship, but with each loss, it gets harder and harder for a team to turn around their season. Lose this game, and the Illini are staring 2-9 in the Big Ten in the face. They cannot afford a slip-up here.

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.