Keith Dambrot

Keith Dambrot’s Akron Zips nation’s hottest team with 13 straight wins

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While a lot of attention has been paid to which team will ascend to the top of the national polls on a weekly basis, the hottest team in the country has flown under the radar.

That team would be the Akron Zips, who are 8-0 in Mid-American Conference play (17-4 overall) and have won 13 games in a row. With No. 2 Kansas losing at home to Oklahoma State on Saturday, Keith Dambrot’s team has the longest current win streak in the country.

On Saturday the Zips beat reigning MAC champion Ohio 86-72, with the front court tandem of Zeke Marshall and Demetrius Treadwell figuring prominently in the outcome.

Marshall and Treadwell both posted double-doubles on the evening, with Marshall tallying 17 points (8-of-8 FG) and 12 rebounds and Treadwell adding 15 points and ten boards, and as a team the Zips out-rebounded Ohio 40-22.

For the season Marshall and Treadwell are the lone Zips averaging double figures with Marshall’s 13.0 points per game leading the way. The reason why Akron is the top scoring offense in the MAC is their balance as opposed to the presence of a “star,” with seven players averaging at least 5.8 points per game and just one of those seven (forward Jake Kretzer) shooting less than 40% from the field.

Junior point guard Alex Abreu runs the show, and on Saturday he put together arguably his best game of the season against Ohio’s D.J. Cooper. Abreu shot 7-of-10 and scored a game-high 21 points while also racking up nine assists, and his 6.0 assists per game ranks second in the MAC.

Akron’s depth has been their biggest strength with ten players averaging at least 11.4 minutes per game. And with Marshall (3.6 blocks/game) being the road block in the paint Akron has limited opponents to 38.6% shooting from the field.

With their depth, versatility and an NBA prospect in Marshall, Dambrot’s Zips have the look of a team capable of making some noise in March.

But when you’re in a conference that hasn’t sent multiple teams to the NCAA tournament since 1999, how successful a season is ultimately boils down to four days in Cleveland in early March. And Abreu doesn’t lack confidence in the Zips’ ability to get back to the Big Dance.

“We’ll be back this year and reclaim it,” Akron guard Alex Abreu said of the MAC tourney title, which the Zips won in 2009 and 2011. He then took the vision beyond the March tournament at The Q.

“All I think about is a national championship,” he said. “It might sound crazy, but I don’t think we have anything to envy from anybody in the country. We’re full at every position. We’re big. We’re strong. We have guard play. We have shooters. There is nothing we really lack, other than confidence.”

After falling just short of their goal last season, Akron has the look of a team capable of taking the next step. And as Ohio’s run to the Sweet 16 showed, anything can happen once you make the field of 68.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

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)
Jon Lopez/Nike
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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.

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.