Anthony Bennett

UNLV forward Anthony Bennett leads CBT’s Freshman of the Year rankings

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A hearty welcome to those of you just now joining the rest of us in following college basketball now that football season has ended. We’ll be running a series of posts to get all you football fans caught up on the season at-large. To read through them all, click here.

There have been a number of outstanding freshmen that have been cornerstones of their programs in 2012-13, but a select five stick out, along with some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA (18.4 points, 4.8 rebounds per game)

After the eligibility debacle with the NCAA that forced Muhammad out of the first three games of the season, it took time for the five-star freshman to get into the swing of things at UCLA. As he got more into game shape and became more comfortable in the UCLA offense, the Bruins began to win games and gain traction in the Pac-12.

Isaiah Austin, Baylor (14.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks per game)

The seven-footer Austin is solidifying himself as a Top 10 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, not only because of his ability to score and rebound, but also his willingness to stretch the defense by consistently hitting jumpers on the perimeter. He’s shooting 35 percent from three-point range and, though it’s not stellar, is a major asset for a player his size.

Dominic Artis, Oregon (10.2 points, 3.8 assists per game)

Often the mark of how valuable a player is rests on how well his team plays when he is not in the lineup. In the case of Artis, Oregon has a 1-2 record while he currently sits out with injury, averaging nearly 22 turnovers per game. The Ducks have slipped into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 and will welcome Artis back to the lineup with open arms when he becomes available.

JaKarr Sampson, St. John’s (14.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks per game)

Sampson was originally a member of coach Steve Lavin’s big 2011 recruiting class, but did not qualify and headed back to Brewster Academy for a prep year. Much like his one-and-done former recruiting classmate Maurice Harkless, Sampson has been one of the most impressive freshmen in the Big East.

Siyani Chambers, Harvard (13.3 points, 6.1 assists per game)

Chambers leads all freshmen in assists per game and has the Crimson off to a 4-0 start in Ivy League play. He was perhaps biggest just this past Saturday, when his double-double of 17 points and 10 assists propelled Harvard to a double-overtime win over Brown.

The Countdown

5. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky (10.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.6 blocks per game)

Since the day Noel stepped on campus, comparisons to Anthony Davis have been levied on him, fairly or unfairly. He may not have the offensive game that Davis had while with the Wildcats, but defensively he hasn’t missed a step. His 4.6 blocks per game have anchored the Kentucky defense, including a 12-block game against Ole Miss that sparked a Kentucky comeback victory.

4. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (14.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.9 steals per game)

No one game perfectly exemplified how important Smart is to the Cowboys than his 25-point, 9-rebound, 5-steal outing at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday to lift Oklahoma State to a win over Kansas. Smart does a little bit of everything and should be cashing in on draft day. First, though, he’ll likely be leading the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament.

3. Jahii Carson, Arizona State (18.3 points, 5.3 assists per game)

Carson is the biggest reason why Arizona State’s offense has been completely transformed this season and why the Sun Devils are competing in the Pac-12, en route to a likely NCAA tournament berth. The redshirt freshman is athletic and the offensive catalyst for Herb Sendek’s team. Even in a win over UCLA when he scored just 12 points, he controlled the pace of the game and was a key to Arizona State’s success.

2. Ben McLemore, Kansas (16.4 points, 5.4 rebounds per game)

After Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson left Kansas’ Final Four team last season, they needed a scoring star to go alongside returning center Jeff Withey. Redshirt freshman Ben McLemore has more than fit the bill. Not only can he dance, but he has been Kansas’ most productive offensive player and carried them in key spots. His bank three-pointer at home against Iowa State helped the Jayhawks to a win in dramatic fashion.

1. Anthony Bennett, UNLV (18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds per game)

In a tightly contested Mountain West race, the fact that Bennett has become such a dominant force only bodes well for the Rebels. Mike Moser’s production isn’t what it was last year, but Moser and Pitt transfer Khem Birch, in combination with Bennett, make for one of the most formidable front lines in the country.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

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.