Ryan Kelly

Key injuries to know

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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.

Injuries can take a season that’s on the verge of becoming special and turn it into a struggle at the drop of the hat, turning contenders into teams lucky to make it out of the first round of the NCAA tournament. Below are some key injuries you need to be aware of as we approach the month of March.

1) F Ryan Kelly (Duke) 

Losing Kelly was a significant blow for the Blue Devils, who were the nation’s top-ranked team when the senior forward went down with a broken right foot. Kelly’s a “stretch 4” with range well out beyond the three-point line, averaging 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game at the time of his injury.

The Blue Devils are 4-2 without Kelly, dropping road games at NC State and Miami with the latter currently in command of the ACC race. Duke has seen a drop in their efficiency numbers on both ends of the floor but they’re still a formidable team, and they’ll be better when he returns to the court. Kelly’s out indefinitely but Duke expects him to return this season. When will that be? That’s anyone’s guess.

2) G C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) 

McCollum was well on his way to All-America status before breaking a bone in his left foot in a loss at VCU on January 5, averaging 23.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Without the services of one of the nation’s best guards Lehigh, preseason favorite to win the Patriot League, saw that status handed over to Bucknell. But Dr. Brett Reed’s Mountain Hawks are tied atop the league standings with a 6-1 record, with one of the wins coming at Bucknell.

McCollum was projected to miss 8-10 weeks, which could (on the short end) put him back on the court in time for the Patriot League tournament. Lehigh can certainly win the conference without McCollum (projected to be a first round pick by many who follow the NBA Draft), and they may have to.

3) Lorenzo Brown (NC State) 

Brown missed the Wolfpack’s 79-78 loss to No. 14 Miami on Saturday with a sprained left ankle, and it’s likely that he will be on the floor when the Wolfpack visit No. 5 Duke on Thursday night. In the first meeting between the two teams Brown dished out 13 assists, and he’s generally regarded as the best point guard in the ACC.

Without him NC State went with freshmen Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis at the point against Miami, and while those two performed admirably in a game the Wolfpack led for most of the afternoon this team needs Brown. In spite of their maddening habit of doing “NC State things” in games they’re expected to win, Brown is the kind of point guard capable of taking them a long way in March.

4) G Dominic Artis (Oregon) 

The Ducks were the clear favorites to win the Pac-12…until Artis suffered a foot injury that has sidelined him for the last three games. Oregon’s 1-2 since Artis went down, averaging a staggering 21.7 turnovers per game. Now Dana Altman’s team is in the middle of a serious logjam atop the Pac-12 standings, and the longer their freshman point guard is out the more likely it becomes that Oregon’s Pac-12 title chances dwindle.

Artis is questionable for games this week against Colorado and Utah (Colorado has one of the league’s best perimeter defenders in guard Spencer Dinwiddie), and if he can return at full strength Oregon will be a factor in the league race.

5) F James Southerland (Syracuse) 

It’s an academic issue rather than an injury that has Southerland sidelined for the Orange, and it’s anyone’s guess as to when the senior forward will be able to return to the court. One of the best sixth men in the country, Southerland is also a capable three-point shooter on a team devoid of any other consistent options in that department.

Without him freshman Jerami Grant has received more playing time and taken advantage of it in some spots, most recently scoring 14 points and in a 63-47 win over Notre Dame, but the Orange need Southerland back if they’re to have a shot at getting to the Final Four.

Some other injuries to keep an eye on include:

G P.J. Hairston (North Carolina): Suffered a concussion in a win at Boston College on January 29 and missed Saturday’s game at Virginia Tech.

G Xavier Thames (San Diego State): Starting point guard has dealt with back issues all season long.

F Aaron Jones and G Nick Williams (Ole Miss): Jones (torn ACL) is done for the season while Williams (foot) will miss a significant amount of time for the Rebels.

F Greg Whittington (Georgetown): Academically ineligible so he won’t be back this season; Georgetown is 6-1 in his absence however.

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

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)
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
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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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.