Shabazz Napier, Wesley Saunders

Pregame Shootaround 2.8.13: Harvard, Princeton look to remain undefeated in Ivy League

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Game of the Night: Harvard at Cornell (7:00 p.m.) 

This has the potential to be a big night in the Ivy League, with Harvard (4-0) and Princeton (3-0) two games up on their closest conference foe in the loss column. If both win their games and Yale beats Penn in Philadelphia the Crimson and Tigers would be up three games and essentially make the Ivy a two-team race. But that will be easier said than done for Harvard, who visits Cornell and needs to be wary of the Big Red. Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers have led the way for Harvard, who had four starters reach double figures in a double-overtime win over Brown last Saturday.

The key for Cornell? Defending the three-point line. Big Red opponents shoot 37.0% from beyond the arc and Harvard enters tonight’s contest hitting 41.5% of their attempts. Shonn Miller (10.1 ppg) is the lone Cornell player averaging double figures but with seven players averaging at least six points per game the Big Red will look to rely on their offensive balance.

Who’s Getting Upset? Utah State (at San Jose State. 10:00 p.m.)

The Spartans lost by just six at Utah State on January 11 and that was without the services of James Kinney (suspension) while Preston Medlin (25 points) and Kyisean Reed were both available for the Aggies. With Medlin (broken wrist) and Reed (torn ACL) out, San Jose State is capable of ending its seven-game losing streak. One thing they have to do is account for Utah State forward Jarred Shaw, who has averaged 21.3 points and 10.0 rebounds over the last three games. D.J. Brown and Chris Cunningham performed well in the Spartans’ 66-63 loss to Idaho but shooting 8-of-24 from the foul line as a team will result in a loss more times than not.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: UNC-Asheville at VMI (7:00 p.m.; ESPNU) 

Two Big South contenders meet in Lexington, with the Bulldogs leading the North Division and VMI a half-game out of first in the South. Forward Stan Okoye (20.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg) leads the way for VMI, who averages 74.2 possessions per 40 minutes according to statsheet.com. UNC Asheville isn’t far behind (70.3 possessions/40), with guards Jeremy Atkinson and Keith Hornsby (the son of Bruce) leading the way offensively. Keep an eye on the second-chance points in this one. VMI grabs 13.3 offensive rebounds per game but allows opponents to rack up 14.0 per contest, and this is an area that UNC Asheville may be able to take advantage of.

Five Things to Watch

1) Princeton looks to extend its 20-game Ivy League home win streak tonight when they host Brown (7:00 p.m.) at Jadwin Gym. This is the fifth time in the history of Jadwin that the Tigers have run off a streak of at least 20 straight Ivy home victories.

2) Siena will once again be shorthanded, as they take on Loyola (MD) without forward Brett Bisping (illness). And starting point guard Evan Hymes was dealing with a sinus infection in the days leading up to this contest, which will feature a front court battle between the Saints’ O.D. Anosike and the Greyhounds’ Erik Etherly.

3) Winter Storm Nemo has already resulted in one schedule change, as Harvard will visit Columbia on Sunday afternoon as opposed to the traditional Friday/Saturday night Ivy League weekend.

4) Northern Kentucky looks to move into a four-way tie for third in the Atlantic Sun tonight when they visit Lipscomb. The Norse are in their first season as a Division I member, and they’ve performed well in their new conference to date.

5) Columbia looks to rebound from an 0-2 weekend, in which they lost games at Penn and Princeton by a total of ten points. The Lions host Dartmouth, who is just 1-8 on the road this season.

Other Notable Games 

Brown at Princeton (7:00 p.m.)

Northern Kentucky at Lipscomb (7:00 p.m.; ESPN3)

Siena at Loyola (MD) (9:00 p.m.; ESPNU)

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)
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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.