Indiana v Illinois

Team of the Week: The impact of good Tyler Griffey on Illinois

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Team of the Week: Illinois

Plenty of words have been written about the importance of this past week for Illinois. When you’re in the midst of a losing skid — the Illini had lost eight of their last 11 games — there really is no better way to snap yourself out of it than to beat the No. 1 team in the country (Indiana) and follow that up with a win over the No. 18 team in the country (Minnesota) on the road. All of a sudden, the Illini are back in bubble contention and, more importantly, are playing with confidence.

Personally, I think the reason for this turnaround is Tyler Griffey, and that’s before you factor in the game-winning layup he had to beat Indiana at the buzzer. Griffey had been mired in a devastating slump, missing 22 straight threes. He played just eight minutes against Wisconsin last Saturday. He had become a non-factor, and that was a huge problem for John Groce because Griffey’s versatility — his ability to pull an opposing center away from the rim — created more space for penetration and forced defenses into longer rotations. And while no one is going to confuse Griffey with Nerlens Noel, he’s big enough to block a few shots and grab a few boards. Illinois needs him on the floor, playing well and hitting shots. This week, he averaged 15.0 points and hit 6-13 from three.

Teams that deserve a shout-out:

Memphis: Is this a new year for the Tigers, or simply the same old narrative? Struggle through non-conference play only to turn things around against their weak Conference USA slate? Memphis took a two-game lead in the league standings thanks to an impressive win at Southern Miss on Saturday afternoon.

Oakland: Thanks to 54 points in two games from sharp-shooter Travis Bader, the Grizzlies were able to knock off both North Dakota State and South Dakota State this week, climbing into fourth place in the Summit League standings, just two games behind Western Illinois and a game behind both NDSU and SDSU. With WIU visiting the Dakota schools this weekend, Oakland has put themselves in a great position to make a run at a league title.

Miami: As of this moment in time, the Hurricanes are playing the best basketball in the country. They don’t have the best resume, they may not be the favorite to win the national title come March, but at this very second, there isn’t a team that I would pick to beat them on a neutral court. This comes after handing North Carolina a 26 point beatdown on Saturday afternoon.

Murray State: The Racers let the nation know that they’re still the biggest name in the Ohio Valley as the knocked off Belmont at home on Wednesday and followed that up with a 21 point win over Tennessee State on Saturday.

Wisconsin: After beating Iowa in double-overtime, the Badgers took down Michigan in OT thanks to this shot from Ben Brust. They’re now tied for second in the Big Ten standings.

They were good too: Colorado, Georgia, Indiana State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Pitt, Virginia

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)
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.