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Late Night Snacks: No. 7 Florida, No. 8 Michigan State both make statements Tuesday

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Game of the Day: No. 8 Michigan State 75, No. 4 Michigan 52

In a crowded Big Ten race, Michigan State is starting to prove its worth. Granted, it caught Michigan at the end of a long stretch of tough conference games, but the Spartans were firing on all cylinders Tuesday. The inside game was working with Derrick Nix. The outside game was working with Gary Harris. The defense was disrupting Michigan’s array of offensive weapons.

Michigan State can win games in a number of ways, showing another unique way Tuesday night. I’m not saying Michigan is no longer an elite team, but Michigan State proved that the Wolverines need to improve that interior play before the NCAA tournament rolls around.

Important Outcomes

1. Florida 69, Kentucky 52

Florida was in cruise control for much of this one, though Kentucky looked like they had chances to make a comeback. The biggest story and really the only story considering both of these teams will likely be in the NCAA tournament, is the health of Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel. He left the game with what appeared to be a pretty serious knee injury. For the sake of the Wildcats and his NBA future, hopefully it is only minor.

2. Virginia 73, Virginia Tech 55

Virginia could not suffer a letdown win Tuesday and they avoided such a scenario. With road games at UNC and Miami coming up, this win over the Hokies scores another victory in a key category: winning games at home in which you are favored. The Cavaliers are now 8-3 in conference play.

3. Missouri State 67, Indiana State 65

The Missouri Valley race is a wild one. Wichita State lost three in a row before bouncing back against Indiana State. Creighton has lost two games in a row. Now, Indiana State, poised to have taken at least a share of the lead in the MVC race Tuesday, could not capitalize. Jake Odum did all he could with 21 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists, but it was not enough.

Starred

1. Gary Harris, Michigan State (17 points, 5-of-9 3pt FG, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals)

While still battling through back spasms, Harris was a key engine for Michigan State in its win over Michigan. The Spartans are looking like a serious contender not only in the Big Ten, but in March as we move forward.

2. Joe Harris, Virginia (26 points, 7-of-12 FG, 5-of-7 3pt FG)

Harris has hit the 20-point mark in four of the last five games and, fittingly enough, the Cavaliers are 4-1 when he reaches that scoring total. He was 5-of-7 from three-point range and helped Virginia keeps its NCAA tournament hopes alive. At 8-3 in the ACC, the Cavaliers are now solidly in third place in the ACC.

3. Patric Young, Florida (12 points, 5-of-7 FG, 11 rebounds)

Without Will Yeguete in the lineup due to injury, Young had to step up on the interior and did so with a big double-double in a blowout win. He will only become more important as we come down the home stretch of conference play.

Struggled

1. Tim Hardaway, Jr., Michigan (2 points, 1-of-11 FG, 0-of-5 3pt FG)

The Michigan offense was stagnant against an active Michigan State defensive attack and Hardaway, Jr. fell victim to it as well. He never found his groove from the field and, alongside Glenn Robinson III, who also struggled.

2. Ryan Harrow, Kentucky (0 points, 0-of-3 FG, 2 TOs)

One key element that has been missing from the Kentucky offense this season is reliable point guard play. Part of the reason the Wildcats slumped against Florida Tuesday was because Harrow struggled and was unable to spark much on the offensive end.

3. Derek Needham, Fairfield (5 points, 1-of-10 FG, 6 TOs)

Fairfield trailed by 21 points at halftime and a lack of production from the team’s leading scorer did not help matters.

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

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.