Greg Smith, James Johnson

Colorado State keeps pace atop the Mountain West

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No. 24 Colorado State entered Wednesday’s matchup with San Diego State as the ranked team. They came in tied for first in the conference in the loss column, a game in front of the Aztecs.

They were playing at home in Moby Arena, a place they haven’t lost in their last 27 games.

They were playing at altitude and in front of a fired up home crowd excited about wearing the orange and green of their team’s Colorado A&M Aggie throwback jerseys.

Any way you slice it, the Rams were the favorite to beat SDSU, and yet it still felt pulling out a tough, hard-fought, 66-60 win in the final minutes — thanks in part to a couple of beneficial whistles — was a statement made.

How many times have we seen teams get upset this season? How many times have we watched the hype for the Flavor of the Week build into a crescendo, only to see everything come crashing down when that group comes back to earth? It’s almost expected at this point. Attention and affection is the ultimate jinx here in “The Year of WTF?!?”

But Colorado State survived it, through a combination of lockdown defense on Jamaal Franklin in the second half, the physical toughness of their lineup and the ability to play 40 minutes of physical basketball a mile above sea level.

And all of a sudden, the Rams have put themselves into a position where they look like they could be the best team in the Mountain West. It starts with their powerful front line, which is anchored by 6-foot-10 Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson, who is nearly averaging a double-double. He’s joined up front by Greg Smith and Paul Hornung, which gives the Rams a veteran front line, a trio of grown men that can outmuscle the younger, more talented front lines in the rest of the conference. That’s part of the reason why the Rams have been one of the best rebounding teams that we’ve seen in the Kenpom era.

Thrown in the elderly back court of Dorian Green and Wes Eikmeier, and what you have is a team of veterans that knows how to play the game. The Miami of the Rockies, if you will.

What the Rams have done with this win is put themselves into a position to win the Mountain West. They control their own destiny, even if that ‘destiny’ is going to be hard to come back. They go on the road to Air Force and UNLV in their next two games before hosting New Mexico in the game that could determine the MWC’s regular season champ. With road trips to Boise State and Wyoming bookended by home games against Fresno State and Nevada, Larry Eustachy’s club has their work cut out for them.

But regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, this is a group that have proven their toughness and proven their ability.

Anyone want to play these guys on a neutral court in March?

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.