WCC Basketball Tournament - Semifinals San Francisco v Saint Mary's

Weekend preview: Gonzaga can’t figure out San Francisco on the road

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Who’s getting upset? No. 5 Gonzaga at San Francisco (Sat., 4:30 p.m. EST, ROOT):

History is suggesting this one.

Look at the past few years, and the Bulldogs have had an incredibly hard time traveling to War Memorial Gym. The last time they went there, they lost 66-65 last season. The time before that? A 96-91 loss in 2011. Before that? An 81-77 loss. In fact, the last time the Zags won at San Francisco was a 78-74 victory during the 2008-09 season. Not one player on the Dons roster has lost to Gonzaga at home. That’s kinda wild. In fact, this San Francisco team doesn’t have a senior on its roster.

This Gonzaga team, of course, is much better than the ones that visited before. Actually, it’s probably the best team since that one in 2008-09, they went to the Sweet Sixteen that season.

However, I’m a huge believer that mental obstacles exist and are just as tough to get over as physical ones.

UCLA transfer De’End Parker has done his thing since coming over, averaging 12.4 points per game. They’ll need big games from Cole Dickerson (14.6 ppg) and Cody Doolin (12.3 ppg). But the real task will fall on guys like Mark Tollefsen, who have to guard Kelly Olynyk in the paint.

The guard play could be somewhat even with Parker v. Pangos, but Gary Bell, Jr. against Cody Doolin is an interesting match-up to look out for.

Who else is on Upset Alert?

Oklahoma at No. 17 Oklahoma State (Sat., 1:30 p.m. EST, ESPN3): You never know what you’re going to expect in Bedlam. It’s a deeply-rooted rivalry with tons more on the line between the Cowboys and Sooners. I always feel like you can throw a lot of numbers out the window in a big rivalry game. Okie State is hanging in their for a spot in the Big Dance, the Sooners, after their big win over Kansas, are back in position to be on the bubble, which for a team with the recent trials that OU has had, is a great progress. A lot of that is owed the Lon Kruger. Romero Osby v. LeBryan Nash will be interesting, but who will guard Marcus Smart for Oklahoma? Figure that out, and do it, and the Sooners walk out of Gallagher-Iba Arena with a win. Though losing Buddy Hield will be a big problem for OU.

No. 25 Kentucky at Tennessee (Sat., 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS): This is a mental game for the Wildcats. All mental. Can they get past the fact that they’ve lost their best player and most influential court presence for the season in Nerlens Noel? Or will they fold. Kentucky was getting themselves back into the swing things after a conference swoon, then they never threatened at Florida, even before the Noel injury. Paging Willie Cauley-Stein. You have to guard Jarnell Stokes. Can you?

No. 24 Colorado State at Air Force (Sat., 4:00 p.m. EST, check listings): Psst, the Falcons are one of the better teams in the Mountain West Conference. The problem? NO ONE is talking about them at all. They’re 15-8, 6-4 in conference with wins over San Diego State, Wyoming and UNLV. Not sure what else they need to do to get into the conversation. Colorado State is coming off a draining victory over San Diego State. And Air Force is 6-0 at Clune Arena in-conference.

Follow David on Twitter at @David_Harten.

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)
Jon Lopez/Nike
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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)
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.