Darrun Hilliard

Can anyone make or break their NCAA tournament bid this weekend?

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Six bubble games to keep an eye on this weekend:

  • No. 17 Marquette at Villanova (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): The Wildcats put themselves into really good position to earn an at-large bid when they won at UConn last Saturday. But Villanova’s work is far from down, as an 18 point loss to Columbia weighs down what otherwise appears to be a solid profile — they also have wins over Syracuse and Louisville at home. An RPI in the mid-50’s with a non-conference strength of schedule sitting in the 160’s does not a lock make, which is why taking care of business against yet another Big East contender would be huge for Jay Wright’s ball-club.
  • Baylor at Oklahoma (5:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU): As of now, Baylor is not an NCAA tournament basketball team. They have an RPI in the 60’s, their best wins are at home against Oklahoma State and at Kentucky. They’ve lost in Waco to both Charleston and Northwestern. That’s simply not enough. But a win at Oklahoma would do a lot to make that resume look prettier. The Sooners are a top 25 team in the RPI, which should be enough to get the Bears on the right side of the bubble for the time-being.
  • NC State at North Carolina (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): Roy Williams has done a masterful job gaming the RPI this season. His team has managed to put together one quality win this season — beating UNLV, a team notorious for their road struggles, at home — while getting embarrassed in their four biggest road games of the season. They’ve also lost at Texas, yet the Tar Heels are sitting at 26th in the RPI as of today. Simply put, they need to do more if they are going to feel comfortable about their at-large chances.
  • Southern Miss at No. 21 Memphis (1:00 p.m. ET, FSN): The late surge by the Tigers has probably been enough to get them into the Field of 68 even if they lose to Southern Miss and miss out on the automatic bid from Conference USA, but nothing is guaranteed. The Tigers have one top 50 win — at USM — while the Golden Eagles only have two top 100 wins — at Denver and at UTEP. USM probably is not going to be receiving an at-large bid, so Memphis shouldn’t toy with their chances by losing.
  • Missouri at Kentucky (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): Here’s the chance for Kentucky to prove their doubters wrong. If this team is going to make the NCAA tournament without Nerlens Noel, they absolutely have to win this game. After getting embarrassed at Tennessee, the Wildcats looked much better at the start of Wednesday night’s game against Vanderbilt. They couldn’t put the Commodores away, but they hung on for the win. Can UK do the same against Missouri on Gameday?
  • Auburn at Ole Miss (5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3): Ole Miss losing to South Carolina put a huge dent in their at-large chances, but as of today, the Rebels still have a chance. They cannot, however, afford another loss to a team at the bottom of the SEC. Andy Kennedy’s club needs to win out.

The rest of the weekend bubble action:

  • Iona at Indiana State (11:00 a.m. ET, ESPNU)
  • Clemson at Maryland (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
  • Alabama at LSU (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
  • Iowa at Nebraska (2:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)
  • Boise State at Fresno State (10:00 p.m. ET)
  • Washington at Arizona State (11:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
  • No. 20 Pitt at St. John’s (Sun. 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
  • La Salle at Richmond (Sun. 2:00 p.m. ET)
  • Georgia Tech at Virginia (Sun. 2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
  • Temple at Charlotte (Sun. 4:00 p.m. ET)

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.