Michael Carter-Williams, Derrick Wilson

Syracuse’s back court struggles becoming a major concern

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It was just five weeks ago that Syracuse went into Louisville and knocked off the then-No. 1 Cardinals, a game that thrust the Orange into the midst of the national title picture and made us all wonder just who the best team in the Big East was this season.

At that point, it was the Orange.

It’s a different story now.

Syracuse has gone 5-5 since that win over Louisville. Despite playing in a Big East that has as many good teams at the top half of the league as ever, the Orange has notched just a single quality win since then*. That was against Notre Dame at home. And after losing at No. 22 Marquette 74-71 on Monday night, all of a sudden the No. 12 Orange look like a shell of their former selves.

*(Please don’t try to argue Cincinnati as a quality win. That was Cashmere Wright’s first game back from the knee injury that has devastated the Beatcat’s season.)

Exactly one month ago Monday, Syracuse was the only team in the Big East conference without a loss in league play. Nine games later, they are 10-5 in the conference, two games behind first place Georgetown and in danger of missing out on the double-bye. They still have to play Louisville at home on Saturday and pay a visit to Georgetown a week later.

The problem isn’t James Southerland; he’s been back for a few weeks now. DaJuan Coleman probably could have helped slow down Davante Gardner and his 24 points on Monday, but I’m not sure how much of a difference he would have made during the Otto Porter Show on Saturday.

Where Syracuse has really been hurting is in their back court. Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams, who looked like arguably the best back court in the country back in January, have struggled mightily.

If you factor out the 29 point explosion that Triche had against Seton Hall on the 16th (which, ironically enough, saved Syracuse from getting upset by a team that’s currently 2-13 in the Big East and considering firing their hed coach), he’s averaged  just 12.6 points while shooting 34.0% from the floor and 15.9% from three over the last eight games, a stretch that has featured five Syracuse losses. Michael Carter-Williams hasn’t been much better. In those five losses, he’s accounted from 17 assists and 19 turnovers.

I’ll admit, I’m being a bit selective with those stats, but it’s only to drive home a point: Triche and Carter-Williams have not played well over the past month, and it’s why Syracuse is struggling.

I wrote on Saturday that it was not yet time to be concerned about the Orange, and I still think that it is too early to panic. Four of their five losses have come on the road to teams that will likely be in the NCAA tournament. The fifth loss came at home to a team that has an outside shot at earning a No. 1 seed and has been the hottest team in the country over the last seven weeks. It’s not like Syracuse lost to DePaul and South Florida.

But these are still losses, and while good teams win games at home, national title contenders beat good teams on the road.

This is no longer slump. This is a trend, one that’s not necessarily unique. Triche collapsed down the stretch of last season as well.

Syracuse has three games to right the ship before March. Can they make it happen?

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.