Mike McCall Jr.

Team of the Week: St. Louis Billikens

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Team of the Week: St. Louis Billikens

It’s no longer in dispute: St. Louis is the best team in the Atlantic 10. They proved it this week. After blowing out a good VCU team in Chaifetz Arena on Tuesday, St. Louis went into Hinkle Fieldhouse and knocked off Butler on Friday night. It was their second win over the Bulldogs this season; earlier this month they also blew out Brad Stevens’ club in St. Louis.

The Billikens now hold sole possession of first-place in the conference with just four games left in the regular season. They’ve won nine straight games and 18 of their last 20, a stretch that just so happens to coincide with the passing of their former coach, Rick Majerus. The four-point win at Butler was the first time since January 23rd that St. Louis didn’t win by double figures. It’s been an unreal turnaround for St. Louis, a team that was 3-3 in November with losses to Washington and Santa Clara.

There’s nothing flashy about this group. They defend, they execute offensively, they don’t beat themselves, they do everything that typical sportswriters love to turn into a cliche.

Teams deserving a shout out:

Ohio State: The Buckeyes put together their most important week of the season by knocking off both Minnesota and Michigan State at home. The win over the Spartans was extra impressive when you consider that Deshaun Thomas was just 4-16 from the floor. The Buckeyes still don’t have a road win more impressive than at Nebraska, but they can now claim victory over four teams in the RPI top 25.

Georgetown: The Hoyas took over sole possession of first place in the Big East thanks to their win at Syracuse and Marquette’s loss at Villanova. Otto Porter is currently the runaway favorite to be the Big East Player of the Year and now has an outside shot at winning the National Player of the Year award. This is all happening less than two months after the Hoyas were throughly embarrassed by Pitt in the Verizon Center as they struggled to break 40 points on a nightly basis. What an unreal turnaround.

Indiana: Indiana took over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten when they beat Michigan State in East Lansing on Tuesday, and they all-but won the Big Ten regular season title when the Spartans lost at Ohio State on Sunday. The Hoosiers still have a trio of tough games left, but they currently hold a two game lead over the rest of the conference with four to play.

New Mexico: The Lobos are in the same position as Indiana after Kendall Williams led them to a win at Colorado State on Saturday afternoon. They hold a two game lead in the MWC standings over the Rams with just four games left on their league schedule.

Kentucky: The Wildcats are back! After beating Vanderbilt in a closer-than-it-should-have-been win in Rupp, Kentucky came out on Gameday and knocked off Missouri to pick up a win they absolutely needed to get if they are going to have a chance to make the NCAA tournament. More importantly, however, the Kentucky roster finally lived up to their talent level. Archie Goodwin played his best basketball of the season in the second half against Mizzou. Alex Poythress looked like a lottery pick for the first time in more than a month. Willie Cauley-Stein looked like he could be an adequate replacement for Nerlens Noel. Ryan Harrow didn’t looked scared. We’ll see where this leads UK, but they are certainly in a better spot than they were after last Saturday.

They were good too: Cal, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Temple, Villanova

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.