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Late Night Snacks: Minnesota helps solidify its tourney spot by knocking off No. 1

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Game of the Day: Minnesota 77, No. 1 Indiana 73

Indiana has now lost three times this season as a No. 1-ranked team, but the story is more about Minnesota. Coach Tubby Smith brought in a sports psychologist to talk to his team prior to Tuesday’s matchup and it paid off. The Gophers were focused and played with energy, led by senior Trevor Mbakwe’s 21 points and twelve rebounds.

The defense was able to disrupt Cody Zeller, Yogi Ferrell, and Christian Watford for most of the game and seal it down the stretch. Minnesota is No. 1 in strength of schedule for a reason. Being in the Big Ten adds to that. But Tuesday’s win is a big boost to a team that was likely already in the NCAA tournament, thus helping to solidify their spot.

Important Outcomes

1. Tennessee 64, No. 8 Florida 58

The Volunteers needed a signature win on their resume and got it Tuesday. By getting a win over a Top 10 team, Cuonzo Martin’s squad now shifts to sit squarely on the bubble. Their final three regular season games are favorable, too. Tennessee plays Georgia and Auburn on the road before returning home to host Missouri.

2. Xavier 64, No. 19 Memphis 62

Memphis has looked impressive against Conference USA this season. The key there is “against Conference USA.” As soon as Josh Pastner’s team got an opportunity against a non-conference for the first time in nearly two months, we saw shades of the Memphis team that dropped out of the Top 25 early in the year. Going 6-of-18 from the free throw line certainly did not help.

3. No. 17 Wisconsin 77, Nebraska 46

Wisconsin is taking care of business. The Badgers are currently tied for second in the Big Ten with Michigan State and have Purdue and Penn State in their final three regular season games, along with the Spartans. Those are two very winnable games, plus another that will be a battle. Or, as we say, par for the course in the nation’s best conference.

Starred

1. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota (21 points, 12 rebounds) 

From the opening minutes, Mbakwe was beating up Indiana on the interior. His vicious block on Cody Zeller set the tone and his energy was sustained throughout, helping his team to a big win. It’s the kind of lead-by-example display that you might come to expect from a senior leader.

2. Jordan McRae, Tennessee (27 points, seven rebounds, four assists) 

Tennessee, much like Minnesota, had a chance for a signature win Tuesday and got it. What Mbakwe was to the Gophers, McRae was to the Volunteers. He had a stellar first half with 17 points, but kept his foot on the pedal for another 10 in the second to help Tennessee close out and get the win.

3. Jerrelle Benimon, Towson (31 points, seven rebounds, four assists)

Benimon will be the CAA’s Player of the Year and deservedly so. In a game that his team needed to retain second place in the conference, he came up big. Twenty-two of his 31 points came in the first half and he led the Tigers to an 85-81 overtime victory.

Struggled

1. Cody Zeller, Indiana (9 points, 2-of-9 FG)

Zeller was tentative against Minnesota and that could be a cause for concern for Indiana as the Hoosiers come down the back stretch of the Big Ten schedule and into the postseason. He was bothered inside by the energy from Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe, as well as the length of Rodney Williams. Simply put, the Hoosiers need Zeller to be an elite complement to swingman Victor Oladipo if they want to win in March.

2. Memphis from the Free Throw Line (6-of-18)

In a game that ended up coming down to two points, shooting 33 percent from the free throw line is the easiest problem to highlight. The Tigers typically shoot around 69 percent from the line, but Tuesday night was abysmal. The result is a team without a big-time win who got exposed by a non-conference opponent.

3. Florida’s Depth Issues

The Gators essentially played with a six-man rotation in their loss to Tennessee on Tuesday night. Added to that, swingman Casey Prather had to leave the game late in the second half after a collision left his head bloodied. This will continue to be a major concern for Florida moving into March, especially against teams that can work the interior and wear down the Gators inside.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

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)
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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)
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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.