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Team of the Week: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Team of the Week: Minnesota

It’s crazy to think about, but Minnesota’s season may have been saved by six minutes of basketball from Trevor Mbakwe. He came out and set the tone against Indiana on Tuesday, knocking the Hoosiers — and, more importantly, Cody Zeller — back on their heels as Minnesota, for the first time in almost two months, looked like they were playing a confident brand of basketball.

And, in the end, that’s what the issue was for the Gophers. We knew that this team wasn’t going to win games based on talent alone. They don’t have a true point guard, they don’t have all that many shooters and they don’t have a great low-post scorer. What they do have, however, are a team full of players with size, athleticism and toughness. They’re at their best when they’re defending and crashing the offensive glass. Effort, hustle and determination are how the Gophers succeed, and they finally got back to those winning ways this week.

They have their senior center to thank for that.

Team deserving of a shoutout:

Creighton: Not only did the Bluejays go 2-0 this week and avoid the indignity of falling from the top 15 nationally to the bubble, but in the process they not only beat an in-conference rival in Wichita State, but they did so in the MVC regular season title game. Both the Shockers and the Bluejays were tied for the league lead entering the final game of the regular season, and Creighton won in dominating fashion. Think about this: They shot 33-47 from the field (70.2%), 11-21 from three (52.1%), 22-26 from inside the arc (84.6%) and 14-16 from the line (87.5%), which was why they were able to post 1.38 PPP.

VCU: What VCU did to Butler wasn’t exactly a surprise, as the Rams were playing at home against a team that was mildly overrated and at a complete disadvantage given how the two teams matched up. But that doesn’t change the fact that pasting the No. 20 Bulldogs 82-54 was about as impressive as wins get.

Louisville: The Cardinals picked up a big win on Saturday, as they went into the Carrier Dome and knocked off No. 12 Syracuse. The Cardinals have now won five straight games and eight of their last nine, but this was the first impressive win that Rick Pitino’s club has notched in a month. Hard to believe I’m typing this, but it feels like Louisville is a bit of a sleeper heading into the NCAA tournament.

Marquette: The Golden Eagles are still sitting there at the top of the Big East, tied with Louisville for second place in the conference, one game behind Georgetown, thanks to wins this week over Syracuse and Notre Dame. And, unlike a lot of other teams this week, their success wasn’t the result of a single virtuoso performance by one player; Marquette is as balanced as any team in the country this season.

Boise State: The Broncos have put themselves into great position to get into the NCAA tournament thanks to 38 points from Derrick Marks in a win over Colorado State on Saturday. with a trip to UNLV and a home game against San Diego State left before the MWC tournament, Boise State doesn’t have many chances left to make a major mistake before Selection Sunday.

UCLA: Believe it or not, UCLA is currently tied for the Pac-12 lead with a trip to the Washington schools standing between them and a share of the league title. Who saw that coming back in November, when the Bruins were hemorrhaging transfers, losing to Cal Poly and hearing on a daily basis about how Ben Howland was on the verge of being fired? This week, they beat Arizona State and Arizona in Pauley Pavilion.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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)
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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.