Deshaun Thomas

Ohio State goes on winning streak while Deshaun Thomas slumps?

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There haven’t been many teams in the country that are quite are difficult to get a grasp on as No. 14 Ohio State.

Early on, it seemed pretty simple, frankly.

With Aaron Craft being forced into being the second-option for Thad Matta’s club on the offensive end of the floor, Ohio State looked like they were a team that was, more-or-less, a one-man show. On the nights that Deshaun Thomas was hot, Ohio State probably had enough firepower to compete with anyone in the country and beat their fair share of good teams. On the nights he was off, OSU fans had to hope and pray that someone — anyone — else stumbled their way into a rhythm, be it Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross or Craft himself.

As the Big Ten season progressed, that theory appeared to be confirmed. The Buckeyes beat a couple good teams at home, had some ugly performances on the road, and looked every bit the part of a team destined to be a five or a six-seed come Selection Sunday. A 22 point loss to Wisconsin on February 17th, which was Ohio State’s third loss in four games, appeared to be the clincher.

But Thad Matta has turned this team around.

It started with a dominating, 26 point win home over Minnesota. It continued with an impressive home victory against then-No. 4 Michigan State. And after an ugly road performance at Northwestern, it was capped last night, as the Buckeyes went into Assembly Hall and dominated No. 2 Indiana on the defensive end, filling the biggest hole on their NCAA tournament profile in the most impressive fashion possible.

All it took was two weeks, and the Buckeyes look like a team that might be able to string together four wins in the NCAA tournament.

The biggest reason?

Deshaun Thomas, but not the way that you might think.

The Buckeyes are currently on a four-game winning streak and playing their best basketball of the season, yet they are doing it while Thomas has run into a bit of a slump on the offensive end of the floor. Over those four games, Thomas is shooting 35.4% from the floor and 21.7% from three while watching his scoring dip to 17.5 points in that stretch, down from 20.1 points in the first 25 games.

It’s not like Thomas is being used any less. He averages 16 FG’s on the season, and took exactly that number in three of the four games. He took 17 shots on Tuesday night. His usage rate has actually gone up, from 27.2% on the season to around 29% in those four games.

Deshaun Thomas has still been Deshaun Thomas, he’s just been bad Deshaun Thomas.

And Ohio State is still winning.

Why?

Well, it’s in large part due to their vaunted defense, which is playing as well as it has all season long. They’ve stymied three of the Big Ten’s four best offenses — and three of the nation’s top 25 offenses, according to Kenpom.com — during that stretch. They’ve also been getting some terrific play out of Aaron Craft, who looked every bit an all-american against the Spartans and the Hoosiers.

Thomas is too talented to be in a slump forever. Craft is too much of a [insert typical cliche used for media darlings here] not to show up in March. And Ohio State’s defense, which ranks 12th nationally, is always going to be tough to score on.

Maybe we need to start paying some more attention to the Buckeyes.

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.