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OVC Conference Tournament Preview

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The OVC heads to Nashville as the Belmont Bruins look to defend their city and win the conference tournament championship in just their first season as conference members. But in order to do so they will have to stave off several talented and feisty teams looking to make a name for themselves at the Bruins expense.

This hasn’t been the banner year that many expected. The conference’s previous powerhouse, Murray State, has struggled to maintain their lofty status following a breakout season. Morehead State, a postseason legend of years’ past, is in the first year of a coaching change and Tennessee State played without their star player for much of the regular season.

Anything less than a Belmont victory in the championship game over Murray State would have to be considered both a disappointment and a shocking upset.

But if we’ve learned anything from this season thus far, it’s to expect the unexpected.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: Municipal Auditorium (Nashville, TN)

When: March 6-9

Final: March 9, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Belmont

Belmont enters their first OVC Tournament as the prohibitive favorites following their inaugural OVC campaign in which they finished 14-2 in league play. Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson anchor one of the top backcourts in the country. The senior duo combines to average 31.6ppg and stopping them will be the number one priority for all opponents who run in to them. But the Bruins have other weapons too. Forwards Trevor Noack and J.J. Mann both average double figures and are high-percentage shooters.

And if they lose?

Murray State, the darlings of 2012 have been pushed to the conference backburner with the arrival of Belmont into the OVC. But the Racers still have Isaiah Canaan and his 21.6ppg. The Racers also have Ed Daniel, the league’s top rebounder. If the Racers want to make the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years, they will need to ride the coattails of their team leaders.

Sleeper:

The Colonels of Eastern Kentucky will have a tough task in front of them if they want to steal the league’s automatic bid away from Belmont. But EKU does have the benefit of being 3-0 against teams they will have to face before potentially playing Belmont in the finals. But the x-factor will be team rebounding. The Colonels are ranked a dreadful 345th in total rebounding. But they can help the cause by making a high percentage of their field goals.

Studs:

– Ian Clark & Kerron Johnson, Belmont: They make up arguably the most dynamic and prolific backcourt in in both Atlantic Sun and Ohio Valley history. Only twice this season have both players failed to reach double figures in the same game.

– Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Everybody knows his name and everybody knows his game. But that hasn’t helped teams stifle the league’s top scorer. Canaan has failed to score less than 15 points just twice this season and has scored at least 20 points in each of the past four games.

– Robert Covington, Tennessee State: Despite missing the first nine games of league play due to knee injury, Covington is capable of scoring in volume on any given night. He also has developed a knack for being a big game player, and tends to save his best performances for high stakes situations.

– Nino Johnson, Southeast Missouri State: The sophomore big-man has been playing his best basketball of the season as of late, registering a double-double in three of the past four games and has been a match-up nightmare for many of the top teams in the league.

CBT Prediction: The Murray State racers boune back from a two-game losing streak to make a run to the OVC championship where they will face No. 1-seed Belmont. Isaiah Canaan will lead the Racers to the brink of victory, only to have the Bruins close the door on them, winning the OVC championship in their first year as members.

You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

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.