Bob McKillop

Southern Conference tournament preview

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Another year, another Southern Conference title for Bob McKillop’s Davidson Wildcats, who finished the regular season 17-1 in league play. Jake Cohen was the coaches’ pick for SoCon Player of the Year, and he combines with De’Mon Brooks (who won the award last season) to form the conference’s best front court tandem.

Elon, led by guard Jack Isenbarger and forward Lucas Troutman, won the North Division by three games over Appalachian State. The College of Charleston managed to go 14-4 in SoCon play with point guard Andrew Lawrence running the show, finishing second behind Davidson in the South Division.

The Bracket

Where: ExploreAsheville.com Arena at Asheville’s U.S. Cellular Center and Kimmel Arena, Asheville, North Carolina

When: March 8th-11th

Final: March 11, 7:00 p.m., ESPN2

Favorite: Davidson

Having two players the caliber of Brooks and Cohen makes Davidson the team to beat, and McKillop has more than just two weapons at his disposal. Nik Cochran (9.8 ppg) leads five other Wildcats averaging between 7.3 and 9.8 points per game, and both he and J.P. Kuhlman have been solid distributors this season. With their weapons and efficiency on both ends of the floor Davidson’s going to be a tough out this weekend.

And if they lose?: College of Charleston 

Elon (13-5 SoCon) did manage to win the North but it’s Charleston who won 14 conference games. Lawrence was also the starting point guard for Great Britain in last summer’s Olympics, and he’s got plenty of experience running the show. He and Anthony Stitt lead the way offensively, and sophomore Adjehi Baru has performed well inside. Charleston’s strong suit is their defense, and if they can control tempo the Cougars can win the tournament.

Sleepers: Elon

Tough to say a team that won 13 conference games is a sleeper, but that’s the role Elon will find itself in this weekend. Isenbarger and Troutman lead the way for the Phoenix, who enter the tournament having won five of their last seven. No team outside of the top three seeds finished .500 overall, which makes the pickings quite slim when considering sleepers.

Studs: 

– F Jake Cohen and F De’Mon Brooks (Davidson): The last two coaches’ selections for SoCon Player of the Year, they’re most definitely studs.

– G Trevis Simpson (UNC Greensboro): Simpson averages 18.8 points per game for the Spartans, and he dropped 41 on Chattanooga back on January 27.

– F Nathan Healy (Appalachian State): Healy (14.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg) won SoCon Defensive Player of the Year due to his work on the boards and ranking second in the conference in steals (2.0 spg) and third in blocks (1.4 bpg).

CBT Prediction: Look for some upsets throughout the weekend but in the end Davidson and College of Charleston will play for the title, with the Wildcats earning their second consecutive NCAA appearance.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.