Fuquan Edwin, Russ Smith

Pregame Shootaround 3.8.13: Princeton looks to retain control of Ivy League race

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Game of the Day: Rutgers at Seton Hall (7:00 p.m., ESPN3)

Regardless of what happens at the Prudential Center the Scarlet Knights and Pirates will both play on Tuesday in the first round of the Big East tournament, so there isn’t much on the line in that regard. But this matchup is an important game when it comes to the direction of both programs, who have failed to take advantage of the elite talent available in New Jersey.

Rutgers dropped a tough decision to Marquette in their last outing, and the frustration of once again failing to get over the hump hit head coach Mike Rice hard during his postgame press conference. It’s been a frustrating season in South Orange as well, but in junior Fuquan Edwin the Pirates have one of the Big East’s most improved players. This isn’t the best game on tonight’s slate when looking at the quality of the teams, but when considering the future for both programs this one’s very important.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Princeton (at Yale, 7:00 p.m.) 

With Harvard (9-3 Ivy) losing at both Princeton and Penn last weekend the Tigers (9-2) have assumed control of the Ivy League race with just three conference games remaining. Mitch Henderson’s team hits the road and they’ll have revenge on their minds, as Yale ended Princeton’s 22-game Ivy home win streak back on February 9.

The Bulldogs shot 54.8% from the field and outscored Princeton by nine (16-7) at the foul line in the first meeting, with Javier Duren scoring 13 points and Sam Martin adding 11 off the bench. Princeton turned the ball over 16 times in the first meeting, resulting in a loss despite Denton Koon (16 points) and Ian Hummer (14 points, six assists and five rebounds) combining to score 30 points.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Illinois State vs. Northern Iowa (9:30 p.m., ESPN3)

Looking for a team in the Missouri Valley other than Creighton or Wichita State capable of grabbing the league’s automatic bid? The answer may very well come from this quarterfinal, with UNI beating the Redbirds 80-72 in the regular season finale for both last Saturday. Illinois State has lost four of its last five but with Tyler Brown and Jackie Carmichael the talent is there for Dan Muller’s team to make a run in St. Louis.

The difference in last week’s game: rebounding. UNI killed Illinois State on the glass, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds with Seth Tuttle accounting for nine of those. Anthony James scored 19 points and Marc Sonnen knocked down six of UNI’s ten three-pointers in the victory.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Three conference tournaments tip off Friday, as the Southern, Metro Atlantic and Sun Belt conferences take the floor. Which of the teams in action are most capable of getting hot? Keep an eye on Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), who won four in four days last season, and Fairfield (9-9).

2) Akron looks to clinch the outright MAC title against rival Kent State, and the Zips will attempt to do so without starting point guard Alex Abreu. Abreu was suspended indefinitely on Thursday following an arrest on charges of marijuana trafficking.

3) The Atlantic Sun and Ohio Valley conferences will both play their semifinals on Friday night, with the four best teams advancing in the OVC tournament. Belmont/Murray State would be the expected matchup there but don’t overlook either Tennessee State or Eastern Kentucky.

4) Mercer’s the host team in the A-Sun, but the regular season champions will have their hands full with USC Upstate’s Torrey Craig. The first team All-Atlantic Sun selection averaged 25.5 points per game against the Bears this season, but Mercer kept him off the glass (4.0 rpg) as they won both meetings.

5) BYU begins WCC tournament play tonight as they take on San Diego in the second quarterfinal of the night. These two split the regular season series (home team winning both), and the Toreros will need a big night from forward Chris Manresa if they’re to slow down BYU’s Brandon Davies.

Other Notable Games 

3:30 p.m. Indiana State at Evansville (ESPN3)
7:00 p.m. Columbia at Harvard
7:00 p.m. Tennessee State at Belmont (ESPNU)
7:00 p.m. Kent State at Akron (ESPN2)
8:00 p.m. Stetson vs. Florida Gulf Coast (ESPN3)
11:30 p.m. San Diego vs. BYU (ESPNU)

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.