Kermit Davis

2013 Middle Tennessee = 2012 Drexel? Blue Raiders upset in Sun Belt semis

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How much does this season’s Middle Tennessee team have in common with the Drexel Dragons of a season ago?

In the aftermath of the Blue Raiders’ 61-57 loss to Florida International in the semifinals of the Sun Belt conference tournament, Middle Tennessee (28-5, 19-1) fans are hoping for a Selection Sunday fate better than Drexel’s from a season ago.

Deric Hill scored 16 points and Cameron Bell added 15 for FIU, who will play for a trip to the NCAA tournament in the first season of Richard Pitino’s tenure as head coach. And given where the program was under Isiah Thomas that’s an incredible achievement for FIU.

But the question now is whether or not the Sun Belt can send two teams to the NCAA tournament, with a Middle Tennessee team that dominated the league during the regular season being the recipient of an at-large bid. That discussion likely requires a look back at last year’s Drexel squad.

Drexel was 27-6 on Selection Sunday following a loss to VCU in the title game of the CAA tournament. With an RPI of 66 and an overall strength of schedule of 189 the Dragons found themselves on the outside looking in. Drexel went 1-1 in games against RPI Top 50 teams and 5-3 against teams ranked between 51 and 100.

By comparison Middle Tennessee has an RPI of 24 and an overall strength of schedule of 128. But even with a far better non-conference strength of schedule they’ve got no RPI Top 50 wins and just two wins against teams ranked between 51 and 100 (Ole Miss and UCF). With two fewer losses to teams ranked between 101 and 200 (one) than that Drexel team (three), Middle Tennessee may be in a better spot than the Dragons were.

But like Drexel the Blue Raiders find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to watch other bubble teams continue to play, and hope the selection committee has seen enough of them on TV (or in person) to have a good idea of how talented they are.

Middle Tennessee has just one double-figure scorer (forward Marcos Knight – 11.9 ppg) but they get the job done with balance (six other players average between 5.3 and 9.7 points per game) and defense. With ten players averaging double-digit minutes the Blue Raiders limit opponents to 39.2% shooting, and their adjusted defensive efficiency (88.4) ranks 15th nationally according to kenpom.com.

Unfortunately this is life for teams in one-bid leagues, something Middle Tennessee is all too familiar with after missing out on the NCAA tournament last season after winning 26 games and losing in the Sun Belt quarterfinals. Will they get a better result this time around? The Blue Raiders can only sit around and watch, hoping for a different result.

RPI/SOS numbers courtesy of warrennolan.com

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.