Matthew Dellavedova, Kelly Olynyk

The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 7 Preview

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The NCAA Tournament doesn’t get going until March 19, but for the real college hoops fans, the days leading up to Selection Sunday is when the madness really begins. Over the next two weeks teams will fight for the postseason lives. Bubbles will burst and tickets will be punched, and Cinderellas will be born. This is the real March Madness.

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

Here’s what to watch for on Monday.

Game of the Night: Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are the No. 1 team in the nation, but the Gaels are the reigning WCC Tournament Champions. Gonzaga holds two victories over the Saint Mary’s this season, but they still have to bury the memory of their overtime loss to the Gaels in last season’s title game. The Gaels have lost just twice since Christmas, both defeats coming at the hands of their bitter rivals. This is undoubtedly the best west coast rivalry of the past half-decade, and it only gets better when the two teams face-off for the tournament championship.

– Watch this too: Charleston vs. Davidson
The two most prestigious basketball programs in the SoCon lock horns in the postseason tournament championship tonight. These two teams have not faced off in the SoCon championship game since Steph Curry’s freshman campaign in 2007. Davidson is riding a 16-game win streak and has not lost since the second week of January. Charleston will have a tough task in defending Davidson’s dominant frontcourt made up of preseason Player of the Year De’Mon Brooks and recently named 2013 Player of the Year Jake Cohen. Cougars’ big-man Adjehi Baru will need to have a career-night in order to give Charleston a chance at punching their ticket to the Big Dance.

Player to Watch: Nate Wolters, South Dakota State
Well duh. The Jackrabbits’ senior sharpshooter was the only play in the country to score 50+ points in single game this season, when he scored 53 points against the very same IPFW team he faces tonight. In fact, in the two regular season meetings against the Mastadons, Wolters scored a combined 82 points on 27-for-46 shooting. Wolters is in the midst of a “mild cold streak”, having only made more than seven field goals in two of his last six games. But Nate Wolters’ bad days are better than most people’s good days.

Miscellaneous Madness:
Only three times since 2006 has the top seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament made it to the championship game. In fact, in the past three years, no seed higher than a No.4-seed has advanced to the tournament championship game. Tee trend continues in 2013, as No. 4-seed Florida International, fresh off their upset over top seed Middle Tennessee, face No. 6-seed Western Kentucky, the defending tournament champions. Last season, the Hilltoppers fired their coach mid-season only to run the tables in the postseason as a No. 8-seed and earn a trip to the Big Dance despite carrying a losing record.

Saturday Schedule:

Colonial Athletic Association Finals
7 p.m. – James Madison (3) vs. Northeastern (1) – NBCSN

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Finals
9 p.m. – Manhattan (6) vs. Iona (4) ESPN2

Mid-American Conference First Round
7 p.m. – Miami-OH (11) vs. Bowling Green State (6)
7 p.m. – Northern Illinois (10) vs. Eastern Michigan (7)
7 p.m. – Central Michigan (9) vs. Buffalo (8)

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference First Round
6:30 p.m. – Maryland-Eastern Shore (13) vs. Savannah State (4)
9 p.m. – South Carolina State (12) vs. Morgan State (5)

Southern Conference Finals
7 p.m. – Charleston (3) vs. Davidson (1) ESPN2

Summit League Semifinals
7 p.m. – IPFW (5) vs. South Dakota State (1)
9:30 p.m. – North Dakota State (3) vs. Western Illinois (2)

Sun Belt Conference Finals
7 p.m. – Western Kentucky (6) vs. Florida International (4) ESPN

West Coast Conference Finals
9 p.m. – Saint Mary’s (2) vs. Gonzaga (1) ESPN

You can find 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.