Stephen F. Austin Louisiana State Shreveport Men

2013 Southland Conference preview

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This season, one of the best rivalries in any mid-major conference may be Stephen F. Austin/Northwestern State.

The two teams split the season series, taking their home games against one another with the total point differential being five points. Now, the Lumberjacks and Demons head into the Southland Conference tournament as the top two seeds and own byes into the semifinals as a result.

Individually, Stephen F. Austin has been getting most of the press clippings there year with their three overall losses. The lone non-conference loss came at Texas A&M, and they own wins at Florida International and Oklahoma.

But a team like Northwestern State has just as many games the Lumberjacks to get to the NCAA Tournament, and they know it. Oral Roberts is also a solid bet to open a few eyes in the coming days as well, while a few other teams have positive vibes they may be able to ride heading into the tournament.

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

THE BRACKET

Where: Katy, Texas (Leonard E. Merrell Center)

When: March 13-16

Final: March 16, 8:30 EST (ESPN2)

Favorite: Stephen F. Austin

A three-loss team in any conference has already proven they are for real. The Lumberjacks, who at 26-3 overall, 16-2 in-conference have one of the more impressive records this season, are anchored by Taylor Smith, with the security of four seniors and five juniors playing high-level ball. They proved early in the season that they can play with the power conference teams — they only lost at Texas A&M by eight — and they carried that confidence into the conference season. They’ve got all the tools to easily take the tournament championship, plus the benefit of only needing two wins to do so.

And if they lose?: The Lumberjacks are one of only three teams in the nation with three or less losses, with the two conference defeats coming by a combined eight points. One of those losses came on the road at Northwestern State, who finished second in the conference at 15-3 and 21-8 overall. The Demons also gave the Lumberjacks a run in Nacogdoches, Texas on March 2, with Stephen F. Austin escaping with a 64-63 win. These two are as close as you can get to a lock to play in the tournament finals.

Sleepers: Despite their 12-17 overall record, Southeastern Louisiana handed the Lumberjacks one of their two conference losses this season. Oral Roberts is only one of three teams in the Southland to own an overall winning record. Central Arkansas has won four in a row heading into the tournament.

Studs:

Taylor Smith, Stephen F. Austin – He averages 15.6 points and nine rebounds per game, leads SFA in both categories. Also leads the league with three blocked shots per game.

Fred Hunter, Nicholls State – The conference’s leading scorer at 19.8 per game. He can fill it up.

Damen Bell-Holter, Oral Roberts – He’s fourth in the conference in scoring (15.8) and leads the league in rebounding at nine boards per game.

CBT Prediction: Stephen F. Austin. They’re one of the best teams of any one-bid conference in America and they have the confidence of a roster flooded with experience. Northwestern State has the benefit of a win over the Lumberjacks, but conference losses happen. Stephen F. Austin did everything they had to to get to this point and there’s no reason to believe they’ll stop now. 

Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten

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.