Jabari Brown, Laurence Bowers, Mike Muscala

The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 9 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 Wednesday.

Game of the Night:Cincinnati vs. Providence
While this match-up may not have all the makings of an epic Big East tournament classic, it pits two teams heading in opposite directions. Cincinnati has lost six of their last nine and is squarely on the bubble after spending much of the early portion of the season ranked in the top-25. Providence on the other hand, has won seven of their last nine and might actually be able to sneak into the NCAA tournament if they can pull off an impressive run in New York City. It all starts tomorrow at noon.

Player to Watch: Mike Muscala, Bucknell
Muscala is arguably the best player you’ve never hear of. The senior forward averages 19ppg and 11rpg and despite playing in the Patriot League, may earn himself an All-American nomination or two. Muscala has already scored 2,007 points in his storied career, and a win tonight in the Patriot League finals would cement his legacy as one of the top-5 best Patriot League players of all time.

Miscellaneous Madness:
Today is the final chance for Grambling to avoid a completely winless 2012-2013 campaign. The Tigers are 0-27, but because so many SWAC teams are ineligible to compete in postseason play, Grambling got the call up. They face an Alabama A&M team that beat them by 25 and 27. If we’ve learned anything from this season, it’s that Grambling can absolutely get their first win of the season today.

Wednesday Schedule:

Big East Conference Second Round
Noon – Cincinnati (9) vs. Providence (8)
2 p.m. – Seton Hall (12) vs. Syracuse (5)
7 p.m. – St. John’s (10) vs. Villanova (7)
9 p.m. – Rutgers (11) vs. Notre Dame (6)

Big 12 Conference First Round
7 p.m. – Texas Tech (9) vs. West Virginia (8)
9:30 p.m. – Texas Christian (10) vs. Texas (7)

Conference-USA First Round
4:30 p.m. – SMU (10) vs. UAB (7)
7 p.m. – Rice (11) vs. Houston (6)
9:30 p.m. – Marshall (9) vs. Tulane (8)

Mid-American Conference Second Round
6:30 p.m. – Buffalo (8) vs. Ball State (5)
9 p.m. – Miami-OH (11) vs. Eastern Michigan (7)

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
6 p.m. – Bethune-Cookman (8) vs. Norfolk State (1)
8 p.m. – North Carolina A&T (7) vs. North Carolina Central (2)

Mountain West Conference Quarterfinals
3 p.m – Air Force (6) vs. UNLV (3)
5:30 p.m. – Fresno State (7) vs. Colorado State (2)

Pac-12 Conference First Round
3 p.m. – Arizona State (9) vs. Stanford (8)
5:30 p.m. – Oregon State (12) vs. Colorado (5)
9 p.m. – Utah (10) vs. USC (7)
11:30 p.m. – Washington State (11) vs. Washington (6)

Patriot League Finals
7:30 p.m. – Lafayette (2) at Bucknell (1)

Southeastern Conference First Round
7:30 p.m. – Mississippi State (13) vs. South Carolina (12)
10 p.m. – Auburn (14) vs. Texas A&M (11)

Southland Conference First Round
6 p.m. – McNeese State (8) vs. Nicholls State (5)
8:30 p.m. – Central Arkansas (7) vs. Sam Houston State (6)

Southwestern Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
9 p.m. – Grambling (7) vs. Alabama A&M (6)

You can find Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

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.

VIDEO: Jim Boeheim makes TV appearance to talk Carmelo Anthony

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Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has drawn attention for some recent comments about former Orange star Carmelo Anthony.

After Anthony captured his record third gold medal with USA Basketball, his former college coach told Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard that Anthony didn’t have a great chance at winning an NBA title.

“He’s unlikely to win an NBA title,” Boeheim said of Anthony. “He’s never been on a team that even had a remote chance of winning an NBA title.”

Boeheim maintains that he was speaking of Melo’s legacy being about more than an NBA title and that he’s one of the game’s greats thanks to other accomplishments like the Syracuse title and gold medals. On SportsCenter, Boeheim made sure to stress where those comments were coming from, while also making sure his kids would stop being mad at him.

It’s much easier to understand where Boeheim is coming from in this instance and it clears up something that will probably go away now.