Bob Thomason

Big West conference tournament preview

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Long Beach State, even with heavy personnel losses from last season’s NCAA tournament team, was the preseason pick to win the Big West and Dan Monson’s team did just that. But the 49ers didn’t lack for challengers and that will be the case this weekend when the top eight teams get together at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Any of the eight teams in the field are capable of winning at least one game this weekend, which should make for an entertaining three days in Anaheim.

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

The Bracket

Where: Anaheim, California (Honda Center)

When: March 14th – March 16th

Final: March 16th, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Long Beach State

The 49ers enter the tournament having lost three of their last four games, with two of those defeats coming on the road against UC Irvine and Pacific, so they don’t enter the weekend rolling so to speak. But the talent for another title run is certainly there, with Ennis and sophomore point guard Michael Caffey leading the way. The addition of DePaul transfer Tony Freeland allowed Ennis to move back to small forward after having to play as an undersized four for much of non-conference play. Also of note are shooting guard Keala King and power forward Dan Jennings, with King giving the 49ers the slasher (in addition to Ennis) this team didn’t have during non-conference play.

And if they lose: Pacific

Seven players average at least five points per game but just one, Lorenzo McCloud (11.4 ppg) is in double figures, which underlines Pacific’s reliance on balance and controlling tempo. The Tigers shoot nearly 39% from beyond the arc and they share the basketball, as their assists per game (15.4) and assist percentage (63.1% of their made field goals are assisted) lead the Big West. With their pending move to the WCC and head coach Bob Thomason retiring, the Tigers won’t lack for motivation this weekend.

Sleepers: This area is loaded with possibilities, beginning with UC Irvine and Hawaii. Both have depth in the front court, with Michael Wilder, Will Davis II and Adam Folker leading the way for the Anteaters while Vander Joaquim, Christian Standhardinger and Isaac Fotu anchor things insider for the Warriors. Cal Poly is similar to Pacific in that they have one player averaging double figures (forward Chris Eversley) and shoot well from beyond the arc. Lastly there’s UC Davis, a team capable of lighting it up offensively with Big West scoring champ Corey Hawkins leading the way.

Studs: 

– F James Ennis (Long Beach State): Big West Player of the Year, Ennis ended the season ranked in the top ten in the Big West in points, rebounds, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, steals and blocked shots.

– Corey Hawkins (UC Davis): Averaging 20.9 points per game on the season, and he lit up Hawaii for 41 earlier this season.

– Alan Williams (UC Santa Barbara): The only player in the Big West averaging a double-double, Williams (17.6 ppg, 10.7 rpg) leads the way for the Gauchos.

Prediction: Go with the “storybook” ending here. Pacific leaves the Big West on top, sending their retiring head coach to the NCAA tournament one last time.

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)
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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
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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.