Pac 12 Basketball Tournament - First Round

Utah beats California in overtime, advances to Pac-12 semifinals

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The Utah Utes entered the Pac-12 tournament with a 13-17 overall record, and as the ten-seed Larry Krystkowiak’s team wasn’t expected by many who follow the league to hang around Las Vegas for too long.

But after wins over USC and California (beating the Golden Bears 79-69 in overtime), Utah is now in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals and finds itself 80 minutes away from an improbable NCAA tournament trip.

The NCAA tournament shouldn’t be the concern because there’s plenty of business to be taken care of, but these two wins represent tangible rewards for a program that’s shown itself to be far more competitive in its second season in the Pac-12.

Jarred DuBois’ three-pointer over the outstretched arm of Cal big man David Kravish with four seconds remaining in regulation tied Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup at 59 apiece, and in the extra session Utah outscored the Golden Bears 20-10.

DuBois, playing his lone season in Salt Lake City after transferring in from Loyola Marymount, finished with 21 points, freshman Jordan Loveridge added 20 and senior center Jason Washburn 18 to lead the way offensively. Utah’s balance proved to be the difference against the Golden Bears, who had no other double-digit scorers to supplement the points provided by Justin Cobbs (26 points) and Allen Crabbe (21).

Nearly a month ago the Utes dropped a 68-64 decision at home to then-No. 9 Arizona, and even in defeat the progress made under Krystkowiak has been evident to many. The conference win total isn’t impressive (5-13 Pac-12 record) but these Utes are light years better than the group that looked overmatched in their debut season in the conference.

DuBois and Washburn are both seniors, meaning that Krystkowiak and his staff have some holes to fill in the offseason. But in Loveridge and freshman guard Brandon Taylor the Utes have two young players they can build around in the near future.

“I trust that these guys aren’t going to get satisfied. They’re going to continue to improve. It’s really nice,” said Krystkowiak after the game.

“I think not just Jordan, but there were some moments at the game, actually in the middle of live action, that I looked out there and we had four freshmen on the court. So the kids are continuing to get better as this year’s gone along.”

If they’re to be successful against Oregon the Utes have to do a better job on the glass, as they were out-rebounded 40-30 by the Golden Bears with Cal grabbing 15 offensive rebounds. But the fact that Utah is playing on Friday night speaks to the fact that the small steps taken in the right direction are beginning to produce tangible results.

“At this point in the season, our guys have learned all the lessons that you can learn, and we’re putting some things together where we’re not overly deficient in any one area, and that’s given us a chance to compete,” noted Krystkowiak.

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.