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South Region Preview: Star power and early upsets?

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Here’s the irony about the South Region: there is more star power in this portion of the bracket than anywhere else, yet it is as wide-open as any region this season.

Let’s start with the coaches, as ten of them — Bill Self, Roy Williams, Jay Wright, Shaka Smart, Ben Howland, Tubby Smith, Billy Donovan, Steve Fisher, Lon Kruger and John Thompson III — have made at least one Final Four. That list doesn’t include John Beilein.

That’s almost as impressive as the number of stars that will be setting foot on the court. Trey Burke, Otto Porter, Ben McLemore, Jeff Withey, Shabazz Muhammad, Nate Wolters, Jamaal Franklin, James Michael-McAdoo.

The bottom-line?

There will be no shortage of people to write about in the South.

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Three story lines to watch

  • Will this be the end of the road for Ben Howland at UCLA? The chatter about his job status that started back in November hasn’t exactly subsided. With the amount of talent that he brought into the program this season, what does Howland need to do to save his job, assuming he even wants to remain with the Bruins? A Sweet 16? An Elite 8? Without Jordan Adams? That’s a tall task.
  • Take a look at who Howland drew in the opening round: Minnesota and head coach Tubby Smith, who is dealing with his own hot seat issues right now. Winner remains employed?
  • With the obvious caveat that they first need to knock off Villanova in the opening round, how awesome would it be to see Kansas reunite with former head coach Roy Williams in the round of 32? And to have the game take place in Kansas City, no less?

The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Florida

I still think that Kansas is probably the favorite to come out of the South, although I think that they are probably the least likely of the No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four. Their back court play has been better of late, but the Jayhawks still don’t have a true point guard. Ben McLemore is going to be a top five pick, but at this point in his career he’s still more of a spot-up shooter and transition finisher than he is a go-to guy. But their defense, anchored by Jeff Withey, can be dominant when it needs to be, and Kansas will need it to be.

As far as Florida is concerned, I’m very well aware of their issues in close games. They are 0-6 in games decided by single digits. But those account for six of just seven losses, meaning that they’ve won a lot of games by a lot of points, which is part of the reason why the Gators are the only team in the country in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency. I don’t think they get challenged until the Sweet 16 and Georgetown, and I think that Florida’s smothering defense — and Will Yeguete on Otto Porter — may be enough to get them to the Elite 8.

Final Four sleeper: VCU Rams

And they may be more than just a ‘sleeper’. Think about it like this. VCU’s press can be flat-out devastating. Akron’s starting point guard was suspended after getting arrested. Michigan may be the nation’s least turnover-prone team, but they are also very young, they haven’t seen a press this season and they’ll have about 48 hours to prepare for it. Kansas has all kinds of turnover issues in their back court. Georgetown and Florida aren’t exactly striking fear in the hearts of Shaka Smart’s club. Am I losing it?

Best opening round matchups

  • No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 13 South Dakota State: This may actually be the single-best opening round matchup int he entire tournament. Similar styles. Nate Wolters vs. Trey Burke. Thank you, Selection Committee.
  • No. 7 San Diego State vs. No. 10 Oklahoma: Lon Kruger knows the Aztecs well from his time at UNLV in the Mountain West, but will that be enough to handle Jamaal Franklin and company?

Matchups to root for

  • No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 North Carolina: It’s more than just the Roy Williams thing. UNC actually has a chance to win this game. Going four guards, spreading the floor and forcing Withey to defend on the perimeter is how Oklahoma beat Kansas and how Iowa State nearly beat Kansas twice. That’s what the Heels will do.
  • No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 5 VCU: The clash of styles would just be so intriguing to watch.
  • No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 7 San Diego State: These two schools have developed a bit of a SoCal’s finest rivalry over the past couple of seasons. There are some hurt feelings from the recruiting trail involved here.

The studs you know about

  • Trey Burke, Michigan: Point guard. National Player of the Year.
  • Otto Porter, Georgetown: Small forward. First team all-american and National Player of the Year runner-up.
  • Ben McLemore, Kansas: Future top five pick in the NBA Draft, McLemore may have the prettiest stroke in the country and also throws down windmills in games. Now we’ll see if he can do anything else.
  • Nate Wolters, South Dakota State: The kid’s not a secret anymore. He played in the tournament last season after being hyped up all year long. The only surprise people are going to have about Wolters is that he’s still in school.

The studs the nation will find out about

  • Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State: You should know who he is after he did this.
  • Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova: He’s more than just the complicated last name. The freshman point guard has proven that he has the guts to take and make a big shots.

Upsets that ARE happening

  • No. 11 Minnesota over No. 6 UCLA: I know how well Minnesota has played of late. I get it. But they don’t need to play well against the Bruins. All they have to do is play hard. The Gophers are as good as anyone in the country at getting to the offensive glass, and UCLA is small and doesn’t seem to care all that much about rebounding.

Upsets that AREN’T happening

  • No. 13 South Dakota State over No. 4 Michigan: The Wolverines and the Jackrabbits just play too similar of a style, as they both rely heavily on the playmaking of a dynamic point guard that dominates the ball.
  • No. 7 San Diego State over No. 2 Georgetown: San Diego State struggles shooting from beyond the arc, and that’s exactly what they will be forced to do by the Georgetown defense.

CBT Predictions: As of today, I’m picking Florida over VCU for a trip to the Final Four, but that’s going to chance. Check back on Wednesday for my ‘official’ picks.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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
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.