John Calipari

Top-seeded Kentucky upset by Robert Morris in first round of NIT

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Kentucky missed out on the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday and now, one game into the NIT, they’ve been sent home.

The No. 1-seeded Wildcats turned the ball over 14 times and fell to No. 8 Robert Morris, 59-57, at the Sewall Center in Coraopolis, Pa., Tuesday.

With nine seconds to play, Robert Morris was set to in-bound from the left corner on the baseline under its basket. Robert Morris coach Andy Toole drew up a play that caught Kentucky freshman Alex Poythress out of position with the basket left open. Center Willie Cauley-Stein was able to block the first Robert Morris layup attempt, but fouled junior Mike McFadden on the putback.

McFadden sank both free throws and Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer was unable to hit what would have been a game-winning three in the final seconds. Robert Morris made all 14 of its free throws on the night and was +5 in turnover margin.

The loss ends what has been a tumultuous season for Kentucky, one year after winning the national championship. It seemed coach John Calipari was unable to bring all of the new pieces together for this team as he had last season and the two years prior. But to compare this year’s team to the national championship team, as convenient as the argument may because of the common factor of youth, is not fair.

Calipari’s team should be evaluated on a sliding scale of youth. For as “young” as Kentucky was, led by Player of the Year Anthony Davis last year, then-sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb had played significant minutes during their freshman seasons and were veterans comparatively. Darius Miller was the senior anchor to the entire operation and guard play was more consistent.

Losing Nerlens Noel in the middle of the conference season certainly didn’t help this year’s Kentucky team, either. It was one more major adjustment for a team that had had problems doing just that throughout the season.

We are still yet to see how many of these players will stick around for another year in Lexington. If he is to pursue what is in his best interest, Nerlens Noel will enter the NBA draft and is all but a lock for the Top 5. Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin are both projected to be first round picks by DraftExpress.com, meaning they would receive guaranteed contracts if they were selected.

Calipari already has a stellar recruiting class lined up for 2013 and may not be done yet. The nation’s best player, Andrew Wiggins, has the Wildcats on his final list, as does top prospect Julius Randle.

For as painful as this season was for Kentucky, it will be rinse and repeat in the off-season. If a few key players return next year, added to the top-level recruits slated to come to Lexington, this 2012-13 campaign may feel like a distant memory by the midway point of next season.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (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)
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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.