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The Morning Mix

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Today is the day March Madness officially begins. While Thursday is the first real day of March Madness, the First Four takes place tonight in Dayton with two entertaining play-in games. Middle Tennessee State and Saint Mary’s face-off for a chance to earn a No. 11-seed and a spot in the second round against No. 6-seed Memphis in the Midwest. Out west, La Salle and Boise State battle for a No. 13-seed and the opportunity to face No. 4-seed Kansas State.

The Madness officially begins tonight. So make sure you are fully prepared.

Let’s hit the links.
 
 
Read of the Day:
Extremely insightful stuff from Jason Lisk about why bad wins can sink a team’s at-large hopes or tournament seed more than a bad loss would. It’s not who you lost to, it’s the bottom 10% of the teams that you beat. Read it. (The Big Lead)

 
 
Observations & Insight:
– The full schedule for the first weekend, organized by tip-off time. (USA Today)

– Master statistician Nate Silver believes the that parity is so overwhelming this season that there is no true favorite to win it all. (New York Times)

– On a similar subject as our “Read of the Day”, here is a discussion about gaming the RPI. It’s lengthy but worth your time. (Addicted to Quack)

– A whole bunch of good bracket-related stuff from Dan Hanner, including a chart that measures how hot a team is. (Real GM)

– Everybody thinks that March Madness ruins workplace efficiency. But a study shows that just might not be the case. (NBCNews.com)

– An awesome infographic and article explaining the correlation between average team high and tournament success. (The Guardian)

– If Ed O’Bannon wins his case against the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference may switch towards a division III model. (Sports Illustrated)

– Can Saint Mary’s do what VCU did in 2010 and make it from the First Four to the Final Four? The Gaels quest begins tonight when they play Middle Tennessee in Dayton. (Mercury News)

– March Madness video highlights are coming to Twitter. (USA Today)

– San Diego State and Oklahoma meet in the 7/10 game in the South region on Friday. It’s a neat match-up because the two head coaches happen to be very close friends. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

– The selection committee didn’t get a lot wrong on Sunday, but Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin is not to happy that his team got left out. (College Basketball Talk)

– Is the ACC trying to beat out the Big East for postseason tournament rights at Madison Square Garden. (VUhoops.com)

– Cincinnati President Santa Ono has a brother who is a music professor at Creighton. The Bearcats play the Bluejays in the second round. (Omaha World-Herald)

– Evansville is not playing in March Madness, but they are in a post-season tournament. Senior scoring machine Colt Ryan is just 56 points away from becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer. The Purple Aces play Tennessee State tonight in the first round of the C.I.T. (Evansville Courier-Press)

Odds & Ends:
– Richard Deitsch put together a magnificent viewing guide for the entire NCAA tournament. Make sure you read this thoroughly before excessive viewing. (Sports Ilustrated)

Some people prefer to pick their brackets based on team mascots. If you subscribe to this method, this link is for you. (House of Sparky)

– Ranking the tournament’s 68 teams based on the coolest person who attended school there. (Sports Illustrated)

– Rush the Court rolled out their women’s guide to March Madness. Sure why not. (Rush The Court)

– VCU’s Shaka Smart and Akron’s Keith Dambrot are close friends. Here is coach Dambrot wearing a VCU Rams t-shirt. His Zips face off against the Rams in second round action. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

 
 
Hoops Housekeeping:
– Seton Hall sophomore Aaron Cosby has decided to transfer out of school following a disappointing season for the Pirates in which he was the team’s second leading scorer. (New Jersey Star-Ledger)

– North Texas forward Tony Mitchell has declared for the NBA Draft. Mitchell garnered some preseason All-American votes but had a dud of a season. But his athleticistm and unpside means he’s probably a late first round draft pick. (Eye on College Basketball)

– It is being reported that Northwestern will release highly touted recruit Jared Sina from his LOI following the firing of head coach Bill Carmody. (Sippin’ on Purple)

– Texas State has decided to part ways with head coach Doug Davalos after seven years on the job. (Eye on College Basketball)

– Jackson State head coach Tevester Johnson has decided to retire after ten years on the job at JSU where he amassed a record of 149-170 and led the Tigers to the 2006-2007 NCAA Tournament. (JSUTigers.com)

– James Madison has suspended leading scorer Rayshawn Goins for the first half of the Dukes’ opening round game against LIU-Brooklyn on Wednesday due to an arrest over the weekend. (CSN Washington)

 
 
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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)
Jon Lopez/Nike
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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)
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)
(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.