NCAA Basketball Tournament - Third Round - Salt Lake City

Two freshman guards step up to lead Wichita State to the Sweet 16

1 Comment

Wichita State had blown it.

After building a lead that grew as big as 13 points in the first half, the Shockers had watched as Gonzaga outscored them 36-15 over a 15 minute stretch that was capped by a 12-0 run. The surge pushed the Zags ahead 49-41. Their all-american Kelly Olynyk was playing like an all-american. Their star point guard Kevin Pangos had finally heated up. The Zags were simply punishing WSU on the offensive glass. It looked like they were getting ready to put the finishing touches on a trip to the Sweet 16.

No one told Ron Baker.

The freshman shooting guard sparked 31-16 run over the next 11 minutes, scoring 11 of his 16 points and handing out two of his four assists, as the Shockers knocked off No. 1 seed Gonzaga 76-70 to advance to the Sweet 16. Gregg Marshall’s club will take on the winner of No. 12 seed Ole Miss and No. 13 seed La Salle for the right to go to the Elite 8. Think about that.

Baker wasn’t the only freshman making big plays down the stretch, however. Point guard Fred Van Vleet assisted on a pair of threes before drilling a high-arcing, 25-footer over David Stockton with a little more than a minute left on the clock. The shot put Wichita State up three and just about put Gonzaga to sleep.

All told, those two combined for 29 points, seven boards and seven assists. They hit six of Wichita State’s 14 threes and, more importantly, either made or assisted on six of the seven threes that the Shockers hit in the final 12 minutes that erased Gonzaga’s 49-41 lead.

Making this performance all the more impressive? Baker missed 21 games this season. He hadn’t played since December 13th when he saw 19 minutes of action in Wichita State’s win over Missouri State in their MVC tournament opener. He’s not the only Shocker that has missed a significant amount of time this season, either. Carl Hall missed seven games after breaking his thumb. Evan Wessel hasn’t played since December. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that Wichita State lost their entire starting lineup from a season ago.

Should I mention that it wasn’t even three weeks ago that Wichita State lost two Missouri Valley titles to Creighton within the span of eight days?

So go right ahead.

Play pick your storyline.

Because there plenty of them.

But the bottom line is that the Shockers lived up to their nickname, knocked off the No. 1 team in the country in thrilling fashion and will live to play another day.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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.