Aaron Craft

The Morning Mix

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Four spots in the Elite Eight were handed out last night. Ohio State won on yet another game-winning 3-pointer. Wichita State looked like a legitimate Final Four team against La Salle. Marquette made Miami look like, well, Miami and Syracuse roughed up Indiana worse than any team had done this season.

Four more games are on-tap today, including the return of #DunkCity.
Let’s hit the links.
 
 
Read of the Day:
Ayn Rand’s formula for NCAA success. Make sure you read this. (Bloomberg View)
 
 
Observations & Insight:
– Some interesting thoughts on the college coaching search from an actual headhunter. (Land-Grant Holy Land)

– Luke Winn ranks the title chances of the Sweet 16 teams. Obviously, four teams have been eliminated from this list. (Sports Illustrated)

– Bruins Nation always has a strong take on the state of the UCLA athletic department. They believe that the coaching search for the next UCLA head basketball coach will be a defining moment for Bruin basketball. (Bruins Nation)

– Projecting the field in 2014: How many ACC teams will make the NCAA tournament next year? (BC Interruption)

– A look back at the other No. 15-seeds to earn NCAA tournament victories. FGCU is the first No. 15-seed to make the Sweet 16, but five other No. 15-seeds have won tournament games. (Penn Live)
 
 
Hoops Housekeeping:
– Butler head coach Brad Stevens is believed to be one of UCLA’s key coaching targets. But then again, almost every major program that has had a coaching vacancy in the last three seasons has targeted Stevens. (Eye on College Basketball)

– Part of Shaka Smart’s new contract extension at VCU is that his entire salary will be privately funded, meaning no student fees, tuition or state money will go towards Smart’s new salary. (USA Today)

– Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole was on the Siena campus yesterday interviewing for the Saint’s head coaching vacancy. Toole’s stock has skyrocketed following the Colonials’ N.I.T. win over defending national champions Kentucky. (Albany Union-Times)

– Abdel Nader, the leading scorer for Northern Illinois, has decided to transfer following a 5-win season. (Rant Sports)

– Justin Edwards, the America East’s top scorer, has announced that he will transfer out of Maine. (Bangor Daily News)

– Could Verizon and their inflated subscriber fees be the downfall to the impending super-conference era? (VU Hoops)
 
 
Odds & Ends
– The south regional finals are being held at Cowboy Stadium, home of the world’s most unnecessarily large TV. (The Dagger)

– Reese Waters of ESPN’s “UNITE” show fills us in on how to cure “March Sadness”. (ESPN Playbook)

– A treasure trove of FGCU dunks, .GIFs and #DunkCity memorabilia. (The Dagger)

– Jahlil Okafor, the top recruit in the class of 2014, doesn’t like it when coaches mispronounce his name. Welcome to the club, pal. Have you seen my last name? (USA Today HS)

– Sports bars in Lawrence, KS are cracking down on customers who abuse March Madness privileges. (KUsports.com)

– Aaron Craft crossed-up Arizona’s Nick Johnson pretty badly in the first half their West regional semifinal. (The Big Lead)

– I saw this live. It wasn’t pretty. My face began to hurt just watching the replay. (The Big Lead)

– These are good, especially “Madison Ware Garden”. (Card Chronicle)
 
 
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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.