Syracuse Orange Keita blocks Marquette Golden Eagles Mayo during the first half in their East Regional NCAA men's basketball game in Washington

Marquette had enough talent to win in March, but not enough to play to April

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Marquette has seen the Syracuse 2-3 zone before. They’ve seen it a lot, both in-person and on film. In fact, they’ve beaten the zone this year, a 74-71 win back on February 25th.

But the teams that survive and advance late into March are usually equipped with a handful future NBA players, maybe even an all-star or two.

On Saturday in the East regional finals, Marquette’s talent was no match for Syracuse’s talent, and the final score reflected this, a 55-39 win for the Orange.

Vander Blue led the Golden Eagles with 14 points, but needed 15 field goal attempts to get there. Davante Gardner finished with 11 points, but scored just two points in the second half. And to make matters worse, the Orange got strong performances from their top guys. Michael Carter-Williams, who was named the MVP of the East Region, finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals. James Southerland led all players with 16 points, and C.J. Fair provided 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks.

Syracuse’s players played better than Marquette’s players.

Marquette struggled to hit open shots from the wings, and were unable to cut through the interior of the 2-3 zone. They made just 12 field goals on 55 attempts (22.6%) and just three 3-pointers on 24 attempts (12.5%). But their struggles weren’t because of a lack of effort or a bad game plan.

“Syracuse was the better team, they had better players. They have pros,” said Buzz Williams, who advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in his five years at Marquette. “I think they probably have guys on their team that after they win the national championship may not play for Syracuse anymore. It is the zone, and it is the players in the zone.

Simply put, this Marquette team is not built to beat a team from the perimeter. This is not a team with an elite front court. Marquette’s best 3-point shooter is Jamil Wilson, who entered the game 38-for-95 from beyond the arc (38%), and finished the contest with just three points on 1-for-9 shooting, including 0-for-5 from beyond the arc.

Marquette can scrap with just about any team in the country, but if you force them out of their comfort zone, they are just like any other good-but-not-great college basketball team.

“I just think they flat-out played better than us from start to finish,” said Junior Cadougan, who finished with just six points. “Coach said we did everything possible to put us in a better situation, but we didn’t get consecutive stops and they did a great job.”

Perhaps Marquette believed that they could shoot as well against Syracuse as they did against Miami on Thursday. The Golden Eagles shot 27-for-50 from the field against the Hurricanes, unquestionably one of their top shooting performances of the season.But against Syracuse, they had stretches of five and six minutes in the first half where they failed to score a field goal.

Marquette has both in-game experience against the 2-3 zone, and a coaching staff that excels at game tape analysis. But one of the tools you need in order to beat a lanky zone like Syracuse’s is a perimeter attack, and there is a reason Marquette is ranked 310th in the nation in three-point percentage.

Maybe this loss means we should be giving Buzz Williams even more credit for the job he’s done with this team. On paper, Marquette is a top-25 team. But on the court, they have, at times, played like a top-10 team. You never have to question the heart, determination or toughness of a Buzz Williams-coached team. Buzz Williams has made a living off of getting good players to play hard.

“Well, he’s a tremendous basketball coach,” said Boeheim during Friday’s pregame press conference. “He’s done a tremendous job. They have a very good team. I just look at the players on the team, I don’t look at the hype. They have very good players. They’re very good defensively. They can score inside, they can score outside. They handle the ball, they don’t make mistakes.”

This was Marquette’s eighth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and their third straight Sweet 16. But this was just their first trip past the Sweet 16 since some guy named Dwayne Wade led the Golden Eagles to the Final Four in 2003. Sure Marquette has produced NBA players since 2003, guys like Lazar Hayward, Wesley Matthews and Jae Crowder. I’d be willing to bet that at least one player from this current team makes it to the NBA.

But you need elite talent to win a National Championship. In March, teams with more talent tend to win out, and on Saturday, that’s exactly what happened.

You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir.

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.