Michigan v Indiana

For as good as the Big Ten was, Michigan is its last Final Four hopeful

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For as dominant as the Big Ten appeared to be throughout the conference schedule, generous in giving us marquee matchups every week, how could we have ended up here on the verge of a Final Four that doesn’t include a single team from the conference?

We began with the possibility of three or maybe even four Big Ten teams in Atlanta, but now it all comes down to one: Michigan.

The Wolverines are the conference’s last hope to have a representative in the Final Four after No. 2-seed Ohio State fell to No. 9-seed Wichita State on Saturday in the Elite Eight and both Indiana and Michigan State were knocked out in the Sweet 16.

There was a sense during the conference season that we could see a “Big Ten Effect” in the NCAA tournament that we seem to see with college football in the SEC. That “effect” is when all the teams from a particular conference beat up on each other throughout the regular season, but are stronger for it in the postseason.

It appeared to be coming true after the Round of 64 when the conference was 6-1, with only Wisconsin losing to Ole Miss. But then Illinois and Minnesota each lost their Round of 32 games. That led to the Sweet 16 losses mentioned earlier and Ohio State’s loss on Saturday, which leads us here. It is simply scheduling that led us here, with Michigan playing a day later than the Buckeyes, but the fact remains: there is only one team left standing from the Big Ten.

So what can the Wolverines do to beat Florida and advance to the Final Four?

Michigan comes into this game knowing that against a strong defensive team like Florida, they do not turn the ball over at a high rate. That should help to keep the Gators from flipping turnovers into points and getting out into transition offensively.

A major concern for Florida should be whether or not it can find a go-to scorer down the stretch and whether or not it can seal a game in the final minutes. With a team like Michigan that can get out on the run led by point guard Trey Burke and has three-point shooters like Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway, Jr., Florida will need to lock down defensively or leads can disappear quickly.

Coach Billy Donovan’s team showed it could come back from a major early deficit against a transition-oriented team after falling into a 15-4 hole against Florida Gulf Coast. The difference this time around will be that the Gators will likely not have the benefit of turning so many turnovers into points. Michigan will not turn the ball over at the same rate as FGCU.

Florida will want to exploit any weakness it can in the paint on both ends of the floor, which means Patric Young needs to be a presence in the paint against Mitch McGary. Michigan was able to neutralize Kansas’ advantage in that department in its Sweet 16 win.

Tip off is at 2:20 p.m. ET, followed by the day’s other Elite Eight matchup, Louisville-Duke, at approximately 5:05 p.m. ET.

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.