Wichita State

Final Four Preview: What you need to know about Wichita State

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The most surprising thing about Wichita State’s run to the Final Four isn’t that they were able to overcome a 5-5 finish to the regular season after starting out the year 15-1.

The most surprising part is that the Shockers were talented enough to make that kind of a run early in the season.

Gregg Marshall lost all five starters off of his 2012 team. You know who else lost five starters from last season? Kentucky. Look what happened to them. There’s a difference between those two programs: Wichita State returned Carl Hall, added a Juco transfer in Cleanthony Early as well as Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead, who sat out last season as a redshirt, so it’s not like this was a completely green group.

But still.

How many people would have guessed that Wichita State, and not Kentucky, would have been the team that made the Final Four after losing their starting five?

How they got here: The Shockers beat No. 8 Pitt by 18 before knocking off the No. 1 seed in the West Region, Gonzaga, with a thrilling, come-from-behind win in the round of 32. The Shockers followed that up with a blowout win over No. 13 La Salle before hanging against No. 2 Ohio State after nearly blowing a 20 point lead.

Odds to win the title: 12:1

Read through all of our Final Four coverage here

Why they can win: The first thing the Shockers need to do is get past Louisville in the semifinals on Saturday, and that’s something that they’re set up fairly well to do. The three things you need to be able to do to beat Louisville are get to the offensive glass, cut down penetration in the half court and avoid turnovers against their press. WSU gets to the glass and they are a tough, physical defensive team. The problem? They struggle with turnovers. Not a good thing against the Cardinals.

Why they won’t win: They’re running into the wrong Louisville team at the wrong time. I’ve got a lot of respect for how good Wichita State is. They probably deserved a No. 9 seed, but I think it’s fair to say that they are a better team than a typical No. 9 seed. That said, Louisville’s playing the best basketball that anyone has played this season.

Key stat: Malcolm Armstead has a turnover rate of 21.4%. Fred Vanvleet has a turnover rate of 24.1%. As a team, Wichita State turns the ball over on 19.5% of their offensive possessions. Louisville’s guards will feast on them if they aren’t careful.

Game-changer: Cleathony Early. Armstead to the go-to guy in the clutch and Carl Hall is the workhorse, but Early is the most-talented player on the team and a guy capable of going for 25 or 30 points. WSU is going to need a big game out of him to compete with Louisville.

Prediction?: Wichita State goes out like Colorado State. They put up a good fight, but in the end, the Cardinals are just going to be too much.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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)
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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.