Michigan v Syracuse

Mitch McGary leads Michigan past Syracuse, into the title game

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ATLANTA — That vaunted Syracuse zone, the one that held Indiana and Marquette to a combined 89 points last weekend, did it’s job, at least on the perimeter. Michigan’s star point guard Trey Burke — that’s National Player of the Year Trey Burke to you — finished with seven points, shooting 1-8 from the floor.

Tim Hardaway Jr. wasn’t much better despite leading Michigan in scoring with 13 points; he needed 16 shots, hitting just four of them, to get those 13 points.

Nik Stauskas, the guy who went 6-6 from beyond the arc last Saturday while lighting up Florida to the tune of 22 points, was 0-5 on this Saturday night and finishing without a single point.

And Michigan won.

No. Seriously. They won. 61-56.

That’s what happens when Mitch McGary, who has been the breakout star of the 2013 NCAA tournament, decides to channel his inner John Stockton. The Chesterton, IN, native finished with 10 points and 12 boards. He set the tone for the Wolverines defensively with two highlight reel blocks in the first minute of the game. He threw down a couple thunderous dunks. But where he made his real mark on this game was as a zone-buster.

McGary finished with six assists on Saturday night. That in and of itself doesn’t sound all that impressive, but think about this: McGary had 18 assists all season long prior to setting foot on the court at the Georgia Dome. He didn’t have a single assist in the first four games of the season. He had all of four assists when Big Ten play began on January 3rd.

It wasn’t just the fact that he made the passes, either. He was throwing no-look touch passes with his right hand. (He’s lefty, by the way.) He grabbed a rebound and led a 3-on-1 break, dropping off a pretty little bounce pass to Tim Hardaway Jr. for a layup.

How many people knew that he was capable of that?

“It was very … intriguing as we were developing the game plan against the zone,” Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander said after the game. To breakdown the Syracuse zone, you need to somehow get the ball into the high post. It can be via dribble penetration or it can be the result of a pass into the foul line area. It doesn’t matter. The ball just has to get there because it will either create an open 15-footer from the foul line or a high-low pass for a layup. The key? Having a big man versatile enough to be able to make that pass or make that shot. Why do you think Otto Porter was so successful against Syracuse this season?

Mitch McGary isn’t Otto Porter, or so we thought.

“When the ball gets in the high post, there was two things happening,” Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara said after the game. “We weren’t active enough from the guard position to keep it out of the high post, and then when it was getting in there, we werent active enough with the forwards to take away the dump pass.”

McGary made those dump passes. Maybe he is like Otto Porter after all.

“Did you ever think,” Alexander said, “that Mitch McGary would lead Michigan in assists over Trey Burke?” Not in a game that the Wolverines won. “I’m shocked.”

As are the rest of us, but the development is evidence of a point that the Wolverines made on Friday: the game is slowing down for McGary. He’s beginning to learn that basketball isn’t simply a game that has to be played at 100 mph. Nothing about the way McGary plays is nuanced; I don’t think he’s ever even heard the word ‘finesse’. But his understanding of Michigan’s system — the way that he can read the defense and know what is the right play to make — is where he has made the biggest strides this season.

“I consider myself a good passer,” McGary said.

McGary is still a bully. Michigan’s defense on Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland is what won them this game. The tone on that end was set by McGary’s blocks at the beginning of the game. He still grabbed five offensive rebounds. He still was the most physical presence in the paint.

But more proof that he’s beginning to learn how to play the game is bad news for the Wolverines.

While it may win them a national title, it’s looking increasingly less likely that they’ll have McGary for another season.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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)
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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
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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.