NCAA Final Four Michigan Syracuse Basketball

Michigan’s defense, Michael Carter-Williams’ struggles doom Syracuse

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ATLANTA — The knock on Michigan all season long was that this group didn’t have the defensive prowess to be able to play their way deep into the NCAA tournament.

And it was a valid point; the Wolverines weren’t — and aren’t — a great defensive team. They may not even qualify as a good defensive team compared to the rest of the elite teams in the country this season. Which is where the irony for this Michigan group lies. The reason that they’re playing in Monday’s national title game isn’t Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.

It’s their defense.

Think about this: Burke, Hardaway and Nik Stauskas combined to go 5-29 from the floor tonight. And Michigan won.

“We’d be talking about Trey Burke a little bit differently if we ended winning this one,” Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara said. But instead, we’re talking about Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland. Southerland didn’t score until there were five minutes left in the game, and that just so happened to be a ball that he accidentally tipped back into his own basket to push Michigan’s lead back to six points. He would finish with five points on 2-9 shooting.

Carter-Williams was worse. The guy that carried the Orange through the second weekend with two of his best performances of his career was 1-6 from the floor, finishing with more turnovers (five) than points and assists combined (four).

“I had hoped that I would play better,” Carter-Williams said. “It’s tough. I’m going to have to own up to it and move on.”

“I thought Mike got in there and had opportunities to finish,” McNamara added. “He missed one off the floater, a couple times they slid under him for charges. Sometimes it goes that way.”

And that’s where the frustration is going to lie for this Syracuse team.

They had a chance to pick up this win. They had a golden opportunity to make the National Title game right there in front of them. They lucked into a night where Michigan’s big guns and vaunted offense were no where to be found. And, perhaps more importantly, they played the Wolverines on a night where John Beilein’s club shot 4-9 from the charity stripe in the final 1:09, opening the door for a Syracuse come back.

But that comeback was thwarted. After getting to within two points with just 19 seconds left in the game, Brandon Triche drove to the right hand side and seemingly had a lane to the basket. But Jordan Morgan slid over and took the charge, sealing the win and sending Michigan on to compete for a national title.

It was the most important play of the game, and it came on the defensive end of the floor.

Who saw that coming?

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.