Antonio Barton

The big question with Antonio Barton: can he play the point for Tennessee?

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One of the most controversial rules in the college game these days is the graduate transfer exception.

It works like this: if a player finishes his undergraduate degree with eligibility remaining, he is allowed to transfer to a different school without sitting out a season to enroll in a graduate program that’s not offered at his previous institution.

The thinking is that, since these kids are supposed to be STUDENT-athletes, if they have a chance to get a graduate degree in a field of their choosing, the NCAA shouldn’t stand in the way of that because it could cost the kid their final year of eligibility.

The problem is that the rule gets abused. Players that have redshirted a season use the rule not as a means of finding a better graduate program, but instead using it to try and find a better basketball program to spend a year at. Think Brandon Wood transferring to Michigan State from Valpo, or Julius Mays going from Wright State to Kentucky.

But the exception isn’t a bad thing, and this weekend we got a perfect example of that.

Antonio Barton followed his brother Will from Baltimore to Memphis to play his college ball, but where Will was a five-star recruit that every coach in the country wanted, Antonio was a three-star point guard that was in the same recruiting class as Joe Jackson. There wasn’t much expected of the smaller Barton, and most viewed his recruitment as a package deal. If you want Will, you have to take Antonio, too.

But as Jackson struggled through his freshman campaign, Barton emerged as a quality back court piece, averaging 8.2 points and 1.7 assists in his first season with the Tigers. His numbers have dropped since then, but that has everything to due with the development of Jackson and Chris Crawford and the addition of Geron Johnson. After struggling through an injury-plagued junior year, Barton made the decision to transfer out of Memphis once he realized he would be able to graduate.

He ended up committing to Tennessee on Sunday, and while the Vols are one of Memphis’ biggest rivals, it couldn’t possibly be a more perfect fit for Barton.

Tennessee has a ton of talent on their roster this season. Jarnell Stokes is one of the better big men in the SEC, and he may not even be the best big man on the roster when Jeronne Maymon is healthy. Throw in Jordan McRae, who had a breakout junior campaign, and talented incoming freshman Robert Hubbs on the wing, and the Vols had a ton of pieces for Cuonzo Martin to work with.

The problem? Trae Golden got the boot earlier this month, and he was the only point guard Tennessee had on their roster. Barton will slide in and take over that role.

Here’s the question: is Barton a point guard?

We know he can really shoot the ball, and we know that he is a defensive stopper. Both of those traits, particularly his defensive skills, will let him fit in well with Martin. But Tennessee also needs him to be a guy that can run offense, get the Vols into their sets and create off the bounce at the end of a clock.

Jackson, Crawford and Johnson played that role at Memphis while Barton was there. Does that mean that Barton just hasn’t shown what he can do, or is it a sign of what he can’t do?

Regardless, Barton’s presence turns Tennessee back a top 25 team.

And if he proves that he can truly be a point guard, the Vols might end up pushing Florida for that second spot in the SEC race.

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)
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
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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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.