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The SEC is trying to improve their basketball, and that’s a good thing

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The SEC was awful last season.

Three NCAA bids from a 14-team power conference is, frankly, unacceptable. Some of that isn’t necessarily the league’s issue, as Kentucky, the one blueblood program among the SEC ranks, had a a down year, getting knocked out in the first round of the NIT by Robert Morris.

The league also had a number of programs — Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama — that found themselves on the wrongside of the bubble.

And there was a simple, easily fixable cause: the SEC’s RPI was horrible, largely due to the fact that the conference, as a whole, apparently does not understand how to put together a non-conference schedule.

To fix that problem, the SEC has brought in a consultant to try and help these teams put together schedules that are worthwhile: Greg Shaheen, who more or less ran the NCAA tournament until he was fired last April. There aren’t many who know more about the RPI and how to rig a schedule to improve it than Shaheen. From Pat Forde:

“One of the things that was eye-opening to coaches was how much every team’s schedule impacts the other teams,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan.

“They’re inextricably linked,” Shaheen said.

[…]

“It’s not only who you play,” Shaheen said, “it’s where you play them. They need to be serious about this from the first game to the last. If they don’t go on the road and don’t play quality competition, it will be reflected at the end of the year.”

It’s a good thing that the SEC is finally making a move to try and strength their RPI numbers, which were atrocious last season. Five schools in the conference had non-conference schedule strengths outside the top 200. South Carolina and Mississippi State were outside the top 300. Some of that I can understand, as Frank Martin Rick Ray, respectively, were taking over massive rebuilding jobs and, in all likelihood, were less concerned about their RPi than they were destroying their team’s confidence before SEC play even began.

But the issue is that having one or two teams with terrible RPI numbers can destroy the RPI of an entire league. Mississippi State has to play 18 SEC games, and every time they play one, it hurts their opponent’s RPI even if the Bulldogs lose by 50 points. The RPI doesn’t factor in margin of victory; it simply registers that Florida beat a crappy team.

There are ways to game the RPI, as outlined here and here. The basics? Play teams that are going to win a lot of games in a mid-major league and play away from home early in the season even if that means pulling a Kansas and schedule “neutral court” games in Kansas City.

We can laugh at the SEC for needing to hire outside help for this kind of rudimentary expertise, but at the end of the day, this is a good thing. Because it’s going to make the SEC more competitive and it’s a sign that the conference actually cares about things other than football.

College basketball will be better overall if Kentucky and Florida have more competition on a nightly basis.

The fanbases in the SEC are passionate, and while their first love may be the gridiron, there are still people down there who will support their school’s athletics regardless of sport.

Giving them a reason to care about hoops is a good thing.

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.