AAC

Connecticut satisfied with their new home

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When the dust had settled with conference realignment finally coming to an end — it is over, right? — it became clear that Connecticut was on the outside looking in. Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse would all be headed to the ACC with Louisville joining the league for the 2014-15 season. Even Rutgers, the school with little basketball history to speak of, is destined for the Big Ten in 2014. Only Cincinnati and South Florida, along with the Huskies, were seemingly left out in the cold without a home.

Connecticut, the school with three National Basketball Championships since 1999, is relegated to the newly formed American Athletic Conference — a combination of schools formerly hailing from the Atlantic 10, Big East, and Conference USA. It almost certainly wasn’t their ideal destination, but Connecticut athletic director Warde Manuel is satisfied with the conference, he told the Associated Press

I’ve been done (speaking of looking to transition to one of the five power conferences). If my focus is always looking outside this organization and what we’re doing, we’re not going to maintain the success that we’ve had…It’s a business problem. My concern is the stability of UConn, and what we do at UConn. We’re going to compete for national championships.

The business problem Manuel speaks of is not generating the kind of dollars Connecticut would have received from the ACC, as an example, through a lucrative television deal. Despite less money coming in through this avenue, Manuel is confident Connecticut will be able to get creative to bring in money through other methods, such as ticket prices, corporate sponsorships or other revenue generators.

How confident is he? Well, a $40 million basketball training center is already under construction, and plans are in the works for a new on-campus hockey arena — it was announced last year that the Huskies will be joining Hockey East, arguably the best college hockey league in the country — and upgrades to the soccer, baseball and softball facilities.

Regardless of conference affiliation, Connecticut is still very relevant in the national college basketball scene. Whether they are wearing the ACC logo or AAC logo on their jerseys doesn’t change that. However, it is imperative that they continue to play a rigorous non-conference schedule and make routine trips to the NCAA Tournament to maintain their luster.

Added Mike Aresco, the commissioner of the AAC: “I think it’s really, really important for UConn to be able to play at the level they’ve become accustomed to. And while they will have different teams coming in, and a different look, they will be playing a high level of competition, and presenting marquee matchups will be important to us.”

It’s very possible that the AAC becomes a great niche for the Huskies, especially for their football program that proved they could be more than competitive since making the transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2004 — they reached the Fiesta Bowl in 2011 playing Oklahoma.

Granted they will be in a much smaller pond compared to the power five conferences, but perhaps the AAC is a much better spot for football than the ACC or Big Ten would have been. It would have been a tall task to compete against the top teams in the ACC and Big Ten, especially when basketball is the marquee sport at Connecticut.

As Warde Manuel has made clear, the AAC is Connecticut’s home, and excited times are ahead for the Huskies and the other schools in the newly formed conference.

You can find Kevin on twitter @KLDoyle11

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.