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What happens to college hoops if power conferences form new division?

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The NCAA tournament is what makes college basketball great.

For diehards like me, there’s so much more to it: the student sections, the underdogs, the glory that comes with pulling off a major upset, the euphoria of a cinderella conference tournament champion, a band that rocks.

But if it weren’t for the NCAA tournament, if it wasn’t for the entire month that college hoops dominates the attention of our nation’s sports fans, college basketball would be even more of a niche sport.

And the beauty of the NCAA tournament lies in the underdogs. It lies in the stories that emerge when a team like Florida-Gulf Coast makes a run to the Sweet 16 or when teams like VCU, Butler and George Mason make a run to the Final Four. It lies in the hope that Gonzaga can one day break through and make a Final Four or the possibility of another Stephen Curry coming along and forcing his way into the Elite 8. It lies in the seconds that a No. 13 seed’s potential game-winner spends floating through the air.

That’s why the next step in conference realignment is so scary.

When Pete Thamel of SI.com originally wrote his story on the possibility of the Power 5 conferences — Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, and ACC — forming their own division in college athletics, he made it clear that, as of now, the NCAA tournament is safe.

But ‘as of now’ doesn’t mean ‘forever’, because if those schools realize that they can make more money for themselves by forming their own division and keeping low- and mid-major programs from the Big Dance, than they will. And, as former NCAA executive vice president Greg Shaheen told Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, that’s very much a possibility.

If there’s one thing that we’ve learned about college sports in the last few years, it’s that teams are always going to chase more money. From Parrish:

money is the one thing the power conferences value over all other things. For proof, consider that every significant change in college athletics over the past two decades has been rooted in an ability to make more money. It’s why the BCS was scrapped in favor of a four-team playoff the powerbrokers insisted would never happen. They didn’t change their position because they finally realized it’s absurd to let a computer award championships. They changed their position because they finally realized they can make more money with a four-team playoff than they could with the BCS, and it’s why you would be wise to roll your eyes when these same power brokers now insist they’ll never move to an eight-team playoff.

Because an eight-team playoff is worth more money than a four-team playoff.

So that’s coming, too.

That’s not the only concern for the non-power conference programs, either.  Let’s say that the five conferences listed above form their own NCAA division, but instead of breaking away they simply follow their own rules.

Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News asks the question: what about the proposed stipend?

You know, the $2,000 full cost-of-attendance stipend that the smaller NCAA members shot down but that the richer programs supported.

Would that mean that programs like Big East members Villanova and Georgetown and American members Cincinnati and UConn would be facing a disadvantage? When picking between, say, Memphis and Florida, would the extra $2,000 that an athlete could get from the Gators play a role in an elite recruit’s decision?

There’s a difference between the haves and the have-nots in college sports, but in college hoops, that line gets blurred.

And if you listen to two of the strongest voices that cover the sport, there’s reason to be concerned that our little game could end up changing for the worse — again — in the future.

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.