Sean Miller

Defending the three-point line a key for Arizona in 2013-14

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In Sean Miller’s three seasons as head coach at Arizona prior to the 2012-13 campaign, the Wildcats routinely ranked among the nation’s best when it came to defending the three-point line. After limiting opponents to 31.3% shooting from deep in his first season (ranking 50th nationally), Arizona landed in the Top 5 of that stat two years in a row.

That standard of excellence is what made last season’s performance, in which conference opponents shot nearly 38% from deep, all the more startling. However despite those defensive issues on the perimeter, Arizona reached the Sweet 16 before falling to Ohio State.

The Wildcats did lose three seniors from that squad (guard Mark Lyons and forwards Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom) as well as freshman forward Grant Jerrett. But with two McDonald’s All-Americans (Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) arriving and Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell (2.8 steals/game as a sophomore) eligible after sitting out last season, expectations are once again high in the “Old Pueblo.”

If the Wildcats are to make good on that promise however, they’ll need to improve defensively. And the feeling is that this group has the tools needed to do just that. With that being the case, coach Miller may do some tinkering according to Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star.

So he’s thinking about tweaking his man-to-man defense, which has generally improved steadily since Miller’s arrival in 2009 but struggled at times last season.

“I believe in man-to-man – that will always be the primary defense that you play – but there are a lot of different things you can do within man-to-man,” Miller said. “Using our athleticism is something I would be foolish not to take advantage of and I think our team has a lot of ability on defense.

“Trapping and pressuring the ball, maybe even changing defenses some, is something we’ve looked at all summer and again it’s always about putting your talent in the best position to be successful.”

Of the teams that reached last season’s Final Four Michigan was the “worst” when it came to defending the three, with opponents making 32.5% of their attempts. And of the last five national champions just one allowed opponents to shoot better than 33%, with the 2008-09 North Carolina squad limiting teams to 33.7% from three.

For the entire season Arizona’s opponents made 35.8% of their three-pointers, and after clamping down on Belmont (29.6%) and Harvard (27.8%) the Wildcats were burned by a group of Buckeyes who managed to shoot 53% from deep.

With the addition of athletic defenders such as Hollis-Jefferson and Gordon, and the solid McConnell at the point, the early feeling is that this group is capable of playing defense at a level that’s become the standard during Miller’s tenure in Tucson.

And if that proves to be the case, Arizona has a shot to do some damage next spring.

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.