Montana v Syracuse

The key to Syracuse’s back court: a consistent jump shooter?

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Syracuse will likely enter the 2013-2014 season somewhere around the top 10 of most preseason polls, which is a fair assessment.

Losing Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland hurts, but there is talent coming back — CJ Fair, the uber-promising Jerami Grant, the reportedly-in-shape DaJuan Coleman — and even more joining the program — Tyler Ennis, BJ Johnson, Ron Patterson, Tyler Roberson, Michael Gbinje.

Ennis, quite obviously, is the key to the team, as he just so happens to be the only point guard on the roster. Taking over as the sole point guard on a team accustomed to the likes of MCW, Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters, Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf is not going to be an easy thing to do for a freshman.

One of the things that will make his job easier?

Shooters surrounding him on the perimeter.

One of the things that Ennis does well is penetrate, collapse the defense and find an open man; that’s what he did when I watched him last summer, and that’s essentially what his entire ESPN scouting report says. He also went for 42 points against China in the U-19s, so, you know, he’s pretty good.

We all know that Syracuse has the long and lanky athletes around the basket — I didn’t even mention Rakeem Christmas or Baye Keita earlier, which should give you an idea of the number of front court players Jim Boeheim has at his disposal — but with Southerland gone, there is some question of where the perimeter shooting will come from. Fair shot 46.9% last season, but it was on a limited number of attempts. Grant shot 40%, but only took 15 threes.

Michael Gbinje, the former top 30 recruit and a transfer from Duke, should be able to help out in that area, but the key to this team could end up being Trevor Cooney, who might find himself playing the role that Andy Rautins once played for the Orange. Cooney entered college with the reputation of being a shooter, but struggled with his consistency as a freshman. He’s spent the summer working on that. From Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com:

No longer would the Syracuse University shooting guard busy himself with boosting his upper body. No longer would he worry that he had not accumulated the breadth of bulk necessary to compete at the highest levels of the college game.

Instead, Cooney would concentrate on conditioning his 6-foot-4, 195-pound body to withstand the rigors of tempo that he never fully anticipated. He dedicated the weeks and months after SU’s loss in the national semifinals to his legs.

[…]

All that legwork, Cooney believes, will translate into better shooting performances for his sophomore season.

“Being a good shooter is different for different people,” he said. “Like, I’m a legs guy. I step into my shot, use my legs, explode up. And if you’re going to be a good shooter that way, you have to be in good shape. Your legs have to be strong, you have to be able to run up and down the court. And I didn’t think I did a good enough job of that last year in being in great shape. I thought I did a better job this summer on it. And it’s helped me in these practices this far.”

If Cooney can find a way to be a consistent three-point threat this year, it will help create space for Ennis to penetrate.

That helps takes the pressure off of a freshman that will be starting at the point guard spot from day one.

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
Jon Lopez/Nike
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

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.