Portland v Gonzaga

West Coast Conference announces 2013-14 conference schedule

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The 2012-13 season was one of great accomplishment for the West Coast Conference. Sure many will remember the fact that Gonzaga was knocked off by Wichita State in the NCAA tournament, but the fact remains that the Bulldogs were at one point ranked number one in the country and also earned the first one-seed in program history.

Also of note were three other programs participating in postseason play: CBI champion Santa Clara, Postseason NIT semifinalist BYU and NCAA tournament participant Saint Mary’s. With Pacific, which represented the Big West in last year’s tournament, joining the fold the WCC will be a ten-team league this season. On Tuesday the WCC released its conference schedule for the 2013-14 season, with league play beginning on December 28.

Some games on the slate that stick out:

  • Saint Mary’s at Pacific (December 30): The Tigers, who were a member of the West Coast Athletic Conference (precursor to the WCC) until moving to the Pacific Coast Athletic Association (which eventually became the Big West) in 1969, play their first game as a member of the WCC. Bob Thomason may have retired but new head coach Ron Verlin takes over a team with seven seniors and three juniors. Hosting Saint Mary’s, which will be a contender despite the graduation of Matthew Dellavedova, is a good early test for Pacific.
  • Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga (January 2): Why’s the above game so important for the Gaels if they’re to have a shot at winning the WCC? They visit the defending champs a couple nights later. Gonzaga may have lost Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk in the front court but Mark Few’s team is loaded on the perimeter. The key to their long-term hopes (both within and outside of the WCC): the improvement of center Przemek Karnowski.
  • BYU at Santa Clara (January 18): Kerry Keating does have to account for the graduation of guard Kevin Foster and forward Marc Trasolini but senior guard Evan Roquemore is back to lead the way. BYU doesn’t lack for talent with guard Tyler Haws and center Nate Austin back in Provo, with the hope for head coach Dave Rose being that they’ll earn a return trip to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season.
  • Gonzaga at San Diego (February 22): Gonzaga survived last year’s meeting at Jenny Craig Pavilion, winning 65-63 despite USD getting 21 points from guard Johnny Dee. Dee and Christopher Anderson form one of the WCC’s best perimeter tandems, with Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. likely being the best.
  • Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s (March 1): The last time a school other than Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s won at least a share of the WCC regular season title: 2002, when Pepperdine finished tied atop the standings with Gonzaga (13-1). So looking at the recent history of the conference, not to mention how good this rivalry’s been, it’s obvious that a lot will be on the line in Moraga.

After wrapping up the regular season on March 1, the WCC tournament will once again be played at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas from March 6-11.

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.