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Trip to Montreal good for Siena and first year head coach Jimmy Patsos

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There aren’t many mid-major schools in the country that have such a rabid following like Siena. How many 8-24 mid-majors out there — actually, how many 8-24 teams, period — can say they averaged over 6,000 fans per home game last season? Siena outdrew Miami (FL) by more than 400 fans per home game, and the Hurricanes had their best season in program history. The folks up in Albany like their basketball and come out in droves to the Times Union Center.

When Fran McCaffery left Siena to take the job at Iowa, he left some pretty big shoes to fill after leading the Saints to three straight NCAA Tournaments and two upset wins over Vanderbilt and Ohio State. Siena hired Mitch Buonaguro, who was an assistant under McCaffery, but he greatly struggled in his three seasons posting a record of 35-59 and was fired after last season.

Enter: Jimmy Patsos.

Patsos is one of the most animated and likable coaches in the game, and seems like a good fit for Siena. He is charismatic and should connect with the Siena fan-base well. Furthermore, Patsos is no stranger to turning programs around. When he first took the job at Loyola (Maryland), they were coming off a 1-27 under Scott Hicks. In his second year, Patsos had Loyola at 15-13 and in the middle of the MAAC.

The trip north of the border will be as much of a learning experience for Patsos to become more familiar with his players as it will a time to practice and get better as a team.

Patsos told the The Daily Gazette: “…I’m learning some good and some bad about guys. This is another learning opportunity.”

Rising junior Rob Poole is one of Siena’s top returning players, and he sees the trip to Montreal in a similar light: “After the season we had last year, it was a big disappointment, but this year, I know we’re not picked to be a favorite to do well, but this Montreal trip is real big because it’ll bring us together. We’ll get to see what we have to work with and start early.”

Fortunately for Siena, Patsos is familiar with the MAAC having coached Loyola in the conference for nine seasons. While he is still learning of the personnel at Siena, he is familiar with the players having coached against them. Coaching against a player is just a bit different than coaching a player, though:

I know we have three or four from returning. And I know a couple young guys can play just by virtue of what I’m seeing because of summer school, but I’m trying to figure out who the eight or nine guys are who can play this year, because we’re going to press and run this year. We can’t play six guys the way we’re going to play.

Even though Patsos is still going through the learning process figuring out how his player’s tick, he seems to have figured out his starting five already: “Marquis is the one, Hymes at the two, Poole at the three, Brett [Bisping] at the four, [Imoh] Silas at the five,” Patsos said.

It may take a year or two for the Siena program to get back on its feet where Fran McCaffery had them just a few years ago, but don’t be surprised if Jimmy Patsos has the Saints as a true mid-major power in the coming years. Siena fans will expect nothing less.

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.