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Auburn releases schedule for 2013-14 season

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The Southeastern Conference received a bit of a wake-up call on Selection Sunday this past spring, as the conference received just three bids. An issue for some of the teams left on the outside looking in: non-conference scheduling. While a program like Kentucky had no such issues in booking challenging contests, the same couldn’t be said for some of their fellow conference members.

With that in mind commissioner Mike Slive announced that scheduling expert Greg Shaheen (whose work with the selection committee gives him the ability to inform programs of what exactly the committee wants to see schedule-wise) would evaluate the non-conference slates of member schools. One school whose schedule was changed as a result of this evaluation was Auburn, which was ultimately replaced in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off by Northeastern.

On Friday the Tigers released their full schedule, and it’s a slate that should place head coach Tony Barbee in position to improve on last season’s 9-23 mark. The toughest non-conference game on the schedule will likely be Auburn’s trip to Ames, where they’ll take on Iowa State on December 2. But outside of that contest and games against Murray State (November 23) and Illinois (December 8 in Atlanta) there isn’t much “meat” on the slate.

With that in mind, fans will expect the Tigers to at the very least reach double digits in victories in 2013-14. And while simply winning ten or more games isn’t something to get excited about, that would be an improvement when considering how the Tigers played last year. It would also help the computer profile of the SEC if programs such as Auburn raised their level of play.

Auburn had the worst RPI (254) of any major conference team in the nation last season and the SEC only had three teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers went 9-23 in 2012-13 and lost 16 of their final 17 games in the worst single-season stretch in program history.

Barbee is entering his fourth season as Auburn’s head coach with the worst three-year conference record in program history. He is under contract for $1.5 million per year through 2017 and has a buyout of $750,000 for each year of his remaining term, or just shy of $3 million entering the season.

With Frank Sullivan and Rob Chubb out of eligibility the Tigers have some holes to fill, meaning that their summer trip to the Bahamas came at just the right time. Virginia transfer K.T. Harrell will be one of the players asked to lead the way offensively for the Tigers, who finished ninth in the SEC in scoring (64.8 ppg) and 11th in field goal percentage (40.9%) in 2012-13.

“This summer has been really good for us,” Harrell said following Auburn’s 88-60 win over the Bahamas All-Stars earlier this month. “As a team we have gotten so much closer. This has been the best summer that I have been a part of as far as camaraderie and how close we have gotten. This trip has helped us a lot.

“Practice has been great, we have gotten better execution-wise. Everyone knows what we are planning to do and our identity so this has been really good.”

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.