Butler v Marquette

Marquette searches for a rival in new Big East

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Digging for basketball stories in the offseason is tough sledding. Oddly enough, as the first games draw closer, news gets even harder to find, and the reason is a familiar one for college hoop-heads: football done stole all our candy.

Any newspaper that covers college sports extensively is talking kickoff this week, so I’m going to take this opportunity to dig into a question of great interest to schools in the new Big East – the one without big time pigskin.

One of my favorite team-specific blogs is Paint Touches. It’s a Marquette site that eschews the easy storyline and goes for the deep dirt every time, often with an assist from tempo-free stats. Currently, editor Andrei Greska is looking forward to the announcement of the league slate, which should happen sometime in the upcoming week. His focus falls on the new/old league’s announcement that they will protect one “natural rivalry” for each school, pairing teams in unbreakable grudge matches.

I’ll focus on the one Greska thinks is most likely, and the one that sounds the most interesting. He ranked the perceived likelihood of each partner on a scale of 1-9, with 9 being the most likely to occur.

DePaul
Pros: Closest school in proximity; easy for fanbases to travel; long history of playing against each other with over 100 games played; basically two home games for Marquette as more students go to MU from Illinois than any other state, including Wisconsin; gives announcers plenty to work with (Al vs Meyer)
Cons: Inferior quality the past decade leading to lopsided results; no bad blood
Likelihood: 9

Butler
Pros: Two fantastic games last season; similar scrappy/tough style; relatively close in distance;
Cons: New kids on the block; Brad Stevens is gone will the magic be as well?; Rotnei Clarke is gone
Likelihood: 7

Now, the physical proximity of Marquette and DePaul makes a ton of sense, and it is likely the league will pair the two. But god, what a stinkeroo. Honestly, DePaul and anyone is a stinkeroo right now. If anything, it’ll be a nice way for Buzz Williams to get some easy face time and swipe some Windy City recruits out from under Oliver Purnell’s nose.

The one that sounds exciting is Butler-Marquette. Rather than create a rivalry out of mutual disinterest, why not play on the visceral appeal of last season’s clashes between the Bulldogs and Golden Eagles? Two scrappy teams that build contenders out of players who don’t fit into any mold? Sign me up.

We’ll keep an eye out for that schedule announcement. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for some creative thinking on those rivalries.

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)
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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)
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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)
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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.