Daniel Mullings, Greg Gainey

Daniel Mullings looks to lead New Mexico St. to third straight NCAA appearance

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

When the latest round of conference realignment came to its conclusion, the Western Athletic Conference looked nothing like the league many had become familiar with. Of the fifteen players to receive All-WAC honors last season just two return: New Mexico State’s Daniel Mullings and Sim Bhullar. Both played pivotal roles on last season’s WAC tournament champion squad, with the 7-foot-5 Bhullar winning tournament MVP honors and Mullings earning a spot on the All-Tournament team.

They’re also two of the reasons why Marvin Menzies’ Aggies are expected to win the conference’s regular season title in 2013-14, with Mullings assuming the role of the WAC’s most versatile player. As a sophomore Mullings posted averages of 13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.3 steals per game, leading the Aggies in scoring and steals. And with New Mexico State losing two double-digit scorers, including leading rebounder Bandja Sy (11.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Mullings stands to have more responsibilities on his plate.

And the overwhelming feeling is that the Toronto native has worked hard enough to be ready for the challenge.

“When Daniel came in, he was relatively raw but very athletic and he was a gym rat,” Menzies said in a phone interview with NBC Sports. “He’s lived in the gym and worked above and beyond the hours we’re allocated to improve his game.”

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s WAC Preview)

After a freshman season in which he was a supplementary piece on an NCAA tournament team led by Wendell McKines, Mullings led the Aggies with a possession percentage of 23.7% as a sophomore. After surpassing the 20-point mark just twice as a freshman Mullings did so nine times in 2012-13, including 23-point outings in late-season wins over WAC regular season co-champion Louisiana Tech and Idaho.

His overall field goal percentage remained about the same (47.0% compared to 48.9% as a freshman), but Mullings’ greatest improvement came as a perimeter shooter. After making just 27% of his shots from beyond the arc in 2011-12, Mullings knocked down 37% of his shots from deep and attempted 31 more three-pointers as a sophomore (54 compared to 23 as a freshman).

“The biggest differences [from freshman to sophomore year] were developing my shooting an easing into more of a leadership role alongside our seniors,” said Mullings, who also noted his improved played on the defensive end (2.3 spg after averaging 1.6 as a freshman).

Outside of Mullings and the aforementioned Bhullar the Aggies return other contributors from last season’s team. Forward Renaldo Dixon (5.6 points, 4.0 boards) proved to be a valuable reserve in 2012-13, center Tshilidzi Nephawe (7.2 points, 5.2 boards) returns after playing in just nine games due to a hand injury and guard K.C. Ross-Miller is the team’s third returning starter. But even with this being the case there will be some adjustments to make given the fact that New Mexico State lost two double-digit scorers in Sy and Tyrone Watson (10.3 points, 5.0 boards, 2.8 assists). That’s where Mullings’ progression as a leader comes into play.

“As I’ve gone along I’ve become more vocal,” said Mullings. “I’ve been here for a couple years now so I know the system and what the coaches want, so I’ll be able to add whatever knowledge I have to help the new guys and the players returning.”

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

New Mexico State adds four newcomers, including 7-foot-4 center Tanveer Bhullar (Sim’s younger brother) and New Mexico JuCo transfer DK Eldridge, and they’ll have some depth at point guard thanks to the return of Ross-Miller and the arrival of freshman Travon Landry. The combination of talent, experience and conference turnover has made New Mexico State the prohibitive favorite to win the WAC in the eyes of many. It’s up to Mullings and his teammates to retain the focus needed in order to accomplish that task and return to the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive season.

“We have to just focus on ourselves and whatever New Mexico State has to do,” said Mullings when asked about whether or not the changes within the WAC will affect the Aggies’ approach. “We can’t worry about everybody else, but obviously we have to be aware of the new teams in our conference.”

With a non-conference schedule that includes two games against rival New Mexico as well as contests against Arizona, Colorado State and Gonzaga, New Mexico State should be ready when WAC play begins in January. And there’s also a good chance that more college basketball fans will be familiar with Mullings’ game if they aren’t already.

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)
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.