Davion Berry defends Troy Huff (AP photo)

2013-2014 Big Sky Preview: Can Weber State vanquish their second place curse?

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Davion Berry defends Troy Huff (AP photo)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Here’s a wild stat for you: over the last two seasons, Weber State is 33-2 against Big Sky opponents not named Montana. But since the Wildcats have managed just a 2-4 record against the Grizzlies in their six matchups, they have no Big Sky titles to show for it. Twice, they lost to Montana in the Big Sky conference title game, while also losing a matchup between the two teams on the final day of the regular season to determine the champ.

This is the year for Weber State to change that fact. The Wildcats lose Scott Bamforth and Frank Otis, but they bring back a Player of the Year candidate in wing Davion Berry as well as Joel Bolomboy and Kyle Tresnak, who will make up the best front line in the conference. Gelaun Wheelwright’s decision to transfer leaves Randy Rahe’s club lacking some back court depth, and guys like Jordan Richardson and Royce Williams will need to up their scoring, but the talent is there to win the league.

(MORE: Kareem Jamar’s shot at stardom)

On the flip side, while Montana brings back reigning Big Sky Player of the Year Kareem Jamar, the Grizzlies also lose a number of key pieces, including Mathias Ward and Will Cherry. The Grizz will need Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields to have big years, but if none of their big men step up, Wayne Tinkle’s run about the Big Sky may come to an end.

The team to keep an eye on this season is North Dakota. The No Names (seriously, they don’t actually have a nickname right now) won 11 of their last 15 games in league play after starting the year 1-4. Troy Huff, who may be the most exciting player in the league, is back, as is the much-improved Aaron Anderson. The x-factor here? The addition of Texas Tech transfer Jaron Nash in the front court.

Eastern Washington, Montana State and Northern Colorado are all talented enough to be noted, but likely won’t be pushing for the league titled.

PRESEASON BIG SKY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Davion Berry, Weber State

source: Getty Images
Kareem Jamar (Getty Images)

Berry is the best player on the best team in the league. Coming off of a season where he averaged 15.2 points, 4.2 boards and 3.8 assists, Berry’s role as go-to-guy will become all the more important with second-leading scorer Scott Bamforth gone.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Kareem Jamar, Montana: Jamar isn’t flashy, but he’s one of the best all-around players in the country (14.2 points, 5.9 boards, 4.0 assists).
  • Troy Huff, North Dakota: At 6-foot-8, Huff puts up huge numbers (19.2 points, 6.9 boards, 2.4 steals) and does stuff like this.
  • Derrick Barden, Northern Colorado: Listed as 6-foot-5 but closer to 6-foot-3, Barden (13.5 points, 8.8 boards) is the Big Sky version of the old man at the park.
  • Venky Jois, Eastern Washinton: The Aussie could end up being the most productive player in the league as a sophomore (12.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.4 bpg).

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @bigskybball

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Weber State
2. Montana
3. North Dakota
4. Eastern Washington
5. Northern Colorado
6. Montana State
7. Northern Arizona
8. Sacramento State
9. Portland State
10. Idaho State
11. Southern Utah

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.