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2013-2014 Patriot League Preview: A new face at the top

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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 hereTo see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Bucknell and Lehigh have owned the Patriot League for the past four seasons each claiming the league crown twice, but that figures to change as both graduated several impact players — specifically Bucknell’s Mike Muscala and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum. Boston University, who was ineligible to win the league championship in their final season as a member of the America East last year, is the prohibitive favorite to win the Patriot League. Joe Jones’ squad returns four players who earned America East honors from a season ago — D.J. Irving (First Team), Dom Morris (Third Team), Maurice Watson (Third Team and All-Rookie Team), and John Papale (All-Rookie Team).

Irving and Watson make for the league’s top backcourt, and Morris is an immovable, yet skilled body in the middle. In a league that does not feature a bevy of proven forwards of the 6-foot-9 and taller variety, especially with graduation claiming Muscala, Stephen Lumpkins, and Gabe Knutson, Boston University will be able to mask their dearth of big bodies in the frontcourt.

Speaking of guard play, Lafayette graduated the always steady Tony Johnson, but returns their top scorer from a year ago in Seth Hinrichs, along with versatile big man Dan Trist. While much easier said than done, if Fran O’Hanlon is able to find a suitable replacement for Johnson — most likely either sophomore Bryce Scott or freshman Nick Lindner — the Leopards have the offensive firepower to challenge Boston University.

One of the best stories of last season was Army posting a 16-15 record and 8-6 mark in league play — the above .500 record in league play was the first time in the 20+ year history of the league that the Black Knights finished above this mark. With Kyle Wilson, last year’s Rookie of the Year, returning along with Dylan Cox, Army figures to be in the mix in the upper half of the league again.

Both Bucknell and Lehigh figure to regress after graduating two of the best senior classes ever to come through the Patriot League. Don’t be surprised if Navy, a team that has a combined record of 2-28 in the league over the last two seasons, makes a big jump forward in year three of the Ed DeChellis era. Tilman Dunbar and Worth Smith make for a very nice inside — outside combo. Loyola (Maryland) saw Jimmy Patsos take some highly touted incoming recruits with him to Siena, first year coach G.G. Smith will be in minor rebuilding mode, but has Dylon Cormier back to run the point.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Boston University, Loyola (Maryland)
Out: None

PRESEASON AMERICA EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: D.J. Irving, Boston University

Irving (14.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.4 spg) has been a fixture in the Terriers’ starting lineup starting all but five games in his career. As a freshman, Irving went to the NCAA Tournament with current Penn State coach Pat Chambers coaching Boston University; he will look to lead the Terriers back there in this Joe Jones’ third season.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Dave Dudzinski, Holy Cross: One of the league’s best inside players, Dudzinski runs the floor like a small forward but finishes well among the trees.
  • Cameron Ayers, Bucknell: For Bucknell to have success, Ayers will have to develop a scoring mentality, something he hasn’t had to do in his first three years.
  • Murphy Burnatowski, Colgate: Perhaps the league’s top scorer, the transfer from Maine, now in his second season with Colgate, can score anywhere in the halfcourt.
  • Dylon Cormier, Loyola (Maryland): An All-MAAC First Teamer last season, Cormier will be a force in the Patriot League for his lone season.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @HoopTime

PREDICTED FINISH

1) Boston University
2) Lafayette
3) Army
4) Bucknell
5) Lehigh
6) Loyola (Maryland)
7) Navy
8) Colgate
9) Holy Cross
10) American

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.