Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Matta talks with guard Craft in the second half against the Wichita State Shockers during their West Regional NCAA men's basketball game in Los Angeles

Kyrie Irving on if Aaron Craft is an NBA player: ‘Oh yeah. I believe so’

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Believe it or not, Aaron Craft will head into this season as one of the nation’s most polarizing players.

He embodies every single one of the clichés that sportswriters love to use — heady, gritty, tough, team-first, winner, etc., etc., etc. — but his individual numbers are far less impressive that the win-loss record of Ohio State when Craft is running the team.

Essentially, the argument is this: Craft is either a) the leader that carries the Buckeyes to win after win after win, or b) an overrated stiff that’s gotten a great reputation running the point for his more talented teammates.

Personally, I agree with the former. Outside of Marcus Smart and maybe Jahii Carson, there’s not a point guard in the country that I would rather have if I was starting a team. You can’t teach being a winner, you can’t teach being a leader and you can’t teach the desire to be arguably the best on-ball defender in the country.

Since Craft is a senior, the debate has now extended to his potential as a pro. There are some obvious physical limitations — Craft is not all that tall, he’s not all that explosive, he doesn’t have a massive wingspan — but the intangibles that he brings could, in theory, make him an ideal backup point guard. Kyrie Irving, who is arguably the best point guard in the world right now, was asked whether or not he thought Craft had a shot at the NBA. From Scout.com’s Ohio State site:

“Oh yeah. I believe so,” Irving said when asked if Craft could cut it in the NBA. “He’s a leader, he’s a tough defender, he’s been working on his offensive game. I’m interested to see the things that he’s learned from the camp and the things that he’s accomplished this summer in terms of his game and see the difference between his junior and senior year.

“He did well against the other campers. He played me tough and I know he learned a lot at the camp.”

The camp that Irving is referring to is the Nike Point Guard Academy that Craft attended in New Jersey this summer. I was there on the afternoon that they opened the doors to the media, and I can confirm Irving’s account that Craft played him tough. He picked him up full court on a number of different occasions and played a major role in forcing Irving into some tough shots.

But here’s the thing: we know that Craft can defend people. That’s not a surprise to anyone.

The issue is whether or not he’ll be a liability on the offensive end of the floor. Is he going to have NBA three-point range? Can he effectively run a pick-and-roll against NBA point guards? Will he be able to score off the dribble? At that level, point guards have to be able to score the ball to keep defenses honest, and that’s a legitimate concern about Craft heading into his senior year.

He’ll have a chance to change that perspective, however. Ohio State needs people to step up to replace the scoring they lost with Deshaun Thomas heading to the NBA, and if Craft is one of the guys that can do that, he may play himself into the league.

Regardless of how his pro career turns out, it won’t change the fact that Craft has been one of the best collegiate point guards you’ll see.

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.