Javon McCrea, Darren Goodson

2013-2014 MAC Preview: Toledo, West Division looks to narrow the gap

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Buffalo Athletics

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.

In recent years the East Division has dominated things in the MAC, with Western Michigan being the last West Division team to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament back in 2004. With the key departures at both Akron and Ohio, is this the season that the West narrows the gap? One program that will factor into the equation is Toledo, which returns four starters from a team that earned a share of the West Division crown last season.

Head coach Tod Kowalczyk has a squad capable of winning the MAC, with Rian Pearson (17.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Julius Brown (13.1, 6.0 apg) leading the way. Add in Loyola (MD) transfer Justin Drummond and the Rockets have a trio capable of competing with anyone in the MAC.

As for their most likely challenger, Western Michigan has to replace Nate Hutcheson and Darius Paul but the Broncos welcome back a pair of fifth-year seniors in center Shayne Whittington and guard David Brown. And Eastern Michigan returns four of its five starters from last season, including Glenn Bryant, and Duquesne transfer Mike Talley should be an impact player on the perimeter.

But even with the West showing signs of improvement the East’s run of success can’t be ignored. Defending champion Akron lost center Zeke Marshall but head coach Keith Dambrot welcomes back two quality forwards in Nick Harney and Demetrius Treadwell. The Zips have some questions to answer, most notably at point guard, but they once again have the pieces needed to reach the NCAA tournament. Ohio also lost multiple key contributors, most notably point guard D.J. Cooper, but the Bobcats will be a factor provided their young front court rises to the challenge.

And then there’s Buffalo, which has a new head coach in Bobby Hurley but also has the league’s best player in senior forward Javon McCrea. McCrea averaged 18.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game last season, and with three other starters returning the Bulls should be a contender. Kent State shouldn’t be overlooked either, with point guard Kris Brewer and forward Darren Goodson expected to lead the way.

PRESEASON MAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: F Javon McCrea (Buffalo)

McCrea (18.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.6 bpg) isn’t just one of the most talented forwards at the mid-major level, he’s one of the most talented forwards in all of college basketball.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • F Demetrius Treadwell (Akron): Treadwell is the guy that the Zips will lean heavily on with Zeke Marshall and Alex Abreu gone.
  • G Rian Pearson (Toledo): McCrea’s the clear favorite to win POY, with Pearson being the MAC’s second-best player.
  • G Julius Brown (Toledo): With D.J. Cooper gone Brown may be the MAC’s best point guard.
  • C Shayne Whittington (Western Michigan): Whittington made a major jump production-wise last season, earning second team All-MAC honors.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @HustleBelt

PREDICTED FINISH

East Division
1. Akron
2. Ohio
3. Buffalo
4. Kent State
5. Bowling Green
6. Miami (Ohio)

West Division
1. Toledo
2. Western Michigan
3. Eastern Michigan
4. Ball State
5. Central Michigan
6. Northern Illinois

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.