Chaz Williams (AP photo)

UMass begins its season with wins over ACC and SEC programs

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AMHERST, Mass. – The UMass Minutemen have now kicked off its 2013-2014 season with a win over an ACC program and an SEC program.

The latest win came in the home opener in an exciting Tuesday morning game, as UMass survived LSU with a 92-90 win as part of the Tip-Off Marathon.

Cady Lalanne, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds in Sunday’s win over Boston College, came up big in the second half with 16 points and six rebounds, all in the second half. Lalanne only logged four minutes in the first half after being hit with two of the first half’s 34 fouls.

“I just told him to keep his head,” UMass senior forward Raphiael Putney said. “Kept telling him, ‘You’re one of the best big men in the Atlantic 10,’ he just came out with a vengeance. He came out and did what he had to do.”

In the second half, Lalanne had twice gave UMass a boost during a run. He had the final two buckets in a 13-2 UMass run that gave the Minutemen a 60-47 lead to start the second half. He then had two more buckets, after Johnny O’Bryant picked up his fourth foul with 13 minutes to play, that extended the lead to double digits once again.

“The first minutes of the second half he was tremendous, so we needed him to come back and battle with O’Bryant,” Putney said. “That’s what he did and he did a good job of it.”

Lalanne fouled out with 2:15 to play, and LSU made a run at a late-game comeback, cutting the lead to 88-85 with under 30 to play. However, UMass made the free throws down the stretch to secure the win.

LSU had struggles of its own on the frontline. O’Bryant landed his third foul late in the first half, and his fourth with 13 minutes to play before returning to the game eight minutes later. What was the more glaring issue occurred moments after the tip. Martin went to the bench with an ankle injury after a minute of action, having his only shot blocked by Raphiael Putney to begin the game.

Through two games, Chaz Williams is averaging 22.0 points and 6.0 assists per game. His play is expected given that he enters his senior season with big expectations, as not only one of the best players in the Atlantic 10, but one of the best point guards in the country.

The rest of UMass looks sharp. Sampson Carter looks a lot more comfortable this season, as opposed to last season when he was coming back from a hip injury. Tyler Bergantino and Maxie Esho have excelled in their roles off the bench while Derrick Gordon is still getting back into game form after sitting out last season due to transfer.

But Lalanne’s play to begin the season has been a huge bonus for the Minutemen becasue it gives UMass a strong inside presence to along with its talented back court. Yes, Lalanne put up big numbers against a smaller BC frontline and yes Martin played less than a minute for LSU on Tuesday, but these aren’t fluke games, according to his teammates.

“That’s Cady Lalanne being Cady Lalanne,” Williams said. “We practice with him, and all them days that’s Cady being Cady and the world hasn’t seen that. You know, us teammates, we tell him, ‘Go out and dominate every game and make the world realize that you are potentially one of the best big men in the country.’ And that’s what he’s trying to do.”

UMass has a tough non-conference schedule with games against Providence, and BYU still remaining. Starting off the season with two quality out-of-conference wins in a 48 hour span is a great start for sixth year head coach Derek Kellogg, who has a favorable conference schedule with home games against VCU, Saint Louis and La Salle.

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)
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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)
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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)
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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.