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Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Five ranked teams in action

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Georgia Tech at Georgia (7:00 p.m.; ESPN3) 

On a night that lacks national buzz, the annual rivalry game between the Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs is an important one for both programs. Georgia Tech, with their returnees including guard Marcus Georges-Hunt and center Daniel Miller, has the look of a team capable of improving its standing with the ACC this season. As for Georgia, on the heels of losing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope they certainly can use a win over the state’s other major basketball program. Nemanja Djurisic led the way with 12 points in Georgia’s season-opening win over Wofford, and balance will be the key for them in 2013-14.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: Utah (by UC Davis) 

Larry Krystkowiak’s Utes are 1-0 on the season, with a 128-44 victory over Evergreen State being the lone result. It’s safe to say that Evergreen State doesn’t have a player the caliber of UC Davis junior guard Corey Hawkins, who averaged 20.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game in 2012-13. Utah does have some talented pieces, most notably forwards Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright, but the Aggies play an entertaining brand of basketball and return both Ryan Sypkens (14.1 ppg) and J.T. Adenrale (12.6, 5.9) along with Hawkins. One night after UC Irvine won at Washington, don’t be surprised if there’s another “Big West over Pac-12” result.

MID-MAJOR MATCHUP OF THE NIGHT: Nevada at San Francisco (10:00 p.m.) 

The Dons look to remain undefeated, but they’ll be tested by a Wolf Pack squad that features senior point guard Deonte Burton. Burton’s a high-scoring floor general who’s one of the best at the position in the country. But USF has a very good veteran point guard of its own in senior Cody Doolin. The difference-maker: that could be San Francisco senior forward Cole Dickerson, who was one of the nation’s best rebounders last season. If Nevada struggles inside as they did last year, Dickerson could be in line for a big night.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) Amongst the winners on the recruiting trail today just one is in action tonight: No. 4 Duke, which hosts a Florida Atlantic team they’ll be expected to soundly defeat (7:00 p.m.). The thing to watch: whether or not the Blue Devils come out a bit sluggish after their tough game against Kansas on Tuesday. Come out aggressive and in sync, and this game’s over before halftime.

2) Oakland will be without the services of Duke Mondy and Dante Williams when they take on California in Berkeley (11:00 p.m., Pac-12 Networks), as the two were sent home by head coach Greg Kampe. The Golden Grizzlies will still have high-scoring guard Travis Bader, but they’ll have their hands full with Justin Cobbs and company.

3) Arizona State center Jordan Bachynski enters tonight’s game against Idaho State (9:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network) five blocked shots away from passing Mario Bennett as the school’s all-time leader in blocks. Plus, it’s another chance to watch the electric Jahii Carson as well.

4) Two old rivals who are expected to contend in their respective conferences meet in Las Cruces, as UTEP visits New Mexico State (9:00 p.m., ESPN3). Redshirt freshman center Matt Willms received high praise during the preseason, and he’ll have to hold his own with NMSU’s Sim Bhullar and Tshilidzi Nephawe if the Miners are to pick up the road victory.

5) Three days removed from a solid comeback victory over West Virginia, Virginia Tech hosts Western Carolina (7:00 p.m., ESPN3) in a game that could be dangerous for the Hokies. Trey Sumler was on fire in the second half of the Catamounts’ loss to No. 18 Oregon earlier this week, and he has the potential to do the same to Virginia Tech.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Columbia at No. 2 Michigan State (9:00 p.m.; BTN)
  • Cornell at No. 3 Louisville (7:00 p.m.; ESPN3)
  • Arkansas-Pine Bluff at No. 8 Oklahoma State (8:00 p.m.)
  • Holy Cross at No. 12 North Carolina (8:00 p.m.; ESPNU)

NOTABLES: 

  • Wagner at St. John’s (6:00 p.m.; Fox Sports 2)
  • Samford at Indiana (7:00 p.m.; BTN)
  • Georgia Tech at Georgia (7:00 p.m.; ESPN3)
  • Stephen F. Austin at Texas (8:00 p.m.; LHN)
  • Lipscomb at Vanderbilt (8:00 p.m.)
  • Morehead State at Xavier (8:00 p.m.; Fox Sports 2)
  • UTEP at New Mexico State (9:00 p.m.; ESPN3)
  • Oakland at California (11:00 p.m.; Pac-12 Network)

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.