2K Sports Classic

The Bazz ‘n’ Boat Show gets the publicity, but Deandre Daniels is UConn’s difference-maker

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — Boston College has two of the best players in the ACC this season in Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson, but they entered Thursday night’s opener in the 2K Sports Classic 1-3. One of the biggest reasons for their struggles? Perimeter defense. The Eagles were shredded by the likes of UMass, Toledo and Providence, so it only stood to reason that, going up against one of the best back courts in the country, the Eagles would spend most of the night trying to contain the likes of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.

And they did.

Well, too.

The Bazz and Boat Show combined to go 8-for-25 from the floor and 0-for-5 from three, so it shouldn’t surprise you that the Huskies, who entered the game 4-0 and ranked 18th in the country, had their worst offensive game of the young season.

Midway through the second half, as the Eagles were slowly but surely chipping away at what was once an 11 point UConn lead, Boatright had sprinted his way up the floor and was calling for the ball in the corner loud enough that everyone in a mostly-empty Madison Square Garden could hear him.

Napier’s response?

“CHILL!!!”

Napier is UConn’s unquestioned leader, which is a good thing coming from a talented point guard. He knows he needs to score for UConn to win games, but he also knows when he needs to get his teammates involved. There’s a maturity to his game that we haven’t seen in season’s past. He’s a better decision-maker. His shot selection has improved. There’s a reason that most pundits consider Napier in the same conversation with Marcus Smart and Jahii Carson when it comes to the best point guard in the country.

He’s their best player. He may be their most valuable player, the most irreplaceable.

But he’s not their most important player.

That designation falls squarely on the shoulders of Deandre Daniels, UConn’s 6-foot-9 junior forward. Daniels scored 12 points in a five minute stretch during the first half, finishing with 23 on 8-for-15 shooting. That came days after Daniels went for 24 points in a win over Boston University that was much closer than the 77-60 final indicated. UConn trailed at one point during the second half.

“I wanted to stay aggressive on offense,” Daniels said. “My teammates were looking for me, and I knocked down my shots tonight.” He hadn’t been hitting those shots early in the season, as he combined for just 19 points in his first three games, hitting just 8-for-24 from the floor and 1-for-7 from three.

“He just stayed in the gym. He could have made excuses,” Ollie said of what changed for Daniels. “We have a saying, ‘We don’t look out the window, we look in the mirror.’ We stayed focused. He had to be aggressive, stay in the gym, stay in the lab, and keep working on your game. I’m proud of him.”

What makes Daniels so dangerous is his versatility. He’s long and athletic, which allows him to finish around the rim, but he’s got a nice handle and a perimeter jumper. He plays the four for the Huskies — at times on Thursday, he played the five — which makes him a matchup nightmare. How many power forwards will UConn face that have the footspeed on the perimeter to stay with Daniels when he wants to penetrate?

The answer is simple: not many.

“The thing that makes him hard to guard is that he moves really well for a guy his size,” Boston College head coach Steve Donahue said. “With their guards being so good, he’s an after thought at times. If you do that, he’s an extremely talented one on one player.”

UConn is not a big basketball team. They have some height, but most of their big men are going to be spending a lot of time in the gym and in the cafeteria during their career in Storrs. The Huskies are so bad on the glass that Napier and Boatright are not only the team’s two leading scorers, but they entered Thursday night as the team’s two leading rebounders. Both of them are shorter than me.

When Daniels is playing like he has in the past two games, it forces UConn’s opponent to make a decision: bring in a smaller, quicker defender to slow down Daniels, or risk having a legitimate NBA prospect get hot against a guy that cannot defend him. More often than not, coaches will go small, which helps nullifies their advantage on the glass.

Daniels is the difference maker for UConn, as he not only takes the pressure of UConn’s back court, but he makes them that much more difficult to guard.

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)
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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.