Syracuse Tyler Ennis

Wednesday’s Pregame Shootaround: Maui ends, NIT and Great Alaska Shootout start

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 8 Syracuse vs. No. 18 Baylor, 10:00 p.m. ET

In the finals of the Maui Invitational, Baylor will get a chance to prove that the Big 12 is more than just a two-horse race. The Bears have developed a reputation over the years of being a team that simply rolls the ball out as Scott Drew tries to rely on the talent that he has recruited to carry his program. This season, that talent is evident in their front court, as the Bears has the size, length and athleticism to matchup with anyone. In fact, with Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson, Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers manning their front line, I think that there is an argument to be made that Baylor is better up front than Syracuse.

And the Orange actually have a number of talented big guys. C.J. Fair is the guy everyone knows and Jerami Grant has been the star of the tournament to date, but one guy to keep an eye on is DaJuan Coleman, who has actually been quite effective in his minutes this season. The most interesting battle will be at the point guard spot, where JuCo transfer Kenny Chery goes toe-to-toe with freshman Tyler Ennis.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: Arkansas vs. No. 11 Gonzaga, 5:30 p.m.

This will be an interesting test for the Zags, as Arkansas is the kind of team that is difficult for them to matchup with. The Razorbacks like to press and have a number of big, athletic guards that can attack the basket. Kevin Pangos, David Stockton and Gary Bell Jr. are talented in the back court, but they are not all that big. Can Mark Few’s club keep the drivers from penetrating.

MID-MAJOR MATCHUP OF THE NIGHT: Tulsa vs. Indiana State, Midnight ET

You like late-night hoops? The Great Alaska Shootout kicks off tonight, and while it’s not the same event that it used to be, it’s has as much tradition as any event. Indiana State is one of the best mid-major programs in the country, and while Tulsa isn’t quite on that level … man, it’s hoops after midnight!

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1) Cal takes on Dayton in the third place game out in Maui, a game that is really important for both teams. Going 2-1 in an event like this is so much better than going 1-2. At least Dayton has already picked up a win over Gonzaga. Cal would be heading back to Berkeley with nothing but a win over Arkansas to show for their efforts.

2) No. 10 Wisconsin will be taking on West Virginia in the final of the Cancun Challenge.

3) No. 3 Kentucky will take the court against tonight against a mid-major program that could give them some trouble. Eastern Michigan is coached by Rob Murphy, a disciple of Jim Boeheim that runs a 2-3 zone.

4) The NIT semifinals take place tonight as No. 6 Duke takes on Alabama after No. 5 Arizona squares off with Drexel. With all due respect to Bruiser Flint and Anthony Grant … GO DUKE! GO WILDCATS!

5) Saint Louis lost to No. 10 Wisconsin last night and will look to bounce back against Old Dominion tonight.

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.