New Mexico was the preseason pick to win the Mountain West due in large part to the fact that they return four starters from the team that won the conference’s regular season and tournament titles last season. And two of those four starters are candidates for Mountain West Player of the Year, with point guard Kendall Williams looking to repeat while center Alex Kirk surprised many with how effective he was after sitting out all of 2011-12 due to a back injury.
Having two stars at one’s disposal is a great place for a first-year head coach (Craig Neal) to start, but if New Mexico’s to win another Mountain West title it will take more than just Kirk and Williams. And in their 73-66 win over a tough San Diego squad that tandem received some valuable help from senior forward Cameron Bairstow.
Williams, who went on a personal 8-0 run in the second half and shot 16-for-16 from the foul line, led the way with 28 points and Kirk added 21 to go along with 11 rebounds. But the 16 points supplied by Bairstow shouldn’t be overlooked either, as he scored 12 of those points in the second half. Bairstow made all four of his shots from the field and shot 4-for-5 from the charity stripe in the game’s final 20 minutes. Bairstow, who represented Australia in the World University Games, entered Saturday with averages of 19.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game with the scoring average more than double his output from a season ago (9.7 ppg).
According to kenpom.com Bairstow’s possession percentage has increased by five percentage points (up to 28.1%) and thus far he’s been even more efficient than a season ago. Bairstow has an offensive rating of 130.7, which prior to Saturday’s action placed him first in the Mountain West by a sizable margin over Utah State’s Jarred Shaw (124.4). Bairstow isn’t going to put up the prolific numbers that we’ve come to expect from Williams and Kirk, with Kirk posting his sixth double-double in as many games on Saturday, but he’s certainly a player opponents will have to account for as the season wears on.
New Mexico certainly has areas they need to clean up, most notably their three-point shooting as they shot 5-for-20 against the Toreros and on the season are shooting a Mountain West-worst 31.4% from beyond the arc. The overall field goal percentage ranked seventh in the Mountain West, and the shooting seems to be an issue of simply knocking down shots as opposed to the quality of shots the Lobos are taking (third in the conference in offensive efficiency).
If they can clean those areas up and continue to get consistent offensive production from Bairstow, New Mexico will once again be tough to beat when conference play rolls around.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.