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San Diego State’s defense makes them a contender in the Mountain West

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With the loss of leading scorers Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, there was a question of where San Diego State would find its offense in 2013-14. That was a big reason why the Aztecs were picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West preseason poll, with few expecting Steve Fisher’s team to be capable of challenging defending league champion New Mexico.

In light of the Aztecs’ run to the Wooden Legacy title, which culminated with a 67-59 win over No. 25 Marquette on Sunday night, it’s time to adjust the thinking when it comes to what this team is capable of. Two days after defeating No. 20 Creighton Steve Fisher’s club rode its defense to victory, limiting the Golden Eagles to 39.3% shooting from the field and 0-for-7 from beyond the arc in the second half.

Remove Deonte Burton (13 points on 5-for-7 shooting; 15 points for the game) and Marquette shot just 6-for 21 in the game’s final 20 minutes. Combine that with San Diego State shooting 50% from the field, and it’s quite simple to see why the Aztecs are headed home with the title. The offense is still a work in progress, with senior guard Xavier Thames (career-high 29 points) and versatile sophomore wing Winston Shepard III (eight points, all in the second half) being their best playmakers. But with the amount of length and athleticism that San Diego State possesses, they’re more than capable of making up for those issues with a high-level performance on the defensive end of the floor.

And given some of those pieces, San Diego State should be able to work towards being a more efficient offensive team. Tulane transfer Josh Davis hasn’t produced to the level that many expected when he arrived on campus but he’s been a factor on the boards, averaging 8.0 rebounds per game entering Sunday’s action and grabbing 11 in the win over Marquette. There’s also J.J. O’Brien, who’s dealing with an injured right hand, and underclassmen such as Dakarai Allen (eight points) and Matt Shrigley (five points) who will also be called upon throughout the course of the season.

Rome wasn’t build in a day, and the same can be said of the San Diego State offense. But as they work to get better on that end, it’s their defense that makes them a serious contender to win the Mountain West. Prior to Sunday’s action the Aztecs led the Mountain West in both adjusted defensive efficiency (95.1, per kenpom.com) and turnover percentage, forcing opponents into a turnover in nearly 21% of their possessions. And it isn’t as if they’ve compiled these numbers against poor opposition either, as San Diego State’s already played games against Arizona, Creighton and Marquette.

Prior to the start of the season few expected San Diego State to be a serious contender to win the Mountain West, expecting this to be a season of transition. But in one weekend the Aztecs showed that they will be heard from in 2013-14, regardless of how much production they have to replace.

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)
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.