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Turnovers, rebounding woes plague No. 3 Kentucky again

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Last weekend, when John Calipari brought his team up to the Barclays Center to take on Providence, he made it a point to talk about how much he team has to learn defensively.

In fact, in both the press conference he gave prior to the game and his postgame chat with reporters, Coach Cal used the exact same anecdote when describing how little his team knew about defense. He tried to run a simple, fundamental drill where his team does defensive slides with their hands behind their back — it forces you to move your feet and not play defense with your hands — and his kids had never done it before.

They had never been drilled on the basics, the fundamentals, of playing man-to-man defense, according to Cal, and while some of that is just Kentucky’s head coach doing and saying the things he does in the media, there is some truth to it.

The only team that Coach Cal has had in the KenPom era that was worse defensively than this group has been through a month of the season was (you guessed it) last year’s team. Generally speaking, Kentucky has been awesome because Cal has gotten great athletes to play great defense, and that just hasn’t been the case this year.

Friday’s loss to Baylor was just about their worst effort yet.

The No. 3 Wildcats allowed No. 20 Baylor to grab 54.5% of the available offensive rebounds — if Baylor missed a shot, they got the rebound more than half the time — and they notched not a single steal in a 67-62 loss to the Bears.

Those weren’t the only problems that Kentucky had on display. For starters, they were shredded by Baylor’s pick-and-roll action, which is becoming more and more common in the collegiate game. Baylor got a number of wide-open dunks for Cory Jefferson and rhythm, 15-foot pull-ups for Kenny Chery using the pick-and-roll. That’s what those two guys do. That’s what’s on the scouting report, and Kentucky looked like they had never seen it before.

The Wildcats also did the kind of things that freshmen do. They missed critical free throws. They blew box out assignments. Their offensive execution down the stretch was pitiful. In the final 13 minutes, Kentucky made all of two field goals. Those are the mental lapses that will turn John Calipari’s hair the color of Dave Thomas’ by the end of the season.

But Kentucky’s struggles on the defensive glass given all of their size and their issues forcing turnovers given all of their athleticism are the two biggest red flags for this group. The Wildcats are 203rd in defensive rebounding percentage, they are 269th in defensive turnover percentage and they are 330th in steal percentage.

It’s quite simple, really. Kentucky isn’t ending possessions, either by corralling a rebound or forcing a turnover. That not only means that they are giving their opponents too many opportunities to score, they are costing themselves a chance getting easy buckets in transition. That’s not a recipe for winning games.

Think about it like this: Kentucky just shot 8-for-17 from three, had 19 assists on 21 field goals and just nine turnovers.

And they lost.

But they lost playing their worst defensive game of the season to a top 15-20 in what was more-or-less a road game. That’s saying nothing of the ice storm that crippled the Dallas area and kept quite a few Kentucky fans in Kentucky.

This wasn’t exactly a step forward for Kentucky. But it certainly wasn’t a sign that the Wildcats are destined for the NIT again.

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)
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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
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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.