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Johnathan Loyd’s steady hand propels No. 13 Oregon to a win at Ole Miss

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When it was announced that starting point guard Dominic Artis was one of two players (forward Ben Carter being the other) suspended nine games for a violation of NCAA rules, there wasn’t a great deal of consternation amongst those who follow the Oregon Ducks. Why? There’s still plenty of talent at Dana Altman’s disposal in the backcourt, with his most seasoned player also being the one who’s the most overlooked.

That would be senior point guard Johnathan Loyd, who won MVP honors at last season’s Pac-12 tournament and has been a steady influence for a team filled with contributors who played their basketball at other schools in 2012-13. And in the 13th-ranked Ducks’ 115-105 overtime win at Ole Miss on Sunday night Loyd put together one of the best games of his career, racking up 25 points and 15 assists with just four turnovers.

Marshall Henderson’s career-high 39 points paced the Rebels, who shot 15-for-35 from beyond the arc. A Jarvis Summers contested three-pointer with less than a second remaining sent the game into overtime, but Ole Miss’ leading scorer struggled for much of the night before finishing with 12 points.

Loyd was one of six Ducks to score in double figures and the seventh player to score, forward Richard Amardi, finished the game with nine points. Of those six players four weren’t Ducks last season, including forward Mike Moser (25 points, ten rebounds) and guard Joseph Young (19 points). While that certainly doesn’t guarantee chemistry issues it does make the presence of a veteran figure important, and Loyd has been that player for Oregon and that’s unlikely to change when Artis returns to action on December 17 against UC Irvine whether the senior continues to start or not.

Those transfers have the talent needed to lead the Ducks, who are expected to contend for the Pac-12 title, a long way but in order to do so the entire team will need to do a better job on the boards. Oregon broke even with the Rebels but Ole Miss grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, managing to grab nearly 35% of their missed shots, and outscored the Ducks 20-5 in second chance points. That didn’t result in a loss in Oxford, but this is an area Oregon will need to address in the final games before the start of Pac-12 play.

Offensively this is one of the best teams in the country, especially with Moser (scoring 23 of his 25 in the second half and overtime) looking to be back at the level he played at in his first season at UNLV and their three-headed attack in the backcourt. But while many count down the days until Artis is eligible to return to the court, don’t overlook what Johnathan Loyd’s provided in his absence.

Loyd’s been one of the most-improved players in the Pac-12, and that development is one reason why the Ducks will be a contender for conference supremacy.

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.