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Saturday’s Pregame Shootaround: Arizona and Michigan highlight a huge day of college hoops

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 1 Arizona at Michigan (12 p.m., CBS)

The game of the day features the No. 1 team in the country, the Arizona Wildcats, traveling to Ann Arbor for a true road test against the Wolverines. Michigan has more size than many with Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford to give Arizona problems on the interior, but how will with length and athleticism of Arizona bother Michigan? Glenn Robinson III needs to get going this season and a big game against Arizona’s athletic and talented front court could go a long way in getting the sophomore going in Big Ten play.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 11 Kentucky at No. 18 North Carolina (5:15 p.m., ESPN)

The Wildcats finally get a true road game this season as young-and-talented Kentucky go to Chapel Hill for a matchup with North Carolina. We have no clue which North Carolina team will show up, but with Kentucky, their key will be stabilizing their young guards and taking quality shots early in their first road test for many of these true freshmen. How will North Carolina slow down Julius Randle? Who on Kentucky defends Marcus Paige? This should be a tremendous matchup with a ton of talent on the floor.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? Princeton at Penn State (2 p.m., BTN)

If Princeton can slow down the Penn State backcourt of Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill and play more to their pace, they could make this a game this afternoon. The Tigers are off to a 7-1 start and guard T.J. Bray returned against Rutgers on Wednesday, as he scored 23 points and tossed out eight assists in the road win over the Scarlet Knights. This is Penn State’s only game in an 11-day stretch and poses as a potential trap game for them at home if they don’t come prepared.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: VCU at Northern Iowa (12 p.m., ESPNU)

Shaka Smart and the Rams get to test out their press on the road against a good Missouri Valley program in what should be an interesting clash of styles. Northern Iowa is currently 4-5 on the season, but has an overtime loss to Iowa State last week, and is never an easy out as Deon Mitchell, Seth Tuttle and Nate Buss are all juniors averaging double-figures this season for the Panthers. VCU has already faced a tough road test this season, winning at Virginia, and should be prepared to travel to the Midwest.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) The No. 12 Shockers should have their hands full when they host Tennessee today and they could be without the services of sophomore guard Ron Baker, as he’ll be a game-time decision with a sprained ankle according to ESPN’s Jimmy Dykes.

2) North Dakota State should be an interesting test for No. 3 Ohio State. The Bison are coming off a road win at Notre Dame on Wednesday and they are winners of five straight games coming into Saturday’s game at Columbus. The Buckeyes are playing very well early in the season, but North Dakota State is experienced enough to make this a tough game.

3) We should quickly see how good 9-1 Illinois really is tonight as they travel west to face No. 15 Oregon. The Illini haven’t faced many early-season tests this season, as they beat Auburn and UNLV but lost on the road at Georgia Tech. Oregon is probably just happy they don’t have to guard Marshall Henderson for the foreseeable future and the Ducks can put up points in a hurry.

4) Can the No. 13 Jayhawks bounce back with a win over New Mexico in Kansas City after losing three of their last four games? That is what Kansas is hoping, but they’ll face a tough “neutral-court” test with the Lobos. Cameron Bairstow, Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk are all averaging at least 18.6 points per game this season and those three upperclassmen shouldn’t feel intimidated by the pro-Kansas crowd at the Sprint Center.

5) Rivalry games to watch today include Cincinnati at Xavier and the state of Indiana has some great in-state rivalries going today as Notre Dame faces Indiana at 3:15 and Butler facing Purdue at 6 p.m. While none of the four Indiana schools are currently ranked, all four programs are off to solid starts on the season and these games are usually close and full of local intrigue. Cincinnati and Xavier is always a tremendous yearly matchup and is one of the most intense rivalries in college basketball.

THE TOP 25:

  • No. 1 Arizona at Michigan, 12 p.m., CBS
  • North Dakota State at No. 3 Ohio State, 8:15 p.m., BTN
  • Eastern Kentucky at No. 4 Wisconsin, 1 p.m., ESPN3
  • No. 5 Michigan State at Oakland, 4 p.m., ESPN2
  • Western Kentucky at No. 6 Louisville, 12 p.m., ESPN2
  • No. 7 Oklahoma State at Louisiana Tech, 2 p.m., ESPNU
  • No. 11 Kentucky at No. 18 North Carolina, 5:15 p.m., ESPN
  • Tennessee at No. 12 Wichita State, 2 p.m., ESPN2
  • New Mexico vs. No. 13 Kansas, 7 p.m., ESPN2
  • Illinois at No. 15 Oregon, 9 p.m., ESPN2
  • South Alabama at No. 20 Gonzaga, 10 p.m., Root Sports
  • Northern Illinois at No. 22 UMass, 3 p.m., NBCSN

NOTABLES:

  • VCU at Northern Iowa, 12 p.m., ESPNU
  • Youngstown State at Pittsburg, 12 p.m., ESPN3
  • Princeton at Penn State, 2 p.m., BTN
  • Notre Dame vs. Indiana, 3:15 p.m., ESPN
  • Middle Tennessee at Ole Miss, 5 p.m., ESPN3
  • Butler vs. Purdue, 6 p.m., BTN
  • Fresno State at California, 6 p.m., Pac-12 Network
  • Saint Mary’s at Boise State, 6:05 p.m., Root Sports
  • West Virginia at Marshall, 7:30 p.m., Root Sports
  • Cincinnati at Xavier, 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1
  • Louisiana-Monroe at LSU, 8 p.m., ESPN3
  • Prairie View A&M at UCLA, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Network
  • BYU at Utah, 10 p.m., Pac-12 Network

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.