Chris Obekpa

Rysheed Jordan’s second half among positives to be taken from Sunday’s defeat

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While Sunday’s matchup with No. 2 Syracuse was billed as a big game for St. John’s, the Red Storm didn’t show up at Madison Square Garden ready to play in a game of that magnitude. Poor shot selection and play that at times seemed somnambulant resulted in a double-digit deficit, with a Rysheed Jordan basket as time expired cutting the Syracuse lead to 39-27.

Turns out that Jordan’s basket was the boost Steve Lavin’s team needed, and on an afternoon that saw the Red Storm shoot 1-for-17 from beyond the arc in their 68-63 loss to Syracuse there are positives to be taken from the result. The biggest positive may be the performance of Jordan in the second half, as his play on both ends of the floor allowed the Red Storm to not only close the margin but take a lead down the stretch.

Offensively the freshman from Philadelphia, who was one of the nation’s most talented point guard prospects coming out of Vaux High School, may not have shot particularly well from the field (2-for-8 FG) but his ability to attack the Syracuse zone off the dribble opened things up for the Red Storm. He also got the foul line, where he connected on all nine attempts. And defensively Jordan was a key factor in the Red Storm’s ability to keep Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis out of the lane for much of the second half.

A player who had some growing up to do and was even suspended for a game earlier this season, Jordan took a step in the right direction on Sunday afternoon. And if the Red Storm are to make a run at an NCAA tournament berth they need the freshman to build on his 13-point outing. D’Angelo Harrison scored 21 points to lead the way, and St. John’s put together much of its second half run with Jakarr Sampson on the bench with four fouls. Also, the rebounding (12 offensive rebounds) and foul shooting (20-for-26) kept the Red Storm alive despite their poor perimeter shooting. So there are clearly positives to be taken out of the defeat.

But they must become a more consistent team when it comes to perimeter shooting, regardless of their ability to make plays off the dribble. Entering Sunday’s game the Red Storm scored just 20.5% of its points on three-point shots, a percentage that ranked ninth in the Big East and will drop given their performance against Syracuse. And with it being likely that this group that has multiple slashers will see more zone as the season wears on, as opponents will aim keep them out of the lane, St. John’s needs to make strides in this area.

If Harrison, Jordan and the rest of the Red Storm can improve their perimeter shooting and late-game execution, they have the talent needed to be a factor in the Big East.

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.