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College Basketball Talk’s Player of the Year Power Rankings: Shabazz tops the list again

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The 2013-2014 season is sure to be a thrilling Player of the Year race, so to keep track of it, we will be posting weekly Player of the Year Power Rankings for your reading goodness.

Who’d we miss? Who’s ranked too high? We love to overlook your team’s best player and overrate your rival’s superstar.

1. Shabazz Napier, UConn: Napier’s already made countless big shots in big moments this season, shining in UConn’s wins over Florida, Indiana and Boston College. His numbers on the season are good — 15.3 points, 7.0 boards, 5.9 assists and shooting 57.1% from three — but in those three wins, Napier’s averaged 24.3 points with a usage rate that was at least 30%. He’s taken over when UConn needs him to take over, opting to distribute and get his teammates involved at other times.

2. Jabari Parker, Duke: Parker scored 21 points against Gardner-Webb on Monday night, the first time he’s gone for 20 in a game since the day before Thanksgiving. The most versatile offensive weapon in college basketball, Parker’s still at his best with his back to the basket. Per Synergy, 19.9% of his offensive possessions have come on post-ups, and he’s scoring 1.205 PPP.

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Rush The Court via CBSSports.com

3. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Has Marcus Smart actually changed his game and improved his perimeter stroke? He’s missed 16 of his last 19 threes. Take a look at his shot chart (right) from the last four games.

More concerning? During that stretch, Smart has 17 assists and 16 turnovers. Keep in mind this is a small sample size, and that in the three games prior he shot 10-for-21 from three and averaged 31.3 points, scoring at least 23 points in the first half of all three games.

On the season, Smart is shooting 32.1% from three, up from 29.0% last season.

4. Chaz Williams, UMass: Williams has been the best player on one of the nation’s most impressive and exciting teams to date. The Minutemen love to get out and run the floor, sitting 11th in the country in tempo, per KenPom. 29.1% of the possessions that Williams has used have come in transition, and UMass is scoring 1.318 PPP on those possessions.

5. Doug McDermott, Creighton: McDermott had seven points on 2-for-12 shooting in Creighton’s loss to George Washington. The last time he scored seven or fewer points? November 14th, 2012, when he had five points on six shots in a 17 point win over UAB. The only time he’s shot worse than 2-for-12 from the floor was an 0-for-5 performance in a win against St. Joseph’s … as a freshman.

6. Julius Randle, Kentucky: Kentucky went away from pounding the ball inside to Randle in their loss to North Carolina over the weekend. He finished with just 11 points and five boards as the Harrison twins spent the entire second half going one-on-one. UK’s bread-and-butter needs to be post touches for Randle.

7. Russ Smith, Louisville: With Peyton Siva gone, Smith has been making a concerted effort to play more as a point guard. Rick Pitino has been using his in pick-and-roll actions more often. Here are the Synergy breakdowns of Smith’s 2012-2013 pick-and-rolls:

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Synergy

and his 2013-2014 pick-and-rolls:

source:
Synergy

8. Nick Johnson, Arizona: For my money, Johnson is still the most valuable Arizona Wildcat. With Gabe York struggling, he’s really the only player on Arizona that can create his own shot on the perimeter in the half court, and he just so happens to be a tenacious on-ball defender.

9. Keith Appling, Michigan State: At this point, it’s difficult to judge Appling based on the last two weeks of basketball. Not only is he dealing with a wrist injury stemming from an ugly fall in Michigan State’s loss to North Carolina, but four of Michigan State’s starters have missed practice and/or game time with injuries and illnesses. Don’t let one injury-impaired game blind you to how good Applng has been.

10. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: Wiggins gets an awful lot of criticism for a guy averaging 15.9 points and 5.9 boards that just so happens to be the nation’s best perimeter defender. Consistency of assertiveness is the name of the game for Wiggins.

Others: Kyle Anderson, Ron Baker, Cameron Bairstow, Jahii Carson, Jordan Clarkson, Aaron Craft, C.J. Fair, Rodney Hood, Roberto Nelson, Marcus Paige, Lamar Patterson, Elfrid Payton, Casey Prather, Juwan Staten, T.J. Warren, Joseph Young

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)
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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.