Steve Alford

UCLA has a lot to learn if they are going to be a contender in the Pac-12

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NEW YORK — UCLA will be worth the watch every time they take the floor this season.

That’s just what happens when you have as much talent as the Bruins do.

Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are both going to find themselves in the conversation for being all-americans and first round draft picks by the time the season ends. Whether they will be or not is something that will be determined by how they play and develop, both individually and within the team, over the course of the next four months. But at this point, it’s obvious that their names will be thrown into the mix. That’s just what happens when oneguy averaging more than 20 points and another guy approaches a triple-double on a nightly basis.

And here’s the craziest part: neither Anderson and Adams is the most talented player on the UCLA roster. That title would belong to Zach LaVine, an uber-athletic freshmen that entered Thursday night averaging 13.8 points and shooting 46.5% from three.

Throw the Wear twins, Bryce Alford and Norman Powell into the mix, and this is a group that will run the floor and score a lot of points this season.

Like I said, they’ll be worth the watch every time they take the floor.

But that doesn’t mean that they are going to be able to beat a lot of good teams.

The bottom line is this: The Bruins are a team that has to be able to score in transition to be able to win. They need games to be a track meet to be able to compete, and good teams will be able to slow them down.

The saying goes, it’s easier to slow a game down than it is to speed a game up, and there’s a reason that saying exists. Generally speaking, good basketball teams can do two things well: execute in the half court and defend. The two most effective ways at slowing the pace of a game down? Scoring, which forces teams to take the ball out of bounds instead of running off of a rebound or a turnover, and playing stout defense.

And at this point, when that happens to the Bruins, they struggle. Missouri did it two weeks ago, which is why UCLA was dominated in the second half by the Tigers, and Duke did it on Thursday.

“When pace is taken away, when transition games are taken away by good defensive teams, you’ve got to execute in the half court,” head coach Steve Alford said. “We’ve got to do a better job with that.”

To their credit, this is a young team, one that has a lot of guys learning new roles. Anderson just played his 11th game as a point guard. Tony Parker played less than five minutes per game last season. LaVine is a freshman, as is Alford. Adams is a sophomore coming off of a broken foot. Even Powell is playing more significant minutes than he ever has.

This team will get better with time.

But right now, they aren’t a top 25 team. They are probably a borderline NCAA tournament team considering the only two good teams they’ve played they lost to. UCLA has work to do in Pac-12 play, and they have work to do in practice before they get there.

The Bruins are probably never going to be a good defensive team, which is why Alford is playing more zone than he’s ever played as a coach. That means they need to learn to be able to execute in the half court, and that’s not always an easy thing to do.

“Are we ready for games like this?” Alford said. “I hope we are, but I hope we’re more prepared as we get closer to the end of the season. Games like this help us. ”

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.