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College Hoops Week in Review: Casey Prather and Oregon still shining

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Casey Prather, Florida

Has there been a more surprising breakout player than Casey Prather this season? The Florida senior went from being a bit player as a freshman and a sophomore to embracing a role as a defensive stopper off the bench as a junior. But this season, with Florida dealing with what felt like two-thirds of their roster missing time due to injuries or suspensions, Prather stepped up.

He’s averaging 18.5 points this season, with the highlight of the year being the 22 points that he scored in Florida’s win over Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic. I won’t get too far into how he developed into a star — I did that in the 900 word column I filed from the Garden that night — but I think it’s safe to say that those injuries and suspensions were the best thing that could have happened to both Prather and the Gators. Without them, I don’t think he’s the player that he is today.

They were good, too:

  • Tracy Abrams, Illinois: Abrams scored 22 points and had the game-winning bucket in a 65-64 win over Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights game.
  • Jason Calliste, Oregon: Calliste went for 31 points as Oregon knocked off BYU in overtime in Eugene. He also popped off for 14 points in a win over UC-Irvine.
  • Melvin Johnson, VCU: Johnson had 27 points and his eight threes in VCU’s blowout win over Virginia Tech. That’s huge. The Rams desperately need a knockdown three-point shooter.
  • Aaric Murray, Texas Southern: Murray currently holds the nationwide season-high for points in a game after lighting up Temple for 48 points in a win in Philly.
  • Adreian Payne, Michigan State: Payne put together one of the most dominating performances of the season on Saturday afternoon in Austin, dropping 33 points on 10-13 shooting.
  • T.J. Warren, N.C. State: Warren led the Wolfpack to back-to-back wins at Tennessee and over East Carolina by scoring a combined 53 points.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Oregon Ducks

source:  Dana Altman’s club picked up a pair of wins this week, knocking off BYU at home in an overtime thriller while also blowing out UC-Irvine. That wasn’t the big news of the week in Eugene, however. The big news is that both Dominic Artis and Ben Carter, both expected starters entering the season, are back in the lineup for the Ducks after missing the first nine games of the season.

Here’s the best news of all: the Ducks don’t necessarily need Artis or Carter. They combined to play just 17 scoreless minutes in the win over BYU. Johnathon Loyd has been flat-out terrific this season, and the combination of Richard Amardi and Elgin Cook has been more than enough in the paint. There is a reason the Ducks are still undefeated, and if they can figure out a way to keep everyone happy with their minutes — and iron out some rotation kinks — I think it’s safe to say that the Ducks are Arizona’s biggest challenger in the Pac-12.

They were good, too:

  • Auburn: How about them Tigers? Beating Clemson and Boston College isn’t exactly program-changing, but it does mean that a potential bottom-feeder in the SEC isn’t losing to bottom-feeders from other conferences.
  • Boston U.: The Patriot League favorites went into College Park and knocked off Maryland, 83-77. D.J. Irving gave Mark Turgeon’s club 25.
  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats knocked off Pitt in NYC at the Jimmy V Classic, earning themselves a win they really needed.
  • Florida State: The Seminoles picked up two big wins over the weekend, blowing out Charlotte before picking up an ugly win over UMass.
  • Kansas State: The Wildcats picked up a much-needed win over No. 21 Gonzaga on Saturday at home. Marcus Foster is one of the best freshmen in the country that no one is talking about.

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.