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Conference Catchups: Villanova rules again in the Big East

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Doug McDermott, Creighton

This isn’t a hard decision to make. The two-time first-team All-American is having yet another All-American caliber season. Through the first two months of the season, McDermott is averaging 24.8 points (a career-high) to go along with 7.5 boards. He’s still got room to improve as well, as McDermott is shooting a career-low 40.5% from three.

All-Big East First Team:

  • Bryce Cotton, Providence
  • James Bell, Villanova
  • Kellen Dunham, Butler
  • JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
  • Doug McDermott, Creighton

Midseason Coach of the Year: Jay Wright, Villanova

In retrospect, we probably should have seen this coming with the Wildcats. Jay Wright has gotten back to his roots, recruiting a team full of tough, talented guards and undersized big men with a chip on their shoulder. Wright has rebuilt this Villanova program in the mold of his best teams, the ones that starred the likes of Randy Foye and Allan Ray and Scottie Reynolds, and it’s fun to watch.

Favorite: Villanova Wildcats

source:  Villanova is kind of the favorite by default here, as the Big East has been one of the country’s most disappointing conferences this season. They really are the only team that looks capable of winning a couple games in the NCAA tournament right now. That said, Villanova is legit. They defend as well as anyone in the country — No. 2 in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom — and they are difficult to matchup with defensively. If James Bell and Ryan Arcidiacono can get more consistent shooting the three, this will be a very, very dangerous team.

And three more contenders:

  • As long as Creighton has Doug McDermott on the roster, they will be a contender. They’ve been better defensively this season. They don’t force turnover or block shots, but they’re forcing tough shots and getting defensive rebounds.
  • You’d be foolish to count out a Buzz Williams team regardless of how many chances they whiffed on in non-conference play. Marquette has the league’s best front line and will only get better as Duane Wilson and JaJuan Johnson get more reps.
  • I’m still on the Georgetown bandwagon, but they’ll need to find a way to survive despite Josh Smith’s defensive issues. Having a third perimeter scoring option emerge would be beneficial as well.

Most Surprising Team: Butler Bulldogs

Villanova is the league’s most surprising team, but I’m going with Butler here because I can only talk about Villanova so many times. Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall have been just terrific this season. I’m not sure that Butler has enough to win the league, but they’ve looked good enough to make a push to finish in the top four and, potentially, play their way into an NCAA tournament bid.

Most Disappointing Team: St. John’s Red Storm

How many teams have more talent, top-to-bottom, than the Johnnies? I’ll give you a hint: none of them. But the Johnnies have looked like anything-but a title contender this season. With the amount of athleticism on this roster, it would be nice to see them become a pressing team, but until they have to rely less on D’angelo Harrison for scoring in the half-court, they’ll struggle.

Most Important Player (in league play): JaJuan Johnson and Duane Wilson, Marquette

The Golden Eagles have one of the best front lines in the country. Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson and Chris Otule are as good as anyone. But Marquette needs to find consistency on the perimeter. They need shooters and scorers and people that can break down a defense. Johnson and Wilson, who is still working his way back from a leg injury, can do that.

Who will slide?: Georgetown Hoyas

I’m not ready to write-off Georgetown just yet because I think that Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera make up one of the league’s best back courts. Any team with that back court and Josh Smith in the paint will be able to compete. But defensive issues and a lack of a supporting cast could eventually do the Hoyas in.

Who is the sleeper?: Xavier Musketeers

A lot of people wrote off the Muskies after a disastrous, 0-3 performance at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. But this isn’t a bad Xavier team. They’ve smacked city rival Cincinnati and won at Alabama in their last two games, and they just so happen to have an All-American caliber point guard in Semaj Christon.

New Power Rankings:

1. Villanova
2. Marquette
3. Creighton
4. Georgetown
5. Xavier
6. Butler
7. St. John’s
8. Providence
9. DePaul
10. Seton Hall

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.