Xavier Thames

Weekend Preview: Sunday’s big, and not just on gridiron

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 21 San Diego State at No. 16 Kansas, Sun. 4:30 p.m.

This is a huge game not only for San Diego State, but for the Mountain West as well. The Aztecs have been one of the more surprising teams in the country this season, but they don’t exactly have a ton of great wins. They beat Creighton and Marquette, who both could end up in the tournament, and knocked off Washington as well, but that’s it. But here’s the thing: even that mediocre non-conference schedule places SDSU near the top of the MWC in terms of performance outside the league. The Mountain West as a whole needs this win.

Can they get it? Well, it’s not going to be easy. Andrew Wiggins was the talk of Lawrence entering the season, but over the course of the last month, the Jayhawks have become a team that pounds the ball into the paint. Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis, Tarik Black. Those are the guys that have shined for Kansas in recent games, and I’m not sure the Aztecs have the front court to deal with them. It will be interesting to see what happens when Wiggins guards Winston Shepard as well. Shepard has been sensational the last three games.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 10 Oregon at No. 20 Colorado, Sun. 5:00 p.m.

Oregon barely hung on to beat Utah on the road on Thursday night, meaning that the Ducks will head into Sunday’s visit to Colorado without a loss on their record and with a chance to sweep what is the most difficult road trip in the Pac-12 this season. These two teams are Arizona’s two biggest challengers in the conference.

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No. 22 Iowa at No. 4 Wisconsin, Sun. 8:00 p.m.: The Jarrod Uthoff bowl! Wisconsin has been one of the most impressive teams nationally this season, but Iowa is a couple of ugly possessions away from being undefeated with wins over Villanova and Iowa State.
  • No. 5 Michigan State at Indiana, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Indiana really needs to start piling up quality wins, and what better place to start than knocking off Michigan State. The Spartans are starting to hit their stride, however. Once they get healthy, this team will be scary-good.
  • No. 7 Duke at Notre Dame, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Two interesting story lines here: Notre Dame will be getting their first real test post-Jerian Grant, and they’ll be doing so as Mike Brey takes on his former boss, Mike Krzyzewski, in the first ACC game for the Irish.
  • Virginia at Florida State, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Does anyone have any idea how the ACC is going to play out once you get past Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina? Both FSU and UVA have to pieces for finish fourth in the league.
  • Oklahoma at Texas, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: The Red River Shootout! The Sooners are one of the more underrated teams in the Big 12, but Texas has been arguably the most surprising team in the country.
  • Cincinnati at No. 18 Memphis, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: It seems like everyone is talking about UConn and Louisville in the American, but Memphis and Cincinnati are both good enough to make some noise in league play. This will be a good gauge for a Bearcat team that has had some trouble scoring.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • No. 13 Iowa State at Texas Tech, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: There are few teams in the country that have a bigger difference between home and road performance than the Cyclones.
  • No. 17 UConn at SMU, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: UConn is overrated. It’s that simple. On nights where Shabazz Napier doesn’t go crazy, they are very, very beatable. Ask Houston, who picked the Huskies off on New Year’s Eve.
  • No. 6 Oklahoma State at Kansas State, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Oklahoma State will be adjusting to life without Michael Cobbins — or Stevie Clark? — and will be doing so against a Kansas State team that has come on strong in the last month.
  • Northern Iowa at No. 8 Wichita State, Sun. 2:00 p.m.: The Shockers are going to be a tough team to beat at home, but if anyone is going to do it, it’s going to be Northern Iowa or Indiana State.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) Yale heads to St. Louis to square off with the Billikens at 5:30 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network. You can stream the game online on the NBC Sports Live Extra App.

2) Pacific will pay a visit to No. 24 Gonzaga at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday. The Tigers have been the biggest surprise in the WCC this year.

3) Both of the top two teams in the country will be playing at home at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday. Washington will visits No. 1 Arizona after whipping Arizona State and Miami will head up to No. 2 Syracuse.

4) A couple of good games in the Big East this weekend. Butler visits Xavier at 2:00 p.m. Saturday while St. John’s pays a visit to Georgetown at 1:00 p.m.

5) In the ‘Are either of these teams for real?’ bowl, Pitt will head down to Raleigh in their ACC opener to take on N.C. State at noon Saturday.

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)
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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.