Marcus Smart

Pregame Shootaround: Conference play hits full swing

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 6 Oklahoma State at Kansas State (4 p.m., ESPNU)

This game is much bigger for the No. 6 Cowboys than might appear at face value. Following the loss of starting center Michael Cobbins for the season with an Achilles’ tendon injury, and freshman point guard Stevie Clark was arrested — but not charged — for possession of marijuana during a traffic stop earlier in the week. Will the Cowboys be prepared for a Kansas State team playing really good basketball after the week filled with distractions? The Wildcats have won eight straight and will be hungry to beat a ranked conference opponent in their home building. One thing worth watching: How will Kansas State freshman guard Marcus Foster handle the pressure of facing Marcus Smart?

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 7 Duke at Notre Dame (4 p.m., CBS)

Is this a new and budding ACC basketball rivalry? There were some interesting remarks made in the summer between the programs and this is Notre Dame’s inaugural game as a member of the ACC. Although the Irish have struggled to find themselves since the loss of Jerian Grant, they should be fired up at a chance to face Duke and one of the best players in the country in Jabari Parker. Under Mike Brey, Notre Dame is a fantastic 12-6 against top-10 programs at home and Duke has yet to play a true road game this season.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 17 Connecticut at SMU (2 p.m., ESPNU)

This wouldn’t be an Earth-shattering upset by any means, but Connecticut is still the ranked team with the major name recognition while SMU is still looking for signature wins under Larry Brown. Both teams enter the day 0-1 in the brand-new American Athletic Conference following UConn’s disappointing loss at Houston and SMU’s loss to Cincinnati, so each team will be hungry to right the ship going forward. It should also be a lot of fun to see SMU point guard Nic Moore — one of the underrated floor generals in all of college basketball — take on UConn’s backcourt.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Denver at St. Joseph’s, (2 p.m.)

Denver has struggled to a 7-7 start and was one of the favorites in the Summit League, but they’re still trying to figure things out as they travel to visit a good Atlantic 10 opponent in St. Joseph’s. Although the Pioneers have played a difficult schedule, they still have some bad losses on their resume and Chris Udofia needs to find his perimeter shot, as he’s struggled from that area this season. St. Joseph’s, meanwhile, is winners of four straight games and would love to keep that momentum going heading into the grind of the A-10

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) Saturday’s contest between North Carolina Central and Wagner has been canceled due to the storm that meteorologists are calling “Hercules”. This is the third game this week to be canceled or postponed after Iona’s MAAC contest with Quinnipiac was postponed from Thursday to Monday and no makeup has been announced for Friday’s postponed South Dakota State and Buffalo contest. This could be something to watch the next few days with the winter weather getting very bad in some parts of the country.

2) Syracuse also makes its ACC debut on Saturday, as the No. 2 Orange look to become the first power conference team to win its league in the first year of play since Arkansas in 1992. The Orange open ACC play with a home game against Miami.

3) Is an interesting Pac-12 clash in the making when Washington visits No. 1 Arizona? The Huskies are only 9-5, but they were impressive in a road win at Arizona State on Thursday to open the conference season and they would love to pick up the sweep in their trip through Arizona.

4) A couple of interesting Big East games to monitor on Saturday include St. John’s visiting former Big East foe Georgetown while Big East newbies Butler and Xavier collide when the Bulldogs travel to Cincinnati. In each game, the road team is 0-1 and the home team is 1-0 and St. John’s and Butler will look to jumpstart their Big East season with a road win.

5) Pittsburgh travels to North Carolina State in a game that should help dictate how good both teams really are. The Panthers are new in the ACC but travel to Raleigh as a 12-1 team thanks to their light non-conference schedule and they’ll be tested by a Wolfpack team that has won eight of its last nine games against mostly inferior competition.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Nebraska at No. 3 Ohio State, 12:00 p.m., BTN
  • No. 5 Michigan State at Indiana, 2:00 p.m., CBS
  • Richmond at No. 12 Florida, 3:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • No. 13 Iowa State at Texas Tech, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • No. 14 Louisville at Rutgers, 6:00 p.m., CBSSN
  • Cincinnati at No. 18 Memphis, 12:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Miami of Ohio at No. 23 UMass, 7:00 p.m.
  • Pacific at No. 24 Gonzaga, 8:00 p.m., ROOT
  • Long Beach State at No. 25 Missouri, 5:00 p.m.

NOTABLES:

  • Georgia Tech at Maryland, 2:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Cornell at St. Bonaventure, 2:00 p.m., NBCSN
  • Penn State at Illinois, 2:15 p.m., BTN
  • Creighton at Seton Hall, 3:00 p.m., Fox Sports 1
  • Virginia at Florida State, 5:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Yale at Saint Louis, 5:30 p.m., NBCSN
  • Oklahoma at Texas, 8:00 p.m., Longhorn Network
  • Dayton at Ole Miss, 8:00 p.m., ESPN3

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
Jon Lopez/Nike
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

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.