Aaron Craft, Todd Mayo

Tuesday’s Pregame Shootaround: Two top ten battles highlight a very good slate

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 3 Ohio State at No. 5 Michigan State, 9:00 p.m.

Well, didn’t we get lucky. In the first day of the year without college football, we get a top five matchup between two football powerhouses. For my money, Michigan State is the best team in the Big Ten right now and the second best team in the country, to Arizona. Keith Appling and Adreian Payne have taken turns looking like first-team all-americans while Gary Harris seems to finally be getting healthy at the same time that Branden Dawson is starting to find a groove. Sparty is peaking as conference play begins. Not a bad time to do so.

But the Buckeyes are pretty darn good in their own right. This is a team that is as good on the defensive end of the floor as anyone you’ll see this season. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are nightmares. Quite literally. That said, I’m concerned about their size up front. Can they rebound with this Michigan State team? Who slows down Adreian Payne? Can LaQuinton Ross get going when he’s being checked by Dawson or Payne? The Breslin Center is a tough place to win, and I think MSU will be victorious tonight.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 7 Baylor at No. 9 Iowa State, 7:00 p.m.

Oh, and it gets better. Not only do we have a top five matchup, but we have a pair of top ten Big 12 teams squaring off. Iowa State is still undefeated and is one of the more under-appreciated teams in the country. Their front line is long and athletic and a nightmare to matchup with given their versatility, while Deandre Kane is quietly playing like an all-american. They can really shoot the ball and are dangerous when they play in Hilton Coliseum.

That said, Baylor’s not a bad team, either. while Iowa State’s front court is made up of combo-forwards that are a bit shorter than most big men, Scott Drew runs out arguably the biggest front line in the country with Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin being backed up by Rico Gathers. The key for Baylor will be taking advantage of that size inside. If they can get guys like Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue and Melvin Ejim in foul trouble, it will make their work defensively that much easier. I;ll also be curious to see how they match up with Kane, who stands a physical 6-foot-7.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) Coming off of a loss at Notre Dame on Saturday, No. 16 Duke plays their first game since 2007 as a non-top 10 team when they host Georgia Tech at 7:00 p.m. The Yellow Jackets may be running into the Blue Devils on the wrong day. On the other end of the spectrum, Notre Dame is at home again tonight as they host N.C. State, who desperately need a win.

2) Only one top 25 team heads on the road against an unranked opponent tonight as No. 25 Kansas State heads down to Fort Worth to take on TCU. But two teams that cracked the NBCSports.com top 25 will be on the road tonight: Cincinnati will be visiting Houston while Creighton will take a trip to frigid Chicago to play DePaul.

3) Tennessee and LSU square off tonight in a key SEC battle between two teams that could end up being the third best team in the conference.

4) Saint Louis will pay a visit to Rhode Island tonight. URI picked up a big win at LSU on Saturday, but the Billikens may be more important.

5) Charleston’s Willis Hall is averaging 20.3 points and 17.0 boards in his last three games. He’ll be playing at James Madison tonight.

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
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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.