Maurice Creek, Varun Ram

The Secondary Break: Thursday’s Links

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Forget freshmen, transfers are the new prized recruits in college basketball (Sports Illustrated)
While freshmen have received much of the attention to this point in the season, transfers have proven to be just as influential to some programs. Players such as Arizona’s T.J. McConnell, George Washington’s Maurice Creek and Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane have all played pivotal roles in the success of their new teams.

UCLA-Arizona has been west coast’s top college basketball rivalry (Long Beach Press-Telegram)
On Thursday night the top-ranked Wildcats and Bruins renew acquaintances at Pauley Pavilion, with Arizona looking to reverse its fortunes after losing to UCLA three times last season. And this series is one with a history of exciting match-ups, with this story including the ten best games in the series according to the author.

College basketball arena poll: All 12 individual ballots (Athlon Sports)
The folks over at Athlon Sports compiled a list of the top 10 arenas in college basketball with some help from 12 college basketball experts, including CBT’s own Rob Dauster. Not only did Athlon reveal the list, but it also revealed the ballots of each of the 12 voters.

JV: A year in the college basketball wilderness (Dime Magazine)
As discussed in yesterday’s Break, there aren’t a high number of junior varsity teams at the college level. But they still exist, and in this story the author gives a first-hand account of his experience playing JV basketball at a small college.

Titus’ Top 12 NCAA power rankings (Grantland)
Former Ohio State basketball player Mark Titus compiles his weekly power rankings, taking a look at some of the nation’s best teams. It’s an interesting read, especially the portion in which he declares Iowa State to be a team of destiny.

Duke’s Jabari Parker: “I’m human too” (Greensboro News & Record)
In some instances this season the nation’s best freshman have been built up to near legendary status, with every game being a referendum on their skill level and chances of long-term success. After Andrew Wiggins bore the brunt of that pressure early, Duke freshman Jabari Parker’s been the latest subject thanks to his recent struggles. He’ll be OK.

Mother, coach reveal former Auburn basketball player faked kidnapping to escape pressures (ABC News)
In one of the more bizarre stories heard regarding college basketball players dealing with the pressure that comes with playing a sport and having to succeed in school, former Auburn basketball player Sierra Sims faked her kidnapping as a college freshman back in 2008. What resulted was a 24-hour search for Sims, who turned to binge drinking before running away and saying that she was kidnapped when found.

Kansas plans $17.5 million apartment complex that would house basketball players (Kansas City Star)
The business of major college athletics is alive and well, with programs doing whatever possible to put everything their athletes need within arm’s reach. At Kansas there are plans for a new apartment complex that would house the men’s and women’s basketball teams, with completion of the project expected for the 2016-17 academic year.

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.