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Canisius wins at Iona despite blowing 20-point second half lead

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Friday night’s MAAC matchup between Canisius and Iona was expected to be an exciting affair with two of the conference’s most exciting guards in Canisius’ Billy Baron and Iona’s Sean Armand taking center stage. The top two scoring teams in MAAC conference games entering Friday, neither team’s had trouble putting points on the board and that was the case on Friday night.

Two Baron free throws with 14 seconds remaining proved to be the difference as Canisius picked up a valuable 85-83 road victory, moving into a first-place tie with preseason MAAC favorite Manhattan. Baron finished with a game-high 29 points, making ten of his 17 attempts from the field with a few of those baskets being three-pointers beyond NBA range. With Baron rolling Canisius was able to build a 20-point lead in the second half, and that’s when an Iona team not exactly filled with defensive stoppers flipped a switch so to speak.

Iona went smaller, taking forward David Laury III out of the game, and used their improved quickness (and effort) to keep Baron from comfortably initiating the offense. While Canisius does have Stetson transfer Chris Perez as another capable guard when it comes to running the show, he doesn’t command the same respect as Baron from a scoring standpoint. Iona ripped off a 16-0 run to get back into the game, ultimately taking its first lead of the second half on an A.J. English three-pointer with 7:38 remaining.

Armand led four Gaels in double figures with 19 points, and Isaiah Williams’ 17 points off the bench were a welcome boost for the home team. Tim Cluess’ team should be commended for coming back in a game that very well could have gotten out of hand. But with an eye towards the possibility of winning the MAAC and making a third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, it’s more important to ask why they ended up in that 20-point hole to begin with.

The reason: inconsistent effort on the defensive end of the floor, and that’s a concern for Canisius as well. Both teams clearly have the offensive firepower to beat the majority of the teams remaining on their schedule, but if either is to win a championship and reach the NCAA tournament they have to get better defensively. Iona entered the game ranked seventh in the MAAC (conference games only) in field goal percentage defense and Canisius was tenth.

And that’s essentially how things played out in New Rochelle, with the Golden Griffins shooting 52% from the field and Iona not far behind at 48%. While it certainly made for an entertaining two hours of basketball, a win on January 17 isn’t the ultimate goal for either team. In order to reach that goal, there’s work to be done defensively.

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.