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Tuesday’s Pregame Shootaround: Big Ten battle, Kentucky in the Bayou

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 7 Michigan State at No. 15 Iowa, 7:00 p.m.

Two weeks ago, Iowa was the trendy pick to win the Big Ten. Then the Hawkeyes lost to Michigan and ceded that title to the Wolverines. In fact, while Iowa may be one of the most talented teams in the country, they are still without a defining win this season. Xavier, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Minnesota. These are all good wins. They aren’t elite wins. Beating Michigan State, even if they are injury-ravaged, would be.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 11 Kentucky at LSU, 9:00 p.m.

This should have been one of the best games of the season in the SEC, but LSU simply has not been as good as we all expected this season. They have an NBA-caliber front line and a good enough back court, but the pieces just don’t quite fit right now. They do, however, matchup well with Kentucky. Johnny O’Bryant is big enough to get physical with Willie Cauley-Stein and the Tigers have enough size that they won’t need to sell out defensively to matchup with Julius Randle.

MID-MAJOR MATCHUP OF THE NIGHT: New Mexico at Utah State, 11:05 p.m.

Utah State is one of the toughest places in the country to place, taking San Diego State to overtime on Saturday night. New Mexico may be forced to play without Alex Kirk, and even if he does play, he may not be at 100%. The good news for the Lobos? Hugh Greenwood seems to finally be hitting his stride this season.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH:

1) Notre Dame hasn’t been the same team since Jerian Grant saw his season come to an end in December. They’re sitting at 2-5 in the ACC, and they host one of the hottest teams in the country in Virginia. The ‘Hoos have won six of their last seven since getting dropped by 35 points at Tennessee.

2) Interesting matchup in Omaha as No. 20 Creighton will do battle with St. John’s. The Johnnies have the kind of size and athleticism at the forward spot to give Doug McDermott trouble.

3) No. 4 Wichita State will have their undefeated record on the line tonight as they host Loyola (IL).

4) Missouri will head to Arkansas in a key game for a pair of teams that looks like they could end up sitting on the bubble come Selection Sunday.

5) Baylor has gotten off to a horrid, 1-5 start in Big 12 play. They’ll have a chance to turn that around tonight as they host West Virginia. The Bears will have plenty of chances to put together enough wins to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament. They have the talent, too. Can West Virginia be the cure to their woes?

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.