Syracuse v Miami

With the Super Bowl in the past, here are the ten things you need to know about college basketball

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1. Injuries plaguing two of the nation’s best: Syracuse is the new No. 1 team in the country. They are unanimously ranked at the top of the latest AP poll, and they are currently sitting in first in the NBCSports.com Top 25. There really isn’t a coherent argument to make against the Orange currently being the No. 1 team in the country.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been the most impressive team this season. To date, I’d argue that Arizona and Michigan State have been the two teams that have looked the most formidable as we head into the stretch run of college basketball season. But here’s the thing: neither of those two teams are healthy. Michigan State could get there, as Adreian Payne could be back as early as this week and Brandon Dawson’s broken hand should be healed at some point this month.

Arizona?

They’ll be without Brandon Ashley the rest of the season thanks to a broken foot.

2. Andrew Wiggins is overrated and underrated: The story of the season back in October was the freshmen: Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon. To date, Randle, Parker and Gordon have mostly been what we expected them to be. Wiggins, on the other hand, has failed to live up to the hype of being the “best prospect since LeBron” this year, which has resulted in talk about Wiggins being overrated.

And to a point, that was a fair criticism. But remember: Wiggins is the leading scorer on a top ten team that is a favorite to not only win the Big 12, which may be the nation’s best conference, but is also considered one of the strongest Final Four contenders in college hoops. He’s so overrated that he’s become … underrated? Sounds weird, but it’s true.

3. Tyler Ennis is the nation’s best freshman: Here’s the irony of it all: Wiggins isn’t even the best freshman on his team. Joel Embiid is, and he’s not even the best freshman in the country.

source: Getty ImagesThat title belongs to Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis, who has been the steadying presence and closer that Syracuse has needed so badly this season. C.J. Fair gets a lot of attention, because he’s a senior that has been really good for a really long time, and Jerami Grant gets the hype, because all of those tip-dunks are nasty, but it’s Ennis that is the reason the Orange are currently the No. 1 team in the country.

4. The Big 12, not the ACC, is the best conference: There was some chatter in the preseason that the ACC could end up being the best conference in the history of conferences, hype that turned out to be a long way from true. North Carolina has not been the same team without P.J. Hairston, Duke’s defensive issues has made them quite inconsistent, Virginia’s slow start hasn’t yet been made up by feasting on ACC bottom-feeders, and Pitt has literally beaten no one this season.

The Big 12 is the best conference in the country this season, and it’s because so many teams have outperformed expectations. Texas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma and, arguably, Kansas are all better than we thought. The crazy part? Oklahoma State and Baylor have disappointed to date, and the Big 12 is still loaded. Think about that.

5. The Big Ten is nuts: If you can figure out the Big Ten, you may be the only one. Michigan lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway to the draft and Mitch McGary to surgery, yet they’ve been the best team in league play. That’s until they went to Indiana, who was coming off of a disastrous second half in a loss to Nebraska and beat the Wolverines. Wisconsin and Ohio State were ranked in the top five at one point and both have lost five of six games at one point in league play. Illinois? They went from top 25 to seven straight losses. Northwestern? They went from the league’s running joke to fourth place as February starts.

Yeah, I don’t get it either.

6. Kentucky’s talented, but can they win a title?: The talent on Kentucky’s roster has mostly been as good as advertised. They had some struggles early in the season, but Julius Randle has been awesome, James Young is scoring a ton and the Harrison twins have, mostly, looked like what scouts expected them to look like. Throw in the recent emergence of Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress, and Kentucky, on paper, can matchup with anyone.

The problem? The Wildcats haven’t shown the kind of toughness or leadership you expect out of a real title contender. The game against LSU is the perfect example. They got staggered by a 22-6 run to open the game, and never fully responded. Can this team handle the adversity that will undoubtedly come during a six-game run through the NCAA tournament?

Are they even the most dangerous team in the SEC? Florida doesn’t have a star on their roster, but they’re stifling on the defense. The last three games? They’ve given up 128 points total. That’s an average of 42.7 points.

7. Doug McDermott has been awesome: Creighton may not be the best team in the Big East — Villanova probably is, despite losing by 28 to Creighton at home — but they not only have the league’s best player in Doug McDermott, they have a guy that is a shoe-in for National Player of the Year at this point in the season. It’s barely even a discussion at this point.

Which actually disappoints us a bit. The Bluejays have been steamrolling a disappointing Big East, but …

8. Wichita State is better than they were last year: … we miss out on a chance to see them play the Shockers two (or three!) times this season.

The Shockers are still undefeated as we enter February, and I’d argue they are better this season than they were last season. Fred VanVleet is one of the nation’s most underrated point guards, Ron Baker is as good of an off-guard as you’ll find in the country and Cleanthony Early is a legitimate NBA prospect. They are extremely well-coached, they defend and they have size and depth up front.

9. Best team in the American is … Cincinnati?: Entering the season, it was Louisville. Memphis and UConn weren’t all that far behind. SMU had some hype. So did Houston. Cincinnati? They were mostly an afterthought, but they’ve turned out to be one of the best teams in the country. Their defense is absolutely stifling, as Justin Jackson has become arguably the nation’s best overall defender. When Sean Kilpatrick is shooting well, this is a dangerous team.

10. The Mountain West is down, but SDSU isn’t: New Mexico’s issues defensively, Boise State’s mediocrity and UNLV’s inconsistency means that the conference, as a whole, is no where near where it was last season. But that doesn’t change the fact that San Diego State is legitimately a top ten team. Thing about it like this: they have one of just nine wins in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in the last nine seasons and their only loss came against Arizona. Like Cincinnati, this team is stifling defensively and quite dangerous on the days Xavier Thames is hitting shots.

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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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.