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The Secondary Break: Wednesday’s Links

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Moton stresses defense to MEAC-leading North Carolina Central (Durham Herald-Sun)
While No. 8 Duke is well on its way to a high seed in the NCAA tournament, they aren’t the only team in Durham that could wind up in the 68-team field next month. The other? That would be Levelle Moton’s North Carolina Central Eagles, who have used a blue collar approach to take over first place in the MEAC.

Toughest part of Syracuse basketball gauntlet begins in Pittsburgh (Syracuse Post-Standard)
No. 1 Syracuse is off to a 23-0 start, winning their first ten conference games as a member of the ACC. But things will get far more difficult down the stretch for the Orange, who play five of their final eight regular season games on the road beginning with tonight’s contest at No. 25 Pittsburgh.

There is NBA talent in the Big Ten, but more at Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin than Ohio State (Cleveland Plain-Dealer)
Ohio State looked to be headed back in the right direction prior to Tuesday’s game against No. 15 Michigan. But the Wolverines left Columbus with an 80-70 victory, with the home standing Buckeyes once again struggling offensively. One of the reasons for the struggles: a lack of NBA-level talent according to this story.

Vaughn’s commitment makes future lineups very intriguing (Las Vegas Sun)
UNLV added another talented piece to its 2014 recruiting class on Tuesday night, as five-star shooting guard Rashad Vaughn verbally committed to the Mountain West school. With the players expected to return, along with that talented recruiting haul, Dave Rice won’t lack for lineup options next season.

Home crowds leave mark on college basketball games (San Francisco Chronicle)
There’s no denying the impact that fans can have on college basketball games, with the best being able to supply their team with the extra energy needed to win close games. But the impact can also be negative, and this past weekend there were examples of both.

College basketball’s preseason top 5 has been historically bad in 2013-14 (SB Nation)
It happens in most years. The preseason top five is announced, and some make the assumption that those programs will simply run through the season with few bumps in the road. Well that hasn’t happened this year, and the struggles of the 2013-14 preseason top five have been historic.

Are college basketball’s new rules helping or hurting the game? (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
The general thinking in regards to the new points of emphasis was that after an adjustment period teams and officials would adjust, ultimately resulting in better played games. Well that hasn’t happened in some cases, with conference play reverting back to the way things were. And predictably, coaches are still confused about it all.

DePaul basketball needs a complete makeover (Chicago Tribune)
Earlier this week it was announced that DePaul senior forward and leading scorer Cleveland Melvin was no longer enrolled in school, with this being the latest blow to a program that has struggled for years. The new Big East was supposed to provide a spark to programs like DePaul, but once again the Blue Demons find themselves at the bottom of the conference.

UR’s Anthony shifted into driver’s seat (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Richmond was hit hard by a personnel loss last week, with a torn meniscus in both of his knees ending Cedrick Lindsay’s senior season. The effect of this injury on the Spiders: Kendall Anthony had to take the reins as the team leader and primary scoring option.

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.