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Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Opportunity knocks for Arizona State

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 2 Arizona at Arizona State, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN)

No. 2 Arizona remains ahead of the pack in the Pac-12 by two games, but there may be some teams who sense an opportunity now that Brandon Ashley’s out for the year. However Arizona’s won its last two games after falling at Cal, with freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson one of the reasons why they’ve been able to adjust. He averaged 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in wins over Oregon and Oregon State, and he’ll be a key figure moving forward for the Wildcats.

As for their in-state rivals, tonight represents a great resume-building opportunity for Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils. Arizona State looks well-positioned to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, with point guard Jahii Carson and center Jordan Bachynski leading the way. But the difference-maker may be senior guard Jermaine Marshall, who missed the first meeting due to a hip injury. The Penn State transfer’s averaging 15.6 points per game, giving Arizona State a needed perimeter scorer. If he has a solid night, the Sun Devils are more than capable of winning this one.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET: No. 23 SMU (-5) at Rutgers, 7:00 p.m.

Last month the Mustangs earned a comfortable 70-56 win over Rutgers in Dallas, and from a talent standpoint Nic Moore and company should win the rematch. But funny things can happen at The RAC, and with the weather forcing a one-day delay this could be one of those scenarios. Myles Mack and company have won their last two home games, and if he and Kadeem Jack show up the potential for an upset is there.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE NIGHT: Harvard at Columbia, 7:00 p.m.

After dropping a seven-point decision to Yale last Saturday the Crimson look to rebound with a win at Columbia. And this begins a key stretch for Tommy Amaker’s team, as they’ll play their next four games away from Cambridge. The problem against Yale for Harvard: their defense. The Bulldogs shot 51%, and a similar effort against Columbia could lead to trouble. The Lions are led by Alex Rosenberg and Maodo Lo, and they’re also shooting 38% from beyond the arc on the season.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR: 

1) No. 13 Louisville visits Temple (6:00 p.m., ESPN2) in a game that was originally scheduled to be played on Thursday. The Cardinals have won six of their last seven games, with Russ Smith leading the way for a team that trails Cincinnati by a game in the loss column.

2) Iona looks to maintain its two-game lead atop the MAAC with a win over Monmouth. The Gaels won the first meeting 89-71 just ten days ago, with Sean Armand scoring 22 points and David Laury III adding 21 and 12 rebounds.

3) Mercer hosts Lipscomb, and the Bears’ weekend schedule was thrown for a loop due to the inclement weather. Instead of the originally scheduled Thursday/Saturday split, Bob Hoffman’s team will host Northern Kentucky on Sunday.

4) Yale looks to move to 6-1 in Ivy League play with a win over Penn, but they aren’t the only team with hopes of winning the league. There’s also 4-2 Brown, which needs to get hot in order to keep pace with the Bulldogs and Harvard, with both having already beaten the Bears.

5) The Southern Conference no longer has divisions, which makes the race for seeding in next month’s conference tournament even more important. Chattanooga hosts Western Carolina with the Mocs leading the Catamounts by a game in the loss column. Will Wade’s team has lost three of its last four after starting SoCon play 8-0 (one of the three losses was a non-conference loss to Eastern Kentucky).

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.