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Wednesday’s Pregame Shootaround: Bubble battles, good games out west

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 11 Creighton at Marquette, 8:00 p.m.

Marquette paid a visit to Omaha in Creighton’s first game as a member of the Big East, and they got smacked about by the Bluejays. The Golden Eagles have gone on to have a fairly-disappointing 2013-2014 campaign, but a recent hot streak has gotten them back into the NCAA tournament conversation. A win over Creighton would go a long way to ensuring that Buzz Williams’ guys aren’t doomed to the NIT.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 23 UCLA at Cal, 10:30 p.m.

UCLA now looks like they’ve inherited the title of the second best team in the Pac-12, but every time a team takes over that title, they end up struggling. Kyle Anderson is quietly having one of the best seasons of anyone in the country, averaging 15.4 points 8.7 boards and 6.8 assists. How come no one is talking about this guy?

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 4 Arizona at Utah, 10:00 p.m.

Arizona is, quite simply, not the same team without Brandon Ashley. That much is obvious. Utah is a tough out this season, and playing at the altitude is never an easy thing to do. Also worth noting: Delon Wright might be the best player in the country that no one is talking about. He could end up being a first round NBA Draft pick before his career is over.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) No. 10 Saint Louis will visit George Mason tonight. The Patriots almost beat the Billikens in Saint Louis earlier this season. The game will be on the NBC Sports Network at 7:00 p.m.

2) Arizona State will be at Colorado tonight in a game that features two of the Pac-12’s hopeful tournament teams.

3) New Mexico and UNLV will square off tonight in a battle to determine who the second-best team in the Mountain West is. After a sluggish start, the Rebels have a glimmer of NCAA tournament hope. They can’t afford another loss, however.

4) No. 3 Wichita State will put their undefeated record on the line tonight at Loyola (IL).

5) No. 1 Syracuse will do the same as they host BC

NOTABLES:

  • Auburn at No. 2 Florida, 7:00 p.m.
  • No. 7 Cincinnat at UCF, 7:00 p.m.
  • Northwestern at No. 24 Ohio State, 7:00 p.m.
  • American at Boston U., 7:00 p.m.
  • Houston at SMU, 8:00 p.m.
  • Mississippi State at LSU, 8:00 p.m.
  • Vanderbilt at Missouri, 8:00 p.m.

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.

ESPN.com was the first to report White’s commitment.

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.