Oklahoma v Kansas

No. 5 Kansas locks up 10th straight Big 12 title, an incredible feat

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Naadir Tharpe scored 12 of his 19 points in the final six minutes, adding five assists and just a single turnover while shooting 6-for-7 from the floor as No. 5 Kansas knocked off Oklahoma, 83-75, earning the Jayhawks at least a share of their 10th straight Big Ten title.

I’ll get back to that in a second, because it’s an incredible feat, but first I want to talk about Tharpe.

Five Jayhawks scored in double-figures on Monday night, including four others that will likely end up being first round picks by the time they leave Lawrence. Two of them, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, will likely end up going No. 1 and No. 2 in the NBA Draft in June. But with Kansas up 76-71 with just over a minute left in the game, Bill Self called a timeout to draw up a play for Tharpe.

That play?

A simple 1-4 high-set, allowing his junior point guard to go one-on-one. Tharpe repayed him with a driving lay-in that put the Jayhawks up seven and all-but iced the game.

Oh, and did I mention that Tharpe is this team’s question mark?

Tharpe has had an up-and-down career with Kansas, but he’s been tremendous for the Jayhawks during conference play. He still has some bouts of inconsistency — the end of the Texas Tech game, for example, where he had two unforced turnovers and airballed a three in the final minutes — but the bottom-line is that when he is playing well, Kansas is near-unbeatable this season.

And he’s been playing well more often than not of late.

Which is why Kansas became the first power conference team to lock up at least a share of their league’s regular season title, the 10th consecutive season that is the case.

I hope all of you appreciate just how difficult that is to do, especially in a power conference. For comparison’s sake, only four teams currently have streaks of three consecutive regular season titles currently intact: Belmont (Atlantic Sun and OVC), Bucknell (Patriot), Harvard (Ivy) and Long Beach State (Big West). Only two of those programs, Belmont and Harvard, are currently in first place in their conference this season, while LBSU is a game back with four games left.

Only four other programs in Division I history have ever won ten straight regular season titles: Gonzaga (2001-2011), UNLV (1983, 1992), UCLA (1967-1979) and UConn (1951-1960).

In the last ten years, North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, Indiana, UConn, Louisville, Arizona, Ohio State, Florida and Syracuse have all missed the NCAA tournament at some point. Michigan State lost 15 games in 2011. Duke finished sixth in the ACC in 2007 and got Eric Maynor’d in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

In a day and age where early entry to the NBA Draft has forced programs at the highest level of the sport into a cycle of rebuilding that is faster than ever, Self has kept Kansas in control of the league for an entire decade. Think about this: three of these ten league titles have come without Kansas returning a single starter.

Including this season!

He’s locked up the toughest conference in the country in February with three regular season games left on the schedule.

And this was supposed to be the season that the streak ended.

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)
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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
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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.