Bryce Cotton

Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Friars look to improve NCAA tournament prospects

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Iona at Manhattan, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

The Gaels have already clinched the MAAC regular season title, but that won’t diminish the importance of this matchup of rivals separated by just ten miles. For the Jaspers there’s a lot riding on this weekend, as landing either the second or third seed in the conference tournament would mean matching up with a team that played the day prior (that wouldn’t be the case as the four-seed). And if Manhattan is to defend Draddy Gymnasium they’ll need to do a better job of defending Iona’s David Laury III, who tallied 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in the first meeting. An important note regarding Iona: since head coach Tim Cluess moved Laury into a reserve role on January 19 the Gaels have won 11 straight.

THIS ONE’S BIG TOO: Providence at Seton Hall, 7:00 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Bryce Cotton and the Friars are moving closer to the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2004, and while a win in Newark wouldn’t be a major resume-building result it would keep them on the right track. Seton Hall won the first meeting between the two teams, an 81-80 double-overtime thriller on New Year’s Eve. With games against Marquette and Creighton to end the regular season, this is a game the Friars need to get. As for Seton Hall Kevin Willard’s building with an eye towards next season (hence some of the disciplinary measures taken recently), and Friday’s task becomes more difficult with Fuquan Edwin having to sit due to a sprained thumb.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR: 

1) With Siena upsetting Quinnpiac on Thursday night, Rider needs a win over Canisius to keep pace in the race for the fifth seed in next weekend’s MAAC tournament. Teams seeded six through 11 would need to win four games in four days to earn the automatic bid.

2) Brown looks to move to 7-4 in Ivy League play with a win at Penn, and the game begins at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network. Brown’s Darien Nelson-Henry scored 20 points in the first meeting, a 62-55 Brown victory 13 days ago.

3) High Point, winners of five straight, can clinch the Big South North Division title with a win over Campbell. A loss would open the door for VMI to grab a share of the division crown.

4) Yale looks to remain a game behind Harvard in the Ivy League standings with a win at Princeton. Tyler Bray scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the first meeting, a 66-65 Bulldogs overtime win on February 15.

5) Washington’s one of four Pac-12 teams with 7-8 record entering the weekend, and a win over rival Washington State would help in regards to seeding for the conference tournament. The Cougars, 2-13 in Pac-12 play, beat the Huskies 72-67 on February 1.

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.

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.