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Weekend Preview: Can Virginia win the ACC outright?

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 4 Syracuse at No. 12 Virginia, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

All of a sudden, this looks like the biggest game in the ACC this season. Believe it or not, Virginia currently holds a one game lead over the Orange in the ACC standings, and a win would clinch the ‘Hoos the outright regular season title. But Virginia has not beaten one of the other top four teams in the conference since January 20th and they only play Duke, North Carolina and the Orange once each. It’s weird when you think about it, but there’s a possibility that the ACC champ could end up being the fourth-highest seed from the ACC once the bracket is announced.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 7 Louisville at No. 21 Memphis, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Louisville added a bit of credibility to their resume when they knocked off Cincinnati in Cincinnati last weekend. They’ll head to Memphis this weekend to try and exact revenge for a whipping that the Tigers put on the Cardinals at the Yum! Center earlier this season. Russ Smith vs. Joe Jackson will be a battle between two of the most under-appreciated guards in college basketball.

THE OTHER, OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 10 Saint Louis at VCU, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

This will be fun. VCU game the Billikens all that they could handle in Saint Louis two weeks ago, but Richmond is one of the tougher places to play in the country. The Rams have lost a couple games in recent weeks and really struggle to score the ball when they are forced into a half-court game — and that won’t likely change against a team as good defensively as Saint Louis is — but if VCU can force some turnovers and turn up the Havoc, they’ll have a chance.

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH:

  • No. 11 Cincinnati at UConn, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This will be one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend. Cincinnati is a big, physical team that loves to pound the offense glass. UConn? They don’t have much size up front and they rely heavily on Shabazz Napier to generate offense for them.
  • No. 9 Creighton at Xavier, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: Xavier needs wins to keep themselves on the right side of the bubble, but this will be a tough one to get. As good as Semaj Christon is, I just can’t see this group being able matchup with Creighton’s front court. Matt Stainbrook isn’t chasing Doug McDermott or Ethan Wragge around.
  • Minnesota at No. 16 Michigan, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: Michigan nearly lost to Purdue in West Lafayette on Wednesday night while Minnesota is coming off of a big win over Iowa at home. The Gophers are going to have to find a way to slow down Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert.
  • No. 5 Kansas at Oklahoma State, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: Three months ago, this looked like the best game of the season. There is still plenty of intrigue heading into the game, but Kansas has already clinched the conference and Oklahoma State is 6-9 in league play. That said, the Pokes really, really need a win.
  • Stanford at No. 3 Arizona, Sun. 8:00 p.m.: Stanford is in good enough position to earn themselves a tournament bid as of today, but if Arizona continues to play like they have the last two games, the Wildcats aren’t getting beaten by anyone.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?:

  • No. 15 Iowa State at Kansas State, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Kansas State is in a tough position right now given some of their struggles on the road. They’ve been terrific in the Octagon of Doom, however, and should give the Cyclones a fight.
  • No. 24 Texas at Oklahoma, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: The key to this game for Oklahoma will be taking advantage of the mismatches that will be created with their perimeter. Texas has a big, powerful front line but smaller, quicker guards. The Sooners basically play four guards, all of whom are bigger and more athletic that Texas’ perimeter.
  • No. 13 San Diego State at Fresno State, Sat. 10:05 p.m.: Fresno State is playing some good basketball of late. They can really score, and if the Bulldogs find a way to slow down Xavier Thames, they have the horses to pull off this upset.
  • No. 14 Wisconsin at Penn State, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: The Nittany Lions are a tough club that have pulled off a couple upsets this year. They have penetrating guards, which is something that has given Wisconsin issues.
  • No. 25 New Mexico at Nevada, Sun. 6:00 p.m.: New Mexico is playing as well as anyone in the country right now, but they will be paying a visit to a scrappy Nevada team that has one of the nation’s most underrated players in Deonte Burton.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1) No. 2 Wichita State’s bid for a perfect regular season will come to an end one way or another on Saturday. They host Missouri State in their last game before the MVC tournament begins.

2) There will be a pair of Atlantic 10 battles on the NBC Sports Network this weekend. George Mason will play at George Washington on Sunday 1:00 p.m. while Saint Joseph’s visits St. Bonaventure on Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

3) Illinois heads to East Lansing to take on No. 18 Michigan State in what will likely be Branden Dawson’s first game back from a broken hand.

4) Marquette desperately needs a marquee win to keep their bubble hopes alive. They’ll have a chance to land one at No. 8 Villanova on Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

5) This weekend’s Bubble Games:

  • UMass at Dayton, Sat. 11:00 a.m.
  • Vanderbilt at Tennessee, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • TCU at West Virginia, Sat, 1:30 p.m.
  • Texas Tech at Baylor, Sat. 1:30 p.m.
  • Mississippi State at Missouri, Sat. 1:30 p.m.
  • Pitt at Notre Dame, Sat. 2:00 p.m. ; Colorado at Utah, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Richmond at Rhode Island, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Georgia at Arkansas, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • BYU at San Diego, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Northwestern at Nebraska, Sat. 5:00 p.m.
  • Cal at Arizona State, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

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.

VIDEO: Jim Boeheim makes TV appearance to talk Carmelo Anthony

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Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has drawn attention for some recent comments about former Orange star Carmelo Anthony.

After Anthony captured his record third gold medal with USA Basketball, his former college coach told Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard that Anthony didn’t have a great chance at winning an NBA title.

“He’s unlikely to win an NBA title,” Boeheim said of Anthony. “He’s never been on a team that even had a remote chance of winning an NBA title.”

Boeheim maintains that he was speaking of Melo’s legacy being about more than an NBA title and that he’s one of the game’s greats thanks to other accomplishments like the Syracuse title and gold medals. On SportsCenter, Boeheim made sure to stress where those comments were coming from, while also making sure his kids would stop being mad at him.

It’s much easier to understand where Boeheim is coming from in this instance and it clears up something that will probably go away now.