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Pregame Shootaround: March begins with a huge ACC tilt

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 4 Syracuse at No. 12 Virginia, (4:00 p.m., ESPN):

CBT’s own Rob Dauster broke down this weekend’s top matchups in our weekend preview:

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 DAY: No. 7 Louisville at No. 21 Memphis, (2:00 p.m., CBS):

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.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 15 Iowa State at Kansas State, (7:00 p.m., ESPNU)

Kansas State could use another top-25 win and they’re terrific in the Octagon of Doom, where they will host No. 15 Iowa State. The Cyclones picked up an 81-75 home win over the Wildcats in late January but are 2-4 on the road in Big 12 play this season and those wins came over a reeling Oklahoma State team in three overtimes and TCU. Can Kansas State stop alternating wins and losses after the big home win over Kansas and build some momentum going into the Big 12 Tournament?

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Western Michigan at Toledo (6 p.m., ESPN3)

The top two teams in the MAC’s West Division face-off in a big contest when division-leading Western Michigan (19-8, 12-3) visits Toledo (23-5, 11-4). Toledo looked like one of the mid-major teams you wouldn’t want to potentially face in the NCAA Tournament until recent road losses to Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois while Western Michigan has won eight consecutive games and will look to sweep the season series against Toledo after beating them at home on January 8th.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) Cincinnati at UConn will be one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend. The No. 11 Bearcats are 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.

2) Can No. 2 Wichita State finish the regular season undefeated? The 30-0 Shockers will attempt to be the first team to finish the regular season undefeated since Saint Joseph’s in 2003-04. There also hasn’t been an 18-0 team in the Missouri Valley Conference since Oklahoma in 1927-28.

3) Still a lot of intrigue when No. 5 Kansas travels to Oklahoma State. Three months ago, this looked like the best game of the season but Kansas has already clinched the conference and Oklahoma State is 6-9 in league play. The Cowboys really, really need a win.

4) Xavier needs wins to keep themselves on the right side of the bubble, and a home win against No. 9 Creighton will be a tough one to get. As good as Semaj Christon is, can this group matchup with Creighton’s front court? Matt Stainbrook isn’t chasing Doug McDermott or Ethan Wragge around.

5) No. 11 Cincinnati at UConn 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.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • LSU at No. 1 Florida, 4:00 p.m., CBS
  • No. 10 Saint Louis at VCU, 6:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • No. 13 San Diego State at Fresno State, 10:05 p.m., CBSSN
  • Minnesota at No. 16 Michigan, 6:00 p.m., BTN
  • No. 17 Kentucky at South Carolina, 6:00 p.m., ESPN
  • Illinois at No. 18 Michigan State, 4:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • No. 19 North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 2:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • UCF at No. 23 SMU, 4:00 p.m., ESPNN
  • No. 24 Texas at Oklahoma, 4:00 p.m., ESPN3

NOTABLES:

  • UMass at Dayton, Sat. 11:00 a.m., ESPNU
  • Vanderbilt at Tennessee, Sat. 12:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • TCU at West Virginia, Sat, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • Texas Tech at Baylor, Sat. 1:30 p.m., ROOT
  • Mississippi State at Missouri, Sat. 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • Pitt at Notre Dame, Sat. 2:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Colorado at Utah, Sat. 2:00 p.m., PAC12
  • Richmond at Rhode Island, Sat. 2:00 p.m.,
  • Georgia at Arkansas, Sat. 4:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • BYU at San Diego, Sat. 4:00 p.m., ROOT
  • Northwestern at Nebraska, Sat. 5:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • Cal at Arizona State, Sat. 6:00 p.m., PAC12
  • Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s, Sat. 10:00 p.m., ESPN2

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.