oklahoma state marcus smart

Oklahoma State continues to improve with win over Kansas State

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In mid-February, Oklahoma State looked like they were in deep trouble, as the Cowboys had lost seven consecutive games and were reeling after Marcus Smart’s suspension.

But since Smart’s return, Oklahoma State — and Smart himself — have looked like its a completely new season and the recent inspired play of the Cowboys continued on Monday night as Oklahoma State took down Kansas State for a 77-61, Big 12 win on Senior Night. Oklahoma State has now won four consecutive games to move to 20-10 on the season and 8-9 in Big 12 play.

The Cowboys did a tremendous job of sharing the ball on offense, moving the ball with consistency and taking good shots on Monday as they clearly outplayed Kansas State in the second half. Phil Forte led the Pokes in scoring at 23 points — including 6-for-11 from the three-point line — but Marcus Smart was a huge reason for Oklahoma State’s Monday-night success.

The sophomore guard had 18 points (on 5-for-8 shooting from the field), five assists, six rebounds and three steals on Monday while also helping hold Kansas State freshman Marcus Foster to 4-for-16 shooting.

Smart’s play on both ends of the floor was fantastic and it always appeared like he was in total control of his play. There were no reckless drives to the basket hoping to draw contact and there weren’t many forced looks. When Smart had a smaller defender guarding him, he tried to attack him off-the-dribble or go to the mid-post. This was the patient, high-basketball-IQ Marcus Smart we saw at the beginning of the season and not the Marcus Smart that was forcing things during the losing streak.

While Smart played well, Markel Brown also had a really good outing against Kansas State. During Smart’s suspension, Brown became one of Oklahoma State’s primary handlers and facilitators after the dismissal of Stevie Clark and with Smart and Brown both taking intelligent shots and finding open shooters like Forte or getting the ball inside to LeBryan Nash, suddenly this Oklahoma State team is really dangerous once again on the offensive end.

On the defensive side of things, with Smart locking down Foster, the rest of the Cowboys stayed aggressive as they limited the Wildcats to 34 percent shooting and 20 percent three-point shooting.

When Oklahoma State shoots 47 percent from the field, 41 percent from three-point range and makes 28-of-34 free throws — as they did Monday — there aren’t many teams in the country that can beat them.

If Marcus Smart continues to play like this and doesn’t try to force things, it rubs off on his teammates as this team’s leader and best player. Is Oklahoma State back to being a major threat in March? That still remains to be seen, and questions will still linger about the Cowboys’ depth, but Travis Ford has to be thrilled with the way his team is playing lately and Oklahoma State is playing great ball heading into Saturday’s Big 12 finale at Iowa State.

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)
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.