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Is it time to hit the panic button for Syracuse?

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Syracuse lost its second consecutive ACC game on Tuesday night as the Orange fell at home to Georgia Tech, 67-62, in a shocking home loss on Senior Night.

The Orange have now lost four of their last five games. The last two losses in particular, Syracuse was clearly outplayed by Virginia and Georgia Tech and the main problem lies with Syracuse’s lack of depth and lack of scoring balance.

Since the Orange lost DaJuan Coleman for the season, and with Jerami Grant battling a back injury, Syracuse is only playing seven players on a consistent basis and the drop-off between Grant and Michael Gbinije and Tyler Roberson — Grant’s backups — is significant on both ends of the floor.

Without Grant’s length, athleticism and ability to make plays above the rim, Syracuse is struggling on both ends of the floor. Gbinije isn’t nearly as active — or long and athletic — in the 2-3 zone and he isn’t nearly as good of an offensive player as Grant.

Georgia Tech was able to work the ball inside on numerous occasions against the Syracuse 2-3 zone and the Yellow Jackets used a high-low passing game that wouldn’t be nearly as easy with Grant’s length in the lineup.

Gbinije is shooting a woeful 36 percent from the field on the season and he doesn’t provide energy around the rim like Grant does. Roberson is a true freshman that has only appeared in 18 games this season and is shooting 30 percent from the field. If Syracuse opts to go bigger and put Baye-Moussa Keita in along with Rakeem Christmas, their offense still struggles because Keita isn’t much of a threat besides bunnies at the rim and putbacks.

This puts an enormous amount of pressure on Syracuse’s main three shooting options: C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney.

If just one of those guys has an off-night then Syracuse usually struggles to crack 60 points. Fair and Ennis have delivered on the offensive end fairly consistently this season, but Cooney has been all over the map in ACC play.

Cooney has the ability to stretch the floor and carry Syracuse to victory like the 9-for-12 performance from the three-point line he had against Notre Dame, but he’s also susceptible to 2-for-12 games like he’s had against Miami and North Carolina.

Over the last five games, Cooney is 7-for-37 from the three-point line as he’s logged 35.6 minutes per game.

It could just be that all three of Syracuse’s primary options are wearing down by playing so many minutes. Fair averages 37.7 minutes a game, Ennis 35.1 and Cooney 32.4.

Syracuse just doesn’t have the same pep in its step as it did to start the season and they aren’t as crisp on rotations or movements away from the ball these last few games. The Orange look tired and the scoring burden placed on Fair, Ennis and Cooney without Grant in the lineup seems to be taking a toll on them.

If Syracuse is to contend for a title, they need Grant to get healthy or they need a fourth scorer to step up and take the pressure off of Fair, Ennis and Cooney. Since back injuries can be a fickle thing to deal with, the Orange had better hope that a fourth player steps up quickly or the Orange could be in serious trouble.

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.