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2014 Southern Conference Tournament Preview: One last hurrah for Davidson?

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During the preseason the expectation of many was that the Southern Conference race would provide suspense throughout the season, with at least five teams having realistic hopes of winning the regular season title. Ultimately this would not be the case, with perennial juggernaut Davidson winning the league title by three games. However the Wildcats, who will move to the Atlantic 10 in July, won’t lack for challengers in Asheville. Chattanooga won 12 league games in Will Wade’s first season, and three other teams won at least 10 conference games.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 7-10

Where: U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, N.C.

Final: Monday, March 10 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Davidson

Bob McKillop’s Wildcats lost just one conference game: an 87-85 overtime decision to Elon back on January 16. De’Mon Brooks, the coaches’ choice for SoCon POY, and company were dominant in conference play as they led the SoCon in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, field goal percentage defense and both offensive and defensive efficiency (conference games only). And from a rebounding standpoint the Wildcats led the conference in defensive rebounding percentage; very rarely will this group beat itself. The starting five is experienced, and with four players (including Brooks) scoring in double figures Davidson is a difficult team to defend.

And if they lose?: Wofford

After losing three of their first five conference games (two of the losses came against Chattanooga) the Terriers have gone 9-2, and in conference play they’re second in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Guard Karl Cochran (15.2 ppg, 3.1 apg) and forward Lee Skinner (11.1, 8.6 rpg) have led the way offensively for a group that plays slower than any team in the SoCon.

Sleepers:

  • Chattanooga: Will Wade’s Mocs won their first eight conference games, and in forward Z Mason they’ve got one of the SoCon’s best players.
  • Western Carolina: The Catamounts are led by guard Trey Sumler, but they’ll need to defend better than they did in losses to Chattanooga (83 points allowed) and Samford (93) last week.
  • Elon: The Phoenix were the preseason pick of some to win the SoCon, and with five seniors they certainly don’t lack for experience.

Studs:

  • DeMon Brooks, Davidson: SoCon POY, Brooks averages 18.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game on the league’s best team.
  • Z Mason, Chattanooga: In addition to averaging 18.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game Mason also swatted three shots per contest, winning SoCon Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Trey Sumler, Western Carolina: Sumler’s averaging 17.9 points and 4.4 assists per game for the Catamounts, leading the conference in the latter statistic.
  • Jelani Hewitt, Georgia Southern: Hewitt led the SoCon in scoring with an average of 20.0 points per game, and his first round matchup with Furman’s Stephen Croone (19.3 ppg) won’t lack for entertainment.

CBT Prediction: Davidson beats Wofford in the title game.

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)
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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)
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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.

ESPN.com was the first to report White’s commitment.

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.