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Eight players you want with the ball in crunch time

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At this point in the season, one play in a close game will be the difference between survival and heading home. That makes the decision of who gets the basketball late in games all the more important, with those players needing to have the ability to properly dissect a defense in order to make the game-winning play.

Here are the eight players in the NCAA tournament field you want to have the ball in their hands when the game’s on the line:

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1) Doug McDermott (Creighton): Averaging 26.5 points per game, McDermott’s shooting 52.5% from the field, 45.4% from three and 86.6% from the foul line. Regardless of what look a defense gives McDermott, he shoots well enough to knock down the big shot from anywhere on the floor.

2) Jabari Parker (Duke): Averaging 19.3 points per game, Parker’s shooting nearly 48% from the field for the season. He’s a very difficult matchup for teams when committed to driving to the basket, can finish through contact and knock down perimeter shots as well. If Duke needs a big play, look for Parker to have the basketball.

3) Shabazz Napier (UConn): Are there times where Napier takes shots that boggle the mind? Yes. But are there also moments where he can step forward and make the big play? Yes. Measuring Napier’s ability when the game’s on the line isn’t solely about looking at his percentages (42.3% FG, 39.0% 3PT). He’s definitely capable of making game-winning plays.

4) Nik Stauskas (Michigan): There aren’t many perimeter shooters better than Stauskas, who’s shooting 47.6% from the field and 44.9% from beyond the arc. And his improved ability to beat teams off the dribble has made Stauskas a tougher cover in his sophomore season. He’s definitely a player to trust in the final minutes of a tight game.

MORE8 teams that can win it all  |  TV times  |  Bracket contest

5) DeAndre Kane (Iowa State): The foul shooting (65%) leaves something to be desired, but Kane’s shooting 49.1% from the field and 39.8% from beyond the arc on the season. But Kane’s ability to not only get a shot for himself but also for his teammates (Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang chief among them) will prove valuable in close games.

6) Xavier Thames (San Diego State): When Thames struggles so do the Aztecs. But more times than not the Mountain West Player of the Year has been there to lead the way. With his ability to get into the lane Thames (he’s also a 38.7% shooter from deep) is a tough matchup for many opponents, and he’s also shooting 82.7% from the foul line.

7) T.J. Warren (N.C. State): Warren won ACC Player of the Year largely because of his ability to score despite not having a clear secondary scoring option. The sophomore isn’t a great three-point shooter but it’s all about the mid-range game and the ability to get to the rim, as Warren’s shooting 52.5% from the field.

8) Marcus Paige (North Carolina): “Second-half Marcus” has been excellent for the Tar Heels this season, averaging 17.4 points per game on a team that struggled with perimeter scoring before he took over as the team’s primary option. And in ACC play Paige averaged more than ten points per contest in the second half.

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.