Geno Auriemma

Undefeated UConn and Notre Dame highlight 2014 women’s NCAA Tournament

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The Bracket

While we’ve debated about the men’s edition of the NCAA Tournament for a little over 24 hours now, on Monday, attention turned to the women’s NCAA Tournament as defending champion UConn, Notre Dame, Tennessee and South Carolina were all given No. 1 seeds in this year’s event.

The women’s NCAA Tournament tips off March 22nd and 23rd with first-round action and finishes up with the Final Four in Nashville on April 6th, with the championship game occurring on April 8th.

Much has been made of Wichita State entering the men’s NCAA Tournament as the first unbeaten team since UNLV in 1991, but in the women’s tournament AAC champion UConn (34-0) and ACC champion Notre Dame (32-0) both enter the field unblemished on the season.

Entering the tournament unbeaten is more common in the women’s game — with Baylor last doing it in 2011-12 on its way to a 40-0 season and national championship — but it is only the second time that two teams have entered the women’s tournament undefeated.

The last time it happened was 1998 when Tennessee claimed the national title as the Lady Vols defeated the other unbeaten team, No. 16 seed Liberty, in the first round.

Speaking of the Lady Vols (27-5), they claimed a No. 1 seed after winning the SEC Tournament title and they’re joined as a one-seed by SEC regular-season champion South Carolina (27-4).

Many expected South Carolina to potentially fall from a No. 1 seed after the Gamecocks dropped two of their last three games, but No. 2 seed Stanford (29-3) fell in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals to USC, which helped South Carolina maintain its spot.

Other No. 2 seeds joining the Cardinal include Duke (27-6), West Virginia (29-4) and Baylor (29-4). Defending national runner-up Louisville (30-4) headlines the No. 3 seeds that also includes Texas A&M (24-8), Kentucky (24-8) and Penn State (22-7).

Among the interesting story lines surrounding the 2014 Women’s NCAA Tournament includes the return of schools hosting regional finals on their home floors. After nearly a decade at neutral sites for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, this season’s regionals will be played on campus at Nebraska, Louisville, Notre Dame and Stanford.

First and second-round games are commonly played on campus sites and this trend continues in 2014 as well.

The regionals returning to campus sites gives unbeaten No. 1 seed Notre Dame a homecourt advantage in regional play and it means No. 1 seed UConn could have what amounts to a road game in Lincoln at No. 4 seed Nebraska in the Sweet 16. No. 3 seed Louisville also could get a homecourt advantage over No. 1 seed Tennessee in the Elite 8 while the same thing could happen with No. 2 seed Stanford getting a home game against No. 1 seed South Carolina.

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.