cardinals

No. 4 Louisville advances but will need more from Russ Smith next week

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With Midwest Region No. 4 seed Louisville and No. 5 seed Saint Louis being two of the best defensive teams in the NCAA tournament field, it was somewhat predictable that both teams would have a tough time scoring. That turned out to be the case for much of the afternoon, but a 15-4 second half Louisville run gave the defending national champions the separation they needed to beat the Billikens by the final score of 66-51.

Louisville finished the game shooting 44.6% from the field, with senior guard Luke Hancock’s 21 points leading four Cardinals in double figures. Hancock hit two of his four three-pointers during the decisive run, with Chris Jones (11 points) and Montrezl Harrell (ten points, 11 rebounds) also factoring into the equation.

Rick Pitino’s will make its third consecutive Sweet 16 as a result, with this being the second time in the Hall of Fame coaches’ storied career that he’s accomplished that feat (1995-97 at Kentucky). And a stat that should make Louisville fans feel even better with an eye towards next week in Indianapolis: Pitino has a record of 11-0 in Sweet 16 games.

But if the Cardinals are to make a run at another national title they’ll need more from senior guard Russ Smith, who struggled this weekend in Orlando.

Smith, averaging 18.3 points and 4.6 assists per game entering Saturday, scored 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting against Saint Louis’ tough man-to-man defense. Add in his showing against Manhattan and the All-American shot 6-for-19 from the field, a far cry from the 47.2% he’s shooting this season.

How much is the sore left thumb bothering Smith? The tape job proved to be a nuisance early, with Smith removing it during the first half of Saturday’s game. These next few days will give Smith some valuable time to recuperate, and whether the opponent is No. 1 Wichita State or No. 8 Kentucky the Cardinals will need their star guard to be at his best. And looking back on Smith’s games against Manhattan and Saint Louis, the shooting numbers aren’t the ones that would be a cause for concern looking forward.

In those two games Smith accounted for ten assists and 13 turnovers, breaking even of his assist-to-turnover ratio against the Billikens (seven assists, seven turnovers). Smith’s assist-to-turnover ratio this season: 1.7. Granted he went up against two good defensive teams, but that’s going to be the case throughout the remainder of the tournament.

Louisville took care of Saint Louis thanks to their defense, limiting SLU to 39.6% shooting and forcing 18 turnovers, with their offensive balance coming through in the second half. The goal this time of year is a simple one: survive and advance, and they managed to do so with Smith not playing his best basketball.

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.

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.