Julius Randle

No. 8 Kentucky knocks off No. 9 Kansas State, advances to face No. 1 Wichita State

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Jullius Randle went into full-blown beast mode, finishing with 19 points and 15 boards as No. 8 Kentucky knocked off No. 9 Kansas State 56-49 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

Aaron Harrison chipped in with 18 points for UK. Randle and Harrison combined to shoot 13-for-22 from the floor. The rest of the Kentucky roster went just 6-for-28, but it didn’t matter. Kansas State’s offense was inept against a suddenly stingy Kentucky team that gave up just 0.831 PPP to the Wildcats.

For those that aren’t well versed in tempo-free stats, that’s really, really good and ranks among the best defensive performances this season for Kentucky.

And what it does is vault the Wildcats into what may be the most intriguing Round of 32 matchup in the history of college basketball.

I’m not exaggerating, either.

No. 1 Wichita State vs. No. 8 Kentucky on Sunday afternoon will be the most hyped up game of the weekend, and it’s not hard to figure out why.

Kentucky entered the season projected as the No. 1 team in the country, as they were blessed with a roster that includes more potential lottery picks than Wichita State has had in program history. There was so much hype surrounding what many considered to be the great recruiting class of all-time that Kentucky that there were actual, intelligent people that thought the Wildcats had a chance to go 40-0 this season.

That dream died on the fifth day of the regular season, but it is still intact for Wichita State, who has now won their first 35 games of the season. The Shockers don’t have any blue-chippers. Cleanthony Early was a sought after Junior College recruit and Fred Van Vleet was on a couple of top 100 lists as a senior, but overall, Wichita State is made up of a group of blue-collar, overlooked guys that have a chip the size of Koch Arena on their shoulder.

In other words, their roster makeup and the base they recruit from couldn’t be more different than Kentucky’s.

And yet here they are, squaring off in a Round of 32 game. How hard would you have laughed if I told you back in November that a game between Wichita State and Kentucky featured the Shockers, and not the Wildcats, as the No. 1 seed?

That’s not even the most intriguing story line here, either, as both teams — and coaches — will be under an enormous amount of pressure.

If Coach Cal, for a second straight season, fails to get this Kentucky team to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, the pressure-cooker that is Lexington, Kentucky, is only going to get more intense. Saying that Calipari is on the hot seat would be incorrect, but his job certainly would not be as easy or as safe as it was two seasons ago.

And he’s got it easy.

Gregg Marshall’s team is in a position where a loss to the preseason No. 1 team in the country would essentially nullify everything that they were able to accomplish this season. Kentucky is the best team that the Shockers will have faced this season. Losing to them would only further the narrative that Wichita State’s record is a result of who, not how, they played.

Should I mention that the game is going to be played is a raucous, sold out Scottrade Center in Saint Louis?

This is going to be fun.

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.