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Defense and toughness lifts Stanford to unlikely Sweet 16 status

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ST. LOUIS — As Chasson Randle sat at the podium following the Cardinal upset victory over No. 2 seed Kansas on Sunday afternoon, the junior guard, and Stanford’s leading scorer, was asked if he felt motivated by Jayhawk freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden not knowing who he was after the duo was asked about him at Saturday’s pre-game press conference and didn’t know how to respond.

“We definitely saw that video. (Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins) told me not to talk about it,” Randle said as he and his head coach shared a laugh. “But, you know, I definitely took it as a challenge. So did my teammates. It wasn’t just a stab at me, it was a stab at our team. And we took it as a challenge. And it was a little bit extra motivation for today’s game.”

Dawkins and Randle have plenty of reason to smile after Stanford’s win over Kansas on Sunday. Despite shooting 0-for-9 from the three-point line and turning the ball over 16 times against Kansas, Stanford is on its way to an unlikely Sweet 16 appearance against No. 11 seed Dayton in Memphis on Thursday because of the toughness and determination they showed against Kansas on the defensive end of the floor.

MOREKansas loses to No. 10 Stanford | Bill Self’s fifth tourney loss to No. 9 seed or lower

“We beat a very good Kansas team. I could not be any more proud of my guys and how they played for 40 minutes tonight,” Dawkins said. “I thought the energy, the effort, especially on the defensive end, is probably as good as I have seen it all season long. I was really proud of the way our guys stepped up when they made runs and was able to sustain some momentum at the end.”

The Stanford defense was a major reason why the Cardinal are moving on and why they’re a major contender to make the Elite 8. The length of Stanford’s defense gave Kansas issues for the entire game and senior forward Josh Huestis relentlessly shadowed Kansas star freshman forward Andrew Wiggins when Stanford didn’t switch into a 2-3 or, briefly, a 1-3-1 zone. Wiggins finished with four points on 1-for-6 shooting and was limited to single digits in points for only the fifth time this season.

“We wanted to make it difficult for (Wiggins) to do anything. And him being young, we wanted to see if he would work for it after he got a little frustrated and as you saw, he started to defer,” Huestis said. “He only took six shots and scored four points so the coaches gave us a great game plan. He stopped moving as much, he wasn’t looking for his shot nearly as much and wasn’t trying to rebound as much. So we did a great job.”

Kansas head coach Bill Self also acknowledged that Stanford’s overall length presented a major problem for the Jayhawk offense as Kansas was limited to 32 percent shooting (19-for-58) for the game.

“They played better, made more plays, made the most of their inside touches and we struggled scoring over their length,” Self said.

“We definitely spent a lot of time talking about — and preparing for — their bigs,” senior center Dwight Powell said. “And the way they like to attack the rim. Very athletic team. So I guess it was definitely one of our focuses to just be physical and have guys in the lane and be ready to help because they were quick on drives. And make sure we made the proper rotations.”

Powell was also big on the offensive end for Stanford as he went for a team-high 15 points. With the senior center playing well, the Cardinal are a different ballclub and Powell bounced back from an 0-for-8 shooting night against New Mexico in the Round of 64 as he fouled out with only three points and four rebounds.

“Dwight has had an amazing career here for us. He has been one of our leaders. He was one of my first elite recruits. And he’s responded,” Dawkins said. “And so when he had a tough time, you know, I know he is mature enough to bounce back. I know no one was feeling any worse about his performance the other night than Dwight. So what I wanted to tell Dwight is make sure he concentrates on the things he does very well every night and the rest will just happen. And I thought he did that tonight.”

Not many probably expected Stanford to go through St. Louis unbeaten, but for an experienced team like the Cardinal, it’s something they’ve worked towards all season.

“I think every season, something we talk about (is) every season is like a lifetime. Obviously you will have your ups and downs throughout different games and throughout different stretches of games,” Powell said. “But from day one — before we even started preseason — we always had a goal to make the tournament and to make a run. And we never lost sight of that and never lost hope, and we never stopped fighting for that every single game regardless of how things were going.”

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)
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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)
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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.