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‘Cali-swag’ shaped Virginia’s season, but will it let them overcome doubters?

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NEW YORK — They won the ACC regular season title. They won the ACC tournament title. They got the No. 1 seed in the East Region.

And it doesn’t matter.

Everyone is still overlooking Virginia, even President Barack Obama, who, like the overwhelming majority of people living outside the Commonwealth of Virginia, picked the Spartans. And if you ask Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia’s leading scorer, that’s not only something that the team has embraced, it’s something that he actually enjoys. Bring on the critics and the doubters. The more the merrier.

“When people doubt us, it’s fuel to the fire,” he said. “We use it as motivation to keep pushing forward and doing good things.”

There are a couple of reasons why the team that beat out Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse for a dual-ACC title gets overlooked. Their performance during the non-conference portion of their schedule wasn’t exactly dominant, and while they ran through ACC play with just a pair of blemishes — their road trips to Durham and College Park — the Cavs also got lucky. They only played Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, N.C. State and Pitt once each, and the fact that all five of those teams bowed out during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament certainly hasn’t helped the league’s reputation as a powerhouse.

That’s not the way Brogdon sees it, however.

He believes that people are impressed with plays that make Sportscenter, the highlights. Virginia’s talented and they have much more athleticism than they’ll get credit for, but this isn’t a team that will ever be confused with the Showtime Lakers. They aren’t going to be throwing lobs in transition or finding themselves making the NBA-caliber moves in isolation. They’re a team built on offensive execution and staunch defense.

It’s not glitzy, but it sure is effective.

“We’re not a flashy team,” Brogdon said. “We’re not going for homerun plays. We’re very steady, very consistent in every play. We pride ourselves on defense, which is one big thing that people don’t admire about us. It’s not about putting points on the board it’s about stopping people.”

No one on the Virginia roster exemplifies that temperament more than freshman point guard London Perrantes, whose calm demeanor and laid-back style of play initially had teammates concerned about whether or not he would be able to find success at this level.

“I didn’t see it at all,” sophomore forward Justin Anderson said of Perrantes, a native Californian who didn’t get much high-major attention on the recruiting trail, when he first saw the freshman play over the summer. “The way he plays is so relaxed. He never gets sped up. In practice, he’s just chilling and running the play.”

Perrantes has started 32 games this season, and while his numbers are rather pedestrian — 5.4 points, 3.8 assists, 44.0% 3PT, 1.1 turnovers — it’s his demeanor at the point position that sets the tone for everything the ‘Hoos do. He’s the “Tony Bennett point guard”, as Anderson calls it. He doesn’t turn the ball over, he gets the team into their sets offensively and he’ll get into opposing ball-handlers as soon as they cross half court.

“I remember Akil telling him in the summer, ‘C’mon, you’ve gotta pick it up, give me something,'” Anderson said. “We used to tell him, ‘Get rid of the Cali-swag, talk, move faster,’ and he never did. He still has his same swag and I think it’s allowed him to be very successful.”

“No one tries to touch that Cali-swag anymore.”

Perrantes says that he didn’t expect to start as a freshman, but that his confidence has steadily grown as the season as progressed. “I’ve got almost a year underneath my belt right now,” he said, which is part of the reason that he hasn’t been blinded by the moment.

That shouldn’t change playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, but what could change is a nation’s perception of the Cavaliers. They’ll have a chance to knock off the nation’s trendy title pick, a team with a trip of potential first round picks and a head coach that is reportedly being courted by NBA teams.

Is that what it will take for Virginia to be considered a legitimate title threat?

“I think we will prove some people wrong, if and when we win tomorrow, but I think we have to keep winning,” Brogdon said with a smile.

“I think a national championship will get people to be quiet for sure.”

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.

ESPN.com was the first to report White’s commitment.

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.