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Sweet 16 Preview: No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan state

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On Wednesday and Thursday, we will be breaking down all eight of the Sweet 16 matchups. Here is our look at No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State:

RELATED: Sweet 16 Power Rankings | Top 16 Players | Eight Critical Individual Matchups

WHEN: Friday, 9:57 p.m.

WHERE: Madison Square Garden, New York (East Region)

MAJOR STORY LINES: On Monday, the two story lines that really mattered here were that Michigan State was looking to get back to the Final Four for the first time in since Keith Appling and Adreian Payne enrolled while Virginia was looking to prove themselves after a season of being overlooked and, if you ask them, disrespected. But that all changed when the rumors of Tom Izzo to the Detroit Pistons popped up.

KEY STATS: Michigan State has a reputation for being a grind-it-out, physical team built for wrestling matches that feature jump shots. But Tom Izzo’s teams run the floor as much as any other team in the country, with 21.9% of their possessions coming in transition. That’s a very high number, but the Spartans won’t get many chances against the ‘Hoos, as Tony Bennett’s teams limit transition opportunities as much as possible, often times sending just one or two guys to the offensive glass. To get an idea of what this matters, Virginia, who is fifth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom, is in the 90th percentile in half court defense, according to Synergy, and just the 77th percentile in transition defense.

In other words, scoring against their set defense is hard to do, so the Spartans will be looking to run more than ever. If they can, they’ll have a very good chance to win.

SWEET 16 PREVIEWS: Stanford-Dayton Wisconsin-Baylor | Florida-UCLA | Arizona-SDSU

Iowa State-UConnMichigan-TennesseeVirginia-Michigan State | Louisville-Kentucky

KEY PLAYERS: He’s not the most consistent player on the Michigan State roster, but there may not be a more dominant player in the entire tournament than Adreian Payne when he gets it rolling. He’s a freak athlete at 6-foot-11 with three-point range, the ability to get to the rim off the dribble and an array of post moves. We all saw what he did to Delaware in the opening round — 41 points, 10-for-15 shooting, 4-for-5 from three. Akil Mitchell, Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey will be charged with keeping him in check. Good luck.

POINT SPREAD: Michigan State (-2)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. Keith Appling’s wrist: Appling just hasn’t seemed healthy since around mid-February, when he reportedly suffered a setback to a wrist that he injured back in December. It’s hampered his ability to shoot, as he’s 9-for-21 from the line and 2-for-13 from three since returning, and it’s taken away his aggressiveness offensively. Playing against a team as good as Virginia is on that end of the floor, an ineffective Appling could be a killer.

2. Three-point shooting: Another example of how reputations can be misleading, this Michigan State team is top 15 nationally in three-point percentage, taking more than 35% of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. Virginia plays a packline defense and are fairly adept at getting out to shooters.

3. Malcolm Brogdon: Joe Harris was the guy everyone talked about entering the season. London Perrantes has been the guy everyone’s talked about since the season began. But Brogdon has been the best player on Virginia this year, and one of the best players in the ACC. I would expect Gary Harris to draw the assignment, as he is one of the best defenders left in the tournament. That will be fun to watch.

CBT PREDICTION: Michigan State

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.