Kentucky v Louisville

No. 8 seed Kentucky overcomes adversity to topple No. 4 seed Louisville

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INDIANAPOLIS — With Big Blue Nation and Louisville’s very red and very vocal fan base taking up much of Lucas Oil Stadium’s capacity crowd on Friday, both Commonwealth State teams received louder eruptions taking the floor for warm-ups than the entire exciting finale of the previous Michigan and Tennessee game.

The matchup of the last two national champions — that double as hated rivals — was a unique and memorable experience as No. 8 seed Kentucky won a heated back-and-forth contest with a 74-69 victory over No. 4 seed Louisville in a Midwest Regional Sweet 16 thriller.

Aaron Harrison’s go-ahead three-pointer with 38 seconds remaining gave Kentucky a 70-68 lead as it was the Wildcats’ first lead of the game since holding a 2-0 advantage the first minute of the game. Louisville junior wing Wayne Blackshear was fouled by Kentucky freshman forward Julius Randle with 14.2 seconds left and split the pair of free throws to cut it to 70-69.

Randle was fouled on the ensuing possession for Kentucky with 13 seconds left and made both free throws to give Kentucky a 72-69 advantage. Louisville senior guard Russ Smith missed the tying three-point attempt with five seconds left as Aaron Harrison rebounded the ball and sealed the game with two free throws.

Kentucky trailed for nearly the entire second half, but prevailed despite missing sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein for much of the game after the center sprained his ankle. Freshman wing James Young also fouled out with 5:32 remaining in the game and the Wildcats had to get contributions from its bench in order to get past the defending champion Cardinals.

Before the season, Kentucky was touted by some as having the best collection of talent that college basketball had ever seen. The Wildcats and their seven McDonald’s All-Americans stepped up that hype on Friday as Kentucky is one game away from playing in the Final Four.

Randle stepped up with his third straight double-double of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds and becoming only the third player in NCAA history to have three straight double-doubles in the tournament in his freshman year.

Playing for the injured Cauley-Stein, freshman center Dakari Johnson had 15 points and six rebounds and gave Kentucky a huge life on the interior.

Andrew Harrison played a tremendous overall floor game with 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds while his twin brother Aaron hit the clutch shot and also had 15 points.

In a game where Kentucky needed its young and talented team to overcome adversity, the Wildcats passed another big test with flying colors. Suddenly, Kentucky is incredibly dangerous heading into Sunday’s Elite 8 contest against Michigan.

Russ Smith led Louisville with 23 points on the night while senior Luke Hancock added 19 points. Sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell fouled out with 15 points an eight rebounds.

Kentucky defeated Louisville, 73-66, in the matchup of the two teams earlier in the season on December 28th in Lexington.

No. 8 seed Kentucky moves on to face No. 2 seed Michigan in the Elite 8 at 5:05 p.m. on Sunday night for the right to represent the Midwest Regional in the Final Four.

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.