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The Secondary Break: Monday’s Links

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UConn spurred into title game by Daniels, doubt (NBC Sports)
While both finalists can point to outsiders doubting their chances of reaching Monday’s title game, only one can do so after losing its regular season finale by 33 points. That’s No. 7 UConn, and the Huskies are rolling thanks in part to the improved play of DeAndre Daniels. With Daniels playing his best basketball of the season, Kevin Ollie’s program is hoping to win a fourth national title.

Calipari limping into Final Four (Louisville Courier-Journal)
Kentucky head coach John Calipari has been running his program at less than full strength for much of this season, thanks to a bad hip that will likely need to be replaced after the season ends. The hope now is to take a second national title into the offseason, as he works to get back into good physical condition.

Polarizing Wildcats find their way together (New York Times)
A key aspect of Kentucky’s late-season turnaround has been the improved play of twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison. Aaron’s received the majority of the praise given his making of big shots in wins over Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin, but Andrew’s improvement at the point has helped as well.

Title run giving paralyzed Kentucky fan feelings of happiness (CBS Sports)
There’s no doubt that sports can serve as a source of inspiration, with a person’s favorite player or team providing an example of what can happen with hard work and a little bit of luck. That’s been the case for Kentucky fan Dick Gregory, who has been a longtime supporter of the Wildcats. Gregory’s been paralyzed since falling at Rupp Arena on November 1, and head coach John Calipari and his players have taken time to lift his spirits throughout the season.

After weeks of ridicule, Kentucky’s “ink prophet” is now one win from vindication (Yahoo Sports)
When it was learned that 22-year old Tyler Austin Black had essentially guaranteed that Kentucky would win a ninth national title by getting a tattoo stating that on March 13, he became the butt of many jokes nationally. The Wildcats looked nothing like a title contender at the time, so the artwork represented wasted money in the eyes of many. However Black may have been onto something, and should the Wildcats complete their run Monday night he’ll have the last laugh.

Even as a kid at the Roxbury Y, Shabazz was something special (Hartford Courant)
UConn senior guard Shabazz Napier’s path to prominence has been well-documented, with his going from the Roxbury, Mass. to within a win of his second national title. And according to those who knew him when he was growing up, the point guard has always been something special.

UConn men’s bond extends well beyond court (Connecticut Post)
Given the struggles they endured at certain points in the season, neither UConn nor Kentucky would be in Monday’s title game if they did not remain close. For UConn, that means seven players living in the same apartment complex and the freshmen making a seamless transition into the program. And the relationships have made this season a special one for Kevin Ollie’s Huskies.

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)
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
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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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.