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The SEC/Big 12 Challenge highlighted by two sensational matchups

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The SEC/Big 12 Challenge announced the schedule for its second season, and while the depth of games are weakened by the lack of intriguing teams in the SEC, it will be highlighted by a Friday night with what should end up being two best games of the season.

On December 5th, Florida will be heading to Lawrence to take on Kansas. The Jayhawks paid a visit to Gainesville last season and were smacked around by Florida for 35 minutes before Andrew Wiggins finally woke up and made the final score respectable. This season, despite Florida losing four senior starters to graduation and Kansas losing two players that could end up being top three picks, both the Gators and the Jayhawks are top 15 teams in the NBCSports.com preseason top 25.

Kansas reloads, as Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Devonte Graham will join Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis on a team that sits at No. 5 overall. While Florida also brings in a talented recruiting class and returns Michael Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith, the key to their team is going to be the development of former McDonald All-Americans Kasey Hill and Chris Walker. They are 15th in our top 25 right now, but that could end up being too low is everyone develops like they are expected to.

Florida at Kansas, as intriguing as it is, is only the undercard on Friday as Texas will pay a visit to Rupp Arena to take on the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country in Kentucky.

We all know how good the Wildcats are supposed to be this season. Not only do they once again bring in a promising recruiting class, but they returned six of the eight guys from last season that had a chance to get drafted this year. The presence of the Harrisons makes Kentucky the way-too-early title favorite, but it is their unbelievably big, talented and deep front line that will terrify opponents.

But here’s the thing: Texas will have one of the few front lines that will be able to matchup with the Wildcats. Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes and Prince Ibeh all return while they add Myles Turner, a top ten recruit in the Class of 2014. With the ability of Holmes to play on the perimeter, the Longhorns are one of the few teams that can match Kentucky’s biggest lineup inch-for-inch.

The rest of the schedule is not quite as intriguing. Iowa State, who is a top 25 team, will host Arkansas, who returned enough talent that they could end up being an NCAA tournament team. With the up-and-down style of both teams, that game will at least be a fun watch. LSU should be another tournament-caliber team in the SEC, but with West Virginia losing Eron Harris, the Mountaineers look to be headed back to the NIT.

Missouri-Oklahoma should probably be the fourth-best game of the event, depending on what kind of team first year coach Kim Anderson fields. That should tell you what we’re working with here.

The Big 12 won the challenge 7-3 last season.

Here is the complete schedule:

Wednesday, Dec. 3

  • Auburn at Texas Tech

Thursday, Dec. 4

  • Arkansas at Iowa State
  • Baylor at Vanderbilt
  • LSU at West Virginia
  • TCU at Ole Miss

Friday, Dec. 5

  • Florida at Kansas
  • Missouri at Oklahoma
  • Texas at Kentucky

Saturday, Dec. 6

  • Kansas State at Tennessee
  • Oklahoma State at South Carolina

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)
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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
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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.