Four college hoops programs on the wane

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Few things in college hoops are more painful than the slow decline into mediocrity. Even worse is being unable to bust out of it.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

If Connecticut and Oklahoma aren’t careful, they’ll join George Washington and Southern Illinois in that territory. Call ’em the four programs on the wane.

First, the two stragglers.

George Washington won 77 games and reached three straight NCAA tournaments over a three-year span. Karl Hobbs’ team has been unable to recapture that form, finishing in the bottom half of the A-10 each of the last three years, mostly because of a middling defense and improved conference competition. (GW’s best years came when the league trailed the MAC, WAC and West Coast in overall strength. That’s not the case today.)

It’s not getting better anytime soon. Hobbs’ 2010-11 roster returns four starters from a 16-15 squad, but nothing to match the A-10’s top teams in terms of talent. If Dayton and Rhode Island can’t break into the Top 4, GW isn’t doing so anytime soon.

Southern Illinois has gone through a similar decline. The Salukis won at least 22 games between 2004 and 2007, capping the four-year run with a 29-7 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. Three seasons later, they finished ninth in the Missouri Valley.

Again, blame the defense. Chris Lowery’s defenses once were among the nation’s stingiest. Even an 18-15 record in 2007-08 belied the ‘D’ that forced turnovers and kept opponents off the boards. They’re now merely average. The overall record could improve because of three juco transfers, but until Lowry recruits better, the Salukis will keep dragging the bottom half of the MVC.

Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel made his name through his high-profile recruits like Blake Griffin, Willie Warren and Keith Gallon. Unfortunately for Capel, Griffin was the only game-changer of the bunch and when he left, the Sooners stunk it up. Warren, Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin all went pro.

Now Capel’s left with decent, not great talent. And that’s an issue when you’re a good recruiter and a so-so coach. The Sooners’ defense plummeted last season, as Oklahoma failed to challenge shots, force turnovers or block shots. Most of that lies with Capel’s failure to either motivate his guys or teach them.

Part of the problem is that Capel, 35, is still learning how to coach. His team’s performance last season was a reflection of his abilities. But there aren’t any fabulous talents headed to Norman soon. That means Capel either becomes a much better coach quickly, or the Sooners are going to be stuck in the bottom of what’s about to be a much tougher Big 12.

Then there’s UConn.

UConn’s coming off an 18-16 season and is unlikely to improve on that after losing three starters and a key talent (Ater Majok). It’s not the Huskies are going to start dragging the bottom of the Big East. It’s that they don’t have any room for error.

Consider these factors:

  • Jim Calhoun’s age
  • NCAA sanctions
  • The brutal Big East

Calhoun’s 68 and has had a bevy of health problems through the years. It’s a testament to his reputation and the Huskies’ program that four-star recruits still head to Storrs. How long it continues with his age and the NCAA penalties (more looming?) remains to be seen.

The Big East is no place for teams trying to tread water, either. Other programs – St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence – have been stuck in the league’s bottom half for years, while consistent teams like Marquette and Notre Dame can’t seem to break through.

If the Huskies aren’t winning, they’re losing ground. Such is life in the Big East.


Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

Villanova’s Jenkins to return for senior season

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) reacts to play against North Carolina during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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After briefly taking part in the NBA Draft evaluation process, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins announced Monday night that he’s decided to withdraw and return to school for his senior year. Jenkins, whose three-pointer as time expired gave the Wildcats the win over North Carolina in the national title game, announced the news via Twitter.

2015-16 was a breakout season for Jenkins, who moved into the starting lineup and averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. The 6-foot-6 forward shot 45.9 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc, and with starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu graduating he’ll have even more opportunities to produce next season.

Jenkins’ decision to return leaves wing Josh Hart as the lone Wildcats going through the early entry process at this time. Hart was a first team All-Big East selection as a junior, and his return would be the final piece to the puzzle for a team that many expect to be a national title contender in 2016-17.

Jenkins and Hart wouldn’t be the only returnees who had a part in the national title run, with guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth, wing Mikal Bridges and forward Darryl Reynolds back as well. To that group Villanova adds Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and a recruiting class anchored by Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter with Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney available after being hampered by injuries last season.

Delaney missed all of last year after undergoing surgical procedures on his hips, and DiVincenzo played a total of 74 minutes over the first nine games before having to sit due to a broken foot.

Florida State guard Rathan-Mayes to return for junior season

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) drives past Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger, left, for a score in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
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With their top three scorers from last season all deciding to declare for the NBA Draft, Florida State was facing the possibility of having to rebuild their backcourt ahead of the 2016-17 season. However two of those three have decided to return to Tallahassee, with rising junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announcing on Monday that he will be back in school.

Rathan-Mayes joins rising sophomore Dwayne Bacon in returning to play another season for head coach Leonard Hamilton, with Malik Beasley hiring representation and remaining in the draft.

Rathan-Mayes had more scoring help last season and as a result was able to concentrate more on the distribution aspects of the point guard position, as he averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest. With the return of Rathan-Mayes and Bacon, Florida State will have two of its top three scorers from last season back on campus.

The Seminoles did lose some veteran players, most notably guard Devon Bookert and center Boris Bojanovsky, but the returnees and a recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Jonathan Isaac means that they won’t lack for options next season.

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
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After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.

Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.

SMU lands former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt

Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt (24) leaps for a layup past Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips (25) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Arkansas won 75-65. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
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With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.

As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.

At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.

 

Boise State assistant named head coach at Northern Colorado

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GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.

Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.

University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.

Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.

In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”

Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.