Kenny Boynton

Pregame Shootaround 12.5.12: Battle in Sunshine State highlights Wednesday’s action

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Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will be posted at 2 p.m. ET and lay out a preview for the slate of games that night. We’ll take a look at some key match-ups and important games, as well as make some predictions and point out what you need to watch for. Take a look below at today’s edition:

Note: The weekend editions of Pregame Shootaround will be published half an hour prior to tip-off of the day’s first game.

Game of the Day: No. 6 Florida vs. Florida State

With the way Kentucky’s season is shaping up, those who chose Florida to win the SEC are looking pretty smart right now. The Gators are undefeated and have won their six games by an average of 25 points per contest. They feature a good backcourt/frontcourt balance between Kenny Boynton/Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young/Erik Murphy/Will Yeguete, which makes them difficult to defeat. Mike Rosario, the Rutgers transfer, has also been a key contributor.

Florida State entered the season as a fringe Top 25 team, but lost its opener to South Alabama and comes into Wednesday night’s game on a two-game losing streak after losses to No. 21 Minnesota and unranked Mercer. Guard Michael Snaer is key to the Seminoles’ success. In their wins, Snaer is averaging 17.5 points and shooting 46 percent from the floor. In their losses, he is averaging just 9.7 points and shooting just 27 percent from the floor.

Who’s getting upset?: Memphis against Ohio

Take one team that has fallen out of the Top 25 after a disappointing start the season and welcome a reigning Sweet 16 team and what do you get? The possibility for an upset at FedEx Forum tonight.

Guard D.J. Cooper is one of the most underrated playmakers in the country, averaging 14.7 points and 7.3 assists per game this season.The Bobcats’ biggest weakness this season has been on the boards, but they shoot a high percentage and are in the Top 60 in the country in scoring.

Memphis guard Joe Jackson was criticized after his seven-turnover performance against VCU in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but, to his credit, has bounced back since. He is averaging 14.0 points and 5.5 assists in his past two games, both Memphis victories.

Mid-Major Match-Up of the Day: Penn State vs. La Salle (NBC Sports Network)

This is technically a mid-major vs. high-major match-up, but a few big wins for the Explorers make this one worth tuning in to. La Salle began its season with a win over a tough Delaware team, then followed that up with an overtime win over Villanova two weeks later. This game loses a bit of its intrigue because of the season-ending injury to Penn State guard Tim Frazier, but D.J. Newbill will still have his hands full with Explorer guards Tyreek Duren and Ramon Galloway.

Five Things to Watch For:

1) The Battle for the Sunshine State is on Wednesday, as No. 6 Florida takes on Florida State. See above for a full preview. I’m most interested to see Michael Snaer against this strong Florida lineup.

2) Why is no one talking about New Mexico? The 18th-ranked team in the country is perhaps overshadowed by San Diego State and UNLV in the Mountain West, but is undefeated so far. They take on USC Wednesday

3) Gonzaga has likely been the most impressive mid-major so far this season. Ranked at No. 10 in the country, Elias Harris & Co. get a shot at Washington State Wednesday night.

4) Fran Dunphy has his Temple Owls off to a 5-0, but they have their first match-up against a BCS opponent Wednesday night against Villanova. Nothing like a Big 5 game in early December.

5) Boise State narrowly lost to Michigan State, then beat No. 11 Creighton. They carried some of that Bluejay momentum to beat Seattle, and now they take on Utah. Will the Broncos end up being a surprise team this season?

The Rest of the Top 25:

No. 6 Florida vs. Florida State (see above)

No. 10 Gonzaga vs. Washington State

No. 18 New Mexico vs. USC

No. 19 Michigan State vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

No. 23 Oklahoma State vs. South Florida

Other Notable Games:

Tennessee vs. Virginia

West Virginia vs. Marshall

Temple vs. Villanova

Colorado State vs. Colorado

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

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.

Duke’s Azura Stevens transfers to UConn

Duke's Azura Stevens (11) steals the ball from North Carolina A&T's Kenya Hailey, right, as Duke's Ka'lia Johnson watches during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Jan. 2, 2015, in Durham, N.C. (AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
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STORRS, Conn. (AP) Azura Stevens, the leading scorer and rebounder for Duke, has decided to transfer to UConn.

The 6-foot-6 sophomore center from Raleigh, North Carolina will sit out next season and will have two years of eligibility remaining when the 2017-18 season begins the school announced Saturday.

Stevens averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds a game and was named to the ACC’s all-conference first team.

She was second in the league both scoring and rebounding.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday that he normally doesn’t get involved in transfer situations, but Stevens convinced him that Storrs would be the right place for her going forward.