Iowa Virginia Tech Basketball

Weekend Preview: Five storylines to follow

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Biggest story line this weekend: Is Virginia Tech for real?

Beating a young Iowa team at home is really not all that impressive, even if Iowa is supposed to be better this season. Beating an under-manned Oklahoma State team pulls a little bit more weight, but even then, the Cowboys were probably overranked as a top 15 team. And, again, that win came in Blacksburg. On Saturday at 4:00 p.m., the Hokies will get their first true test of the season, as they travel to Morgantown to take on a tough and physical West Virginia team.

Road games are a different beast than playing at home, and we’ll see just how well Virginia Tech responds. The Hokies, led by Erick Green, who is having an all-american caliber season, are playing a more run-and-gun style this year, but with a lack of depth and no home crowd backing them, it will be interesting to see if they can sustain their success in a different arena. It’s also worth noting that the Mountaineers, while just 3-3 on the year, are still a good basketball team. They have a pair of talented guards in Juwan Staten and Jabarie Hinds and a couple of big, physical bodies up front.

Five other story lines to follow this weekend:

The battle of the disappointments: At 5:15 p.m. on Saturday night, UCLA heads to Austin to take on Texas in a matchup that features two teams that have failed to live up to expectations. For the Longhorn’s, it’s not exactly their fault. They didn’t ask Myck Kabongo to get suspended by the NCAA and they didn’t injure Jaylen Bond intentionally. Without those two players in the fold, Texas has looked downright atrocious on the offensive end of the floor. UCLA, on the other hand, has struggled despite bringing in Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad while watching two players up and leave the team just a few weeks into the season.

Old rivalries salvaged?: Over the last few years, as both VCU and Old Dominion managed to push their way into the national consciousness while playing in the CAA, the two teams developed a nice, healthy rivalry. Well, as you know, the Rams took off for the Atlantic 10 this summer while the Monarchs will be headed to Conference USA this summer. While ODU has been bad this season, expect them to put up a fight against some old faces. You can check out VCU vs. Old Dominion on Friday night at 9:00 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network.

Will Duke get their revenge on Temple?: The Blue Devils went into Philly last year and left with a loss after getting smacked around by the Owls. This season, Temple makes the return trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium with an undefeated record and coming off of a 15 point win over Villanova. And while Temple has some talent on their perimeter, I’m not sure how they plan on trying to slow down Mason Plumlee in the paint.

What do you know about Butler and Northwestern?: Because the only thing I know about those two teams is that I don’t really know anything at all. Butler has lost to Xavier, gotten blown out by Illinois, beaten Marquette and embarrassed North Carolina. Northwestern beat Illinois State, got blown out by Maryland, lost at home to Illinois-Chicago and beat Baylor in Waco. Huh? Hopefully, something that happens on Saturday will help us get a feel for this group.

There just aren’t many good games this weekend: This happens every year. As we get closer to finals week, we get uglier and uglier basketball games. There is only one game between two ranked teams all weekend, and that game doesn’t come close to being must-see TV and happens at 10 p.m. on a Saturday. We had a terrific first month of the season, complete with great matchups and better performances. We’ll have to deal with one ugly week.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

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)
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.