Bucknell v Missouri

Conference Catchups: A three-bid SEC this season?

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Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our ACC Conference Catchup:

Favorite: Missouri

The Tigers have their issues, but given how weak the SEC is as a whole, there really isn’t much of an argument to make here. Phil Pressey has turned into one of the nation’s most dangerous playmakers at the point at the same time that Laurence Bowers has gone from a defensive presence into a terrific all-around player with a killer perimeter jumper.

There are three things that are going to determine whether or not the Tigers end up being something special this season:

  • Defensive playmaking. The Tigers don’t force turnovers and don’t block shots. That’s why their defense is mediocre.
  • Can Phil Pressey develop better shot selection? As good of a passer as he is, there are times where he gets into takeover mode. He’s not a good enough scorer to go into takeover mode as often as he does.
  • Can Missouri consistently hit threes? That’s where the loss of Mike Dixon hurts the most. Can Jabari Brown, Earnest Ross and Keion Bell consistently spread the floor?
  • Alex Oriakhi and Bowers got beat up by Mike Muscala on Saturday. What happens when they go up against Jarnell Stokes or Kentucky’s big men or Patric Young?

Contenders: Florida is the biggest threat to Missouri in the SEC thanks to their tough, versatile defense. And when Kenny Boynton is shooting well, they’re a potential Final Four team. That’s no guarantee, either. Through his first five games, Boynton was 13-29 from deep. The five after that? 4-32. In his last two games? 11-17. Go figure.

It would also be foolish to write off Kentucky. That’s a young team, but that’s a team with a ton of talent that looks better every game. Ryan Harrow appears to be filling the void at the point guard spot quite nicely, which was the biggest key. John Calipari’s new task? Getting Alex Poythress to consistently dominate and developing some kind of offensive game for Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein.

Biggest Surprise: How bad the league has been

Texas A&M is third in the SEC in the RPI. They lost to Southern at home. Their last four wins — against Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M-CC, Army and Houston Baptist — came by an average of 8.5 points. Ole Miss and LSU currently have the second and fourth best record in the conference, respectively. The best win between the two: Seton Hall? Hawaii? Missouri and Florida can play with anyone in the country. Kentucky will get there. Beyond that, there may not be another NCAA tournament team amongst them.

Biggest Disappointment: Alabama

The Crimson Tide looked very promising early in the season, as they beat South Dakota State, Villanova and Oregon State early in the season. Since then? They had a buzzer-beating loss at Cincinnati, which wasn’t a problem. They lost at home to Dayton, which was iffy but acceptable. The Tide then got embarrassed by VCU, nearly lost at Texas Tech and then dropped home games to Mercer and Tulane. They’ll visit Missouri on Tuesday. That could be ugly.

(I avoided listing Tennessee here because so much of their struggles can be pinpointed on the balky knees of Jeronne Maymon.)

Player of the Year: Phil Pressey and Laurence Bowers, Missouri

Both have been terrific for the Tigers this season, as Pressey’s playmaking has provided a dynamic piece offensively while Bowers has been the only consistent perimeter shooter Frank Haith has had at his disposal.

Best Freshman: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky

The problem with John Calipari landing dominant freshman is that it makes Noel’s 10.3 points, 9.2 boards, 3.5 blocks and 2.6 steals seem disappointing. While he’s not exactly putting up all-american numbers, Noel has been terrific on the defensive end and getting to the offensive glass. He’s lanky, athletic and very active.

Three Predictions

Kentucky enters the tournament as a six or seven seed and makes the Elite 8. They haven’t beaten anyone this season, save for a Maryland team that has an even less impressive collection of wins. They aren’t going to jack up their computer numbers by landing a handful of quality wins in league play, either. But as this team continues to gel and develop as the season goes along, they are only going to get better. Playing them in the Round of 32 will not be pleasant.

The SEC gets three teams into the tournament: Outside of the top three, there hasn’t been much about the SEC that’s impressive. That lack of quality non-conference wins means that conference play won’t generate a wealth of good wins for bubble teams.

LSU surprises people: I actually like the Tigers this season. I think they’ll do very well in conference play. I just don’t see them having a strong enough resume to make a legitimate case for an at-large bid.

Power Rankings (* = tourney team):

1. Missouri*
2. Florida*
3. Kentucky*
4. LSU
5. Ole Miss
6. Tennessee
7. Arkansas
8. Alabama
9. Texas A&M
10. Vanderbilt
11. Auburn
12. South Carolina
13. Georgia
14. Mississippi State

You can find Rob 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)
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)
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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Courtesy UNCBears.com
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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.