Keith Appling

Weekend Preview: Is this the weekend Michigan State takes control of B1G?

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Is this the weekend Michigan State takes control of the Big Ten?: It seems like we make the mistake every season: we forget about the Spartans after a couple of losses to good teams in the non-conference portion of the schedule, only to watch as Tom Izzo leads his team on a courageous run through the Big Ten regular season before reestablishing his dominance in March. You think we would have learned by now.

But apparently we haven’t.

Because all anyone can talk about in the Big Ten is Michigan and Indiana, conveniently forgetting about the team that is currently tied with them at the top of the league standings. And if the Spartans ended up taking over sole possession of first place in the conference on Monday morning, no one should be surprised. Michigan is at Wisconsin on Saturday. Indiana is at Ohio State on Sunday. The Spartans can’t overlook a scrappy Purdue squad (7:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network), but how many people would have thought back in December that the Spartans could have control of the best conference in the country in February?

Is Kansas in trouble in the Big 12?: All of a sudden, the Big 12 race is wide-open. Thanks to back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and TCU, the Jayhawks have lost their two-game advantage and have fallen back into a first-place tie with Kansas State. And not only are they coming off of their worst performance of the Bill Self era, they have to visit Oklahoma on Saturday (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN) and follow that up with a visit from Kansas State on Big Monday.

All of a sudden, what looked like it could have simply been a two-game blip on the Kansas radar has become the potential for catastrophe for the Jayhawks. They’ve won at least a share of eight straight Big 12 regular season titles. I doubt anyone on the roster wants to have their name associated with the one Kansas team that broke that streak. Is that adding to the pressure that Kansas feels? Does that play a role in their lack of confidence on the offensive side of the ball? Who knows, but what’s clear is that a third straight loss would be a disaster for Kansas.

The season’s top two scorers square off: South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters went for 53 points on Thursday night in a come-from-behind win at IPFW. That’s the most points that any player has scored in a game this season. The previous high? Travis Bader of Oakland, who went for 47 in a win over IPFW. SDSU visits Oakland on Saturday afternoon (5:00 p.m. ET). That should be fun.

Does anyone want to be the second-best team in the SEC?: Have we really reached a point in the season where Kentucky is the second-best team in the SEC? Because, at this point, we can say with complete certainty that it’s not Missouri, who lost to Texas A&M on the road on Thursday night. The Tigers have no cohesiveness, can’t win on the road and lack leadership. But they also got smacked at home by an Ole Miss team that hanged their hat on the fact that they beat Missouri this year. For what it’s worth, Kentucky hosts Auburn on Saturday afternoon, meaning that the Rebels will likely have to win at Missouri on Saturday if they want to remain a game out of first place in the league.

Every Saturday is going to be insane in the Atlantic 10: But this seems more ridiculous that usual:

  • VCU at Charlotte (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • No. 14 Butler at George Washington (2:00 p.m. ET)
  • Temple at Dayton (11:00 a.m. ET, ESPNU)
  • St. Joe’s at UMass (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
  • St. Louis at Richmond (6:00 p.m. ET)

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)
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.