Indiana v Illinois

You think the season’s been fun? It gets so much better this week

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The excitement of the college basketball season reached a crescendo last week.

It started with Tuesday’s classic between Ohio State and Michigan, which Michigan won in overtime only hours after Arkansas walloped then-No. 2 Florida. That happened to fall on the same night that Michael Snaer hit his third buzzer-beater of the season and Wichita State lost on a blown goaltending call in the final seconds.

On Wednesday, Kansas lost to TCU, Creighton was blown out by Indiana State, Markel Brown raced the length of the court to beat Baylor in over time, Wisconsin was taken to double-overtime by Iowa and San Diego State used a last-second three to survive a visit from Boise State.

Believe it or not, Thursday ramped things up another notch, as Illinois shocked the country by beating No. 1 Indiana on a buzzer-beating layup from Tyler Griffey that capped a 13-2 run. Missouri lost at Texas A&M on a three from Fabyon Harris a matter of minutes before Larry Drew II beat Washington with a buzzer-beater of his own. Colorado came from behind to beat Oregon in the final minute while Nate Wolters was busy scoring 53 points for South Dakota State. Oh, and who can forget the three-quarter court buzzer-beater to force overtime?

That brought us to Saturday, where Ben Brust’s heroics and Russ Smith’s five-overtime struggles bookended a typically inexplicable Saturday. The weekend was capped with a Sunday that saw Minnesota lose to Illinois, Arizona lose to Cal, Duke barely survive BC and Scott Wood save the day for NC State in Lorenzo Brown’s return.

I’m exhausted just typing that out.

But here’s the best part: it’s only going to get better.

Because this week is Rivalry Week. That a look at some of the games on the schedule over the course of the next seven days:

  • No. 10 Kansas State at No. 14 Kansas
  • No. 4 Michigan at No. 8 Michigan State
  • No. 25 Kentucky at No. 7 Florida
  • North Carolina at No. 2 Duke
  • No. 6 Syracuse at UConn
  • No. 5 Gonzaga at St. Mary’s
  • No. 20 Wisconsin at Minnesota
  • No. 2 Duke at Maryland
  • Purdue at No. 1 Indiana
  • Oklahoma at No. 17 Oklahoma State
  • Xavier at Dayton

Regardless of when or where these games are played, they are the kind of matchups that are must-see TV. As the saying goes, in a rivalry game, you can throw the records out the window. Fan bases will be fired up. Players will be fired up. Dick Vitale may spontaneously combust. It’s everything that we love about college basketball.

Except these games are packed with so much meaning. Kansas State has a chance to go into Lawrence and drop the Jayhawks two games out of the Big 12 title race. Michigan State can do the same to Michigan. Kentucky will get another shot at proving their legitimacy at Florida. Syracuse will be making their final visit to UConn as a member of the Big East. UNC will be looking to solidify a tournament spot — seriously — by winning in Cameron. Gonzaga and St. Mary’s is one of the nation’s most underrated rivalries.

This week is going to be incredible.

But based on the week and the month — and, frankly, the season — we’ve had, you should have known that already.

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.