Otto Porter Jr., John Thompson III

Pregame Shootaround 2.15.13: Cincinnati looks to bolster NCAA tournament resume

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Game of the Night: No. 15 Georgetown at Cincinnati (9:00 p.m.; ESPN) 

Mick Cronin’s Bearcats are in good shape to return to the NCAA tournament, but a win over the visiting Hoyas would not only add to their resume but also keep Cincinnati in the Big East title race. Georgetown arrives in Cincinnati with an opportunity to move into sole possession of first place, something that few people would have expected when conference play began.

Otto Porter Jr. is one of the nation’s best wings but guard Markel Starks will be just as important given the strength of Cincinnati’s backcourt. Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright lead the way offensively for Cincinnati with the steady Jaquon Parker being a solid third option on the wing. Keep an eye on Cincinnati’s offensive rebound total, as the Bearcats manage to rebound nearly 40% of their missed shots.

Who’s Getting Upset? Iona (-2.5) at Manhattan (7:00 p.m.; ESPNU) 

After a loss at Siena dropped the Jaspers to 4-7 in MAAC play, Steve Masiello’s team has won three straight and have a legitimate chance of avoiding finishing in the bottom four of the conference standings (those teams have to play in the first round of the MAAC tournament). Manhattan’s had to change how they play due to injuries, most notably losing leading scorer George Beamon for the year back in December, so while they will pressure defensively don’t look for the Jaspers to actively try to play at a high tempo.

The opposite can be said for Iona, who looks to run at every opportunity with guards Sean Armand and Lamont Jones leading the way and David Laury controlling things inside. If Manhattan can control the tempo, look for them to upset their rival at Draddy Gymnasium.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: Vermont at Stony Brook (7:00 p.m.; ESPN3) 

Stony Brook (9-2) leads Vermont (9-3) by a half-game in the America East standings, but given the fact that the Catamounts won the first meeting the Seawolves need this one for tiebreaker purposes. Clancy Rugg was outstanding for Vermont in their 81-73 victory on January 18, scoring 19 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. That helped make up for an off night from Brian Voelkel, who accounted for five points, six assists and four rebounds before fouling out. Stony Brook will counter with veterans Tommy Brenton and David Coley, and freshman forward Jameel Warney is one of the best freshmen in the conference.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Harvard hosts Princeton on Saturday night in a game that will go a long way towards determining the Ivy League champion. Both have business to attend to tonight, with the Crimson taking on Penn and Princeton visiting Dartmouth.

2) The middle of the Atlantic Sun standings could get a lot tighter tonight if North Florida wins at Jacksonville. The Dolphins need a win to move into a tie for third with Stetson at 8-6, but a loss would drop them into a three-way tie for fourth.

3) Green Bay finds itself in a situation similar to that of Jacksonville, as a win would move the Phoenix into a tie for third in the Horizon League and keep them from dropping into the middle of the pack. Green Bay visits Cleveland State, who has struggled offensively for much of the season due to the season-ending injury suffered by Anton Grady.

4) Niagara looks to remain atop the MAAC standings as they visit Marist, but this game could be trickier than it looks to be on paper. Chuck Martin’s team beat both Iona and Loyola (MD) last week, and they’re capable of doing the same to the Purple Eagles.

5) Which team has the best shot of catching Harvard and Princeton in the Ivy League race? The chances are minuscule for both Cornell and Yale but the winner of their meeting in New Haven will give the winner a sliver of hope.

Other Notable Games 

7:00 p.m. Penn at Harvard

7:00 p.m. Princeton at Dartmouth

8:00 p.m. Niagara at Marist (ESPN3)

9:00 p.m. Green Bay at Cleveland St. (ESPN3)

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Whitehead to stay in NBA Draft

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) shoots past Xavier forward Sean O'Mara (54) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.

Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.

The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Michigan St. at Duke highlights ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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A matchup in Durham of likely top-10 teams is the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, whose schedule was released Tuesday.

Michigan State, expected to open the season in the top-10, and Duke, the presumptive preseason No. 1, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the most intriguing contest of the 14-game event.

The Spartans are losing Denzel Valentin, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, but the recruiting class of Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward is one of coach Tom Izzo’s best and has Michigan State positioned as one of the Big Ten’s favorites.

Izzo’s recruiting class, though, pales in comparison to what coach Mike Krzyzewski is bringing to the Blue Devils, with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier in their 2016 class, which is why, when paired with the likes of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard, make Duke nearly everyone’s No. 1 heading into next season.

Krzyzewski is 9-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans.

Among the other highlights of the conference competition is Syracuse at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) Pittsburgh at Maryland (Nov. 29), Purdue at Louisville (Nov. 30) and Ohio State at Virginia (Nov. 30).  

Monday, Nov. 28

Minnesota at Florida State

Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Syracuse at Wisconsin

Michigan State at Duke

Pittsburgh at Maryland

Iowa at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Penn State

N.C. State at Illinois

 

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Purdue at Louisville

North Carolina at Indiana

Ohio State at Virginia

Virginia Tech at Michigan

Rutgers at Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska at Clemson