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Pregame Shootaround 2.24.13: Big Ten rules the day with Michigan State-Ohio State

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Game of the Day: No.4 Michigan State vs. No. 18 Ohio State (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

The heavyweight bouts in the Big Ten have been a Sunday treat throughout conference play and it continues today. Ohio State got a key win over Minnesota on Wednesday, but now welcomes a Michigan State team that had won five straight before falling to No. 1 Indiana earlier this week.

The biggest positional matchup Sunday will be at the point guard spot. Michigan State’s Keith Appling was bothered by the different types of pressure that Indiana placed on him on the defensive end and he struggled because of it. It gets no easier Sunday, as Appling meets one of the best defenders in the country, Aaron Craft. To compensate, Appling will need to get others involved, including Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix down low, as well as Gary Harris and Branden Dawson on the perimeter.

For Ohio State, it will be the same as it always is. Turn defense into offense and provide support for Deshaun Thomas offensively so he doesn’t have to shoulder all of the scoring load. If Thomas can settle in and have a comfortable 25% stake in the overall scoring output and the Buckeyes are efficient with the ball, they are tough to beat.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 20 Pittsburgh (-7) vs. St. John’s (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

St. John’s has made it tough for quality teams to come into Madison Square Garden over the past few seasons under Steve Lavin and Pittsburgh will face that Sunday. The scoring duo of D’Angelo Harrison and JaKarr Sampson has emerged as one of the better young combos in the Big East, plus junior college transfer Marco Bourgault is providing quality minutes and a three-point threat to stretch the defense.

Pittsburgh will be limited on the interior if shot-blocking freshman Chris Obekpa and his 4.1 blocks per game can stay out of foul trouble on Sunday. Ultimately, though, it will come down to whether St. John’s is making shots. If they struggle from the field, Pittsburgh has enough to win. If the Red Storm are hot, we could have an upset in New York City.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Lehigh vs. Lafayette (12:00 p.m. ET)

Even without C.J. McCollum for much of the season, Lehigh has powered on. The Mountain Hawks still trail Bucknell by a game in the Patriot League race and face a tough matchup against Lafayette Sunday. Even with a win, though, it is unlikely that Lehigh pulls into a tie for the lead because Bucknell takes on Holy Cross today, but the Mountain Hawks need a win to keep pace.

Five Things to Watch For

1) There’s a trap game awaiting No. 6 Duke Sunday. Prior to a key back-to-back stretch against Virginia and Miami, the Blue Devils face Boston College. The Blue Devils are heavily favored, but this BC team is riding high after upsetting Maryland earlier in the week and winning two of their last three games.

2) St. John’s sits squarely on the bubble and could use another quality win. There’s no better place to get it than at home. The Red Storm meet No. 20 Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden.

3) Illinois will make the NCAA tournament if the wheels don’t fall off down the stretch here, but a win over No. 4 Michigan on Sunday would go a long way toward improving its seeding.

4) With California’s recent run and Oregon slipping back a bit, the Pac-12 is getting interesting. That means UCLA is in a “can’t lose” situation if wants to stay in the race for the conference regular season title. USC is a winnable game and the Bruins need to capitalize.

5) Temple is another team on the NCAA tournament bubble. Their final four games, with Charlotte included Sunday, is both difficult and favorable. The Owls still have to meet Detroit in a rescheduled non-conference game, plus VCU to end the season, but also get Rhode Island and Fordham in the middle. Point being, Temple needs a win Sunday against Charlotte.

The Top 25

No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 18 Ohio State (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 6 Duke vs. Boston College (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 7 Michigan vs. Illinois (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 20 Pittsburgh vs. St. John’s (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 25 Notre Dame vs. Cincinnati (2:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Other Notable Games

Lehigh vs. Lafayette (12:00 p.m. ET)

Georgia Tech vs. Virginia (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

UCLA vs. USC (3:30 p.m.  ET, Fox Sports Net National)

Temple vs. Charlotte (4:00 p.m. ET)

LIU Brooklyn vs. Wagner (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

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

rp_primary_Linder_Jeff_Action_vs_Dayton_031815_2_
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.