Zeke Marshall, Chauncey Gilliam

2013 Mid-American Conference tournament preview: Are you ready for some MACtion?

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The MAC tournament has one of the ugliest brackets you’ll ever see. Explaining the twisted branches of that tree would be pointless and boring, so just look at it and know that you don’t have to care until the first round – played at campus sites – is mercifully completed and we get to the more carefully pruned portion of the postseason.

Thanks to the A-10 and Mountain West, the MAC has flown largely under the radar this season. Sleep on this league no longer, my friends, because it’s loaded at the top. The Akron Zips tore through the league schedule, seeming unbeatable during an epic 19-game win streak. If all goes as planned, they’ll face the Ohio Bobcats in the final game. It’s a shame both teams can’t go to the Dance, but we’re likely looking at a last-team-standing kind of situation here. The No. 1 seeded Zips and No. 2 seeded Bobcats get double-byes and don’t have to play until Friday.

The Bracket

Where: QuickenLoans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio

When: March 11-16

Final: March 16, 6:30 p.m., ESPN2

Favorite: Akron

It’s no wonder the Zips handled the MAC so easily this year. Man-mountain Zeke Marshall seems like he’s been around forever, and he turned in a stellar senior year, averaging 13 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game as Akron romped. To make things tougher on opponents, 6’7″ Demetrius Treadwell has played sidekick to perfection, kicking in 11.2 points and 7.7 boards per game as well. They had the backcourt locked down as well until… well, read on.

And if they lose?:

If they lose, it will be because Alex Abreu (allegedly) did a bad, bad thing. The junior point guard, who was averaging six assists per game, recently pleaded not guilty to marijuana trafficking, but he’s suspended until further notice. Without him, the Zips have looked very beatable, losing rather badly at Buffalo and then dropping their final game of the season at home to the always-dangerous Kent State Golden Flashes.

Sleepers: Ohio is probably more than a sleeper at this point, since they’ll likely be facing an Abreu-less Akron for the first time this season if the two meet in the final. The Bobcats are loaded with talented upperclassmen, led by the triumvirate of D.J. Cooper, Walter Offutt and Reggie Keely. Kent State never goes down without a fight, either.

Studs:

D.J. Cooper, Ohio: You may remember him from such films as “Triple-Double”, “Upsetting Michigan” and “Sweet Sixteen!”, the latter two released in late March, 2012. This year, he starred in the critically-acclaimed but little-watched “I’m really good at everything a guy can do on a basketball court“. There’s absolutely no reason the sweet-passing Cooper can’t get his team back to the second weekend, though he has to lead them to the auto-bid first.

Zeke Marshall, Akron: Marshall can score, grab the loose ball for a putback, and start his team’s break with a defensive board or two. The thing that makes him even more meaningful to the Zips is his ability to block shots.

– Shayne Whittington, Western Michigan  : The 6’10” junior from the delightfully-named Paw Paw, Michigan is a double-double waiting to happen. He came on strong at the end of the regular season, sharing Player of the Week honors with Cooper in the final week.

CBT Prediction: Sans Abreu, Akron isn’t the team we saw dominate the MAC all season long. Ohio, with a solid core of experienced players who have seen the second weekend of the Big Dance, will prevail.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

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.