Spencer Dinwiddie, Cory Jefferson

Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Solid slate for College Hoops’ Opening NIght

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Colorado vs. No. 25 Baylor, 10:00 p.m. (FOX Sports SW)

The nightcap of the Tip-Off Classic at the American Airlines Center in Dallas should end up being the best game of college basketball’s opening night, and while that doesn’t sound like much — the No. 25 team in the country against an unranked team? What? — remember this: people are stupid for not ranking Colorado. Because they at, at worst, the third best team in a very good Pac-12. And Baylor? They’re the third-best team in the Big 12, trailing only two top ten programs.

The Bears have a loaded front line with Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, which will give Colorado’s sophomore duo of Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson all they can handle. What will be interesting, however, will be to see how the Bears new point guard Kenny Chery, a promising JuCo transfer, handles being guarded by Spencer Dinwiddie. Stay up for this one. It’ll be worth it.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 19 Oregon vs. Georgetown, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN)

Yeah, this game lost some of its luster when Dominic Artis and Ben Carter went and got themselves suspended, but that doesn’t change the intrigue in this matchup. Oregon is a Pac-12 contender when they’re at full strength, and even with the suspensions, we’ll be getting our first look at Mike Moser and Joseph Young in green and yellow. The Hoyas have their own story line, as the always-out-of-shape Josh Smith looks to resurrect his career under John Thompson III.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: Oakland at No. 12 North Carolina, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

I’m on record saying that I remain unconvinced of the Tar Heels being a top 15 team this season. I don’t think they have enough point guard play and I don’t trust their big men. They’ll also be without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald. Oakland isn’t exactly a powerhouse mid-major program this season, but they do have a young man by the name of Travis Bader who is on the brink of breaking J.J. Redick’s career three-point mark. Both of these teams LOVE to run the floor, which means that you need to hammer the over. Hammer it. And thank me later.

MID-MAJOR MATCHUP OF THE NIGHT: Louisiana Tech at St. Mary’s, 11:30 p.m.

Randy Bennett seems to lose a superstar every year, and the Gaels never miss a beat. So I’m probably not as concerned about the loss of Matthew Dellavedova as I should be. Stephen Holt will get first crack at point guard duties, and his matchup won’t be easy. Louisiana Tech is a pressing team, spending 40 minutes dogging opposing ball-handlers for 94 feet. Think VCU. Good luck, Stephen.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) No. 3 Louisville is the only top ten team that doesn’t take the court tonight. No. 4 Duke hosting Davidson (7:00 p.m., ESPNU) is probably the only team at risk of getting upset.

2) Maryland and No. 18 UConn square off at 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2) at the Barclays Center on Friday night. The Terps will be without starting point guard Seth Allen, but that may be an advantage. UConn’s one of the smallest teams in the country, with little talent up front and diminutive guards in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Maryland will be bigger and more physical at every position.

3) In the most intriguing clash of styles on opening night, St. John’s will take on No. 20 Wisconsin (Big Ten, 7:00 p.m.) in South Dakota. The Johnnies have a ton of talent and athleticism and some very good guards, but they are young and, frankly, it will be interesting to see if Steve Lavin can coach them. Bo Ryan’s club is typical Wisconsin with one notable exception: Sam Dekker is an all-american caliber talent.

Worth noting: the nightcap on the Big Ten Network will be Florida-Gulf Coast (#DunkCity!!!) tripping to Nebraska to open the Huskers new arena.

4) Two intriguing local battles: At 6:00 p.m., Providence and Boston College square off in a battle of two New England programs looking to make a push for the NCAA tournament. Weber State and BYU square off at 9:05 p.m. (BYUtv). Weber State is the favorite in the Big Sky, sending Davion Berry to matchup with scoring machine Tyler Haws.

5) Belmont visits Lipscomb in the Battle of the Boulevard at 7:00 p.m. Casey Alexander spent two decades as a player and coach at Belmont, Lipscomb’s hated rival. This is the first time he’ll be coaching against former mentor Rick Byrd.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • UNC-Asheville at No. 1 Kentucky, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • McNeese State at No. 2 Michigan State, 7:00 p.m.
  • UL Monroe at No. 5 Kansas, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Cal Poly at No. 6 Arizona, 10:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • UMass Lowell at No. 7 Michigan, 7:00 p.m.
  • Cornell at No. 8 Syracuse, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Mississippi Valley State at No. 8 Oklahoma State, 8:00 p.m.
  • North Florida at No. 10 Florida, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Illinois State at No. 14 VCU, 7:00 p.m.
  • Southern at No. 17 Marquette, 8:00 p.m.
  • Miami (OH) at No. 21 Notre Dame, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Drexel at No. 22 UCLA, 12:00 a.m. (Pac-12)
  • James Madison at No. 24 Virginia, 7:00 p.m.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Alabama vs. Oklahoma, 5:00 p.m. (FOX Sports SW)
  • TCU vs. SMU, 7:30 p.m. (FOX Sports SW)
  • Mercer at Texas, 8:00 p.m. (Longhorn Network)
  • Buffalo at Texas A&M, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

Gavitt Games schedule released, but not much to get excited about

NCAA Men's Final Four - National Championship - Villanova v North Carolina
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The schedule for the 2016 Gavitt Tipoff  Games were announced on Tuesday afternoon.

The Gavitt Games are an event that we be held annually featuring eight made-for-TV matchup between Big East programs and Big Ten programs. It’s similar to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, only it takes place during the first week of the regular season.

Last year’s Games were highlighted by a matchup between Maryland and Georgetown, a local rivalry that hadn’t been played in three decades. And while those two programs will face-off once again this season, the level of intrigue in this year’s event is not quite what it was last year.

The marquee matchup will probably be reigning champs Villanova, who should be a top five team in the preseason, playing at Purdue, who should once again be competitive in the Big Ten. And so long as Nigel Hayes returns to Wisconsin, the Badgers trip to Creighton should feature two NCAA tournament teams. There will be some hype given the rivalry between Maryland and Georgetown, but both of those teams are on a downward trend.

And beyond that?

Yuck. Rutgers vs. DePaul and St. John’s vs. Minnesota are … well, let’s just say you won’t be taking time out of your week to tune in.

Here’s the full schedule:

Monday, Nov. 14th:

Villanova at Purdue

Tuesday, Nov. 15th:

Maryland at Georgetown
Wisconsin at Creighton

Wednesday, Nov. 16th:

Northwestern at Butler

Thursday, Nov. 17th:

Seton Hall at Iowa
Providence at Ohio State
Rutgers at DePaul

Friday, Nov. 18th:

St. John’s at Minnesota

Looking Forward: Which programs are on the rise as we head into 2016-17?

FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, file photo, Wisconsin's Vitto Brown, left, and Bronson Koening laugh during the final seconds of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State in Madison, Wis. Wisconsin won, 79-68. Though he moved on to the NBA long ago, March Madness is also Steph Curry's world now. (AP Photo/Andy Manis, File)
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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some programs on the rise heading into next season.

Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams’ second season in Blacksburg proved to be more successful than many expected, as the Hokies won ten ACC games (20 overall) and played in the Postseason NIT. What can they do for an encore? In all honesty the pieces needed for the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 are in place, with six of their top seven scorers from a season ago due to return led by forward Zach LeDay and guard Seth Allen. Expecting the Hokies to contend for the ACC title may be a bit much, but it’s fair to expect them to work their way into the Top 25 and the NCAA tournament in 2016-17.

Creighton: The Bluejays, picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll, nearly played its way onto the NCAA tournament bubble thanks to a much-improved big man in Geoffrey Groselle, transfer Maurice Watson Jr. and Cole Huff, and guard Isaiah Zierden. Groselle’s gone, but given the combination of returnees and the addition of former Kansas State guard Marcus Foster the Bluejays could be in line for another leap forward. The key for Greg McDermott’s team will be the return of Watson, who’s going through the NBA Draft evaluation process.

Wisconsin: At one point last season the Badgers were 9-9 overall and 1-4 in Big Ten play, with it appearing highly unlikely that Greg Gard would have his interim tag removed. But Gard’s team turned things around, winning 22 games and reaching the Sweet 16. Provided Nigel Hayes, who’s currently going through the NBA Draft evaluation process, returns to school the Badgers will be on the short list of Big Ten title contenders. Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ lead four other starters who will be back, and Andy Van Vliet (who the NCAA sidelined for last season) will help in the front court as well.

USC: The Trojans’ progression was a year ahead of schedule, as after producing consecutive 12-win seasons they earned an NCAA tournament berth in Andy Enfield’s third season at the helm. USC does have some questions in the form of guard Julian Jacobs and forward Nikola Jovanovic both going through the NBA Draft process, but if both return the Trojans will be a contender in the Pac-12. Jordan McLaughlin, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu are among the returnees for a team that could return five of its six double-digit scorers — Katin Reinhardt being the lone departure — from last season.

UCLA guard Bryce Alford, center, attempts to move the ball past Kentucky guard Charles Matthews, right, as Jamal Murray, left, helps defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
UCLA guard Bryce Alford (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

UCLA: Staying in Los Angeles, this is a big year coming up for Steve Alford. The Bruins were a major disappointment last season, but the combination of some key returnees and a recruiting class led by Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf should propel UCLA back into the Pac-12 and national conversations. Ball should be handed the keys to the show from the start given his abilities at the point, which should result in plentiful scoring opportunities for the likes of Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Thomas Welsh. How good this team can be will depend on two things: how well the pieces mesh, and an improved commitment on the defensive end.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs reached the Sweet 16 last season, but the way in which they got there wasn’t what we’ve grown accustomed to with regards to Mark Few’s program as they needed the WCC automatic bid to ensure a spot in the field. Even with the departures of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga has the tools needed to be better in 2016-17, as a backcourt that made strides as the season progressed will be a year older with Josh Perkins and Silas Melson leading the way. Also, Przemek Karnowski will be back on the court after missing last season with a back injury.

Florida State: Leonard Hamilton received some good news, as both Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes decided to return after briefly flirting with the NBA Draft. They’ll be asked to lead the way for a team that adds a solid recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American Jonathan Isaac, and putting points on the board won’t be much of an issue. If they can get back to defending at the level we’ve come to expect from Hamilton-coached teams, Florida State can make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012.

Rhode Island: Dan Hurley’s Rams began the 2015-16 season viewed as a team that could contend in the Atlantic 10. Then the injury bug hit, with E.C. Matthews being lost to a torn ACL and multiple key contributors (including Hassan Martin) missing time throughout the course of the year. URI’s healthy again, and with Four McGlynn being the lone major contributor out of eligibility 2016-17 should see the Rams rebound and make a run at the Atlantic 10 title.

Michigan’s Spike Albrecht to finish his career at rival Big Ten program

Michigan guard Spike Albrecht (2) makes a layup between Northern Michigan forward Brett Branstrom, top left, and center Vejas Grazulis (52) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Michigan won 70-44. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
(AP Photo/Tony Ding)
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Spike Albrecht’s career isn’t over, as the former Michigan point guard and graduate transfer has committed to play his final season for Big Ten rival Purdue.

“I’ll be playing my 5th year for Purdue University,” Albrecht tweeted on Tuesday morning. “Boiler Up.”

Albrecht’s career has been fascinating to follow. A very lightly recruited high schooler, Albrecht picked Michigan over Appalachian State, playing very limited minutes behind National Player of the Year Trey Burke before popping off for 17 points in the first half of the national title game that season (and launching the greatest heat check in the history of heat checks). He would play a bigger role as a sophomore before averaging 7.5 points and 3.9 assists in 32 minutes as a junior in 2014-15.

But as a senior, Albrecht cut his season short after just a couple of games due to a degenerative issue in his hips. He had surgery on both hips prior to last season and initially announced that his career was over. That changed, but Michigan’s scholarship situation didn’t: They had already recruited someone to take his scholarship after his graduation, so Albrecht was forced to transfer.

Purdue is a good fit for him. He’ll provide veteran leadership on a team with just one other senior on the roster — redshirt junior Basil Smotherman — and he’ll help anchor the point guard spot currently held by junior P.J. Thompson.

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.