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Jonah Travis steals the show as Harvard returns Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry

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BOSTON — The expectations have never been higher for the Harvard men’s basketball team. The Crimson made their second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament last March, making it to the Round of 32 after upsetting No. 3 New Mexico. Tommy Amaker’s team returns virtually every key player while adding highly-touted recruit Zena Edosomwan and having Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry rejoin the program.

The Crimson got a good fight from the Crusaders, but in the end Curry, Siyani Chambers, and reserve forward Jonah Travis made the plays down the stretch to come away with an 82-72 win in the finale of the Coaches vs. Cancer tripleheader at the TD Garden. Travis’ 20-point, 10-rebound performance in 22 minutes overshadowed the return of Casey and Curry, but also showed how scary this Harvard team can be.

“I think naturally a lot of the players on our team are unselfish,” Harvard forward Wesley Saunders said. “That is kind of something we don’t have to worry about. We do it naturally. So anybody, on any given night as the opportunity to have a great game just as Jonah showed. He came in and dominated the game.”

Casey had the first bucket on the night with a two-handed slam, though those would be two of his four points on the evening, being saddled with foul trouble that ended when he got hit with his fifth with more than six minutes to go in the contest. Travis, who played 16.5 minutes per game last season, doubled his scoring average from a year ago in the first half when he had 12 points and grabbed four rebounds coming off the bench.

“I know what coaches expects of me,” Travis said. “And that’s when I’m on the court to come in with energy and come in there with a bang and provide what we need when I’m in there. I know what I need to do.

“My job is to provide energy for the team and if that helps them get over the hump or the slow start we had then that’s what I need to do. They needed me to grab rebounds, set screens and score when I was open, and that’s what I did.”

One of the questions for the Crimson was how the would incorporate Casey and Curry — two captains from the 2011-2012 team that made the program’s first tournament — back in to the lineup with some much talent. Casey was plagued with foul trouble, but Curry and returning point guard Siyani Chambers looked good playing alongside each other in the Crimson back court.

“It’s great to have those two,” Saunders said. “They compliment each other really well. Just to have more ball handlers on the court, who can relieve pressure and make plays for everybody on the court is a luxury to have and I think they really are the driving force of our team. They are the two-headed monster that makes our team go.”

Chambers entered the break with zero points and two assists, but after Holy Cross took a one-point lead with under six minutes to play, Chambers responded with a one-man 7-0 run, capped off by a corner three he drained off an assist by Curry.

“We had kind of thinking that for a while to have both of those kids on the floor for us as much as possible together,” Amaker said. “I think our team functions better when they are out there. They can penetrate and drive a little bit more and they are our two best playmakers in addition to Wesley. The more ball handlers and playmakers you can have on the floor, in our system, the better.”

The bad news for Harvard came after the game when Amaker announced that Kenyatta Smith is out indefinitely with a leg injury. The 6-foot-8 junior hurts the Crimson, but Travis’ career night showed something that could be a season-long theme for the Ivy League favorite.

“In any given day, in any given night it could be anyone who provides the necessary play or plays that can propel us to having a positive performance,” Amaker said.

Report: Dillon Brooks to return to Oregon

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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Dillon Brooks will be returning to Oregon for his junior season.

Brooks, a 6-foot-6 forward that averaged 16.7 points, 5.4 boards and 3.1 assists as a sophomore, went through the NBA Draft process without hiring an agent. He did not receive an invitation to the NBA Draft combine, however, and that is as good of a sign as any that he was not likely to get drafted.

According to a report from ESPN, he has heeded the advice he received and will be returning to Eugene.

Brooks is a versatile player whose role for the Ducks is similar to what Draymond Green plays for the Warriors, but he’s not the athlete that Green is. Returning to school, tightening up his shooting stroke and getting into better shape could help him play his way into a spot where he can get a guaranteed contract after next season.

The Ducks are still awaiting word on whether or not rising sophomore Tyler Dorsey will return to school as well. With both players back in the fold, Oregon is a potential top five team next season.

Malik Newman to return to school, considering transfer

Mississippi State guard Malik Newman (14) dribbles past a Northern Colorado player during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/15712769/mississippi-state-malik-newman-withdraw-draft-transfer
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Malik Newman will withdraw his name from consideration and return to school for his sophomore season.

Newman was a top 10 recruit in the Class of 2015, a high-scoring combo-guard that opted to stay home and play for Mississippi State instead of enroll at one of the blue bloods that was recruiting him. He averaged 11.3 points as a freshman, but it was a largely disappointing season as he spent the year off of the national radar playing inefficient basketball.

Put another way, the fourth-leading scorer on a 14-17 SEC team isn’t exactly a lock for the lottery.

But here’s the catch: he may not be returning to Mississippi State, as Newman is considering a transfer, according to a report from ESPN. That report quotes a source close to the situation saying “unhappy with his role and how he was utilized.”

It will be interesting to see what happens from here. Newman would have to sit out a year if he transferred to another Division I program, and for a kid that thought he was destined to be a one-and-done star, locking himself into a three-year college career would be an odd move.

Seton Hall’s Isaiah 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.

Whitehead announced his intention to stay in the draft last night on his Twitter account.

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.