30 consecutive hours of basketball capped by the Champions Classic. It doesn’t get better than that.
You can read our full preview of the Champions Classic right here. This post isn’t about previewing. It’s about predicting. Each of our writers take a stab at who will win tonight’s matchups: No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 2 Michigan State and No. 4 Duke vs. No. 5 Kansas.
Michigan State 75, Kentucky 71: I’m riding with Michigan State’s experience in this one. I love Gary Harris, I think Branden Dawson will be able to hold his own against Julius Randle, and I just have a feeling that the moment just might be too big for some of Kentucky’s youngsters.
Duke 81, Kansas 71: Duke can spread the floor out against Kansas the exact same way that Iowa State did last season, and if you remember, Iowa State nearly beat Kansas twice. The biggest difference? Iowa State was good, Duke is awesome.
Michigan State 78, Kentucky 74: At this point in the season I’ll take the “old” men, with the Spartans have a little more experience in games like this.
Kansas 86, Duke 79: Love Parker and Wiggins, but on this night I see Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden having big performances.
Kentucky 73, Michigan State 67: With the way Julius Randle is playing at the moment, I just don’t see how Kentucky loses to Michigan State.
Duke 82, Kansas 74: Kansas has a ton of talent for a late season run, but Duke is meshing well early and their offense can really move the ball at times and play unselfish ball.
Michigan State 75, Kentucky 68: Kentucky is the most talented team in the country, but the youngsters need to get punched in the mouth once as a “welcome to college basketball” moment; Michigan State’s experience does that tonight.
Kansas 80, Duke 77: Naadir Tharpe’s return to the lineup makes Andrew Wiggins better and more comfortable in his second game.
Michigan State 75, Kentucky 70: Kentucky entered the season as the best team, but the Wildcats are running into a veteran Michigan State team. Also, let’s put a nice, quick end to the ‘is Kentucky going undefeated?’ storyline.
Duke 81, Kansas 72: Yes, the Jayhawks have Naadir Tharpe back. Yes, KU has the better frontline. But I’ll take the chance, and I’ll go with Duke and Jabari Parker back in his hometown.
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.
It was a good experience going through this process but I’m looking forward to focusing on graduating next year and becoming a great leader.
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
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.
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.
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