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Saturday’s Pregame Shootaround: Arizona and Michigan highlight a huge day of college hoops

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 1 Arizona at Michigan (12 p.m., CBS)

The game of the day features the No. 1 team in the country, the Arizona Wildcats, traveling to Ann Arbor for a true road test against the Wolverines. Michigan has more size than many with Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford to give Arizona problems on the interior, but how will with length and athleticism of Arizona bother Michigan? Glenn Robinson III needs to get going this season and a big game against Arizona’s athletic and talented front court could go a long way in getting the sophomore going in Big Ten play.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 11 Kentucky at No. 18 North Carolina (5:15 p.m., ESPN)

The Wildcats finally get a true road game this season as young-and-talented Kentucky go to Chapel Hill for a matchup with North Carolina. We have no clue which North Carolina team will show up, but with Kentucky, their key will be stabilizing their young guards and taking quality shots early in their first road test for many of these true freshmen. How will North Carolina slow down Julius Randle? Who on Kentucky defends Marcus Paige? This should be a tremendous matchup with a ton of talent on the floor.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? Princeton at Penn State (2 p.m., BTN)

If Princeton can slow down the Penn State backcourt of Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill and play more to their pace, they could make this a game this afternoon. The Tigers are off to a 7-1 start and guard T.J. Bray returned against Rutgers on Wednesday, as he scored 23 points and tossed out eight assists in the road win over the Scarlet Knights. This is Penn State’s only game in an 11-day stretch and poses as a potential trap game for them at home if they don’t come prepared.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: VCU at Northern Iowa (12 p.m., ESPNU)

Shaka Smart and the Rams get to test out their press on the road against a good Missouri Valley program in what should be an interesting clash of styles. Northern Iowa is currently 4-5 on the season, but has an overtime loss to Iowa State last week, and is never an easy out as Deon Mitchell, Seth Tuttle and Nate Buss are all juniors averaging double-figures this season for the Panthers. VCU has already faced a tough road test this season, winning at Virginia, and should be prepared to travel to the Midwest.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) The No. 12 Shockers should have their hands full when they host Tennessee today and they could be without the services of sophomore guard Ron Baker, as he’ll be a game-time decision with a sprained ankle according to ESPN’s Jimmy Dykes.

2) North Dakota State should be an interesting test for No. 3 Ohio State. The Bison are coming off a road win at Notre Dame on Wednesday and they are winners of five straight games coming into Saturday’s game at Columbus. The Buckeyes are playing very well early in the season, but North Dakota State is experienced enough to make this a tough game.

3) We should quickly see how good 9-1 Illinois really is tonight as they travel west to face No. 15 Oregon. The Illini haven’t faced many early-season tests this season, as they beat Auburn and UNLV but lost on the road at Georgia Tech. Oregon is probably just happy they don’t have to guard Marshall Henderson for the foreseeable future and the Ducks can put up points in a hurry.

4) Can the No. 13 Jayhawks bounce back with a win over New Mexico in Kansas City after losing three of their last four games? That is what Kansas is hoping, but they’ll face a tough “neutral-court” test with the Lobos. Cameron Bairstow, Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk are all averaging at least 18.6 points per game this season and those three upperclassmen shouldn’t feel intimidated by the pro-Kansas crowd at the Sprint Center.

5) Rivalry games to watch today include Cincinnati at Xavier and the state of Indiana has some great in-state rivalries going today as Notre Dame faces Indiana at 3:15 and Butler facing Purdue at 6 p.m. While none of the four Indiana schools are currently ranked, all four programs are off to solid starts on the season and these games are usually close and full of local intrigue. Cincinnati and Xavier is always a tremendous yearly matchup and is one of the most intense rivalries in college basketball.

THE TOP 25:

  • No. 1 Arizona at Michigan, 12 p.m., CBS
  • North Dakota State at No. 3 Ohio State, 8:15 p.m., BTN
  • Eastern Kentucky at No. 4 Wisconsin, 1 p.m., ESPN3
  • No. 5 Michigan State at Oakland, 4 p.m., ESPN2
  • Western Kentucky at No. 6 Louisville, 12 p.m., ESPN2
  • No. 7 Oklahoma State at Louisiana Tech, 2 p.m., ESPNU
  • No. 11 Kentucky at No. 18 North Carolina, 5:15 p.m., ESPN
  • Tennessee at No. 12 Wichita State, 2 p.m., ESPN2
  • New Mexico vs. No. 13 Kansas, 7 p.m., ESPN2
  • Illinois at No. 15 Oregon, 9 p.m., ESPN2
  • South Alabama at No. 20 Gonzaga, 10 p.m., Root Sports
  • Northern Illinois at No. 22 UMass, 3 p.m., NBCSN

NOTABLES:

  • VCU at Northern Iowa, 12 p.m., ESPNU
  • Youngstown State at Pittsburg, 12 p.m., ESPN3
  • Princeton at Penn State, 2 p.m., BTN
  • Notre Dame vs. Indiana, 3:15 p.m., ESPN
  • Middle Tennessee at Ole Miss, 5 p.m., ESPN3
  • Butler vs. Purdue, 6 p.m., BTN
  • Fresno State at California, 6 p.m., Pac-12 Network
  • Saint Mary’s at Boise State, 6:05 p.m., Root Sports
  • West Virginia at Marshall, 7:30 p.m., Root Sports
  • Cincinnati at Xavier, 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1
  • Louisiana-Monroe at LSU, 8 p.m., ESPN3
  • Prairie View A&M at UCLA, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Network
  • BYU at Utah, 10 p.m., Pac-12 Network

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, according to multiple reports.

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.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Michigan St. at Duke highlights ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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A matchup in Durham of likely top-10 teams is the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, whose schedule was released Tuesday.

Michigan State, expected to open the season in the top-10, and Duke, the presumptive preseason No. 1, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the most intriguing contest of the 14-game event.

The Spartans are losing Denzel Valentin, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, but the recruiting class of Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward is one of coach Tom Izzo’s best and has Michigan State positioned as one of the Big Ten’s favorites.

Izzo’s recruiting class, though, pales in comparison to what coach Mike Krzyzewski is bringing to the Blue Devils, with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier in their 2016 class, which is why, when paired with the likes of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard, make Duke nearly everyone’s No. 1 heading into next season.

Krzyzewski is 9-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans.

Among the other highlights of the conference competition is Syracuse at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) Pittsburgh at Maryland (Nov. 29), Purdue at Louisville (Nov. 30) and Ohio State at Virginia (Nov. 30).  

Monday, Nov. 28

Minnesota at Florida State

Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Syracuse at Wisconsin

Michigan State at Duke

Pittsburgh at Maryland

Iowa at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Penn State

N.C. State at Illinois

 

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Purdue at Louisville

North Carolina at Indiana

Ohio State at Virginia

Virginia Tech at Michigan

Rutgers at Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska at Clemson