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Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Quality mid-major matchups stand out

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Pacific vs. Princeton (10:30 p.m., in Las Vegas) 

Ron Verlin’s Tigers were picked to finish in the bottom half of the WCC in their first season as a member of the conference, and through nine games Pacific has the look of a team capable of exceeding those expectations. Their lone defeat came at No. 13 Oregon, and Pacific has four players averaging between 11.7 and 12.6 points per game.

The key for Pacific tonight: discipline. Mitch Henderson’s Tigers do a very good job of running their sets and sharing the basketball, with Tyler Bray leading five players in double figures with an average of 15.0 points per game. Princeton is expected to be Harvard’s biggest threat in the Ivy League, and the more non-conference wins those two can pick up the better for the league.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: UCSB at Utah State (10:05 p.m.) 

Utah State won’t have the suspended Jarred Shaw, but that doesn’t mean winning at the Spectrum will be an easy task for the visiting Gauchos. UCSB has one of the nation’s best big men in Alan Williams, and he’s surrounded by some talented players. Bob Williams’ group isn’t a one-man outfit, meaning that Utah State will need to be at its best defensively given UCSB’s ability to knock down perimeter shots. Preston Medlin leads three Utah State players averaging double digits (removing the suspended Shaw).

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW: 

1) No. 2 Syracuse is the lone ranked team in action tonight, with the Orange hosting 3-6 High Point (7:00 p.m.; ESPN3). Scott Cherry’s team will play the remainder of the season without Allan Chaney, whose career was cut short due to a heart ailment last month.

2) A busy week continues for UNLV with a home game against Sacred Heart (10:00 p.m.). Evan Kelley and Chris Evans lead four players in double figures for the Pioneers, but their rebounding problems are a concern with UNLV boasting the nation’s best rebounder in Roscoe Smith along with fellow forward Khem Birch in the paint.

3) SMU visits Wyoming in what should be a competitive matchup in Laramie (9:00 p.m., ROOT Sports). Nic Moore and Yanick Moreira have been very good additions for the Mustangs, who have won four straight games since losing to Virginia on November 29.

4) Minnesota should be on upset alert tonight as they host an 8-3 Omaha squad that has already played tight road games at Iowa and UNLV (9:00 p.m., BTN). C.J. Carter leads the Mavericks in scoring with an average of 15.3 points per game.

5) Indiana will play two games in the next three days before beginning Big Ten play next Saturday, starting with Nicholls tonight (7:00 p.m., BTN). The Colonels have won three of their last four games entering tonight’s contest.

Hayes returning to Wisconsin for senior season

Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes celebrates with fans after an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa. Wisconsin won 67-59. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Wisconsin has cemented itself as one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten for the 2016-17 season.

Forward Nigel Hayes, the Badgers’ leading scorer and assist man, is withdrawing his name from NBA Draft consideration to return to Madison for his senior season, he told the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday evening.

Hayes declared for the draft last month, but did not hire an agent, taking advantage of new NCAA legislation that allowed him to attend the NBA Draft combine and workout for pro franchises. He was largely regarded as a fringe first-round prospect by draft observers.

His decision is a major boon for Greg Gard, who may have the Big Ten’s best team in his first full season at the helm after taking over for Bo Ryan in the middle of last season. Wisconsin had a major turnaround under Gard, which ultimately resulted in him moving from interim to full time. The Badgers were 7-5 when Ryan stepped down, but recovered by going 13-4 to end the season and make the Sweet 16. 

Now, the entirety of that team, headlined by Hayes, is returning for another year and almost assuredly will be a top-15 (or better) preseason pick. Michigan State will welcome in a dynamite recruiting class that features five-stars Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston, and Indiana should remain strong, but the Badgers, with some players having the experience of  playing in two Final Fours, could very well have the best roster on paper with its blend of talent and experience. Whichever team is pegged as the favorite, the top of the Big Ten is shaping up to be a fantastic race.

Illinois dismisses Kendrick Nunn

Illinois guard Kendrick Nunn (25) tries to go up for a basket against Indiana center Thomas Bryant (31) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at in Champaign, Ill., on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Heather Coit)
(AP Photo/Heather Coit)
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Illinois announced on Tuesday that they have dismissed Kendrick Nunn from the basketball program.

Nunn was sentenced to community service after pleading guilty to a battery charge that stemmed from a domestic violence incident. He was alleged to have hit a woman in the head and pushed her to the ground before pouring water on her.

“We have made the decision to dismiss Kendrick Nunn from the men’s basketball team, effective immediately,” a statement put out by head coach John Groce and athletic director Josh Whitman read. “After extensive deliberation, we think it best for our program to reaffirm our core values of trust and respect, to send a strong message about what is acceptable behavior.”

Nunn averaged 15.5 points as a junior last season.

Delaware hires Martin Inglesby as head coach

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Joe Raymond, AP
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Delaware has finally hired a head coach, a little more than two months after Monte’ Ross was fired.

The man that earned the right of taking over a program with just four returning scholarship players is Martin Inglesby, a Notre Dame assistant that has been under Mike Brey’s tutelage for more than a decade. A source confirmed the news with NBCSports.com. Brey spent his first six seasons as a Division I head coach in Newark.

The reason that the search for a new basketball coach took so long is that the university was in the midst of looking for a new athletic director. Chrissi Rawak was hired as AD on May 13th, and one of her first orders of business was finding a replacement for Ross.

CBS Sports was the first to report Inglesby’s hiring.

Report: UCLA signs record apparel deal with Under Armour

(Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The latest arms race in the collegiate ranks centers around apparel deals, and UCLA has reportedly signed the largest in the history of amateur athletics.

Under Armour will pay the university $280 million over the next 15 years, according to ESPN.com, in exchange for their athletes to work as unpaid models, turning Pauley Pavilion and the Rose Bowl into a runway for the athletic apparel company to hawk their wares.

Here are the details from ESPN:

At those numbers, the deal would be the largest in college football history. In January, Ohio State said its 15-year deal with Nike was worth $252 million. Texas signed a 15-year deal with Nike worth $250 million in October, and Michigan signed an 11-year deal, with a four-year option, that could be worth up to $173.8 million.

Landing UCLA only furthers Under Armour’s presence on the west coast. Their most famous client is Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors.

Kentucky-Kansas headlines the 2017 SEC/Big 12 Challenge

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The Big 12 and the SEC announced the matchups for the 2017 SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Tuesday, and the highlight is, of course, Kansas and Kentucky.

The two schools, who played an instant classic in Phog Allen Fieldhouse last season, will square off in Lexington this season. If that wasn’t enough, Kentucky and Kansas are currently sitting second and third, respectively, in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25.

So that should be fun.

The game will be played on January 28th along with the rest of the matchups in the series. Those matchups are:

Texas at Georgia
Texas A&M at West Virginia
Florida at Oklahoma
Baylor at Ole Miss
Iowa State at Vanderbilt
Kansas State at Tennessee
Arkansas at Oklahoma State
Auburn at TCU
LSU at Texas Tech

To be frank, the rest of that schedule is not all that enticing. West Virginia should be a top 25 team, and they host a Texas A&M team that is talented but young. Florida and Georgia are arguably the two best non-Kentucky teams in the league, but they face off with a rebuilding Oklahoma and a young Texas squad, neither of whom are guaranteed to make the tournament.

The problem here?

Both the SEC and the Big 12 are likely going to be down this season, which puts a damper on just how excited we can get about this challenge.