Xavier Thames

Weekend Preview: Sunday’s big, and not just on gridiron

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 21 San Diego State at No. 16 Kansas, Sun. 4:30 p.m.

This is a huge game not only for San Diego State, but for the Mountain West as well. The Aztecs have been one of the more surprising teams in the country this season, but they don’t exactly have a ton of great wins. They beat Creighton and Marquette, who both could end up in the tournament, and knocked off Washington as well, but that’s it. But here’s the thing: even that mediocre non-conference schedule places SDSU near the top of the MWC in terms of performance outside the league. The Mountain West as a whole needs this win.

Can they get it? Well, it’s not going to be easy. Andrew Wiggins was the talk of Lawrence entering the season, but over the course of the last month, the Jayhawks have become a team that pounds the ball into the paint. Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis, Tarik Black. Those are the guys that have shined for Kansas in recent games, and I’m not sure the Aztecs have the front court to deal with them. It will be interesting to see what happens when Wiggins guards Winston Shepard as well. Shepard has been sensational the last three games.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 10 Oregon at No. 20 Colorado, Sun. 5:00 p.m.

Oregon barely hung on to beat Utah on the road on Thursday night, meaning that the Ducks will head into Sunday’s visit to Colorado without a loss on their record and with a chance to sweep what is the most difficult road trip in the Pac-12 this season. These two teams are Arizona’s two biggest challengers in the conference.

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No. 22 Iowa at No. 4 Wisconsin, Sun. 8:00 p.m.: The Jarrod Uthoff bowl! Wisconsin has been one of the most impressive teams nationally this season, but Iowa is a couple of ugly possessions away from being undefeated with wins over Villanova and Iowa State.
  • No. 5 Michigan State at Indiana, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Indiana really needs to start piling up quality wins, and what better place to start than knocking off Michigan State. The Spartans are starting to hit their stride, however. Once they get healthy, this team will be scary-good.
  • No. 7 Duke at Notre Dame, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Two interesting story lines here: Notre Dame will be getting their first real test post-Jerian Grant, and they’ll be doing so as Mike Brey takes on his former boss, Mike Krzyzewski, in the first ACC game for the Irish.
  • Virginia at Florida State, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Does anyone have any idea how the ACC is going to play out once you get past Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina? Both FSU and UVA have to pieces for finish fourth in the league.
  • Oklahoma at Texas, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: The Red River Shootout! The Sooners are one of the more underrated teams in the Big 12, but Texas has been arguably the most surprising team in the country.
  • Cincinnati at No. 18 Memphis, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: It seems like everyone is talking about UConn and Louisville in the American, but Memphis and Cincinnati are both good enough to make some noise in league play. This will be a good gauge for a Bearcat team that has had some trouble scoring.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • No. 13 Iowa State at Texas Tech, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: There are few teams in the country that have a bigger difference between home and road performance than the Cyclones.
  • No. 17 UConn at SMU, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: UConn is overrated. It’s that simple. On nights where Shabazz Napier doesn’t go crazy, they are very, very beatable. Ask Houston, who picked the Huskies off on New Year’s Eve.
  • No. 6 Oklahoma State at Kansas State, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Oklahoma State will be adjusting to life without Michael Cobbins — or Stevie Clark? — and will be doing so against a Kansas State team that has come on strong in the last month.
  • Northern Iowa at No. 8 Wichita State, Sun. 2:00 p.m.: The Shockers are going to be a tough team to beat at home, but if anyone is going to do it, it’s going to be Northern Iowa or Indiana State.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) Yale heads to St. Louis to square off with the Billikens at 5:30 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network. You can stream the game online on the NBC Sports Live Extra App.

2) Pacific will pay a visit to No. 24 Gonzaga at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday. The Tigers have been the biggest surprise in the WCC this year.

3) Both of the top two teams in the country will be playing at home at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday. Washington will visits No. 1 Arizona after whipping Arizona State and Miami will head up to No. 2 Syracuse.

4) A couple of good games in the Big East this weekend. Butler visits Xavier at 2:00 p.m. Saturday while St. John’s pays a visit to Georgetown at 1:00 p.m.

5) In the ‘Are either of these teams for real?’ bowl, Pitt will head down to Raleigh in their ACC opener to take on N.C. State at noon Saturday.

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

brimah
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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.