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Thursday’s Pregame Shootaround: Loaded day of conference tournament action

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 18 Memphis vs. No. 21 UConn, 8:00 p.m., ESPNU

This is one heck of a quarterfinal matchup in the inaugural American Athletic Conference Tournament that pits the only matchup of the day between ranked teams. Memphis will have the homecourt advantage playing in its hometown, even though they are the No. 5 seed, and they’ll look to avenge being swept in the regular season by the Huskies. UConn, meanwhile, has struggled on the offensive end down the stretch as they’ve failed to crack 70 points in their last six games. The last time the Huskies cracked 70? An 86-81 overtime win over Memphis on February 15th.

RELATED: Is your team in the field of 68? Check our latest Bracketology

THE OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT: Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Kansas, 3:00 p.m., ESPN2

The Cowboys have won five out of six games — including a 72-65 home win over Kansas — since the return of Marcus Smart and they’ll look to keep that momentum going in this Big 12 quarterfinal matchup. Oklahoma State looks like a different team in these last few weeks after their nearly devastating mid-season swoon, and a win over Kansas would continue to build momentum going into the NCAA Tournament. Kansas, meanwhile, will see how they fare without center Joel Embiid in the lineup once again and it will be interesting to see how Andrew Wiggins plays after his monster performance against West Virginia. Whether Wiggins has a huge game or not, Kansas needs more consistency from its guard-play, as Naadir Tharpe, Frank Mason and company were soundly outplayed on both ends of the floor in the loss to West Virginia last Saturday.

RELATED: Conference Tournament schedules for every league

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? Florida State vs. Maryland, 12:00 p.m., ESPN

This would be an upset only in the sense that Florida State (18-12) is still fighting for a potential at-large bid while Maryland is playing the role of spoiler. The Terps (17-14) are playing some decent ball down the stretch as they’ve beaten Virginia Tech and Virginia and have close losses to Clemson, Duke, Syracuse and Virginia. Maryland also knocked off Florida State the last two times these teams played in February. The Seminoles need all the wins they can muster at this point in the season and they had won three consecutive games before a double-digit loss to Syracuse. It’s tough to get a read on this Florida State team this season and their inconsistent play could come back to bite them in this one.

Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Ohio vs. Akron, 6:30 p.m., ESPN3

A really solid battle in the MAC as Ohio (23-10, 11-7) and Akron (20-11, 12-6 MAC) square off in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. These two teams split in the regular season as Akron has won three straight games while Ohio has won four straight games and is also playing some good ball entering the conference tournament. It’s not very common to see a battle of 20-win teams in a mid-major quarterfinal, but both of these teams could use a win like this to propel them to the tournament title and NCAA Tournament bid. Buffalo, Toledo and Western Michigan might have something to say about that, but the MAC is pretty deep with teams that could win the conference tournament.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) The Big 12 quarterfinals are easily the best top-to-bottom matchups of the day as West Virginia (17-14) takes on Texas (22-9), Baylor (22-10) faces No. 17 Oklahoma (23-8) and Kansas State (20-11) battles with No. 16 Iowa State (23-7) besides the aforementioned Oklahoma State and Kansas showdown.

2) While No. 3 Villanova and No. 14 Creighton should get by Seton Hall and DePaul, respectively, in the Big East quarterfinals, an interesting potential play-in game is brewing as St. John’s (20-11) takes on Providence (20-11) at 2:30 p.m. Both teams sit squarely on the bubble and the loser’s bubble would likely burst. Marquette (17-14) and Xavier (20-11) in the nightcap at MSG is also an enticing matchup.

3) Not to overlook our friends on the West Coast, the Pac-12 quarterfinal slate is also tremendous. Utah (21-10) will be looking for a major boost to its tournament resume with a win over No. 4 Arizona (28-3), UCLA (23-8) and Oregon (23-8) will square off in a great matchup, while bubble implications occur as Arizona State (21-10) takes on Stanford (20-11) and Colorado (22-10) matches up with Cal (19-12).

4) The SEC has some bubble teams playing in the quarterfinals as well as Missouri (21-10) takes on Texas A&M (17-14) and Arkansas (21-10) battles South Carolina (13-19). A win likely doesn’t do much good for either team, but a loss would be potentially devastating to an at-large bid.

5) The Conference-USA quarterfinals will be one to monitor today as Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech still battle for at-large bids while fighting for the automatic birth, as well. Southern Miss (26-5) has a challenging game with UTEP (23-9) while Louisiana Tech (25-6) will take on Charlotte (17-13). It’s worth noting that Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech tied atop the league standings at 13-3 with Middle Tennessee (23-8) and Tulsa (18-12), who also have quarterfinal matchups today.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Rutgers vs. No. 5 Louisville, 3:00 p.m.
  • Utah State vs. No. 8 San Diego State, 3:00 p.m.
  • UCF vs. No. 13 Cincinnati, 7:00 p.m.
  • Fresno State vs. No. 20 New Mexico, 9:00 p.m.
  • Purdue vs. No. 24 Ohio State, 2:25 p.m.
  • Houston vs. No. 25 SMU, 1:00 p.m.

NOTABLES:

  • Penn State vs. Minnesota, 6:30 p.m.
  • Northwestern vs. Iowa, 8:30 p.m.

Villanova’s Jenkins to return for senior season

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) reacts to play against North Carolina during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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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.

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

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) drives past Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger, left, for a score in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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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.

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP
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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.

SMU lands former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt

Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt (24) leaps for a layup past Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips (25) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Arkansas won 75-65. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP
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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

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Courtesy UNCBears.com
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GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.

Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.

University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.

Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.

In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”

Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.