Utah v Arizona

Saturday’s Pregame Shootaround: More auto bids decided as conference tourney play keeps rolling

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: UCLA vs. No. 4 Arizona, 5:30 p.m.

While the schedule in the Pac-12 this season only allowed for one game between UCLA (24-8, 12-6) and No. 4 Arizona — the league’s two best teams — the Bruins will get a chance at revenge on Saturday in Las Vegas when they play the Wildcats (30-3, 15-3) for the Pac-12 Tournament title. The Bruins cruised to wins over Oregon and Stanford to get to Arizona and their offense is really rolling right now. Arizona, meanwhile, had big wins of its own against Utah and Colorado. The league’s best offense (UCLA) faces the league’s best defense (Arizona) for a title and both teams are playing well and winning by double-digits so far in the tournament.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 22 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Wisconsin, 4:05 p.m.,

Can Sparty get revenge after their two-point loss in Madison earlier this season on February 9th? Michigan State (24-8, 12-6) certainly hopes so and although Michigan State won’t be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, they’ll still be one of the most dangerous teams in the field, if they’re healthy. Wisconsin (26-6, 12-6) actually is playing for a No. 1 seed and the Badgers might have fallen at Nebraska last weekend, but Bo Ryan’s team has still won nine out of its last 10 entering Saturday’s Big Ten Conference Tournament semifinal.

THE OTHER OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT No. 20 New Mexico vs. No. 8 San Diego St., 6:00 p.m., CBSSN

This should be a good rubber match for the Mountain West Tournament title as these teams have played each other twice in the last few weeks. New Mexico (26-6, 15-3) took down San Diego State (29-3, 16-2) at home on February 22nd, but the Aztecs returned the favor with a March 8th home win. San Diego State has won six straight games since losing to New Mexico on the road while the Lobos are winners of eight of their last nine games with the only loss coming to the Aztecs.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: Baylor vs. No 16 Iowa State, 9:00 p.m., ESPN

Would you wanna face Scott Drew’s team right? After Friday’s 86-69 throttling of Texas, Baylor (24-10, 9-9) has won six consecutive games and they’ll be looking for a Big 12 Tournament title with a win over Iowa State. The Bears beat the Cyclones, 74-61, earlier in the month on March 4th, so Baylor has had the recent upper-hand on Iowa State (25-7, 11-7) and they’re offense is firing on all cylinders lately. Baylor has shot 50 percent from the three-point line the last two wins over Oklahoma and Texas, so if they’re shooting well from the perimeter they’ll keep the winning streak alive.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) Interested to see how North Carolina State (21-12, 9-9) and No. 21 UConn (26-7, 12-6) fair in their respective Saturday games after suffering blowout losses to their opponents earlier this season. The Wolfpack lost, 95-60, at No. 7 Duke (25-7, 13-5) on January 18th, while UConn was swept by No. 5 Louisville (28-5, 15-3), including an 81-48 dismantling last weekend. Can N.C. State bounce back to make it to the ACC Tournament finals and can UConn make a game of the AAC Tournament title game?

2) Should be a fun rubber match in the Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden as Providence (22-11, 10-8) takes on No. 14 Creighton (26-6, 14-4). These teams each won at home in the regular season, including Doug McDermott’s jaw-dropping 45-point display last week in a home win over the Friars. This is Providence’s first trip to the Big East title game since 1994, but do the Friars have enough in the tank thanks to their six-player rotation?

3) While No. 1 Florida (30-2, 18-0) will be looking for its third win over the year against Tennessee (21-11, 11-7), will Kentucky continue to look like a dangerous threat in its SEC Tournament semifinal game against Georgia (19-12, 12-6)? The Wildcats (23-9, 12-6) looked great in their Friday quarterfinal win over LSU and Kentucky looks like they have their confidence back, but will it sustain?

4) Before the SWAC Tournament got underway at the Toyota Center this week there were concerns that the conference title game might be overrun by any of the four SWAC teams that were deemed ineligible for the NCAA Tournament, but still allowed to enter the conference tournament. Thankfully, that won’t be the case when Texas Southern (18-14, 12-6) takes on Prairie View A&M (11-22, 6-12) in a battle of two teams that are eligible for the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers will be the heavy favorite and they’re led by Aaric Murray, a senior post, who has transferred out of LaSalle and West Virginia during his well-traveled college career. Murray averages 21.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game this season.

5) Besides the SWAC Tournament final, there are a number of autobids being decided today:

  • America East: Albany (17-14, 9-7) vs. Stony Brook (23-9, 13-3), 11:30 a.m.
  • Conference USA: Tulsa (20-12, 13-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (27-6, 13-3), 11:35 a.m.
  • MEAC: Morgan State (15-15, 11-5) vs. North Carolina Central (27-5, 15-1), 6:00 p.m.
  • MAC: Toledo (27-5, 14-4) vs. Western Michigan (22-9, 14-4), 6:30 p.m.
  • Big Sky: North Dakota (17-15, 12-8) vs. Weber State (18-11, 14-6), 8:00 p.m.
  • Southland: Sam Houston (23-9, 13-5) vs. Stephen F. Austin (30-2, 18-0), 8:30 p.m.
  • WAC: Idaho (16-17, 7-9) vs. New Mexico State (25-9, 12-4), 10:00 p.m.
  • Big West: Cal Poly (12-19, 6-10) vs. Cal State Northridge (17-17, 7-10), 10:30 p.m.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

    • Pittsburgh vs. No. 6 Virginia, 1:00 p.m.
    • No. 24 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Michigan, 1:40 p.m.
    • George Washington vs No. 23 VCU, 4:00 p.m.

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.

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.