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Six things to watch for on Selection Sunday

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Practiced started almost six months ago. The first games were played more than four months ago. In that time, 351 Division I basketball teams played 31 game regular season schedules and 31 of the 32 conferences across the country have held their conference tournaments; we’ll turn the Ivy League to the darkside at some point.

It’s been a long, fun ride, but finally …

Selection Sunday is here!

MORE: Today’s bracket update | Get to know all of the automatic bids

And while it may seem crazy, half-a-year’s worth of work will be boiled down to a committee of ten bracketing out the 68 teams that will participate in this year’s NCAA tournament. A good draw could yield a Final Four. A bad draw could cost a Cinderella their dancing shoes.

Here are the six most important things that we will find out on Selection Sunday:

1. Who gets the fourth No. 1 seed?: Florida has been a virtual lock to be on the top line for about a month now. Wichita State locked up a No. 1 seed when they moved to 34-0 with a title in the Missouri Valley tournament. Arizona lost to UCLA in the Pac-12 title game, but the Wildcats are likely still head for a No. 1 seed.

And who else? If Florida’s in the South, Wichita State is in the Midwest and Arizona is out West, who is going to be the top seed in the East?

RELATED: Get to know the potential No. 1 seeds

Villanova looked like the favorite heading into the weekend, but they lost in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. Wisconsin looked like a contender, but they were beaten in the Big Ten semifinals by Michigan State. Can Virginia earn that No. 1 seed by beating Duke in the ACC title game? What about Michigan, who takes on the Spartans in the Big Ten title game? If they lose, is there any chance that Louisville can get the honor?

2. Whose bubble will burst?: Providence did themselves a favor. They went out and won the Big East’s automatic bid on Saturday night, knocking off NBCSports.com’s National Player of the Year Doug McDermott and Creighton. They won’t be sweating out Selection Sunday, but a number of teams will.

source: Getty Images
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The way I see it, there are ten teams vying for six at-large spots. If I had to make a prediction, Tennessee, Dayton, Nebraska, Xavier, SMU and BYU (in that order) are in while Missouri, Cal, Minnesota and Florida State (in that order) are out, but I hope I’m wrong and the committee decides to extend an invitation to Green Bay.

3. Where will Kansas be seeded?: The Jayhawks have played one of the toughest schedules in the history of college basketball this season. They also suffered nine losses against that schedule and were absolutely shredded defensively in two of their last three games. Star Jayhawk center Joel Embiid was out of the lineup in all three of those games. He has a stress fracture in his spine and is not expected to return to the lineup until at least the second weekend of the tournament, if at all. How do they get seeded? How does the committee value the schedule that Bill Self put together? How much of a factor will Embiid’s injury be?

4. Just how high of a seed will Louisville get?: The Cardinals are playing as well as anyone in the country right now. I’d argue that they are one of the five most likely teams to win a title. But thanks to a complete lack of quality wins in non-conference play, the Cardinals simply don’t have the kind of resume that would support a No. 1 seed. As of Saturday, they were a No. 3 in Dave Ommen’s bracket, and others had the Cards slotted as a No. 4 seed. I wouldn’t want to be the No. 1 seed in that region if the Cards get a No. 4 seed.

RELATED: The Cardinals look like a National Title contender

5. Where will Syracuse go?: The seed for Syracuse isn’t quite as important as the region they are sent. There are games in Buffalo the first weekend of the tournament. The Sweet 16 and the Elite 8 will be played at Madison Square Garden. Syracuse fans travel as well as anyone, and they certainly will be able to fill arenas in Buffalo and New York City. That’s quite an advantage for Jim Boeheim’s club. When the Orange were the No. 1 team in the country four weeks ago, that path seemed like a foregone conclusion. But now, can the committee really give the Orange that kind of an advantage when they aren’t even the top seed in their region?

6.Who ends up in Wichita State’s bracket?: It’s crazy when you think about it, but the lack of any real challenge on their schedule means that Wichita State’s season for the ages will be determined by their performance in the NCAA tournament. If they are “for real”, they will make another run. If they aren’t, they’ll lose early. It’s dumb, but reality isn’t always smart.

Here’s the issue: there are some talented, top ten-caliber teams that had their seeds get dropped because of poor stretches during the season. This is a legitimate possibility for the Shockers: they could play No. 8 seed Oklahoma State in the Round of 32, No. 4 seed Louisville (or Michigan State) in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 seed Kansas (with Embiid back) in the Elite 8. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

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)
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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)
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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.