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The SEC is 7-0 in the NCAA tournament, but that shouldn’t change the perception of the league

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The SEC was the laughing stock of college basketball for much of the season.

They’re a power conference, one of the five left after the Big East broke up, yet they only managed to get three of their 14 members into the NCAA tournament. That’s half as many bid as the Atlantic 10 received.

And yet, as we enter the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, the SEC has yet to lose a game. They are 7-0 in the NCAA tournament, with No. 1 Florida, No. 8 Kentucky and No. 11 Tennessee all reaching the Sweet 16.

Good for them.

Seriously.

If reaching the Sweet 16 was an easy thing to do, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Bill Self and Jim Boeheim would not have been sent home already, and the fact that Cuonzo Martin was able to make it through from the First Four and John Calipari was able to hand Wichita State their first loss of the season only reinforces that notion.

But it does not change the fact that the SEC was not a good basketball league this season.

Florida is the No. 1 team in the country, the No. 1 seed in the South and the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. They are supposed to be in the Sweet 16. In fact, they are supposed to be in the Final Four. Making it this far is not an accomplishment for the Gators, it’s a necessary step.

The same should have been said for Kentucky, but it took them more than four months to finally play like the team that entered the year as the preseason No. 1 team in the country. The fact that this is being lauded as an accomplishment for the Wildcats just goes to show you how underwhelming they were during the regular season.

The fact that Tennessee made it this far is the one impressive achievement the SEC has made to date in this tournament. You can critique who they beat if you’d like too — No. 11 Iowa, No. 6 UMass and No. 14 Mercer is not exactly a murderer’s row — but they won three games in five days against quality competition. No matter how you slice it, that’s commendable, and it should go down as proof that the SEC actually had a third good team in the league all along.

So let’s do the math.

The SEC had one national title contender that played like a national title contender. They had another national title contender that lost to South Carolina on March 1st. They had another good team that laid dormant until the month of March.

That’s three … of the 14 teams in the league.

It doesn’t change the fact that more SEC teams were ranked outside KenPom’s top 100 (five) than were ranked in his top 50 (three). It doesn’t change the fact that the team that finished tied for second in the conference (Georgia) lost to Davidson and Temple. LSU, who was supposed to be in contention for a tournament bid this season, lost to Rhode Island. Texas A&M got picked off by North Texas and Missouri State. South Carolina, who, again, beat Kentucky this month, lost to USC-Upstate. Auburn lost to Northwestern State. Alabama lost to Drexel and South Florida. Mississippi State lost to Utah State and TCU.

Should I keep going?

The bottom-line is this: entering the season, we expected the SEC to be a bit top-heavy. Florida and Kentucky were in the preseason top ten, Tennessee was in the preseason top 25, Missouri and LSU were expected to be tournament teams and everyone else was, well, everyone else.

What we have at the end of the season is Florida as a title contender, a disappointing Kentucky team as a sleeper Final Four pick, Tennessee in the Sweet 16 after playing in the First Four and four NIT teams from the conference losing in the second round of that tournament.

The SEC has some good teams at the top of the conference, and they’re playing well this month.

That doesn’t mean that the rest of league is better by association.

Only getting three teams into the Big Dance says a lot more than getting all three of those teams into the Sweet 16.

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)
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.