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National Title Preview: No. 7 UConn vs. No. 8 Kentucky

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The college basketball season comes to a close tonight as No. 7 seed UConn squares off with No. 8 seed Kentucky in the national title game. Here is all you need to know about this matchup:

WHEN: 9:10 p.m. ET (TBS)

WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX

MAJOR STORY LINES: No one has ever won a national title while starting five freshmen. Michigan’s Fab Five played for a title in 1991 with five freshmen leading the way, and, for the record, they did it as a No. 6 seed. Kentucky’s 2012 team won a title, and while the theme of that tournament run was that Coach Cal proved that a team built around freshmen could win it all, what gets forgotten is that those Wildcats only started three freshmen along with Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones. This would be the first team to ever bring home a ring with five freshmen in the starting lineup.

UConn, however, is looking to pull off one of the most improbable national title runs of all time. They are a seven seed. They beat the Atlantic 10 tournament champs, the Big East regular season champs, the Big 12 tournament champs, the Big Ten tournament champs (who also happened to be the favorite to win the title) and the No. 1 overall seed who hadn’t lost in 30 games. And now they’re trying to beat the preseason No. 1 team. With all due respect to these Huskies, this group would probably be the “worst” national champion of all time, which makes what they’ve done the last month all the more impressive.

KEY STATS: On the season, UConn’s allowed opponents to grab 32.9% of their available offensive rebounds, which ranks 247th nationally. In their five NCAA tournament games, UConn that number fell to 28.9%, which is top 60. Kentucky has an overwhelming size advantage in the front court and they are the nation’s best offensive rebounding team.

KEY PLAYERS: The key matchup for the Huskies is going to be between Ryan Boatright and Andrew Harrison. UConn is going to have issues keeping Kentucky’s big men from doing damage in the paint Monday night, but one of the best ways to counteract an overpowering front line is to get out and pressure the guards, making it difficult to throw an entry pass to a player in the post. Boatright has been sensational of late at playing as the point of UConn’s defensive pressure, and he should be able to do the same against the bigger, slower Harrisons.

RELATEDUConn played Florida’s game | Alex Poythress | Kentucky’s game-winner

POINT SPREAD: Kentucky (-3)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. DeAndre Daniels: He’s perennially the x-factor for UConn. He’s a lottery-level talent that doesn’t always play like a lottery level talent. When he does, like he has throughout this tournament, UConn is a completely different team.

2. Kentucky’s perimeter defense: What UConn is going to try to do is to control the ball in the half court and limit Kentucky’s possessions offensively, which means that UConn’s offense will, more often than not, devolve into the Huskies allowing Napier and Boatright to try and make a play getting into the lane at the end of a shot clock. Keep them from penetrating and beat UConn.

3. Kentucky’s commitment to the paint: The Wildcats have been terrific shooting the ball from the perimeter in this tournament, but the reason that they beat Wisconsin is that they consistently pounded the ball into the paint, whether via entry pass or penetration. If they avoid settling for threes, they’ll win.

CBT PREDICTION: Kentucky

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)
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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.