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SATURDAY’S SNACKS: Villanova, Kansas and Baylor protect No. 1 seed with wins

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SATURDAY’S THINGS TO KNOW

The NCAA tournament men’s basketball selection committee unveiled its top 16 seeds at this current point in the season. In the televised event, defending champion Villanova was given the current No. 1 overall seed while one notable major power conference didn’t have any top-16 seeds. We have more on this here.

Speaking of Villanova, they went on the road to play Xavier and won convincingly to help head coach Jay Wright win his 500th game. I have more on how the Wildcats have been really tough to stop offensively with the emergence of new scorer.

Another one of those No. 1 seeds is Gonzaga, the No. 1 team in the country that now looks like a sure-bet to get to undefeated during the regular season. If you didn’t already think this was a team that can win the national title, a 10-point win at Saint Mary’s should convince you.

The Big East had an interesting start to the afternoon that saw Georgetown beat Marquette and St. John’s upset Seton Hall. The Golden Eagles and Pirates are fighting for a spot in the Field of 68 while the Hoyas are trying to win enough to be in bubble consideration. More on this in Bubble Banter.

Freshman Josh Jackson had one of the best games of the year to help lead No. 3 Kansas to a tight road win over Texas Tech. I have more on why Jackson’s game is important to Kansas down the stretch.

No. 9 Arizona remained in sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 on Saturday thanks to a tough home win over a better-than-you-realize Cal team. No. 5 Oregon was given a fight by USC on the road, but they shook off their collapse against UCLA on Thursday to beat the Trojans.

Luke Kennard had 25 points to help lead No. 18 Duke to a two-point win over Clemson. CBT’s Rob Dauster has more on why the Blue Devils have a glaring issue that is starting to hurt them.

No. 14 Florida State went into South Bend and got worked over by Notre Dame, who seemed to take umbridge with the fact that they were dropped out of the top 25 this week.

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STARRED

J.J. Frazier, Georgia — Frazier finished with 29 points and six assists as Georgia went into Knoxville and knocked off a Tennessee team that is still fighting for their spot on the bubble.

Josh Jackson, Kansas — Frank Mason fouled out with a few minutes left and only played 26 minutes for Kansas on Saturday. So Jackson took over. The freshman played all 40 minutes and knocked in the game-winning free throw as he had a career-high 31 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Jackson was 12-for-15 from the field and very efficient. He willed the Jayhawks to victory.

Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame: The undersized four went up against one of the biggest front lines in the country for No. 14 Florida State and put up 33 points and 13 boards.

Johnathan Motley, Baylor — Keeping pace with the Jayhawks was Baylor as Motley also had himself a great afternoon. Motley finished with 25 points and seven rebounds as he was 12-for-15 from the field.

Tadric Jackson, Georgia Tech — Jackson scored 29 points for the Yellow Jackets in a come-from-behind win over Boston College that kept Josh Pastner’s club in the conversation for an NCAA tournament bid.

RELATED: Get caught up on all of today’s bubble action

REST OF THE TOP 25

  • It took a second-half rally but No. 4 Louisville held off Miami for an ACC home win. Deng Adel and Donovan Mitchell both finished with 18 points. Point guard Quentin Snider finished with 13 points after missing six games with injury.
  • Convincing home win for No. 6 Baylor over TCU as the Bears attempt to keep pace with Kansas in the Big 12 race. The Bears had a really good game from Johnathan Motley in this one as he tallied 25 points.
  • In a game that was tied at halftime, No. 13 West Virginia outscored Kansas State by 19 in the second half to pull away with a Big 12 home win. Junior guard Jevon Carter had 19 points and nine rebounds.
  • There was a late rally that put a scare into No. 15 Kentucky but they ultimately pulled away for an SEC road win at Alabama. Malik Monk had a so-so shooting game but still managed 17 points.
  • A big second-half run gave No. 17 Florida a home SEC win over Texas A&M. Justin Leon paced the Gators with 18 points while John Egbunu had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
  • No. 21 Maryland held off Ohio State at home thanks to a terrific first half. The Terps had lost back-to-back games to fall out of the Big Ten title race.
  • Just hours after being listed as a top four seed in the NCAA tournament selection show preview, No. 22 Butler went out and lost at Providence.
  • Easy win for No. 23 Creighton as they rolled past DePaul for a Big East road win. The Bluejays had five players finish in double-figures, led by Toby Hegner’s 14 points.

NOTABLE

  • Minnesota did what they were supposed to do and beat Rutgers on the road. Sophomore Jordan Murphy led the Golden Gophers with 17 points while also unleashing a poster dunk.
  • Playing the role of potential spoiler was Pitt as they beat Syracuse at home. The Orange had won five straight games but the Panthers were led by 22 points from Cameron Johnson and 21 points from Michael Young.
  • Another embarrassing loss for N.C. State as they lost by 30 on the road at Wake Forest. Since winning at Duke, the Wolfpack have dropped five consecutive games — three by 20 or more points. Center John Collins continued his stellar stretch with 23 points and seven rebounds.
  • After earning an important road win at Northwestern earlier this week Illinois lost by double-digits at home to Penn State. The Illini have lost seven of nine games and head coach John Groce’s job could be in trouble. Payton Banks led the Nittany Lions with 24 points.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.