At some point, the bubble is going to start shrinking. We lost three teams this week with several others on the edge of elimination. There are still an amazing 15 spots up for grabs in our latest bracket projection. Some are more secure than others. If the next two weeks continue like the others, we’ll be in for a wild ride during Championship Week.
Bubble Banter will be updated more often over the next couple of weeks. Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are on the NCAA Bubble. If a team isn’t listed, they aren’t a bubble team at the time of the update. RPI and SOS data is credited to CollegeRPI.com.
UPDATED: Tuesday, Feb. 22
Automatic Bids (31): None decided | Total Spots (68): Number of total teams in the Field.
Projected Locks (17): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Some of these projected locks may become automatic qualifiers should they win their conference tournament.
Should Be In (11): While not yet locks, these are teams in good position to receive an at-large bid.
Bubble: (34): Teams projected to be at or near the cutline for being selected as at-large candidates, or those whose profiles are not yet complete enough to be considered as Should Be In as of the this update.
Spots available (15): Number of available openings for the bracket based on spots reserved for automatic qualifiers, projected locks, and teams projected as Should Be In at this update.
Leaving the Bubble: Oklahoma State, New Mexico, UTEP
Joining the Bubble: Michigan
Below is a conference breakdown of the bubble picture
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: Temple, Xavier | Bubble: Duquesne, Richmond
Duquesne (16-8 | 9-3) | RPI: 77 | SOS: 118 | – Duquesne has a win over Temple at home, but little else is helping. The loss at Dayton knocked the Dukes a step behind the A-10 leaders. If Duquesne can win its last four games, they could still be in consideration heading into the A-10 Tournament. Anything else won’t be enough.
Richmond (21-7 | 10-3) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 132 | – The Spiders continue to hover right at the cutline. Richmond is just 1-2 vs. Top 50 RPI teams – the win over Purdue keeps on giving. At this point, however, the margin for error is razor thin. How the Spiders play in the A-10 Tournament will be critical – along with other developments in early March. Richmond closes the season at home vs. Duquesne; the loser could be eliminated.
Locks: Duke, North Carolina | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech
Boston College (16-10 | 6-6) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 19 | – BC came close but lost at North Carolina this past weekend and was one of the last at-large teams to make Monday’s bracket update. Other than the early win over Texas AM, there’s nothing out of conference helping the Eagles, and BC is just 1-6 vs. Top 50 RPI teams. Right now, the Eagles’ good SOS numbers are helping, but that will only last so long. Beating Virginia Tech at home also helps, the rematch is March 1. A sweep would be huge for the Eagles. BC has dropped 5 of its past 7 games.
Clemson (18-9 | 7-6) | RPI:65| SOS: 83 | – The win at Miami-FL keeps Clemson on the bubble ahead of a must-win vs. Wake Forest. Then it’s off to Duke before a home date with Virginia Tech. The Tigers have to beat both the Deacons and Hokies. The game at Duke is the Tigers’ last chance to post a marquis win, but winning that one doesn’t seem likely. Other than a home win over Florida State, the resume is light. Clemson has non-league losses to Old Dominion, Michigan, and South Carolina.
Florida State (19-7 | 9-3) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 101 | – The Seminoles are close to moving up and off the bubble, but with a testy trip to Maryland up next, we can’t quite take the leap. FSU also has a home date left with Carolina. A weak non-conferense SOS (no. 230), could still spell trouble if FSU stumbles down the stretch. The Seminoles are just 2-4 vs. Top 50 teams, but they do have a win over Duke – which helps. Finishing third in the ACC standings would likely be enough. That’s looking more and more promising.
Virginia Tech (18-8 | 8-5) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 98 | – Being swept by Virginia could prove very problematic for the Hokies – who were the first team “out” of Monday’s bracket. Sound familiar? Va. Tech is clinging to a wins over Florida State, Penn State, and a sweep of Maryland as its best assets. If that seems concerning, it is. Duke visits this weekend. The closing two are Boston College and at Clemson. Since Va.Tech lost at BC earlier, a sweep could be another roadblock. Win out and the Hokies will be in good shape. Going 2-2 will make the ACC Tournament very important.
Locks: Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, Louisville | Should Be In: West Virginia, St. John’s | Bubble: Cincinnati, Marquette
Cincinnati (21-6 | 8-6) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 94 | – Following up the home win over Louisville with a victory at Providence puts the Bearcats in a nice spot heading into a closing four-game stretch. UC meets Georgetown twice along with Connecticut and a trip to fellow Big East bubble dweller Marquette. On that note, the Bearcats control their road to the NCAAs. A split should be enough given the weak bubble surrounding UC. The Bearcats are 3-6 vs. Top 50 teams (Xavier, St. John’s, Louisville) which is acceptable – especially since UC is one of the few teams without a “bad” loss.
Marquette (16-11 | 7-7) | RPI: 67 | SOS: 33 | – Beating Seton Hall at home was must. Now, it’s off to Connecticut before home dates with Providence and Cincinnati. The Golden Eagles are 3-10 vs. Top 25 RPI teams – an amazing number of high-level games. Posting wins is still important, however, as Marquette is 5-11 vs. Top 100 teams. If Marquette wins the games it should down the stretch, the Golden Eagles may still Dance. But the margin for error is decreasing. Good losses alone aren’t going to be enough. If there is a bright side, it’s the overall weakness of the bubble. Marquette’s profile is still better than some other bubble dwellers.
Locks: Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State
Illinois (17-11 | 7-8) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 20 | – Illinois continues to tread water. With a trip to Purdue still on the calendar, it’ll be critical for the Illini to win remaining home games against Iowa and Indiana. Finishing 9-9 in the Big 10 might be enough without a bad loss in the Big 10 tournament, but the Illini won’t be comfortable on Selection Sunday. Adding a win over Purdue would make it a lot easier down the stretch. Good wins include N. Carolina, at Gonzaga, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. The losses at Indiana and UIC are sore points.
Michigan State (15-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 5 | The Spartans have won 3 of 4 and seem to be regaining a bit of momentum. Beating Illinois Saturday avoided a season-sweep by the Illini. MSU is still trying to capture its identity after the dismissal of Korie Lucious. Michigan State is 5-8 vs. Top 50 teams, but just 11-11 vs. the Top 200 – a stat lines that often suggests NIT. Can MSU get to 10 league wins? That might be what it takes to feel safe.
Michigan (16-11 | 7-8) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 24 | While there’s not a lot to love about the Wolverine’s profile (2-8 vs. Top 50 teams), they have won 6 of 8 to be on the fringe of consideration. Other than a win at Michigan State, the Wolverines best in-league hope is a sweep of Penn State. Up next is Wisconsin at home. Hold serve and the Wolverines stay. A loss probably eliminates them. After that, it’s a trip to Minnesota followed by Michigan State at home.
Minnesota (17-10 | 6-9) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 30 | The Gophers’ have lost 6 of 7 since the injury to Al Nolan and this isn’t the same team that posted early wins over UNC and West Virginia. The Selection Committee has to evaluate the current squad, and the results aren’t favorable. Thus, they are among the First Five Out this week. If there’s good news, it’s that two of the Gophers’ final three games are at home. These battles will decide who stays in the at-large picture and who doesn’t.
Penn State (14-12 | 7-8) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 6 | Penn State has a lot of work ahead to stay alive, but we’ll leave the Nittany Lions here for now. A strong SOS is helping, along with home wins over Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota. The flip side is that PSU was swept by Michigan and is just 1-8 in road games (the lone win at Indiana). Two of Penn State’s final three are away from home, so things don’t look promising. Up next a trip to Northwestern.
Locks: Kansas, Texas | Should Be In: Missouri, Texas AM | Bubble: Kansas State, Baylor
Baylor (16-9 | 6-6) | RPI: 79 | SOS: 69 | – The Bears are back on the wrong side of the bubble after losing at home to Texas Tech. Their overall profile remains weak with a 1-4 mark vs. Top 50 teams and only 4 Top 100 victories (the best is at Texas AM). Out of conference, the Bears failed to win a Top 100 RPI game and their non-league SOS ranks No. 236. The closing four won’t be easy, so time if of the essence. Baylor may need to win 3 of 4 down the stretch to feel decent about it’s at-large chances heading into the Big 12 tournament.
Kansas State (17-9 | 6-6) | RPI: 31 | SOS: 10 | – Beating arch-rival Kansas in Manhattan gave K-State it first Top 50 RPI win (1-6 overall). But … one big win won’t keep the Wildcats in the Field of 68. K-State was swept by Colorado – we’ll see if that comes into play – should the Buffaloes make a late charge. So far, the Wildcats have avoided a bad RPI losss, something other bubble teams can’t necessarily say. Next up is a tough trip to Nebraska followed by Missouri at home. Get those two and K-State will be in decent shape heading to Texas.
Locks: BYU, San Diego State | Should Be In: UNLV | Bubble: Colorado State
Colorado State (17-8 | 8-4) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 43 | – Missing a chance to sweep UNLV could be something that haunts the Rams on Selection Sunday. It could set up a clear divide between the Top 3 in the MTW and everyone else. CSU probably needs to beat San Diego State and/or BYU to feel good about its chances, and they can’t afford a loss to Utah or Air Force down the stretch. CSU is 2-4 vs. the Top 50 and 5-6 vs. the Top 100. Winning at UNLV was a high point, but losses to Sam Houston and Hampton are not.
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: Arizona | Bubble: Washington, Washington State, UCLA
Washington (19-8 | 10-5) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 51 | – The Huskies would feel alot more secure had they swept Arizona, but a one-point loss in Tucson is nothing to worry about. What’s important is winning out. After a stop over vs. Seattle, Washington closes with three at home vs. teams below them in the Pac-10 pecking order. Win all three and the Huskies can feel pretty safe on Selection Sunday. Drop more than one and it could be a very nervous week.
Washington State (17-10 | 7-8) | RPI: 81 | SOS: 96 | – Being swept by Arizona and Arizona State knockes WSU to the very edge of bubble consideration. Overall, WSU is just 1-5 vs. Top 50 teams and 5-7 vs. Top 100 teams. Next up is a trip to Washington – now a must-win for the Cougars if they want to remain in the at-large picture. In reality, the Cougars need to win their remaining three Pac-10 games. Odds are not looking good.
UCLA (19-8 | 10-4) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 44 | – The overtime loss at Cal wont’ be a big deal unless the Bruins can’t rebound at home against Arizona State and Arizona. Having won 6 of 7, the Bruins are good position with a second-place standing in the Pac-10. Victories over St. John’s and BYU are solid, although UCLA is still light on quality wins (2-4 vs. Top 50 teams). RPI and SOS numbers are good, but not outstanding. The Bruins’ only real blemish is an early defeat to Montana.
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Kentucky,Vanderbilt, Tennessee | Bubble: Georgia, Alabama
Georgia (18-8 | 7-5) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 32 | – The Bulldogs’ win at Tennessee was huge because it moved them up the SEC East standings and added another Top 50 win to a resume in need of quality wins. Now, there’s also a little more breathing room on the trip to Florida. Besides Tennessee, UGA has an early victory over Kentucky and a win over UAB. All of the Bulldogs losses have been to teams ranked in the Top 40 of the RPI, so that’s a plus. A 2-2 finish might be enough provided Georgia doesn’t lost at home to LSU or South Carolina.
Alabama (18-8 | 10-2) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 128 | – How much wiggle room Alabama has depends largely on how the Committee views a dominant performance in the SEC West. Beating Auburn at home is must before a trip to Ole Miss. The Tide’s closing games are at Florida and home to Georgia. Winning one of those would be a big plus. Whether the Committee will overlook the Tide’s poor start (losses to St. Peter’s, Iowa, Seton Hall) largely depends on how the Tide finish. If they close out the SEC West by multiple games and win a couple of games in the SEC tournament, odds of an at-large bid should be pretty good.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: NONE | Bubble: Butler, Cleveland State, Missouri State, Wichita State, Old Dominion, George Mason, VCU, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, UAB, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, Utah State
Butler (19-9 | 12-5) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 75 | – Butler has won 6 straight and could still earn the Horizon League’s top seed if Cleveland State were to lose one of its last two games – the Bulldogs swept CSU in the season series. Not that a shared title would bump the Bulldogs into the bracket, but it would mean home games in the conference tournament. A win over Florida State in Hawaii could still help, but the victory over Washington State is fading some. It’s the five league losses – including a sweep by Milwaukee – that’s holding Butler back. Getting to the Horizon League final would probably put BU right on the cutline.
Cleveland State (21-6 | 12-4) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 110 | – The loss at Old Dominion in the BracketBuster will make it tough for the Vikings to earn an at-large bid, especially since they were swept by conference foe Butler in the season series. The task at hand is winning their last two Horizon League games (Milwaukee, Green Bay) and securing the regular-season title and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. The downside, of course, is that by hosting the tournament final, a loss – especially a third to Butler – would likely be a major issue.
Missouri State (21-7 | 13-3) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 134 | – Losing at Valparaiso in the BracketBuster may have ended Missouri State’s at-large chances unless they win the outright Missouri Valley title and reach their conference tournament final. The Bears’ best non-conference win is Pacific. The Bears host Wichita State on February 26 – a game that could decide first place. Whoever loses that game is likely off the bubble for good.
Wichita State (21-6 | 13-3) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 105 | – The Shockers are in real trouble after losing to VCU at home in the BracketBuster. Now,WSU has to win at Missouri State this weekend and try to capture the MVC title. That’s all that’s keeping the Shockers on the bubble. After that, it’ll take a visit to the MVC conference tourney final to stick around.
Memphis (21-7 | 9-4) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 41 | – Losing a lopsided game at Rice was no way to take charge of Conference USA. The good news is Memphis owns a season sweep of Southern Miss and and UAB, so it could be tough to bypass the Tigers in favor of either of those two. Memphis does have a road win at fellow bubble-dweller Gonzaga. The Tigers’ best bet continues to be an outright C-USA title. Next up is a trip to UTEP. The at-large margin is very thin. Memphis was blown out in its matchups with Kansas, Georgetown and Tennessee.
UAB (19-7 | 9-4) | RPI: 30 | SOS: 58 | – The Blazers would fall behind Memphis in the at-large pecking order (swept by Memphis this season). The only solution is winning an outright C-USA title. The process includes a road trip to Houston next, followed by one to Southern Miss. As the Blazers have lost to So. Miss once, another loss would eliminate them from any realistic at-large consideration. UAB is 0-4 vs. Top 50 teams (Duke, Memphis, Georgia, So. Miss), and their best non-conference win is VCU at home. There’s also losses at Tulsa and Arizona State.
Southern Mississippi (18-6 | 9-4) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 100 | – After a trip to Central Florida, the Eagles host UAB in a C-USA elimination game. So. Miss beat the Blazers early, so a sweep would be very helpful in developing a pecking order within the conference. Of course, So. Miss has been swept by Memphis, so work remains. USM is still just 1-3 vs. Top 50 teams. Losses to Colorado State and Mississippi won’t help; neither will a non-conference SOS ranked No. 248.
Old Dominion (22-6 | 12-4) | RPI: 27 | SOS: 63 | – Beating Cleveland State in the BracketBuster keeps ODU on track for an at-large bid, if needed. Solid non-conference wins include Xavier, Richmond, and Clemson. ODU also played Georgetown to within three points. A 9-5 mark vs. Top 100 teams will help as will a non-league SOS ranked No. 25. Closing the regular season on a 6-game winning streak would put ODU in a good spot heading into the CAA tournament.
VCU (21-8 | 12-4) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 124 | – Winning its BracketBuster matchup at Wichita State was a bubble saver for the Rams. Get the last two (@Drexel, James Madison) and VCU will remain an at-large candidate heading into the CAA tournament. VCU is 6-5 vs. Top 100 teams but would fall behind George Mason and Old Dominion in the CAA at-large pecking order.
George Mason (23-5 | 14-2) | RPI: 21 | SOS: 65 | – Beating Northern Iowa on the road pushes GMU to 12-0 in its last 12 games. The Patriots lead the Colonial by two full games, and winning the league by that margin should be enough to give GMU an at-large bid, if needed. The Patriots are 9-4 vs. Top 100 teams. The lone miscue is Wofford in November.
Gonzaga (18-9 | 9-3) | RPI: 73 | SOS: 90 | – Gonzaga has won 6 of 7 and makes the bracket this week as one of the final at-large teams – largely due to wins over Xavier, Marquette, and Baylor. The Zags’ home loss to Memphis could still hamper the Bulldogs’ at-large chances, but the big game is a trip to St. Mary’s on Thursday. Win that, and the ‘Zags are back in contention for a WCC title. A 1-6 mark vs. Top 50 RPI teams is still troubling as is a 9-9 mark vs. the Top 200.
St. Mary’s (20-6 | 10-2) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 127 | – The Gaels have somewhat hit the skids – losing at woeful San Diego before dropping a home game to Utah State in the BracketBuster. SMU’s at-large profile has taken a real hit, and an outright WCC title might be necessary. Other than a November win over St. John’s at home, the Gaels have beaten Gonzaga; that’s it. SMU is just 2-5 vs. Top 100 teams. Gonzaga visits Thursday and a sweep of the ‘Zags would go a long way toward pushing St. Mary’s back on track.
Utah State (24-3 | 12-1) | RPI: 20 | SOS: 109 | – Huge win for the Aggies at St. Mary’s. It gave USU a legitimate Top 100 RPI win and would likely push the Aggies ahead of St. Mary’s in the at-large pecking order. Even so, we can’t say USU has locked up an at-large yet. They need to win their last three WAC games and complete a dominant league run. Then, avoid an early flameout in the league tournament.
PRESEASON NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grayson Allen, Duke
Picking the Preseason National Player of the Year this season was not an easy thing to do. This year’s freshman class will rival the Class of 2013 — Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, etc. — in terms of overall talent, and there are a number of newcomers entering into a situation in which they should be able to shine. Hell, there are two potential No. 1 picks and a third projected lottery pick on Duke’s roster this season, and none of them are named Grayson Allen.
But the reason we picked all for this award is actually pretty simple: He’s the best player on the best team in the country. Don’t believe me? Think about this: As a sophomore, his first season playing consistent minutes at the collegiate level, Allen averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists while posting a 61.6 true shooting percentage. That hasn’t been done by a high major basketball player since 1993, which is as far back as the CBB Reference database has statistics. As far as I know, it’s never happened before by a player at the high major level. For comparison’s sake, when Damian Lillard was a senior at Weber State, he was one of the three other players to post those stats.
And Allen did it while playing in a conference that sent six teams to the Sweet 16 and two to the Final Four last season.
Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz was one of just two other guys that we truly considered for Preseason Player of the Year. He’s the current favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and, given Washington’s uptempo style of play, he has a chance to post massive numbers. The biggest question mark here is whether or not the Huskies are going to be good enough to dance; to win the award on a team that’s not a national title contender is hard to do. It’s only happened three times in the last two decades, and all three of those winners — Doug McDermott, Jimmer Fredette and Kevin Durant — averaged more than 26 points. McDermott and Fredette were on teams that earned No. 3 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart was the third player to get serious consideration for National Player of the Year. He’s the guy that is most likely to have a Buddy Hield-esque, breakout senior season. As a junior with the Wildcats, Hart averaged a team-high 15.5 points and 6.8 boards, playing an integral role in Villanova’s small-ball attack. His ability to attack the glass and playing bigger than his 6-foot-5 frame will be even more important for Jay Wright’s club this season as they deal with a lack of size on the interior, but the key for Hart’s long-term future will be his three-point shooting. He made 35.7 percent of his threes last season and 46.4 percent the season before, but that was on relatively limited attempts and his flat shot and awkward release makes it tough to project him as a floor-spacer at the next level. Did he put in the work this offseason to make a jump the way Hield did last season?
Josh Jackson, Kansas: Jackson was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2016 by a number of outlets, and there are still people that believe he’ll eventually be the best NBA player out of this group. A freak athlete like Andrew Wiggins, Jackson is a bit more polished and a whole lot tougher than Wiggins was a freshman. It’s not crazy to think that he can match Wiggins’ output (17.7 points, 5.9 boards, nation’s top perimeter defender), and considering Kansas is a preseason top five team, that puts him firmly in the All-America discussion. But here’s what will limit him: If Carlton Bragg makes the improvement many expect him to, Jackson’s offense may be cut into, and considering there are a pair of alpha-dogs that will be the guys called on to make big shots in key moments, it’s hard to see him having any “Wooden Moments”.
Ivan Rabb, California: We went with Rabb as the nation’s best big man this season. Like Fultz, Rabb could end up playing on a team that doesn’t reach the NCAA tournament. That’s concerning, but there’s a real chance that Rabb could end up averaging 18 points and 10 boards this season. Last season as a freshman, he averaged 12.6 points and 8.5 boards playing as a tertiary option on the offensive end. He would have been a lottery pick had he opted to declare for June’s NBA Draft.
SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICA
Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: Morris is in an interesting situation this season. For the past three years, he’s defined himself as the model of point guard efficiency, a facilitator who makes big shots when he has to but who excelled as running a team and creating for the guys around him. This year? That talent around him is depleted, meaning Morris will be asked to become more of a volume scorer. We expect him to embrace that role and excel in it.
Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State: Smith tore his ACL last August, forcing him to miss his senior season of high school. But the injury meant that he was able to graduate high school early, enroll in college in January and spend the majority of his rehab time doing so with the Wolfpack trainers. The result? He’s returned from the injury as good as new, which is important considering the fact that so much of what makes Smith dangerous is his explosiveness. A potential top five pick, Smith is talented enough that he could take a perennially under-achieving team to the NCAA tournament.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: You may not recognize this name. A former top 30 recruit, Williams-Goss transferred out of Washington after an all-Pac 12 season as a sophomore. He sat out last year as a transfer and will step in to the starting point guard role this season. Gonzaga lost Kyle Wiltjer and Domas Sabonis, but with the talent they have returning — and becoming eligible this season — the Zags have the look of a top ten team, and we expect Williams-Goss to be their engine.
Austin Nichols, Virginia: Nichols is going to be the star for this year’s Virginia team, which is once again a contender for the ACC title. As a sophomore at Memphis, the former McDonald’s All-American averaged 13.4 points, 6.7 boards and 3.4 blocks. He spent last season redshirting at Virginia and learning the system, which he is a perfect fit for. He’s a better big man that Anthony Gill, and Anthony Gill was one of the most underrated players in the country last season.
Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Bryant is another guy that had a chance to be a first round pick last season but opted to return to school. He had a promising first year in Bloomington, but it came with typical freshman mistakes: He was lost early in the year, especially on the defensive end. But Bryant has the tools, he plays extremely hard and he’s young for his grade; he was born five months after Josh Jackson.
THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICA
Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Health is the big question with Brooks, and the reason that he’s a third-teamer instead of being in contention for the first team. Brooks has a foot injury, one that Oregon has already said could keep him out at the start of the season. If healthy, he’s a junior that averaged 16.7 points, 5.4 boards and 3.1 assists last season for a preseason top five team.
Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson: Blossomgame had a chance to leave college and head to the NBA Draft this spring, but he opted to return to school for his senior season. Blossomgame is certainly talented enough to be on this list — he averaged 18.7 points last season — but without the hype of a guy like Smith or Fultz, will he be able to get the Tigers to be a good enough team that people will play attention to him?
Jayson Tatum, Duke: The Blue Devils are the most talented team in the country, and trying to predict where production is going to come from in that offense is tough. Tatum is one of the best pure scorers in college basketball this season, but there’s a real possibility he could end up being the third or fourth leading scorer on this team. The good news? Jabari Parker and Brandon Ingram thrived in the role he’ll play. The bad news? Harry Giles III may be the best player on Duke come March.
Alec Peters, Valparaiso: Peters is the best player at the mid-major level in the country, a kid that graduated from school in three years and had the chance to leave for literally any other program in the country. He didn’t. He opted to stay at Valpo, where he’ll be the centerpiece of new head coach Matt Lottich’s offense. It’s not crazy to think he could average 23 points.
Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: Who is going to be Kentucky’s leading scorer this season? It’s tough to figure out, right? Our money is on Adebayo, their 6-foot-10 center. He’s a freak athletically with more of a face-up game than he gets credit for. Given the lack of perimeter shooting for the Wildcats this season, Adebayo will be asked to carry much of the load.
We named Duke’s Grayson Allen the Preseason Player of the Year. Allen spoke exclusively to NBCSports.com about how things have changed for him in the last 18 months, going to unlikely hero to Duke star to a despised figure in college basketball.
The worst part wasn’t that he had gone from being celebrated as the surprising hero of a team that had won a national title to the Most Hated Man In College Sports.
The worst part wasn’t that he followed a path, carved by Christian Laettner and taken by J.J. Redick before him, that he never wanted to be on. It wasn’t that he couldn’t go anywhere online or watch any sports on TV without seeing, reading or hearing someone ridiculing him, or that he had heard the four most soul-crushing words any child can hear their parents say: “We’re disappointed in you.”
The worst part?
For Grayson Allen, in the midst of a year where he was playing the best basketball he had ever played and dealing with more public and personal turmoil than he had ever before dealt with, the worst part was that he knew that he had done this to himself.
It only took two weeks for Grayson Allen to fulfill the legacy he never wanted.
It started on a Big Monday, the day after Peyton Manning had won his second Super Bowl, when the Blue Devils hosted a top ten Louisville team that was just three days removed from announcing that they would be self-imposing a postseason ban due to a burgeoning escort scandal. All eyes were now on basketball, and all college basketball fans were tuned into to this game.
And Allen, who was well on his way to a second-team NBCSports.com All-American season, delivered with a moment that immediately went viral. After getting knocked to the floor on a drive to the rim early in the second half, Allen tripped Louisville’s Ray Spalding to stop a breakaway, a move that looked intentional but was awkward enough to earn Allen the benefit of the doubt.
That benefit went away two weeks later when, in the waning seconds of a 15-point win over Florida State, Allen extended his left foot backwards, sending Xavier Rathan-Mayes sprawling to the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor. This time, there was no denying it.
It was blatant.
It was intentional.
And it set off a firestorm.
The video was posted on every website. His picture was broadcast on every sports network. ‘Should Grayson Allen be suspended?’ and ‘Is Grayson Allen a dirty player?’ was a topic discussed by every personality paid to have an opinion.
Imagine if your worst moment was broadcast live to millions of people, if the dumbest thing you ever did — the event that plays over and over in your head as insomnia takes hold — was replayed over and over on Sportscenter. Imagine if those same videos, accompanied by a story written by someone you’ve never heard of that details how annoying you are or how punchable your face is, can forever be found by simply typing your name into Google.
That’s where Allen was when the calendar turned from February to March.
“I knew that I made mistakes,” Allen said. “I messed up. I always had to be reminded of that and see that on TV. It was tough. It’s embarrassing to see my mistakes, stuff I regret a lot, being replayed for everyone to see.”
Four months earlier, Allen was the player everyone had pegged as the nation’s breakout star. He wasn’t even a year removed from igniting Duke’s 2015 National Championship run, going from being a seldom-used, confidence-sapped freshman to the spark in a come-from-behind win over Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament title game. He had all the makings of being the Next Great Duke Villain — he’s white, he’s handsome, he plays with an edge and he’s damned good, good enough to be named the 2016-17 NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year — but simply being the footnote to the story of Coach K finally embracing, and succeeding, with the one-and-done model was not enough to make him memorable.
Not in the same way that Laettner and Redick are memorable.
It works like this: there is no middle ground with Duke. They’re like the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys in that fans either love them or actively root for them to lose, regardless of opponent. Playing at Duke comes with the caveat that you will be disliked because of the jersey you wear for you entire college career. It works that way for everyone, whether they’re white or black, good or bad, tall or short, whatever.
But when you reach the level of a Laettner and a Redick, it changes the equation. That’s when the target gets put on your back, and Allen got there last season. He averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 boards — which, when combined with his 61.6 true shooting percentage, gave him a stat-line that had never been accomplished at the high-major level before.
Throw in a pair of tripping incidents in the span of two weeks, and Allen didn’t stand a chance. The hate he had to deal with last season was arguably more intense than anything any previous Duke player has dealt with. All Laettner had to do was to shut off the TV. Twitter didn’t exist and FaceBook didn’t allow anyone that wasn’t a college student until after Redick graduated. Allen can’t post on Instagram or Twitter without getting a barrage of responses telling him just how terrible of a person he is.
“There’s nothing you can do to fully get away from it,” he said.
Allen spoke with both Laettner and Redick about how to deal with the backlash, and their message was simple: Tune it out.
“Listen to the voice of our team and our coaches and not worry about stuff from the outside that’s being said,” Allen said. “[Coach K] has been through so many seasons and had so many players come through. He knows how to deal with it.”
But they also told him that there is no blueprint for this, that different people have to find different ways to cope. He’s not Laettner and he’s not Redick. Laettner loved playing the role of the heel. Redick learned to embrace it, to use the vile things spewed from student sections as motivation, but it was also a defense mechanism.
“Instead of getting hurt by it, if this is who they want me to be, then I’m going to have fun being that villain,” former Duke assistant Chris Collins explained. At the time, Collins and Redick were, and still remain, incredibly close. “I think it helped him deal with all the things that were coming his way.”
That’s not Grayson.
He doesn’t like the attention. He doesn’t want the spotlight. “He never has,” his mom, Sherry, said, which is what made his decision this spring so interesting.
Allen had a chance to declare for the NBA Draft. He likely would have been a first round pick — potentially top 20 — and, in a worst-case scenario, he would have been taken early in the second round and landed a guaranteed contract. Living out a life-long dream while cashing NBA paychecks or going to class five times a week while spending another full season getting abused every time he leaves Duke’s Durham campus? Play a role on an NBA team or see a new crop of freshmen come in and cut into your shots and minutes?
It seems like an obvious decision, and for Grayson, it was.
Just not the way many expected.
“Getting that Duke degree, having the opportunity to play as a lead guard, having the opportunity to play with an extremely talented group,” Allen said, listing the reasons why staying in school was the easy choice. “Step outside my comfort zone more, talk more, be a leader more. I definitely think about winning another national championship.”
Sherry Allen is from the heart of SEC country. She understands how the life of a college athlete can be under a microscope, that a superstar for a powerhouse program living in the fishbowl of a college campus can have a mistake magnified out of proportion.
But she’s a football fan.
She didn’t realize that, in sending her son to Duke, she was potentially setting him up for this. It never crossed her mind, largely due to the fact that she never thought her son would put himself in this situation.
“The word ‘mad’? We weren’t ‘mad’ at Grayson, we were disappointed in Grayson,” Sherry said, realizing full-well that, for someone Grayson’s age, disappointing one’s parents is far worse than angering them. “We were disappointed because he wasn’t smart. And Grayson is smart. He let down for a brief moment, and he was not smart and he made a mistake. That was the disappointment for us.”
And that disappointment led to anguish as the newscycle spiraled.
“To tell you that I wasn’t hurt, I was,” she said. “I think the biggest hurt that I had personally was the name calling. To hear adults, who are parents and have children and are professionals, call names out to your child knowing that they are a parents their self, that was the biggest hurt to me.”
She tried not to let her son see it, because he was able to move on from this. He could put the trips and the hatred that it spawned behind him. He could block out the noise. He could focus on the message from within the team. She knew he could do all of that, and she was right. He played some of his best basketball down the stretch, leading Duke to the Sweet 16 despite playing without their starting power forward and with a six-man rotation.
But he wouldn’t have been able to do that if he knew that what he did had hurt the women he calls “such a big sweet-heart.”
“What Grayson would not be able to handle is if he knew that we were hurt, showing hurt and feeling hurt,” she said. “He would not have been able to move on from that.”
That’s what led to the phone calls.
As Grayson tells it, whenever his mom saw or heard or read something about him, she would call him to take her mind off of it. As Sherry tells it, she was simply calling to make sure that he was OK, that what she was seeing — whether it be a segment on First Take or a FaceBook post from a family friend — wasn’t bothering him. The truth doesn’t matter, because the end result of those conversations was that Sherry and her husband were able to get their message across to him: Move on. It happened, and unless you can go back and change the past, learn from it, grow from it, and let it go.
That’s the message that Allen was hearing from his coaches, too. It’s what he was hearing from his teammates. It’s what he’s spent the last eight months doing.
The question now is where he goes from here, because the tricky part is that playing with an edge is what makes Allen as good as he is. There’s a toughness to him, a competitiveness that cannot be taught. Ask anyone associated with the Duke program the last two years — players or coaches that were forced to scrimmage with the undermanned Blue Devils in practice last season — and they’ll all tell you playing against Grayson Allen is a miserable experience.
He’s never not going to play hard. He’s never not going to be super-competitive. He’s been that way since he first learned what sports were. But last year, he was competitive to a fault. Last year, he let the intensity of the moment get to him. He tripped Spalding after he didn’t get a call on a drive to the rim that left him on the deck. He tripped Rathan-Mayes after the Seminole point guard bumped him.
In those situations, he was the one that reacted.
But what happens if it’s not Allen’s fault?
The perfect encapsulation of just how bad it got for Allen last season came at the very end of their season. Oregon’s Dillon Brooks had just buried a long three to beat the shot clock with a few seconds left and the game no longer in doubt. After Allen dribbled out the clock, Brooks bumped into him and the announcer said that Allen “shoved” Brooks away.
That’s not the case. It was relatively harmless — as Allen tells it, Brooks apologized for running into him, complimented him for being a good player, Allen responded with a “you too, good luck”, and that was that — but since it was Duke and Grayson Allen, and since Coach K was caught on camera lecturing Brooks about the shot in the handshake line, it turned into a massive story.
The point isn’t to argue the merits of Coach K deriding opposing players. The point is that any little flashpoint involving Allen is going to become ‘a thing’ very quickly, and it’s fair to wonder if a fear of another incident — either consciously or subconsciously — will affect the way he plays this season.
There’s nothing he can say that will change this, either. This isn’t something that he’ll be able to fix during what is, in all likelihood, his final year on campus. He can’t un-light that fuse. That’s what happens when you’re caught on camera taking a pair of cheap-shots. Ask Draymond Green how the court of public opinion reacts.
But regardless of your opinion on Allen, it is important to remember here that he returned to school despite the fact that he’ll have to face the music every night. He returned to school because he wants to get his Duke degree, which he’s hoping to finish in three years. He passed up on guaranteed NBA money to chase a second NCAA title.
Education matters to him.
Winning matters to him.
The program he plays for matters to him.
He is everything we want our college stars to be.
And he knows that two moments of weakness ensured that he’ll never be remembered that way.
Indiana lands four-star Class of 2017 wing Justin Smith
Indiana landed an athletic wing commitment on Monday night as four-star small forward Justin Smith pledged to the Hoosiers on Twitter.
The 6-foot-6 Smith is a native of Lincolnshire, Illinois and comes from Stevenson High School as he’s regarded as the No. 105 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings.
A high-flying wing who is great in the open floor, Smith should fit the Hoosiers’ uptempo system perfectly and if he’s able to get a more consistent perimeter jumper then he has a chance to be a really nice piece for Indiana.
Smith joins three-star guard Al Durham in Indiana’s recruiting Class of 2017.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this fall and the longtime Spartans head coach is receiving another unique honor in the remodeled Breslin Center.
The school announced over the weekend that the Tom Izzo Hall of History will be added to the Breslin Center renovations as the building is supposed to be completed by the fall of 2017.
“The Tom Izzo Hall of History will become a great gathering place on our campus where together we can celebrate the excellence of Spartan Basketball and MSU Athletics,” athletic director Mark Hollis said in a release. “When this facility project is complete it will be the finest college basketball facility in the country, so it’s only fitting that Tom’s name will be a permanent part of it.”
Overall, this is a nice addition to the Breslin Center, especially since Izzo and Michigan State basketball will forever be associated with one another. It should be cool for fans to go through it and re-live great moments in Michigan State history and the wing is another nice recruiting tool that can help point out all of Izzo’s biggest accomplishments.
Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament moving to Orlando amid Zika concerns
Amid concerns over the Zika virus, the annual Puerto Rico Tip-Off announced a change in venue on Monday. Rather than staying on the island, the tournament will move to Orlando and all games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney.
The dates and teams will remain the same for the event as it will be played Thursday, Nov. 17, Friday, Nov. 18 and Sunday, Nov. 20. The field for the event includes Arizona State, Clemson, Davidson, Missouri, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Tulane and Xavier.
“We enjoy the beauty and accommodations that are afforded in Puerto Rico and wanted to make every effort in playing the event in San Juan, but the concern for student-athlete and spectator welfare became the primary driver in the decision,” Pete Derzis, senior vice president of ESPN Events said in the official release. “We intend to return to Puerto Rico in the future.”
Puerto Rico is currently under a Level 2 alert for Zika according to the CDC. Since there have been cases of Zika on the island with native mosquitoes, it’s probably a smart move to eliminate all concerns over the virus if they can easily move the tournament elsewhere. It probably isn’t ideal for fans who purchased travel packages to Puerto Rico to watch the event, but it’s a small price to pay for the safety of everyone involved.
The Puerto Rico Tourism Company is also upset with the decision as Executive Director Ingrid Rivera Rocafort released a statement on Monday night.
“We are disappointed about this decision that we believe has been based on fear not the facts about Puerto Rico,” the statement read.
“There is no public health reason to cancel the Puerto Rico Tip Off or any sporting event in Puerto Rico. There is no doubt that our strong fan base and local spectators would have turned out to support their teams. Less than one percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million population has contracted Zika, a far cry from projections. The hype and misinformation is fostering irrational decisions.”