Bubble banter: 15 spots up for grabs in NCAA tourney

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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
Atlantic 10
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.
BIG 10
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.
BIG 12
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.
PAC 10
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.
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.

Bill Self’s least impressive Kansas team is 40 minutes away from the Final Four

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OMAHA, Neb. — Kansas is vulnerable, exploitable and limited. The Jayhawks have no depth, are without a superstar and possess a middling defense.

They are Bill Self’s worst team.

And they have won the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles, secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and are a win away from the Final Four.

The Jayhawks shrugged off some late sluggishness to dispatch No. 5 Clemson 80-76 on Friday night in the Midwest Regional semifinal at CenturyLink Center to put themselves in the Elite Eight for the third-consecutive year with a date with Duke on Sunday.

This year has often been about what this Kansas team couldn’t do after the losses of Frank Mason and Josh Jackson and then the ineligibility of Billy Preston. Early-season losses to Washington and Arizona State, the latter at the usually impregnable Allen Fieldhouse, were the proof this Kansas team might finally be the one not to win a Big 12 title. Then Texas Tech beat the hell out of them in Lawrence and it looked like the streak was on its way to over.

Devonte Graham was a poor imitation of Mason.  Svi Mykhailiuk was too timid and inconsistent. Udoka Azubuike was foul-prone and unproven. The supporting cast was a rung or two lower than a team with national-championship aspirations could carry.

Those problems are real. Those issues are troublesome. Those deficiencies are critical.

In spite of it all, Kansas won the Big 12 by two games, ripped through the conference tournament and are on the doorstep of playing for a national championship.

Bill Self’s worst team has a chance to be the country’s best.

“I’m so proud of our team because I think of all the teams that we’ve had here, this would be the team that everyone would have thought would not be in this game,” Self said Friday. “And so, hey, we’re in this game. We’ve got a legitimate shot to go to San Antonio.

“You prepare the whole year to play in this game. So I think we’ll play with no what-ifs. I think we’ll let it go. I think we’ll be as loose as we can be and still you’ve got to make shots.

“I’d like nothing more than to take my team this year to San Antonio and let them experience what the best of the best is in college basketball.”

The key to Kansas’ season has been embracing its shortcomings. Azubuike is the only big they’ve got that can give them both scoring and defense consistently. It’s a 180 for a program that’s featured Thomas Robinson, Cole Aldrich, the Morris Twins and Jeff Withey. Kansas almost always plays through its bigs. This year, they’re playing around one.

“I never played like this,” Self said. “It just goes against the grain from the teams that we’ve had in the past, but these guys have figured it out. They’ve learned how to play through it, and we’ve had unbelievable guard play and unbelievable leadership from our vets, and had some guys have some outstanding seasons.

“There’s less margin for error but these guys have certainly rallied around that.”

Kansas’ shooting is why they’re in the Elite Eight. The Jayhawks are 10th nationally with a 40.5 3-point shooting percentage. It’s Azubuiike, though, that makes so many of those good looks possible. The man makes 77.5 percent of his shots from the floor. That demands defensive attention. And that means defenders aren’t shadowing shooters.

“He’s a guy we can throw the ball into and he can go get a basket,” Malik Newman, who had a team-high 17 points Friday, said. “I think his passing is underrated. That’s another big key for him. When we’re able to throw it in and the defense collapses on him, he is able to kick it out and find an open shooter.

“It just opens up the whole game for us.”

It’s opened up a whole world of possibility for Kansas and a world of hurt for their opponents.

“Most teams have somebody that you can kind of scratch off,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell mused. “So one of the reasons they’re so hard to guard is they’ve got a center that scores if he catches it deep, and he’s bigger than everybody on the floor so he does get position. And then you’ve got guards that can all make shots and drive by you and they play with great spacing.”

Now, Kansas isn’t full of slouches. Graham was the Big 12 player of the year, Azubuike’s talent was apparent even if it was raw before injury robbed him of a freshman year. Mykhailiuk is all-Big 12 while Malik Newman and LaGerald Vick were heralded prospects. Still, there’s not a lottery pick among them. No Andrew Wiggins or Ben McLemore or Josh Jackson. The fit is strange and the depth is zilch.

All that has eroded Kansas’ wiggle room for mistakes, but when they operate within their comfort zone, it can make for great offense. The first two minutes of the second half when the Jayhawks hit back-to-back 3s was a thing of beauty, ball movement and shot making. It was the blueprint for a buzzsaw.

Maybe Self’s worst team is pretty damn good.

Keenan Evans closes strong (again) as Texas Tech advances past Purdue to Elite Eight

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BOSTON — Second Half Keenan struck again on Friday night.

Keenan Evans scored 12 of his 16 points and handed out three of his four assists in the final 10 minutes of the game as No. 3-seed Texas Tech held off No. 2-seed Purdue, 78-65. Zach Smith and Justin Gray paced Tech early, combining for 26 points that helped the Red Raiders build a lead that reached as high as nine before Evans went into takeover mode. Zhaire Smith added 13 points of his own, while the Red Raiders forced 17 Purdue turnovers.

And with that, Texas Tech will to advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time since … ever.

This is uncharted territory for for the Red Raider program that has never been to an Elite Eight and will be playing for their first-ever trip to the Final Four.

“To build a program there has to be a lot of firsts so myself and Keenan have only been together for two years, so we’ve never been to the Elite Eight in two years,” Beard said. “That’s more accurate.”

It’s also fitting, really.

Because it more or less sums up what makes this Texas Tech program so interesting.

On a night where their three-leading scorers never really got going, the Red Raiders advanced on the stretch of two things: Their defense, and the fact that they can stay in a game on the nights when their best players don’t play their best.

With just over 10 minutes left in the game, when Purdue was getting ready to make one final run at advancing to the Elite Eight, is when Evans took over. And there’s no question about it: He closed out this game. Everything that the Red Raiders got on the offensive end of the floor came through Evans down the stretch, even the stuff that doesn’t show up in the score book; for example, the Red Raiders executed a pick-and-roll to perfection with three minutes left, but the lob that Evans threw to Zach Smith ended up as a missed dunk that Zhaire Smith was able to put right back in. Evans doesn’t get the assist, but he made that bucket possible.

I saw all that to say this: With 10 minutes left, the three leading scorers in the Tech program — Evans, Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver — were a combined 4-for-16 from the floor with just 11 points.

And Texas Tech held a 50-41 lead. If Evans is Texas Tech’s closer, this was a save that he earned with a three-run lead.

“It’s our identity,” Beard said. “We have a lot of faith in our whole roster, we use a lot of different guys and tonight was fitting. That is the way we have played all year.”

If that doesn’t sum up Chris Beard’s program, I don’t know what does.

No. 2 Duke goes inside to defeat No. 11 Syracuse

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OMAHA, Neb. — Second-seeded Duke made just 5 of its 26 3-point attempts against No. 11 Syracuse on Friday in the two ACC programs’ Sweet 16 matchup.

So the Blue Devils just went inside.

Marvin Bagley III and Wendel Carter, Jr. both had big games to help the Blue Devils outlast the Orange, 69-65, to put themselves in the Elite Eight on Sunday against top-seeded Kansas.

“This was a heck of a game,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I thought both teams played their hearts out. A great game to win, a really difficult game to lose, because Syracuse played such winning basketball.”

While Duke couldn’t beat the zone that took Syracuse from the First Four to the second weekend with its outside shooting, its two big underclassmen provided plenty of production. Bagley had 22 points and eight rebounds while Carter added 14 points and 12 boards.

“It was a hard fought game. We knew they were going to compete every second of the game,” Bagley said, “and we just tried to compete as well. We had a little point in the game where we started turning it over, and things weren’t going our way, but we stayed tough mentally and we finished it out.”

Bagley was on the receiving end of a number of lobs behind the Syracuse zone that helped the Duke offense stay out in front.

“We practiced it all week,” Bagley said. “We try to look for different things and different ways to score against that zone, and we did a great job at that and got the win.”

Tyus Battle had 19 points to lead the Orange. Oshae Brissett added 15 points and seven boards while Marek Dolezaj had 13 points.

Syracuse shot 53.8 percent from the floor in the second half while Duke shot 36.4 percent (and 11.1 percent from distance), but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Orange’s 16 turnovers or Duke’s 17 second-chance points.

Grayson Allen had 15 points and eight assists for Duke. The Blue Devils had 32 points in the paint.

Duke will now turn its attention to the Jayhawks, who defeated Clemson earlier Friday to make it to their third-straight Elite Eight. The game will tipoff Sunday at 5:05 p.m. (ET).

“We just got to come out ready to play from the beginning,” Bagley said. “We were kind of slacking in this game. I think we’ll be ready for that game. Everybody’s going to be up. We should be coming out strong.”

VIDEO: Allen-to-Bagley oop beats the Syracuse zone

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Usually, you’ve got to shoot a team out of a zone.

Duke might be able to dunk Syracuse out of it.

Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley connected for a beautiful alley-oop Friday in the second half of the Blue Devils’ Sweet 16 contest against the Orange.

That will work as a zone-buster.

VIDEO: Duke slaps the floor on defense…while playing zone

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Slapping the floor on defense has its advocates and its detractors.

Some applaud the old-school, hard-nosed nature of putting hand to floor. For others, its a bit corny.

What everyone agrees on is that you don’t drop a floor slap if you’re playing zone.

Unless you’re Duke, apparently.

Presumably, the whole point of slapping the floor is to psyche yourself and intimidate your opponent with aggressive man-to-man defense. Not sit-back-and-guard-this-spot-whether-there’s-a-guy-there-or-not defense.

C’mon, Duke. You’re making it too easy for your haters.