That NCAA tournament bubble’s getting awfully crowded

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We’ve slowly started to weed through some bubble teams.  Not that we won’t have any more surprises.  It’s been challenging to pare teams down and provide some separation.  As we head into March, Kansas State, UCLA, and George Mason move off the bubble as teams that should be in the Field of 68. 

Fortunately, we added Colorado back to the bubble before the CU’s victory over Texas.   Maryland missed a chance to join the conversation by falling at North Carolina on Sunday.  Washington State picked up a road win at Washington Sunday night and now owns a sweep of the Huskies.  Both remain on the bubble with two games left before the Pac-10 tournament.  Teams falling off the bubble at this point: Wichita State and Minnesota

Expect a few more teams to leave the bubble as we head into Championship Week.  We may not have a clear picture about the bottom of the bracket until the Friday or Saturday before the bracket is released. 

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: Monday, February 28

Automatic Bids (31): None decided | Total Spots (68): Number of total teams in the Field.

  • Projected Locks (22): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (9): These teams are teams in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (28): Teams projected to be at or near the cutline for being selected as at-large candidates.
  • Spots available (12): Number of projected available openings for the bracket.
  • Leaving the Bubble: Kansas State (SBI), UCLA (SBI), George Mason (SBI), Wichita State (off), Minnesota (off)
  • Joining the Bubble: None
  • Notes: RPI and SOS data are through 10 p.m. ET (Feb. 27) | Washington/Washington State were updated Feb. 28.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Xavier, Temple | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Richmond
  • Richmond (22-7 | 11-3) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 138 | – Not much has changed for the Spiders. Their win Saturday at Charlotte holds them steady. The win over Purdue continues to be a major helping point, and wins at Dayton and over VCU are okay, too. Richmond can’t afford a loss at St. Joseph’s before a final home date with Duquesne. It may still take a run to the A-10 tournament final depending on what happens around them.
ACC
Locks: Duke, North Carolina | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech
  • Boston College (17-11 | 7-7) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 18 | – The Eagles won at Virginia to avoid an untimely bad loss. Next up is a trip to Virginia Tech – which just upset Duke. BC has still lost 6 of 9 and remains just 1-5 vs. Top 50 RPI teams (Texas AM). The Eagles need to beat Tech and then take care of Wake to improve their standing heading into the ACC Tournament. A loss in either will put some added pressure on the Eagles to win a couple of games in the league tourney.
  • Clemson (19-9 | 8-6) | RPI:69 | SOS: 97 | – After taking care of Wake Forest, it’s off to Duke before a home date with Virginia Tech. Both are critical games, and you have to figure the Blue Devils are going to be feisty after losing at Virginia Tech on Saturday. That said, beating Duke is Clemson’s last chance for a marquis victory. Other than a home win over Florida State, the resume is very average. Clemson has non-league losses to Old Dominion, Michigan, and South Carolina.
  • Florida State (20-8 | 10-4) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 88 | – Overall, Florida State remains in pretty good position given its strong ACC record. A weak non-conferense SOS (no. 227), could still be concerning if FSU stumbles down the stretch. The Seminoles are just 2-4 vs. Top 50 teams, but they do have a home win over Duke. They also beat Baylor in Hawaii. Finishing third in the ACC standings will likely be enough. At this point, that looks promising. FSU closes with North Carolina at home and NC State on the Road.
  • Virginia Tech (19-8 | 9-5) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 85 | – Beating Duke gives the Hokies the type of marquis victory they missed last season. It’s not enough to take VT off the bubble, but their tournament odds certainly improved Saturday night. The Hokies are 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams to go along with three sub-100 RPI losses. Next up, BC arrives before a trip to Clemson. Both have their own spots on the bubble. Winning both would make the ACC Tournament a whole lot easier. A split means that Va. Tech would need to avoid a first-round upset in the league tournament.
BIG EAST
Locks: Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, Louisville, St. John’s | Should Be In: West Virginia | Bubble: Cincinnati, Marquette
  • Cincinnati (22-7 | 9-7) | RPI: 41 | SOS: 81 | – The win at Georgetown gave UC’s profile a huge boost. It also guaranteed the Bearcats at least a 9-9 finish in the Big East. That’s why Sunday’s loss at home to Connecticut isn’t cause for alarm – provided the Bearcats don’t begin a free-fall that ends in a first-round exit in the Big East Tournament. UC is 4-6 vs. Top 50 RPI teams (Xavier, St. John’s, Louisville, G’town) – a pretty solid mark. While the albatross of a horrible non-conference schedule (No. 281) still lingers, the Bearcats have done enough within the Big East to lessen its impact. One more win should be enough for UC to secure a spot and move off the bubble.
  • Marquette (18-11 | 9-7) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 30 | – After a huge win at Connecticut on Thursday, Marquette kept it rolling with a strong home victory over Providence on Sunday. That’s three straight for MU. The Golden Eagles are 4-10 vs. Top 25 RPI teams – an amazing number of high-level games. A schedule like that helps – if you can find enough victories. Up next is a visit from Cincinnati before a closing contest at Seton Hall. Winning both should be enough to move the Golden Eagles off the bubble. A split wouldn’t be horrible, but it would create some urgency to win at least one game in New York.
BIG 10
Locks: Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State
  • Illinois (18-11 | 8-8) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 17 | – Illinois avoided major problems by taking care of Iowa at home Saturday. Up next is a trip to Purdue – a very difficult challenge. Then, it’s home to Indiana. As long as the Illini take care of the Hoosiers at home, their propsects are favorable heading into the Big Ten Tournament. A loss would put a lot of pressure on Illinois to win a couple of games in Indy. Good wins include N. Carolina, at Gonzaga, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. If it’s a close call among Big Ten teams, the Illini beat both Michigan and Minnesota – teams they played only once in the Big Ten rotation. The loss at UIC is a major sore point.
  • Michigan State (15-12 | 8-8) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 5 | The Spartans were dominated at home Sunday by Purdue after winning two straight. That makes the last two games (Iowa, at Michigan) very important. Michigan State is now just 3-9 vs. Top 50 teams – thanks to Minnesota’s free-fall. Can MSU get to 10 league wins? That might be what it takes to have a chance heading into the Big Ten Tournament. A strong schedule will help, but MSU is squarely on the cutline as we move into March.
  • Michigan (17-12 | 8-9) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 20 | Winning at Minnesota wasn’t a great win, but it knocked the Gophers off the bubble and keeps the Wolverines in the conversation. While there’s not a lot to love about the Wolverine’s profile (2-8 vs. Top 50 teams), they have won 7 of 10 and were a last-second banked-in three pointer at the buzzer from beating Wisconsin. Michigan closes at home against Michigan State. A weak bubble continues to help. Much like Marquette, Michigan has several close losses and a solid strength of schedule. On another note, Michigan lost to Illinois in its only matchup with the Illini; just something to keep in mind. On the flip side, the Wolverines swept Penn State.
  • Penn State (15-12 | 8-8) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 9 | Surprisingly, Penn State gained some bubble ground with its win at Northwestern. For one, it was the Lions’ second road win. It also moved them back to .500 in league play. Penn State has three solid victories at home (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State). That’s more than some other teams at the cutline. The flip side is that PSU was swept by Michigan and is still just 2-8 in road games. Up next is a visit from Ohio State, followed by a trip to Minnesota. A split would keep PSU in the conversation heading to the Big 10 Tournament. A pair of losses probably ends the Lions’ run.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Texas | Should Be In: Missouri, Texas AM, Kansas State | Bubble: Baylor, Colorado
  • Baylor (17-10 | 7-7) | RPI: 72 | SOS: 48 | – Baylor has been a hard team to figure out. Major talent with very average results. Last week the Bears lost a home game to Texas Tech and were blown out at Missouri. Then on Saturday, Baylor took care of Texas AM at home, giving the Bears a season sweep of the Aggies. Most likely, that’s a match-up issue. Either way, Baylor is just 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams – both of those the wins over Texas AM. Against the Top 100, the Bears are 5-7 – a lower win total than some other bubble teams. Out of conference, the Bears failed to win a Top 100 RPI game and their non-league SOS ranks No. 209. Now, it’s off to Oklahoma State before a closing game at home with Texas. Winning both would be huge. A split will require the Bears to do some work at the Big 12 Tournament. Two losses would be a major blow.
  • Colorado (17-11 | 7-7) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 73 | – Home wins don’t get much bigger than beating a potential No. 1 seed – ask Virginia Tech. The Buffs certainly improved their at-large hopes with a win over Texas on Saturday. It gives Colorado a 5-7 mark vs. Top 50 teams – a pretty solid total – especially compared to a team like Baylor. Elswhere, however, CU has struggled as a 9-11 mark vs. Top 200 teams suggests. The problem is a horrific non-conference SOS (No. 322). That could give the Selection Committee a reason to leave the Buffaloes at home. Up next is a trip to Iowa State before a home date with Nebraska. Winning both would be advised. A split will keep CU in the at-large picture. Among Colorado’s achievements is a sweep of Kansas State.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: BYU, San Diego State | Should Be In: UNLV | Bubble: Colorado State
  • Colorado State (17-10 | 8-6) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 38 | – The Rams’ at-large hopes took a major hit after the loss at Air Force on Saturday. CSU’s best wins are UNLV and Southern Miss and the Rams’ once strong Mountain West record has fallen a bit. It’ll likely take a win at San Diego State on March 5 to stay in the at-large picture. A loss to Utah in between would be devastating. CSU is 2-5 vs. the Top 50 and 4-7 vs. the Top 100. Early losses to Sam Houston and Hampton remain obstacles.
PAC 10
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: Arizona, UCLA | Bubble: Washington, Washington State
  • Washington (19-9 | 10-6) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 64 | – The loss to Washington State at home could put the Huskies on a dangerous path. UW has now been swept by the Cougars and other than a couple more league wins, their profiles are starting to become very similar. Once a solid tournament team, the Huskies are just 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams and 6-7 vs. the Top 100. Remaining home games with Southern Cal and UCLA are very important now. Winning both might be enough, a split would mean there’s work to do at the Pac-10 Tournament to secure a spot.
  • Washington State (18-10 | 8-8) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 93 | – After pulling an upset in Washington Sunday night, the Cougars now own a season sweep of the Huskies. It also keeps WSU in the at-large discussion. With a weak bubble, who knows. Overall, WSU is still just 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams (both Washington) and 6-7 vs. Top 100 teams. Other notable wins are Gonzaga and Baylor. UCLA and Southern Cal visit to close the season. WCU might need both. A split would keep them in the at-large conversation heading into the Pac-10 Tournament.
SEC
Locks: Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt | Should Be In: Tennessee | Bubble: Georgia, Alabama
  • Georgia (19-9 | 8-6) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 29 | – The Bulldogs’ win at Tennessee last week added another Top 50 win to a resume in need of quality wins. After a loss at Florida, Georgia rebounded to beat South Carolina at home – a key victory. Up next is LSU before a road trip to Alabama. A loss to LSU would be problematic. A split would keep Georgia on the right side of the cutline, but might require win or two at the SEC Tournament. Winning out would put Georgia in good position.
  • Alabama (19-9 | 11-3) | RPI: 89 | SOS: 139 | – Losing at Ole Miss Saturday wasn’t a killer, but it does lessen the Tide’s margin down the stretch. How much wiggle room Alabama has depends largely on how the Committee views an overall dominant performance in the SEC West. The Tide’s closing games are at Florida and home to Georgia. Winning both would be best, a split would be testy, and losing both would mean the need for a long run at the SEC Tournament. 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.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: George Mason | Bubble: Butler, Cleveland State, Missouri State, Old Dominion, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, UAB, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, Utah State
  • Butler (20-9 | 13-5) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 79 | – Butler finished its regular season with 7 straight wins to earn the 2-seed and double bye in the Horizon League Tournament. A win over Florida State in Hawaii could still help, but the victory over Washington State isn’t what it once was – although the Cougars could rally. It’s the five league losses – including a sweep by Milwaukee – that’s holding Butler back. Getting to the Horizon League final would put BU right on the cutline.
  • Cleveland State (22-7 | 13-5) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 107 | – Vikings have to reach the Horizon League Tournament final to stay on the bubble.
  • Missouri State (23-7 | 15-3) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 126 | – Missouri State wrapped up the Missouri Valley title by beating Wichita State a second time on Saturday. That helps. However, the Bears’ best non-conference win is Pacific, and they have only two Top 100 RPI wins (both Wichita State). MSU has to reach the MVC Tournament final. After that, we’ll see.
  • Memphis (21-8 | 9-5) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 40 | – A lopsided loss at UTEP after being upset by Rice has knocked the Tigers’ profile down a few pegs. Memphis was also blown out in their prime-time matchups with Kansas, Georgetown and Tennessee. Even with a sweep of both UAB and Southern Miss, the Tigers can’t afford another C-USA loss before the conference tournament. The win at Gonzaga may help, but the Tigers have lost a lot of momentum.
  • UAB (20-7 | 10-4) | RPI: 31 | SOS: 71 | – Thanks to UAB and Memphis losing – and a win at Houston on Saturday – UAB finds itself back on top of Conference USA. An outright title might be necessary to be a solid at-large candidate on Selection Sunday. UAB is 0-5 vs. Top 50 teams but 7-6 vs. the Top 100. Their only bad loss is at Arizona State in November – so that’s somewhat a plus. UAB closes at Southern Miss and hosts East Carolina this week.
  • Southern Mississippi (18-7 | 9-5) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 87 | – After winning 6 of 7, Southern Miss lost at Central Florida to fall out of the C-USA lead. Finding a way to win the outright C-USA title remains USM’s best hope for at-large consideration. The Eagles have a win at California and beat UAB in their first meeting. Southern Miss hosts UAB this week in what could be an elimination game. USM is still just 1-3 vs. Top 50 teams and 6-6 vs. the Top 100. Losses to Colorado State and Mississippi won’t help; neither will a non-conference SOS ranked No. 240.
  • Old Dominion (24-6 | 14-4) | RPI: 27 | SOS: 74 | – ODU ended its regular season by beating William & Mary. The Monarchs finished tied for second in a good Colonial conference. While ODU is in good shape, we’ll leave them here until they win a game or two in the CAA Tournament. Good wins include Xavier, George Mason and Cleveland State. ODU played the No. 15 non-conference schedule and came within 3-points of beating Georetown.
  • VCU (21-10 | 12-6) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 108 | – After losing 4 of 5 down the stretch, VCU is barely holding onto a bubble spot.  Any loss before an appearance in the CAA final will end the Rams’ hopes.
  • Gonzaga (20-9 | 11-3) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 94 | – Gonzaga has won 8 of 9 and moved above the immediate cutline after winning at St. Mary’s in OT on Thursday. The ‘Zags followed it up with an easy win over San Diego on Saturday. They have wins over Xavier, Marquette, and Baylor. The Zags’ home loss to Memphis could still hamper the Bulldogs’ at-large chances, but a strong non-conference strength of schedule bodes well. A 2-6 mark vs. Top 50 RPI teams is somewhat concerning, but a 7-7 mark vs. the Top 100 helps.
  • St. Mary’s (21-7 | 11-3) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 113 | – The Gaels are a perfect example of why we don’t rush to move teams off the bubble. St. Mary’s lost three straight before beating Portland on Saturday. That leaves SMU in a tie with Gonzaga atop the West Coast Conference. An early win over St. John’s helps, and St. Mary’s split with Gonzaga. But the rest of the resume is light (1-4 vs. Top 50 teams and 4-6 vs. the Top 100). In the at-large discussion, the Gaels would currently fall behind Gonzaga.
  • Utah State (25-3 | 13-1) | RPI: 19 | SOS: 102 | – The Aggies have two remaining WAC road games. Win both and it could be hard to leave the Aggies out unless they trip up early in the WAC Tournament. What’s holding USU back is a very light 2-2 mark vs. Top 100 teams – and one of those is Long Beach State (No. 92 on Sunday). That’s why the BracketBuster win at St. Mary’s was huge. Even so, we can’t put USU in the Field of 68 right now.

Team of the Week: North Carolina Tar Heels

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No. 7 North Carolina went into Knoxville on Sunday afternoon and picked off a good, scrappy No. 20 Tennessee team in front of a raucous crowd in a game where they did not even play all that well.

The win pushed the Tar Heels to 10-1 on the season, and it easily their most impressive victory to date.

There are a lot of things about this North Carolina team that I don’t like. They really only have one proven offensive weapon, depending on how you view Luke Maye. They are a program built on having a frontline that is better than their opponent’s frontline, but this year have to rely on a stretchy-four in Maye and a trio of freshmen that may or may not actually be ready to play at this level. I’m not convinced they have the three-point shooting they need, either.

But here we are, nearly six weeks into the season, and the Tar Heels have just a single loss to their name – which came against Michigan State – and just picked up a win at Tennessee. Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks appear to be growing into the roles that they are being asked to play. Maye has looked like an all-american for the most part. They’re shooting 40 percent from three on the season. They’re defending.

And, as a result, they’re winning.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Rutgers: Saturday could not have gone much better for the Rutgers program. They erased a 13-point deficit and came back from nine points down with six minutes left as they won for the first time in four games against in-state rival and No. 15 Seton Hall. They closed the game on a 17-2 run to land the biggest win of the Steve Pikiell era, and they did it in front of a packed house at the RAC. They picked a good day to prove too their fan base that their is something to be excited about with this team.
  • Oklahoma: The Sooners made a statement on Saturday, going into Wichita and knocking off the Shockers in impressive fashion. They were up by 15 points at halftime and never were truly threatened in the second half.
  • Kentucky: For the first time since the fifth day of the season, Kentucky played a game against a team that was actually relevant, beating Virginia Tech, 93-86, in what turned out to be a shootout in Rupp Arena on Saturday afternoon. The most important part of that win wasn’t the win itself; it was the fact that Kentucky went 11-for-22 from three in the process. Their ability to make perimeter shots has, clearly, been the major question mark with this group, and while they still need to prove they can be consistent, making it clear that they are at least capable of shooting like this matters.
  • Indiana: Archie Miller landed the first marquee win of his tenure, as his Indiana team overcame a 14-point first half deficit and an eight-point deficit with just over two minutes remaining to knock off No. 18 Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic. Performances like this is why Miller was hired for this job.
  • Cincinnati: After losing two straight, capped by a loss to Florida in the Never Forget Classic last weekend, the Bearcats bounced back with a pair of solid wins this week. They handed Mississippi State their first loss of the season on Tuesday and followed that up with a win over UCLA in Pauley Pavilion on Saturday.

Player of the Week: Juwan Morgan, Indiana

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Juwan Morgan made Bankers Life Fieldhouse his home on Saturday afternoon.

Not only did he post a career-high 34 points to go along with his 11 rebounds against No. 18 Notre Dame, but he did the majority of his damage in crunch time. Morgan scored the final 12 points in regulation for Indiana, points that came as the Hoosiers erased an eight-point deficit in the final two minutes and change. Morgan then scored eight of Indiana’s 15 points in overtime, including four points in the final 11 seconds.

Indiana trailed by three with 11 seconds left on the clock when Morgan was fouled on a layup. He missed the free throw, but Indiana grabbed an offensive rebound and it wound up in Morgan’s hands, whose dunk was the game-winning basket.

There was more meaning to this win than simply beating a top 20 in-state rival.

Archie Miller is still in the process of building a program in Bloomington. He’s developing a brand, so to speak, and while his team is still going to be at a talent-deficit more often than not, this is tangible evidence that things are trending in the right direction. Miller’s Dayton programs were built around versatile and under-sized forwards and tough defense.

That’s what we saw on Saturday from Indiana.

THE ALL-‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma: Young continued what has been a sensational season to date, scoring 21 of his 29 points and handing out seven of his 10 assists in the first half as the Sooners paid a visit to No. 3 Wichita State and left with a statement victory. The Sooners were up by 15 at halftime and threw it into cruise control in the second half.
  • UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas: After a week full of criticisms for the inability of this Kansas team to find a way to get the ball into the paint, the Jayhawks finally did. Azubuike finished with 26 points on 13-for-17 shooting to go along with 10 boards and a game-saving block as the Jayhawks escaped a trip to Nebraska with a 73-72 win.
  • RAWLE ALKINS, Arizona: We finally got a glimpse of what Arizona was missing without Alkins in the lineup, as he went for 26 points on 11 field goal attempts to go along with five boards and a pair of assists. Arizona cruised to a win at New Mexico despite the fact that Allonzo Trier took just nine shots and Deandre Ayton scored just 14 points.
  • OSHAE BRISSETT, Syracuse: Brissett set a pair of career-highs in Syracuse come-from-behind win over arch-rival Georgetown on Saturday. The Orange were down by 13 points in the second half. Brissett scored 24 of his 25 points and grabbed 10 of his 14 rebounds in the second half and overtime.
  • COREY SANDERS, Rutgers: Sanders finished with 22 points – including a huge jumper with a minute left to put the Scarlet Knights up 67-63 – as Steve Pikiell and Rutgers landed their biggest win, coming from nine down with six minutes left to beat their biggest in-state rival, No. 15 Seton Hall.

College Basketball Power Rankings: Wichita State’s loss, Oklahoma’s gain, and ‘why Arizona?’

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It seemed like this was going to be a pretty straight-forward week for the Power Rankings … until Saturday happened, and five top 25 teams lost to unranked opponents.

The toughest one to figure out what to do with was Wichita State, who dropped all the way down to No. 16 from No. 3. They currently sit one spot behind Oklahoma, who beat them in Wichita on Saturday. Ranking the Shockers is a difficult thing to do at this point in the schedule, mainly because what we see on the floor from them doesn’t exactly jibe with what we assume that program to be.

They have not been themselves defensively through the first six weeks of the season. Or maybe they have and they just aren’t as good on that end of the floor as we assumed they would be. However you slice, the bottom-line is this: If Wichita State is not among the nation’s elite defensively they are not going to be in the conversation with Villanova, Michigan State and Duke as one of college basketball’s best. They just don’t have the horsepower on the other end of the floor.

The ranking that I got the most push-back on last week was putting Arizona at No. 6. They’re at No. 5 this week, up a spot after Wichita State dropped out. My reasoning is this: I am generally going to bet on talent, and rare will be the night when Arizona is not the most talented team on the floor. How many teams in the country will they play where Allonzo Trier and Deandre Ayton are not the two-best players on the floor? Maybe five? Ten, tops? And of those five-to-ten teams, I don’t think a single one of them can claim that they have two of the three best players on the floor.

And now they have Rawle Alkins back, who just went for 26 points on 11 shots at New Mexico.

Since the disaster in the Bahamas, Arizona has won five straight. They won at UNLV. They won a semi-home game against a very good Texas A&M team. They beat Alabama. They handled New Mexico fairly easily in The Pit. In a year where everyone has warts, I’m fine being the first one to say that those three games in Atlantis were just one of those weird things that happen in college basketball.

Anyway, here are this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Villanova, 10-0 (Last Week: No. 1)
2. Michigan State, 10-1 (2)
3. Miami, 9-0 (3)
4. Duke, 11-1 (5)
5. Arizona, 8-3 (6)
6. Arizona State, 10-0 (7)
7. Texas A&M, 9-1 (8)
8. North Carolina, 10-1 (12)
9. Xavier, 10-1 (9)
10. West Virginia, 9-1 (10)
11. Purdue, 11-2 (16)
12. Gonzaga, 9-2 (14)
13. Kansas, 7-2 (13)
14. Kentucky, 9-1 (17)
15. Oklahoma, 8-1 (19)
16. Wichita State, 8-2 (3)
17. Seton Hall, 9-2 (11)
18. Virginia, 9-1 (18)
19. TCU, 10-0 (25)
20. Notre Dame, 8-3 (15)
21. Cincinnati, 9-2 (23)
22. Tennessee, 7-2 (20)
23. Texas Tech, 9-1 (24)
24. Baylor, 9-2 (NR)
25. Arkansas, 8-2 (NR)

NEW ADDITIONS: 24. Baylor, 25. Arkansas

DROPPED OUT: 21. Florida State, 22. Florida

No. 5 Arizona State rallies to beat Vanderbilt 76-64

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State came out flat, missing shots, tossing balls into the stands, allowing open 3-pointers.

The No. 5 team in the country? The Sun Devils looked more like they should be unranked, not among college basketball’s elite.

In a matter of minutes, it all changed. Arizona State forced turnovers, got out on the break and dropped in 3-pointers to keep the crowd on its feet.

Once the Sun Devils get rolling like this, there’s no stopping them.

Tra Holder scored 25 points, Shannon Evans II added 15 and No. 5 Arizona State overcame a dismal start with a massive halftime-spanning run to beat Vanderbilt 76-64 on Sunday. The Sun Devils improved to 10-0 for the first time in their history.

“We had the bursts and it’s great we took the game from a one-two possession game and all of a sudden it’s mid-doubles,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “It happens fast.”

Arizona State built a national buzz with last week’s road win over Kansas and its highest ranking in 36 years.

The Sun Devils looked nothing like the team that won at Allen Fieldhouse early against Vanderbilt (3-7), falling into a 13-0 hole. Once one of the nation’s most explosive teams finally came to life, Vanderbilt had no chance.

Sharp at both ends, Arizona State used a 26-3 run spanning halftime to turn what started out as an embarrassing performance into a runaway that had Wells Fargo Arena the loudest it’s been all season.

Mickey Mitchell provided the Sun Devils a spark off the bench, playing solid defense while grabbing 13 rebounds. Arizona State hit 14 of 28 shots in the second half to remain one of the nation’s four undefeated teams.

Saben Lee had 24 points to lead Vanderbilt, which shot 4 of 30 from 3-point range.

“We’re a small team, like ASU, and we have to make 3s,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said.

Following last Sunday’s 10-point win over then-No. 2 Kansas, the Sun Devils moved up to No. 5, their highest ranking since being No. 3 in 1980-81, and received five first-place votes in the Top 25, a program first.

Suddenly, they were a trendy pick to make a Final Four. Hurley was being touted as a national coach of the year candidate by the coach of Arizona State’s biggest rival. A buzz spread across the Valley of the Sun and beyond about the program being touted as “Guard U.”

The spotlight appeared to be too bright for the Sun Devils early against Vanderbilt.

Disjointed and struggling with double teams in the post, Arizona State had five turnovers in the game’s opening five minutes. The Sun Devils didn’t score until Romello White’s layup at 14:49, and the fans who were rowdy long before tipoff groaned with each miscue.

“We were knocking down shots and they were missing at the beginning,” Lee said.

Then Arizona State got back to playing the way it had to open the season.

The Sun Devils harassed the Commodores into difficult shots late in the shot clock and jumped into passing lanes to create turnovers. Shots missed earlier at the rim started going in, and they made a couple of late 3-pointers after missing their first nine.

Holder had one of those 3s, dropping a deep one at the halftime buzzer that put Arizona State up 30-29.

The Sun Devils kept the engine revving in the second half, scoring 12 straight points to push the lead to 49-31. Vanderbilt made one push, but got no closer than 12.

“We were just a little rusty. We had a long week off,” said Holder, who made all 11 of his free throws. “But we got back to our groove.”

BIG PICTURE

Vanderbilt showed it can play with highly-ranked teams in the opening 10 minutes. The final 30 showed the Commodores still have plenty of work to do before the SEC season starts.

Arizona State looked like the No. 5 team in the country after its shaky start and could move up in Monday’s poll after No. 3 Wichita State lost.

LEE’S HOMECOMING

Lee grew up in Arizona and played at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, so Sunday’s game was a homecoming of sorts.

The freshman guard is Vanderbilt’s assist leader with 34 and made 9 of 14 shots to set a career high in points.

“It was pretty weird, knowing that I watched a lot of games here and now I’m going against them,” Lee said. “But it was a good experience..”

UP NEXT

Vanderbilt hosts Houston Baptist on Wednesday.

Arizona State hosts Longwood on Tuesday.

Illinois State’s Dan Muller pleaded for a tougher schedule on Twitter and got it

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Finishing the regular season at 27-6 wasn’t good enough to get Illinois State into last season’s NCAA tournament.

Although the Redbirds shared the Missouri Valley Conference title with Wichita State and split a regular-season series against the nationally-ranked Shockers, the NCAA tournament selection committee left Illinois State in the cold for an at-large bid on Selection Sunday.

The major reason: schools from power conferences continually refuse to schedule quality mid-major opponents like Illinois State. The Redbirds only played TCU from a “Power 5” conference during non-conference play last season. A road loss to the Horned Frogs didn’t do Illinois State much good in the eyes of the committee.

So Illinois State head coach Dan Muller took an interesting approach to generating a more respectable non-conference schedule. Muller took to Twitter and fully utilized his bitmoji game to call out programs from bigger conferences. His goal was to get the NCAA tournament selection committee’s attention with how tough it is for mid-major programs to schedule bigger schools. Muller also hoped the Redbirds could secure a home-and-home series against legitimate, power-conference competition.

“It got a lot of play. I thought it would go national. I didn’t think it would get as big as it got,” Muller said to NBCSports.com. “I got interviews across the country, some TV stuff, and a lot of responses from coaches, friends. A lot of them said it was hilarious. A lot of them said it was great. My point was to emphasize the difficulty in how the selection committee wants schools like us to do [things].”

Muller’s plea quickly went viral. More importantly, Muller’s plea actually worked.

Ole Miss was interested in making a home-and-home deal with the Redbirds. The two programs literally started the series with a very public back-and-forth on Twitter. There was a previous connection between the schools as Torrey Ward had been an assistant coach with both programs. Ward was tragically killed in a plane crash after the 2015 Final Four while he was the associate head coach of the Redbirds.

“It was all public, to be honest. What you saw is how it started,” Muller said of the series. “Rob Bjork, the AD at Ole Miss, tweeted back to me and I hit him back. I’ve known Andy Kennedy for a long time. Obviously there’s a very close acquaintance and friend we’ve got in Torrey Ward — so we had a connection there. That’s why AK wanted to do it. So, we’re grateful and appreciative.”

The two programs started the home-and-home series in Oxford on Saturday as Ward was honored with a video tribute from Ole Miss before the game. Ward’s family was also in attendance — including his mother, ex-wife and two children.

“It was great to see [Ward’s family],” Muller said. “We honored Torrey before the game and I know that was a big part of what Andy wanted to do.”

Besides for the heartwarming gesture in honoring a fallen friend, the game was also beneficial for Illinois State because they earned an overtime win, on the road, against an SEC opponent. Muller’s plan actually worked. The Redbirds have tried to answer the committee this season by playing a top-20 non-conference schedule. Unfortunately, Illinois State isn’t currently in position to earn a potential at-large bid after a sluggish 5-6 start.

But the Valley appears to be wide open now that Wichita State has ascended into the American Athletic Conference. Illinois State has been missing two key members of its rotation for nearly the entire season. Muller is optimistic that the tough non-conference schedule has properly prepared the Redbirds for the conference slate. The race for the Valley’s at-large bid is still going to be tight.

“We’re getting better; we have a lot of talent. We’re building our depth. But we’ve got to be healthy,” Muller said. “If, and when, we’re healthy, I really do think we’ll have a chance to be right there in the end.”

Even if Illinois State falls short of the NCAA tournament this season, Muller has laid the groundwork for another competitive non-conference schedule for next season. Always an aggressive coach when it comes to scheduling, Muller and the Redbirds have some solid opponents like Ole Miss, BYU and Florida Gulf Coast coming to campus next season. Arizona State also called to show interest in a potential home-and-home series with Illinois State. The two programs couldn’t figure out a date to make things work but it served as a reminder that Muller’s tweet was working.

What started as a plea to the NCAA tournament selection committee has turned into an unexpected boon to Illinois State’s scheduling practices. Muller acknowledged that he doesn’t prefer to use Twitter. But Muller might have to bring out his popular bitmoji character more often if it continues to lead to results like this.