The NCAA tournament bubble isn’t necessarily any weaker, but it certainly isn’t shrinking. Games this weekend should help clear up a few spots – although it hasn’t happened yet. Right now, there are 25 teams listed as projected locks, with another seven teams in strong position to claim a bid (Should Be In). When you add in the 31 automatic qualifers, that leaves us with about 16 spots. Some of the bubble teams are in stronger position than others.
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. RPI data is for games played through Thursday, March 1. Records reflect games through Friday, March 2.
A few quick thoughts about the weekend:
Connecticut and Mississippi State are the two BCS teams currently in our bracket that most need victories this weekend. Connecticut hosts Pittsburgh and Mississippi State hosts Arkansas.
Cincinnati should punch its ticket by winning at Villanova. A loss would make the Bearcats’ Big East tournament opener more important.
Northwestern needs to win its game at Iowa, but that won’t be easy. The Hawkeyes have been a tough out at home.
Washington can wrap up a Pac-12 title by winning at UCLA. That won’t guarantee the Huskies a spot, but it would certainly help.
Virginia travels to Maryland with a two-game losing streak. A loss would drop the Cavaliers to 8-8 in the ACC and make UVA’s opening round ACC tournament game much more intense.
Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.
Projected Locks (25): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Should Be In (7): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
Bubble: (33): Teams projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
Spots Available (16): Estimated number of openings after Automatic Bids, Locks, and Should Be Ins are considered.
RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through games on Thursday, March 1
Teams Leaving the Bubble: Southern Mississippi (Should Be In), Colorado, LSU (Dropping Off)
Teams Joining the Bubble: Virginia, Tennessee
Locks: Temple | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Louis, Dayton, St. Joe’s, Xavier
Dayton (18-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 73 | SOS: 58 | – The Flyers have eight Top 100 RPI wins, including victories over Temple, Alabama, and Xavier. The Flyers have also beaten Ole Miss and Minnesota. But after Wednesday’s loss at Richmond, the number of questionable losses is concerning – particularly defeats to both Miami-OH and Rhode Island. Dayton has to beat George Washington before heading to the A10 tournament. Another sub-100 loss could very well end the Flyers’ at-large chances.
St. Joe’s (19-12 | 9-7) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 44 | – After beating Temple the Hawks fell in double-overtime to St. Bonaventure. It’s not a horrible loss, but St. Joe’s margin for error is thin because of a 2-5 mark against Top 50 teams, a few questionable losses (American and Charlotte in particular), and an overall growing number of defeats . Beating Creighton continues to help, even though the win was in December. SJU also has a win over Drexel. Next up: the A10 tournament. The Hawks will need a couple of wins at minimum.
St. Louis (22-6 | 11-4) | RPI: 30 | SOS: 97 | – The Billkens put together an impressive second-half run to oust Xavier on Tuesday. An 0-2 mark vs. Top 50 teams isn’t something to take lightly, but SLU’s wins over St. Joe’s, Washington, and Xavier are close to that RPI mark. SLU closes with a trip to Duquesne. Taking care of the Dukes and avoiding a bad loss in the A10 opener should be enough.
Xavier (18-11 | 9-6) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 43 | – Non-conference wins over Vanderbilt, Purdue, and Cincinnati continue to help the Muskies. After leading at halftime, XU fell apart on the road at St. Louis and now face a critical game at home against Charlotte on Saturday. The Musketeers are just 6-10 vs. Top 100 teams and 12-11 vs. the Top 200. A losing mark against the Top 200 has traditionally spelled trouble. Xavier has a history of playing well in the A10 tournament; the Muskies need a similar effort this year.
Locks: Duke, North Carolina, Florida State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Miami-FL, NC State, Virginia
Miami-FL (17-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 32 | – Miami’s loss to NC State Wednesday dropped the Canes to 3-10 vs. Top 100 teams and gave the Wolfpack a season sweep. What Miami has to offer is a huge win at Duke and a home victory over Florida State. Another plus, the Canes don’t have a bad loss, their worst was a close game at Maryland. Miami closes with Boston College at home.
NC State (19-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 59 | SOS: 23 | – The Wolfpack are still alive after beating Miami Wednesday, and NC State now owns a season sweep of the Canes. That won’t push them into the NCAAs, but it keeps them in the picture. NC State also has a win over Texas, which could still help. An 0-8 mark vs. Top 50 teams, however, is troubling, and a 5-8 mark vs. the Top 100 is okay at best. If the Wolfpack can win at Virginia Tech this weekend, they’ll be in the discussion entering the ACC tournament.
Virginia (21-8 | 8-7) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 83 | – Thursday’s loss to Florida State knocks the Cavaliers onto the bubble. It wasn’t a bad loss (other than losing a lead late), but rather it was a missed opportunity to add a resume-building win. Virginia is only 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams, so the Cavs’ resume isn’t quite as strong as it appears. Wins over Miami-Fla and NC State help, and the Cavs also beat Drexel and LSU. Virginia will probably be okay if it beats Maryland on Sunday. But a loss could make the ACC opener surpringly important.
Locks: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette | Should Be In: Louisville, Notre Dame | Bubble: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Seton Hall, South Florida, West Virginia
Cincinnati (21-9 | 11-6) | RPI: 68 | SOS: 98 | – The Bearcats posted a huge win over Marquette on Wednesday and may now have done enough to reach the NCAAs. UC just needs to avoid a letdown at Villanova and an opening-round loss at the Big East tournament.
Connecticut (17-12 | 7-10) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 2 | – Coming off a loss to Providence, the Huskies are inching closer to the wrong side of the bubble. Uconn is 5-7 vs. the Top 50 and 7-10 vs. the Top 100 but has been very inconsistent. Key non-conference victories include Florida State and Harvard. Inside the Big East, UConn has beaten Notre Dame, Seton Hall, West Virginia, and South Florida. UConn closes with Pittsburgh at home. They need to beat the Panthers and then try to win a couple of games in New York.
Seton Hall (19-10 | 8-9) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 42 | – The Pirates made their bubble life more difficult by losing a home game to Rutgers last weekend. While SHU is 3-7 vs. the Top 50, they are 8-8 vs. the Top 100. Notable non-conference wins include Dayton, St. Joe’s, and VCU – other teams on the bubble. If SHU loses at DePaul, the Pirates’ may need a couple of wins in New York to breathe easy. Within the league, SHU has beaten UConn, Georgetown and West Virginia.
South Florida (18-11 | 12-5) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 19 | – Wednesday’s victory at Louisville was the Bulls’ first marquee-type win and first notable win away from home. USF is just 2-7 vs. the Top 50 (the other win is Seton Hall). Yes, South Florida’s Big East win total is impressive, but the majority of those wins have come against the league’s weaker teams. USF closes with West Virginia at home. Another good win or two would certainly help solidify the Bulls position.
West Virginia (18-12 | 8-9) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 13 | – The Mountaineers breezed past DePaul on Tuesday, but have still lost have lost 6 of 9 games. Important victories include Georgetown, Cincinnati, and Kansas State – along with Miami(Fla) and Oral Roberts. Several close losses and a Top 10 schedule will help. The Mountaineers are 8-11 vs. Top 100 teams and nine losses have come to teams in the Top 35 of the RPI. WVU closes at surging South Florida. That could end up being an important game for both teams.
Locks: Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Purdue | Bubble: Northwestern
Northwestern (17-12 | 7-10) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 10 | – The Wildcats have to be wondering if they’ll ever make the NCAA tournament. Few teams have lost more close games to good teams. Wednesday, Jared Sullinger hit a layup with 3 seconds to go to lift OSU past the Wildcats in Evanston. The problem for NW is that close losses only carry you so far. The Wildcats wind up the Big Ten season at Iowa, which is no easy task. They need that one and probably a couple in the Big Ten tournament to make the Field.
Locks: Baylor, Kansas, Missouri | Should Be In: Kansas State | Bubble: Iowa State, Texas
Iowa State (21-9 | 11-6) | RPI: 32 | SOS: 49 | – Iowa State has a season sweep of Kansas State and home wins over Kansas and Texas. Will that be enough? Outside the Big 12, ISU’s best win is probably Iowa. Wednesday’s loss at Missouri was expected, but it still leaves the door open for some concern. The Cyclones host Baylor on Saturday. Win and things look good. A loss would add some pressure to ISU’s Big 12 opener. A 4-7 mark vs. the Top 100 right now isn’t exactly overwhelming.
Texas (19-11 | 9-8) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 31 | – The Longhorns pulled off their second escape act in a week by holding off Oklahoma on Wednesday. That sets up a showdown with Kansas this weekend. Texas hasn’t beaten a Top 100 team on the road, so a win doesn’t look promising – which means the Longhorns will likely have to win a couple of Big 12 tournament games to feel good about their chances. Texas is 3-8 vs. Top 50 teams – beating Temple, Iowa State, and Kansas State. Bad losses are to Oklahoma State and Oregon State. They are just 12-11 vs. the Top 200.
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis, Southern Mississippi | Bubble: Central Florida
Central Florida (18-9 | 9-6) | RPI: 64 | SOS: 94 | – Memphis ran over the Knights on Tuesday, leaving UCF on life support. They are just 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams and 3-6 vs. the Top 100. The Knights are also just 3-7 on the road. A win over Connecticut isn’t helping that much anymore. UCF finishes with UAB and likely needs a run to the C-USA title game to stay alive for at-large consideration.
Locks: Wichita State | Should Be In: Creighton | Bubble: None
Right now the Missouri Valley looks to be a two-bid league with Creighton and Wichita State firmly in the Field of 68. Arch Madness is always unpredictable, so a third bid is certainly possible.
Locks: UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Colorado State
Colorado State (16-10 | 6-6) | RPI: 20 | SOS: 4 | – Beating UNLV at home on Wednesday gives CSU wins over the top three Mountain West teams (UNLV, SDSU, New Mexico). That’s good, because while the Rams have played a good schedule, they didn’t post a non-conference NCAA-level win. CSU’s best non-conference wins are Colorado and Montana/Denver. An overall 8-8 mark against the Top 100 is okay, but a 2-9 road record is cause for concern. CSU’s best road win is UTEP (RPI No. 148). They also have losses at Stanford and Boise St. The Rams finish up with a winnable game at Air Force before heading to the MTW tournament.
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington
Arizona (21-9 | 12-5) | RPI: 69 | SOS: 101 | – Arizona has won 7 of 8 games and remains in the hunt despite some very questionable power numbers (RPI and SOS). Other than a victory at California, the Wildcats have no wins over projected at-large teams right now. Are wins over New Mexico State, Colorado and Valparaiso (Top 100) going to push Arizona into the NCAAs? Probably not. Plus, UA was swept by Washington. Arizona closes with Arizona State. That’s a must win heading into the Pac-12 tournament.
California (23-7 | 13-4) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 96 | – While Cal is 6-5 vs. Top 100 teams, they are 0-3 in the Top 50. Cal’s best non-conference win is Weber State or Denver. Blemishes are losses at Oregon State and Washington State. The Bears close at Stanford this weekend. A loss to the Cardinal would put another blemish on the Bears’ resume.
Oregon (21-8 | 12-5) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 77 | – The Ducks have won 5 of 6 games after beating Colorado on Thursday. That’s the good news. The issue remains a 1-6 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a paultry 3-7 record against the Top 100. A victory at Nebraska is all the Ducks have outside of conference play. Oregon closes with Utah. A horrible loss to the Utes could knock the Ducks into automatic qualifier status.
Washington (21-8 | 14-3) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 85 | – The Huskies’ have won 10 of 12 games and own the outright Pac-12 lead. Washington pounded USC on Thursday and can wrap up a Pac-12 regular season title with a win at UCLA this weekend. UW’s best wins are Arizona (twice) and Oregon at home – both fellow bubble teams. The Huskies are 3-8 against the Top 100 and just 1-6 vs the Top 50. Will a Pac-12 crown be enough for an at-large bid? It might depend on how far the Huskies advance in the Pac-12 tournament.
Locks: Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Alabama, Mississippi State, Tennessee
Alabama (20-9 | 9-6) | RPI: 28 | SOS: 16 | – Four straight wins have changed the Tide’s outlook considerably. They close out SEC play with a trip to Ole Miss. Early wins over Wichita State, Purdue and VCU help. The only real downer is a two-point defeat at South Carolina. If there’s a concern, it’s a 2-5 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a 7-8 mark vs. Top 100 teams. Neither record is particularly impressive.
Mississippi State (20-10 | 7-8) | RPI: 61 | SOS: 67 | – The Bulldogs survived in OT at South Carolina, but that still leaves MSU with 5 losses in 6 games and in desperate need of a late run. The Bulldogs host Arkansas in a critical game on Saturday. A win probably keeps MSU on the right side of the bubble. A loss, probably not. MSU is 2-4 vs. Top 50 teams and 7-7 vs. the top 100. Both are average at best. The Bulldogs are helped by a win at Vanderbilt, along with wins over Alabama, West Virginia, and Arizona. Questionable losses are to Georgia and Auburn.
Tennessee (16-13 | 9-6) | RPI: 80 | SOS: 34 | – Given a 9-6 mark in the SEC, we’ll add Tennessee to the bubble. But the Vols have some significant work to do with 13 losses, including four to sub-100 RPI teams. UT swept Florida and has a win over Connecticut. Those are the highlights. They are just 12-13 vs. the Top 200. The Vols host Vanderbilt on Saturday. They need to win that game to stay in the conversation.
Locks: St. Mary’s, Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: BYU
BYU (23-7 | 12-4) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 103 | – BYU opened WCC tournament play against San Diego, but it didn’t help or hurt the Cougars. They are 3-5 against the Top 50 – largely due to late surges that pushed Oregon and Nevada into that category. The issue is that BYU went 1-3 vs. St. Mary’s and Gonzaga, beating Gonzaga at home. It could take another win over the Zags to feel safe. To do that, they need to reach the WCC finals.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: Murray State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Drexel, Harvard, Iona, Long Beach State, Middle Tennessee State, Nevada, Oral Roberts, VCU
Drexel (25-5 | 16-2) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 235 | – The Dragons have an outright CAA regular-season title. How much that helps remains to be seen. Drexel is 0-1 vs. Top 50 teams and 4-2 against the Top 100. The non-conference wins in that category are Cleveland State and Princeton. Also, 14 of Drexels’ wins are against teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI. Losses to Virginia and St. Joseph’s weren’t particularly close. Drexel needs to reach the CAA title game. It’s hard to believe anything else would be enough.
Harvard (24-4 | 11-2) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 171 | – A victory over Columbia on Friday puts the Crimson in the driver’s seat for the Ivy’s automatic bid. Harvard’s last game is at Cornell. If the Crimson were to lose that one, and a playoff, Harvard would have to hope early wins over Florida State, St. Joseph’s, and UCF are enough.
Iona (24-6 | 15-3) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 148 | – Beating Nevada in the BracketBusters helped the Gaels’ profile, along with a win over St. Joseph’s. Still, Iona is just 1-1 vs. against the Top 50. A 5-3 mark vs. the Top 100 in pretty good but none are against guaranteed NCAA teams. Losses to Siena and Hofstra – both sub 200 teams – are concerning given the lack of high-level wins. If Iona reaches the MAAC title game, they’ll be in the at-large discussion. An early tourney loss would make it much more questionable.
Long Beach State (20-7 | 15-0) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 111 | – The 49ers will try to complete a perfect Big West season Saturday at CS-Fullerton. LBSU’s top-rated non-conference schedule is well documented, and the 49ers’ worst loss is at Montana (RPI No. 83) in November. The issues are an 0-6 mark vs the Top 50 and a 2-7 mark vs. the Top 100. Those sort of stand out in the wrong way. With 12 of LBSU’s wins against teams ranked 200-plus in the RPI, they are just 8-7 vs. the Top 200. A BracketBusters loss to Creighton could still be a huge miss.
Middle Tennesse State (24-5 | 14-2) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 173 | – The Blue Raiders’ profile took a major hit with the loss at Western Kentucky. While MTSU won the outright Sun Belt title, the Blue Raiders’ best non-conference wins are Ole Miss, Belmont, and Akron. Good wins, but not the kind that carry a team into the NCAAs. A loss to anyone other than Denver in the Sun Belt tourney will likely relegate MTSU to the NIT.
Nevada (22-5 | 12-1) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 147 | – Nevada is rooting for Washington to win the Pac-12 as the Wolfpack’s victory over the Huskies is their only potential NCAA-level win. Nevada beat New Mexico State Thursday to sweep the Aggies. The Wolfpack also lost a competitive BracketBusters game at Iona. But it’s a loss that could still sting. Overall, Nevada is 1-3 vs. Top 50 teams and 4-3 vs. the Top 100. The Wolfpack have 14 wins against teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI.
Oral Roberts (26-5 | 17-1) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 174 | – ORU beat Xavier, Missouri State, and Akron (BracketBusters) in non-conference play, but XU was without several players. Understandable losses are to Gonzaga, West Virginia, and South Dakota State on the road. When you consider that 14 of ORU’s wins are against teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI, the margin for error remains small. Reaching the Summit title game will be important.
VCU (25-6 | 15-3) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 179 | – The Rams have been helped by some other bubble teams fading away. VCU has also been helped by South Florida’s surge. It’s the Rams’ lone Top 50 win. VCU is 4-4 vs. Top 100 teams but has 13 wins over teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI. Other notable wins are at Akron (OT) and over Northern Iowa. VCU lost games to Alabama and Seton Hall and it’s only matchup with Drexel. The Rams are 11-1 in their past 12 games, but may need a rematch with Drexel to stay on the right side of the bubble.
The deadline to declare for the NBA draft has come and gone, which means we’re now waiting for the next deadline: When underclassmen have to pull their name out of the NBA draft if they are testing the waters.
That day is May 30th.
It is a full five weeks away, after the NBA draft combine and nearly a month before the draft itself.
So there is a long way to go with this process.
But as things stand today, here is a list of all the players that have signed with an agent and that are testing the waters.
There are more than 150 players on that list. So to help you parse it all down, here are the most influential Should-I-Stay-Or-Should-I-Go decisions that are going to be made over the course of the next five weeks.
OMARI SPELLMAN and DONTE DIVINCENZO, Villanova
Villanova already lost a pair of juniors to the NBA draft as both Mikal Bridges, a potential top ten pick, and Jalen Brunson, last year’s reigning National Player of the Year, declared for the draft and signed with an agent.
Eric Paschall and Phil Booth both opted to return to school for their redshirt senior seasons where, along with returnees Jermaine Samuels, Collin Gillispie and Dhamir Cosby-Rountree and a recruiting class that is as good as any that Jay Wright had landed in his time on the Main Line, has Villanova’s program in a great place for the future.
And frankly, even with just that group of guys, the Wildcats are likely still going to enter the season as the favorite to win the Big East once again, although that might say more about the Big East than it does about Villanova.
But if they get Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman back, we could be looking at a situation where this is once again the best team in college basketball.
Let’s start with DiVincenzo, since I think he’s the more likely of the two to return. On the one hand, he might end up being a preseason first-team all-american if he makes the choice to play for Jay Wright for another season, and as such, he’ll likely end up taking over the lion’s share of Villanova’s offense as a result. But more importantly, at least when it comes to the draft, is that DiVincenzo still has some things that he can improve on that would make him a more palatable first round pick. As dynamic as he was this season, Divincenzo has always been a streaky scorer, a mixed bag as a decision-maker and a questionable ball-handler. Those are things that can be improved upon and, with a weaker draft coming up in 2019, the kind of thing that might be able to sneak him into the lottery.
Spellman is a different story. He’s something of a finished product in terms of an NBA prospect. There are things that he can improve on — his post game, for one, and his ability to drive left, another — but the weight loss that he went through in his two seasons as a part of the Villanova program is what turned him into an NBA player. Given his size, his ability to shoot from three, the way he attacks close-outs and the fact that he can protect the rim and rebound the ball now that he’s shed 50 pounds, there is likely a spot for him in an NBA rotation somewhere. And while DiVincenzo can improve where he’s picked by coming back, I think Spellman is always going to find himself in that range of being a late first rounder or an early second rounder.
As it stands, Villanova is currently the No. 2 overall team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25. With both players officially back, I’ll have to think long and hard about whether or not they should be No. 1.
CALEB MARTIN, CODY MARTIN and JORDAN CAROLINE, Nevada
Should Nevada get all three of these guys back for another season, the Wolf Pack are going to enter the 2018-19 season as a preseason top ten team.
But are they going to get all three of these guys back?
That, at this point, is a major question mark for one, simple reason: They are all staring down the barrel of a redshirt senior season, meaning that it will be the fifth year that the three — all of whom transferred into Nevada — will be in college. If they already have their degree, and they are all turning 23 years old in the next year, is a shot at making the Final Four enough incentive to return to school?
For Caroline it might be. As talented as he is, I’m not sure that he gets drafted if he turns pro. Both Martin twins have an actual chance to end up hearing their name called on draft night — Caleb as one of the best shot-makers in college basketball and Cody as a 3-and-D role player — but it would be as second round picks. If all three are gone, then I think we’re talking about Nevada as a team that is going to have to battle just to make the NCAA tournament.
KEVIN HUERTER and BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland
There are so many teams in the Big Ten with so much on the line over the course of the next five weeks, but I’m not sure anyone has more at stake than Maryland, who is still waiting to hear what Huerter and Fernando are going to do.
Let’s pretend, for a second, that both return to school. Huerter — a 6-foot-7 wing that averaged 14.6 points and shot 42 percent from three — joins Anthony Cowan and Darryl Morsell to give the Terps one of the better backcourts in college basketball while Fernando, a native of Angola, would be in line for a breakout sophomore campaign. Throw in a recruiting class that includes transfer Schnider Herard and five-star Jalen Smith up front and promising four-star wings like Eric Ayala, Serrel Smith and Aaron Wiggins, and there is something here for Mark Turgeon to work with.
It’s why Maryland is a top 20 team in our preseason rankings.
But Huerter has some second round appeal this season given his size, length and shooting ability while Fernando, who had some impressive moments as a freshman, is tangentially linked to the FBI investigation into college basketball corruption. Fernando and Kansas freshman Silvio De Sousa as childhood friends that both have the same American guardian. That guardian allegedly received a payout of at least $20,000 to get De Sousa out from under payments he already received from a rival apparel company when he committed to Kansas; De Sousa, who played for Under Armour sponsored high school and AAU teams, was considered a near-lock to head to Maryland, who is Under Armour’s flagship program.
Without those two, Anthony Cowan will take on the role of Melo Trimble, trying to carry the load for the Terps, and I’m not sure he’s cut out for it the way that Trimble was.
CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
Edwards might end up being the best lead guard in college basketball next season. I would not be surprised to see him end up as a consensus preseason first-team all-american should he end up coming back to school, and if he does, I think Purdue is a borderline top 25 team that will be back in the NCAA tournament. Without him, however, and the Boilermakers will have to replace five starters on a team that really didn’t have much in the way of quality depth. Edwards is the difference between Purdue being a good team and Purdue being in a total rebuild.
ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin
Wisconsin just finished the worst season the program has had in two decades, snapping a 19-year NCAA tournament streak and a 16-year run of top four finishes in the Big Ten. And yet, I feel good about where this team is headed. Much of that, as I noted in this column, has to do with the promising crop of youngsters and the way that they finished last season despite being injured and, you know, young. But much more of it had to do with the idea that Happ, an all-american in 2016-17 and a preseason all-american heading into last season, would be back for his senior year. He is the anchor for this group on both ends of the floor.
JAMES PALMER JR. and ISAAC COPELAND, Nebraska
Palmer was one of the best players in the Big Ten last season, quietly putting together an incredible year that not enough people paid attention to. Copeland had his best season as a collegian last year, and the two of them, the two leading scorers for a team that tied for fourth in the Big Ten last year, are the reason why Nebraska looks like they have a shot to be even better next year. They are a borderline top 25 team that should get Tim Miles back to the NCAA tournament. They are also both transfers that might opt to turn professional with a degree in hand, and if that were to happen, the Cornhuskers are going to be heading back into rebuilding mode.
CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan
Michigan is the team that I’ve gotten the most pushback on for leaving out of the NBC Sports preseason top 25. I have them out right now because I’m not convinced that Matthews returns to school and, when combined with losing their two best offensive weapons — Mo Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman — to graduation, would leave Michigan very young and without the kind of offensive firepower that they had this year. Matthews coming back would change that outlook and make the Wolverines more of a finished product than they are without him. Matthews, individually, would be a potential all-american — and top 20 picks — if he were to return and show off an ability to shoot more consistently from three.
BRYCE BROWN, JARED HARPER, and AUSTIN WILEY, Auburn
I’m honestly not sure what to do with Auburn here. They are already losing Mustapha Heron to the draft, and it is hard for me to justify to myself ranking the Tigers in the top 15 of the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. They’ll be there so long as they get all three of these players back. If they decide to enter the draft, Auburn will look a lot more like they did in the first three years of Bruce Pearl’s tenure.
KHYRI THOMAS, Creighton
Thomas has a chance to have a nice NBA career. He only stands 6-foot-3, but his 6-foot-11 wingspan combined with the fact that he makes better than 40 percent of his threes makes him an intriguing 3-and-D prospect. I do think there’s a chance that he’ll be a first round pick this year should he opt to declare for the draft, and that should make his return to Creighton all that much more important. The Bluejays already lost Marcus Foster, and losing Thomas — who is the one elite defender on a roster that is built for space, pace and scoring — would be another major blow. With him in the fold and the return of a young core of Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock and Jacob Epperson, the Bluejays suddenly look like the second-best team in the Big East.
UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas
Azubuike is on this list now because of the fact that Kansas will, more likely than not, be without the services of Silvio De Sousa following the latest reveal in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption. If Azubuike opts to remain in the draft, that means that the five-spot in the Kansas lineup will be manned by Mitch Lightfoot and freshman David McCormack. The reason that Azubuike is so low on this list is that, without him, I would fully expect Kansas to play a smaller, more versatile lineup, and that might actually make them more difficult to matchup with. Put another way, losing Azubuike would have a bigger impact on how Kansas plays instead of how good they actually end up being.
TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse
Battle is a borderline first round pick, a guy that could go anywhere between the 20s and the 40s, depending on which NBA organizations fall in love with him. If he’s back, Syracuse has to be thought of as a potential tournament team because, you know, they were this year without all that much around him. If he’s gone, things could get ugly.
MARCQUISE REED and SHELTON MITCHELL, Clemson
Clemson’s two best players down the stretch of the season, Reed and Mitchell back on campus would likely make the Tigers a tournament team for a second straight season. If they end up leaving school, then Brad Brownell is going to be happy that they were able to relieve the pressure on his him with a trip to the Sweet 16 this past tournament.
2018 NBA Draft Early Entry List: Who declared? Who is returning? Who are we waiting on?
Kentucky head coach John Calipari is hoping the one-and-done rule changes so that athletes have more rights.
In a revealing interview with Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Calipari went into great detail about his thoughts behind a rule that many believe he has exploited greatly to his benefit over the last 10 years. Even though the Wildcats and Calipari have figured out the one-and-done rule to their advantage, the Hall of Fame coach still wants the rule to be abolished.
“Kids should be able to go (to the NBA) out of high school. That’s not our deal. That’s between the NBA and the Players Association,” Calipari said Friday. “Don’t put restrictions on kids.”
Calipari told Engel that he met with the NBPA last week in the hopes of the organization creating a combine for worthy high school juniors with pro potential. Calipari also wants agents more involved with high school kids.
“The players and the families need to know – here are the ones who should be thinking about the NBA, and here are the ones who should not,” Calipari said. “That’s why you need a combine.”
“If they want to go out of high school, go. If they want to go to college and then leave, let them leave when they want to leave. Why would we force a kid to stay? ‘Well – it’s good for the game?’ It’s about these kids and their families. Because let me tell you, if we (abolish one-and-done), the kids that do come to college will stay for two to three years.”
Calipari also has plenty of thoughts on the NBA G-League and how the league could potentially help young athletes with an education fund if they choose to turn pro directly out of high school. Regardless of what happens with the NBPA and the one-and-done rule, Calipari also said that his program would be fine — regardless of the rules.
Given that Calipari has operated on a different recruiting plane than everyone else in college basketball (with the exception of a few other bluebloods like Duke and Kansas) the last several years, it’s always notable when he gives his thoughts on the overall landscape of basketball.
But is Calipari actually lobbying for this? Or is this yet another way for Calipari to mold quotes into a recruiting pitch for elite players? Ultimately, it’s up to the NBPA to decide how the rules will be for future pros.
Report: NCAA allows Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale to compete on Dancing with the Stars
After a memorable March Madness run that included two game-winning jumpers in the Final Four and an eventual national title, Notre Dame junior guard Arike Ogunbowale became a breakout national star.
Ogunbowale already appeared on Ellen while meeting her basketball idol, Kobe Bryant. Now, Ogunbowale will get the rare opportunity to appear on Dancing with the Stars — which the NCAA will allow even though Ogunbowale is still a rising senior who is scheduled to return to school next season.
Dancing with the Stars compensates its contestants and also has a prize for the winner. Under NCAA Bylaw 12.4.1, college athletes cannot be compensated based on their athletic abilities.
But the NCAA is arguing that Ogunbowale’s appearance on the show is “unrelated to her basketball abilities,” according to a statement they released regarding the decision. According to a report from Jacob Bogage of the Washington Post, the NCAA is also limiting Ogunbowale’s visibility for the show’s promotional tools.
The NCAA has placed restrictions on Ogunbowale that limit her involvement with the show and her potential to build her brand. She is not allowed to appear in promotional materials for the show, including commercials, according to the NCAA’s statement. She didn’t join other contestants during a group appearance on “Good Morning America” last week. Show handicappers have already wondered whether the NCAA’s limits will hurt her chances.
And the NCAA could turn down future requests by arguing that Ogunbowale is not endorsing “Dancing with the Stars” by appearing on the program, but instead is participating in a “personal growth experience” by learning how to ballroom dance, said Barbara Osborne, a professor of exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina.
This is a slippery slope for the NCAA to take with this. Ogunbowale is, quite clearly, a famous basketball player. She’s on Dancing with the Stars because of her basketball abilities. The NCAA arguing anything else is just silly and embarrassing. The NCAA is also trying its best to uphold its argument about amateurism in the only way they know how.
But could this also could be a sign that the NCAA is perhaps open to the potential of allowing athletes to profit off of themselves in the future? The NCAA is currently handling a number of different court cases regarding amateurism, so it’s hard to say where all of this might go until the legal process starts to clear up.
Either way, this should be a fun experience for Ogunbowale while providing great national exposure for herself and women’s basketball. Ogunbowale might not be technically allowed to build her own brand during the show, but she’ll be gaining tons of new exposure for her basketball future — regardless of what the NCAA says in a statement.
Memphis center Karim Sameh Azab diagnosed with leukemia
Memphis center Karim Sameh Azab announced on Saturday that he’s been battling leukemia lymphoma.
The 6-foot-11 big man from Egypt has been receiving medical treatment since the beginning of April as he took to Twitter to announce his current status.
Sameh Azab played in 15 games this season for the Tigers as he saw action for 84 total minutes. The reserve big man was a late addition in former head coach Tubby Smith’s first recruiting class at Memphis as he didn’t quality to play during his first season.
“Karim has my full support and the support of our whole team,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said in a statement earlier this month. “While we appreciate the support of the Tiger family in this matter, we would also like to protect the privacy of Karim and his family.”