Bubble Banter: Now wait begins for Drexel, Iona, others

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Several mid-major bubble teams will have long waits until Selection Sunday. These include Iona, Drexel, Oral Roberts, and Middle Tennessee State. All lost in their conference tournaments. We now have 28 projected locks and another six teams that should feel confident. That leaves 29 teams on the bubble for roughly 12 spots. It’s going to be quite a week once the BCS teams being conference tournament play.

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 Monday, March 5.

Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.

Automatic Bids (31): Murray State (OVC), Belmont (A-SUN), UNC-Asheville (Big South), VCU (Colonial), Loyola-Md (MAAC), Creighton (MVC), St. Mary’s (WCC), Davidson (Southern)

  • Projected Locks (28): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (6): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (29): Teams projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
  • Spots Available (12): 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 Sunday, March 4
  • Teams Leaving the Bubble: Cincinnati, Iowa State, Alabama (Should Be In)
  • Teams Joining the Bubble: TBA
Atlantic 10
Locks: Temple | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Louis, Dayton, St. Joe’s, Xavier
  • Dayton (19-11 | 9-7) | RPI: 72 | SOS: 56 | – The Flyers have eight Top 100 RPI wins, including victories over Temple, Alabama, and Xavier. The Flyers have also beaten Ole Miss and Minnesota. What Dayton also has is a few troubling losses – particularly defeats to sub-200 RPI teams Miami-OH and Rhode Island. The Flyers open A-10 tournament play against George Washingto; win that and UD faces rival Xavier. That could very well be an elimination game.
  • St. Joe’s (19-12 | 9-7) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 44 | – Like a lot of bubble teams, St. Joe’s enters conference tournament play in need of a couple of wins. What St. Joe’s has, however, are two good non-conference wins (Creighton and Drexel). They’ve also beaten Temple. Right now, thpse two non-league wins are holding the Hawks in decent at-large position. They will be helped or hurt by how teams around them do. St. Joe’s opens with Charlotte and then meets St. Bonaventure. The Hawks need to win both, then see what happens.
  • St. Louis (23-6 | 12-4) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 96 | – A couple of wins by Xavier, Washington and St. Joe’s would make the Billkens’ profile even better. But it’s hard to consider SLU a lock with an 0-2 mark vs. Top 50 teams. The rest of the A10 bubble teams listed here have at least two. St. Louis also has a loss at Rhode Island (much like Dayton). St. Louis plays the Richmond/La Salle winner in its A-10 opener. It would be a good idea for the Billikens to win that one.
  • Xavier (19-11 | 10-6) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 47 | – Non-conference wins over Vanderbilt, Purdue, and Cincinnati continue to help the Muskies. The Musketeers are 6-10 vs. Top 100 but just 2-7 vs. the RPI Top 50. XU will likely face Dayton in its A-10 tournament opener (see above).
ACC
Locks: Duke, North Carolina, Florida State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Miami-FL, NC State, Virginia
  • Miami-FL (18-11 | 9-7) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 40 | – Miami has a huge win at Duke and a victory over Florida State at home. But they are just 3-10 vs. Top 100 teams. The Canes open ACC tourney play against Georgia Tech. That’s a must win. After that, it would be Florida State. Beating the Seminoles again could be enough to push Miami into the NCAAs.
  • NC State (20-11 | 9-7) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 29 | – The Wolfpack have a season sweep of Miami and a neutral court win over Texas. Decent wins. But an 0-8 mark vs. the Top 50 is troubling – although UT and Miami are in the 50-56 range as of this update. NC State has to beat Boston College in its ACC opener. Then it’s a matchup with Virginia. The Wolfpack need at least those two. We’ll re-evaluate the landscape if that happens.
  • Virginia (22-8 | 9-7) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 81 | – Virginia was able to hold off a Maryland rally to avoid a more desperate situation. The Cavaliers will play either NC State or Boston College in their ACC tournament opener. If it’s NC State, one more win should seal it. UVA can probably survive a loss (if it’s not to BC) but it would leave open the possibility of concern if Championship Week gets a little crazy. UVA is 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams and 7-6 vs. the Top 100. Good wins include Michigan and Drexel. The win at Oregon helps too.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame | Should Be In: Cincinnati | Bubble: Connecticut, Seton Hall, South Florida, West Virginia
  • Connecticut (18-12 | 8-10) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 3 | – Connecticut beat Pittsburgh to close the regular season and stay on the right side the bubble. That’s what 9 Top 100 wins and a Top 3 SOS will get you when the bubble is weak. Non-conference wins include Florida State and Harvard. The Huskies open Big East tournament play with a must win against DePaul. After that, it would be a bubble matchup with West Virginia.
  • Seton Hall (19-11 | 8-10) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 50 | – The Pirates ended the season with losses to Rutgers and DePaul. Wins over VCU, St. Joe’s and Dayton are helping right now, along with wins over Georgetown, Connecticut, and West Virginia. SHU is 7-8 vs. the Top 100. The Pirates open play in New York against Providence. Lose that one and SHU is likely done. A victory would put the Hall against Louisville.
  • South Florida (18-12 | 12-6) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 25 | – USF’s win at Louisville was the Bulls’ first marquee-type victory. They followed it up with a home loss to West Virginia. Most of the Bulls’ Big East wins came against the bottom of the league and their best non-conference win is Cleveland State. USF will play the Villanova/Rutgers winner to open Big East tournament play. The Bulls have to win that one and probably beat Notre Dame to improve their chances.
  • West Virginia (19-12 | 9-9) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 13 | – The Mountaineers ended a slump by closing the regular season with a road win at South Florida. WVU is bouyed some by a series of close losses. A non-conference win over Kansas State helps, too. WVU has 9 top 100 wins. The Mountaineers will likely open Big East tournament play against Connecticut (the Huskies play DePaul first). The winner of that one will be okay. The loser could sweat a little waiting for Selection Sunday.
BIG 10
Locks: Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Purdue | Bubble: Northwestern
  • Northwestern (18-12 | 8-10) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 14 | – The Wildcats did everything right to close the season except a 2-point loss to Ohio State. Those types of close losses will help the Wildcats, but at some point, winning games still counts, and a 1-10 mark vs. Top 50 teams stands out in the wrong way – same as a 5-12 mark vs. Top 100 teams. NW has a marquee win over Michigan State and a bubble win over Seton Hall. The Wildcats open with play in Indianapolis against Minnesota. Win, and it’s a matchup with Michigan. Northwestern probably needs both.
BIG 12
Locks: Baylor, Kansas, Missouri | Should Be In: Kansas State, Iowa State | Bubble: Texas
  • Texas (19-12 | 9-9) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 22 | – The Longhorns enter Big 12 tournament play squarely on the bubble. Good wins include Temple, Iowa State, and Kansas State at home. Texas is just 4-7 on the road and 4-10 vs. Top 100 teams (3-9 vs. Top 50). A loss at Oregon State is the low mark. Texas opens with Iowa State and needs to beat the Cyclones. A win would set up a likely matchup with Missouri.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: Memphis | Should Be In: Southern Mississippi | Bubble: Central Florida
  • Central Florida (19-9 |10-6) | RPI: 64 | SOS: 94 | – The Knights open C-USA tournament play against either UAB or Tulane. UCF has to win that one as it would set up a game with Memphis. The Knights need to beat the Tigers a second time. UCF is just 2-4 vs. Top 50 teams and 3-6 vs the Top 100. Those numbers are considerably lower than some other bubble teams. Bad losses include Rice and UL-Lafayette.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: Wichita State, Creighton | Should Be In: None | Bubble: None
  • Creighton won the automatic bid and ensured that the MVC will be a two-bid league.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Colorado State
  • Colorado State (18-10 | 8-6) | RPI: 21 | SOS: 7 | – The Rams have beaten UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico at home, and their power numbers are very strong, if not slightly inflated. The concerns are a 3-9 road record – CSU’s best road win is UTEP (No. 158) – and nothing out of conference other than a win over Montana. Overall, the Rams have 8 top 100 wins. CSU opens Mountain West tournament play against TCU. That win might be enough. Assuming they play SDSU in the semis, two wins would lock up a bid. A quick loss could leave the door open for trouble if bids get squeezed.
PAC 12
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington
  • Arizona (21-10 | 12-6) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 115 | – The Wildcats ended their season with a horrible loss at Arizona State. Their at-large hopes were shaky before (1-4 vs. Top 50), and Arizona accomplished little outside the Pac-10. UA has to reach the Pac-12 title game to have any serious consideration.
  • California (23-8 | 13-5) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 91 | – Cal continues to have the best at-large resume of the Pac-12 group thanks to a sweep of Oregon and a win at Washington in the only meeting between the two. But a loss to Stanford kept the Bears behind Washington in the final standings. Cal is 7-6 vs the Top 100. The Bears will likely see Stanford again in their first Pac-12 tournament game. They probably can’t afford another loss to the Cardinal.
  • Oregon (22-8 | 13-5) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 77 | – The Ducks have won 6 of 7 games but failed to win a game against a Top 50 RPI opponent. About all Oregon has to offer is a split with Washington, as the Ducks were swept by Cal. A victory at Nebraska is Oregon’s top out-of-conference victory. The Ducks will likely open Pac-12 tournament play against Colorado, but they need to reach the title game to stay in the discussion.
  • Washington (21-9 | 14-4) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 85 | – After a loss at UCLA, Washington backed into a Pac-12 regular season title when Cal lost at Stanford. If the Huskies don’t win the league’s automatic bid we’ll learn soon enough how the Committee values a Pac-12 title. Washington is 1-6 vs. Top 50 teams and just 4-8 vs the Top 100. They split with Oregon, swept Arizona and lost their only game with Cal. The Huskies will open Pac-12 play with either Washington State or Oregon State. A loss could really hurt. Reaching the title game would be advised.
SEC
Locks: Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt | Should Be In: Alabama | Bubble: Mississippi State, Tennessee
  • Mississippi State (21-10 | 8-8) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 67 | – The Bulldogs escaped South Carolina and beat Arkansas to close the regular season with two important wins. With 8 Top 100 wins (8-8), and a non-conference win over West Virginia, MSU survived a five-game swoon in February. The Bulldogs open SEC tournament play against Georgia. It would be a good idea to win that one. It might take a win over Vandy to feel safe.
  • Tennessee (17-13 | 10-6) | RPI: 75 | SOS: 33 | – The Volunteers actually earned the two-seed at the SEC tournament this week in New Orleans. How the Committee evaluates the arrival of Jarnell Stokes in early January will be a major factor for the Vols. They are clearly a better team with him, and three of their bad losses came before he arrived. UT is 10-5 with Stokes and has beaten Florida twice, Vanderbilt, and Connecticut. Those are four wins few bubble teams have. Tennessee gets the Auburn/Ole Miss winner in Game 1. Two more wins could be enough depending on what else happens.
WEST COAST
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: BYU
  • BYU (23-8 | 12-4) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 93 | – BYU failed in its attempt to beat Gonzaga a second time and finished 1-4 vs the Zags and St. Mary’s. If the Cougars miss the NCAAs that will be one reason why. Their best non-conference victories are Nevada and Oregon. Good wins, but perhaps not enough to make an NCAA bid hold up. BYU is a team that could easily be squeezed if bids get tight. Their resume is complete. It will be a long wait until Selection Sunday.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Drexel, Harvard, Iona, Long Beach State, Middle Tennessee State, Nevada, Oral Roberts
  • Drexel (27-6 | 16-2) | RPI: 67 | SOS: 210 |The Dragons may prove to be the ultimate “eye test” team for this year’s Selection Committee. Drexel had won 19 straight games before losing in the CAA championship to VCU. They were also the outright regular-season champions of the Colonial. Strictly by the numbers, Drexel finished 1-2 vs. Top 50 teams and just 4-3 against the Top 100. While they lost to St. Joseph’s and Virginia, Drexel beat Cleveland State by 20 on the road. All the Dragons can do now is wait and hope a few other things fall their way.
  • Harvard (24-4 | 11-2) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 171 | – Harvard is waiting for Pennsylvannia to finish its season on Tuesday. A Penn loss would give Harvard the league’s automatic bid. If Penn wins, there will be a playoff. With a playoff loss, Harvard would have to hope early wins over Florida State, St. Joseph’s, and UCF are enough for an at-large.
  • Iona (25-7 | 15-3) | RPI: 41 | SOS: 143 | – The Gaels ended their season by losing to Fairfield in the MAAC semifinals. Now, it’s a long wait until Selection Sunday. Iona has to hope that wins over Nevada and St. Joseph’s hold up and that a few things go their way. The Gaels finished 1-1 vs. the Top 50 and 5-3 vs. the Top 100. Losses to sub-200 teams Siena and Hofstra may ultimately doom Iona to the NIT.
  • Long Beach State (20-8 | 15-1) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 111 | – The 49ers nearly completed a perfect Big West season. And while early wins over Pittsburgh and Xavier help, they aren’t as strong as once thought. LBSU played the No. 1 non-conference schedule but went 0-6 vs. Top 50 teams and just 2-7 vs. the Top 100. Several close losses will help, but how much? Long Beach opens Big West tournament play against UC Davis.
  • Middle Tennesse State (24-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 59 | SOS: 187 | – The Blue Raiders’ chances are very slim after losing in the Quarterfinals of the Sun Belt tournament. Their best wins are Ole Miss, Akron and Belmont. But they ended the season with back-to-back losses to Western Kentucky and Arkansas State (both sub-200 teams). MTSU ended 0-1 vs. Top 50 teams.
  • Nevada (23-5 | 13-1) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 145 | – Having lost its BracketBusters game at Iona and then watching Iona fall early in the MAAC tournament, Nevada’s at-large chances are growing slim. What the Wolfpack do have is a win over Washington. Nevada has to reach the WAC title game to have any chance to stay in the at-large picture.
  • Oral Roberts (27-6 | 17-1) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 174 | – ORU beat Xavier, Missouri State, and Akron (BracketBusters) in non-conference play, although XU was without several players. But a loss to Western Illinois in the league tournament semis puts a damper on the Eagles’ at-large hopes. They finished 0-2 vs. Top 50 teams and just 3-3 against the Top 100. ORU has to hope a dominate season in the Summit is enough.

Weekend Preview: We’ve reached the oversaturation point of early-season exempt events

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Typically, I use these Weekend Previews to discuss the best games of the weekend, but this weekend, there just aren’t any games that are actually worth talking about.

So I’m going to go on a rant instead.

We’ve officially reached the point of over-saturation when it comes to the early-season exempt events.

This is the second weekend of the college basketball season and we’re right in the middle of what should be one of the better weeks of college hoops. The Gavitt Games are happening, the Champions Classic more or less lived up to the hype and, starting on Thursday, we dove head first into tropical locale tournament season.

Except … these events all suck.

The Charleston Classic started on Thursday. Auburn beat Indiana State to advance and take on Temple, who dispatched Old Dominion. The winner of that game will take on the winner of Clemson and Hofstra, because Hofstra upset Dayton in the first round. There are four mid-major teams in the Charleston Classic, and none of the high-major teams look like they will be tournament-bound.

The Puerto Rico tip-off is even worse. It features teams from the Missouri Valley, Conference USA, the Sun Belt and the SoCon. The best team in the event is either an Iowa State team that lost to Milwaukee at home by double-digits, a Tulsa team that lost to Lamar at home, a South Carolina team that got picked off in the first round of the event or Boise State, who wasn’t picked to be in the top two of the Mountain West.

It won’t get any better when the Paradise Jam starts today. The three best teams in that event are Houston, Colorado and Wake Forest and features an opening round game between Mercer and Liberty.

There are also a number of events in the Northeast this weekend and next week. I live an hour from New York City and I won’t be making the trek up to any of the games at the Garden or the Barclays Center until next Saturday, and these are what are supposed to be big games being held there for the next eight days. I cover this sport for a living, but I’d rather watch on TV and spend time with my son than go see Pitt play Penn State or Texas Tech square off with Boston College.

Even the Maui Invitational isn’t all that intriguing. Cal is down. VCU is down. Michigan and Marquette have struggled early. LSU is intriguing but only in the sense that they appear to not be a train-wreck this year. If Notre Dame doesn’t play Wichita State in the final, that tournament will not feature a single must-see game.

Now granted, much of this is due to the fact that Nike pulled 14 power programs out of the exempt event rotation for the PK80, and I’ll admit, that event should be fun. But man, it was such a buzzkill when I realized that the 16-team event was really just two eight-team tournaments.

It makes sense – you can’t have conference rivals facing off in the same tournament – but it just never clicked for me.

Which brings me back around to the larger point that I wanted to make: Can we start doing away with some of these events and play marquee non-conference games on campus again? On Thursday night, we got a chance to see No. 15 Xavier pay a visit to Wisconsin for the Gavitt Games, and it was everything that we love about college basketball. Two elite programs featuring an all-american facing off in front of a raucous crowd that spent the entire second half letting J.P. Macura know that they think he is an a******. Ethan Happ, the best post player in the country, according to Chris Mack, got pissed about not getting a couple of foul calls and proceeded to will Wisconsin back into the game only to see Trevon Bluiett bury two dagger threes in a minute stretch to put the game away.

After hitting those threes, Bluiett proceeded to shush the crowd. A minute later, after throwing down an alley-ooo to put Xavier up 12 with just seconds left on the clock, Macura proceeded to do the Gator Chomp over and over and over at the Wisconsin student section to remind them of who knocked the Badgers out of last year’s NCAA tournament.

That was awesome!

Yes, Macura was a little over the top, and yes, the Wisconsin fans probably earned Macura’s trolling, but everything about that game was what makes college basketball great.

And it was a game between the No. 15 team in America and an unranked Wisconsin program. It wasn’t even a marquee matchup. The environment at the Champions Classic rivaled that – there really is nothing better than having an arena packed with fan bases from both teams playing – but when those neutral site games don’t feature blue blood programs or teams with large alumni bases in the city or fans that are willing to spend the money to travel, it’s boring. Virginia Tech got upset by Saint Louis at Madison Square Garden last night and I’m pretty sure I could have put my son to sleep while sitting behind the basket.

So this is my plea to the NCAA tournament Selection Committee: Make it obvious just how much you value quality road wins in non-conference play. Make them so valuable that programs simply cannot afford not to play them. Make Xavier’s win at Wisconsin on Thursday night worth at least a seed line even if Wisconsin ends up being a bubble team.

That’s the only way we’re going to get teams to play great games on campus in the fall.

No. 15 Xavier’s win over Wisconsin should, and will, be rewarded by Selection Committee

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This Wisconsin team is probably not going to end up being quite as good as past Wisconsin teams.

That’s inevitable when you lose the players that they lost to graduation, but it also doesn’t change the fact that No. 15 Xavier went into the Kohl Center and snagged a win that is going to look quite good on Selection Sunday.

The Musketeers took care of the Badgers, 80-70, thanks to 25 points and nine boards from Trevon Bluiett and 20 points from J.P. Macura. Bluiett struggled to find a rhythm for much of the game, but he hit a pair of critical jumpers midway through the second half to stem a Wisconsin run and, with the game tied and just over a minute left on the clock, buried three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to lock up the win.

For a stretch midway through the second half, it looked like Wisconsin was getting ready to run away with this game. Ethan Happ – who finished with 21 points and eight assists and who Xavier head coach Chris Mack referred to as “one of the best post players in the entire country” – was in the midst of taking the game over and Wisconsin’s sold out Kohl Center was in full voice. That’s when Bluiett went into takeover mode, quieting the crowd and getting Xavier out of Madison with a win.

That shouldn’t be overlooked, and if there is any justice in the world, it will be the kind of thing that the Musketeers get rewarded for come Selection Sunday.

I enjoy the neutral site tournaments that pop up every year. They create some drama every November, and there are always some fun matchups over the weekend and afternoon basketball during the week. That’s great. But the best part of college hoops is the environment of playing a big game on campus. The crowd, the student section, players like Macura doing the Gator Chomp at the Wisconsin fans – the Badgers lost to Florida in the NCAA tournament last year – after they spent the entire second half bombarding him with ‘a******’ chants every time he touched the ball.

It was great.

And it will be better if that kind of a win, even against a Wisconsin team that is probably closer to being top 40-good than top 25-good, is something that the Selection Committee values. Those changes are supposedly coming, and it will be a good thing for the sport. Give top 15 teams an incentive to play road games in November.

Because Thursday night’s clash in the Kohl Center was everything that is great about college hoops.

Kentucky finds an answer in Kevin Knox while questions about point guards still linger

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CHICAGO – The most interesting part of Kentucky’s 65-61 loss to Kansas came after the game, in the press conference, as the Wildcats publicly projected an air of satisfaction.

John Calipari, Kevin Knox, they spoke as if hanging with Kansas, as if pushing the No. 4 team in the country, a team with 6.5 scholarship players available on Tuesday night, was a moral victory.

And no one batted an eye.

Kentucky had struggled in their season-opening win over Utah Valley, trailing by as much as 12 points early in the second half before coming alive and winning by ten. They only beat Vermont by four, as the Catamounts slowly and methodically chipped away at a Kentucky lead in the second half, missing two shots to tie the game in the final minute.

It wasn’t a surprise, not with the overwhelming amount of youth on the Kentucky roster and the simple fact that none of those youngsters fall into the same class as Michael Porter Jr., Deandre Ayton or Marvin Bagley III. We all knew that Kentucky was going to go through growing pains this season, that the product they put on the floor in March will be markedly different than the one we’ve seen through the first week of the season, but it is still odd to see a program the caliber of Kentucky qualifying a loss with ‘we played hard.’

“We were just fighting. I give it to my teammates. We really fought,” Kevin Knox, the most celebrated member of Kentucky’s freshman class, said. “A lot of people ha us losing this game by 20, 30 points, but we said before the game that we’re not having it. They’re a veteran team, we’re a real young team. A lot of people thought they’d have the advantage, but tonight we really fought our butts off. We played really hard in the second half, and we could have won the game. We only lost by four points.”

I couldn’t agree with that statement more, and there were a lot of positives to take out of that game.

And it may have answered one of the two biggest questions hanging over the program this season: Who is Kentucky’s closer? Who is Kentucky’s go-to guy?

Kevin Knox, or so it seems.

Knox struggled through the first two games of the season. He was 6-for-23 from the floor, he was 2-for-8 from three and he was averaging 11.5 points. Against Kansas, however, Knox was terrific, finishing with 20 points, banging how three threes and showing off a perimeter game that I wasn’t sure that he had in his arsenal yet; he made a couple pull-ups and he was able to create offense off of the dribble.

He’s not where he needs to be yet, but I left the United Center feeling much better about where Kentucky stands this season than I did entering.

“I still don’t know how we’re going to play late in a close game,” head coach John Calipari said, adding that “late in the game, that’s not on those kids. We haven’t worked on late-game situations.”

“I knew it was going to be tough, but I need to put these kids into those situations. I need to see who can make a shot, who can make a free throw. You can only learn about your team in games like this.”

They’ll get there eventually.

The bigger concern is at the point guard spot. Kentucky has two on their roster this season, and neither of them appear to be the answer. Quade Green, who has started the last two games after coming off the bench, is better on the offensive end of the floor but struggles defensively. Vermont’s Trae Bell-Haynes ate him up in the second half of Kentucky’s win. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a much better defender, but when he’s on the floor and Green isn’t, Kentucky’s only effective means of generating offense comes in transition or on the offensive glass. Against Kansas, Gilgeous-Alexander turned the ball over six times.

The way Calipari wants to run his program is clear: Go get one of the best incoming freshman point guards to run his team. Whether it’s Tyreke Evans or Derrick Rose or John Wall or De’Aaron Fox or Marquis Teague, the trend is clear. This year, he didn’t get a player on that level. Green and Gilgeous-Alexander both fall in that second tier of point guard, and the only other year where that was the case for Cal was back in 2012-13, when N.C. State transfer Ryan Harrow ran the show and Kentucky ended up in the NIT.

I don’t think the Wildcats are in danger of repeating that season, particularly if Knox keeps growing into that go-to guy role. They’re still going to be very good defensively and they’re still going big enough to get to dominate the glass on most nights, which should help them mitigate the fact that their perimeter shooting is not quite where it needs to be.

But the difference between Kentucky being good and Kentucky genuinely being considered among the nation’s best teams is at the point, and unless Calipari can find a way to fuse Green’s ability on the offensive end of the floor with Gilgeous-Alexander’s skill as a defender, I’m not quite sure what the answer is going to be.

Michael Porter Jr.’s injury growing more concerning, misses trip to Utah

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The injury to Michael Porter Jr., Missouri’s star freshman and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, seems to be a little more concerning that many initially believed.

The 6-foot-10 forward will not play tonight as the Tigers visit Utah, and he reportedly did not even travel with the team.

“I think it’s day-to-day,” head coach Cuonzo Martin told reporters when asked about Porter’s injury on Monday night. “That’s the best assessment for me to say right now. It’s day-to-day.”

According to Missouri, the injury was suffered during warmups prior to Missouri’s first game. Porter played the first two minutes of that opener against Iowa State last week so as to avoid a technical foul – he was already listed in the starting lineup – but he did not return to the game, sitting with an icepack on his hip on the bench. Porter was not on the bench when Missouri beat Wagner by 44 points earlier this week, but Porter was not on the bench during the game. Missouri said that was due to the fact that is was more comfortable for Porter to sit elsewhere.

Thomas’ career-high 24 leads Creighton over No. 20 Northwestern

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ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) — Khyri Thomas had a career-high 24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, Martin Krampelj added a career-high 17 points and Creighton beat No. 20 Northwestern 92-88 on Wednesday night in a Gavitt Tipoff Games matchup.

Ty-Shon Alexander had 14 points and Marcus Foster had 12 for the Bluejays (3-0).

Vic Law had a career-high 30 points and Bryant McIntosh added 24 for Northwestern (2-1).

Creighton senior Toby Hegner went down in the first half with a high ankle sprain and was on crutches at the end of the game.

The Wildcats rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit to take the lead in the second half, but couldn’t maintain the momentum as Creighton answered the run and took the lead for good with 14 minutes to go.

Law scored 12 straight Northwestern points early in the second half to lead a furious comeback from a 51-43 halftime deficit. Included in that run was a four-point play 3 minutes into the half to put the Wildcats on top 56-55 — their first lead since early in the first half.

Creighton is 12-1 against teams from the Big Ten since November 2011. The Bluejays had four wins over teams ranked in the Top 25 last season.

THE BIG PICTURE

Creighton: The Bluejays scored 109 points in their previous game against Alcorn State and were on a pace for 120 or more in racing out to a 44-29 lead 15 minutes into the game. But after Northwestern picked up its defensive intensity, they managed just 11 points over the next 8 minutes in losing the big lead. The players, though, responded and reclaimed control.

Northwestern: The Wildcats are coming off their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season and were ranked in the AP preseason poll for the first time. But Wednesday night showed that nothing is going to come easy this season just because expectations are high — especially if they don’t play with the same intensity on the defensive end as last season.

UP NEXT

Creighton: The Bluejays face No. 23 UCLA on Monday night in the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

Northwestern: The Wildcats face La Salle on Saturday in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn.