Bubble Banter: Illinois, Oklahoma this week’s big winners

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With just over a month until Selection Sunday, it’s time to take a look at the current NCAA bubble.  It’s a bit crazy – especially with teams like Kentucky and North Carolina missing from “lock” status.  We also have teams like Virginia – whose resume features quality wins, head-scratching losses, and a weak strength of schedule.  How will the Selection Committee view the Cavaliers?  Those are just three of many challenges within the current landscape of college hoops.

For what it’s worth, the Atlantic 10, Pac-12, SEC, and Mountain West have a variety of bubble teams.  It’ll be interesting to see how things play out.

Bubble Banter will ebb and flow over the next month.  Teams will be added and teams will fall away.  Others will move off the bubble and confirm their place in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.  While we could stretch the bubble even further, we’ve limited teams to those with realistic at-large hopes at this point in time.  Ask Villanova how quickly things can change, however.  Beating Louisville and Syracuse in back-to-back games can do that.

It’s going to be a fun ride.  Here’s to some great hoops and a stronger-than-usual bubble down the stretch.  This edition of Bubble Banter includes results through games played on Sunday, February 10.  RPI and SOS data is credited to InsiderRPI at ESPN.

UPDATED: Monday, February 11

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

Automatic Bids (31): None at this time

  • Projected Locks (14): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (18): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (40): Teams projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
  • Spots Available (14): 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 completed on Sunday, February 10.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Butler | Should Be In: Saint Louis, VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Charlotte, Massachusetts, Xavier
  • Charlotte (17-6 | 5-4) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 125 | – Wins over La Salle, UMass and Xavier are the 49ers’ calling cards. That probably won’t be enough. And Charlotte fell further behind the league leaders are falling at home to VCU on Saturday. A weak non-conference schedule (No. 221) means Charlotte has to right the ship and finish strong in the A-10.
  • La Salle (16-6 | 6-3) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 48 | – A home win over Butler and a road victory at VCU highlight the Explorers’ resume. They also have a win over fellow-bubble dweller Villanova. Overall, La Salle is 4-5 vs. Top 100 teams, but only two of those are likely NCAA squads. The only real blemish is a November loss at CCSU. The Explorers need to keep winning because other than Temple and Saint Louis, there are no NCAA-level games left on the docket until the A-10 tournament.
  • Massachusetts (16-6 | 6-3) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 88 | – Outside the A-10, the Minutemen’s best win is Harvard. That could be a problem. UMass did win at La Salle, which is a solid victory. And while the Minutemen are 5-4 vs. the Top 100, they are just 1-2 vs. Top 50 teams. With games left against VCU, Temple, and Butler, there’s still time. A couple of wins in those games would really help.
  • Temple (16-7 | 5-4) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 45 | – A win over Syracuse continues to help the Owls. They also have a victory at Villanova. Within the A-10, highlights are wins over Saint Louis and Charlotte. Temple also battled Kansas to a close loss in Lawrence. So why the bubble? Until a stretch of three wins in four games, the Owls were well off the conference pace. At 1-3 vs. Top 50 teams, Temple still needs some wins.
  • Xavier (13-9 | 6-3) | RPI: 81 | SOS: 85 | – Wins over Butler, La Salle, and Temple (all Top 50 RPI teams) are what’s keeping the Musketeers on the at-large list, but it’s a long shot given XU’s power numbers. Xavier has five sub-100 losses, including Wofford (No. 248). Xavier closes with five potential NCAA opponents, one of which is Memphis. It’ll take a late surge for the Musketeers to have at-large hopes in March.
ACC
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: NC State | Bubble: North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Florida State
  • Florida State (13-10 | 5-5) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 20 | – The Seminoles are 0-5 vs. Top 50 RPI teams and dropped their fourth sub-100 game by falling to Wake Forest on Saturday. The plus side: FSU is 5-6 vs. the Top 100 including wins over BYU, Charlotte, and a sweep of fellow bubble-dweller Maryland. The SOS numbers are there, but the Seminoles have work to do down the stretch to overcome a suspect resume.
  • Maryland (17-7 | 5-6) | RPI: 70 | SOS: 116 | – The albatross for Maryland is a non-conference schedule (No. 299) that gets noticed in the wrong way. While the Terrapins have no “bad” losses, they lack quality wins. Only a home victory over NC State is NCAA-worthy. Sunday’s loss to Virginia doesn’t help, as it knocks the Terps further down the s-curve. They did win at Northwestern outside the ACC, but the Wildcats aren’t likely headed to the NCAAs. All but three wins have come against teams ranked 100 or lower in the RPI.
  • North Carolina (15-7 | 6-4) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 35 | – Carolina has a solid home win over UNLV. After that, UNC’s resume is somewhat light. The Tar Heels’ other “notable” wins are Florida State and Maryland. With no “bad” losses and solid RPI and SOS numbers, UNC may sneak in, but it’s no sure thing. Carolina has two games left with Duke. They may need one of those. UNC was hammered Saturday in its only meeting with league-leader Miami.
  • Virginia (17-6 | 7-3) | RPI: 75 | SOS: 176 | – There has been much debate about UVA’s resume. And while Sunday’s win at Maryland helps, questions remain. Wins over UNC, NC State and Wisconsin (on the road) stand out. But there are six sub-100 losses, including a real head-scratcher against Old Dominion. A horrible SOS number includes a No. 323 mark in non-conference. What’s it’s all mean? Despite some good wins, Virginia has given the Committee plenty of reasons to leave them home. It’s up to UVA to erase doubts down the stretch.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville | Should Be In: Cincinnati, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Notre Dame | Bubble: Villanova, St. John’s
  • St. John’s (15-9 | 7-5) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 14 | – Even with Sunday’s loss at Syracuse, St. John’s has quietly compiled a resume worth of NCAA consideration. The Red Storm have a win at Cincinnati, a victory over Notre Dame, and are 7-6 vs. the Top 100 of the RPI. Outside the Big East, however, SJU’s best win is probably Detroit, so there’s not a lot to fall back on. Strength of schedule will help St. John’s, and overall the schedule is favorable down the stretch. Besides a growing loss total, the only blemishes are early losses to San Francisco and UNC-Asheville.
  • Villanova (14-9 | 6-5) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 49 | – Back-to-back wins over Louisville and Syracuse do wonders for an at-large resume. That said, ‘Nova is 0-5 against other Top 50 competition and Saint Joseph’s is the Wildcats’ best non-league victory. A loss to Columbia is certainly noticeable, as is being swept by Providence. The rest of Villanova’s resume is very average. Can two wins carry ‘Nova to the NCAAs? Four of the Wildcats’ final seven games are away from home. A .500 finish will likely put Villanova squarely on the bubble.
BIG 10
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State | Should Be In: Minnesota, Wisconsin | Bubble: Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa
  • Illinois (16-8 | 4-7) | RPI: 26 | SOS: 5 | – No bubble team had a better week than the Illini – who upset Indiana in Champaign and backed it up with a win at Minnesota. That’s two Top 15 RPI wins in a week and gives the Illini five Top 25 RPI wins on the season. If it weren’t for a 4-7 mark in the Big Ten – largely due to a home loss to Northwestern – Illinois probably wouldn’t even be on the bubble. The schedule is favorable if the Illini can avoid a let down in their next three – Purdue, at Northwestern, and Penn State. Quality non-conference wins include Butler (Maui) and at Gonzaga.
  • Iowa (15-9 | 4-7) | RPI: 91 | SOS: 106 | – The Hawkeyes’ may be better than their numbers suggest. But a No. 325 non-conference SOS is something that will hurt Iowa on Selection Sunday. Why so bad? A 10-1 mark vs. teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI. A non-conference win over Iowa State is noteworthy as is a home win over Wisconsin. But Iowa is just 2-7 vs. Top 50 teams. Against the RPI Top 150, Iowa is 5-8. That leaves the Hawkeyes with work to do over the next month.
  • Northwestern (13-11 | 4-7) | RPI: 96 | SOS: 56 | – It’s going to be a long, uphill climb for Northwestern which has lost four of six games. They are 2-5 vs. the Top 50, and just 3-10 vs. the Top 100. The Wildcats may be in for a short stay on the bubble. What Northwestern does have: road wins at Illinois and Baylor and a home victory over Minnesota. Their only questionable loss is to UIC.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas | Should Be In: Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
  • Baylor (14-8 | 6-4) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 23 | – The Bears have lost three of four games and are 2-6 vs. Top 50 teams. An early win at Kentucky helps as does a victory over Oklahoma State. Wins over Lehigh, St. John’s, and BYU will be noticed, but won’t necessarily carry Baylor into the NCAAs. To feel somewhat safe, the Bears need a couple more NCAA-level wins between now and Selection Sunday.
  • Iowa State (16-7 | 6-4) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 50 | – While the power numbers look good for the Cyclones, a 2-5 mark vs. Top 50 teams suggests there work to do. ISU has Big 12 wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma at home. But a 2-6 road mark is somewhat concerning. ISU’s best non-conference win is probably BYU – which isn’t an NCAA team at this point. Iowa State lost to Iowa, and also has a “bad” loss to Texas Tech.
  • Oklahoma (15-7 | 6-4) | RPI: 19 | SOS: 6 | – Strong SOS numbers are boosting the Sooners’ power profile, but you have to look a little deeper. Beating Kansas at home Saturday was a major boost. Beyond that, OU is 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams. The Sooners’ best non-conference win is Texas AM, which is a fringe bubble team at this point. Odds are in Oklahoma’s favor – given the RPI numbers. But the Sooners can’t fall off the pace in the Big 12 race.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Memphis, Southern Miss
  • Memphis (20-3 | 9-0) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 102 | – Once again, Memphis is in a tough spot (especially for seeding). The Tigers missed early chances against VCU, Minnesota, and Louisville. Now, after beating Southern Miss, they have a two-game lead in C-USA – and an outright title by multiple games would probably be enough to lock up an at-large. But UM’s overall resume remains light – with the win over So. Miss being the Tigers’ only Top 50 win (1-3 overall). Non-conference wins are Harvard, Tennessee, and Ohio. The positive: there are no “bad” losses on the slate.
  • Southern Miss (16-6 | 7-2) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 99 | – It was a bad week for So. Miss. The Golden Eagles dropped games to UCF and Memphis, falling two games behind the Tigers in the C-USA race. With an 0-6 mark vs. the Top 100, USM is at risk of leaving the bubble all together. Outside of a trip to Memphis, there’s little opportunity left for the Golden Eagles to make an NCAA-level statement. Right now, USM’s best win is at Denver.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: None | Should Be In: Creighton | Bubble: Indiana State, Wichita State
  • Indiana State (15-8 | 9-4) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 53 | – The Sycamores are in the thick of the MVC title chase and have non-conference wins over Ole Miss and Miami-FL. The latter is especially impressive (although the ‘Canes weren’t at full strength in Hawaii). ISU also won at Wichita State and handled Creighton at home. Four sub-100 losses – especially to Morehead State and So. Illinois – are keeping the Sycamores on the bubble. Avoiding any more “bad” losses should be enough to earn an NCAA bid. But that might be easier said than done.
  • Wichita State (20-5 | 9-4) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 129 | – An early win at VCU is helping the Shockers, as is a home win over Creighton. But WSU has lost three of four, including one at Southern Illinois. Other non-conference wins of note include Iowa and at Air Force. All-in-all, it could be a short stay on the bubble, especially with a 3-1 mark vs. Top 50 teams and 5-2 mark vs. the Top 100. But the recent skid is cause for momentary concern, and the Shockers do have three sub-100 losses. Upcoming trips to Illinois State and Indiana State could be very important.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: New Mexico | Should Be In: San Diego State, UNLV | Bubble: Colorado State, Boise State, Air Force
  • Air Force (12-8 | 5-4) | RPI: 67 | SOS: 87 | – The Falcons’ at-large hopes took a hit with the loss to Nevada on Saturday. But it’s certainly not over. The next three games – UNLV, Colorado State, and at Boise State will be telling. A non-conference SOS ranked 250-plus won’t help AF and the Falcons’ best non-conference RPI win is Arkansas Pine-Bluff (No. 210). Which means the Falcons have to excel in the Mountain West. An average showing won’t be enough.
  • Boise State (14-7 | 4-5) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 75 | – Like Air Force, a non-conference SOS in the mid-200’s won’t help. But unlike the Falcons, BSU has a non-conference victory at Creighton. They also lost a close contest at Michigan State. Inside the MTW, however, Boise has managed only a win over UNLV at home, and a sweep of now-struggling Wyoming. Combined with losses to Nevada and Utah, the Broncos need a strong finish.
  • Colorado State (17-4 | 6-2) | RPI: 15 | SOS: 55 | – Colorado State has a strong computer profile and a very solid mark in MTW play. At the same time, only a home win over UNLV is an NCAA-level win at this point. The win over Boise State helps, but the Broncos have work to do, too. The Rams do have a non-conference win over Washington (and Montana), which help some. An early-loss to Illinois-Chicago isn’t a huge concern. The next four games (SDSU, @Air Force, @UNLV, New Mexico) will be huge for CSU’s profile. An even split would be nice.
PAC 12
Locks: Arizona | Should Be In: Oregon, UCLA | Bubble: Arizona State, Washington, Stanford, California
  • Arizona State (18-6 | 7-4) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 104 | – The Sun Devils have Pac-12 wins over Colorado and UCLA. Their best non-conference win is Arkansas. They are 2-3 vs. The Top 50 and 4-5 vs. the Top 100. The only “bad” loss is to DePaul in early December. But … ASU is 13-1 vs. sub-150 RPI teams and has a non-conference SOS ranked in No. 267. That will be a big hurdle to overcome. The home loss to Stanford is somewhat troubling – especially with five of the Sun Devils’ final seven Pac-12 games on the road.
  • California (14-9 | 6-5) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 38 | – Just when the Bears needed something big on their resume, they got a huge road win at Arizona on Sunday night. Before that, Cal was a woeful 1-9 vs. the Top 100 and 1-5 vs. the Top 50. Those aren’t NCAA numbers. Now, one victory over Arizona doesn’t an NCAA profile make. But it keeps the Bears on the radar. Outside league play, Cal’s best win is probably Georgia Tech. With five of seven games at home to close, the Bears need to pile up wins.
  • Stanford (15-9 | 6-5) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 37 | – The Cardinal have won four of five games, including a road victory at Arizona State this weekend. Even so, Stanford is a discouraging 1-7 vs. Top 50 teams, so work remains. They are 4-8 vs. the Top 100. The best of those is a home victory over Oregon. An early win at Northwestern isn’t quite once it once was. The schedule is favorable down the stretch, and Stanford needs every win it can get as its quality wins are lacking.
  • Washington (13-11 | 5-6) | RPI: 78 | SOS: 33 | – Much like the other Pac-12 bubble teams, the Huskies lack a high-profile non-conference victory – their best is over Saint Louis. UW is 1-6 vs. Top 50 teams – but does have solid road wins at Cal and Stanford. Four sub-100 losses are also something UW has to overcome – including an early loss to Albany. Closing games with Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona will be critical. The Huskies may have to win all of those to be in the picture next month. Sunday’s loss at USC doesn’t help.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas
  • Alabama (14-8 | 7-3) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 58 | – While Alabama’s profile has plenty of holes (and suspect losses), the Crimson Tide played without Andrew Steele in some of those games. The Selection Committee will take that under consideration. That said, an ugly low-scoring loss at Auburn last week counts. ‘Bama is 1-3 vs. the Top 50 (beating Kentucky at home) and 6-4 vs. Top 100 teams. Outside the league, the Tide have wins over South Dakota State and Villanova. Inside the league, they have wins over Tennessee, Texas AM, and Arkansas at home. But those won’t carry the Tide into the NCAAs. Closing games at Florida and Ole Miss will be telling if ‘Bama can keep winning until then.
  • Arkansas (14-9 | 5-5) | RPI: 92 | SOS: 81 | – Arkansas has yet to win a true road game, so the Razorbacks are probably looking at a short stay on the bubble. They arrive, however, with a 2-4 mark vs. Top 50 teams, including a home victory over Florida. They also beat Oklahoma outside the conference. But at 3-7 vs. Top 100 teams, it doesn’t look promising. The lopsided loss at South Carolina was ugly.
  • Kentucky (17-6 | 8-2) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 72 | – The Wildcats are inching their way toward “Should Be In.” But with a 1-3 mark vs. Top 50 teams (4-6 vs. the Top 100), it’s hard to consider UK a for-sure NCAA team at this point. The SEC is down – especially at the bottom, making quality wins harder to find. Beating Ole Miss on the road was a solid step. But other than a win over Maryland, UK’s non-conference resume is light (11-0 vs. sub-150 opponents). With trips to Florida and Tennessee up next, it’s a big week for the Wildcats.
  • Mississippi (18-5 | 7-3) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 119 | – With a non-conference SOS ranked 250-plus, Ole Miss has to maintain a strong profile in the SEC. The Rebels’ best non-conference victory is Rutgers, so yes, work remains. Inside the SEC, Ole Miss has a win over Missouri at home but lost to the Tigers over the weekend in Columbia. That leaves the Rebels at 1-5 vs. Top 50 teams – which is hardly lock status. On the plus side, Ole Miss has not had any “bad” losses, and, in fact, has not lost to anyone ranked outside the RPI Top 50. The bad news? Ole Miss doesn’t play any remaining SEC opponents that are certain NCAA teams.
WEST COAST
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s, BYU
  • BYU (17-8 | 8-4) | RPI: 64 | SOS: 89 | – The Cougars’ at-large NCAA hopes took a serious hit after back-to-back losses to San Francisco and San Diego. It drops BYU well off the WCC pace with just five games to play. Overall, BYU is 0-3 vs. Top 50 teams and just 2-6 vs. the Top 100. And both of those are victories are over Santa Clara. The Cougars have to beat both St. Mary’s and Gonzaga down the stretch to have any realistic at-large hopes.
  • St. Mary’s (20-4 | 10-1) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 183 | – A weak overall schedule is hampering the Gaels. SMU has played just one Top 50 opponent (0-1 overall) and only four Top 100 teams (3-1). The Gaels best non-conference win is Harvard. That said, they can still tie Gonzaga for the WCC if they beat the ‘Zags at home this week. It might take a tie for St. Mary’s to grab an at-large spot. It’ll be interesting to see how the Committee weighs a volume of decent wins vs. a lack of quality wins. History would suggest that quality wins tend to be more important.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Belmont, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech, Lehigh
  • Akron (18-4 | 10-0) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 158 | – The Zips have not lost since December 15 (at Detroit). That said, Akron’s only Top 100 win during that stretch is Ohio at home. An early win over Middle Tennessee State helps, giving Akron a 2-3 mark vs. the Top 100. The other problem? The Zips are 15-1 vs. sub-150 teams – meaning all but three wins are against the lower half of Division I. Akron has to win an outright MAC title and probably reach the conference tourney final to have a realistic shot at this point.
  • Belmont (18-5 | 11-1) | RPI: 23 | SOS: 61 | – Good scheduling and a 5-4 mark vs. Top 100 teams has put the Bruins on the radar for at-large consideration. A win over Middle Tennessee State is the Bruins’ best RPI win, although a victory at Stanford might be equally important. There are no “ugly” losses on the Bruins’ resume. A loss last week to Murray State keeps the Racers only a game back in the OVC. Belmont has to win the league outright. After that, the Bruins’ at-large hopes depend on the overall landscape come March.
  • Bucknell (19-4 | 7-1) | RPI: 59 | SOS: 186 | – A victory over La Salle highlights a resume that shows a lot of wins but not a lot of high-quality W’s. Bucknell has beaten New Mexico St and won at Purdue. Unfortunately, the latter hasn’t help up quite as much as expected. Could the Bison win a game if they reach the NCAAs? Sure. But getting there won’t be easy. The negatives are losses at Penn State and Princeton.
  • Lehigh (16-5 | 7-1) | RPI: 77 | SOS: 210 | – Other than a win over league foe Bucknell, the Mountain Hawks resume is suspect (1-3 vs. Top 100) teams. They also have home losses to Bryant and Lafayette. At this point, an at-large bid is a long shot. But we’ll keep Lehigh here as they are tied with Bucknell atop the Patriot League standings.
  • Louisiana Tech (21-3 | 12-0) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 242 | – La Tech’s strength of schedule is a major hurdle to overcome – reflected by 16 games (15-1 record) against sub-150 opponents. The Bulldogs’ best win is over bubble-dweller Southern Miss. There’s also an ugly loss at McNeese State. Despite a high volume of wins, an at-large bid is unlikely.
  • Middle Tennessee (22-4 | 14-1) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 111 | – An early win over Ole Miss helps but the Blue Raiders’ only other Top 100 win is Central Florida. Like some others on this list, a 15-1 mark vs. sub-150 teams is a drag on the schedule. Middle Tennessee also has losses to fellow bubble-dwellers Belmont and Akron – although both were on the road.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.