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.

College Basketball Power Rankings: After a wild week, let’s start this thing over

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This has been an unbelievably weird season to date, which feels about par for the course for college basketball in the era of the FBI investigation.

Arizona fell off a cliff in the Bahamas before returning stateside and reeling off four straight wins, three of which came at UNLV, on a neutral against Texas A&M and at home against Alabama. Duke lost at Boston College after playing like they deserved to lose four or five times already this season. Florida lost to Florida State and Loyola-Chicago. Kansas lost to Washington and Arizona State, who actually has a shot of being ranked as the No. 1 team in college basketball on Monday.

Seriously.

But wait.

There’s more.

Notre Dame lost to Ball State. Minnesota got blown out at Nebraska and Arkansas. Purdue lost to Western Kentucky. I could go on but you get the point. Nothing makes sense anymore. My best guess is that we’re all watching basketball in the upside-down.

I’m starting anew. Instead of trying to figure out who goes up because they beat Team A who beat Team B after Team B upset Team C who lost by 30 to Team D. I’m just going to rank who I think are the 25 best teams in the country in order.

So bear with me as I try to figure out just what to make of college basketball in the year of our lord, 2017.

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

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 19 Oklahoma, No. 20 Tennessee, No. 21 Florida State

DROPPED OUT: 12. Minnesota, 23. Texas, 24. Baylor, 25. Creighton

No. 16 Arizona State hands No. 2 Kansas second-straight loss

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No. 16 Arizona State got a combined 72 points, 14 assists and nine steals from their three-headed monster of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Remy Martin as the Sun Devils went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and handed Kansas their second-straight loss, 95-85. ASU went on an 18-0 second half run to turn a 52-47 deficit into an 65-52 lead they would never relinquish.

It’s the first time since Dec. 2013, when Kansas lost to Colorado and Florida in back-to-back road games, that the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks lost two in a row. The difference, of course, is that neither of these losses came on the road; Kansas was beaten by Washington in Kansas City on Wednesday.

Arizona State now owns wins at Kansas and over St. John’s and No. 14 Xavier on a neutral floor. They were, without a doubt, the favorite to win the Pac-12 title at this point. They are probably the best team on the west coast, and there is a valid argument to rank them as the No. 1 team in the country.

Here are four things to take away from this result:

1. YES, WE CAN RANK ARIZONA STATE NO. 1 IN THE COUNTRY

I probably won’t be the guy to do that, not when Villanova and Michigan State still exist, but there is more than enough reason to do so.

Namely: their wins.

Is there a program in the country that has put together a better trio of wins than at Kansas, Xavier on a neutral and St. John’s on a neutral? The Sun Devils also own wins over San Diego State and Kansas State, and perhaps the most impressive part of it is that each of those wins, with the exception of Kansas State, came by double-digits. They put up 102 points on Xavier despite trailing by 15 in the first half. They put up 95 points on Kansas despite trailing by 13 in the first half.

If you’re the kind of person that does your rankings based totally on the rèsumè that a team has produced – a completely valid way to rank – then putting Arizona State at No. 1 makes total sense.

So don’t be surprised when they get some of them in this week’s AP poll.

2. ARIZONA STATE’S ACHILLES’ HEEL IS NOT THREES, IT’S DEFENSE

One idea that I’ve seen bandied about is that Arizona State’s performance early on this season is something of a mirage. These guards, as talented as they are, are just tough-shot makers that are running hot right now, and there might be something to that. I’m not going to pretend that shooting 14-for-28 from three at Phog Allen Fieldhouse or 13-for-27 from three against Xavier is the kind of thing that is going to happen every single time that Arizona State plays this season, but I also don’t think that’s why their offense has been so successful this season.

The Sun Devils get to the line more than just about any other team in the country; Cal St.-Fullerton is the only program with a higher free throw rate than the Sun Devils. That has everything to do with the ability of Evans, Holder and Martin to put the ball on the floor and get into the paint. It’s why they get to the line so often, and it’s why Romello White gets to the line so often.

That is sustainable, more so than shooting nearly-50 percent from three is.

What may not be sustainable, however, is winning games like this while posting a sub-150 adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. That’s where Arizona State has problems they need to solve. We saw it on Sunday, as Kansas had a never-ending parade of dunks. Ironically, what may have ended up being the difference is the fact that the Sun Devils had a handful of run-out layups – pick-six turnovers, if you will.

Bobby Hurley’s team allowed 1.39 points-per-possession on possessions where Kansas did not turn the ball over. That, quite simply, has to improve if you assume that Arizona State doesn’t shoot 50 percent from three every night.

3. KANSAS DESPERATELY NEEDS THEIR REINFORCEMENTS

We talk about it over and over again, but it’s the truth. Right now, Kansas goes seven-deep. One of those seven is Mitch Lightfoot, a 6-foot-9 back-up center that is the only big man on the Kansas roster not named Udoka Azubuike. He’s fine as a back-up. He’s not fine as a guy that is going to have to provide 15-18 minutes a night as the only big man on the floor. He doesn’t provide rim protection. He doesn’t provide post scoring. He’s not a great rebounder. He can commit five fouls and but Bill Self some time with Azubuike on the bench. That’s it.

They need Silvio De Souza to get his test score and enroll early. They need to find a way to get Billy Preston cleared to play this season. If they don’t, we probably need to start entertaining the idea that this might be the Kansas team that sees their Big 12 title streak come to an end.

The other issue is that the only other player on the KU bench is Marcus Garrett, who is a freshman that doesn’t quite seem ready for the minutes he’s getting. Malik Newman has not been as good as advertised this season, and on Sunday, Svi Mykhailiuk reverted back to the Svi Mykhailiuk of the last three years. What that means is that …

4. … KANSAS HAS ONE GUY THAT CAN CREATE FOR HIMSELF RIGHT NOW

And I’m not quite sure when that is going to change.

I just don’t think Newman is all that good. Svi is at his best as a spot-up shooter and a guy that attacks close-outs. Garrett, as of now, cannot be relied upon, and I’m not convinced that Sam Cunliffe or Lagerald Vick are guys that can be more than finishers; at the rim, as a spot-up shooter, etc.

Even Azubuike is someone that has to more or less rely on getting the ball in a position where all he has to do is catch it and dunk it.

That’s a massive burden to ask Devonte’ Graham to carry, especially when he has to do so while playing every second.

Ayton leads Arizona to 88-82 win over Alabama

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Deandre Ayton had 29 points and 18 rebounds, Allonzo Trier scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half and Arizona outlasted Alabama 88-82 Saturday night.

Arizona’s first real home test and the fans were ready, making McKale Center louder than it’s been all season.

The Wildcats (7-3) responded with their second quality win of the week, backing up a victory over No. 7 Texas A&M with a strong all-around performance to win their 45th straight nonconference home game.

Alabama (7-3) matched Arizona nearly shot for shot in one of college basketball’s toughest road environments, pulling within 84-80 on Riley Norris’ 3-pointer with 38 seconds left.

Trier, who took just six shots, hit three free throws in the final 34 seconds to seal it for Arizona.

Freshman Collin Sexton scored 21 of his 30 points in the second half to keep the Crimson Tide close.

Arizona’s defense was a sore spot to start the season, leading to three straight losses in the Bahamas that dropped the Wildcats out of the AP Top 25 from No. 2 — a first since Louisville in 1986.

Even when the Wildcats rolled over Long Beach State, coach Sean Miller lamented their defensive effort in a 25-minute postgame rant.

Arizona shored up its defense on Tuesday, when it grinded out a 67-64 victory over No. 7 Texas A&M in Phoenix.

For their first big home test, the Wildcats got back sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, a tough, emotional player who Miller hoped would give them a lift.

Arizona had a spark before Alkins even entered the game, efficiently working its offense during a 10-0 run that put the Wildcats up 24-13. The Crimson Tide fought back behind their defense, using a 13-2 run to tie it at 26-all.

Alabama had no one who could stop Ayton in the first half — 15 points and nine rebounds — but Sexton banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the Tide up 40-38.

The Crimson Tide went on a quick run to start the second half, but Arizona rallied and the teams traded athletic plays, neither to gain much separation.

Alabama closed in around Ayton to limit his shots, but Trier got free multiple times to keep the Wildcats around the lead.

Sexton was Alabama’s go-to player, confidently stroking in long 3-pointers and driving to the basket.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama came up short, but handling a hostile environment at McKale Center and keeping it close against a good team should only help the Crimson Tide later in the season.

Arizona could find itself back in the AP Top 25 next week after two quality wins.

UP NEXT

Alabama hosts Mercer on Dec. 19.

Arizona plays at New Mexico next Saturday.

No. 18 West Virginia holds off Pittsburgh 69-60

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PITTSBURGH — West Virginia coach Bob Huggins made it a point to schedule back-to-back games against No. 15 Virginia and Pittsburgh to give the 18th-ranked Mountaineers a taste of what awaits when Big 12 play begins in three weeks.

“I was trying to prepare them and we flunked that test,” Huggins said.

Well, maybe not technically. It just sort of felt that way to Huggins after his team nearly let a 20-point lead get away before holding on for a 69-60 over the Panthers on Saturday night in the renewal of the “Backyard Brawl.”

“This is getting to be finals week,” Huggins said. “I hope they do better on their finals than they did tonight.”

The Mountaineers (9-1) forced just 14 turnovers, were outrebounded by six and sent the Panthers to the free-throw line 31 times. Only Jevon Carter’s occasional brilliance and some lockdown defense over the final 5 minutes prevented a staggering upset.

“They kicked our butt on the glass,” Huggins said. “I wasn’t surprised. I told our guys for two days that’s what I was afraid was going to happen.”

Carter finished with a game-high 19 points but also ran into foul trouble in the second half, watching as the Panthers nearly erased all of an 18-point halftime deficit. Daxter Miles Jr. added 15 points and Lamont West finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds and the Mountaineers won their ninth straight following a season-opening loss to Texas A&M.

Still, work remains to be done. Pitt pulled within 61-59 when Marcus Carr completed a 4-point play with 5:31 left. The Panthers, however, never got any closer. Pitt missed its last six shots and turned it over twice as West Virginia escaped.

“We knew that we could beat this team,” said Carr, who finished with 12 points. “It was a matter of time of putting it all together. We still didn’t play our best (but) it’s another step in the right direction.”

Ryan Luther overcame early foul trouble to lead Pitt (5-5) with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Shamiel Stevenson added 12 points for the Panthers, who dissected West Virginia’s defense in the second half after shooting just 5 of 22 (23 percent) in the first half.

“We got our butts kicked in the first half,” Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said. “Guys of lesser character would have put their heads between their legs and thought the night was over … I couldn’t have asked any more out of them than they gave.”

The 185th meeting between the schools featured the programs in two very different places. The Mountaineers are a legitimate threat to challenge No. 2 Kansas in the Big 12, while the Panthers were picked to finish last in the ACC while undergoing what could be a lengthy rebuilding process.

Still, old habits die hard. Pitt offered a promotion that included “13-9” decals to customers if they bought a Panthers cap, the score of Pitt’s epic football upset of the Mountaineers a decade ago that kept West Virginia out of the Bowl Championship Series title game.

Then the game started and the punch Stallings told his team would come courtesy of the Mountaineers’ pressure defense arrived. West Virginia dominated at times during the opening 20 minutes. Carter went on a personal 12-0 run at one point and it seemed as if West Virginia was going to pull away.

It didn’t happen. Kham Davis hit a 3-pointer on Pitt’s first possession of the second half and pumped his fist at the Panthers bench, starting a wave that crested with Carr’s 4-point play.

“We don’t take too much consolation in a loss,” Luther said. “I thought we stuck together. We played extremely hard. If we keep snowballing, keep getting better in practice we’ll be better when conference play starts.”

ALMOST HEAVEN?

The crowd of 7,748 was the largest of the season at the Petersen Events Center, though a considerable portion came courtesy of folks in blue-and-gold who made the short 70-mile trip from Morgantown.

“It sounded like a home game honestly,” Carter said.

BIG PICTURE

West Virginia: The Mountaineers will have trouble in the Big 12 if the games are called tight. The offense needed either Carter or Miles on the court (and preferably both) to be functional. That will require them staying out of the kind of foul trouble they ran into in the second half.

Pitt: The Panthers are showing signs of progress. Measuring improvement in wins and losses could be difficult for a roster filled with nine freshmen, but Pitt’s effort and savvy in the second half provided concrete evidence the players are buying into whatever Stallings is selling.

UP NEXT

West Virginia: has a week off then hosts Wheeling Jesuit in an exhibition game on Dec. 16.

Pitt: welcomes McNeese State on Dec. 16.

Barford, Gafford lead Arkansas past No. 14 Minnesota, 95-79

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Jaylen Barford was still learning what major college basketball was all about a year ago as a first-year junior college transfer when Arkansas went to Minnesota and lost by 14 points.

This time around, the Razorbacks senior had a clear idea of how to attack the 14th-ranked Golden Gophers — and he had plenty of help along the way.

Led by Barford’s 22 points, Arkansas (7-2) returned the favor from last year’s loss with a 95-79 victory over Minnesota on Saturday night. It did so while continuing what’s been nothing short of an offensive onslaught in Bud Walton Arena to open the season, raising its home scoring average to 93.2 points per game with the win.

Barford entered the game second in the Southeastern Conference in scoring at 19.6 points per game, and he finished 9 of 15 from the field — adding four rebounds and four assists. The 6-foot-3 senior also hit two 3-pointers and had a block while making amends for last year.

“I think it was just having the experience and maturity level of our game, and just taking our time and being more poised this year,” Barford said. “Last year was our first road game, and (we thought) things were going to be a cakewalk, and it wasn’t.”

While Barford brought plenty of experience to the court, Arkansas’ newest rising star fared just well while making the first start of his career.

Freshman Daniel Gafford had 16 points on 8-of-8 shooting, and the 6-foot-11 forward added seven rebounds and six blocks while facing a talented Minnesota (8-3) front line. He did so in only 21 minutes and helped the Razorbacks hit 39 of 68 shots (57.4 percent) for the game.

During one second-half possession, Gafford swatted two straight shots by the Gophers and added to his growing highlight with three dunks — bringing his season total to 21 in nine games.

“If he works hard and he’s a good kid, (Gafford) could be a first-round pick,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.

The loss is the third in the last four games for the Golden Gophers, who lost earlier in the week at Nebraska . Jordan Murphy led Minnesota with 20 points and 10 rebounds, Amir Coffey had 18 points and Nate Mason 17 in the loss.

The Gophers shot 41 percent (25 of 61) in their first road game against an SEC opponent since a loss at Georgia in 2001.

“Certainly we have our deficiencies we have to fix, but the sky’s not falling,” Pitino said.

BIG PICTURE

Minnesota: Senior Reggie Lynch entered the game averaging 11.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and a national-best 4.5 blocks per game. The 6-10 Lynch rarely had the chance to affect much of the game on Saturday, committing four fouls in his first 6 minutes and finishing with five points in 14 minutes.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks entered Saturday having won their four home games by an average of 25.3 points per game. They were nearly as dominant against the Gophers, leading from start to finish and by as many as 19 points in the second half while making their case for a Top 25 ranking.

MORRIS’ INTRO

New Arkansas football coach Chad Morris was busy recruiting early on Saturday, attending a prep state championship football game in Little Rock. That didn’t stop Morris from making the trip back to Fayetteville by the evening, just in time to be introduced in the first half of the basketball game — much to the delight of the 17,853 fans in Bud Walton Arena.

HOME COOKING

The victory was the first for the Razorbacks over a top 15 team since defeating No. 5 Texas A&M during the 2015-16 season, and it extends their home winning streak to eight games. “That was Bud Walton Arena at its best,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “That’s how we do it around here.”

UP NEXT

Minnesota returns home to face Drake on Monday night.

The Razorbacks are off for finals before hosting Troy on Dec. 16.