Bubble Banter: Illinois, California the biggest movers

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It’s been a big two weeks for Illinois.  The Illini have won four straight, including victories over Indiana and Minnesota.  When combined with wins over Gonzaga, Butler, and Ohio State, it’s hard to imagine the Illini as a bubble team at this point in time.  Taking care of winnable games down the stretch should be enough.

La Salle continues to make a push, as does California.  The Bears have won three straight – including a huge road victory at Arizona.

At the same time, the bubble remains very fluid.  How many SEC teams will ultimately make it?  Maryland and Virginia are right there in the ACC.  The Atlantic 10 is deep, but only Butler, VCU, and Saint Louis have separated at this point.  What we do know is this: It’s going to be a busy few weeks until Selection Sunday.  Much can (and will) change between now and then.  The s-curve moves daily.

Our latest look at the bubble is a picture at this moment in time – through games played on Sunday, February 17.  Enjoy another great week of hoops.

UPDATED: Monday, February 18 | 10:00 p.m. ET

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

Automatic Bids (31): None at this time

  • Projected Locks (19): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (16): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (31): Teams projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
  • Spots Available (11): 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 17.  RPI and SOS data is credited to InsiderRPI at ESPN.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Butler | Should Be In: Saint Louis, VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Charlotte, Massachusetts, Xavier
  • Charlotte (18-7 | 6-5) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 98 | – Charlotte treaded water last week after a road split with Butler and Saint Louis (it’s worth noting that Butler played without center Andrew Smith). A victory over La Salle is the 49ers other NCAA-level win at this point. Wins over Davidson, UMass, and Xavier are worth mentioning. A weak non-conference schedule (No. 240) means Charlotte has to finish strong in the A-10. The schedule is somewhat favorable if the 49ers can win at home and take care of winnable road games.
  • La Salle (18-6 | 8-3) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 76 | – It was a two-win week for the Explorers – the best over Saint Joseph’s. 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. La Salle is 5-5 vs. Top 100 teams, and the only blemish is an early November loss at CCSU. Road games at Temple and Saint Louis give the Explorers a chance to secure an NCAA bid provided they take care of business in their other games.
  • Massachusetts (16-8 | 6-5) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 63 | – UMass missed a golden opportunity this past week, falling to both VCU and Temple. While the Minutemen are 6-7 vs. the Top 100, they are just 1-6 vs. Top 50 teams. Time is running short as the only NCAA-level win left on the regular-season calendar is a home game with Butler.
  • Temple (17-8 | 6-5) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 59 | – The Owls continue to teeter on the bubble. Temple took a bad one-point home loss against Duquesne before bouncing back to win by one at Massachusetts. The victory over Syracuse continues to pay dividends, and the Owls also have wins over Saint Louis, Charlotte, and Villanova. Games with La Salle and Charlotte are up next. Winning both would certainly help Temple’s at-large position. It would be a close call if today were Selection Sunday.
  • Xavier (14-10 | 7-4) | RPI: 97 | SOS: 112 | – After a loss at Dayton, the Musketeers numbers took a major hit. That said, wins over Butler, La Salle, and Temple keep the Musketeers on the at-large list for another day. But it may not last long. Xavier has five sub-100 losses, including Wofford (No. 248). If there’s a reason for optimism, it’s this: Xavier closes with five potential NCAA opponents, one of which is Memphis. Put together a strong finish and the Musketeers have a chance entering the A-10 tournament. Odds of that happening? Not great at this point.
ACC
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: NC State | Bubble: North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Florida State
  • Florida State (14-11 | 6-6) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 14 | – Florida State hasn’t won back-to-back games since beating Clemson and Maryland on the road in early January. Without a winning streak, FSU is likely headed for the NIT. The Seminoles are 1-6 vs. Top 50 RPI teams to go along with non-conference losses to South Alabama and Auburn. A sweep of Maryland helps some – especially if the Terrapins get it together. But how much it helps remains to be seen. FSU plays NC State twice along with UNC and Virginia down the stretch. Can the ‘Noles take advantage?
  • Maryland (18-7 | 6-6) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 101 | – The Terps picked up a huge victory over Duke this weekend. Combined with a victory over NC State, there are two NCAA-level wins on UM’s profile. The albatross, however, is a non-conference schedule (No. 295) that sticks out like a sore thumb. While the Terrapins have no “bad” losses, they lack quality wins. Even with the win over Duke, Maryland is 3-7 vs. Top 100 teams – and one of those is Stony Brook. Assuming the Terrapins can avoid an ACC upset, they close with North Carolina and Virginia.
  • North Carolina (16-8 | 7-5) | RPI: 30 | SOS: 13 | – Carolina ended a two-game skid by beating Virginia. That’s the good news. The bad news is a 1-6 mark vs. Top 50 teams (UNLV). Within the ACC, the Tar Heels have beaten Florida State, Maryland, and Virginia – none of which are guaranteed NCAA teams right now. While the good showing at Duke was nice, a victory would have been much better. The only “bad” loss on the Heels’ profile is at Texas. An NCAA bid is squarely on Carolina’s shoulders. UNC has remaining games with NC State, Florida State, Maryland, and Duke.
  • Virginia (18-7 | 8-4) | RPI: 77 | SOS: 181 | – After a week in which UVA beat Va. Tech and lost at UNC, the highlights and low-lights of the Cavaliers’ resume are well documented: some good wins (including one at Wisconsin) and a bunch of questionable losses (none more so than Old Dominion). While a 6-1 mark vs. Top 100 teams is impressive, Virginia has done most of its quality work in the ACC at home. And then there’s the non-conference SOS number (No. 319) that will test the Selection Committee’s value on quality scheduling. With upcoming games against Miami, Duke, and Maryland, Virginia does have some control of their post-season destination.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette | Should Be In: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame | Bubble: Villanova, St. John’s
  • St. John’s (15-10 | 7-6) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 18 | – It’s hard to penalize St. John’s too much for road losses at Syracuse and Louisville. Of course, a win would have helped. The Red Storm have a win at Cincinnati, a victory over Notre Dame, and are 5-7 vs. the Top 100. Outside the Big East, however, SJU’s best win is Detroit, so there’s not a lot of beef to fall back on. SJU has NCAA-level games left with Pittsburgh and Marquette at home, and Notre Dame on the road. Both of the Red Storms’ bad losses were early in the season (San Francisco and UNC-Asheville). It may very well come down to the Big East tournament.
  • Villanova (15-10 | 7-6) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 32 | – All-in-all, a road split with Cincinnati and Connecticut probably helps the Wildcats. Of course, it’s the back-to-back wins over Louisville and Syracuse that are really helping ‘Nova’s resume. That said, Villanova is 5-9 vs. Top 100 teams and Saint Joseph’s is the Wildcats’ best non-league victory. So there’s a lot of average on the Wildcats’ profile. Plus, there’s an ugly home loss to Columbia in November. That seems like a long time ago. So a late push would probably make it a mute point.
BIG 10
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Illinois, Minnesota | Bubble: Iowa
  • Iowa (17-9 | 6-7) | RPI: 79 | SOS: 127 | – The Hawkeyes routed Minnesota over the weekend to collect another Top 50 win. Overall, Iowa has won three straight (Northwestern and Penn State were the other two). At the same time, a No. 325 non-conference SOS is hard to overcome and it drags down the Hawkeyes’ profile. The other problem is a 2-6 mark in true road games. Down the stretch, Iowa’s only two NCAA-level opponents are Indiana (away) and Illinois (home). Outside the Big Ten, Iowa’s best win is Iowa State. They lost big at Virginia Tech.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
  • Baylor (15-9 | 7-5) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 27 | – Wins over St. John’s, and BYU are worth noting, but neither are likely to carry Baylor into the NCAAs. That leaves a home victory over Oklahoma State as the Bears’ highlight. That and an early win at Kentucky. So it’s safe to say Baylor has work to do between now and Selection Sunday. Three of Baylor’s final six games are away from home, so a 3-5 road mark is worth noting. Upcoming games with Iowa State and Oklahoma could be very important. The Bears also play Kansas and Kansas State down the stretch.
  • Iowa State (17-8 | 7-5) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 80 | – The Cyclones are pretty good at home – wins over Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Baylor. The road is a different story. ISU is 2-7 away from home and their best road win is TCU. That could be a significant factor if the Cyclones find themselves on the bubble. There’s also a bad loss at Texas Tech. Like many other bubble teams, quality opportunities remain. It’ll be up to ISU to make it happen – or not.
  • Oklahoma (16-8 | 7-5) | RPI: 17 | SOS: 4 | – We could say similar things about the Sooners, who have home wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas and a 3-5 road record. Of course, winning at West Virginia is better than TCU. Oklahoma’s best non-conference win is Texas AM, and there’s not a lot of help coming from the Aggies. Given the Sooners’ RPI and SOS numbers, Oklahoma will get a long look from the Selection Committee. And 9 wins vs. Top 100 teams are a big help, too. If there’s an underlying issue for the Sooners, it’s their closing schedule. They get Iowa State and Baylor at home (which helps). But there aren’t any more chances for truly marquee wins.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis | Bubble: Southern Miss
  • Southern Miss (18-6 | 9-2) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 94 | – It comes down to this: Southern Miss has to beat Memphis at home this weekend and avoid any bad C-USA losses down the stretch. That will at least keep USM on the at-large board. Right now, their best win is Denver (RPI No. 92) and they are 1-6 vs. Top 100 teams. While the Golden Eagles have thus far avoided any sub-100 losses, an NCAA bid is very unlikely without beating an NCAA-level team.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: None | Should Be In: Creighton, Wichita State | Bubble: Indiana State
  • Indiana State (15-10 | 9-6) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 73 | – How many questionable losses can the Sycamores’ endure? ISU added two more to their profile last week, losing at Missouri State and Bradley. The losses dropped Indiana State’s power numbers into dangerous territory. What’s left is a neutral-court win over Miami-FL and MVC wins at Wichita State and home to Creighton. Add in a win over Ole Miss, and there’s a reason why ISU had NCAA aspirations. But the Sycamores’ overall profile is dwindling and only a home game with Wichita State remains as a boost. ISU needs a sweep of the Shockers and has to avoid further letdowns.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: New Mexico | Should Be In: Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV | Bubble: Boise State, Air Force
  • Air Force (13-9 | 6-5) | RPI: 69 | SOS: 67 | – The Falcons’ beat UNLV at home but couldn’t pull off the double-down after losing to surging Colorado State. It leaves AF at 4-8 vs. Top 100 teams. More troubling, though, is a non-conference SOS ranked 250-plus in which a victory over Arkansas Pine-Bluff (No. 216) is the highlight. So far, all of Air Force’s trump cards have come at home. With trips to Boise State and San Diego State ahead, that can change. The Falcons’ also have a home date with New Mexico. They need a late surge.
  • Boise State (14-8 | 4-6) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 58 | – Like Air Force, a non-conference SOS in the mid-200’s won’t help. But unlike the Falcons, BSU has a non-conference road victory at Creighton. They also lost a close contest at Michigan State. Inside the MTW, Boise has managed only a win over UNLV at home, and a sweep of now-struggling Wyoming. Boise played New Mexico tough in Albuquerque but came up a bit short. Down the stretch, the Broncos have plenty of opportunities. Can they take advantage?
PAC 12
Locks: Arizona | Should Be In: Oregon, Colorado, UCLA | Bubble: Arizona State, Stanford, California
  • Arizona State (19-7 | 8-5) | RPI: 70 | SOS: 125 | – The victory at Colorado was huge following a sub-par loss at Utah. It gave ASU a sweep of the Buffaloes and raised the Sun Devils’ mark to 3-3 vs. Top 50 teams. Wins over California and Arkansas are also looking a little better. The real trouble is a 13-2 mark vs. sub-150 RPI teams and a non-conference SOS ranked No. 287. That could yet be a big hurdle to overcome. After visits from the two Washington schools, ASU closes with road trips to UCLA, USC, and Arizona. Those three games may decide the Sun Devils’ post-season fate.
  • California (16-9 | 8-5) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 35 | – For a team with a very average profile, three straight wins makes a big difference – especially with two of those wins being at Arizona and against UCLA. While a 4-9 mark vs. Top 100 teams isn’t great, it’s certainly a huge improvement from two weeks ago. The other plus on the Bears’ resume: no bad losses. If Cal can survive a trip through Oregon, the schedule is favorable for a solid close.
  • Stanford (15-11 | 6-7) | RPI: 73 | SOS: 42 | – Stanford’s hopes are fading fast after back-to-back home losses to USC and UCLA. Now it’s off for a swing through Oregon, and the Cardinal are just 3-5 in road games this season. The losses are mounting, and a sub-.500 record in the Pac-12 won’t cut it. Stanford needs a winning streak. The Cardinal are just 1-8 vs. Top 50 teams. That’s not exactly an endearing mark.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas
  • Alabama (16-8 | 9-3) | RPI: 59 | SOS: 70 | – While Alabama’s profile has plenty of holes (and suspect losses), the Crimson Tide played several of those games without Andrew Steele. How that plays out remains to be seen. With a 1-3 mark vs. Top 50 teams (that win being Kentucky), the Tide’s overall 9-3 SEC mark is somewhat deceiving. A non-conference win over Villanova is noteworthy. The rest is pretty average. It’s hard to tell how an 11 or 12-win SEC team will fare. What’s left that matters (really) are trips to Florida and Ole Miss.
  • Arkansas (16-9 | 7-5) | RPI: 75 | SOS: 85 | – We’ve established that Arkansas can win at home – Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri. What we’ve also established that to this point the Razorbacks can’t win away from home (1-6). Will a bunch of nice home wins be enough? Probably not. Arkansas also played a number of sub-300 RPI teams which is dragging down its RPI numbers. The Hogs have remaining road games at Florida, LSU, and Missouri. How they fare in those games will be important.
  • Kentucky (17-8 | 8-4) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 49 | – Without Nerlens Noel, Kentucky is 0-1 with a lopsided loss at Tennessee. While the Wildcats still have time to show what they can do without one of their best players, it’s not overly promising. UK had a mediocre profile before the injury (4-8 vs. Top 100 teams and 0-4 vs. Top 50 teams). If there’s good news, four of UK’s final six games are at Rupp Arena. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.
  • Mississippi (19-6 | 8-4) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 137 | – Ole Miss’ profile doesn’t have anything bad. But it also doesn’t have a lot of really good, either. The Rebels have home wins over Missouri and Arkansas and a sweep of Tennessee. But the rest is ho-hum. Outside the SEC, the Rebels’ best win is Rutgers. They lost to Indiana State and Middle Tennessee. There’s also a non-conference SOS ranked No. 280. Another issue? Ole Miss has one remaining game against a team with any realistic NCAA hopes: Alabama. Best recipe is to keep winning all winnable games.
WEST COAST
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s, BYU
  • BYU (18-8 | 9-4) | RPI: 68 | SOS: 103 | – At this point, the Cougars don’t have a lot to offer the NCAA Selection Committee. BYU’s best wins are Tennessee State, Montana, and Santa Clara. That made losses to San Diego and San Francisco all the more troubling. Without beating both Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga down the stretch it’s hard to imagine BYU getting much consideration.
  • Saint Mary’s (21-5 | 11-2) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 149 | – Saint Mary’s best RPI win is Harvard, although BYU might be better. Either way, the Gaels’ profile is largely empty despite a high volume of wins. Early losses to Georgia Tech and Pacific are there too. SMU has to beat BYU at home, and probably needs to beat Creighton to be in the mix heading to the WCC tournament. The Gaels were swept by Gonzaga.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Belmont, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech
  • Akron (20-4 | 12-0) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 175 | – 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 Zips are 16-1 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.
  • Belmont (18-6 | 11-2) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 64 | – 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 – although Northeastern isn’t great. If Belmont wins the OVC outright and makes it to the title game the Committee will have an interesting decision. From there, it depends on the overall landscape.
  • Bucknell (20-5 | 8-2) | RPI: 61 | SOS: 204 | – 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 helped quite as much as expected. The negatives are losses at Penn State and Princeton and a very weak overall schedule.
  • Louisiana Tech (23-3 | 14-0) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 261 | – La Tech’s strength of schedule is a major hurdle to overcome – reflected by 20 games (19-1 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 (23-4 | 15-1) | RPI: 25 | SOS: 107 | – 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 15-0 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.

What’s Wrong With Kansas?: After losing back-to-back games, are the Jayhawks still contenders?

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Kansas entered 2017-18 as a preseason top four team, the consensus favorite to win their 14th straight Big 12 regular season title and a contender to make a return to the Final Four and win Bill Self his second national title.

It made sense.

The Jayhawks had an All-American running the show at the point in Devonte’ Graham. They had a former McDonald’s All-American slotted to start alongside him, while two top 20 recruits – sophomore Udoka Azubuike and freshman Billy Preston – anchored a front line that was not deep but that did provide some quality size. There were some easily identifiable issues, but what team didn’t have easily identifiable issues?

In short, there was no real reason to think that Kansas would not be able to do what they always seem to do.

And yet here we are, on Dec. 12th, and the Jayhawks are coming off of back-to-back losses for the first time in four years. That was the year that the Jayhawks lost at Colorado and at Florida with Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid on the roster. You have to go back all the way to Nov. 2005 to find the last time that the Jayhawks lost consecutive games that were not on the road. That year, they lost their first two games in the Maui Invitational, and after dispatching Chaminade in the seventh-place game, came back to Lawrence to lose at home to Nevada.

What happened here?

How is it that we all thought would be so good, that looked so dominant for stretches early on this season, lost back-to-back games in the manner that they did?

1. KANSAS DOES NOT HAVE NEARLY ENOUGH BODIES

You cannot talk about Kansas without first mentioning that the Jayhawks are playing with seven scholarship players right now. We’ve been through this over and over again, so I won’t spend too much time on it, but ignoring this problem would be like blaming Goodyear for your flat tire while ignoring that you drove your car directly into a pothole.

As it currently stands, the only players that Bill Self has available to him off the bench are sophomore Mitch Lightfoot and freshman Marcus Garrett. Lightfoot is a stretchy four that should be playing sparingly at this point in his development; he’s being asked to provide 15 minutes a night as the only big man on the roster other than Azubuike. Garrett is a top 50 recruit that has a chance to be a good player and a valuable contributor down the road, but right now he’s not quite ready to provide quality minutes playing, at times, the small-ball four role Josh Jackson played last season.

This is a problem that could get solved by the end of the month. Sam Cunliffe, a transfer from Arizona State that averaged 9.5 points last season, will be eligible for the second semester. At the very least, he’ll provide another shooter, another athlete and five more fouls on the perimeter. The issue is whether or not Preston or high school senior Silvio De Sousa will get eligible. Preston is still sitting out as Kansas and the NCAA work through who paid for the car Preston crashed last month. De Sousa needs to get a high enough test score to graduate and be eligible to enroll early.

Preston should help provide offensively – more on that in a second – while De Sousa would essentially be another big, physical body that can give the Jayhawks rebounding, rim protection and five more fouls.

Both are necessary.

Devonte’ Graham (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

2. KANSAS NEVER REPLACED THE TOUGHNESS THEY LOST WITH JOSH JACKSON AND FRANK MASON III

I discussed this with Jeff Goodman on the most recent episode of the College Basketball Talk podcast. (See below.)

There has never been a player better suited to being a small-ball four in college than Josh Jackson. Let’s for get, for a second, that he was a 6-foot-8 two-guard that could block shots, rebound the ball, make threes and create off the bounce as well as most college point guards. He was also a winner, competitive as all hell and unafraid of the contact and physicality that comes with playing in the paint in the Big 12.

The same can be said for Frank Mason III, who was a pitbull of a point guard. He, too, was uber-competitive and unafraid of a fight, figuratively speaking.

The Jayhawks not only had two alphas on last year’s roster, both of those alphas were all-americans-turned-NBA players. Jackson was the No. 4 pick in the draft while Mason, a second-rounder, looks to be the best rookie point guard in an organization that also drafted De’Aaron Fox.

Who does Bill Self turn to to find that kind of mental and physical toughness?

Devonte’ Graham is a leader in his own way, but he’s not Mason and he doesn’t lead by example the way either of those two did. Svi Mykhailiuk is not tough enough to handle playing the four the way Jackson did. He was barely tough enough to handle the on-ball pressure Arizona State put on him on Sunday. Lagerald Vick is tough, but he’s also a role player and a spot-up shooter that stands all of 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds. He’s not replacing Jackson at the four. Malik Newman isn’t the answer. Mitch Lightfoot certainly isn’t the answer.

There isn’t an answer, far as I can tell.

(Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

“This is the softest team that Kansas has had since I’ve been here,” Self told reporters on Monday.

There are two places where that lack of toughness has manifested itself.

It starts on the defensive end of the floor, where Kansas arguably lost their two-best perimeter defenders in Jackson and Mason. Graham and Vick are plus-defenders, but Graham has, in the past, been at his best when he’s chasing an off-guard around screens and denying him the ball, and Vick needs to guards wings; he’s just not big enough to defend in the paint.

Svi is not a good defender. Period. Newman is somewhere between average and not good himself. Combine that lack of perimeter defense with the fact that Azubuike has to limit how aggressive he is as a shot-blocker because of foul issues, and you get a team that can absolutely be exploited by opponents that can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. Arizona State – with their trio of dynamic playmakers in Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Remy Martin – will make some of the nation’s best defensive teams look silly. Washington also has some better-than-you-think slashers on their roster.

It’s a major problem.

“I’m not ready to accept that that’s the best we’ve got, but it’s pretty embarrassing to keep looking at the tape afterward and say this is what we don’t have,” Self said. “We’ve been saying it now the entire year, at least from a defensive and competitive standpoint. Maybe we need to do something to shorten the game. Maybe we need to do something to figure out a matchup zone to play or something like that.”

The other place the toughness issue arises is in the ability of the Jayhawks to protect the ball. They gave up roughly a dozen points against Arizona State with pick-six turnovers, and most of those were simply an issue of getting their pocket-picked by an aggressive perimeter defender.

That leads to a bigger discussion, because …

Malik Newman (Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

3. KANSAS ONLY HAS ONE PLAYER THAT CAN CREATE A SHOT

That’s Devonte’ Graham.

He is, legitimately, a top ten player in college basketball and a top four point guard in the sport, depending on what you think of Jalen Brunson, Joel Berry II and Trae Young.

But he’s also the only guy that you can trust to make a play for himself, or to make a teammate better by creating a shot for him. Svi is a spot-up shooter that can, upon occasion, attack a close-out. Vick is also a spot-up shooter than can attack a close-out. Azubuike can finish a lob and score off of an offensive rebound, but for the most part he is a catch-and-dunk big man. Put another way, you’re not giving him the ball on the block and expecting him to be able to draw a foul or score. Lightfoot isn’t really an offensive threat, and Garrett isn’t really ready.

That leaves Newman, and he was supposed to be the guy that made the difference this season. Except … he’s not the guy we thought he was in high school. In four games against high-major competition, Newman is averaging 8.8 points, shooting 37.5 percent from inside the arc, 29.2 percent from three and attempting 60 percent of his field goals from beyond the arc. The most damning stat, however, is that in 129 minutes of action in those four games, Newman has attempted two free throws.

Two!

And he’s not the only one at fault in that regard.

There are just two teams in college basketball that, based on free throw rate (FTA/FGA), get to the free throw line less than Kansas does: Jackson State and Sam Houston State, and they don’t even have the benefit of playing buy games where they are all-but guaranteed to get a friendly whistle in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

There are a few things that lead to that stat:

  • Kansas does not have penetrators that look to put the ball on the floor and get fouled.
  • Kansas does not have post presence that can draw fouls.
  • When Kansas does get the ball into the paint, it quite often ends up being some form of a lob for a dunk, which is not the easiest way to draw fouls.
  • The perimeter players on the Kansas roster all want to be shooters.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Svi shoots 46.2 percent from three. Vick shoots it at 45 percent. Newman is knocking down 40.5 percent of his threes while Graham is hitting 40 percent of his attempts.

The problem is what happens when teams chase them off the three-point line.

Washington did it. They did everything they could to keep Kansas from getting open three-point looks, to the point that, in their 2-3 zone, they Vick – at the high post – to play 2-on-1 with Azubuike against their middle defender. Vick scored 28 points and had seven assists, and – it’s going to sound crazy – when I say this, but he was exposed in that game:

Svi was exposed in the same way against Arizona State, who dogged him with smaller, quicker defends and forced him into a 3-for-14 shooting night while turning the ball over four times:

 

This is something that I think Billy Preston can help solve. He is a bucket-getter. He’s not exactly Perry Ellis, but he is a guy that can ably fill that hybrid-four role that Self loves to use. He’s the guy that can get a post touch, force a double, draw a foul, get a defense moving. He’s the guy that can be the pressure release for guards that are getting swarmed. He’s the guy that can make a team pay if they don’t want to guard him at the high-post of a 2-3 zone.

And who knows when, or if, he’ll actually play this season.

I’m officially worried about this Kansas team, more so than I am with Duke or Arizona.

It’s too early to make any predictions regarding the Big 12 title streak, but if Kansas does not get the reinforcements that they so desperately need, it will soon be time to have a serious conversation about whether or not the Jayhawks are the best team in the Big 12.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: It’s time to put Trae Young at No. 1

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1. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma: The way the college basketball Player of the Year award is given out is generally pretty simple: Unless there is a player on a good team – i.e. a top four seed – having an insane, outlier season, the award is given to the best player that is on the roster of a team that is a national title contender.

That rule has proven true in every year of the one-and-done era.

  • 2017: Frank Mason won and played for No. 1 seed Kansas.
  • 2016: Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine split the award. Oklahoma was a No. 1 seed and reached the Final Four. Michigan State was a No. 2 seed and entered the tournament as the favorite to win it all.
  • 2015: Frank Kaminsky was a No. 1 seed with Wisconsin.
  • 2014: Doug McDermott averaged 26 points for No. 3 seed Creighton.
  • 2013: The only name on this list that doesn’t quite fit perfectly, Trey Burke starred for Michigan, who was a No. 4 seed that year. But they also spent much of the season ranked No. 1, reached the Final Four and finished as a top five team on KenPom.
  • 2012: Anthony Davis won as the star of Kentucky’s title-winning team.
  • 2011: Jimmer Fredette won as Jimmer-mania swept the college basketball world and BYU finished as a No. 3 seed.
  • 2010: Evan Turner beat out John Wall for most of the awards. Ohio State was a No. 2 seed and Kentucky was a No. 1 seed.
  • 2009: Oklahoma finished as a No. 2 seed after Blake Griffin returned for his sophomore season and dominated.
  • 2008: The year before North Carolina won the national title they finished as a No. 1 seed as Tyler Hansbrough won the Player of the Year award.
  • 2007: Kevin Durant averaged 26 points and 11 boards for Texas as the Longhorns entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed.
  • 2006: J.J. Redick was playing for No. 1 seed Duke, and he was almost beaten out by Adam Morrison, who averaged 28.1 points for No. 3 seed Gonzaga.

That’s why Trae Young has not topped our Player of the Year rankings yet this season.

Because there wasn’t much evidence that he was on a team with a shot of getting a top four seed. I’m still not convinced that is any sort of lock, but as of today the Sooners are now sitting at 7-1 on the season and ranked in the top 25. If they win at No. 3 Wichita State this weekend, that will change. Even if they don’t, playing in a league that is as good as the Big 12 appears to be – no one in the conference ranks lower than 63rd on KenPom – will mean that their computer numbers will get and stay inflated once league play starts.

But here’s the other part of it: Young’s season is such an outlier than the rules may not matter. Assuming he stays on his current pace (I can’t imagine that he actually will, but he might) he’ll do things that have not been done for 27 years, and that may never have been done before. Young is currently averaging 28.8 points and 8.8 assists. The last player to do that was Loyola Marymount’s Terrell Lowery back in 1990-1991.

And as far as I can tell, no player – at least not in the KenPom era, so please correct me if I’m wrong here – has ever posted his level of efficiency on the insane amount of usage he gets in the Oklahoma offense:

2. MARVIN BAGLEY, Duke: Bagley posted another double-double on Saturday, finishing with 15 points and 12 boards as the Blue Devils took a loss against Boston College, but what was most concerning about that performance was that he took four shots in the second half and three of them were three-pointers. That doesn’t diminish the start that he has had to the season, where he took over down the stretch in wins over Florida, Texas and at Indiana.

3. TRA HOLDER, Arizona State: Tra Holder has been the best player for the most surprising team in college basketball this season. He’s averaging 21.2 points, 5.2 assists and 5.6 boards while shooting 46.3 percent from three on more than six attempts per game. He had 29 points and seven assists in a win at Phog Allen on Sunday. He put up 40 points on Xavier. He’s having a tremendous season.

4. MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova: Bridges came to the forefront on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic, and in the process took over the lead as Villanova’s Player of the Year option. Read all about that here.

5. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier: Ho hum, it was another week with a pair of 25-point performances for Bluiett. He’s now scored at least 25 points in six of 10 games this season.

6. DESI RODRIGUEZ, Seton Hall: Rodriguez has turned into Seton Hall’s best player this sason. Last weekend, he had 17 points, seven boards and four assists in a blow-out win over VCU.

7/. JEVON CARTER, West Virginia: West Virginia has completely turned things around after that embarrassing start to the season. Carter has been the catalyst. He’s averaging 19.4 points, 6.0 assists, 5.4 boards and 3.8 steals and just put 23, 10 and seven on Virginia.

8. BONZIE COLSON, Notre Dame: Colson’s Notre Dame team took a couple of hits in the last month, but he’s still putting up impressive numbers and is an improved defensive presence. Now if he can only find a way to start making threes at a better clip again.

9. JORDAN MURPHY, Minnesota: Murphy fell this week and will continue to drop in these rankings for the same reason that I had a hard time putting Trae Young at No. 1 before this week. Minnesota needs to stop losing games.

10. LUKE MAYE, North Carolina: Maye makes his way back into these rankings. He’s averaging 19.9 points and 10.5 boards for the Tar Heels this season, but he really struggled against Michigan State. I need to see Maye play more teams of that ilk before fully buying in.

ALSO CONSIDERED: DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona; JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova; KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech; D.J. HOGG, Texas A&M; DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas; DAKOTA MATHIAS, Purdue; YANTE MATEN, Georgia; SHAKE MILTON, SMU; LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State; KHYRI THOMAS, Creighton; ALLONZO TRIER, Arizona

Point man: Can Nick Weiler-Babb’s move to PG put Iowa State back in the tourney?

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AMES, Ia. — It was clear Iowa State needed a change. The Cyclones stood 0-2 with an 18-point home loss to Milwaukee already on the resume. It was clear they were due for a reboot this season after losing four starters – including All-American point guard Monte Morris – but getting trounced at Hilton Coliseum by a team picked to finish eighth in the Horizon League constitutes an emergency.

The Cyclones didn’t panic, though. They adjusted. 

After that disastrous start to the season, coach Steve Prohm moved Nick Weiler-Babb from small forward to point guard while slotting the two players who had been manning the point –  sharpshooter Donovan Jackson and five-star freshman Lindell Wigginton – off the ball.

All Iowa State done since is win.

The Cyclones have rattled off seven-straight with Weiler-Babb flirting with triple-doubles, Jackson shooting 41.6 percent from deep and Wigginton looking like a future star.

“Good we moved him over there,” Prohm said.

It certainly has been good for the Cyclones. Iowa State was 9 of 34 (26.5 percent) from 3-point range, shot 38.8 percent overall and failed to reach 60 points in its opening two losses. In the seven games since, they’re converting at a 46.4 percent clip overall, 39.4 percent from distance and averaging 83.6 points per game. They’ve seemingly become a different team with Weiler-Babb at the helm.

“It’s taking a whole new role,” Weiler-Babb said. “Coach just told me whatever I have to do to win, I have to do it. That’s what I’ve tried to do. Take the ball out of the guys’ hands and give it to the scorers.”

The 6-foot-5 junior is averaging 7.9 assists along with 12.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He’s become indispensable for the Cyclones a year after being a bit player on the Big 12 tournament championship team.

“He went through some tough times last year,” Prohm said. “But that’s what everybody’s got to understand. Freshmen, sophomore, you’ve got to put your time in a little bit to have success and earn success. He’s doing that.”

The immediate returns have been spectacular for Iowa State, but a question still lingers as they eye Big 12 play later this month.

Is it real?

Or, rather, will it be real against an unforgiving Big 12 schedule? Given Iowa State’s non-conference slate, whether it is or not will determine the postseason fate of a team sitting on a program-best six-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

As good as Weiler-Babb and the Cyclones have been during their seven-game winning streak, the competition can’t be ignored. Iowa State’s best win during this stretch is either Boise State, which only got 8 minutes from Chandler Hutchison after a head injury, or Iowa, which is 5-6 with losses to Louisiana Lafayette and South Dakota State. The wins haven’t all come easy for Iowa State, either. They narrowly defeated Appalachian State and Tulsa while initially struggling against Northern Illinois and Alcorn State before pulling away.

Things have been good for the Cyclones, but they haven’t been perfect.

Iowa State is a mediocre shooting team overall and could have serious spacing issues going forward given the roster forces Prohm to play two non-shooting bigs together for major minutes. Wigginton has been excellent, scoring 20-plus in three of the last four games, but his level of athleticism is something the likes of Western Illinois can’t counter. Texas, Kansas and West Virginia can. Big swaths of the roster, which features eight newcomers, haven’t faced Big 12 caliber competition ever in their careers. Weiler-Babb’s size and skill at the point guard position makes him a major problem for mid-majors, but can he keep up this pace when he faces length and physicality similar to his own?

Those questions, though, have to be welcomed by the Cyclones. If there were answers to them for a team with so much youth and so many unproven players in new positions in mid-December, it probably would register in the negative.

That they’re unknown means there is possibility, opportunity and promise. That exists in no small part because Prohm made Weiler-Babb a point guard.

“The challenge is, what do we really want to be?” Prohm said. “But he spearheads everything we do.”

Texas’ Jones out with a broken wrist

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Texas may be without its leading scorer heading into conference play.

Longhorns coach Shaka Smart announced Monday that sophomore Andrew Jones suffered a hairline fracture in his right wrist and will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.

“Fortunately it’s not one of those injuries where he should be out for an extended long period of time,” Smart said at his news conference Monday, “but he’s going to miss at least the next few games before Christmas. They decided not to put it in a cast, which is good news.”

Jones suffered the injury last week against VCU when he took a number of tumbles to the floor. He’s averaging 15.3 points while shooting 52.4 percent from the floor and 43.2 percent from 3-point range.

“It’s a tough injury for us because he’s our leading scorer and has done a phenomenal job for us this year,” Smart said. “We’re going to need everyone on our team, not just guards, but everyone on our team to step up and take a little more responsibility.

“Your margin for error is a little smaller.”

The Longhorns, who are 6-2 with losses to Duke and Gonzaga, face Michigan on Tuesday, Louisiana Tech on Saturday and Alabama next week. Jones is certainly out for those games, and his availability for Texas’ first Big 12 games – Dec. 29 vs. Kansas and Jan. 1 at Iowa State – would seem to be in question.

“We don’t have an exact timeframe,” Smart said. “It’s really good news they didn’t put it in a cast.

“We’re hopeful that we can get him back in three, four weeks, but that’s not a set timetable.”

 

Coaches Poll: Villanova climbs to the No. 1 spot

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The new top 25 coaches poll is out, and the No. 1 team in college basketball is now Villanova.

Michigan State, who received 10 of a possible 32 first-place votes, came in at No. 2 while Duke, last week’s No. 1 team, fell to No. 4 with a loss to Boston College.

After winning at Kansas this week, Arizona State vaulted up to the No. 6 spot, while the Jayhawks fell to No. 12.

Here is the full coaches poll.

1. Villanova (22 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (10)
3. Wichita State
4. Duke
5. Kentucky
6. Arizona State
7. North Carolina
8. Miami
9. Xavier
10. Texas A&M
11. West Virginia
12. Kansas
13. Gonzaga
14. TCU
15. Seton Hall
16. Virginia
17. Purdue
18. Notre Dame
19. Florida State
20. Tennessee
21. Baylor
22. Florida
23. Arizona
24. Oklahoma
25. Creighton