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Missouri Valley showdown headlines biggest bubble games of weekend

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With the calendar flipping to March it’s crunch time for teams whose NCAA tournament prospects aren’t locked in stone. Here are the five games that fans of teams on the bubble need to keep track of this weekend.

1) Wichita State at Creighton (Saturday, 2:00 p.m. on ESPN2) 

There will be a lot on the line when the Bluejays host the Shockers in Omaha. The winner grabs the Missouri Valley regular season title and the top seed in next weekend’s conference tournament, and there’s also the matter of neither team in position to feel completely satisfied with their respective NCAA tournament resumes. The two teams are separated by six spots in the RPI (Wichita State ranked 47th and Creighton 41st according to warrennolan.com) with each team having three Top 50 wins this season.

Wichita State won the first meeting by three despite having twice as many turnovers (14) as Creighton, due in large part to Bluejays other than Doug McDermott and Grant Gibbs shooting a combined 8-of-27 from the field. Carl Hall scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead four Shockers in double figures, and they’ll need that kind of balance on Saturday if they’re to complete the sweep of the season series.

2) Iowa State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 1:30 p.m.)

Iowa State had a major resume-building victory in their grasp on Monday night, only to see Kansas leave Ames with a 108-96 overtime win. That makes their trip to Norman all the more important, and the Sooners did their part with a stunning collapse at Texas on Wednesday night. Oklahoma has the better RPI (25) and one more Top 100 victory (seven) than the Cyclones, and their computer numbers are due in part to smart scheduling (they’ve played just five games against teams ranked 201 or worse; Iowa State’s played ten such games).

Iowa State rolled in the first meeting (83-64), shooting 51% from the field and knocking down 11 three-pointers at Hilton Coliseum. Will Clyburn scored 19 points and in total ten Cyclones managed to score. Oklahoma has to keep ISU from running their sets if they’re to return the favor in Norman.

3) No. 22 Butler at VCU (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. on ESPN2)

Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs have done enough in both the non-conference and Atlantic 10 to feel good about their NCAA tournament prospects. This one’s all about the Rams, whose overall resume doesn’t exactly match their standing within the A-10. The Rams have wins over Memphis, Belmont and Alabama to their credit, but the resume lacks wins over teams considered to be “locks” to reach the Big Dance.

This is the only regular season meeting between the two A-10 newcomers, and the key for both teams will be turnovers. If VCU can harass Butler and force them to cough up the basketball the Rams will be in good shape. But if Butler can take care of the basketball and control tempo as Saint Louis did (the Billikens are a bad matchup for both teams), Rotnei Clarke and company may leave Richmond with a valuable result.

4) Alabama at No. 8 Florida (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. on CBS)

Speaking of teams lacking wins over NCAA tournament locks, Alabama visits Gainesville with hopes of picking up a much-needed victory. Anthony Grant’s team has won 11 SEC games, but a closer look at their schedule reveals the fact that they have just one Top 50 victory (Kentucky) and they also have losses to Dayton, Mercer, Tulane and Auburn on the resume.

Is Florida in the conversation for a one-seed? At this rate who really knows, but at the very least they’ll have Will Yeguete back in the rotation. The Gators will be fine regardless of the outcome, but Alabama has a lot of work to do (and that likely includes a run in the SEC tournament) if they’re to return to the NCAA tournament.

5) Villanova at No. 23 Pittsburgh (Sunday, 12:00 p.m.)

The Wildcats suffered a damaging road loss to Seton Hall on Monday night, dropping a game they led by four with 27 seconds remaining. But this week gives Jay Wright’s team a shot at two quality wins before the Big East Championship, beginning with a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers. Villanova gets No. 7 Georgetown at home on Wednesday night but a win of this caliber would look very good on a resume that currently has just one quality road victory (at Connecticut).

Pittsburgh limited Villanova to just 43 points in the first meeting (neither team shot well; Villanova simply shot worse), and the Panthers also attempted 12 more free throws. Ryan Arcidiacono will need to exercise smart shot selection while also slowing down Pitt senior guard Tray Woodall, who scored 25 points in a win at St. John’s on Sunday.

Other Games of Note

– Colorado State at Boise State (Saturday, 8:00 p.m.)

Boise State’s profile is better than many think, and with their schedule to end the season the Broncos will have opportunities to make their case for inclusion in the NCAA tournament.

– No. 19 Memphis at UCF (Saturday, 1:00 p.m. on FSN) 

The Tigers have an impressive record but their loss at Xavier may have put them in position to need an undefeated run through Conference USA to feel comfortable in regards to an at-large bid.

– Connecticut at Cincinnati (Saturday, 2:00 p.m.) 

The Bearcats are reeling and need to turn things around before they end up on the wrong side of the bubble.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

BYU adds commit for 2019

Dave Rose
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BYU added a commitment from a high school senior this week, but the Cougars won’t be seeing him on campus until 2019.

Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Idaho, pledged to BYU on Monday evening, but won’t suit up until after serving a two-year mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints, according to the Deseret News.

“I had a great feeling about BYU, and I prayed about it,” Lee told the paper. “I just feel like it’s the right fit for me. It just seems right. It feels right.”

Lee chose BYU over offers from  Utah State, Boise State and UC Davis. He was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and three by Scout.

His decision to forego immediately joining BYU certainly isn’t a new wrinkle for the Cougars, who routinely see their players either delay their initial eligibility or pause it mid-career while serving on missions.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky