Bubble Update: Kentucky among those teams with work to do

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As the roller-coaster college basketball season continues, the race for at-large bids to the 2013 NCAA tournament remains unsettled.  In the span of a few hours this past Saturday, six teams projected to be on the cusp of at-large selection all lost.  Which brings us here: an estimated 11 at-large spots are still available with Selection Sunday right around the corner.

Since last week’s update, only two teams (North Carolina and California) have moved into Should Be In territory and neither are absolute locks to stay there.  It’s going to be a critical 12 days for several teams, including the Kentucky Wildcats.  With a home game against Florida this weekend and the SEC tournament just ahead, UK will have a chance to play its way into the Field of 68.  The same can be said for about five other SEC teams.  It’s been that kind of year.

As conference tournament play gets underway, keep an eye out for bid thieves.  It’s not uncommon for one or more at-large spots to be taken by a surprise conference tournament winner.  This could easily happen in the Missouri Valley – which has proven quite unpredictable over the years.

Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are currently on the NCAA Bubble.  To be somewhat brief, teams listed are those with a realistic chance to be considered at the time of the update.  Given the current landscape, those teams could change in the coming few days.  So stay tuned.  RPI and SOS data is credited to InsideRPI at ESPN.

RPI data is for games played through Monday, March 4.

UPDATED: Tuesday, March 5

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

Automatic Bids (31): None at this time

  • Projected Locks (21): 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: (27): Teams remaining who are 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 Monday, March 4.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Butler, Saint Louis | Should Be In: VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Massachusetts
  • La Salle (20-7 | 10-4) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 95 | – The Explorers navigated through Rhode Island and Duquesne. They have one more landmine to avoid – George Washington at home. Then it’s off to Saint Louis for the regular-season finale. A significant issue for La Salle is the lack of a meaningful non-conference victory (best is Iona or Delaware). Will an impressive win at VCU and a one-point home win over Butler be enough? Hard to be certain. At 5-6 vs. Top 100 teams, La Salle has to stay on the bubble. A victory at SLU would certainly make the Explorers more comfortable heading into the A10 tourney.
  • Massachusetts (18-9 | 8-6) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 75 | – Wining at Xavier on Saturday was a must-get, because while the Minutemen are 7-7 vs. the Top 100, they are just 1-5 vs. Top 50 teams (and 9-9 overall against the Top 150). A home date with Butler is up next. UMass needs that one and must avoid a loss at Rhode Island to keep its hopes alive heading to Brooklyn.
  • Temple (21-8 | 9-5) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 51 | – The Owls rallied to beat Rhode Island and have now won five straight after a victory over Detroit last week. A tidy 9-5 mark vs. Top 100 teams is looking better all the time. Temple has also been helped by several other bubble teams losing during the same stretch. If the Owls can avoid a bad loss at Fordham, they close with VCU at home. Winning their last two will probably be enough to push them into the Field of 68. A split may require a little work at the A10 tourney.
ACC
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: NC State, North Carolina | Bubble: Virginia, Maryland
  • Maryland (20-9 | 8-8) | RPI: 68 | SOS: 130 | – The Terrapins handled a had-to-have road game at Wake Forest. They had lost back-to-back road games to Boston College and Georgia Tech prior to that. Despite wins over NC State and Duke, Maryland really needs to sweep it’s last two (North Carolina, at Virginia) to improve a 3-7 mark vs. Top 100 teams. It’s also going to take a strong finish to overcome a non-conference SOS ranked around No. 300.
  • Virginia (20-9 | 10-6) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 133 | – The Cavaliers just can’t get out of their own way. They followed up a home win over Duke with yet another headscratching loss – this time at Boston College on Sunday. It’s the seventh (7th) sub-100 loss on their resume. How many such losses are too many? At the same time, Virginia has seven Top 100 wins and has put itself in position for at-large consideration with victories that include NC State, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin – the latter at the Kohl Center during the Big10-ACC Challenge. A non-conference SOS ranked No. 306 is a major sticking point, too. A mediocre finish would keep the Cavaliers in very questionable territory. It could go either way.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette | Should Be In: Pittsburgh, Notre Dame | Bubble: Cincinnati, Villanova
  • Cincinnati (20-10 | 8-9) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 15 | The Bearcats are breathing a little easier after holding off Connecticut this past weekend. It gave the Bearcats a fourth Top 50 win. Although UC lost at Louisville on Monday, as long as the Bearcats don’t lose to South Florida, they should feel okay heading into the BE tourney. Once they reach New York, avoiding a bad loss and/or early exit will probably be enough. UC has not lost to a sub-100 RPI team all season.
  • Villanova (17-12 | 9-8) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 30 | – Losing late leads against Seton Hall and Pittsburgh on the road have slowed the momentum gained from prior wins at Connecticut and over Marquette. Now, the closing game with Georgetown is huge. Beat the Hoyas, and the Wildcats would have Big East wins over Louisville, Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette. Finding another bubble team with those credentials could be tough. What’s holding Villanova back is a non-conference performance that lacked much significance. Early victories over Saint Joseph’s and Purdue aren’t holding up as anticipated.
BIG 10
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Illinois, Minnesota | Bubble: Iowa
  • Iowa (18-11 | 7-9) | RPI: 86 | SOS: 118 | – Iowa has made a habit of losing competitive games. Saturday at Indiana was no exception as the Hawkeyes put up a game effort in Bloomington. But what they really needed was a signature victory. Given a very weak non-conference SOS number (321), the Hawkeyes have extra work to do. The good news: Iowa closes with Illinois and Nebraska at home. If they get both, they head to Chicago at 9-9 in B10 play. A couple of victories in the Windy City could make it interesting. The Hawkeyes best non-conference wins are Iowa State and Northern Iowa. What doesn’t look good is a 2-8 record in road games and a 7-10 mark vs. Top 150 opponents.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
  • Baylor (16-13 | 8-9) | RPI: 67 | SOS: 31 | – The Bears absorbed a brutal defeat Saturday and followed it up with a loss at Texas on Monday. Given the above, Baylor has to find a way to beat Kansas this weekend. If nothing else, a victory over KU would put them in position to do some work at the B12 tourney. The Bears are 4-10 vs. Top 100 teams and have a troubling 9-13 mark vs. the Top 150. An early win at Kentucky isn’t what it once was. The mounting loss total has to be a concern, too.
  • Iowa State (19-10 | 9-7) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 65 | – Oklahoma put it on the Cyclones in Norman on Saturday. While that’s not what ISU needed, they have a home game with Oklahoma State up next. Win that, and the Cyclones are back to where they were a week ago – which is probably among the final few teams in the Field of 68. At the same time, there’s no escaping a 2-7 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a 3-8 record in road games. Right now, ISU has just two wins against NCAA teams (K-State, Oklahoma). And there’s the ugly loss at Texas Tech. Best idea: beat OSU this weekend and win at least one game at the B12 tourney.
  • Oklahoma (19-9 | 10-6) | RPI: 23 | SOS: 7 | – After pounding Iowa State on Saturday, the Sooners appear in pretty decent shape at this point. Their computer profile (RPI, SOS) numbers are strong and might be good enough to get OU in at this point. Especially with a 10-6 mark in the B12. Even so, we can’t completely move the Sooners off the bubble. They have two final hurdles to clear – West Virginia and TCU. Win both and it’s probably a done deal. Losing either might require at least one win at the B12 tourney to feel safe.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis | Bubble: Southern Miss
  • Southern Miss (20-7 | 11-3) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 78 | – Other than some decent computer numbers Southern Miss doesn’t have much too offer. The Golden Eagles’ best wins are Denver, East Carolina, and UTEP, and they were swept by C-USA leader Memphis. If there is a positive, it’s that everyone around the Eagles keeps losing. At some point, that has to help.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: None | Should Be In: Creighton | Bubble: Wichita State
  • Wichita State (24-7 | 12-6) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 100 | – While the Shockers are in good shape given the current landscape, it might not be wise for them to exit the MVC tourney quickly with a bad loss. If for no other reason, it leaves open the possibility of being squeezed if bids tighten between now and Selection Sunday. With a 3-1 mark vs. Top 50 teams and eight Top 100 wins, again, it’s hard to see WSU not making it. But when you break it down, the Shockers have only two wins against projected NCAA teams at this time (Creighton, VCU). Win a game in St. Louis and it’ll likely be a short stay on the bubble list.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: New Mexico | Should Be In: Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV | Bubble: Boise State
  • Boise State (18-8 | 8-6) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 89 | – Few teams had a better weekend than the Broncos. Most importantly, they beat Colorado State at home for a third Top 50 RPI win. Secondly, most of the other so-called bubble teams around them lost. The Broncos close with UNLV and San Diego State. At this point, splitting those two games might be enough. It would guarantee BSU of a winning MTW record and add another Top 50 victory to their list. A non-conference win at Creighton is a potentially nice wildcard, too. If the Broncos lose their last two, however, it may require a couple of wins at the MTW tourney to feel secure.
PAC 12
Locks: Arizona, UCLA | Should Be In: Oregon, Colorado, California | Bubble: Arizona State, Washington
  • Arizona State (20-10 | 9-8) | RPI: 92 | SOS: 132 | – A three-game road trip to end the season has resulted in two losses thus far (UCLA, USC) and really puts the Sun Devils on the outside looking in. Although ASU has four Top 50 wins (including a sweep of Colorado), their overall SOS is very suspect and they have played 16 games against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI (and gone 14-2 in the those games). At this point, the Sun Devils have to win at Arizona this weekend and probably grab a couple of more W’s at the P12 tourney. It’s hard to imagine ASU making it with their current profile.
  • Washington (16-13 | 8-8) | RPI: 81 | SOS: 37 | – Given a weak bubble, we’re adding the Huskies, but there’s a lot of work to do – beginning with home dates against UCLA and USC this week. They have to win both to have a fighting chance for any at-large consideration during the P12 tournament. A 7-9 mark vs. Top 100 teams is worth mentioning, but there are also four sub-150 RPI losses included three at home. UW’s best wins are Saint Louis in November and California before the Bears turned things around.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee
  • Tennessee (17-11 | 9-7) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 25 | – They won’t be playing “Sweet Georgia Brown” anytime soon in Knoxville. After a very productive two weeks, the Volunteers dropped a 10-point decision at Georgia – giving the Bulldogs a season sweep. On the plus side, those two losses are the only sub-100 RPI losses on the Vols’ resume. Given the current status of the bubble and eight (8) Top 100 wins overall, Tennessee is still in position to claim an at-large bid. But … Tennessee has to beat Auburn to close the SEC season, and given the Vols’ 3-7 road mark that’s no guarantee. After that, it may come down to elimination games in the SEC tournament among several conference bubble teams.
  • Alabama (18-10 | 11-5) | RPI: 59 | SOS: 98 | – There’s no shame in losing at Florida, and the Crimson Tide put up a quality effort. But for a team that lacks a signature win, time is of the essence. Alabama lacks a Top 50 RPI win (Kentucky fell to No. 51 in this update). The Crimson Tide have a split with Tennessee and they beat Villanova. But there are also four sub-100 RPI losses – which include Mercer and Tulane. Closing games at Ole Miss and home to Georgia can set the stage for the SEC tourney. A pile of SEC wins on its own merit isn’t enough to lock up an NCAA berth this year.
  • Arkansas (18-11 | 9-7) | RPI: 75 | SOS: 79 | – Arkansas did what’s its done most of the year Saturday against Kentucky – win at home. But the Razorbacks won’t have any home games in the SEC tourney (or beyond). And the Hogs are a yucky 1-8 in road games (their lone road win is at Auburn). Other than that, the Razorbacks’ profile is decent – with victories over Oklahoma, Florida and Missouri. The one really bad loss is at South Carolina.
  • Kentucky (20-9 | 11-5) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 70 | – A good effort from the Wildcats fell short at Arkansas – which was no real surprise. Assuming UK can get past Georgia in Athens (no guarantee), this weekend’s game with Florida is huge. The Wildcats’ NCAA aspirations (at least prior to the SEC tourney) likely come down to beating the Gators. How the Selection Committee ultimately judges Kentucky without Nerlens Noel remains to be seen. In all likelihood, how UK performs at the SEC tourney will be a significant factor.
  • Mississippi (21-8 | 10-6) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 164 | – No team suffered a more damaging loss than Ole Miss on Saturday – losing at Mississippi State. It’s especially bad on the heels of a loss at South Carolina – both sub-200 RPI teams. For a team with just one Top 50 win (Missouri at home) and a non-conference SOS among the bottom third in the nation (290), those two losses are potentially devastating. Can the Rebels’ regroup? They close with Alabama and LSU. Win both and the Rebels still have an at-large chance entering the SEC tourney.
WEST COAST
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s
  • Saint Mary’s (25-5 | 14-2) | RPI: 41 | SOS: 126 | – Saint Mary’s is playing some pretty good basketball these days. But will the “eye test” surpass the resume test? That will be huge for the Gaels. SMU took care of Santa Clara over the weekend and is poised for the WCC tournament. A potential semifinal with BYU might still be important, although the Gaels’ odds have gone up recently with other bubble losses. If they get past the Cougars, a good showing in the WCC final (assuming its against Gonzaga) could still be enough. Keep in mind, however, that SMU’s win over Creighton is their only Top 50 victory of the year, and their only win over what appears to be an NCAA team.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Belmont, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech
  • Akron (22-5 | 13-1) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 136 | – It’s unfair to expect any team from any conference to have to go through an entire league season without a loss. But we also know that teams like Akron tend to have a smaller margin for error and that’s why Saturday’s loss at Buffalo can’t be overlooked. If the Zips go ahead and reach the MAC title game, they’ll still be in decent position. But after Saturday, there is less room for any early exit from the MAC tourney. It also means the Zips might be more easily passed if available at-large spots shrink.
  • Belmont (22-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 24 | SOS: 72 | – The Bruins closed their regular season on a four game winning streak that included a win over Ohio in the BracketBusters game. Good scheduling and a 6-2 mark vs. Top 100 teams has the Bruins on the radar for at-large consideration. Their resume includes a victory over Middle Tennessee at home. Of Belmont’s four sub-100 losses, only the one to Northeastern at home would be considered bad. It’s fair to think that Belmont has an at-large chance if they reach the OVC title game. After that, it all depends on what the at-large field looks like.
  • Bucknell (24-5 | 12-2) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 189 | – Given a mid 50’s RPI and SOS numbers that aren’t great, the Bison might be the least likely of this bunch to garner serious at-large consideration. What they have is early wins over La Salle and at Purdue, plus a close loss to Missouri in Columbia. The rest, including an 18-2 mark vs. sub 150-RPI teams, isn’t much help.
  • Louisiana Tech (25-3 | 16-0) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 251 | – Even with a high volume of wins, the Bulldogs’ at-large chances are still questionable. The good news is this: a few of their victories have improved from an RPI standpoint, leaving Tech with a 5-2 mark vs. Top 100 teams. Of those, the best is Southern Miss, and none are against projected NCAA teams. An overall strength of schedule ranked above 250 suggests that an at-large bid is unlikely. Fair or unfair, Tech has played just one game against Top 50 teams (So. Miss). They are 18-1 against teams ranked 150 or below.
  • Middle Tennessee (27-4 | 19-1) | RPI: 25 | SOS: 131 | – A solid RPI and strong non-conference SOS ranked No. 9 in the nation are nice starting points for the Blue Raiders. What hurts, however, is a 1-3 mark vs. Top 50 teams that included losses at Belmont and Akron – two teams on this list. MTSU really needs Ole Miss to turn it around as that’s their signature win. You have to wonder if good computer numbers are enough. History would suggest they might not be.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.