Matthew Dellavedova, Randy Bennett

Bubble Banter: Long wait for Saint Mary’s, Middle Tennessee

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It’s going to be a long wait for Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee.  The Gaels lost to Gonzaga for a third time Monday night, and the Blue Raiders fell in the semifinals of the Sun Belt.  Which leaves both in agonizing limbo until the NCAA Selection Show this Sunday.   An already tough job for members of the NCAA Selection Committee in Indianapolis just became that much tougher.

Overall, the bubble remains very fluid with only a few days to go.  At the very least we have five or six spots up for grabs.  Right now, it looks like as many as 11 spots have yet to be confirmed.  Some teams in those spots are better positioned than others.  Conference tournament results are going to matter, probably more than usual.

Pending results in the Pac-12 and Mountain West tournaments are particularly intriguing.  While California and Oregon remains as teams that “Should Be In” today, neither can be considered locks.  Colorado opens with Oregon State, a team that just beat the Buffaloes.  Another loss to the Beavers could make things a bit more interesting.  Not that Colorado won’t make it, but there would certainly be a few anxious moments ahead.  In the Mountain West, Boise State and San Diego State square off in the quarterfinals.  And while it’s probable that both make the Field of 68 regardless, the loser won’t be quite as certain – especially if we have an upset winner or two elsewhere.

By this weekend, the bubble picture will likely become a bit more clear.  Until then, enjoy the Madness.

Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are on the NCAA Bubble, teams that have locked up spot in the Field of 68, and teams that Should Be In but are not “locks” at the time of the update. RPI and SOS data is credited to InsideRPI at ESPN.

RPI data is for games played through Monday, March 11.

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

Automatic Bids (31): Liberty (Big South), Harvard (Ivy), Creighton (MVC), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Belmont (OVC), Davidson (Southern), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), James Madison (Colonial), Gonzaga (West Coast), Iona (MAAC) …

  • Projected Locks (22): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (11): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (28): Teams remaining who are projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
  • Spots Available (13): 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 11.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Butler, Saint Louis | Should Be In: VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Massachusetts, Xavier
  • La Salle (21-8 | 11-5) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 88 | – The Explorers avoided a miscue down the stretch but lost in somewhat ugly fashion at Saint Louis to close the season. Now they await the winner of Butler and Dayton to open the A10 tournament. Can they beat Butler on a neutral court? La Salle edged BU at home on a last-second layup in January. If it’s Dayton, the Explorers may have to take out top seeded Saint Louis to feel more secure. Besides Butler, La Salle has a victory at VCU and a home win over Villanova. The only blemish is an early loss to Central Connecticut State.
  • Massachusetts (19-10 | 9-7) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 83 | – A bubbly profile took a hit when the Minutemen lost at home to Butler earlier this month. While they have eight Top 100 wins, the only NCAA-level win against a potential at-large team is a victory at La Salle. First up at the A10 tourney is George Washington. Win that and UMass earns a date with Temple. A victory over the Owls would keep the Minutemen in the conversation.
  • Temple (23-8 | 11-5) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 59 | – The Owls took care of business by beating VCU last weekend and are likely a win over UMass or George Washington away ending any lingering doubts. Even with a loss, they appear to be in pretty good shape at this point. An early win over Syracuse continues to help, as do wins over Saint Louis and Villanova. While we can’t quite remove the Owls from the bubble, it would take a bad loss and some odd events for them to miss. The remaining doubts are the result of three bad home losses – most notably Duquesne.
  • Xavier (17-13 | 9-7) | RPI: 79 | SOS: 54 | – While it will take some recovery work in Brooklyn, the Musketeers have a solid top-end profile. Victories include Butler, Temple, Saint Louis and Memphis. The problem? Inconsistent play and five sub-100 RPI losses – the worst of which was Wofford at home. They open with Saint Joseph’s before a date with VCU. Win both of those and the Committee will have to take a closer look at how XU stacks up to other bubble contenders heading into the weekend.
ACC
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: North Carolina, NC State | Bubble: Virginia, Maryland
  • Maryland (20-11 | 8-10) | RPI: 83 | SOS: 116 | – Following Sunday’s loss to Virginia, it looks like the Terrapins probably have to win the ACC tournament. Two solid wins can’t make up for a bad non-conference SOS, a 3-9 mark vs. Top 100 teams, and 16 (of 20) wins against teams below 150 in the RPI.
  • Virginia (21-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 132 | – The Cavaliers escaped Maryland and escaped even more trouble on the NCAA bubble. They get the winner of NC State and Virginia Tech in the ACC quarterfinals. After that, it figures to be a matchup with Miami. Opportunity awaits – which is what the Cavs need. Beyond the well-documented bad losses (7 to teams rated 100 or lower in the RPI), UVA also has a non-conference SOS ranked around No. 300.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette, Pittsburgh | Should Be In: Notre Dame | Bubble: Cincinnati, Villanova
  • Cincinnati (21-10 | 9-9) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 26 | The Bearcats managed to avoid a bad loss (with bad timing) against South Florida. Next up is Providence in the early game Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. A loss could create some anxious moments, depending on what happens around them. The good news is that outside the conference, UC has noticeable wins over Iowa State, Alabama, and Oregon. It’s hard to see the Bearcats missing completely, but one more win would certainly make life easier down the stretch.
  • Villanova (18-12 | 10-8) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 18 | – Beating Georgetown may have sealed a bid for the Wildcats. Their list of wins also includes Louisville, Syracuse, and Marquette. If there’s an issue with the Wildcats’ resume it’s that they accomplished very little outside the conference. They also lost to Columbia. It’s hard to know for sure how much emphasis the Committee will place on the pre-conference slate. First up at the Big East tourney is St. John’s. It might be a good idea for ‘Nova to win that one. An 18-13 mark and mid-50’s RPI (with an SJU loss) would hardly qualify for lock status.
BIG 10
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Illinois, Minnesota | Bubble: Iowa
  • Iowa (20-11 | 9-9) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 127 | – The Hawkeyes held serve at home against Illinois and Nebraska. The real issues here are a 2-8 record in true road games and a non-conference SOS ranked at 300-plus. While victories over Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois at home are nice, they don’t hold the same weight as beating the league’s true heavyweights. In fairness, Iowa is probably better than its profile suggests. But it will likely take at least a couple of wins in Chicago to help the two match up. The Hawkeyes probably have to beat Northwestern and Michigan State. Accomplish that, and we’ll see how the landscape looks.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
  • Baylor (17-13 | 9-9) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 21 | – The Bears’ profile would look a lot better had it not been for a couple of last-second losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Ironically, they open Big 12 tournament play against the Cowboys. Win that, and a likely matchup with K-State awaits. Coming off a huge win over Kansas, can Baylor sustain some momentum? There’s no lack of talent on the roster. Inconsistent play has been the issue – as a 5-10 record vs. Top 100 teams suggests. While an early win at Kentucky helps, the rest of Baylor’s non-conference performance was less than ideal – including losses to Charleston and Northwestern at home. There’s also a mounting loss total. Could an 18-14 team earn an at-large bid?
  • Iowa State (21-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 64 | – The Cyclones closed out the regular season by beating Oklahoma State at home and avoiding a bad loss at West Virginia. The issues are a 3-7 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a non-conference performance that produced wins over BYU and Florida Gulf Coast. There was also the ugly loss at Texas Tech. A third matchup with Oklahoma awaits to open B12 tournament play. Each team won on its home court. Could the rubber match decide an NCAA berth? Maybe, maybe not. The hard-to-take loss against Kansas could turn out to be huge if the Cyclones exit the B12 tournament early.
  • Oklahoma (20-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 17 | – So the Sooners decided to make life more interesting by losing at TCU. Much like the other teams on the B12 bubble, Oklahoma didn’t accomplish a lot outside the conference. What OU does have are victories over Kansas and Oklahoma State – and a split with Iowa State. Despite some strong computer numbers, a sweep of Baylor, and some decent mid-range wins, the Sooners may not be in as good a shape as some might think. They open with the Cyclones at the B12 tourney. As noted above, the loser could have some anxious moments leading up to Selection Sunday.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis | Bubble: Southern Miss
  • Southern Miss (21-8 | 12-4) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 79 | – Other than some decent computer numbers Southern Miss doesn’t have much too offer. They better plan on winning the C-USA tournament.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: Creighton | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Wichita State
  • Wichita State (26-8 | 12-6) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 96 | – While the Shockers are not a lock, they should be in pretty good shape at this point. They reached the MVC title game and split the regular season with Creighton. They also won at VCU and Air Force and beat Iowa on a neutral court outside league play. With eight Top 100 wins, the odds are in their favor.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: New Mexico, UNLV | Should Be In: Colorado State | Bubble: San Diego State, Boise State
  • Boise State (19-9 | 9-7) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 69 | – By winning two of its final three games, the Broncos have put themselves in good position. If you take away the losses to Utah and Nevada, BSU’s resume is very similar to that of San Diego State (but we can’t take those away). Which brings us to the MTW quarterfinals. The Broncos open with the Aztecs. The loser may still be fine, but the winner will certainly feel even more confident come Sunday evening.
  • San Diego State (19-9 | 9-7) | RPI: 31 | SOS: 33 | – The two edges SDSU has on Boise in terms of profile are a win over New Mexico and no sub-100 RPI losses. Of course, the Aztecs don’t have a signature road win (such as Boise’s at Creighton). Which, as noted above, makes the two team’s MWC matchup intriguing. Both will probably make it, but the loser might be a little nervous on Sunday if the bubble is squeezed.
PAC 12
Locks: Arizona, UCLA | Should Be In: Oregon, California | Bubble: Colorado, Stanford
  • Colorado (20-10 | 10-8) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 16 | – Just in time for the P12 tourney, the Buffaloes laid an egg at home against Oregon State. Interestingly enough, Colorado opens conference tourney play against OSU. A second-straight loss to the Beavers might leave an ugly impression, and would give CU three sub-150 RPI losses. Is that going to undo an overall resume that includes non-conference wins over Colorado State, Baylor, and Air Force? Probably not. But it would certainly leave the Buffaloes a bit less secure heading into the weekend.
  • Stanford (18-13 | 9-9) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 40 | – It’s a long shot for the Cardinal but they enter the P12 tourney with an outside chance, so here they are. Wins of note include California (twice), Oregon, and a road victory at Arizona State. Outside the league, there isn’t much – wins over Denver and Northern Iowa. It’ll probably take a run to the title game for any legitimate shot. Stanford opens with Arizona State.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee
  • Tennessee (19-11 | 11-7) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 38 | – Depending on who you ask, the Volunteers are ahead or behind Kentucky in terms of the SEC power curve. While UT is far from secure, they have nine Top 100 wins (9-9 overall) – which includes victories over Florida and Missouri in SEC, and Wichita State, Massachusetts, and Xavier outside league play. Granted, losing two games to Georgia doesn’t help, but most other bubble teams have similar issues. There are also some road concerns, as most of their quality wins (other than UMass – neutral court) came in Knoxville. The Vols get the winner of South Carolina/Mississippi State to open the SEC tourney. After that, they would matchup with fellow bubble-dweller Alabama.
  • Alabama (19-11 | 12-6) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 91 | – Other than a pile of SEC wins, the Crimson Tide’s profile lacks much punch. They have a home wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, and a non-conference victory over Villanova. While solid, none of those wins is a headliner. They are also saddled with three suspect losses – Mercer and Tulane at home and Auburn on the road. Most likely, the Tide will face Tennessee in the SEC tourney opener. That’s a must win. Then, it should be Florida. Beating the Gators might be what ‘Bama needs.
  • Arkansas (19-12 | 10-8) | RPI: 78 | SOS: 82 | – There’s no real surprise here: the Razorbacks are pretty good at home and not very good elsewhere. We can’t just discount victories over Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri and Kentucky, but the 1-9 mark in road games is definitely an eyesore. The Razorbacks open with Vandy. A win puts them up against Kentucky. Win those two and we’ll see how the final field is unfolding.
  • Kentucky (21-10 | 12-6) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 65 | – The current Wildcat roster features wins over Missouri and Florida, and a drubbing at Tennessee. None of us know exactly how Selection Committee members will view the Cats’ profile. Which means their work isn’t finished. Normally, a 12-win SEC season would be enough, but this isn’t a normal year. UK gets the Arkansas-Vandy winner on Friday. That could be a must-win. Then, it would be Ole Miss or Missouri. In many ways, the bracket sets up well for the Wildcats. Reaching the SEC title game would probably lock it up.
  • Mississippi (23-8 | 12-6) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 153 | – No team suffered more damaging losses down the stretch than Ole Miss (South Carolina and Mississippi State). The Rebels re-grouped to beat Alabama and LSU, and a road win always helps. Ole Miss lacks swept Tennessee and beat Missouri at home. Neither of which qualifies as a signature win. Given a weak non-conference SOS (No. 290), it takes some extra work within the league. Ole Miss opens the SEC tourney Friday – most likely against Missouri. That figures to be a must-win. Then it would be Kentucky. Depending on how things break, that could be a decisive matchup for both schools.
WEST COAST
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s
  • Saint Mary’s (26-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 104 | – Let’s just say its’ going to be a long, agonizing wait until the NCAA Selection Show. The Gaels lost for a third time to Gonzaga Monday night – and the game was never in doubt. Which basically leaves SMC with one win against an NCAA team – Creighton at home. Other than that, the Gaels’ only non-conference wins are Utah State and Harvard. Within the WCC, the Gaels swept BYU. Since this will be a topic of discussion for Middle Tennessee State, it’s worth noting 17 of SMC’s wins came against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: Belmont | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech
  • Akron (23-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 141 | – It’s been a bad two weeks for the Zips. They lost games to Ohio and Kent State and had a starter suspended due to off-the-court issues. So the Zips have to be re-evaluated. The result: it’s probably a MAC title or bust.
  • Bucknell (26-5 | 12-2) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 223 | – The Bison can win the Patriot League title tonight and end the debate. That’s probably a good idea. It’s hard to imagine them being ahead of Middle Tennessee or Saint Mary’s – should all three end up in the at-large pool. What the Bison do offer are wins over La Salle, New Mexico State, and Purdue.
  • Louisiana Tech (25-5 | 16-2) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 214 | – Nothing like closing the season with back-to-back (and largely non-competitive) losses at New Mexico State and Denver. You have to think an at-large bid at this point is remote. But we’ll see if they can reach the WAC title game.
  • Middle Tennessee (28-5 | 19-1) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 135 | – A solid RPI and strong non-conference SOS ranked No. 8 in the nation are the real highlights for the Blue Raiders. Credit MTSU for a good effort. But … in its “up” games, MTSU went 2-3 (and we’re considering Vanderbilt and “up” game). They beat Ole Miss, but lost handily to Florida and Belmont. The loss at Akron was close – no shame there. Can one notable win (Ole Miss) carry the Blue Raiders? They have looked the part. At the same time, 21 of their wins came against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI.

Wisconsin ends No. 2 Maryland’s 27-game home win streak

Wisconsin forward Vitto Brown (30) shoots during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Maryland, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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Just over a month ago Wisconsin lost at Northwestern, dropping to 9-9 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten and had the look of a team that would have to fight simply to get into the NIT. Since then, Greg Gard’s Badgers have won seven straight games with the most recent triumph being a 70-57 victory at No. 2 Maryland. Not only did Wisconsin become the first Big Ten team to beat the Terrapins at the Xfinity Center since Maryland joined the Big Ten, but they also ended Maryland’s 27-game home win streak.

And it was Wisconsin’s offensive balance that stood out, as four starters scored in double figures led by forward Vitto Brown.

Brown, who accounted for 18 points and five rebounds in Wisconsin’s win over Nebraska Wednesday night, was even better against Maryland as he scored a career-high 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the field and grabbed seven rebounds. While Bronson Koenig (16 points, six rebounds, five assists) and Nigel Hayes (14 and six rebounds) are the ones expected to shoulder much of the load, players such as Brown, Ethan Happ and Zak Showalter (11 points) will also be key as Wisconsin makes its push for an NCAA tournament bid.

In Wisconsin’s first five conference games Brown averaged 4.4 points and 1.8 rebounds per contest. Since then he’s averaging 11.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, scoring in double figures in each of Wisconsin’s last three games.

Overall Wisconsin’s looked far more fluid offensively during this win streak, and over the last three games the Badgers have shot very well from the perimeter as they made nearly 51 percent of their attempts (12-for-26 against Maryland). Add in Wisconsin’s ability to take advantage of Maryland’s defensive rebounding issues, converting 13 offensive boards into 20 second-chance points, and it was easy to see why Wisconsin was able to grab control of the game in the first half during a 20-0 run that gave them the separation they needed.

Maryland’s issues throughout conference play remain the same, as they struggled to end defensive possessions while also turning the ball over far too often (seven times) during the aforementioned Wisconsin run. With Melo Trimble not playing at the level he’s capable of reaching (he may not be completely healthy), Maryland has some things to address during this stretch run.

But more than anything, Saturday was the product of a Wisconsin team that’s starting to click at the right time. And as crazy as it may seem, given how Wisconsin began Big Ten play, the Badgers only two games out of first place.

No. 5 Xavier finds shooting touch in 74-57 blowout at Butler

Xavier head coach Chris Mack talks with James Farr (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Butler, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Indianapolis. Xavier won 74-57. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) No. 5 Xavier learned its lesson.

To keep winning, it must continue do the dirty work.

Four days after stumbling at Creighton, the Musketeers got back to basics and used a balanced offense and a smothering defense to run away from Butler 74-57 on Saturday.

“We played much better today and after about the first four or five minutes, we defended,” coach Chris Mack said. “Our shots were, in my opinion, really good ones because we got in the lane, we made the extra pass and I thought that was the difference.”

Whatever the explanation, the Musketeers (22-3, 10-3 Big East) certainly looked worthy of the highest ranking in school history.

After making a season-low 30 percent from the field and just 1 of 21 3-point attempts in Tuesday’s loss, Xavier rebounded by shooting 56.9 percent and going 9 of 18 beyond the arc. J.P. Macura led the way with 13 points while Edmond Sumner and Remy Abell each had 12.

But the biggest improvements showed up in other areas – defense, rebounding and effort. They allowed 36 points over the final 31 1/2 minutes.

“Everybody was boxing out and rebounding, and on the offensive end we have so much talent we could get whatever we wanted,” said Abell, who started his college career playing for the Indiana Hoosiers.

The difference was obvious.

Butler (17-8, 6-7) was held almost 25 points below its season average.

Kelan Martin, with 15 points, and Andrew Chrabascz, with 12, were the only players to score more than 10. And the top three scorers – Martin, Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones – were a combined 11 of 39 from the field as the Bulldogs’ three-game winning streak came to an end.

Xavier crushed the Bulldogs so thoroughly that chants of “Let’s Go X” resounded throughout sold out Hinkle Fieldhouse over the final minutes.

“We didn’t have near the effort, the juice, the purpose defensively and we didn’t move the ball offensively and that was actually the case from the opening minute,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “We mentioned that in the four-minute media and said that had to improve and when it doesn’t these things happen.”

Butler used a 9-0 first-half run to take a 21-13 lead midway through the first half.

Xavier answered with a 27-6 run that included four 3s and a three-point play in a 27-6 run to make it 40-27. The Bulldogs got as close as 47-39 early in the second half, which later became a seven-point deficit after a replay review gave Dunham a 3.

But the Bulldogs couldn’t get closer.

“You can go 1 for 21 one game, and then the next game it’s – I’m sure it was better,” Macura said. “That’s basketball.”

POINTERS

Xavier’s dominance showed up in two key stats on the box score. The Musketeers outscored Butler 36-14 in points off the bench and 36-18 in the paint despite having only two offensive rebounds. Xavier has won six of its last seven.

ON THE ROAD

Even the road has been kind to the Musketeers this season. They have won seven times in true road games, their highest season total since 2010-11. They have also won five Big East games on the road – more than they won in either of their first two seasons in the league and they have won 10 of the last 13 at Hinkle.

MOVING UP

Dunham continues his ascent on the Bulldogs’ career scoring list. After moving from 14th to sixth on the list in the first 23 games this season, Dunham moved passed Lynn Mitchem (1,798) for fifth and within one point of A.J. Graves (1,807) for fourth. Matt Howard is third (1,939) and the only 2,000-point scorers in school history are Chad Tucker (2,321) and Darrin Fitzgerald (2,019).

TIP-INS

Xavier: Former Indiana prep star Trevon Bluiett had 11 points and four rebounds and James Farr had 12 rebounds. … Each of Xavier’s 22 wins has come by at least seven points. … The Musketeers were the highest-ranked team to play at Hinkle Fieldhouse since No. 3 DePaul visited Feb. 23, 1981.

Butler: Shot 33.3 percent overall and was 8 of 22 on 3s. …. The Bulldogs only have three wins at home against Top 10 teams – No. 8 Gonzaga in January 2013, No. 3 Michigan in 1965-66 and No. 5 Tennessee in 1958-59. … Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence attended the game.

UP NEXT

Xavier hosts No. 20 Providence on Wednesday.

Butler hosts Creighton on Tuesday.