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Bubble Banter: Missouri’s chances to earn an at-large bid slipping away

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There are 36 days left until Selection Sunday. Every morning from now until the bracket comes out, we’ll help you get caught up on the happenings with impact on the bubble from the night before. 

You can see NBCSports.com’s latest bracket here.

Who is the third-best team in the SEC right now?

You don’t know, do you? I don’t really know either, but I know that it has to be one of four teams — Tennessee, LSU, Missouri or Ole Miss. Two of them squared off against each other on Saturday, with Ole Miss (RPI: 56, KenPom: 70) riding a big first half and eight threes from Marshall Henderson to knock off the Tigers.

And, potentially, to book Missouri‘s (RPI: 46, KenPom: 47) ticket to the NIT?

The Tigers are currently in a bad spot thanks to the perils of non-round robin league schedules. Missouri only plays Kentucky, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss once each this season. They’ve lost three in a row and four of their last six, and those four losses just so happen to be their games against those four teams.

What that means is that the Tigers are now in a situation where their tournament resume is more or less built upon a win over UCLA at home, and it’s not going to get all that much better. Missouri plays Tennessee twice in their last seven games, but if the Vols are on the brink of falling outside the RPI top 50. If that happens, it means that the rest of Missouri’s schedules contains no top 50 opponents and four sub-100 opponents.

In other words, their resume isn’t getting much better. And they don’t exactly look like a tournament team as of today.

As far as the Rebels are concerned, they still have work to do. They’re the seventh team out of the tournament, according to our most recent bracket, but the good news is they still have games against Kentucky and Florida. Win one or both of those games and avoid a bad loss, and Andy Kennedy could end up dancing again.

THE REST OF WEDNESDAY’S BUBBLE ACTION:

Winners:

  • SMU (RPI: 47, KenPom: 26) put themselves into terrific position to earn an at-large bid with a blowout win over Cincinnati. They haven’t done much on the road and they only have four top 100 wins, but they’ve beaten Cincinnati, UConn and Memphis. That’s better than a lot of fellow bubble teams.
  • Kansas State (RPI: 38, KenPom: 35) has November losses to Charlotte and Northern Colorado that drag down the Wildcats’ resume, but a 17-point win over Texas is now their fifth top 30 win. This team is barely on the bubble at this point.
  • Maryland (RPI: 79, KenPom: 59) The Terps have a lot of ground to make up to get back into the conversation, but they’ll have plenty of chances: two games against Virginia, at Duke, Syracuse. Today, they picked up their second top 50 win against Florida State.
  • Xavier (RPI: 49, KenPom: 42) picked up a win it really needed against Providence on Saturday. It’s their third top 50 win, it snaps a three-game losing streak and it helps nullify ugly losses to USC and Seton Hall.
  • Arizona State (RPI: 39, KenPom: 32) The Sun Devils picked up their second top 50 win of the season, blowing a 20 point lead but hanging on to knock off Oregon.
  • Saint Joseph’s (RPI: 52, KenPom: 83) had a huge three-game homestand and picked up two wins, beating both UMass last Saturday and VCU this Saturday. They are easily the two best wins of the year for Phil Martelli’s team.
  • Minnesota (RPI: 41, KenPom: 40) had lost three in a row, four of five and five of seven. Saturday’s win over Indiana was essential to stop the bleeding more than anything. They’re probably still on the right ride of the bubble as of today.

Losers:

  • Pitt (RPI: 23, KenPom: 13) is a loser on this list because their second straight overtime game against an ACC cellar-dweller has started questions about their lack of any substance on their resume.
  • Gonzaga (RPI: 23, KenPom: 27) has played their way into a position where they may want to avoid testing the at-large pools. The Zags best win this season is … BYU. And after blowing a lead at Memphis on Saturday, that’s not going to change. They’re looking at a situation where they could head into Selection Sunday with more sub-150 loss than top 50 wins. That’s bad news.
  • Florida State (RPI: 43, KenPom: 30) has two top 25 wins and five top 100 wins, but they got smacked around by Maryland, which is their worst loss of the season, according to the RPI.
  • Providence (RPI: 50, KenPom: 53) The Friars shot into bubble contention after winning five in a row and beating Creighton and Xavier, but they’ve lost three of their last four, including today’s six-point loss at Xavier.
  • West Virginia (RPI: 68, KenPom: 60) lost at Kansas on Saturday. The Mountaineers have a lot of work left to do, but they’re still in the conference.
  • Oregon (RPI: 40, KenPom: 33) has now lost eight of their last 10 games. The last five losses have come by a combined 12 points. Their best win? BYU. That’s not a good thing.
  • Baylor (RPI: 54, KenPom: 56) just does not want to go dancing. Their wins over Oklahoma State, Colorado and Kentucky will keep them relevant, but they’ve lost eight of their last ten games.
  • Indiana (RPI: 70, KenPom: 57) has now lost four of their last six games after dropping a game at Minnesota on Saturday. That’s not an awful loss, but it digs the Hoosiers into a deeper hole. They have four more top 50 RPI opponents on their schedule, and with wins over Michigan and Wisconsin already, a bid is still possible.

UT-Arlington dominates, upsets No. 12 St. Mary’s

Texas-Arlington's Kevin Hervey, left, reacts to a 73-68 NCAA college basketball game win as Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate looks on  in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
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UT-Arlington made a statement on Thursday night, completely dominating No. 12 Saint Mary’s in a 65-51 upset win in a true road game in Moraga.

Back in October, I ranked both the Gaels and the Mavericks in the top-5 of my Mid-Major Power Rankings. Saint Mary’s was the obvious top choice, one of the nation’s most efficient offenses that returned Emmett Naar and Jock Landale. UT-Arlington, ranked fifth, served as a dangerous opponent. The Mavs had defeated Ohio State and Memphis in 2015, but their season was derailed once Kevin Hervey, a player with serious pro potential, tore his ACL.

With five starters back, including Hervey, who is just now getting back to 100 percent, UT-Arlington looks every bit the part of a March Cinderella.

The Mavericks jumped out to an early lead and forced the Gaels to play out of character. Saint Mary’s had only committed a season-high 14 turnovers before the midway point of the second half. The Gaels, who entered shooting 40 percent from three as a team, was held to 8-of-27 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

UT-Arlington did an incredible job of closing out on shooters. And it didn’t matter the matchup, at times we saw Hervey, a 6-foot-9 junior, come out and run a guard off the 3-point line. While those statistics mentioned above show up in the box score, the amount of deflections don’t. The Mavericks used its length and athleticism to get their hands everywhere on the defensive end of the floor, making it difficult to find good looks.

In the first half, UT-Arlington controlled the glass. Saint Mary’s found more success in that department after halftime, as Kevin Clark’s offensive putback capped an 11-2 run, which cut the deficit to 52-41. However, the Mavs were able to counter each time the Gaels threatened, never letting the lead get to single digits.

Aside from the struggles the typically-efficient Saint Mary’s offense had, the Gaels struggled to keep UT-Arlington guards Erick Neal and Kaelon Wilson out of the lane, whether it be on a high ball screen or a handoff. Saint Mary’s never seemed to have a help-side defender there to protect the rim. Neal had 13 points and eight assists (five turnovers), while Wilson had 10 points off the bench. Hervey had a game-high 15 points and seven rebounds.

UT-Arlington is winners of eight straight after losing three straight. One of those wins includes a double-digit win over Texas in Austin. The Mavericks are the clear-cut favorite to win the Sun Belt. Come Selection Sunday, I’d say plenty of at-large teams would not like to be paired up with Scott Cross’ team.

Iowa cruises past No. 25 Iowa State

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20:  Head coach Fran McCaffery of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Iowa picked up a major win on Thursday night, defeating in-state rival No. 25 Iowa State, 78-64, in a contest the Hawkeyes thoroughly dominated.

Let’s put it this way: the Hawkeyes have played four top-100 teams, according to kenpom. In those games, all losses by the way, their defense has surrendered 91 points to Seton Hall, 74 points to a Virginia team that plays at the slowest tempo in the country, 100 points to Memphis and 92 points to Notre Dame.

On Saturday, on the same floor Iowa demolished the Cyclones, its defense allowed 98 points in a loss to Nebraska Omaha.

This is exactly the sort of win Fran McCaffery and Co. needed to right the ship as we inch closer and closer to conference play.

When the Cyclones went to their bench in the first half, Nick Baer sparked a 10-0 run which helped set the tone for the remainder of the half. Iowa State went without a field goal for more than six minutes during that span.

Iowa kept Iowa State from getting out and running, holding the Cyclones to zero fast break points through the first 20 minutes and limiting them to only 36 percent from the floor as a team. Iowa, on the other hand, shot 47 percent, including 59 percent in the first half, which led to a 15-point halftime lead.

Peter Jok torched Iowa State to the tune of 23 points (4-of-7 from distance).

Monte Morris was held in check with 10 points, while Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas shot a combined 4-of-13 from three (they each hit a three with less than three minutes to play and the outcome all but decided).

Iowa State’s offense is becoming a bigger concern. Just like against Gonzaga, the Cyclones dug a first-half hole they could shoot out their way of. And like last week’s overtime loss to Cincinnati, they struggled from beyond the arc.

Iowa landed a marquee win it needed, while its rival headed home with questions to answer after losing three of four.

 

Alabama wing sidelined due to weight loss

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Avery Johnson of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at HP Field House on November 29, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Alabama junior wing Nick King will not be with the team for Sunday evening’s matchup against No. 24 Oregon in Eugene.

According to Rainer Sabin of the AL.com, Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said King undergoing a series of tests after losing more than 10 pounds in less than a week and a half.

Johnson told reporters that he is “very concerned” and estimates that as of now King will be sidelined for “a week or two.”

King, who played his first two seasons at Memphis, has appeared in all seven games for the Crimson Tide, averaging 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game.

Damonte Dodd out with MCL sprain

COLLEGE PARK, MD - FEBRUARY 13: Melo Trimble #2 and Damonte Dodd #35 of the Maryland Terrapins react to a call as Alex Illikainen #25 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on in the second half at Xfinity Center on February 13, 2016 in College Park, Maryland. Wisconsin won 70-57.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Maryland could be without the services of starting center Damonte Dodd for the remainder of the non-conference slate, the team announced on Wednesday.

Dodd suffered a MCL sprain in his left knee during practice earlier this week. The injury caused him to miss Wednesday’s 76-56 win over Howard. He will not be available for matchups with St. Peter’s and Jacksonville State. The Terrapins then close out the non-conference slate at Charlotte on Dec. 20 before opening up Big Ten play a week later.

Dodd has started in six of seven games he’s appeared in this season. He’s averaging 5.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Michael Cekovsky started in place of Dodd on Wednesday night. Ivan Bender, who returned to the lineup against Howard after missing the previous contest, should also see an increase in minutes with Dodd sidelined.

Federico Mussini goes coast-to-coast, beats buzzer with and-1

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 03:  Chris Mullin the head coach of the St. John's Red Storm gives instructions to Federico Mussini #4 during the game against the  Xavier Musketeersat Cintas Center on February 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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St. John’s capped the first half with a 6-0 run.

Sophomore guard Federico Mussini went coast-to-coast to beat the buzzer, and draw the foul, as the Johnnies went into the break up 42-33 on city rival Fordham.

The 6-foot-4 guard had gone cold during a five-game stretch, but since Thanksgiving he’s scored in double figures in four consecutive games, including on Thursday night.