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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.

N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. fully recovered, ready to go

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Dennis Smith Jr. sure looks ready.

North Carolina State’s prized freshman point guard is pushing through a workout in the practice gym on a hot July afternoon, and there’s no sign of the knee injury that defined his past year.

He’s sprinting along the baseline to bury a catch-and-shoot corner 3-pointer. He’s dribbling between chairs and stutter-stepping his way to a pull-up jumper. He’s launching himself at the rim for a dunk off the dribble.

“I don’t expect to be rusty at all,” Smith said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I was feeling kind of nervous at one point, but I went in and did a workout and then I was thinking, `I’m putting in all this work so all the nervousness should be out of my mind.’ I had no reason to be timid.

“I just have to go out there and perform, no excuses.”

A lot has happened for Smith in 12 months. The Fayetteville native suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in a game during the Adidas Nations event featuring top prospects. He had surgery, picked N.C. State, graduated from high school early and enrolled in college in January to rehab and learn the Wolfpack’s system before his debut later this year.

Tuesday marks one year since the injury for the 6-foot-3 Smith, ranked by ESPN as the nation’s No. 1 point guard when he signed last fall.

“We’ve tried to be real conservative with him as far as not letting him do too much too fast,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “At his age, he can’t wait. He’s dying to play every day.”

Smith started earning his leadership role as soon as he arrived in Raleigh, pointing out instructions to teammates or calling them to the gym for extra work even though he couldn’t play. He figures that time observing from the sideline has prepared him to replace high-scoring floor leader Anthony “Cat” Barber.

“I feel like I’ve gotten smarter, definitely,” Smith said. “I see the game totally different now. I read pick-and-roll easier. I feel like I’ve gotten more sound on defense because I understand angles better.”

The physical work to get back has been tougher.

Roughly a year ago, Smith was lying in a bed after surgery trying to stay positive. He asked trainer Ja-Rell Bailey to bring him some free weights for upper-body exercises even if he couldn’t do much else, an example of why Bailey described Smith as “a man determined.”

Smith’s father said the rehab emphasized building leg strength to protect and stabilize the injured knee, something his son said he will keep doing in both legs for years to come. Smith’s work has helped him go from 180 pounds to a college-ready 192-pound frame.

“He’s got his bounce back, so he can dunk and everything,” Dennis Smith Sr. said. “But what Junior has got, God gave it to him. . A lot of times you run into kids who are built off of hype because they do a fancy move or have a good game. Junior ain’t hype. He’s the real deal.”

Regardless, Gottfried expects Smith to have “a learning curve.”

“For me,” he said, “I think what you see in November is going to be much different than what you see in January.”

The Wolfpack will look much different, too, after missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five seasons. N.C. State welcomes Scout.com’s No. 6-ranked recruiting class that includes five-star Turkish big man Omer Yurtseven. Senior guard Terry Henderson returns from an ankle injury that sidelined him 7 minutes into last season. Charlotte transfer and former Conference USA freshman of the year Torin Dorn Jr. will play after sitting out last year.

Still, Smith is the guy stirring the most buzz for Wolfpack fans – something he has no trouble embracing.

“I really don’t feel that pressure though,” Smith said. “I feel like if you come in and you expect to play well, then you should have those expectations of people talking. It’s just playing basketball to me. I’ve been doing it my whole life.”

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Washington lands commitment from Mamoudou Diarra

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For the second time this summer, Washington has landed a commitment from a forward in the Class of 2017.

On Friday, it was Mamoudou Diarra that pledged his future to Lorenzo Romar. Diarra is a 6-foot-8 combo-forward that is currently unranked by Rivals but was targeted by a number high major program.

Washington landed a commitment from Michael Porter Jr. earlier this summer, and given Porter’s standing as the potential No. 1 player in the class, the Huskies will be in the mix for the best crop of freshmen in the country in 2017-18. Romar has also landed commitments from four-star guard Jaylen Nowell and three-star guard Blake Harris.

RELATED: How the Michael Porter Package Deal came to fruition

Diarra played his high school basketball in St. Louis.

Xavier lands second top 100 commitment in 2017

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Xavier landed a key commitment on Friday morning in Naji Marshall, one of the Musketeers’ top targets in the Class of 2017.

Marshall is a la 6-foot-5 wing from Washington D.C. that is currently ranked 62nd in the 2017 class by Rivals. He’s a scorer that has shown off a versatile offensive game, averaging better than three assists on the Under Armour Association circuit.

This is the third commitment from head coach Chris Mack in the class and the second top 100 player to pledge to the Musketeers. Marshall picked Xavier over Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Rhode Island and Virginia Tech, among other.

Four-star 2018 guard Coby White commits to North Carolina

North Carolina coach Roy Williams, center, reacts with his team behind him after a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament against Pittsburgh, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Washington. North Carolina won 88-71. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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With guards Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek having committed in their 2017 recruiting class, North Carolina received a commitment from one of the better guards in the Class of 2018 Thursday night. Four-star guard Coby White, who’s ranked 61st in his class by Rivals.com, made his pledge to Roy Williams’ program. News of White’s commitment was first reported by Scout.com.

The 6-foot-4 White is a native of Wilson, North Carolina, where he attends Greenfield HS, and he played his grassroots basketball for the CP3 16U basketball program this summer. His commitment to UNC comes just a couple days after the ACC school offered him a scholarship.

White took an unofficial visit to UNC in June, and his play in July ultimately led to the program making the aforementioned scholarship offer. By the time White enrolls in Chapel Hill, current veterans such as Joel Berry II and Nate Britt will be out of eligibility. Among the perimeter would could potentially be on campus in 2018 are freshmen Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson, and sophomore Kenny Williams.

White is the second commit in the 2018 class for the Tar Heels, with 6-foot-7 guard Rechon Black being the first.

Point guard Small to transfer from Oregon

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 18:  Kendall Small #21 of the Oregon Ducks shoots over Derek Mountain #40 of the Holy Cross Crusaders in the second half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 18, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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After navigating a lack of depth at the point to win the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles and earn the program’s first-ever one seed in the NCAA tournament, Oregon will have no such issues in 2016-17. Dylan Ennis, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, is back for another season as is returning starter Casey Benson. Add in freshman Payton Pritchard, whose shooting ability can help a team that struggled from three a season ago, and Dana Altman has multiple players to call upon at that spot.

That left Kendall Small, who played just under eight minutes per game as a freshman, in a spot where it would have been tough to earn more playing time as a sophomore. As a result he’s decided to transfer, with the news first being reported by Scout.com.

In addition to the three guards mentioned above, sophomore Tyler Dorsey also has the ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. Small will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at whichever school he chooses to transfer to, and he’ll have to sit out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules.

A 6-foot guard from Anaheim, Small’s best outing came in Oregon’s 77-59 win over Savannah State on November 23. In that game Small accounted for nine points, four assists and three rebounds in 23 minutes of action. But he played double-digit minutes in just four games after the Ducks began Pac-12 play in early January, the last of which being Oregon’s win over Holy Cross in the first round of the NCAA tournament.