Bubble Banter: Minnesota’s loss to Illinois sets them back

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There are 24 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.

Minnesota (RPI: 43, KenPom: 50) really hurt themselves on Wednesday night, as they lost to Illinois at home by 13 points. The Illini entered the night having lost 10 of their last 11 games.

More than anything, that hurts because the Gophers have a tough three-game stretch coming up: at Ohio State, Iowa, at Michigan. They’ve now lost five of their last seven games, six of their last nine and seven of their last 11. They haven’t won back-to-back games since early January and currently sit at 6-8 in the Big Ten.

They have a strong RPI, however, which is largely boosted by a top five strength of schedule. The win at Richmond is nice, and they have wins over top 15 teams Ohio State and Wisconsin, but if they struggle during these next three games, Richard Pitino’s first season may wind out in the NIT.

THE REST OF WEDNESDAY’S BUBBLE ACTION:

Winners:

  • Xavier (RPI: 49, KenPom: 39) got past DePaul on Wednesday. A win over Cincinnati probably has them above the rest of the Big East’s bubble teams. They’re at Georgetown and St. John’s next, and still get Creighton and Villanova at home.
  • Saint Joseph’s (RPI: 39, KenPom: 68) is still on the cut-line after hanging on to beat Rhode Island on the road. They have two top 25 wins, but just one top 100 win out of conference. After Fordham this weekend, the Hawks get Dayton, at St. Bonaventure, at GW and La Salle. They’ll have a chance.
  • SMU (RPI: 46, KenPom: 28) has three really good wins — UConn, Memphis, Cincinnati — but they all came at home. Their schedule is fairly weak, and they lost at South Florida and Temple.
  • LSU (RPI: 67, KenPom: 75) avoided disaster by beating Mississippi State at home on Wednesday. They’re 3-2 against the top 50 and 5-6 against the top 100, but they’ve lost to three sub-100 teams. Their best road win? At Texas Tech. They probably need to get Florida or Kentucky on the road to feel safe.
  • Missouri (RPI: 36, KenPom: 47) has one top 25 win (UCLA), but they’re 8-7 against the top 100 and they don’t have any sub-100 losses. They’re probably in as of today, although they might need to win out to feel comfortable.
  • Colorado (RPI: 23, KenPom: 55) picked up a huge win on Wednesday, knocking off Arizona State. Their profile is strong, but this is their first really good win since Spencer Dinwiddie got injured.
  • Oregon (RPI: 38, KenPom: 35) is now 5-8 in the Pac-12 after beating Washington. They’re 8-8 against the top 100, but 1-6 against the top 50 with BYU being the only win. They have no bad losses. A win at UCLA or at home against Arizona would be massive.

Losers:

  • Marquette (RPI: 77, KenPom: 51) is in a tough spot. They’re now 15-11 on the season and 2-9 against the top 50 with just four top 100 wins. They had a chance to get Creighton at home on Wednesday, but they were blown out by the Bluejays. Winning out — which includes at Villanova — may be the only option.
  • Arizona State (RPI: 31, KenPom: 33) is still in a good position after their win over Arizona on Friday, but getting beaten by Colorado certainly didn’t help. Road losses to top 25 teams are anything but a crushing blow, however.
  • Cal (RPI: 50, KenPom: 52) lost to UCLA on Wednesday, putting themselves in a dangerous spot. They have USC at home this weekend and head to the Arizona schools next week. They beat Arizona and won at Stanford and Oregon, but their resume is not strong enough to make them a lock for the tourney.
  • Utah (RPI: 99, KenPom: 42) had a chance to play their way into the bubble conversation, but they lost in overtime to Arizona. That one will hurt.

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.