Bubble Banter: Just how close is Pitt to the bubble?

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There are 18 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.

Pitt (RPI: 45, KenPom: 18) beat Boston College on Wednesday night. Not all that convincingly, but they won, which is more than we can say about the Panthers in recent weeks. Pitt had lost three straight games and five of their last seven. The only wins? In overtime at Miami and in double-overtime against Virginia Tech at home.

Suffice to say, Jamie Dixon’s club hasn’t been blowing people away.

So here’s where Pitt stands as of today. They have one top 50 wins, which came against Stanford on a neutral court. They have five more top 100 wins, none of which came against teams that are going to be in the NCAA tournament without a miracle. Six of their seven losses came against RPI top 20 teams, with the other coming to Florida State at home over the weekend.

In simpler terms, Pitt’s entire resume is built around the fact that they don’t have anything truly awful on their resume. They’re a No. 9 seed in our latest bracket, which means they have some wiggle room. But they won’t have a chance to land a marquee win until the ACC tournament, meaning that a loss at Notre Dame, against N.C. State at home or at Clemson would really hurt.

As crazy as it sounds, Pitt probably needs to lose two more regular season games to enter the ACC tournament on the wrong side of the bubble. That’s incredible for a team that has three single-digit wins over the dregs of the ACC since January 25th.

THE REST OF WEDNESDAY’S BUBBLE ACTION

Winners

  • Arizona State (RPI: 32, KenPom: 37) played their way into the dance with a win over Arizona two weeks ago, but road losses to Utah and Colorado put them in a position where their margin of error was getting thinner. A beatdown of Cal is a good way to right the ship.
  • LSU (RPI: 68, KenPom: 62) beat Texas A&M on Wednesday, a loss they couldn’t afford to take. On Saturday, they visit Florida. That’s a win the Tigers have to get to remain in contention.
  • Tennessee (RPI: 56, KenPom: 26) had lost four of their last six, but reversed that trend with a win at Mississippi State. The Vols are currently sitting right on the cut line, and with just one top 50 opponent left, any loss would be a massive blow.

Losers

  • Richmond (RPI: 46, KenPom: 70) got blown out by George Mason. The Spiders are now on the wrong side of the cut line. This is the worst timing to take a sub-150 loss.
  • Nebraska (RPI: 47, KenPom: 57) had their five game winning streak snapped at Illinois on Wednesday. It’s not a killer blow — road losses to top 100 opponents aren’t horrible — but the Huskers had a slim margin of error. They probably can’t afford another loss.
  • Cal (RPI: 52, KenPom: 55) missed an opportunity when they lost at Arizona on Wednesday. They are 6-8 against the top 100 with three top 50 wins — including Arizona — and two sub-100 losses. They’re at Arizona this weekend and host the mountain schools next week.
  • Baylor (RPI: 40, KenPom: 41) lost at Texas, which isn’t a crushing blow. They had played their way out of the First Four prior to Wednesday. Five top 50 wins are nice. A chance to pick off Iowa State and Kansas State on the road are as well.
  • Stanford (RPI: 42, KenPom: 33) lost at Arizona State on Wednesday, which isn’t a brutal blow. They’re probably still comfortably in the tournament. Four top 50 wins, a 6-9 record against the top 100 and no sub-100 losses is a lot better than some other bubble teams.

Creighton bests another ranked foe with win over No. 23 UCLA

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Creighton probably isn’t of the caliber of Villanova or Xavier. The Bluejays aren’t likely to truly challenge for the Big East title.

But they sure are fun – and pretty darn good, too. They claimed their second-straight win over a ranked opponent with a 100-89 victory Monday against 23rd-ranked UCLA, showing the offensive chops that are going to make highly entertaining and extremely dangerous all winter long.

It was a fantastic showing from Greg McDermott’s team against the Bruins, who remain shorthanded with three of its players serving indefinite suspensions for their indiscretions in China. The Bluejays didn’t dominate – their defense isn’t good enough to truly impose their will in a game – but they did just unload a torrent of buckets for 40 minutes.

The Bluejays, who beat No. 20 Northwestern last week, shot 49.3 percent overall and 11 of 29 (37.9 percent) from 3-point range. Marcus Foster had 23 points and Khyri Thomas added 16.

The true revelation for Creighton, though, was freshman Mitchell Ballock. The 6-foot-5 freshman from Eudora, Kan., was simply superb. He scored 22 points, converting 7 of 14 shots overall and 4 of 9 from deep. Ballock has the reputation has a sharpshooter and it is absolutely a deserved one, but he’s not simply a catch-and-shoot sniper. Ballock can score all over the court in multiple ways and has the athleticism and strength to attack the rim. Given his ability to shoot it from distance, that’s a potentially devastating combination for defenses to have to account for.

It’s especially important for Creighton, which will need a consistent third scorer behind Foster and Thomas. Foster is a potential All-American who looks to have fully regained the swagger that made him one of the country’s most electric young players as a freshman at Kansas State before things went askew his sophomore year. Thomas is one of the country’s best players that few people realize how good he really is, though that distinction is likely not going to stick around for long as he keeps putting up numbers and Creighton keeps winning.

That means if Ballock can do more than just stretch the floor as a potential 3-point threat and be a real offensive worry, this Creighton offense is going to have a chance to purr.

It’s impressive given all that the Bluejays lost off last year’s team. A Creighton team that loses Justin Patton and Maurice Watson should take a significant step back. This team isn’t as good as the one that was 18-1 in the middle of January last season, but it’s a solid one nonetheless. They’re getting solid point guard play as well from Davion Mintz and Ty-Shon Alexander.

It’s hard to gauge what to make of this game for the Bruins as they are down three important players and have become embroiled in a controversy of a truly global scale. In Kansas City this day though, they got promising performances from Aaron Holiday (25 points, seven assists), Thomas Welsh (16 points, 2 of 3 on 3s) and Prince Ali (18 points in just 25 minutes). There’s loads of potential with this team, but overcoming the loss of Cody Riley, LiAngelo Ball and Jalen Hill while the president of the United States stokes the controversy seems like a tall – and unique – task for Steve Alford’s program.

This result, though, was more about Creighton. When it is firing, the Bluejays’ offense is an education in pace, spacing, ball movement and shotmaking.

POSTERIZED: Texas A&M’s Big Bob Williams is back, baby (VIDEO)

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Texas A&M’s center Big Bob Williams made his debut on Monday night, his first action as a sophomore after serving a suspension for the first two games of the season, and he certainly made an impact.

Williams had nine points in the first half. Four dunks, one of which was, well, embarrassing for the Oklahoma State defender:

Maybe Mitchell Solomon should have read the part of the scouting report where it said “Don’t jump with Big Bob, you will get dunked on.”

Williams is a sophomore because he wanted to return to school. A lottery pick had he entered the draft, Williams opted to come back to college despite the fact that he comes from a family that could have used the money. We wrote about why over the summer.

No. 6 Wichita State survives Cal, advances to Maui semis

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With 16 minutes left in their Maui Invitational opener against Cal, No. 6 Wichita State – who I, for some reason, touted as potentially the best team in the country not once, but twice in the last week – finally decided to show up to the Lahaina Civic Center.

The Shockers would outscore the Golden Bears 52-24 down the stretch, as their defensive intensity sped Cal up and their size on the interior wore them down. Shaq Morris led the way with 25 points, seven boards and four blocks while Landry Shamet chipped in with 23 points of his own.

Cal’s lead was in large part due to a first half offensive explosion from the diminutive Don Coleman. He scored 26 of his 35 points in the first 20 minutes and his activity in their press helped keep the Shockers from establishing any kind of a rhythm.

But eventually, Gregg Marshall’s club imposed their will.

And in the end, that’s what really matters, right?

Wichita State was dead in the water early in the second half. Shamet was on the bench in foul trouble while Connor Frankamp was firing up 28-footers that never had a chance, even on Maui’s soft rims, and it looked like Wyking Jones was on his way towards getting the first statement win of his tenure. That slowly but surely changed. The Shockers got the ball into the paint, their defense ratcheted up and they do what they normally do: Grind you down to a pulp.

Is it concerning that Wichita State let it get to that point?

Absolutely. Cal is not all that good. They lost their opener to UC Riverside. If they had held on to win this game, there’s an argument to make that it could end up being the most surprising outcome of the season. They should not have been in that spot.

But they were.

And they got out of it with a win.

If I’m Gregg Marshall, I chalk that up to jet lag, tired legs and a team that spent too much time enjoying the islands. Burn the first half tape, show them the second half and get ready for Marquette, who is basically the same team as Cal, only much, much better.

Me?

I’m not quite ready to move off of the idea that Wichita State could be the best team in the country.

I just won’t be saying it publicly for a while.

Marquette opens Maui Invitational with 94-83 win over VCU

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LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Markus Howard gathered the ball, gave a head fake, quickly moved his right foot forward to make the defender think he would drive to the basket. That one little jab step was enough to get the defender leaning and Howard stepped back for a 3-pointer that swished through.

After a rare poor-shooting half, the nation’s best 3-point shooter had found his rhythm.

Howard scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half, Andrew Rowsey added 20 and Marquette opened the Maui Invitational with a 94-83 victory over Virginia Commonwealth on Monday.

“I missed a couple shots and I can’t really even think about it. I have to move on to the next play,” Howard said. “The second half it’s like a start-over, hit your restart button, so I was looking at it that way.

Marquette (2-1) started slow, but got rolling behind Rowsey, who had 15 points in the first half. Howard, the nation’s top 3-point shooter as a freshman last season, struggled in the first half before catching fire. He made 4 of 9 from the arc in the second half and finished with seven assists, leading the Golden Eagles into the Maui semifinals against No. 6 Wichita State or California.

Sam Hauser added 20 points and Marquette hit 13 of 36 from the arc overall.

“I thought we took some really quick, ill-advised shots in the first half,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “The second half, I thought we had much greater poise on the offensive end.”

VCU (2-2) caused some problems with its pressure defense — 17 Marquette turnovers — but had trouble slowing the Golden Eagles shooters, particularly after offensive rebounds.

Marquette had 15 offensive rebounds that led to 22 second-chance points.

Malik Crowfield led the Rams with 17 points.

“They were tough today, they did a great job of getting more opportunities that I think it really cost us,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said. “Put ourselves in a tough position, giving really good shooters extra shots over and over again.”

Rhoades was an assistant under Shaka Smart on the 2011 Final Four team and took over this season when Will Wade left for LSU. New coach, but the Rams still play that always-in-your-face “Havoc” defense that drives teams crazy and into mistakes.

VCU opened the season with wins over Grambling State and North Florida before losing to Virginia on Friday.

The Golden Eagles are coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance under Wojciechowski, but lost two senior starters and two key reserves from that team.

Marquette beat Mount Saint Mary’s in its opener, but lost by 15 to No. 19 Purdue last Tuesday.

Both teams were creating a bit of havoc in a first half filled with runs. VCU went on an early run, Marquette scored 12 straight points during a 20-5 spurt to go up eight and the Rams rallied back.

Marquette led 45-44 after a first half filled with 21 combined turnovers.

Howard, who hit 54 percent of his 3-pointers last season, missed all four of his attempts in the first half.

He kept firing, as good shooters do, and the shots that were missing before started dropping, helping the Golden Eagles build a 73-64 lead midway through the second half.

The Rams tried to claw their way back, but the Golden Eagles had an answer every time they got close.

“We have a lot of fight and we can score the ball, but we’ve got to guard,” Rhoades said.

THE TAKEAWAY

Marquette took better care of the ball against VCU’s pressure in the second half and proved it can be a handful when its perimeter shooters are knocking down shots.

The Rams created some problems defensively, but allowed too many good perimeter looks against a strong outside-shooting team.

MARQUETTE IN MAUI

The Golden Eagles like it in Maui. The win on Tuesday improved them to 5-2 at the Maui Invitational. One of their losses: To Duke in the 2007 title game, when Wojciechowski was a Blue Devils assistant coach.

VANN-LESS RAMS

Isaac Vann had been a big contributor for VCU after transferring from Maine, averaging 18 points and 6.5 rebounds off the bench this season. The sophomore swingman didn’t have much of an impact against Marquette, finishing with seven points and no rebounds.

UP NEXT

Marquette faces the winner between No. 6 Wichita State and California in the semifinals on Tuesday.

VCU gets the Wichita State-Cal loser on Tuesday.

Michael Porter, Jr. missing Monday’s game to see “specialist”

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The mysterious leg injury that has kept Michael Porter, Jr. off the floor to start his collegiate career took a potentially serious turn Monday.

The Missouri freshman will miss the Tigers’ game Monday against Emporia State in order to see a specialist regarding the injury, according to multiple reports.

Porter, Jr., one of the favorites to be the top pick in June’s NBA draft, has missed the last two Missouri games after playing just 2 minutes in the team’s opener against Iowa State. The 6-foot-10 wing did not watch the Tigers’ win last week over Wagner from the bench, opting instead to watching from the locker room. He did not travel with the team to Utah, who toppled the Tigers, 77-59.

The Tigers haven’t offered much clarity or specificity on what exactly the injury is or what the timetable Porter, Jr. may be facing.

Missouri heads to Orlando later this week for the AdvoCare Invitational, and it’s uncertain whether or not Porter, Jr. will make the trip. Given his draft potential, it’s probably safe to assume that Porter, Jr. will be abundantly cautious with his health in order to prevent whatever the injury is from worsening.

For the Tigers, it deprives them of one of the country’s – presumably – most dynamic players in coach Cuonzo Martin’s first season in Columbia. Missouri has other young talent, namely Porter, Jr.’s brother, Jontay, and Jeremiah Tilmon, but their ceiling will be lowered considerably if Porter, Jr. continues to be sidelined.