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Bubble Banter: Oregon and Arkansas make statements

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There are 17 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.

Arkansas (RPI: 65, KenPom: 46) all of a sudden looks like an NCAA tournament team, and while they are still sitting on the bubble at this point, the Razorbacks are a lot closer to being on the good side of the First Four than they are to being on the wrong side of the cutline.

That’s what happens when, as a bubble team, you complete a sweep of Kentucky by going into Rupp Arena and knocking off the Wildcats.

Arkansas has won six of their last seven games and three of their last four on the road. They have four top 50 wins and look like they’ll be the third SEC team to go dancing. They still have Georgia, Ole Miss and at Alabama on their schedule. They can probably survive one loss with an SEC tourney run. Two would be crushing.

THE REST OF THURSDAY’S BUBBLE ACTION

Winners:

  • Oregon (RPI: 40, KenPom: 36) picked up a huge win by going into Pauley Pavilion and knocking off UCLA. Whether or not the Bruins were without two starters doesn’t matter; that is a marquee win to put up on Oregon’s resume.
  • Gonzaga (RPI: 31, KenPom: 29) won the WCC by beating Pacific and snapping a two-game losing streak. The Zags only have one top 50 win this season, which is why a loss at Saint Mary’s this weekend and a loss in the WCC tournament would be dicey.
  • Marquette (RPI: 73, KenPom: 55) landed a huge home win over Georgetown(RPI: 59, KenPom: 54). Marquette is 2-9 against the top 50 and 5-10 against the top 100. They need to win two of their final three: Providence, St. John’s and Villanova. The Hoyas, on the other hand, host Creighton and visit Villanova. They already have a win over Michigan State, but that doesn’t totally outweigh three sub-100 losses. They may need to win both of their last two regular season games. 

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.