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Bubble Banter: Saturday’s winners and losers

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There are 15 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.

(This post will be updated throughout the day)

WINNERS

Oklahoma State: The Pokes beat Kansas, which should just about lock up a bid.

Xavier: We wrote about the Musketeer’s here.

Dayton: The Flyers landed a massive win on Saturday, hanging on to knock off UMass at home in a game they desperately needed. Dayton had played their way back into bubble contention at losing four straight games in January, but with three sub-100 losses on their resume, a 3-5 record against the top 50 wasn’t enough. Based on the RPI, UMass is now Dayton’s best win on the season. Don’t be surprised to see the Flyers hosting a game in the First Four when brackets are re-released on Monday.

Tennessee and Missouri: The Vols notched their eighth top 100 win on Saturday by blowing out Vanderbilt. Tennessee was out the tournament as of today, according to our Dave Ommen, and beating Vanderbilt certainly doesn’t change that fact. The Tigers, on the other hand, were in the dance, and they handled their business against Mississippi State. Tennessee’s finale against Missouri could end up being a play-in game.

Arkansas: There was no hangover for the Razorbacks, as they followed up a win at Kentucky by knocking off Georgia, who was third in the SEC, at home. The Razorbacks are looking like they will end up sitting right around the cutline on Selection Sunday, meaning that any loss that they suffer will hurt.

Baylor: The Bears bounced back from a loss to Texas this week by beating Texas Tech in Waco on Saturday. It’s their fifth win in the last six games and likely keeps Scott Drew’s team on the right side of the bubble as we head into the final week of the regular season. The Bears host Iowa State and visit Kansas State next week. I’d suggest at least a split.

Pitt: The Panthers won in overtime at Notre Dame, which means that Pitt is still comfortably in the NCAA tournament for now. Jame Dixon will be dancing as long as they don’t do anything silly like lose to N.C. State or Clemson.

Oregon: The Ducks followed up Thursday night’s win at UCLA by knocking off USC on the road. At this point, they are probably safely in the tournament, but with Arizona and Arizona State coming to Eugene next week, two straight losses and an early exit in the Pac-12 tournament could put them into an ugly position on Selection Sunday.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs knocked off Saint Mary’s in impressive fashion in Moraga. That’s a good win. But the Zags are still in a precarious position should they lose early in the WCC tournament. They have one top 50 win (BYU) and two sub-150 losses. An 8-4 record against the top 100 does look good, however.

St. Joseph’s: The Hawks keep themselves in a good spot with their 17th win in the last 20 games, this one coming on the road against St. Bonaventure. It’s their seventh top 100 win this season. Split George Washington on the road and La Salle at home and St. Joe’s should be dancing.

Nebraska: The Huskers bounced back from a loss to Illinois last week to knock off Northwestern at home on Saturday. It was a loss Tim Miles’ team couldn’t afford. Right now, they are probably on the wrong side of the bubble, but they have two key games next week to change that. Beating Indiana at Indiana is important, but picking up a win at home over Wisconsin in the season finale would likely lock up a tournament bid.

BYU: The Cougars avoided getting tripped up at San Diego on Saturday, meaning that they will head into the WCC on a four-game winning streak and having won eight of their last nine game. They probably need to make a run to the title game simply because an earlier exit will likely result in an ugly looking loss.

Utah: The Utes are a perfect example of why it’s important to play a tough non-conference schedule. Their win over Colorado on Saturday was their fourth top-35 win. They have just one loss outside the top 80. But they’re not all that close to a bid thanks to their atrocious non-conference schedule. They need to win at Cal and at Stanford next weekend to have a chance.

West Virginia: The tournament hopes of the Mountaineers’ are a bit of a pipe dream at this point, but they knocked off TCU on Saturday which means that, with wins at Oklahoma and over Kansas to close out the regular season, WVU will have a chance. It’s a long shot, but they still have a shot.

LOSERS

Colorado: The Buffaloes dropped a potentially costly game at Utah. It was their second straight loss after winning five of six, and with road trips to Stanford and Cal next week, that streak could realistically get extended to four straight losses. That could be a problem, as Colorado is going to be judged based on what they’ve done since Spencer Dinwiddie went down with an ACL injury. One win next week should be enough.

Minnesota: The Golden Gophers couldn’t build on a massive win over Iowa during the week, falling at Michigan on Saturday evening. Minnesota finishes their season next Saturday at home against Penn State. With a 3-8 record against the top 50, including a win over Wisconsin, and a 6-10 record against the top 100 — along with two sub-100 losses — Rick Pitino’s club looks like they might need to do some damage in the Big Ten tournament to feel safe.

Cal: The Bears didn’t have much fun on their trip to the Arizona schools, getting worked by both the Wildcats and, on Saturday, the Sun Devils. They’ve lost three of their last four and are now just 3-8 against the top 50. They have a nice win over Arizona, but that’s balanced out by a pair of sub-100 losses. They get Utah and Colorado at home next week. One would help. They might want both to feel safe.

LSU: The Tigers had a chance to pick up a statement win at Florida, but they got smacked around for 40 minutes. It’s their fourth loss in the last six games, and they simply have too many bad losses and no more chances for good wins. LSU looks destined for the NIT.

Richmond: If getting blown out by George Mason didn’t cost the Spiders an at-large bid, getting blown out by Rhode Island did.

N.C. State: I’m not even sure that the Wolfpack were still technically on the bubble, but after losing by 15 to Miami at home, they’re now on that ‘auto-bid or bust’ game plan.

Games left to be played:

  • 7:00 Iowa State at Kansas State
  • 10:00 Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s

Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham arrested over unpaid ticket

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots the ball in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham was arrested and booked into Douglas County Jail late on Wednesday night on a failure to appear for court charge, according to jail records.

The charge was a result of an unpaid ticket for an expired tag that Graham had received. It dates back to June of last year.

Graham released a statement on the matter.

“This is my fault,” Graham said. “I was driving an ex-teammate’s car and I thought the ticket was paid so I didn’t pay attention to the notice to appear that I got. That’s on me, and I apologize to everyone. I learned a lesson the hard way.”

The arrest was a damper on what should have been a great night for Graham. He had 17 points and seven assists in a home win over TCU that clinched the 13th straight Big 12 regular season title for the Jayhawks. It was also his 22nd birthday.

He was released on $196 bond Wednesday night. Bill Self said he will not be suspended for the arrest.

Bracketology: Syracuse banks in a little Madness

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 22:  John Gillon #4 of the Syracuse Orange celebrates tying the game with little time left on the clock during the second half against the Duke Blue Devils on February 22, 2017 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse upsets Duke 78-75.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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The bank was open Wednesday night in Syracuse. John Gillon’s three-pointer at the buzzer lifted Syracuse over Duke at the Carrier Dome and back (again) into the bracket.

It’s been a wild month for the Orange who now need to close the deal.  It was also a big night for Providence, who used a Kyron Cartwright trey to knock off Creighton in Omaha.  And then Dillon Brooks nailed a long-distance dagger to beat California, leaving the Bears teetering for bracket survival as February comes to a close.  Are we ready for March?

No changes on the No. 1 seed line. By a whisker, Villanova holds onto the overall No. 1 seed after its second loss to Butler, a team whose profile is far better than its AP ranking. Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga round out the group.  UNC moves up to No. 3 after dispatching Louisville.

If last night was any indication, it’s going to be fun ride toward Selection Sunday.

UPDATED: February 23, 2017

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Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Seton Hall vs. Kansas State | East Region
  • Providence vs. California Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. NC-CENTRAL | East Region
  • UC-IRVINE vs. NEW ORLEANS | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EAST New York MIDWEST Kansas City              
Buffalo Tulsa
1) VILLANOVA 1) KANSAS
16) NC-CENTRAL / M.S. MARY’S 16) NEW ORLEANS / UC-IRVINE
8) South Carolina 8) Northwestern
9) VCU 9) Xavier
Milwaukee Milwaukee
5) Virginia 5) Notre Dame
12) UNC-WILMINGTON 12) ILLINOIS STATE
4) PURDUE 4) Butler
13) PRINCETON 13) VALPARAISO
Indianapolis Orlando
6) Saint Mary’s 6) SMU
11) Seton Hall / Kansas State 11) Providence / California
3) Kentucky 3) Florida State
14) AKRON 14) BELMONT
Indianapolis Salt Lake City
7) Maryland 7) Iowa State
10) Marquette 10) Wichita State
2) Louisville 2) ARIZONA
15) BUCKNELL 15) NO. DAKOTA ST
WEST – San Jose SOUTH – Memphis
Salt Lake City Greenville
1) GONZAGA 1) NORTH CAROLINA
16) NORTH DAKOTA 16) TX-SOUTHERN
8) Miami-FL 8) Dayton
9) Michigan 9) Arkansas
Buffalo Sacramento
5) CINCINNATI 5) Wisconsin
12) MONMOUTH 12) UT-ARLINGTON
4) West Virginia 4) UCLA
13) VERMONT 13) NEVADA
Greenville Orlando
6) Creighton 6) Minnesota
11) MID TENNESSEE ST 11) Syracuse
3) Duke 3) FLORIDA
14) FLA GULF COAST 14) E. TENNESSEE ST
Sacramento Tulsa
7) Oklahoma State 7) Virginia Tech
10) Michigan State 10) USC
2) Oregon 2) Baylor
15) CSU-BAKERSFIELD 15) UNC-ASHEVILLE

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga.

Last Four Byes (at large): Michigan State, Wichita State, Marquette, Syracuse

Last Four IN (at large): Seton Hall, California, Providence, Kansas State

First Four OUT (at large): Wake Forest, TCU, Georgia Tech, Rhode Island

Next four teams OUT (at large): Vanderbilt, Clemson, Alabama, Houston

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): NORTH CAROLINA, Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami-FL, Syracuse

Big 10 (7): PURDUE, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State

Big East (7): VILLANOVA, Butler, Creighton, Xavier, Marquette, Seton Hall, Providence

Big 12 (6): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas State

Pac 12 (5): OREGON, Arizona, UCLA, USC, California

SEC (4): FLORIDA, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas

Atlantic 10 (2): VCU, Dayton

American (2): CINCINNATI, SMU

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (1): ILLINOIS STATE, Wichita State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Monmouth (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), UT-Arlington (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), North Dakota (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Winthrop (BSO), NC-Central (MEAC), North Dakota State (SUM), CSU-Bakersfield (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Mt. St. Mary’s (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)

VIDEO: Bill Self tells hilarious Brandon Rush story

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Last night, as Kansas clinched their 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title, the Jayhawk program retired for star Brandon Rush’s jersey. Rush was a member of the 2008 national title team and is still bouncing around the NBA despite a series of knee injuries.

He’s a helluva player.

He’s also a terrible liar, as evidenced by the story that Bill Self told about him in last night’s press conference:

I guess honesty really is the best policy.

No. 22 Butler ruins No. 2 Villanova’s seniors’ perfect Pavilion record

Butler center Nate Fowler and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, right, vie for a rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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All Villanova players have known since they joined the program is winning at The Pavilion. Late into Wednesday’s game against No. 22 Butler, it looked like that would continue to be their only frame of reference for a group of seniors that were 45-0 in the building.

Then another ‘0’ turned that zero into a ‘1.’

The Bulldogs ripped off an 18-0 run in a 5-minute span to ultimately claim a 74-66 victory over second-ranked and defending national champion Villanova.

Villanova looked like it was going to cruise to another home win when Josh Hart’s 3-pointer with 10 minutes, 37 seconds remaining put the Wildcats up 49-42.

They wouldn’t score again until nearly the 4-minute mark.

During that span, Butler made 7 of 11 shots, with three being 3-pointers, while the Wildcats went 0 of 6 from the field and turned the ball over twice.

A seven-point lead for Villanova became an 11-point advantage for Butler. Villanova would try to rally, but couldn’t pull it off as it saw its home winning run stopped, its seniors’ perfect Pavilion record blemished and its seven-game winning streak come to a halt.

Beyond it probably being immensely annoying to the senior class, the loss probably doesn’t hurt Villanova too much as it looks to hold on to a No. 1 seed, preferably in the East region. The Wildcats’ resume is still as strong as nearly anyone in the country and they are, after all, the defending champs. They’ll be fine.

For Butler, it’s a signature win for a team that’s had a number of really good victories, but a few confounding losses, like St. John’s on the road and to Creighton (without Maurice Watson) and Georgetown at home. Beating Villanova – at the Pavilion, no less – could be worth a seed line.

Kelan Martin was fantastic for Butler, going for 23 points and eight boards, while Kamar Baldwin went for 15 points off the bench.

Jalen Brunson led the way for Villanova with 24 points while Josh Hart had 18 points and six rebounds. Kris Jenkins struggled, going 1 of 8 from the floor while scoring eight points.

The Wildcats get a chance to start a new streak at the Pavilion on Saturday with Creighton coming to town.

 

No. 8 North Carolina stakes their claim to the title of ‘nation’s best’ with beatdown of No. 7 Louisville

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 22:  Theo Pinson #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a play against the Louisville Cardinals during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 22, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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North Carolina may not have anyone on their roster that sends chills down the spine of opposing coaches, and they may not have anyone on their roster that is going to be targeted by NBA franchises as lottery pick, and they may not be dominating the headlines like undefeated Gonzaga, reigning champ Villanova, winner of 13 straight Big 12 titles Kansas or even Tobacco Road rival Duke.

They’re not a sexy pick, they’re not the favorite in Vegas and they may finally crack the No. 1 seed line in all bracket projections after beating No. 7 Louisville 74-63 on Wednesday night, but at this point, I’m not sure that the Tar Heels aren’t the best team in college basketball.

‘The Best Team In College Basketball’ is not an easy title to earn this season, not because there are too many candidates but more because everyone of those candidates have some kind of glaring flaw that makes you wonder have they’ve made it to late-February with a winning record. Think: UCLA’s defense. Or maybe: Kansas’ total lack of front court depth. How about: Kentucky can’t shoot. And then there’s: Duke doesn’t have a point guard, or: Gonzaga doesn’t play anyone.

We can play that game with every team in the country.

In fact, I did, just last week on a podcast.

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North Carolina didn’t escape our wrath. There are question marks about Joel Berry II’s consistency, as he had a nasty habit of laying an egg every once in a while. Is that defense going to hold up for six games in a single-elimination tournament? Do they have enough consistent three-point shooting? Can Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson stay healthy?

Here’s the thing: I think the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’.

Justin Jackson has developed into a bonafide all-american and quite possibly the ACC Player of the Year. He’s a versatile scorer that is shooting the grip off the ball and has proven the ability to be the guy to take and make big shots for the Tar Heels this season. That’s taken some of the pressure off of Berry, who can spend more time as a secondary offensive weapon, facilitator and a leader than having to worry about carrying the team offensively. Theo Pinson’s return has opened some things up offensively, while UNC’s four-headed front court monster — Kennedy Meeks, Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye — have shown that they can score in the post or off of a missed shot, where they lead the nation on offensive rebounding percentage.

And as far as the defense is concerned, they’re ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.com. Yes, a lot of that has to do with the pistol-whipping that was Gameday on Saturday night against Virginia, but Louisville, who was the third-best offensive team in ACC play, managed just 63 points in 73 possessions on Wednesday.

My point?

That defense doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be good enough, and it probably is.

But here’s the most important number to know: Two.

That’s how big North Carolina’s lead in the ACC is as of today. Louisville, Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame have all lost five times this year. As long as the Tar Heels can go into Pittsburgh and get a win over the Panthers, they are going to clinch a share of the ACC regular season, and they can lock up the outright league title before the showdown with the Dukies on the season’s final night.

The margins are thin, yes, but after Wednesday, North Carolina has as much claim to the title of ‘Nation’s Best’ as anyone in college basketball.