Pitt v Syracuse

Bubble Banter: Is Pitt still an NCAA tournament team?

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There are 12 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.

Just for kicks, I’m going to give you a profile of a bubble team. You tell me if you think they’re tournament-worthy:

  • 22-8 overall
  • RPI: 46
  • 5-8 vs. top 100
  • 1-6 vs. top 50, with no wins better than vs. No. 40
  • Non-Con SOS: 243rd

That’s Pitt after they lost to N.C. State at home on Monday night (but before the loss is reflected in their RPI, which means they could end up dropping out of the top 50). The Panthers have literally done nothing of note this season, feasting on a weak non-conference schedule before notching just four top 100 wins in ACC play. Their best win of the season came against Stanford on a neutral floor.

Is that strong enough to be considered a lock for the tournament? Well, let’s just say they may want to avoid losing at Clemson on Saturday or in the first round of the ACC tournament.

Here’s the comforting fact for the Panthers: losing at home to N.C. State, a top 75 team in the RPI, is their worse loss of the season. Dayton is the first team out in Dave Ommen’s bracket update from Monday morning. Their RPI is 49, and while they’ve beaten three teams with better RPIs than Pitt has, they’ve also lost to three teams outside the top 130, including to USC at home.

Pitt’s resume is empty, but there are a lot of unimpressive resumes this season. The question becomes this: do you value good wins or a lack of bad losses more?

MONDAY’S BUBBLE ACTION: After landing a massive win over Creighton on Saturday, Xavier (RPI: 46, KenPom: 41) looked like they had played their way off the bubble and into the NCAA tournament.

Monday night changed that.

For starters, the Musketeers suffered their third sub-140 loss of the season as they were significantly outplayed in a 71-62 loss at Seton Hall. That drops Xavier to 20-10 overall and 10-7 in the Big East with their last game of the regular season being a visit from Villanova. Lose to Villanova and drop a game early in the Big East tournament, and all of a sudden Xavier is in real danger of winding up on the wrong side of the bubble on Selection Sunday. That’s what happens when your three top 50 wins are outweighed by three ugly losses.

Here’s the bigger concern, however: Matt Stainbrook, Xavier’s starting center, leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, went down in a heap after injuring his left knee. The status of the injury won’t be known until tomorrow, but it seems very unlikely that Stainbrook will be back any time soon.

After looking like they had locked up a bid, Xavier is right back in danger of heading to the NIT.

  • N.C. State (RPI: 72, KenPom: 91) still has a lot of work left to do, but they’re not out of the picture just yet after that win at Pitt.
  • Oklahoma State (RPI: , KenPom: 27), for my money, has locked themselves into a bid after following up the win over Kansas by beating Kansas State. One more win — which would either be at Iowa State or in the first round of the Big 12 tournament — should convince everyone else.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.