Bubble Banter: Who will earn a bid to the Big Dance?

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There are three 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.

Our latest bracket projection can be found here.

(This post will update throughout the day)

WINNERS

Florida State: The Seminoles picked up a win in their first game in the ACC tournament, knocking off Maryland in a game that will go down as their sixth top 100 win of the season. Florida State entered the day a good distance on the wrong side of the bubble, and a win over Maryland isn’t going to change that. But it does give them a chance to pick up a win over Virginia tomorrow. That may not get them in, either, but beating the ACC regular season champs would get them some hope on Selection Sunday.

Providence: The Friars survived a furious comeback by St. John’s and an awful night from Bryce Cotton to advance into the semifinals of the Big East tournament where they will take on Seton Hall. That’s good and bad news. Beating the Pirates will be easier than beating Villanova, but that now means that if Providence doesn’t make the finals, they won’t be dancing. The problem? A win on Friday won’t necessarily lock up a bid, either. If I’m the Friars, I don’t settle for anything less than the automatic bid.

MORE: Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Missouri: The Tigers did everything they could to try and lose to Texas A&M, but despite blowing leads in regulation and in overtime while having both Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson foul out, they got the win. Beating Texas A&M doesn’t do much for the Tigers’ resume, however. But it does give them a chance to beat Florida, and a without a win over the Gators, Missouri is going to have a long, stressful Selection Sunday, as a middling RPI and just two top 50 wins is not going to be easy to overcome.

Dayton: The Flyers entered Thursday on the right side of the bubble, and they will likely stay there (for now) after knocking off Fordham in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. They are 9-6 against the top 100 right now, and while they do have three sub-100 losses, those three top-20 wins look really, really good. Dayton may even be able to survive a loss to St. Joseph’s in Friday’s quarterfinal.

Pitt: The Panthers blew out Wake Forest in their first-ever ACC tournament game, advancing to face North Carolina in the quarterfinals on Friday. Win that game, and Pitt is probably in the dance. Lose, and they’ll be sweating out Selection Sunday. They have just one top 50 win (Stanford) and six top 100 wins. North Carolina would be, by far, their best win this season.

Xavier: The Musketeers survived Marquette on Thursday, putting themselves in a position to clinch a bid with a win over Creighton on Friday. The Musketeers are 22-11 on the season with three top 50 wins — including Creighton and Cincinnati — and a 9-8 record against the top 100. The three sub-100 losses are a red flag, but they have enough good wins that they might be able to survive a loss to the Bluejays.

Stanford: The Cardinal picked up the win that they needed on Thursday, pounding Arizona State in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. They have five top 50 wins, an 8-11 record against the top 100 and not a single ugly loss on their resume. They should be safe.

Minnesota: The Gophers knocked off Penn State on Thursday which puts them into a position where Friday’s date with Wisconsin will be a play-in game for them. Win that they’re probably in. A loss, however, will make things interesting. The Gophers are currently 20-12 overall with three top 50 wins and six top 100 wins, but they’re just 6-10 against the top 100. Their strength of schedule is in the top 10, but they have a couple of sub-100 losses. In other words, it’s very bubbly, and losing to Wisconsin will probably leave them sitting squarely on the cutline.

Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles have slowly but surely climbed their way into the at-large conversation. Their RPI is in the mid-30s, but they have just one top 50 win and three top 100 wins to go along with two sub-100 losses. To be frank, I can’t see Southern Miss jumping the teams in front of them if they lose in the Conference USA tournament. It’s likely auto-bid or bust.

Colorado: The Buffaloes were probably safe entering today’s game with Cal. They beat Cal. They’re just that much safer now. Enjoy the dance, gents.

RELATED: Is your team in the field of 68? Check our latest Bracketology

LOSERS

Iowa: Tell me: why is Iowa a lock to get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament? After losing 67-62 to Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten tournament the Hawkeyes are 20-12 overall with an RPI that will likely fall below 50 once the numbers get updated. They’re 4-8 against the top 50 and 6-11 against the top 100 with the one loss to Northwestern coming to a sub-100 team. If that’s not enough, Iowa’s non-conference SOS ranks 182nd nationally. They are probably safe, but by no means is this team a lock right now. I would not be surprised if they ended up in Dayton.

Making Iowa’s case all the more interesting is that they are actually top 20 in KenPom’s rankings. This is a good basketball team that, unfortunately, choked away too many close games early in the season and simply played too poorly late in the year.

SMU: The Mustangs lost to Houston in the opening round of the AAC tournament. Now we have to ask: is this team really a lock to dance? They have just four top 100 wins, but all four are top 30 wins. They are 23-10 on the season with three losses to sub-150 teams. Their non-conference SOS is 291st. SMU is going to be rooting hard against some of the other bubble teams out there.

Cal: The Bears lost to Colorado on Thursday, putting them in a really tough spot. Entering the day, Cal was the first team out, according to our Dave Ommen, and this loss certainly doesn’t put them in a better position. The Bears have four wins against the top 50 — which includes a win over Arizona — but they are now 4-10 against the top 50 and just 8-12 against the top 100. 13 losses is a high number.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks suffered just a brutal loss to South Carolina in the SEC first round on Thursday, one that will likely keep them on the wrong side of the bubble come Selection Sunday. We went more in depth here.

St. John’s: The Johnnies nearly came all the way back from 15 points down again Providence but couldn’t quite finish it off. They were on the wrong side of the bubble entering the day, which means Steve Lavin’s club is NIT-bound.

Utah: The Utes needed to beat Arizona to get back into the conversation. They lost. And it was never close. Enjoy the NIT.

South Carolina advances to first Final Four in program history with win over Florida

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South Carolina entered this year’s NCAA tournament, their first NCAA tournament since 2004 and their fifth NCAA tournament in the last 43 years, having never won two consecutive tourney games in the history of the program.

On Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden, Frank Martin led the Gamecocks to their fourth straight win and their first trip to the Final Four.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 11 of his 26 points in the final 10 minutes, leading No. 7 seed South Carolina back from a 40-33 halftime deficit for a 77-70 win over No. 4 seed Florida. P.J. Dozier added 17 points and Chris Silva finished with a critical 13 points and nine boards, coming up with some huge offensive rebounds and hustle plays defensively in the second half.

After shooting 7-for-12 from three in the first half, Florida missed their all 14 attempts from beyond the arc in the second 20 minutes. South Carolina’s defense, which is second nationally this season, according to KenPom, and which allowed 40 points to the Gators in the first half, buckled down in the final minutes, forcing turnovers and taking the Gators out of what they wanted to do offensively. They shot just 11-for-35, or 31.4 percent, from the floor after halftime and didn’t get a clean look at the rim in the final five minutes of the game.

That’s how South Carolina plays. That’s who they are. It’s physical and it’s ugly and it’s just so effective when they’re able to make shots at the other end of the floor. And that is where this team has changed in March. The Gamecocks lost six of their last nine games heading into the NCAA tournament, failing to score more than 1.00 points-per-possession in five of those six losses.

But the story of this game isn’t how this South Carolina team has changed.

The story is how the program has changed.

The Gamecocks were a 10-win team that went 2-14 in the SEC the year before they Frank Martin away from Kansas State, a hire that was made thanks to a falling out with his athletic director, and boy, does that look like a coup now. He was responsible for leading Kansas State, which isn’t exactly a program known for basketball success, to their only Elite 8 since 1988. He’s now led South Carolina to their first Final Four in the history of the program.

South Carolina will advance to Phoenix to take on No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the Final Four.

A season of highs and lows ends for Kansas in the Elite 8 again

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For the second season in a row, Kansas was one-win shy of a Final Four appearance, falling to Oregon, 74-60, in the Elite Eight on Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

This comes a year after Kansas, as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, fell to eventual national champion Villanova in the Elite 8.

Just as stars such as Perry Ellis struggled in that regional final, so did KU’s freshman phenom Josh Jackson, whose quick two personal fouls that saddled him on the bench and appeared to take him out of the game mentally. Devonte’ Graham, averaging 20.0 points per game in the tournament, was 0-for-7 from the field. Frank Mason III’s first-half performance assured that Oregon would completely run away with the game before halftime.

The loss put an end to a tumultuous season for the Jayhawks.

Kansas entered the 2016-17 season as one of the favorites to win the national championship. The Jayhawks went on to win the Big 12 regular season title for an unprecedented 13th consecutive season. Frank Mason III, in the eyes of many, was the wire-to-wire national player of the year.

However, for all its accomplishments on the court, Kansas faced more than its share of issues off-the-court. Lagerald Vick, who was under university investigation for allegedly striking a female student. Carlton Bragg was arrested — and subsequently suspended — for drug paraphernalia. There was also the affidavit released a day before the start of the NCAA Tournament for the Jayhawks, detailing the incident outside a Lawerence bar from December involving both Vick and Josh Jackson. Even Devonte Graham’s arrest for an unpaid ticket made headlines during this string of non-basketball related news.

The Jayhawks downplayed talks of distraction before the start of the NCAA Tournament and backed it up by dominating opponents through the first three rounds. The average margin of victory was 30.0, and that includes victories over Michigan State and a 32-point beatdown of a Purdue team that held a massive mismatch on the interior.

It looked like Self was destined to add to his Hall of Fame résumé; a third trip to the Final Four — first since 2012 — was in front of essentially a home crowd. Instead, Oregon handed the Jayhawks their worst tournament defeat in the Bill Self era.

Seven times under Self, KU has made the Elite Eight and was sent home.

Perhaps, all would have been forgiven — or at the very least, overshadowed — had KU cut down the nets in Arizona.

Instead, its season ended in an all too familiar place.

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.