Bryce Cotton

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)


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


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.

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
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With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.