Saturday’s Pregame Shootaround: More auto bids decided as conference tourney play keeps rolling

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: UCLA vs. No. 4 Arizona, 5:30 p.m.

While the schedule in the Pac-12 this season only allowed for one game between UCLA (24-8, 12-6) and No. 4 Arizona — the league’s two best teams — the Bruins will get a chance at revenge on Saturday in Las Vegas when they play the Wildcats (30-3, 15-3) for the Pac-12 Tournament title. The Bruins cruised to wins over Oregon and Stanford to get to Arizona and their offense is really rolling right now. Arizona, meanwhile, had big wins of its own against Utah and Colorado. The league’s best offense (UCLA) faces the league’s best defense (Arizona) for a title and both teams are playing well and winning by double-digits so far in the tournament.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 22 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Wisconsin, 4:05 p.m.,

Can Sparty get revenge after their two-point loss in Madison earlier this season on February 9th? Michigan State (24-8, 12-6) certainly hopes so and although Michigan State won’t be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, they’ll still be one of the most dangerous teams in the field, if they’re healthy. Wisconsin (26-6, 12-6) actually is playing for a No. 1 seed and the Badgers might have fallen at Nebraska last weekend, but Bo Ryan’s team has still won nine out of its last 10 entering Saturday’s Big Ten Conference Tournament semifinal.

THE OTHER OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT No. 20 New Mexico vs. No. 8 San Diego St., 6:00 p.m., CBSSN

This should be a good rubber match for the Mountain West Tournament title as these teams have played each other twice in the last few weeks. New Mexico (26-6, 15-3) took down San Diego State (29-3, 16-2) at home on February 22nd, but the Aztecs returned the favor with a March 8th home win. San Diego State has won six straight games since losing to New Mexico on the road while the Lobos are winners of eight of their last nine games with the only loss coming to the Aztecs.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: Baylor vs. No 16 Iowa State, 9:00 p.m., ESPN

Would you wanna face Scott Drew’s team right? After Friday’s 86-69 throttling of Texas, Baylor (24-10, 9-9) has won six consecutive games and they’ll be looking for a Big 12 Tournament title with a win over Iowa State. The Bears beat the Cyclones, 74-61, earlier in the month on March 4th, so Baylor has had the recent upper-hand on Iowa State (25-7, 11-7) and they’re offense is firing on all cylinders lately. Baylor has shot 50 percent from the three-point line the last two wins over Oklahoma and Texas, so if they’re shooting well from the perimeter they’ll keep the winning streak alive.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) Interested to see how North Carolina State (21-12, 9-9) and No. 21 UConn (26-7, 12-6) fair in their respective Saturday games after suffering blowout losses to their opponents earlier this season. The Wolfpack lost, 95-60, at No. 7 Duke (25-7, 13-5) on January 18th, while UConn was swept by No. 5 Louisville (28-5, 15-3), including an 81-48 dismantling last weekend. Can N.C. State bounce back to make it to the ACC Tournament finals and can UConn make a game of the AAC Tournament title game?

2) Should be a fun rubber match in the Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden as Providence (22-11, 10-8) takes on No. 14 Creighton (26-6, 14-4). These teams each won at home in the regular season, including Doug McDermott’s jaw-dropping 45-point display last week in a home win over the Friars. This is Providence’s first trip to the Big East title game since 1994, but do the Friars have enough in the tank thanks to their six-player rotation?

3) While No. 1 Florida (30-2, 18-0) will be looking for its third win over the year against Tennessee (21-11, 11-7), will Kentucky continue to look like a dangerous threat in its SEC Tournament semifinal game against Georgia (19-12, 12-6)? The Wildcats (23-9, 12-6) looked great in their Friday quarterfinal win over LSU and Kentucky looks like they have their confidence back, but will it sustain?

4) Before the SWAC Tournament got underway at the Toyota Center this week there were concerns that the conference title game might be overrun by any of the four SWAC teams that were deemed ineligible for the NCAA Tournament, but still allowed to enter the conference tournament. Thankfully, that won’t be the case when Texas Southern (18-14, 12-6) takes on Prairie View A&M (11-22, 6-12) in a battle of two teams that are eligible for the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers will be the heavy favorite and they’re led by Aaric Murray, a senior post, who has transferred out of LaSalle and West Virginia during his well-traveled college career. Murray averages 21.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game this season.

5) Besides the SWAC Tournament final, there are a number of autobids being decided today:

  • America East: Albany (17-14, 9-7) vs. Stony Brook (23-9, 13-3), 11:30 a.m.
  • Conference USA: Tulsa (20-12, 13-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (27-6, 13-3), 11:35 a.m.
  • MEAC: Morgan State (15-15, 11-5) vs. North Carolina Central (27-5, 15-1), 6:00 p.m.
  • MAC: Toledo (27-5, 14-4) vs. Western Michigan (22-9, 14-4), 6:30 p.m.
  • Big Sky: North Dakota (17-15, 12-8) vs. Weber State (18-11, 14-6), 8:00 p.m.
  • Southland: Sam Houston (23-9, 13-5) vs. Stephen F. Austin (30-2, 18-0), 8:30 p.m.
  • WAC: Idaho (16-17, 7-9) vs. New Mexico State (25-9, 12-4), 10:00 p.m.
  • Big West: Cal Poly (12-19, 6-10) vs. Cal State Northridge (17-17, 7-10), 10:30 p.m.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

    • Pittsburgh vs. No. 6 Virginia, 1:00 p.m.
    • No. 24 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Michigan, 1:40 p.m.
    • George Washington vs No. 23 VCU, 4:00 p.m.

Bubble Banter: Kansas State, Virginia Tech add crucial wins to help overcome poor schedules

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Monday night.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

KANSAS STATE (RPI: 55, KenPom: 37, NBC seed: Play-in): The Wildcats went and added two — potentially three — Quadrant 1 wins in their last three games, beating Oklahoma and TCU at home last week before picking off Baylor (currently 76th in the RPI, but I’d guess they’re top 75 to end the year) on Monday night. A home loss to Tulsa (RPI 112) is going to stick out, as will a non-conference SOS that ranks 344th. Those two things means that the Wildcats have a very small margin for error, but with the way they are playing, I think that they’ll do enough to get in with a seed that seems too low for them.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: , KenPom: 54, NBC seed: Out): The Hokies did quite a bit to change their NCAA tournament chances on Monday by knocking off North Carolina at home. It’s easily the best win on their résumé, and given that their only other Quadrant 1 win came on a neutral against a Washington team ranked 50th in the RPI, it is easily their most important win. A Nov. 16th loss to Saint Louis (RPI 147) looks really bad, but VT still has Miami twice, Duke twice, Virginia, Louisville and Clemson left on their schedule. Those are all potential top 20 wins. They’ll need them to overcome a non-conference schedule that ranked 319th.

TEXAS (RPI: 42, KenPom: 43, NBC seed: 9): The Longhorns did what they needed to do against Iowa State at home, picking up a win to help shake off the whooping they took at West Virginia on Saturday. Believe it or not, but Texas currently has four Quadrant 1 wins to their name without anything worse than a high Quadrant 2 loss — at Baylor, at Oklahoma State, Gonzaga on a neutral, Michigan at home.

LOSERS

MARYLAND (RPI: 47, KenPom: 38, NBC seed: Next four out): The Terps picked up their worst loss of the season, falling at Indiana. In a year where Mark Turgeon’s club has already lost Justin Jackson and where it seems like they suffer a new injury just about every week, a tournament berth seems increasingly unlikely. Their next two games are at home against Michigan State and at Purdue. They might beed to win both.

NEBRASKA (RPI: 64, KenPom: 67, NBC seed: Out): The Cornhuskers missed out on a golden opportunity to add a marquee win to their résumé as they lost by five at Ohio State, a top 15 team in the RPI. The Cornhuskers currently do not have a Quadrant 1 win to their name — their best win comes at home against Michigan — and the only chance they’ll have to add one the rest of the regular season comes at Minnesota, who could very well drop off that level. There are only two teams left on Nebraska’s schedule that are in the top 100 of the RPI.

BAYLOR (RPI: 76, KenPom: 39, NBC seed: First four out): Baylor lost at home to Kansas State on Monday night. They’re now lost six of eight to start Big 12 play and their next two games are at Florida and at Oklahoma, both of which would be marquee wins the Bears currently lack.

VIDEO: Kenrich Williams posterizes West Virginia

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I am not sure what was more impressive tonight, Kenrich Williams going for 14 boards and six assists against No. 7 West Virginia, the fact that he played the point for them against that press … or this dunk:

It was the dunk.

Definitely.

Alex Robinson leads TCU past No. 7 West Virginia

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You’d be forgiven if you thought that TCU’s season was done and dusted when starting point guard Jaylen Fisher went down with a knee injury that will cost him the rest of the season.

Fisher was the team’s third-leading scorer at 12.3 points and ranked second in assists. He was shooting 43.9 percent from the floor. More importantly, he was backcourt defensive presence that doesn’t exist elsewhere on the TCU roster.

When the Horned Frogs lost Fisher, they were coming off of their second loss to Oklahoma in the span of two weeks and their fourth loss in the first five games of league play. With two games against both West Virginia and Texas Tech, and a trip to Allen Fieldhouse, left on their schedule, this had all the warning signs of a season in danger of sliding into oblivion.

On Monday night, in TCU’s third game without Fisher, Jame Dixon’s club put together their best performance of the season. They held No. 7 West Virginia to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor and led by as many as 20 points in an 82-73 win in Fort Worth, a win that puts an entirely knew feel on where this season can and will go.

The biggest reason for that may be Alex Robinson.

A 6-foot-1 hometown kid and a redshirt junior that transferred into the program from Texas A&M, Robinson has seemingly always been overlooked in this TCU program. Part of that is because he’s not a great scorer or shooter. Part of that is because he isn’t really a defender. And part of is, frankly, is because he never quite got his chance.

And now, with Fisher out, Robinson is not only getting his chance, but he is making the most of it.

TCU is 2-1 in their three games without Fisher, and Robinson has been the star, averaging 12.3 points, 4.7 boards and 10.7 assists. Against West Virginia, one of the nation’s most difficult defenses to deal with, Robinson finished with 17 points, nine assists and seven boards despite barely stepping foot off of the court. He got some help from Kenrich Williams, TCU’s best player, a 6-foot-7 forward that was a high school point guard and did the heavy-lifting when it came to breaking that press.

But that shouldn’t put a damper on how Robinson played on Monday.

And it shouldn’t take away from what he has been able to do with Fisher out.

Suddenly, TCU looks like a team that found themselves on the wrong side of lucky through the first seven games of Big 12 play. They lost five games during that stretch by an average of 3.3 points. Two of those losses came when the Horned Frogs missed game-winning shots at the buzzer.

They were and have been a top 25 team that found out the hard way how tough it is to win close games in this league.

And at this point it is probably fair to say that hasn’t changed despite having a new player running the point.

Monday’s Three Things to Know: TCU, Virginia Tech and Kansas State earn big wins

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1. VIRGINIA TECH EARNED ITS BIGGEST WIN OF THE SEASON

Virginia Tech has been considered by many to be a disappointment this season. The Hokies haven’t beaten anybody notable in the ACC and the non-conference schedule didn’t deliver any signature victories.

Which is why Virginia Tech’s win Monday night over No. 10 North Carolina is so critical.

The Hokies finally have a great win to hang their hat on for the committee. Where has this version of Virginia Tech been all season?

2. TCU ALSO EARNS A SIGNATURE WIN

Entering Monday night, TCU could have rolled over and called it quits on this season.

The Horned Frogs had dropped four of five games by a total of 15 points. Talented sophomore guard Jaylen Fisher was diagnosed with a season-ending injury for TCU.

But TCU stayed strong through some adversity as they pulled off a huge 82-73 Big 12 home win over No. 7 West Virginia. Leading for nearly the entire game, TCU did a great job of slowing down Mountaineer offense as West Virginia struggled to score in the half court.

3. KANSAS STATE PICKED UP THE NIGHT’S BIGGEST BUBBLE WIN

It’s time to start keeping track of the bubble.

With March Madness creeping closer, every night will feature games with big bubble implications. Besides for TCU and Virginia Tech beating top-1o teams, Kansas State beating Baylor for a Big 12 road win was the most important bubble win of the night.

The Wildcats have suddenly won four of their last five — including wins over Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor in their last three games. Not many people are talking about Kansas State in a loaded Big 12 but they’re playing as well as any team in the league right now.

A few more wins like this and the Wildcats could play their way into the Field of 68.

Bates-Diop scores 20 as No. 13 Buckeyes slip past Nebraska

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Keita Bates-Diop scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half and No. 13 Ohio State beat Nebraska 64-59 on Monday night, the fourth victory for the surging Buckeyes in the last eight days.

The back-and-forth game had seven lead changes in the second half. A pair of foul shots by Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. cut Ohio State’s lead to four with 2:19 remaining, but the Cornhuskers couldn’t pull any closer.

Jae’Sean Tate put the Buckeyes (18-4, 9-0 Big Ten) up by six with a layup with 1:02 left, and a pair of foul shots by Kaleb Wesson stretched it to eight. Palmer hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left, but Nebraska ran out of time.

Palmer had a career-high 34 points. Nebraska (14-8, 5-4) was fresh off a 20-point upset of then-No. 23 Michigan on Thursday.

Ohio State surpassed its win total for all of last season. Earlier in the day, it moved from No. 22 to No. 13 in the AP Top 25, its highest position since 2014.

BIG PICTURE

Nebraska: The surprising Cornhuskers knocked off a ranked team last week and are a better squad than last season with Palmer carrying the load, but couldn’t outlast the steady Buckeyes.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes may have been fatigued after a rugged traveling schedule and three straight games on the road. But they found a rhythm in the second half and picked up another critical Big Ten win over a good team.

NEXT UP

Nebraska: At Rutgers on Wednesday.

Ohio State: Hosts Penn State on Thursday.