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TRACKING THE UNBEATENS: We’re down to four

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After Iowa downed No. 1 Michigan State on Tuesday night, there are now just four teams left in college basketball without a loss on their record. When will they lose, and is there any chance we see an undefeated team this season?

The most interesting remaining member of the Undefeateds is No. 2 Oklahoma (11-0) for a couple of reasons:

  • For starters, this is a team that rarely gets mentioned when we’re talking about the best teams in college basketball. For the most part, that title usually falls to one of North Carolina, Kansas, Maryland or Michigan State, when the latter is healthy. Part of that is because Oklahoma’s elite win this season came over a Villanova team that has a reputation for not being all that good. Part of it is because this is basically the same team as last season minus TaShawn Thomas. Part of it is because Oklahoma doesn’t the star power. Part of it is because Oklahoma is, well, Oklahoma.
  • But the other side of this is that the Sooners are not even the favorite to win their league right now. No. 2 Kansas is, because Kansas has won 11 straight Big 12 regular season titles and only a fool would pick them to do anything but win their 12th this season. And depending on your view of No. 11 Iowa State, you may think that Oklahoma is the third-best team in the league.

And that’s where this thing takes a serious left turn, because we’re going to find out right away whether or not the Sooners are truly the kind of team that can contend for a national title. Their first two games in Big 12 play? They host the Cyclones on Saturday and follow that up with a trip to Lawrence to take on Kansas for Big Monday.

That’s a fitting name, by the way.

Because that battle in Phog Allen Fieldhouse could very well end up being between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country.

Who will be ranked where is yet to be determined. Oklahoma is No. 3 in the AP Poll and No. 2 in the Coaches Poll, and vice versa for Kansas. Both teams still have a game to get through this weekend before the new polls come out.

But if they get through them unscathed, Monday night should give us a matchup of the two top-ranked teams in college basketball, and that’s always a good thing for the sport.

First Loss?: Jan. 4 at No. 2 Kansas
Next Game: Jan. 2 vs. No. 11 Iowa State

No. 6 Xavier (13-0): Like the Sooners, Xavier is going to be tested right away in Big East play. The Musketeers pay a visit to two-time reigning champions No. 16 Villanova on New Year’s Eve Day, following that up 48 hours later by hosting No. 9 Butler. At this point, I do think that Xavier is the best team in the Big East and the most likely team to end Villanova’s reign at the top of the conference. I do not know, however, if they are good enough to go on the road in their first league game and beat the Wildcats in their own building.

I will say this: I think Xavier matches up as well with Villanova as anyone. They have the big bodies inside that can pound the offensive glass and they have the dynamic back court playmaker in Edmond Sumner that can take advantage of the limited size and athleticism of Villanova’s guards.

First Loss?: Dec. 31 at No. 16 Villanova
Next Game:Dec. 31 at No. 16 Villanova

No. 17 SMU (12-0): I’m not even going to try to hide it, man.

I’m rooting for the Mustangs.

In every game they enter with an undefeated record, I want them to leave with an undefeated record. I want them to end the season with an undefeated record. I want them to be ranked No. 1 in the country without a blemish to their name when they are left out of the tournament because of the cruel and absurd postseason that was handed down by the NCAA. I want their athletic department to have to come face-to-face with the idea that they did not appeal the ban in a year where they fielded the only team in SMU history truly capable of reaching the Final Four.

That’s certainly not going to make it any easier for Nic Moore, Jordan Tolbert and Markus Kennedy to sit out the postseason during their senior season, but it won’t be a bad consolation prize to be the first team since Bobby Knight’s 1976 Indiana team to finish the year undefeated.

They might actually have a shot.

KenPom is projected SMU to finish the season at 27-3, but the only game he isn’t currently favored the Mustangs to win is a Feb. 18th visit to UConn. That’s projected as a one-point SMU loss.

So we’re not exactly talking about SMU capturing a live Bigfoot here. There’s a real chance this could happen.

First Loss?: Never!
Next Game: Jan. 2 vs. South Florida

No. 25 South Carolina (11-0): I see the undefeated record. I’ve spoken with coaches that have prepped for the Gamecocks who say this team is legit. I think P.J. Dozier has a tremendous future under Frank Martin. I’m just not ready to fully buy-in on a team whose best wins are Tulsa, Clemson and … Hofstra?

First Loss?Jan. 9 vs. Vanderbilt
Next Game: Dec. 30 vs. Francis Marion

Bubble Banter: It is a massive night for teams on the bubble

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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 Saturday.

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.

YET TO PLAY

SYRACUSE
VIRGINIA TECH
PENN STATE
SETON HALL
PROVIDENCE
ST. BONAVENTURE
TCU
MARQUETTE
LOUISVILLE
FLORIDA
TEXAS
KANSAS STATE
USC

Wichita State’s Landry Shamet out sick against Tulane

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Wichita State guard Landry Shamet will miss the Shockers’ game against Tulane on Wednesday night as he sits out due to illness.

Dressed in street clothes for the AAC conference clash, Shamet has put up All-American-caliber numbers for Wichita State this season as he’s putting up 14.7 points, 5.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game.

Without Shamet in the lineup, it gives Samajae Haynes-Jones a potential shot at minutes as he’s fallen out of the rotation over the last several weeks. Wichita State is still heavily favored against Tulane at home on Wednesday but they have an important three-game stretch to close out the conference season. The Shockers have to go on the road to play SMU and UCF before closing out the conference slate with an important home game against Cincinnati.

Duke’s Marvin Bagley III out for the fourth straight game with knee injury

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Duke star freshman big man Marvin Bagley III will miss his fourth consecutive game on Wednesday night as he continues to battle a knee injury.

The 6-foot-11 freshman suffered a mild knee sprain in his right knee in Duke’s game against North Carolina on Feb. 8 as he’s missed the Blue Devils’ last three games — all wins. Bagley will miss Duke’s contest against Louisville on Wednesday as he’s also missed games against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Clemson.

Duke still has three regular-season games after Wednesday before the ACC tournament starts as Bagley still has plenty of time to heal and recover before the postseason begins.

Bagley is putting up 21.2 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game for Duke this season as he’s a consensus top-five pick in most 2018 NBA mock drafts. Without Bagley in the lineup, Duke has continued to play well and win games as they’ve still had big man Wendell Carter to handle things on the interior.

 

Rick Pitino: ‘I had no knowledge’ of the violations that led to banner coming down

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Disgraced ex-Louisville head coach Rick Pitino spoke at a press conference in Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon and denied any knowledge of the violations that were committed by Andre McGee, any potential NCAA violations involving the recruitment of Brian Bowen and pushed for Louisville to file an injunction against the NCAA’s decision to remove the 2013 national title banner.

“I take full responsibility for everyone I hire,” Pitino said. “To say I’m disappointed with the NCAA ruling is a gross understatement.”

“I have apologized many times. I feel awful for what happened. I’ve run a clean program all my life. [Sitting where you are], I would agree with you. It looks bad. I’ve coached for 41 years. For 35, as a head coach, nothing has come up.”

Pitino went on to say that he “hired the wrong person” when he made the decision to bring McGee onto his staff. McGee is the one that was responsible for hosting the parties and bringing the strippers and sex workers to them.

“I had no knowledge of the reprehensible things that went on in that dormitory,” Pitino said. “Did a few of [my players] partake in parties they didn’t organize? Yes, they did. That had nothing to do with an extra benefit,” going on to add that attending these parties were not the reason that Louisville won the 2013 national title.

Pitino also denied any involvement in the recruit of Bowen, a five-star prospect that committed to Louisville in a deal that was supposed to get his family paid $100,000 from Adidas.

“In 40 years of coaching, I have never been involved, directly or indirectly, in any effort to pay any money or extend any improper benefit to any recruit or recruit’s family members or representatives,” he said.

Pitino said that he has not had any discussions about coaching again or looking for a job this spring, but he did say that he does “miss it.” He also urged the new University of Louisville administration to fight this decision in court, to file an injunction and do what they can to keep Louisville from having to sacrifice a national title banner.

No other Division I basketball program has ever had a national title vacated.

“The NCAA,” Pitino said, “cannot rewrite history by taking a banner down.

John Wall is heading back to school to get a business degree

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John Wall, the former Kentucky star that helped launch Coach Cal’s one-and-done movement in Lexington, is planning on using a piece of that $207 million contract extension that he signed last July for summer school.

“I’m going back to school this summer to get my business degree,” Wall told the Washington Post this week. “That’s what I’m focusing on. I promised my dad that.”

Wall’s dad died when he was eight years old, and anyone that knows his story knows that it hasn’t been the easiest path for Wall to get from that moment to this moment.

So good for John.

Seriously.

I do believe that it is important to educate yourself, even if that education is something as simple as learning how to run a business on your own.

But I also think that, in the larger context of basketball and, specifically, the one-and-done rule, this is important to note. Wall left school as a 19-year old, made a whole bunch of guaranteed money on his rookie deal, got more guaranteed money on his first contract extension and now is working under a contract that will pay him nine figures with a crooked number in front. Throw in endorsement deals, and by the time Wall hangs up his sneakers, he could end up banking close to half a billion dollars.

That’s more than enough money to be able to pay for three years worth of classes at Kentucky to finish his undergrad degree, get a master’s and become a PhD. For Wall, that financial hit would be like the financial hit you or I take for adding chips and guac at Chipotle. (But not queso. We pretend their queso doesn’t exist.)

My point is this: The time a person has to educate themselves never ends. The time that Wall, or any professional athlete, has to profit off of their ability does, and much sooner than most think.

So the next time you decide to criticize a player for leaving school early to chase their professional dreams or because they’re just looking to get paid or because they don’t care about education, just think about this.