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Bubble Banter: A look at who has helped and hurt their tournament cause

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To see the latest NBC Sports bracket projection, click here.

WINNERS

Miami (RPI: 66, KenPom: 42, first four out): Entering Saturday, Miami had the kind of schedule that’s difficult to judge: they had no bad losses on the season, but their best win was either at Pitt or over N.C. State at home. That’s not much to go on. But on Saturday, the Hurricanes blew out North Carolina in Coral Gables, landing what will likely be a top 10-15 win on Selection Sunday. For ACC teams trying to get an at-large bid, all they’ll need to do is protect their home court.

Georgia Tech (RPI: 73, KenPom: 76, No. 11 seed): At this point, we shouldn’t be talking about Georgia Tech as a team that’s on the bubble, because as of today, the Yellow Jackets are in the NCAA tournament, and pretty comfortably, too. Look at this group of wins Josh Pastner has amassed in his first season in Atlanta: at VCU, North Carolina, Clemson, at N.C. State, Florida State and, after today, Notre Dame. The Tar Heels, Seminoles and Fighting Irish are the three teams currently sitting at the top of the ACC standings. Tech’s only “bad” loss at at home against Ohio, who was a contender in the MAC until they lost their best player for the season.

Tennessee (RPI: 46, KenPom: 43, next four out): The Vols backed up their win over Kentucky on Tuesday by knocking off a good Kansas State team in Knoxville. Tennessee still has some work left to do to make up for some of their poor early season performances, but this win is going to look better as the season moves closer to March.

Oklahoma State (RPI: 41, KenPom: 27, bubble): The Cowboys have such a weird profile. They put together a pretty good non-conference schedule but managed to lose their first six games in Big 12 play. But three straight wins, capped by a blowout win at Arkansas, keeps them in the bubble picture. Eight wins in conference play might be enough.

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 13: Head coach Josh Pastner of the Memphis Tigers calls a play during the Final of the 2016 AAC Basketball Tournament against the Connecticut Huskies at Amway Center on March 13, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Head coach Josh Pastner (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Clemson (RPI: 50, KenPom: 33, first four out): The Tigers picked up a nice bounce-back win at Pitt, getting them their second win in league play against another program sitting on the bubbly’s cut-line. A loss would have hurt much more than a win helps, but this is a start.

Texas Tech (RPI: 69, KenPom: 41, No. 11 seed): The Red Raiders were probably the biggest loser in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Getting a road game against LSU does nothing to help them with a him. In fact, playing that game probably hurts their computer numbers.

Middle Tennessee State (RPI: 45, KenPom: 48, No. 9 seed): The Blue Raiders remained perfect in Conference USA play with a win over Louisiana Tech. I’d recommend going undefeated in the regular season if they want to feel comfortable about an at-large bid.

Utah (RPI: 59, KenPom: 36, bubble): The Utes picked up a win over a bad Oregon State team on Saturday, but the loss that really hurt them was falling at home to Oregon on Thursday. Their only game against one of the top three teams in the Pac-12 remaining comes at Oregon in February.

Rhode Island (RPI: 57, KenPom: 51, bubble): Rhode Island has some work to do throughout the rest of the Atlantic 10 schedule, mostly because the Rams are not going to have many great wins to get in league play. Beating St. Bonaventure at home was almost a must-win, and they did it.

Nevada (RPI: 39, KenPom: 67, No. 12 seed): Given the relative strength of everyone else in the Mountain West, I’m not sure that Nevada can afford another loss and still get an at-large bid. They beat New Mexico today.

UT Arlington (RPI: 52, KenPom: 73, bubble): Like Nevada, UT-Arlington is in a position where they probably cannot afford to lose until their conference tournament if they’re going to get an at-large bid. Their win at Saint Mary’s is going to look phenomenal on Selection Sunday.

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Head coach Kevin Stallings of the Pittsburgh Panthers yells to his team against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the second half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Pitt defeated Penn State 81-73. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Kevin Stallings (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

LOSERS

Marquette (RPI: 43, KenPom: 31, No. 9 seed): After the Golden Eagles beat No. 1 Villanova on Tuesday, I said that Marquette should be in the NCAA tournament as long as they don’t do anything dumb the rest of the year. Losing at home to Providence qualifies as one of those dumb things. Steve Wojciechowski is still in a pretty good spot, but this loss is just going to give them that much more work to do. Tournament teams protect their home floor, especially against the bottom of their league.

Iowa State (RPI: 38, KenPom: 24, No. 9 seed): The Cyclones were in a pretty good spot entering Saturday afternoon at Vanderbilt, but they fell in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge to the Commodores. It’s a road loss, so it’s not a killer, but it does make ISU’s path to locking up an at-large bid just that much more difficult.

Kansas State (RPI: 39, KenPom: 26, No. 10 seed): Games like this are why the Wildcats are going to regret not winning those close games at Kansas and Texas Tech early this season. Tennessee is a tough team to beat at home, but they may not end up being a tournament team. On Selection Sunday, this wouldn’t have been a great win by any means, but it is another loss they’re going to have to overcome.

Minnesota (RPI: 19, KenPom: 39, No. 9 seed): Minnesota missed a chance to put themselves in a great position heading into the stretch run, losing a close game to No. 22 Maryland at home. The Golden Gophers are still in a good spot, but this was a missed opportunity.

Wake Forest (RPI: 26, KenPom: 35, play-in game): Wake blew a golden opportunity to add to their résumé, blowing a late lead to Duke at home in a game where they were clearly the best team for 39 minutes. If Duke eventually puts it all together, that result is going to sting if the Demon Deacons find themselves on the outside of the tournament picture.

TCU (RPI: 36, KenPom: 34, play-in game): The Horned Frogs took a bad loss at home to Auburn on Saturday, a loss that will probably drop them out of the tournament as of today. TCU is much-improved this season, but they need to make a late-run in league play.

Illinois (RPI: 42, KenPom: 66, bubble): The Illini have now lost four of their last five and five of their last seven after falling at Penn State today. Their last game against a top three team in the Big Ten is next week against Wisconsin.

Arkansas (RPI: 27, KenPom: 46, No. 8 seed): The Hogs are 16-5 on the season. Their best win? Tennessee. A solid record on the road is the only reason they’re in the conversation right now.

UNC Wilmington (RPI: 31, KenPom: 44, No. 10 seed): The Seahawks’ shot at getting an at-large bid is effectively gone with a loss at William & Mary today.

Pitt (RPI: 47, KenPom: 78, next four out): With a home loss to Clemson on Saturday, the Panthers are all alone in the ACC’s basement and out of bubble discussion until they land a couple of wins in a row.

No. 9 Michigan State bounces back and routs Indiana 85-57

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Miles Bridges scored 22 points and Nick Ward had 18 points and 13 rebounds to help No. 9 Michigan State bounce back with an 85-57 win over Indiana on Friday night.

The Spartans (17-3, 5-2 Big Ten) had a confidence-boosting performance after going from a top-ranked team to a reeling one. They were slumping after a 16-point loss at Ohio State, an overtime win over Rutgers and an 82-72 setback to Michigan at home.

The Hoosiers (11-8, 4-3) lost for the first time in four games, falling into a fourth-place tie with the Wolverines and Nebraska.

Michigan State took control with an 18-0 run midway through the first half, led by as much as 23 and was ahead 42-23 at halftime. The Spartans stayed ahead by a comfortable margin in the second half by spreading the ball around and making it tough for the Hoosiers to make shots.

Cassius Winston had 10 points, eight assists and only one turnover, while Jaren Jackson had 10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and three assists for the Spartans.

Indiana’s Robert Johnson had 21 points and the rest of his teammates struggled offensively. Josh Newkirk scored 14, but missed 12 of 17 shots and the Hoosiers were held to 34 percent shooting.

FAMOUS FAN

Alex Rodriguez, who was in Detroit for the North American International Auto Show, attended the game. He went to Michigan State’s shootaround earlier in the day and wore an “Izzone” T-shirt while standing in the student section behind coach Tom Izzo, his staff and players.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Izzo,” Rodriguez said.

BIG PICTURE

Indiana: The Hoosiers had a hard time competing without Juwan Morgan playing as he has lately. One of the Big Ten’s leaders in scoring, rebounding, steals and shooting before the game started was limited to two points on 1-of-5 shooting, three rebounds and one steal.

Michigan State: The Spartans desperately needed to get their swagger back and they did, suddenly looking like the team that was ranked No. 1 two weeks ago.

Weekend Preview: Big East showdown headlines an interesting slate of games

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

*(NOTE: Lines are not posted for Saturday or Sunday games as of publication. Spreads referenced are via Kenpom.com)

No. 11 XAVIER at No. 19 SETON HALL (-1), Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)

The only game this weekend featuring two teams that are currently ranked in the top 25, Xavier and Seton Hall square off in a battle of programs trending in opposite directions. Now that Trevon Bluiett has rediscovered his shooting stroke, the Musketeers have reeled off back-to-back wins, including a beatdown of then-No. 25 Creighton. Seton Hall, on the other hand, lost by a combined 37 points at Marquette and Creighton in the last 11 days and struggled with a Georgetown team that was down 44 points at home against Villanova.

  • PREDICTION: Xavier’s new starting lineup will be interesting. The Musketeers are much more offensively oriented right now, but Kerem Kanter and Naji Marshall are not exactly known for their defense and physicality. Seton Hall has a big, old, tough and strong front line. I think they get this win they badly needed in front of a packed out. Seton Hall (-1)

No. 14 ARIZONA (-5) at STANFORD, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (CBS)

First place in the Pac-12 is on the line as 5-1 Arizona squares off with 5-1 Stanford. And yes, you read that correctly. In their last five games in league play, the Cardinal have swept the LA schools at home, the Washington schools on the road and beaten Arizona State in their place. Now they get the best team in the Pac-12. Stanford is healthy and playing the best basketball they’ve played in a long, long time.

  • PREDICTION: If Stanford is getting five points at home I am all over the Cardinal. The problem is that I don’t think they will be. KenPom’s projections don’t factor in that Stanford is healthy and hot. I think the line will be closer to Stanford (-2), and I would still probably take them. Stanford (-5)

FLORIDA at No. 18 KENTUCKY (-3), Sat. 8:15 p.m.

This matchup is fascinating. Two teams that still have quite figured things out that play polar opposite styles of basketball. Florida is loaded with quick, veteran guards that fire up threes. Kentucky is loaded big, athletic forwards that can’t really shoot. Coming off of a loss at South Carolina, I think this game is probably more important for Kentucky, who finally looks like they are going to be healthy.

  • PREDICTION: Can Kentucky overwhelm Florida with their size or will the Gators exploit the mismatches with their guards? That answer really comes down to whether or not the Gators get hot from deep. I’m going to guess that they will since they have a tendency to show up in big games. Florida (+3)

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WATCH?

  • No. 1 Villanova (-17) at UConn, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (CBS): The big question in this game for me, beyond “Will UConn lose by enough for UConn to fire Kevin Ollie on the spot?”, is whether or not Villanova is the elite team in college basketball that we swear doesn’t exist. Villanova (-17)
  • No. 7 Wichita State (-1) at Houston, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPNU): The Shockers have turned into a defensive liability out of nowhere, and on Saturday they will be traveling to visit a Houston team that badly needs this win. Wichita State (-1)
  • No. 4 Oklahoma (-3) at Oklahoma State, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN): Trae Young hasn’t been right for a couple of weeks, and now he gets a rival on the road. Is this the game that he figures it out? Oklahoma (-3)
  • BAYLOR at No. 10 KANSAS (-8), Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN): Kansas has actually had some issues at home this season, more than they’ve had on the road. Baylor tends to play the Jayhawks tough. Is this a letdown spot after that massive win at West Virginia? Kansas (-8)

No. 10 Jayhawks back on top of Big 12 with fresh approach

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The hallmarks of Kansas under Bill Self over the years have been inside-outside post play and gritty defense, the kind of in-your-shorts man-to-man that leaves opponents gasping for air.

That trusted formula has produced 13 straight Big 12 championships.

But if the No. 10 Jayhawks are going to break a tie with the UCLA teams of the 1960s and ’70s for the most consecutive conference titles, their formula will look quite different this season: They are going to pour in 3-pointers, race around the court and simply outscore their foes.

“I do think you can get tougher. I do think you can get harder. I do think you can become more competitive and learn how to compete as you go,” Self said, “but the reality of it is we’re not changing right now playing four guards. Our second-best rebounder is 6-foot-5, 180 pounds. We’re not changing that. We’re not changing our next-best rebounder weighs 200 pounds. We’re not changing that fact.

“We’re playing four really average-sized guards,” Self said. “We’re not going to change that.”

So, best to adapt to it.

It helps that those four guards — Devonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman — form one of the best backcourts in the nation. Graham is a do-everything floor general, Mykhailiuk one of the best sharpshooters in the nation, Vick the most athletic of the bunch and Newman is capable of getting to the rim with as quick of a first step as anybody in the league.

It also helps that they’re experienced: Graham and Mykhailiuk are seniors with three title rings on their fingers, Vick is a junior and Newman is a third-year sophomore who redshirted last season.

Together, they’ve led the Jayhawks (15-3, 5-1) to four consecutive wins, including road wins over then-No. 16 TCU and sixth-ranked West Virginia. They’ve pushed Kansas back to the top of the league standings headed into Saturday’s game against Baylor, and back into the discussion of a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament when the bracket is revealed in about six weeks.

In other words, they have Kansas right where it is accustomed to being.

But the route has been much different, and that was evident in the Jayhawks’ comeback victory over the Mountaineers on Monday night. Graham and Mykhailiuk combined for 20 of their final 26 points, most of them on 3s and pull-up jumpers — each of them knocked down three from beyond the arc.

The comeback in years past would have featured a big man such as Darrell Arthur or Thomas Robinson in the post, or an elite guard such as Frank Mason III going right to the rim.

Different styles, even if the results have been the same.

“I think we assume some things because of the past,” Self said. “You look at the past, I mean, Landen Lucas was tough. We’re not replacing him with the same toughness. Josh Jackson was a monster. He was an assassin. We’re not replacing him with the same type of mentality. Certainly, you can’t match Frank’s mentality in that area. Which is OK. We were so spoiled with that in the past.”

Those past teams may have had bruising big men, tough guard play and pure scorers all over the floor, and they may have been one of the best defensive teams in the country. But they also had deficiencies, and in many cases, they are the same areas where this year’s team excels.

The Jayhawks have already hit 195 shots from beyond the arc, tops in the Big 12, and are shooting 41 percent from that range. They are among the league leaders in assists and shooting percentage, numbers that help to offset the fact that Kansas ranks ninth out of 10 teams in the league in rebounding.

“We’re going to be scrappy, tough. We got to do a way better job of rebounding, obviously,” Graham said. “But yeah, basically we’ve just got to get way tougher, like I’ve been saying.”

That toughness could get a boost now that Silvio De Souza, a five-star prospect from Florida’s IMG Academy, has been cleared to play. He graduated in December and promptly joined the Jayhawks, and Self is hopeful the big man will be up to speed by the time February rolls around.

It could get another boost if Billy Preston, another five-star prospect, is ever cleared. The school and NCAA have been looking into the ownership of a car he was driving on campus last fall.

In the meantime, the Jayhawks head into their game against the Bears on Saturday riding a win streak, winning high-scoring affairs thanks to 3-pointers and an offensive flair.

“We don’t have the same team we’ve had in the past,” Self said, “and we have to understand that.”

TCU PG Jaylen Fisher to miss rest of season following knee surgery

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FORT WORTH, Texas — TCU point guard Jaylen Fisher had surgery Thursday to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season for the No. 24 Horned Frogs.

Fisher got hurt Tuesday, the second time in less than six months he injured a knee in practice. He had surgery after a meniscus tear in his left knee in early August.

The sophomore guard missed the team’s trip to Australia after the previous surgery, but was ready for the regular season. He averaged 12.1 points and was fifth in the Big 12 with 5.4 assists while playing the first 17 games. He had a career-high 22 points in an overtime loss Saturday at No. 4 Oklahoma, and he made 11 of 20 shots from 3-point range his last four games.

Fisher will need three to four months of recovery.

“I feel bad for him. We all feel bad for him,” coach Jamie Dixon said.

Even with his knee locked in a bent position and having to use crutches, Fisher attended TCU’s 96-73 home win over Iowa State on Wednesday night. He sat in a chair near the TCU bench.