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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.

NTSB cites mechanical issue in Michigan plane incident

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YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) A preliminary investigation into the runway accident involving a plane carrying the Michigan men’s basketball team cites a mechanical problem.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday issued an update about the March 8 crash at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti Township, near the Ann Arbor school. The aborted takeoff caused extensive damage to the aircraft but only one minor injury during evacuation.

The report does not list a likely cause of the incident, but it says flight data recorder shows the right elevator – the primary mechanism controlling an airplane’s pitch – didn’t move during the attempted takeoff.

The plane carrying 109 passengers and seven crew members skidded 1,000 feet past the runway. The team was headed to Washington, D.C., for the Big Ten Tournament. They flew the next day and won the tournament and are now in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Butler, Purdue use true grit to get programs into Sweet 16

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Coach Matt Painter kept believing in his team even as he watched Purdue fritter away a 19-point lead.

He did, after all, recruit these players to excel in tough times. And he did spend two years using the lessons from consecutive overtime losses in the NCAA Tournament to show his team what it took to survive in March.

So when the Boilermakers steadied themselves, retook the lead and reached their first Sweet 16 in seven years, Painter wasn’t surprised. He simply knew the Boilermakers, finally, were tough enough.

“No question, having that grit back after not having it for a couple of years helps,” Painter said. “We put a lot of skill on the court, but we also have guys who are competitive.”

Painter, after all, grew up a fan of former Hoosiers coach Bob Knight, went on to play for Gene Keady and then served on Keady’s staff briefly before succeeding his former coach.

Experience has taught Painter just how delicate it can be to find the proper balance.

After finishing last in the Big Ten in 2013-14 with guys who were content to rely more on their athleticism than mental toughness, Painter changed course.

He brought in gritty overachievers who embraced old-school principles built on effort and led Purdue to its first outright conference title since 1996. Nothing reinforced those beliefs more than last weekend’s comeback against Iowa State.

“Leads are blown throughout March Madness, which is all about close games. I always tell the guys, `If it’s not a blowout, then it is a close game,”‘ junior forward Vince Edwards said Monday. “We have learned to be able to take a run – like Iowa State’s – and be able to withstand it.”

The best teams always do, which is why fourth-seeded Purdue will now face top-seeded Kansas (30-4) in one of Thursday night’s Midwest Regional semifinal games .

Finding players who are the right fit is a challenge for every coach and program.

At Butler, it’s a tradition that has been passed down through nearly a half-dozen coaches over a span of two decades. Former coach and current athletic director Barry Collier started the process by turning the Bulldogs from perennial also-ran into a regular conference contender and NCAA Tourney hopeful.

Thad Matta and Todd Lickliter kept the momentum going before taking other jobs, and Brad Stevens perfected the script as the Bulldogs posted consecutive national runner-up finishes.

Things didn’t always go smoothly. Fans still remember watching the Bulldogs blow an upset against Florida in the 2000 tourney and the inexplicable 2002 tourney snub.

Eventually, though, those painful moments gave way to a litany of program-defining memories.

Against Louisville in the 2003 tourney, a teammate handed his dry shoes to the late Joel Cornette so Cornette could help close out an upset against Louisville in 2003. In the 2010 title game, junior center Matt Howard had the foresight to set a pick and give Gordon Hayward a clean look on his half-court heave that just missed.

The next year, Howard managed to draw a foul in the waning seconds against Pittsburgh to keep Butler’s postseason run alive.

“The stories are unbelievable,” point guard Tyler Lewis said. “That was a special group because they really made the community believe Butler was not just some small school. Butler was a school you didn’t mess around with.”

Stevens and his predecessors moved the school up the pecking order by recruiting late-bloomers or players who were often overlooked by bigger schools. They asked them to play selflessly, a style that defines The Butler Way.

While that philosophy worked well in the Horizon League and the Atlantic 10, Chris Holtmann needed to make some adjustments to thrive in the stronger Big East. Holtmann has recruited better athletes and is looking for more physical players, but the same basic philosophy hasn’t changed.

“I think it (toughness) has been valued here at a really high level, from those who came before me,” Holtmann said. “I just hope I’m doing my job to carry it on.”

The good news is he hasn’t had do too much.

Here, players like leading scorer Kelan Martin don’t complain about coming off the bench if asked. Grad transfers like Avery Woodson and Kethan Savage are both happy to help any way they can in their first and only NCAA appearance.

And it will be that way again when fourth-seeded Butler (25-8) tries to upset top-seeded North Carolina (29-7) in the South Region on Friday night.

“What makes us so tough is that we believe in each other,” said Lewis, who started his career at North Carolina State. “It’s an honor putting on this Butler uniform because it reminds us of what the guys did that came before us.”

Sweet 16 Preview: Thursday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday night, and the games are going to be terrific.

Oregon-Michigan should be thrilling, Gonzaga-West Virginia is a fascinating contrast of styles and Kansas-Purdue features arguably the two best players in college basketball.

Oh, and then there’s Arizona-Xavier, with Sean Miller and Chris Mack doing battle.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan (-1.5), 7:09 p.m. (CBS): So this run that Michigan on, is it a fluke?

Frankly, I don’t think that it is. Derrick Walton has been awesome for the better part of two months while Michigan’s perimeter shooters have always been shooters and the duo of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner are legit. I honestly do not believe that the Wolverines are a team of destiny after the plane crash. They are just really good and a perfect roster for John Beilein to tinker with.

That’s why they’re favored on Thursday night. But here’s the thing … Oregon is pretty good themselves. Dillon Brooks is going to be guarded by a big man, which should be a matchup that Brooks can take advantage of, and Tyler Dorsey has been playing terrific basketball since the start of the Pac-12 tournament.

If you like small-ball, spread-the-court basketball, you’ll love this game.

PREDICTION: Michigan (-1.5)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-3) vs. No. 4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m. (TBS): On paper, I think Gonzaga should win this game. They have a good back court in Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, a pair of talented point guards that have won a lot of games in their career. Gonzaga is also the best defensive team in the country. So if they don’t turn the ball over against West Virginia’s press and they make it difficult for West Virginia to score in the half court and get into their press, they should be able to win this thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

My concern with Gonzaga is game-pressure. They didn’t handle it well down the stretch against BYU in their one loss of the season, and I’m not convinced that they win that second round game against Northwestern if the officials don’t blow the goaltending call. How are they going to handle an endless wave of Mountaineers in their face?

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-3)

No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): More than any other game this weekend, I’m fascinated to see how these two teams decide to try and play each other. Kansas has, essentially, one big man that Bill Self can trust, and he’s going up against a Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan and one of the best big men in the country at drawing fouls in Isaac Haas. Will Self double-team Swanigan knowing that Purdue may be more effective offensively when Swanigan can find shooters out of the double-team, or will he risk Lucas getting in foul trouble by trying to guard Swanigan one-on-one?

Then, at the other end of the floor, how will Purdue deal with the Kansas back court? Frank Mason III, the NBC Sports National Player of the Year, and Devonte’ Graham are a nightmare for anyone to deal with, let alone a team that struggles against penetrating guards and that lacks rim protection. It should be a fascinating coaching battle.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-5)

No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 11 Xavier, 10:09 p.m. (TBS): On paper, Arizona should be able to handle a Xavier team that doesn’t have Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis. That said, as we all know, Chris Mack and Sean Miller are very close and used to work together. Mack knows everything that Miller is going to do and vice versa. I think this game will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair that comes down to the final minutes.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+7.5)

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org