Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Bubble Banter: Northwestern looks like they’re tournament bound

1 Comment

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

WINNERS

Northwestern (RPI: 37, KenPom: 30, No. 8 seed): At this point in the season, it’s too early to call anyone a lock for the NCAA tournament unless their school resides in a town like Spokane, Lexington or Lawrence. It’s particularly difficult to label Northwestern a lock considering that A) Their best win this season is over Wake Forest, Dayton or an Indiana team that is without James Blackmon Jr. and O.G. Anunoby, and B) They’re Northwestern. There’s a reason that they haven’t been to the NCAA tournament in the history of the program, and it’s not simply because they cannot get talent to Evanston.

It’s because they’re Northwestern, the program that always finds a way to choke a defeat out of the jaws of victory.

“We’ll either do something special or we’ll be like every other NU team,” Bryant McIntosh said after a win over Indiana on Sunday night. “I worry about it every second,” head coach Chris Collins added when asked about whether he is concerned about how his team will handle success. (Both of those quotes came via Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated.)

But it seems awful unlikely that this Northwestern team will follow that path. As of today, they’re 18-4 on the season and 7-2 in the Big Ten, something they haven’t done since 1937-38. The win over Indiana was they’re sixth straight win, something they haven’t done in league play since 1932-33. Their schedule is somewhat backloaded – NU still has to play Purdue twice, at Wisconsin and Maryland at home – but all of those games are winnable; no one in the Big Ten is markedly better than Northwestern, and while the Big Ten is down this year, that still says more about the Wildcats than it does after the conference.

Bottom line? I don’t even think that Northwestern can mess this one up.

Michigan State (RPI: 50, KenPom: 51, No. 10 seed): The Spartans are going to be a fascinating team on Selection Sunday. This is clearly not one of Tom Izzo’s best teams, but is it really bad enough that they could end up missing out on the Big Dance? Sunday’s win over Michigan was important because, at this point, Sparty can’t really afford anymore dumb losses. They’re 13-9 on the season. They’re 5-4 in the league after this win snapped a three-game losing skid. They’ve lost to Northeastern, Penn State and Ohio State. Five of their last nine are on the road. This is going to be an uphill battle.

Virginia Tech (RPI: 35, KenPom: 50, No. 8 seed): Virginia Tech is interesting because they’re a team with an awesome record that doesn’t really have many awesome wins. Beating Duke at home is huge, and Duke winning at Wake Forest helps them in that regard, but there isn’t much else in their 16-5 record – other than losses to Texas A&M and N.C. State – worth noting. Four of their next five games are on the road, and three of their next five games are against Louisville and Virginia. This is the stretch that will make or break their at-large profile.

Cal (RPI: 48, KenPom: 59, first four out): Cal picked up a win over Stanford on Sunday night, which isn’t exactly a great win but it means they avoided an ugly loss. The biggest issue for the Golden Bears right now? They don’t have any good wins, but they still get Arizona on the road and Oregon at home.

Wichita State (RPI: 79, KenPom: 21, first four out), Illinois State (RPI: 36, KenPom: 37, No. 10 seed) and Valparaiso (RPI: 74, KenPom: 90, No. 13 seed autobid): At this point, I think it will be nearly impossible for two of these three teams – Wichita State and Valpo – to get an at-large bid if they lose before their conference tournament final, while I think Illinois State is going to get to Selection Sunday with a profile that would make things much less stressful if it comes with an automatic bid. All three won their games on Sunday.

LOSERS

N.C. State (RPI: 64, KenPom: 78, No. 11 seed): The Wolfpack lost at No. 13 Louisville, which is hardly a blemish on their profile. In fact, with No. 17 Duke avoiding a loss at Wake Forest – N.C. State won at Duke on Monday – this weekend was probably a net-positive for them. But that Louisville win had the potential to erase some of the ugliness that N.C. State had endured early-on in league play; they had a chance to give themselves some breathing room.

Michigan (RPI: 59, KenPom: 35, play-in game): On paper, losing at Michigan State isn’t all that bad of a loss, but given the muck that is the middle of the Big Ten and a rough close to the regular season – the Wolverines play four of their last five and five of their last seven on the road – John Beilein’s 13-8 Michigan team is in a tough spot.

Indiana (RPI: 80, KenPom: 39, No. 7 seed): Assuming that whatever is ailing James Blackmon Jr. isn’t season-ending, the Hoosiers should be able to shake this loss off. The bigger issue for them is going to be how the committee judges their hideous RPI and just how much they take into account the fact that O.G. Anunoby played in the big wins Kansas and North Carolina but is now out for the year.

Report: Pat Kelsey will not take the UMass job

Leave a comment

Moments before Pat Kelsey was set to be formally introduced as the new head coach at the University of Massachusetts, the school canceled the press conference citing, “unforeseen circumstances.”

According to Jeff Goodman of ESPN, the former Winthrop coach has decided not to accept the job.

Virginia’s Thompson to transfer

AP Photo/Mic Smith
1 Comment

Virginia lost another member of its team Thursday.

The Cavaliers announced Darius Thompson will transfer out of the program, a day after the news of Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter’s departures.

“Darius Thompson informed me he has decided to play his final season at another school following his graduation from Virginia,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “Although you never want to see young men transfer, I understand this is part of coaching. Darius, Marial, and Jarred feel it’s in their best interests to pursue other options for the remainder of their college careers.

“I will always appreciate the contributions they made to our program.”

Thompson, who would be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer, began his career at Tennessee before transferring to Charlottesville, where he averaged 5.2 points and 1.8 assists over two seasons. The 6-foot-4 guard shot 44.8 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from 3-point range last season.

Despite the three defections, Virginia returns a number of pieces that contributed to their 23-11 season.

As we look forward, we have a strong nucleus of players returning,” Bennett said, “and I’m excited for their continued development. As a staff, we are focused on finding student-athletes who want to be a part of this program and all the University of Virginia has to offer.”

Georgetown, John Thompson III part ways

4 Comments

Georgetown has parted ways with head coach John Thompson III, sources confirmed to NBC Sports.

Thompson has been the head coach of the Hoyas for 13 seasons, going 278-151 during his tenure. He won three Big East regular season titles with the program, the last of which came in 2013, and he reached the 2007 Final Four, but in recent years the program has fallen on hard times.

Georgetown confirmed the news Thursday afternoon.

“For thirteen years, he has been one of the elite coaches in college basketball,” Georgetown president John J. DeGioia said in a statement released by the school. “His performance as a coach has been exceptional, and he has served our community with remarkable distinction and integrity, sustaining our commitment to the academic performance of our students and providing them with the very best preparation for their lives beyond the Hilltop.”

Georgetown is 29-36 over the course of the last two seasons and the Hoyas have missed the NCAA tournament in three of the last four years. They’ve failed to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since that Final Four, losing to five double-digit seeds in their last six NCAA tournament appearances.

Thompson is the son of John Thompson Jr., the Hall of Fame head coach that built the Hoyas into a national power in the 80s and 90s. The University just invested more than $60 million into a renovation of the team’s practice facility which is now named The Thompson Center.

“We are committed to taking the necessary steps to strengthen our program and maintaining the highest levels of academic integrity and national competitiveness,” DeGioia said. “We will work immediately to begin a national search for a new head men’s basketball coach.

“I remain deeply grateful to John for all that he has done on behalf of Georgetown University.”

The news was first reported by CasualHoya.com.

Jeter to transfer from Duke

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
3 Comments

A former five-star recruit is hitting the transfer market.

Chase Jeter, a top-20 talent in the Class of 2015, will transfer from Duke, the school announced Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 sophomore could never really crack the rotation with the Blue Devils, playing less than 500 minutes total over two seasons. He averaged 14.9 minutes in 16 appearances this past season.

“Chase has been an outstanding young man in our program for the last two years,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement released by the school. “He has been one of our top academic performers since he arrived on campus. Unfortunately, he was held back this season due to injury. We wish nothing but the absolute best for Chase and his family.”

This past season Jeter dealt with a back injury, and he did not play after Jan. 14.

“I have loved my time at Duke, getting a world-class education and competing alongside my brothers every day,” Jeter said in a statement. “After careful consideration, I decided it would be best for me to transfer to a school closer to home. I’ve made long-lasting relationships here and I want to thank my teammates and coaches for the support they’ve given me over the last two years.”

Jeter, a Las Vegas native, chose Duke in the summer of 2014 over Arizona, UNLV and UCLA.

Feeling the love: Men’s hoops squad toast of South Carolina

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
1 Comment

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Sindarius Thornwell knew South Carolina fans would be excited about the team’s Sweet 16 appearance. The response since he has been on campus, though, surprised even him.

As Thornwell walked to the student union after class, he couldn’t take more than a couple of steps without students swarming him for selfies or asking for some tidbit about the win against Duke on Sunday.

“We’re trying to embrace the moment,” Thornwell said Tuesday. “But that was wild.”

Everyone on campus, around Columbia and even the state seem to be savoring every minute. It’s understandable, the Gamecocks haven’t been in the Sweet 16 since 1973.

It’s been a wild ride for the Gamecocks (24-10), who some wondered if they’d even get invited to the NCAA Tournament let alone produce one of the signature moments so far with their 88-81 win over the second-seeded Blue Devi ls in the East Region.

Next up is third seeded Baylor (27-7) on Friday night at Madison Square Garden for the chance to advance.

Coach Frank Martin said he’s gotten more than 1,100 text messages about Sunday night’s win and two or three from people wondering, “So I guess you’re not going to respond?” he joked.

“That’s a good problem to have,” he said.

South Carolina is gaining the attention Gamecock fans have recently showered on the football, baseball or women’s basketball programs.

Steve Spurrier, featuring NFL standouts like defensive end Jadeveon Clowney , receiver Alshon Jeffrey and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, won the Southeastern Conference East Division in 2010 and had three straight 11-2 seasons from 2011-13.

Baseball won back-to-back College World Series under now athletic director Ray Tanner in 2010 and 2011. Thousands turned out for victory parades to the Statehouse when the team returned home.

Most recently, South Carolina’s women’s basketball team, led by new U.S. women’s national team coach Dawn Staley, has gained much of the attention with four straight SEC regular season titles. The Gamecocks have led the women’s game in attendance the past three seasons.

Now, men’s basketball is getting some love.

“We’re happy to be part of that,” sophomore point guard P.J. Dozier said.

There was a time when men’s basketball led the way at South Carolina when New York City native Frank McGuire turned a sleepy program into a national power with a pipeline of NYC kids like John Roche, Tom Owens, Bobby Cremins, Brian Winters and Mike Dunleavy Sr.

McGuire led the Gamecocks to the NCAA round of 16 three straight seasons from 1971-73 – there were just 25 schools involved – and his team was considered the cream of the crop in South Carolina athletic circles.

But McGuire’s touch ran out in the mid-1970s and the Gamecocks have struggled for an identity for more than 40 years.

South Carolina won its only Southeastern Conference crown in 1997, but lost in the NCAAs as a No. 2 seed. The Gamecocks returned to the tournament the next season, that time falling as a No. 3 seed.

The Gamecocks high-water mark until now may be the consecutive NIT crowns won by coach Dave Odom in 2005 and 2006.

Martin and these Gamecocks are out to add another level of success to the program.

The fifth-year coach said that being around Spurrier – “Steve calls me every day,” Martin said – Tanner and Staley make him a better leader and give him examples of building winning cultures.

“I’m a big believer in winning leads to winning,” he said.

An emotional Martin, overcome by his team’s Duke win, told the players in the locker room, “Let’s go win this thing.”

He said Tuesday he wanted his players to know that by beating Duke, they proved they’re good enough to play with anyone left in the field.

Thornwell heard that over and over from friends, family and hundreds of new acquaintances he’s made the past 48 hours.

“We’re just having fun,” he said, “enjoying the game, enjoying every moment.”