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Bubble Banter: All of tonight’s bubble action in one spot

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To see the latest NBC Sports bracket projection, click here. The seedings listed below are from this bracket. 

WINNERS

Syracuse (RPI: 90, KenPom: 55, bubble): Wins over Wake Forest and Florida State last week put Syracuse back into the conversation. Adding a win over another bubble team in N.C. State on the road helps, too. It’s the first true road win for the Orange. They still have a lot of work to do to make up for the losses to UConn, St. John’s and Boston College, but if this team has figured it out – and if John Gillon keeps doing what he did on Wednesday – Syracuse has the horses to make a run at this. They play four games against Virginia, Duke and Louisville the rest of the year and three of them come at home.

Indiana (RPI: 79, KenPom: 40, No. 7 seed): The Hoosiers avoided what would have been a disastrous loss at home against Penn State, taking home a thrilling, triple-overtime win despite playing without James Blackmon Jr., who is dealing with a “lower leg injury”. Indiana is in a weird spot. They have two phenomenal wins over Kansas and North Carolina, but both of those wins came with O.G. Anunoby in the lineup; he’s out for the year with a knee injury. Without Anunoby, they haven’t been overly impressive, and they still have to play a monster schedule down the stretch: five of their remaining eight – and four of their final five – games are on the road, and they play Purdue twice and at Wisconsin.

TCU (RPI: 49, KenPom: 42, play-in game): The Horned Frogs picked up a critical road win on Wednesday, going into Manhattan and knocking off Kansas State in overtime. It’s their first road win over a team not named Texas and just their fourth top 100 win of the season. The biggest obstacle for TCU right now is a lack of quality wins. If they can simply protect their home court the rest of Big 12 play, they should be in a good spot on Selection Sunday.

VCU (RPI: 31, KenPom: 45, play-in game): VCU is in a tougher spot than they are used to being in. After beating just one top 50 opponent in the non-conference – Middle Tennessee State – the Rams are playing out a conference slate in a league that isn’t exactly loaded with marquee wins. With losses to Davison and Fordham already, it would behoove VCU to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat.

Clemson (RPI: 41, KenPom: 31, first four out): Clemson had a rough start to ACC play, but the computers love them. After beating Georgia Tech – a better win than you may realize – on Wednesday, they now have eight top 65 wins to go with three top 35 wins, two of which came on the road.

Arkansas (RPI: 29, KenPom: 52, No. 8 seed): The Razorbacks are in a pretty good spot right now. They have a pair of top 50 road wins and, sitting at 17-5 on the season, have just one bad loss, at home to Mississippi State. Beating Alabama at home, another top 100 win, certainly helps their cause.

Wichita State (RPI: 78, KenPom: 20, first four out): The Shockers avoided what would have been an awful loss to Drake, coming back from eight points down in the second half to win. I don’t think Wichita State can afford another loss in league play and still be able to get an at-large bid.

Illinois State (RPI: 37, KenPom: 38, No. 10 seed): The Redhawks are in a slightly better position than Wichita State, but the fact remains that the Missouri Valley has the look of a one-bid league this season. It would behoove ISU to lose to no one other that the Shockers.

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 23: Dennis Smith Jr. #4 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack drives in for a dunk as time expires during their win against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina State won 84-82. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

LOSERS

N.C. State (RPI: 61, KenPom: 81, No. 11 seed): The Wolfpack landed a massive win at Duke last Monday that thrust them back into the discussion for an at-large bid. They backed that up by getting dropped by 25 points at Louisville and blowing a 17-point second half lead and losing to Syracuse at home. The loss to Louisville is one thing. Dropping a winnable game against an underperforming Syracuse team? That one is going to hurt.

Kansas State (RPI: 43, KenPom: 27, No. 10 seed): The Wildcats looked like a safe bet to dance two weeks ago, and they looked like one of the nation’s most underrated team when they were 15-4 on the season with a pair of losses due to tough-luck calls in the final seconds. Since then, they’ve lost three in a row to bubble teams and now sit here in early February with just two wins over the RPI top 125.

Texas Tech (RPI: 71, KenPom: 41, No. 11 seed): The quickest way for a Big 12 team to kill their standing on the bubble is to lose to Texas. Texas Tech … lost to Texas. That’s not a good look for a team with just three top 50 wins.

Marquette (RPI: 53, KenPom: 32, No. 9 seed): Marquette beat Creighton on the road and Villanova at home in back-to-back games to put themselves in a position were comfortably on the right side of the bubble. They followed that up with a home loss to Providence and, on Wednesday, a 14-point loss at St. John’s. Back to the bubble it is.

Miami (RPI: 62, KenPom: 33, bubble): Miami fell at home to No. 15 Florida State tonight. It wasn’t the most flattering performance – they lost by 18 – and it will help folks to forget that they’re just four days removed from dominating North Carolina at home. But a loss to a top 15 team anywhere is never going to be a big deal, but missing out on an opportunity to get a win like that at home does make their margin for error in a conference as tough as the ACC just that much more difficult.

Seton Hall (RPI: 42, KenPom: 58, No. 11 seed): The Pirates had a chance to land a really nice road win over Xavier, who was playing their first game without Edmond Sumner. Seton Hall has just two top 100 wins. Later this month, they play three straight home games against Villanova, Creighton and Xavier. Winning two of those would be ideal.

Georgia Tech (RPI: 60, KenPom: 71, No. 11 seed): The Yellow Jackets missed out on a chance to bolster their résumé on Wednesday, losing at Clemson, but a road loss to a top 50 team isn’t going to hurt anyone.

Virginia Tech (RPI: 39, KenPom: 51, No. 8 seed): It’s hard to be too critical of anyone for losing at No. 9 Virginia.

 

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.

No. 3 Oregon heading to first Final Four in 78 years

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Oregon, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, made what looked to be a smooth path to Phoenix into a bumpy road. But after 78 years, the Ducks are going back to the Final Four, defeating No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in Elite Eight on Friday night in Kansas City.

Everything went right for the Ducks in the first half. Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the less than three minutes. The Jayhawks were limited in transition. Tyler Dorsey’s two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds gave them a double-digit lead at halftime. Oregon stretched it to as many as 18 in the second. Kansas couldn’t buy a basket from three (a far cry from the 3-point barrage it put on Purdue two nights earlier). When the Jayhawks drove to the basket, it was Jordan Bell (11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks) who either blocked or altered their shots.

However, the Ducks not only left the door open for the Jayhawks, they held it open. Kansas’ comeback attempt was a mix drink that was equal parts KU putting the clamps on defensively, Oregon playing a bit of hero ball, and the Ducks playing not to lose instead of to win. Up six with less than two minutes remaining, Dorsey (27 points) buried a dagger 3-pointer that all but sealed the win — and a spot in next week’s Final Four — for the Ducks.

Oregon will play the winner of the South region, which will either be No. 1 North Carolina or No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.

The slogan of the NCAA Tournament is “The Road to the Final Four”.

Outside of Duke, the runaway preseason favorite, and it’s months-long narrative of “Is Duke back?”, you could make the case there wasn’t a Final Four contender with a journey filled with more ups and downs than Oregon.

Weeks following a season-ending loss to Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, Oregon learned that both Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey would return to school for the next season. In July, Dylan Ennis was granted a sixth-year of eligibility. With Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell returning, and Payton Pritchard joining the program, the Ducks were an easy choice for a preseason Final Four pick.

Brooks’ offseason foot surgery — and the recovery that followed — raised concern about whether or not Oregon could fully reach its preseason potential, entering conference play without a notable win. Brooks’ Pac-12 Player of the Year season put to rest the status of his foot, leading the Ducks to a 16-2 Pac-12 record.

Hours before Oregon was set to battle with Arizona, it was announced that Chris Boucher had torn his ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season. Not only could this have played a role in the team’s seeding by the selection committee, but Boucher offered more than rim protection, as he helped space the floor given his ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter.

After fending off a good fight from Iona, the Ducks looked to be part of a Rhode Island’s magical postseason run. Tyler Dorsey ended that. In the Sweet 16, Oregon was matchup with Michigan, dubbed as the team of destiny. Bell and Dorsey, Oregon’s two tournament stars, stepped up in critical moments once again. Slated as an underdog for the second straight game, Oregon proved its Final Four worth by handing Kansas its worst tournament defeat of the Bill Self era in a regional final game that was played 40 miles away from the KU campus.

“I’m happy for our team,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said following the game. “I’m happy for, as I mentioned, our university and our state. It’s been a long time coming and now we just need to go continue to play well.”

For Oregon, its road to the Final Four has come full circle.