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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. 


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)


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.


2018 NCAA Tournament: Azubuike’s presence huge as No. 1 Kansas holds off No. 8 Seton Hall

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It turns out Kansas is a whole heck of a lot better when Udoka Azubuike is in the floor.

Who knew?

The sophomore center returned Saturday for extended minutes after being limited with a knee injury to help the No. 1 Jayhawks to a 83-79 win over No. 8 Seton Hall to earn a spot in the Sweet 16.

Azubuike had 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, but the strongest stat in his column was his plus-minus. When he was on the floor, Kansas bested the Pirates by 21 points. When he was off, the Jayhawks got outscored by 17, and there is noise in that number as Seton Hall continued to put them on the foul line in the last minute with Azubuike on the bench.

The 7-footer’s importance to Kansas has been apparent all season, but it was even starker against the Pirates, whose Angel Delgado feasted when Azubuike wasn’t on the floor.  Seton Hall’s double-double machine finished with 24 points and 23 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to power the Pirates into next week. Neither was Khadeen Carrington’s 28 points, all but two of which came after halftime.

Azubuike’s critical role for Kansas is three-fold. First, he’s very talented. Second, he makes the four-out offense possible. Third, the drop-off behind him – apologies to Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa – is rather significant.

Kansas, which got 28 points from Malik Newman, has to play a very specific way offensively with guard-heavy roster. The Jayhawks have to get up a ton of 3s, and they’ve got to make a bunch of them. Without Azubuike in the middle drawing attention and making it difficult for defenders to stay hugged-up on shooters on the perimeter, the architecture of the offense can crumble in on itself.

Azubuike certainly isn’t a perfect or dominant player, but he rebounds well, blocks shots and makes about three-quarters of his shots. Which, of course, means he fits his role perfectly for maybe the most vulnerable Kansas team in Bill Self’s tenure. The Jayhawks’ margin for error, at least at this juncture against the competition they’re going to see in Omaha, is pretty small. Deviate from the plan and things can get away from them quickly. Duke and Michigan State, Kansas’ presumptive opponents in the Elite Eight, will punish them for any missteps or holes in their gameplan.

Azubuike is the linchpin. When he’s in place, things hold together. When he’s not, there’s trouble.

No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago beats No. 3 Tennessee to advance to Sweet 16

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Cinderella is headed to the Sweet 16!

For the second time in this tournament, trailing 62-61 on the final possession of the game, Loyola-Chicago has won.

On Thursday, the Ramblers got the benefit of a missed Lonnie Walker free throw and a game-winning three from Donte Ingram to beat No. 6-seed Miami, 64-62.

On Saturday, the situation was almost the same — the Ramblers had the ball with 10.5 seconds left on the clock — but the execution was different.

Clayton Custer hit a jumper with 3.6 seconds left to answer Grant Williams’ and-one and send Loyola-Chicago to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

In the immortal words of Gus Johnson, the slipper still fits:

Loyola was in control of this game for the majority of the second half and led by eight points at the under-four time out, but a pair of threes from Tennessee set up Williams’ and-one on Tennessee’s final possession. Jordan Bone had a shot to win the game at the buzzer that bounced off the back of the rim.

Aundre Jackson led the Ramblers 16 points off the bench as No. 11-seed Loyola landed their second upset of the weekend, beating No. 3-seed Tennessee, 63-62, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Those 16 points that Jackson scored were the most that any Loyola player scored in either of their games this weekend. The 10 shots that Jackson took in the first round win over No. 3-seed Miami was the only time in those two games that a Rambler player had double-digit field goal attempts. They held Miami and Tennessee to a combined 116 points.

I say all that to say this: Loyola is not a typical Cinderella team. They don’t have some superstar scorer that carried them to this point in the tournament, like a Jairus Lyles from UMBC or a Jon Elmore from Marshall. They’re not a high-scoring team or a team that just-so-happened to catch fire from three at the right time. What they are is a smart, tough and extremely well-coached group that is everything you think of when you picture Missouri Valley basketball.

They aren’t going to give up penetration defensively. They are going to pound the defensive glass. They aren’t going to commit silly turnovers or take dumb shots. They’ll run their offense and trust that whatever their coach calls is going to get them the shot they need to get.

They will not beat themselves, and if you are going to beat them, you’re going to work for every possession.

And it’s worked.

Loyola will advance to Atlanta where they will face the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 2 Cincinnati and No. 7 Nevada. With Buffalo losing and either No. 10-seed Butler or No. 11-seed Syracuse counting as anything close to a mid-major, Loyola, Marshall and UMBC are the only true Cinderella teams left in the tournament. The 16th-seeded UMBC Retrievers, who became the first No. 16 seed to get to the second round of the tournament after a Friday night win over top overall seed Virginia, take on No. 9-seed Kansas State on Sunday while No. 13-seed Marshall gets a date with in-state an rival, No. 5 West Virginia.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander paces No. 5 Kentucky past No. 13 Buffalo

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Its deficit cut to five, Buffalo zipped down the floor in transition. The ball found Jeremy Harris, who stepped into his 3-point shot attempt and let it fly as the crowd in Boise was ready to blow the roof off Taco Bell Arena, hopeful they’d have the chance to will the Bulls to an upset of Kentucky. The shot barrelled toward the basket, carrying Buffalo’s Sweet 16 dreams with it.

The ball, along with control of the game, clanged off the rim and bounced into Kentucky’s hands.

The No. 5 Wildcats turned away No. 13 Buffalo, 95-75, on Saturday to advance to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.

Buffalo got 26 points from Wes Clark and 18 from CJ Massinburg, and made the Wildcats sweat deep into the second round until things spiraled away from them. Making just 7 of 31 shots from 3-point range and your opponent shooting 56.3 percent from the floor is no recipe for an upset.

Even with a rough shooting day, Buffalo threatened Kentucky time and again, but at every turn, the Wildcats had Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The 6-foot-6 freshman was simply spectacular, scoring 27 points on 10 of 12 shooting. He added six rebounds and six assists for good measure.

Gilgeous-Alexander was an unsolvable problem for Buffalo. The Bulls were never able to find a way to corral or deny him. He just got what he wanted when he wanted it, and what he wanted was buckets. Lots of them.

Inconsistency has been the pock on Gilgeous-Alexander’s rookie campaign, but in recent weeks he’s found his groove. He’s scored in double-digits in nine-straight games. He’s either made shots or gotten to the free-throw line. Sometimes both.

For a Kentucky team without a dominant player, Gilgeous-Alexander’s emergence as a go-to and consistent scorer is huge. The Wildcats are going to have an athletic advantage in almost every game they play. If they’ve got a guy other than Kevin Knox they can count on for 15-plus, that’s going to take a lot of pressure off an offense that doesn’t have the benefit of much in the way of shooting.

The path for Kentucky to the Elite 8 looks incredibly navigable after Virginia’s stunning and historic loss Friday to UMBC. The Wildcats will have to beat a nine or 16 seed to be just 40 minutes from another Final Four.

If Gilgeous-Alexander can continue to be the offensive weapon he’s turned into over the last month, San Antonio may very well be hosting Big Blue Nation in April.

VIDEO: Buffalo’s Nick Perkins posterizes Kevin Knox

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Buffalo and Kentucky are locked in an entertaining battle on Saturday afternoon, and while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been completely dominant, the play of the day comes courtesy of the Bulls.

After Kentucky pushed their lead to 10 points with less than nine minutes left, Nick Perkins — who is known for as a three-point shooter than anything else — dunked on Kentucky’s soon-to-be lottery pick, Kevin Knox, emphatically:

Bettor wins $16,000 on UMBC wager

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The whole country became UMBC fans throughout Saturday night as the Retrievers attempted – and ultimately pulled off – the first-ever 16-over-1 upset in the NCAA tournament against Virginia.

There may have been one person at The Venetian in Las Vegas cheering a little more than most, though. They had a little more on the line. The moneyline, to be exact. 

One bettor won $16,000 on a $800 wager that UMBC would beat the Cavaliers, which is exactly what they did, 74-54, in Charlotte.

While the bet paid off this time and it makes for an all-time story, it’s probably best not to make this your betting strategy. If you would have bet 800 bucks on every 16 seed every year, you would have been $108,000 in the hole before getting your Retriever payout and riding a rough 135-bet losing streak. Can’t win without buying a ticket, though, right?

And it’s not like that the person who just cashed a $16,000 check cares about that at the moment. Also no word on how they’re betting UMBC against Kansas State, either. The Wildcats are 10.5-point favorites, if you were wondering.