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Bubble Banter: Georgetown’s big chance, bubble showdowns in Big 12, Big Ten, ACC

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The latest NBC Sports bracketology can be found here. This is where the seeds listed below are from. 

WINNERS

Syracuse (RPI: 69, KenPom: 47, No. 11 seed): The Orange got a buzzer-beater from Tyus Battle to give them a win over Clemson on the road, the second thrilling road win they’ve picked up in the last week. Once a tournament afterthought, Syracuse is probably in the tournament with some room to spare as of today. They have some terrific wins (Virginia, Florida State) but no bubble team has the trio of horrid losses that Syracuse has.

Rhode Island (RPI: 39, KenPom: 45, first four out): The Rams dodged a landmine on their schedule by knocking off UMass on the road. URI’s only sub-100 loss came on the road to a Richmond team that is barely outside the top 100. As long as they don’t suffer a dumb loss to one of the four sub-100 teams left on their schedule and pick up a win at home against either VCU or Dayton, Danny Hurley should feel pretty good about his NCAA tournament chances.

Michigan (RPI: 79, KenPom: 40, first four out): The Wolverines inched closer to the bubble with a demolition of in-state rival Michigan State. This was a win that the Wolverines absolutely needed. It’s against a fellow bubble team, for one, but the 15-9 Wolverines play five of their last seven games on the road with their two home games coming against Wisconsin and Purdue. That’s a nightmare stretch, but it’s one that can do wonders for Michigan’s résumé if they get hot.

TCU (RPI: 43, KenPom: 32, No. 10 seed): The Horned Frogs landed a nice win over Texas Tech at home, keeping themselves on the right side of the bubble and adding another top 100 win to their profile. If TCU can hold serve at home – Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Kansas State – and avoid a loss at Oklahoma, they’ll be in the tournament.

Dayton (RPI: 33, KenPom: 31, No. 8 seed): I’m not ready to put Dayton as a lock yet for three reasons: 1. Their best win is Rhode Island, and it’s the only top 50 win that they have; 2. They have a loss at UMass, who is 150th in the RPI; 3. There are some potentially disastrous losses left on their schedule. As long as Dayton doesn’t do anything dumb the rest of the year, they should be in a good spot.

Illinois State (RPI: 34, KenPom: 48, No. 12 seed): The Redbirds pasted Drake on the road on Tuesday, but I still think this is a team that is going to be autobid or bust. The Valley, in my eyes, is a one-bid league.

LAHAINA, HI - NOVEMBER 23: Rodney Pryor #23 of the Georgetown Hoyas glides to the basket and shoots during the second half of the Maui Invitational NCAA college basketball game at the Lahaina Civic Center on November 23, 2016 in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images). Oklahoma State won the game 97-70.
Rodney Pryor (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

LOSERS

Northwestern (RPI: 31, KenPom: 30, No. 7 seed): Here comes Northwestern, inching ever closer back to the bubble. The Wildcats moved to 18-4 on the season and 7-2 in the Big Ten with a win over Indiana last week, and it looked like the Wildcats were ready to slide on into “lock” status in the NCAA tournament. Since then, they’ve been torn apart by Purdue on the road and, on Tuesday, lost to Illinois at home, and suddenly, that profile doesn’t look so strong. They have a win over Wake Forest at home, and Wake Forest is somehow a top 30 RPI win. I don’t know if that will last. A neutral court win over Dayton seems like it has some staying power, and Northwestern still doesn’t have a bad loss to their name. But with a trip to Wisconsin this weekend and a visit from Maryland next Wednesday, we’re going to have a really good sense of what this team is in the next week.

Clemson (RPI: 45, KenPom: 38, first four out): The Tigers lost on a buzzer-beater from Tyus Battle on Tuesday night, a killer blow to a team that is already on the outside looking in. The Tigers do have some quality wins – at South Carolina, at Wake Forest – but with three of their next four games on the road, they need to turn things around quickly. The Tigers are just 13-10 on the season and 3-8 in the ACC.

Georgetown (RPI: 62, KenPom: 59, next four out): The Hoyas fought back from down 17 points at Villanova to get within two points at the under-four timeout. Villanova is one of the best teams in the country. The only negative for Georgetown is the missed opportunity. They have some ground to make up and this would’ve done the trick.

Texas Tech (RPI: 80, KenPom: 42, next four out): The Red Raiders are slowly playing themselves out of tournament contention after losing at TCU on Tuesday, but it’s not over yet. Their next two games come at home against Kansas and Baylor. Win one or both of those and they’re back in the thick of it.

Marquette (RPI: 64, KenPom: 34, No. 9 seed): Marquette missed on a great chance to bolster their tournament profile on Tuesday night, losing a close game at home to a reeling Butler team. They’re still probably on the right side of the bubble with a little bit of room to spare thanks to a pair of road wins at Creighton and Georgia.

Michigan State (RPI: 47, KenPom: 49, No. 8 seed): The Spartans got blasted on the road by Michigan. All things considered, this is not the worst loss in the world – road games never are – but it does chip away at Sparty’s margin for error down the stretch.

Wake Forest (RPI: 28, KenPom: 33, next four out): The Demon Deacons had a chance to add to their profile with a win over a good-but-struggling Notre Dame team on the road, and they whiffed. Wake is still without a top 50 win on the season, and that’s not something that they’ll be able to overcome despite their good computer numbers.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.