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Bubble Banter: Saturday’s are always a wild day on bubble watch

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

WINNERS

Georgetown (RPI: 66, KenPom: 57, next four out): The Hoyas beat Marquette at home in decisive fashion, which adds a top 100 win to their résumé. That’s not enough for the Hoyas to make up the ground they need to make as one of the next four out, but it is a good sign beating up on another bubble team like this. Georgetown, sitting at 13-12 on the season, more or less has to run the table in the regular season to have a real chance of not being disappointed on Selection Sunday.

Wake Forest (RPI: 31, KenPom: 34, next four out): At this point, beating N.C. State doesn’t mean all that much. It’s another top 100 win for the time being, but come Selection Sunday, at the rate the Wolfpack are going, it probably won’t be. Still, winning this game is a far better outcome than losing it would have been.

Michigan State (RPI: 50, KenPom: 58, No. 11 seed): The Spartans picked up a win over an Iowa team that is barely inside the top 100 in the RPI, so they didn’t exactly add to their profile on Saturday. But the more concerning thing for the Spartans is that there were no Big Ten teams ranked in the top 16 of the bracket preview that was released Saturday morning. Michigan State is going to be firmly on the bubble come Selection Sunday, and if the selection committee doesn’t think much of the Big Ten, that’s not a good sign for Sparty.

Iowa State (RPI: 48, KenPom: 26, No. 9 seed): The Cyclones kept themselves firmly on the right side of the bubble on Saturday by knocking off Oklahoma at home in impressive fashion. Iowa State had previously played themselves off the bubble … and then they went and lost to Texas. Avoiding a second straight loss to the Sooners was a smart idea.

VCU (RPI: 27, KenPom: 48, No. 8 seed): For the first time in ten days, VCU has won a basketball game without needing to get a gift from the officials with 0.4 seconds left in a game they trailed. The Rams beat Davidson in pretty emphatic fashion and are now 20-5 on the season. With losses to Davidson and Fordham this season, VCU does not have much margin for error right now.

Middle Tennessee (RPI: 38, KenPom: 50, No. 11 seed): The Blue Raiders kept their at-large pipe dream alive by knocking off Charlotte on Saturday. I don’t think they can afford another loss in league play without winning the league’s automatic bid.

Valparaiso (RPI: 78, KenPom: 91, No. 12 seed): Valpo still has an outside chance of getting an at-large bid, and they kept that dream alive with a win over Youngstown State on Saturday. I’m just worried that a team that cannot add anything else of substance to their résumé has done enough with a month left in the season.

Arkansas (RPI: 46, KenPom: 59, first four out): The Razorbacks used a terrific second half to erase a deficit and avoid the indignity of losing to Missouri and LSU in back-to-back games.

Georgia Tech (RPI: 77, KenPom: 81, first four out): Despite scoring just 15 first half points the Yellow Jackets kept themselves in the bubble discussion by avoiding a terrible home loss to Boston College.

Illinois State (RPI: 33, KenPom: 44, No. 12 seed): The Redbirds beat Bradley, but what is a win over a team ranked 235th in the RPI going to do? None of Illinois State’s remaining opponents are in the RPI top 140. They better hope no top 50 wins, two top 100 wins and no road wins inside the top 150 is going to be enough. (Hint: it won’t be.)

Oklahoma State (RPI: 30, KenPom: 21, No. 9 seed): The Pokes avoided a résumé loss to Texas and kept themselves sitting on the right side of the bubble with a little bit of room to spare.

Minnesota (RPI: 22, KenPom: 39, No. 9 seed): The best thing about beating Rutgers? It means you didn’t lose to Rutgers.

SYRACUSE, NY - JANUARY 28: Tyler Roberson #21 of the Syracuse Orange dunks the ball against the Florida State Seminoles during the first half at the Carrier Dome on January 28, 2017 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

LOSERS

Syracuse (RPI: 59, KenPom: 46, No. 8 seed): The Orange lost on Saturday at Pitt, which is not a killer on the surface. Pitt has not had a good season but they’re still a borderline top 50 team, and road losses to borderline top 50 teams don’t make or break a team’s tournament profile. Where this hurts is that Syracuse is now 16-10 on the season with losses to Boston College, UConn and St. John’s. They don’t have all that much margin for error as it is, and they still play Louisville twice and have to host Duke.

Seton Hall (RPI: 36, KenPom: 53, play-in game): The Pirates took a brutal loss on the road to a bad St. John’s team on Saturday, the kind of loss that is a nightmare scenario for a team slotted in the play-in game. But it doesn’t change the fact that Seton Hall’s bid will get earned when they play Creighton, Villanova and Xavier at home in consecutive games, starting next week.

Clemson (RPI: 53, KenPom: 43, next four out): The Tigers had a chance to vault themselves past some other teams on the bubble on Saturday afternoon, playing Duke tough in Cameron Indoor Stadium. But they lost by two points in a winnable game, meaning that they’re in a spot down the stretch of the season where, as a 13-11 team, they may not be able to survive another regular season loss.

Miami (RPI: 49, KenPom: 40, No. 9 seed): The Hurricanes had a 14-point first half lead and went into halftime up 33-24 on No. 4 Louisville in the Yum! Center and lost. So while this is not a loss that is going to hurt their résumé – losing on the road to a top five team is what’s supposed to happen – this is a loss that is going to sting in Miami ends up on the wrong side of the bubble on Selection Sunday. This was a winnable game, and the ‘Canes blew it.

Texas Tech (RPI: 85, KenPom: 41, bubble): Like Miami, Texas Tech had a chance to land an elite win on Saturday. They took Kansas to the buzzer at home in a game where the Jayhawks left five points at the foul line in the final minute and played the final three minutes without Frank Mason III. The Red Raiders are barely in the bubble picture at this point, but this was a win that would have put them right back in the conversation. That is going to sting.

UNC Wilmington (RPI: 45, KenPom: 56, No. 12 seed): A loss at Elon on Saturday probably ensures that UNCW, who doesn’t have a top 50 win, will need to get the automatic bid from the CAA.

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Ja'Quan Newton #0 of the Miami (Fl) Hurricanes drives past KeVaughn Allen #5 of the Florida Gators during the game at HP Field House on November 27, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Marquette (RPI: 72, KenPom: 35, play-in game): That win over Villanova is starting to look more and more like a fluke, as Marquette has lost four of five since then. With three games left against Xavier and Creighton, the Golden Eagles still have a chance to make a run and play their way onto the right side of the bubble.

Cal (RPI: 33, KenPom: 47, No. 8 seed): Cal is still in a good spot, but there is a distinct lack of quality wins on their résumé. They won at USC and … that’s it. Princeton on a neutral, Utah and Stanford aren’t exactly great wins. they probably aren’t in danger of missing the tournament yet, but with a loss to San Diego State, there isn’t room for them to make mistakes.

Tennessee (RPI: 37, KenPom: 37, first four out): The Vols are slowly playing their way out of tournament contention after that huge win over Kentucky, losing 76-75 at home to Georgia on Saturday. They’re not 15-11 overall and just 6-6 in the SEC. It’s not over for the Vols – they still play at Kentucky and at South Carolina, two wins that can change what a profile looks like – but as of today, they just have too many losses to have a real chance to dance.

Ohio State (RPI: 62, KenPom: 60, next four out): Ohio State needed a win at No. 21 Maryland to really put themselves into the bubble conversation, and they didn’t get it. This team is now 15-11 overall and 5-8 in the Big Ten.

Kansas State (RPI: 43, KenPom: 28, No. 10 seed): Kansas State lost at West Virginia. It’s not the worst loss they’ve taken this year, but it would have been a great résumé win.

TCU (RPI: 33, KenPom: 33, No. 10 seed): TCU lost at Baylor. That would have been a great win for them, but this isn’t a loss that will hurt them.

 

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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, and 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.

 

VIDEO: Jordan Bell’s spectacular chase-down block

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Oregon big man Jordan Bell has been the best player on the floor for the Ducks against Kansas, totally changing the way that Kansas wants to play with his defense.

As of the time of this posting, he had nine points, 11 boards, seven blocks and three assists, but his impact is not solely limited to the shots he swatted — every Kansas player that gets into the lane is very aware of the fact that Bell is lurking around the rim.

The thought of him changes shots.

The best block he’s had today came midway through the second half, when he snuffed out a dunk attempt from Landen Lucas with an impressive chase-down block:

No. 1 Gonzaga reaches first Final Four with win over No. 11 Xavier

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It took 18 long years, but after Gonzaga exploded onto the national scene with a Cinderella run that came one possession short of the Final Four in 1999, after the program followed up that run with back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed, after 19 straight trips to the NCAA tournament marred by moments of unfathomable heartbreak, the nation’s preeminent mid-major success story is finally headed to the Final Four.

What will the ‘Gonzaga is overrated’ crowd say now?

Armed with a roster that included a pair of blue-chip guards in their back court, a trio of high-major transfers and a McDonald’s All-American and future first round pick coming off the bench, Mark Few knocked off No. 11 seed Xavier, 83-59, on Saturday night to win the West Region and punch his first ticket to the final weekend of the college basketball season. Nigel Williams-Goss led the way with 23 points, eight boards and four assists and Johnathan Williams III, who was named the region’s Most Outstanding Player, added 19 points and nine boards as Gonzaga buried 12 threes and jumped out to an early lead they would never relinquish in a game that never felt like it was in doubt.

And with that, the monkey on Mark Few’s back is now gone.

“It means everything that we could deliver for guys like this,” Mark Few said after the game. Few had been the winningest NCAA tournament coach without a Final Four on his résumé. “They believed in us when they came. This is what we wanted to do and set out to do, and these guys were unbelievable. I could not be happier for all these guys, all our former players and all of Zag Nation.”

Whether or not that monkey was deserved is a fair question to ask. Gonzaga has had an incredible amount of success in the NCAA tournament. They’ve won at least one game in 16 of the 19 NCAA tournaments, including this year, that they’ve been a part of, including five of the six years in which they were a double-digit seed. In 13 of the previous 18 NCAA tournaments they played in, they advanced as far or further than their seed suggested they should have. Only five times did they lose to a team that was seeded lower than them. They’ve won 17 WCC regular season titles and 15 WCC tournament titles during that span.

What they’ve done, the consistency of the success that they’ve had, is not something done easily.

And it’s not something that should be overlooked when you consider where this program was in the early 90s. When Few was hired as an assistant coach in 1990, Gonzaga was thought of as the worst job in the WCC. The program, located in Spokane, Washington, which isn’t exactly a hotbed for recruiting, had never been to an NCAA tournament. The school didn’t even have a weight room for the team.

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

“Players would sign out sweats and jerseys at the beginning of every school year and turn them back in nine months later,” wrote Yahoo’s Jeff Eisenberg earlier this week. “Sneakers were the only gear players received new, but obtaining a fresh pair typically required proving the old ones had a hole in the bottom.”

Within five years, Gonzaga was in the NCAA tournament. Within nine years, they had won the league and reached the Elite 8. Within 15 years, the school opened up a sparkling, $25-million, 6,000-seat arena, chartering flights for road games and recruiting trips.

Today, Gonzaga is arguably a top ten program in the sport

It is, quite literally, college basketball’s best rags-to-riches story.

They shouldn’t need this to justify their standing in the sport. Few shouldn’t need this to legitimize himself as something more than a coach feasting on a conference that can’t compete.

“My legacy is I guess built on a lot of other things,” Few said on Friday. “It’s built on the respect my players have for me and how they feel about they were treated and coached and developed and all that.”

“I’m schlepping along right now like vastly far behind my father who is 54 years a Presbyterian minister, man. He’s saved thousands of souls. He’s helped hundreds and thousands of people through all their tough times, you know. And that’s kind of the legacy that I’m looking at.”

But that’s not how our sport works.

March means everything.

If you can’t win on the biggest stage, if you don’t have that level of success when all eyes turn to college basketball, then everything you did during the previous four months is written off.

It’s not fair.

But that’s just how it is.

And now, nearly two decades removed from their introduction into the national consciousness, Gonzaga’s detractors no longer have that leg to stand on.