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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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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.