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Bubble Banter: Four critical bubble battles, Arkansas’ big chance

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The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here. That is where the seeds you see below come from.

This story will be updated throughout the night. 

WINNERS

Arkansas (RPI: 45, KenPom: 57, play-in game): The Razorbacks were the biggest winner of the night, and it’s not really close. For starters, they picked up a win at South Carolina, a top 25 road win that (finally) gives a little substance to their résumé: a top 25 road win. That should help Arkansas counteract the fact that they’ve lost to both Missouri and Mississippi State. But more to the point, it may be what saves Mike Anderson’s job. It’s no secret that he’s got some pressure on him, and getting into the NCAA tournament should be enough to ease that pressure. This win might be what does that for Arkansas.

Seton Hall (RPI: 44, KenPom: 55, play-in game): The Pirates started off the biggest week of their season in terrific fashion, picking off No. 20 Creighton at home. They follow that up with home games against Villanova and Butler. Split those two games and they should be dancing.

Minnesota (RPI: 22, KenPom: 39, No. 9 seed): Minnesota is just about off the bubble, having landed a last-second win over Indiana at home on Wednesday night. They have strong computer numbers, a handful of quality wins and nothing in the way of a bad loss.

Oklahoma State (RPI: 30, KenPom: 20, No. 8 seed): Like Minnesota, Oklahoma State is very close to playing their way out of the bubble picture, at least for the time being, as they added another quality win at TCU on Wednesday.

Wichita State (RPI: 51, KenPom: 16, play-in game): This is the deal for the Shockers: As long as they don’t lose to anyone other than Illinois State the rest of the season, they’ll probably be in the NCAA tournament. But given that their only top 100 win is league rival Illinois State, it’ll be hard for them to make up for a bad loss to anyone else in the league. They beat Southern Illinois tonight.

Miami (RPI: 52, KenPom: 36, No. 10 seed): Playing without JaQuan Newton the Hurricanes were still able to get themselves a win at home over fellow bubble-dweller, Georgia Tech. Even without Newman, this was still a win that the Hurricanes should get, but it is a nice confidence boost to be able kick off a three-game stretch where they won’t have their point guard to get a win.

Illinois State (RPI: 36, KenPom: 44, No. 12 seed): The Redbirds knocked off Missouri State on the road by one points on Wednesday, meaning that their dream of getting an at-large bid should they lose in the MVC tournament is still alive.

Iowa State (RPI: 55, KenPom: 26, No. 8 seed): The Cyclones won at Kansas State on Wednesday night, a win that probably is enough to get them off the bubble for the time being. If they can beat TCU and Oklahoma State at home, they should lock up their bid.

LOSERS

Rhode Island (RPI: 41, KenPom: 43, next four out): The Rams may have just buried themselves on Wednesday night, losing at home to Fordham in a game where they managed all of 43 points. I guess that heart-breaking loss to Dayton on Friday hurt a little more than we realized.

Indiana (RPI: 88, KenPom: 49, next four out): Indiana has now lost six of their last seven games after losing at the buzzer to Minnesota. They’re 15-12 on the season, and they’re not going to the NCAA tournament.

Kansas State (RPI: 48, KenPom: 28, No. 11 seed): The bad news for the Wildcats is that they’ve lost ten games after falling to Iowa State on Wednesday night and they have just three top 100 wins. The good news? They have no sub-100 losses and one of those three wins is at Baylor, who is No. 1 in the RPI. I’d recommend going 4-1 down the stretch if the Wildcats don’t want to feel like they need to win a game in the Big 12 tournament to get a bid.

Georgia Tech (RPI: 74, KenPom: 79, play-in game): The Yellow Jackets whiffed on a chance to land a road win over a top 50ish opponent when they lost at Miami, who was playing without JaQuan Newton. In most years, they’d be out of it by now, but the bubble is weak enough that the Yellow Jackets are still very much in the mix.

TCU (RPI: 38, KenPom: 40, No. 10 seed): It’s too early to say that TCU is in trouble, but this is a team with just two top 40 wins (Illinois State and at Kansas State) and five top 100 wins in total. They don’t have any bad losses to their name, but they need to start adding some depth to their profile. It won’t be easy, as their next two games are at Iowa State and at Kansas.

VIDEO: Why did the NCAA ban dunking in 1967?

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With UCLA playing in the Sweet 16 tonight, it’s a fitting time to bring up the story of the time that the association banned dunking.

It was in 1967, and it was because there was a kid named Lew Alcindor at UCLA who led the Bruins to a 30-0 record and a national title.

Cleveland State hires Dennis Felton as head coach

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Cleveland State has found its next head coach as the school announced the hiring of Dennis Felton.

A veteran head coach with previous stops at Western Kentucky and Georgia, Felton made three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with the Hilltoppers before taking the job with the Bulldogs before the 2003-04 season.

Felton takes over for previous head coach Gary Waters, who retired after 11 seasons at Cleveland State.

“I’m extremely excited to return to the head coaching ranks with this opportunity at Cleveland State University,” Felton said in the release. “I’m grateful to Dr. Berkman and Mike Thomas for the opportunity to lead this program. Cleveland State is an outstanding University that continues to grow in stature on the national landscape. I’m eager to start working with our players to build a championship program and getting out to share my vision of how we plan to partner with the entire community to do special things at Cleveland State.”

Felton made one NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons with Georgia as he was fired in the middle of the 2008-09 season. Having a tough time overcoming NCAA sanctions lobbied after the Jim Harrick’s time with the school, Felton’s time with the Bulldogs never got rolling as he dealt with scholarship limitations and other obstacles.

After his time coaching in college, Felton spent time as a college scout with the Phoenix Suns before becoming director of pro player personnel for the San Antonio Spurs for a few seasons.

Cleveland State finished 18-45 over the last two seasons as they’ve struggled in the Horizon League. Felton will be tasked with turning the Vikings around as he hopes to find some of the magic that helped make Western Kentucky a consistent winner.

But with NBA connections and a lot of head coaching experience, Cleveland State made a solid hire here.

Frank Kaminsky trolls Arizona after high school teammate Sean O’Mara gets winning basket for Xavier

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No. 11 seed Xavier’s upset win over No. 2 seed Arizona left a lot of people stunned late Thursday night. Naturally, people took to Twitter to share their opinions of the Musketeers advancing to the Elite Eight to face No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Some of those with comments on Arizona’s loss included members of Wisconsin’s back-to-back Final Four teams in 2014 and 2015. You might recall that the Badgers eliminated the Wildcats in both years in the Elite Eight to make the trips to the Final Four–so there is some history here between the two schools.

The Twitter comments started with former Wisconsin guard Ben Brust questioning Arizona head coach Sean Miller for going away from his big men. Brust’s “should have kept touching the big Serb” comment would indicate that getting touches for Arizona center Dusan Ristic was important–although others were pointing out freshman Lauri Markkanen’s minimal involvement in the Arizona offense during the last 10 minutes.

That’s when former Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky entered the discussion and promptly shut things down.

Wisconsin’s personal history with Arizona hit closer for Kaminsky than a normal game when Xavier junior big man Sean O’Mara scored the game-winning bucket for the Musketeers with just under a minute left.

There’s a major connection here. O’Mara hails from Benet Academy in the Western Suburbs of Chicago, the same high school program that produced Kaminsky.

So Kaminsky made sure to mention that after the loss.

When Kaminsky was a senior and Benet started its season 29-0 and was nationally ranked in the USA Today High School rankings, O’Mara was the freshman big man that Kaminsky was beating up in practice every day.

While Kaminsky has turned into a productive member of the Charlotte Hornets rotation this season, O’Mara is having himself a solid 2017 NCAA Tournament run as he’s averaging 12.3 points a game after putting up 6.1 per game during the regular season.

We definitely know who Kaminsky will be rooting for when it comes to the West Region.

Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Saturday, March 25

6:09 p.m., TBS, San Jose
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 Xavier (Brian Anderson, Chris Webber, Lewis Johnson)

8:49 p.m., TBS, Kansas City
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Oregon (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Dana Jacobson)

Sweet 16 Preview: Friday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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Thursday brought us a thrilling night of college basketball. Oregon won a thriller. Gonzaga did, too. Kansas put on a show, toying with the Big Ten champs. 

And that was just the appetizer for what’s on tap Friday night.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-7.5) vs. No. 4 BUTLER, 7:09 p.m. (CBS): As weird as it sounds for a team that finished second in the Big East, that swept Villanova and that has a combined three wins over Arizona and Xavier, Butler is basically back to being a mid-major in the South Region. That’s what happens when you get stuck in a region with three of the biggest brands in the sport.

And don’t think, for a second, that Butler is going to be overmatched here. They’ve proven, time and again this season, that they are good enough to play with the best of the best even if their roster, on paper, doesn’t look that way.

But here’s the thing about North Carolina: If they play their best basketball game, they should be able to run through the Bulldogs. That’s a big ‘if’, however, especially if Joel Berry II plays the way that he has played in the first two games of the tournament. North Carolina goes as Berry goes, and he’s 3-for-21 from the floor in those two games.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (-7.5)

No. 3 BAYLOR (-3.5) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 7:29 p.m., (TBS): Baylor’s front line is massive. Johnathan Motley is an all-american in the middle, Jo Lual-Acuil was one of the nation’s most improved players this season there’s an argument to be made that Terry Maston has been the most important player for the Bears in this tournament. That’s where Baylor’s strength lies, and they play to it. The Bears want to play slow and they want to pound the ball into the paint.

Where Baylor struggles, however, is with their guard play. Manu Lecomte and Jake Lindsey are not exactly Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, and if we’ve learned anything about South Carolina this season, it’s that their defense can be a nightmare for opponents to try and run offense against. They don’t pressure in the full court, but their half court defense is just as tough and as physical and as frustrating as West Virginia’s. I think the first one to 60 wins this game, and I think South Carolina gets it done.

PREDICTION: South Carolina (+3.5)

No. 2 KENTUCKY (even) vs. No. 3 UCLA, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): Does it get any better than this?

Do you really need me to tell you that a matchup between two of the four best teams in college basketball, two teams that can legitimately win a national title, playing in the Sweet 16 is must-see TV?

You shouldn’t.

You probably know all the storylines by now, too, so I’m going to say this: I think this game comes down to how UCLA decides to matchup with Kentucky’s guards. My best guess at what happens is that Aaron Holiday chases Malik Monk around all those screens while Lonzo Ball draws De’Aaron Fox, mostly to save his legs but in part because he has the length to challenge a jump shot while playing far enough off to keep his from getting into the lane.

PREDICTION: I think Kentucky wins, but I love the over (165.5)

No. 4 FLORIDA (-1.5) vs. No. 8 WISCONSIN, 9:59 p.m. (TBS): Florida is one of the best defensive teams in the country. They have length and athletes everywhere on the floor, and head coach Mike White knows it. They pressure, they overplay passing lanes and they make life miserable for opposing playmakers. Wisconsin, like Baylor, is a team that plays through their bigs, but unlike Baylor, a post-up for Nigel Hayes or Ethan Happ is like their point guard getting an isolation. Both guys are just such great passers out of the post that Greg Gard doesn’t have to worry as much about the lack of playmakers in his back court.

I think that is a huge advantage for Wisconsin in what could otherwise be thought of as a bad matchup.

But more than anything, I trust Wisconsin’s vets more in NCAA tournament games than just about anyone else. This is going to be the 17th NCAA tournament game for Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, the most of anyone in the tournament. They’ve both played in two Final Fours and two more Sweet 16s. Hayes and Koenig are the two career leaders in NCAA tournament scoring, and Koenig may be the single-most clutch shooter left in the tournament. I’ll bet on that.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin (+1.5)