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Bubble Banter: Michigan, Providence and Rhode Island land massive wins

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The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here. This is where the seeds you see listed below come from. This post will be updated throughout the day. 

WINNERS

Michigan (RPI: 51, KenPom: 27, No. 9 seed): Congratulations, Michigan. After smacking around Purdue the Wolverines are locked into a bid.

Providence (RPI: 55, KenPom: 56, play-in game): We always talk about how frustrating it is that no one seems to play their way onto the bubble and then into the NCAA tournament, but I think Providence has done just that. They erased a late, 12-point deficit in a win over Marquette on Saturday afternoon, their fourth straight win on the season. All four came against likely tournament teams, meaning the Friars five top 50 wins, ten top 100 wins and games left against DePaul and St. John’s. But they also have already lost to DePaul, St. John’s and Boston College. The margin for error is thing, but as of today, I think they’re going to end up being in.

Rhode Island (RPI: 47, KenPom: 55, next four out): The Rams landed a massive win on Saturday, picking off VCU at home in a game URI absolutely had to win. They now have a pair of top 25 wins and four total top 100 wins, which I’m not sure is enough to make up for the two sub-100 losses on their résumé. The Rams have two landmines left on their schedule, so for my money, URI is going to have to win land a win over either VCU or Dayton in the league tournament to have a real chance.

Wichita State (RPI: 44, KenPom: 12, No. 10 seed): The Shockers took down Missouri State on the road, meaning that they are going to head into the Missouri Valley tournament having just a single league loss to their name. This team’s status hasn’t changed in weeks: They have just one quality win and none of their non-league wins have turned out to be all that impressive, but they are No. 12 according to KenPom.com. That may be enough to get them in, but Gregg Marshall probably shouldn’t test that theory out.

Illinois State (RPI: 35, KenPom: 43, No. 12 seed): The Redbirds did what they needed to do, knocking off Northern Iowa on the road to enter the MVC tournament with just the one league loss to Wichita State. If those two programs play each other in the title game, there’s a good chance the MVC could end up with two tournament teams.

Vanderbilt (RPI: 45, KenPom: 51, next four out): A blowout win over Mississippi State sets Vandy up for a season-changing week: They play at Kentucky and host Florida. The ‘Dores probably need to win both, considering they already have 13 losses on the season — including one to Missouri — and will take another loss in the SEC tournament, but the chance is there. Two wins, get a bid.

Arkansas (RPI: 33, KenPom: 49, No. 9 seed): The Razorbacks, on the other hand, should feel pretty good about their spot on the bubble right now after winning at Auburn on Saturday. I’m not quite ready to call them a lock just yet, but I think one more win somewhere — at Florida, Georgia, first SEC tournament game — gets it done.

Indiana (RPI: 100, KenPom: 46, bubble): The Hoosiers are somehow still in the mix after beating Northwestern at home on Saturday night. This is according to people that are the best in the business at doing this. Personally? I’m not sure there’s much the Hoosiers can do to turn this thing around.

Seton Hall (RPI: 48, KenPom: 57, play-in game): Seton Hall beat DePaul. A loss to DePaul would have likely sent them to the NIT. Go 1-1 next week (Georgetown, at Butler) and Seton Hall is dancing.

FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2016, file photo, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall directs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Drake, in Des Moines, Iowa. At this time of year college basketball coaches often sound like political candidates looking for votes as they tout their teams' NCAA tournament worthiness. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

LOSERS

TCU (RPI: 53, KenPom: 43, first four out): TCU lost a heart-breaker at home to West Virginia on Saturday afternoon, airballing a wide-open, buzzer-beating three that would have gotten the Horned Frogs a win that could have put them on the right side of the bubble. At this point, with just two top 50 wins and five top 100 wins, TCU is going to have to win out and do some work in the Big 12 tournament to have a chance. They simply do not have enough quality wins to make up for their 12 losses, and beating Kansas State and Oklahoma won’t change that.

VCU (RPI: 25, KenPom: 42, No. 9 seed): VCU lost at Rhode Island on Saturday, which is not a bad loss and certainly isn’t going to keep VCU out of the tournament. What it does, however, is reduce their margin for error. For my money, the Rams need one more win this season to lock up a tournament bid.

Kansas State (RPI: 59, KenPom: 30, play-in game): Playing a game that more-or-less had their NCAA tournament lives on the line, Kansas State went into Norman and lost by 30 points to a bad Oklahoma team that doesn’t have their star point guard after he tore his ACL. That’s not a good look, is it?

Marquette (RPI: 68, KenPom: 31, No. 10 seed): Marquette had a chance to just about lock up a bid at Providence, leading by 12 down the stretch. But they game that game away, meaning that their bid is going to be earned next week, when they get Xavier on the road and Creighton at home. A split should probably be enough — they have three top 30 wins, including Villanova, and seven top 100 wins — with just one bad loss.

Clemson (RPI: 61, KenPom: 37, next four out): The Tigers have lost five games by one or two points and 11 games by six points or less after losing at home to Florida State on Saturday. They had their chances to earn an at-large bid, and frankly, are probably good enough to have done so. But if they’re going to get into the NCAA tournament, they’re going to have to get an automatic bid.

Pitt (RPI: 63, KenPom: 66, next four out): The Panthers probably needed to win at home against North Carolina to put them in real contention. As of now, they very likely need to get the automatic bid.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

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The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

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Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.

Injured Gamecocks point guard Blanton gives up basketball

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard TeMarcus Blanton is giving up basketball after struggling with a serious hip injury he suffered before his freshman season.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin says Blanton told him he could not get his body to respond to a level that would allow him to continue playing basketball. Blanton is a 6-foot-5 junior from Locust Grove, Georgia, who hurt his hip during preseason for the 2014-15 season. He needed surgery and could not return to the court until his sophomore year.

Blanton played in 29 games, averaging 1.4 points a game.

He said on social media he is grateful to his coaches, teammates and South Carolina fans, “but my journey of basketball has come to an end.”

Blanton received a medical exemption from the Southeastern Conference to remain part of the Gamecocks’ program moving forward.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley to remain NBA Draft

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For the first time in a decade and just the third time in 14 seasons as UNC’s head coach, Roy Williams has a one-and-done player.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley will sign with an agent and remain in the NBA Draft.

Bradley had an impressive freshman season, averaging 7.1 points and 5.1 boards in less than 15 minutes per game as the sixth-man for the national title-winning Tar Heels. He initially declared for the draft without signing with an agent, testing the waters, and the feedback was positive: He’ll likely be a late first round or early second round pick.

As the process dragged on, it became fairly evident that Bradley would keep his name in the draft, and that is a massive blow for a UNC team that is already losing Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, not to mention Justin Jackson.

As it stands, Roy Williams will likely start the following lineup next season: Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson on the perimeter with Luke Maye and either Brandon Huffman or Garrison Brooks, both freshmen, alongside him. Williams is one of the few coaches left in the sport that still relies on playing two bigs and utilizing an overwhelming front court to win games, and that is not going to be an easy thing to do with that group of bigs.

UNC’s perimeter is strong. Berry will likely be a preseason all-american while Pinson and Williams are both above average role players on the wings.

But without that hoss in the paint — Bradley, like Berry, would have popped up on preseason all-american teams — the Tar Heels are going to have a tough time making a run at an ACC title, let alone a third straight trip to the national title game.

North Carolina is currently ranked 18th in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.