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Bubble Banter: Bids will be earned, and lost, today

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

This post will be updated throughout the day.

WINNERS

Vanderbilt (RPI: 48, KenPom: 42, next four out): The Commodores might have just punched a ticket to the tournament with a win over No. 12 Florida. But it’s complicated, enough so that I needed to put it in a separate post.

Seton Hall (RPI: 50, KenPom: 57, play-in game): Like Vanderbilt, Seton Hall just about punched their ticket to the dance today, winning at Butler and given themselves an elite win. We wrote much more about Seton Hall’s chances right here.

Providence (RPI: 55, KenPom: 55, No. 10 seed): The Friars avoided doing something really stupid, as they knocked off St. John’s on Saturday. Providence has played their way into the NCAA tournament it seems, and barring something crazy happening this week, Ed Cooley will have his team back in the tournament despite losing Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil.

Marquette (RPI: 57, KenPom: 30, No. 9 seed): The Golden Eagles beat Creighton at home to close out the season, a win that probably puts Marquette into the tournament. The concern with this team isn’t whether or not they’ve put together enough wins on paper. They have five top 45, eight top 50 and 10 top 100 wins on the year, including a win over Villanova. The problem? Four of those five top 45 wins came against Creighton and Xavier after those two teams lost their star point guards, Mo Watson and Edmond Sumner, for the year to torn ACLs. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the committee values those wins. In the past, they have not penalized a winning team for an opponent missing a player, but in this case, given just how bad those two have been without their PGs, it’s worth considering.

Wake Forest (RPI: 38, KenPom: 31, play-in game): The Demon Deacons landed a massive win on Saturday, going into Blacksburg and picking off Virginia Tech. Combine that with the fact that Wake knocked off Louisville during the week, and I think Danny Manning has gotten his team into the tournament. They’re 19-12 on the season with three top 40 wins — one of which is a top five win — and they have a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 14th. They played four true road games during non-conference play, and that doesn’t count playing Charleston in the Charleston Classic. Throw in the fact that their “worst” losses are at Syracuse and a sweep at the hands of Clemson, and there’s a lot to like about this résumé. They probably need one more win, maybe two, but don’t be shocked when they’re in the field.

Xavier (RPI: 32, KenPom: 46, No. 11 seed): It’s hard to believe I’m saying this, but Xavier, who was ranked in the top 25 in February, had to win this game to keep themselves on the right side of the bubble. The Musketeers had lost their previous six games and seemingly lost any and all confidence that they had left. Given the way they’ve played since Edmond Sumner went out with an injury, I would strongly recommend winning a couple of games in the Big East tournament. They won’t be anywhere near safe with a loss in the first round.

Kansas State (RPI: 59, KenPom: 35, first four out): The Wildcats are still in the mix, as they knocked off Texas Tech. K-State is probably still on the wrong side of the cut-line, meaning that they should what to win two games in the Big 12 tournament in order to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday.

Syracuse (RPI: 79, KenPom: 51, No. 11 seed): Syracuse pounded Georgia Tech in the Carrier Dome on Saturday, adding even more strength to a profile that is probably good enough to get them into the tournament. The Orange have three top 15, six top 50 and nine top 100 wins. They’ve also done almost all of their work at home and have three sub-100 losses on their résumé. I think the Orange have some work left to do.

USC (RPI: 35, KenPom: 64, play-in game): The Trojans picked up a win they had to get against Washington, putting them in a position where they probably need to win two games in the Pac-12 tournament — their opener and a game against whatever elite team (I believe it will be UCLA) they get in the quarterfinals — to really feel comfortable about their chances on Selection Sunday. It’s also worth noting here: USC lost four games this season without Bennie Boatwright, the team’s leading scorer this season.

Illinois State (RPI: 33, KenPom: 45, No. 12 seed) and No. 21 Wichita State (RPI: 43, KenPom: 10, No. 10 seed): Both the Shockers and the Redbirds reached the final of the Missouri Valley tournament, which is what this league needed to have happen for a real change at getting two teams into the tournament.

Middle Tennessee (RPI: 39, KenPom: 53, No. 10 seed): The Blue Raiders did what they needed to do, taking care of Florida Atlantic and heading into the Conference USA tournament with a 17-1 league record. MTSU is probably in the tournament as of today, the problem is what happens if they lose in the tournament and take another bad loss.

Rhode Island (RPI: 41, KenPom: 48, first four out): The Rams kept their at-large hopes alive with a come-from-behind home win over Davidson on Saturday. I still think URI probably needs to win until they beat either Dayton or VCU in the Atlantic 10 tournament to really feel like they have a chance. That said, they have a win over Cincinnati and another over VCU, but a top 20 non-conference schedule. They’re going to be right there on the cut-line regardless of how next week plays out.

VCU (RPI: 24, KenPom: 47, No. 10 seed): The Rams got the win they needed on Saturday, beating George Mason at home. That should be enough to just about lock them into a bid. I can’t see them being leap-frogged by enough teams to put them on the wrong side of the bubble even with a first round Atlantic 10 loss, but I would recommend winning a game just to be safe.

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 18: Head coach Cuonzo Martin of the California Golden Bears reacts to a play in the second half against the Hawaii Warriors during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 18, 2016 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Head coach Cuonzo Martin (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

LOSERS

Illinois (RPI: 56, KenPom: 65, play-in game): At this point you just have to feel bad for Illinois fans. The Illini, who haven’t been relevant nationally since all of Bill Self’s players graduated during the Bruce Weber tenure, looked like they had played themselves into a position to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013. They had won four in a row and five of their last six … and then set all of that work on fire by losing at Rutgers on Saturday. The appeal of Illinois’ résumé was that they had done some good things without taking a bad loss this season. Rutgers is a bad loss, and those good things? Well, the more you look at them, the less good they look. Illinois had five top 50 wins but just one top 45 win. They have a top 25 win but no top 20 wins. Illinois probably needs at least two wins in the Big Ten tournament now.

Cal (RPI: 53, KenPom: 54, first four out): The Golden Bears might have found a way to play themselves out of the NCAA tournament. This week, they scored a total of 90 points in losses at Utah and at Colorado. They’ve lost five of their last six games, which also includes a five-point loss at Arizona and a loss at home against Oregon where Cal blew a 15-point lead with 10 minutes left. Their only win in that stretch is over Oregon State at home, who is the worst high major team in college basketball. The Bears have just four top 100 wins, and their only win over an at-large candidate is against USC, who is in a play-in game in our latest bracket. Get to the finals of the Pac-12 tournament. That’s my advice.

Georgia (RPI: 49, KenPom: 52, next four out): The Bulldogs needed to win at Arkansas to give themselves a real chance at an at-large bid. They lost. They’ve going to need a deep run in the SEC tournament to have a real chance.

Georgia Tech (RPI: 91, KenPom: 77, first four out): Josh Pastner has done a great job with the Yellow Jackets in his first season, but if they are going to go to the NCAA tournament, it’s going to take some ACC tournament wins to get there.

No. 9 Michigan State bounces back and routs Indiana 85-57

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Miles Bridges scored 22 points and Nick Ward had 18 points and 13 rebounds to help No. 9 Michigan State bounce back with an 85-57 win over Indiana on Friday night.

The Spartans (17-3, 5-2 Big Ten) had a confidence-boosting performance after going from a top-ranked team to a reeling one. They were slumping after a 16-point loss at Ohio State, an overtime win over Rutgers and an 82-72 setback to Michigan at home.

The Hoosiers (11-8, 4-3) lost for the first time in four games, falling into a fourth-place tie with the Wolverines and Nebraska.

Michigan State took control with an 18-0 run midway through the first half, led by as much as 23 and was ahead 42-23 at halftime. The Spartans stayed ahead by a comfortable margin in the second half by spreading the ball around and making it tough for the Hoosiers to make shots.

Cassius Winston had 10 points, eight assists and only one turnover, while Jaren Jackson had 10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and three assists for the Spartans.

Indiana’s Robert Johnson had 21 points and the rest of his teammates struggled offensively. Josh Newkirk scored 14, but missed 12 of 17 shots and the Hoosiers were held to 34 percent shooting.

FAMOUS FAN

Alex Rodriguez, who was in Detroit for the North American International Auto Show, attended the game. He went to Michigan State’s shootaround earlier in the day and wore an “Izzone” T-shirt while standing in the student section behind coach Tom Izzo, his staff and players.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Izzo,” Rodriguez said.

BIG PICTURE

Indiana: The Hoosiers had a hard time competing without Juwan Morgan playing as he has lately. One of the Big Ten’s leaders in scoring, rebounding, steals and shooting before the game started was limited to two points on 1-of-5 shooting, three rebounds and one steal.

Michigan State: The Spartans desperately needed to get their swagger back and they did, suddenly looking like the team that was ranked No. 1 two weeks ago.

Weekend Preview: Big East showdown headlines an interesting slate of games

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

*(NOTE: Lines are not posted for Saturday or Sunday games as of publication. Spreads referenced are via Kenpom.com)

No. 11 XAVIER at No. 19 SETON HALL (-1), Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)

The only game this weekend featuring two teams that are currently ranked in the top 25, Xavier and Seton Hall square off in a battle of programs trending in opposite directions. Now that Trevon Bluiett has rediscovered his shooting stroke, the Musketeers have reeled off back-to-back wins, including a beatdown of then-No. 25 Creighton. Seton Hall, on the other hand, lost by a combined 37 points at Marquette and Creighton in the last 11 days and struggled with a Georgetown team that was down 44 points at home against Villanova.

  • PREDICTION: Xavier’s new starting lineup will be interesting. The Musketeers are much more offensively oriented right now, but Kerem Kanter and Naji Marshall are not exactly known for their defense and physicality. Seton Hall has a big, old, tough and strong front line. I think they get this win they badly needed in front of a packed out. Seton Hall (-1)

No. 14 ARIZONA (-5) at STANFORD, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (CBS)

First place in the Pac-12 is on the line as 5-1 Arizona squares off with 5-1 Stanford. And yes, you read that correctly. In their last five games in league play, the Cardinal have swept the LA schools at home, the Washington schools on the road and beaten Arizona State in their place. Now they get the best team in the Pac-12. Stanford is healthy and playing the best basketball they’ve played in a long, long time.

  • PREDICTION: If Stanford is getting five points at home I am all over the Cardinal. The problem is that I don’t think they will be. KenPom’s projections don’t factor in that Stanford is healthy and hot. I think the line will be closer to Stanford (-2), and I would still probably take them. Stanford (-5)

FLORIDA at No. 18 KENTUCKY (-3), Sat. 8:15 p.m.

This matchup is fascinating. Two teams that still have quite figured things out that play polar opposite styles of basketball. Florida is loaded with quick, veteran guards that fire up threes. Kentucky is loaded big, athletic forwards that can’t really shoot. Coming off of a loss at South Carolina, I think this game is probably more important for Kentucky, who finally looks like they are going to be healthy.

  • PREDICTION: Can Kentucky overwhelm Florida with their size or will the Gators exploit the mismatches with their guards? That answer really comes down to whether or not the Gators get hot from deep. I’m going to guess that they will since they have a tendency to show up in big games. Florida (+3)

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WATCH?

  • No. 1 Villanova (-17) at UConn, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (CBS): The big question in this game for me, beyond “Will UConn lose by enough for UConn to fire Kevin Ollie on the spot?”, is whether or not Villanova is the elite team in college basketball that we swear doesn’t exist. Villanova (-17)
  • No. 7 Wichita State (-1) at Houston, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPNU): The Shockers have turned into a defensive liability out of nowhere, and on Saturday they will be traveling to visit a Houston team that badly needs this win. Wichita State (-1)
  • No. 4 Oklahoma (-3) at Oklahoma State, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN): Trae Young hasn’t been right for a couple of weeks, and now he gets a rival on the road. Is this the game that he figures it out? Oklahoma (-3)
  • BAYLOR at No. 10 KANSAS (-8), Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN): Kansas has actually had some issues at home this season, more than they’ve had on the road. Baylor tends to play the Jayhawks tough. Is this a letdown spot after that massive win at West Virginia? Kansas (-8)

No. 10 Jayhawks back on top of Big 12 with fresh approach

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The hallmarks of Kansas under Bill Self over the years have been inside-outside post play and gritty defense, the kind of in-your-shorts man-to-man that leaves opponents gasping for air.

That trusted formula has produced 13 straight Big 12 championships.

But if the No. 10 Jayhawks are going to break a tie with the UCLA teams of the 1960s and ’70s for the most consecutive conference titles, their formula will look quite different this season: They are going to pour in 3-pointers, race around the court and simply outscore their foes.

“I do think you can get tougher. I do think you can get harder. I do think you can become more competitive and learn how to compete as you go,” Self said, “but the reality of it is we’re not changing right now playing four guards. Our second-best rebounder is 6-foot-5, 180 pounds. We’re not changing that. We’re not changing our next-best rebounder weighs 200 pounds. We’re not changing that fact.

“We’re playing four really average-sized guards,” Self said. “We’re not going to change that.”

So, best to adapt to it.

It helps that those four guards — Devonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman — form one of the best backcourts in the nation. Graham is a do-everything floor general, Mykhailiuk one of the best sharpshooters in the nation, Vick the most athletic of the bunch and Newman is capable of getting to the rim with as quick of a first step as anybody in the league.

It also helps that they’re experienced: Graham and Mykhailiuk are seniors with three title rings on their fingers, Vick is a junior and Newman is a third-year sophomore who redshirted last season.

Together, they’ve led the Jayhawks (15-3, 5-1) to four consecutive wins, including road wins over then-No. 16 TCU and sixth-ranked West Virginia. They’ve pushed Kansas back to the top of the league standings headed into Saturday’s game against Baylor, and back into the discussion of a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament when the bracket is revealed in about six weeks.

In other words, they have Kansas right where it is accustomed to being.

But the route has been much different, and that was evident in the Jayhawks’ comeback victory over the Mountaineers on Monday night. Graham and Mykhailiuk combined for 20 of their final 26 points, most of them on 3s and pull-up jumpers — each of them knocked down three from beyond the arc.

The comeback in years past would have featured a big man such as Darrell Arthur or Thomas Robinson in the post, or an elite guard such as Frank Mason III going right to the rim.

Different styles, even if the results have been the same.

“I think we assume some things because of the past,” Self said. “You look at the past, I mean, Landen Lucas was tough. We’re not replacing him with the same toughness. Josh Jackson was a monster. He was an assassin. We’re not replacing him with the same type of mentality. Certainly, you can’t match Frank’s mentality in that area. Which is OK. We were so spoiled with that in the past.”

Those past teams may have had bruising big men, tough guard play and pure scorers all over the floor, and they may have been one of the best defensive teams in the country. But they also had deficiencies, and in many cases, they are the same areas where this year’s team excels.

The Jayhawks have already hit 195 shots from beyond the arc, tops in the Big 12, and are shooting 41 percent from that range. They are among the league leaders in assists and shooting percentage, numbers that help to offset the fact that Kansas ranks ninth out of 10 teams in the league in rebounding.

“We’re going to be scrappy, tough. We got to do a way better job of rebounding, obviously,” Graham said. “But yeah, basically we’ve just got to get way tougher, like I’ve been saying.”

That toughness could get a boost now that Silvio De Souza, a five-star prospect from Florida’s IMG Academy, has been cleared to play. He graduated in December and promptly joined the Jayhawks, and Self is hopeful the big man will be up to speed by the time February rolls around.

It could get another boost if Billy Preston, another five-star prospect, is ever cleared. The school and NCAA have been looking into the ownership of a car he was driving on campus last fall.

In the meantime, the Jayhawks head into their game against the Bears on Saturday riding a win streak, winning high-scoring affairs thanks to 3-pointers and an offensive flair.

“We don’t have the same team we’ve had in the past,” Self said, “and we have to understand that.”

TCU PG Jaylen Fisher to miss rest of season following knee surgery

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FORT WORTH, Texas — TCU point guard Jaylen Fisher had surgery Thursday to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season for the No. 24 Horned Frogs.

Fisher got hurt Tuesday, the second time in less than six months he injured a knee in practice. He had surgery after a meniscus tear in his left knee in early August.

The sophomore guard missed the team’s trip to Australia after the previous surgery, but was ready for the regular season. He averaged 12.1 points and was fifth in the Big 12 with 5.4 assists while playing the first 17 games. He had a career-high 22 points in an overtime loss Saturday at No. 4 Oklahoma, and he made 11 of 20 shots from 3-point range his last four games.

Fisher will need three to four months of recovery.

“I feel bad for him. We all feel bad for him,” coach Jamie Dixon said.

Even with his knee locked in a bent position and having to use crutches, Fisher attended TCU’s 96-73 home win over Iowa State on Wednesday night. He sat in a chair near the TCU bench.