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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.

Indiana hires Dayton head coach Archie Miller

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Indiana is expected to hire Dayton head coach Archie Miller, the school announced.

The deal will be for seven years, according to The Vertical. Miller had spent the last six seasons as the head coach at Dayton, getting to four straight NCAA tournaments, including the Elite 8 in 2014, while winning the last two Atlantic 10 regular season titles.

Miller had been targeted by seemingly every high major program with an opening since he reached the Elite 8, but similar to Shaka Smart when he left VCU, Miller simply waited for the right job to come long.

Indiana is the right job.

There had been some speculation that Miller wouldn’t want to take Indiana, that his dream job is Ohio State and that the idea of coaching in a fishbowl like Bloomington is not something that would be all that appealing to him. But Indiana is an elite job. It’s the kind of opening that happens once every four or five years, and if Miller had said no to the Hoosiers now, it’s very possible that an opportunity like this wouldn’t come along for years, if ever.

This hire is surprising, not because it’s the wrong hire — I think they got this right — but because Indiana actually made the right decision.

The overwhelming sentiment since Tom Crean was fired was that UCLA head coach Steve Alford would be named the next head coach at Indiana because the Hoosiers wanted an “Indiana Guy”. Alford was born in New Castle, he played at IU for Bobby Knight, he won a national title with the program. The goal was to get the Indiana fan base back, a fan base that was so estranged from the program that Indiana had to play an NIT game on the road as a higher seed because they were reportedly afraid of allowing ESPN’s cameras to see the empty seats.

But just because a hire appeases the fans doesn’t make it the right hire.

Miller was the right hire.

If they really want to get the fans back, winning is the best way to do it. Archie is as good of a bet to win at Indiana as anyone.

Elite 8 Preview: Saturday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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So Friday got good.

If Zak Showalter’s game-tying three and subsequent discount double-check wasn’t enough, we had Canyon Barry’s chasedown block and, well, this game-winner from Chris Chiozza.

And all that came after De’Aaron Fox took out what felt like a season’s worth of frustration out on Lonzo Ball.

What is on tap for tonight?

No. 1 GONZAGA (-8) vs. No. 11 XAVIER, 6:09 p.m., TBS: Someone is going to be making their way to the Final Four for the first time on Saturday night, as Xavier’s Chris Mack and Gonzaga’s Mark Few square off for the right to play on the final weekend of the season.

And in a way, this is the perfect Final Four game. Both the Zags and the Musketeers are basketball schools in basketball leagues. They come from outside the power structure and have head coaches that have spurned jobs from within the power structure to remain there. They are built for a run like this, even if they were both overlooked on the way here.

Xavier was obvious. Playing without Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis, the Musketeers just haven’t been the team that they were supposed to be this season. That’s why they lost six straight games in February, but things have turned around in March, as Trevon Bluiett has put the program on his back and willed them to the Elite 8. Gonzaga is the opposite. They went 29-0 to start the season, but they have yet to be accepted as a legitimate title contender by most of the people that watch the games.

My guess on Saturday night is that the Zags make their statement and emphatically get into the Final Four.

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-8)

No. 1 KANSAS (-7) vs.  No. 3 OREGON, 8:49 p.m., TBS: This matchup is a lot tastier on paper than it is likely going to end up being on the floor. As good as Oregon has been this season, they are, essentially, Kansas light. They play two lead guards together and they play small-ball, with a natural wing lined up at the four.

The problem?

The Kansas guys are just better. Josh Jackson is a better player than Dillon Brooks. His length and athleticism should give the Oregon star fits. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are better than whatever combination of Payton Pritchard, Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis the Ducks opt to use.

And, for that matter, no team is playing better right now that they Jayhawks, who beat Michigan State by 20, Purdue by 32 and became the first team to score 90 points in their first three NCAA tournament games since 1995. I think that trend continues on Saturday night.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-7)

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

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.