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Bubble Banter: Kansas State, Xavier the big winners while the Big Ten takes an L

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

This post will be updated throughout the day.

LOSERS

Illinois (RPI: 58, KenPom: 67, first four out): Coming off of a loss to Rutgers in their season finale, a loss that put the Illini on the wrong side of the bubble, John Groce’s club caught a break in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, playing a Michigan team that saw their plane skid off the runway on Wednesday evening and did not arrive in D.C. until three hours before the game, playing in their practice jerseys.

And the Illini were still run off the floor, falling by 20 points in a “lose and go to the NIT” game. The question we all want answered at this point is not whether or not this team will get a bid, but whether another year without a trip to the tournament costs John Groce his job.

USC (RPI: 41, KenPom: 62, No. 11 seed): The Trojans lost on Thursday night, falling by two to No. 3 UCLA in a game that USC had to win if they were going to end up getting through Selection Sunday without stress. As it stands, USC has a pair of top 20 wins, but both of them came at home. They’re 24-9 on the season with just one sub-100 loss, but they have a grand total of six top 100 and nine top 150 wins. They went 10-8 in the Pac-12, but they went just 1-6 against the top three teams in the league. At this point, USC is rooting against all of the bubble teams and hoping that they’ve done enough to sneak into a play-in game.

One x-factor that hasn’t really been mentioned with USC is Bennie Boatwright. He missed 17 games this season, and the Trojans went just 5-4 in Pac-12 play without him.

Iowa (RPI: 71, KenPom: 66, first four out): Illinois wasn’t the only Big Ten bubble team to take a beating on Thursday. The Hawkeyes lost to Indiana by 30 in a game they had to win to really have a chance of winding up on the right side of the bubble.

Marquette (RPI: 55, KenPom: 28, No. 9 seed): The Golden Eagles fell in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, meaning that they are going to have to spend the next 72 hours sweating it out with the rest of the bubble teams. And frankly, I don’t think that Marquette has all that much to worry about. My guess is that they will safely be in the tournament, but as we’ve mentioned a number of times over the course of the last week, four of Marquette’s five best wins on the season came against Xavier and Creighton after the season-ending injuries to Edmond Sumner and Mo Watson. I don’t expect this to cost Marquette a bid — maybe a seed line or two — but it is a story line to keep an eye on.

Providence (RPI: 53, KenPom: 53, No. 10 seed): The Friars are going to be an interesting case on Selection Sunday. They do have six top 50 wins, but just three of those wins are top 40. They’ve also won just eight total top 100 games — all of which are in the top 60 — but they also lost three games to sub-100 competition, including two games to sub-200 teams. I think the Friars are going to be OK, but every game a bubble team wins is bad news for Ed Cooley.

WINNERS

Kansas State (RPI: 59, KenPom: 32, play-in game): Kansas State knocked off No. 9 Baylor on Thursday night, a win that puts the Wildcats in a really good position to get an at-large bid on Selection Sunday. I would not go as far as to call them a lock for the tournament. The Wildcats have a pair of wins over Baylor — both of which came away from home — but they have just four more top 100 wins to their name in addition to a pair of sub-100 losses. The Wildcats will advance to face West Virginia in the Big 12 semifinals.

Xavier (RPI: 33, KenPom: 44, play-in game): Xavier beat No. 18 Butler in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. Welcome to the NCAA tournament, Muskies. You are no longer on the bubble because Chris Mack went rogue.

California (RPI: 56, KenPom: 58, next four out): Cal advanced to the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament with a win over Utah on Thursday afternoon, and it sets the Bears up for a must-win against Oregon on Friday. Cal’s tournament résumé has one, glaring hole in it: the lack of elite wins. Their best win on the season is over USC, and the Trojans are only 41st in the RPI, needing to play their win into the Big Dance as well. To be frank, I’m not even sure a win over Oregon would be enough for Cal, but it would give them a real chance, and as of right now, that is not the case.

Middle Tennessee State (RPI: 38, KenPom: 52, No. 11 seed): The Blue Raiders avoided a loss in the Conference USA quarterfinals, which is good news because it means their dreams of getting the automatic bid is still alive. And rest assured, MTSU wants that automatic bid. They do not want to sweat out Selection Sunday with the four sub-100 losses they would have on their résumé if they were to take a loss in the Conference USA tournament.

Vanderbilt (RPI: 45, KenPom: 40, No. 11 seed): Vanderbilt blew out Texas A&M in their SEC tournament opener, meaning that they have just about played their way into the Big Dance. If they beat Florida on Friday, the Commodores will likely find themselves dancing. If they don’t, Vandy will remain one of the most fascinating bubble teams in the country.

Seton Hall (RPI: 44, KenPom: 54, No. 10 seed): Seton Hall beat Marquette on Thursday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, a win that should lock up their at-large status. The Pirates probably would have been on the right side of the bubble either way.

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.