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Bubble Banter: Vanderbilt is heading to the NCAA tournament

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The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here. This is where the seeds listed below come from.

This post will be updated throughout the day.

WINNERS

Vanderbilt (RPI: 43, KenPom: 36, ): Mike White deserves credit for getting two teams to the NCAA tournament this year: Florida, who he coaches, and Vanderbilt, who picked off the Gators for the third time this season on Friday night. Vanderbilt should be in the tournament at this point, even if they are going to have 15 losses to their names if they lose in the SEC tournament. Three wins over Florida speaks for itself, and those losses came was a result of one of the toughest schedules in college basketball this season. I don’t know how dangerous the Commodores will be in the Big Dance, but I do think that, after today, they will be there.

Middle Tennessee State (RPI: 36, KenPom: 51, No. 11 seed): The Blue Raiders took care of business in the Conference USA semifinals, getting themselves to the league title game, where they will play for the right to have a stress-free Selection Sunday. A loss would be very, very interesting, as MTSU doesn’t have a great profile but they have some quality wins and would be 29-5 on the season. They beat UNC Wilmington on a neutral. They beat Vanderbilt by 23. They won at Ole Miss and at Belmont. That’s pretty good. The problem is that a loss in the CUSA title game would mean they have four sub-100 losses, which is the exact number of top 100 wins they have. That’s not a good combination.

Rhode Island (RPI: 45, KenPom: 52, first four out): Rhode Island knocked off St. Bonaventure on Thursday afternoon, putting the Rams in a weird spot. On the one hand, Davidson knocked off top-seeded Dayton in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals, which opened up that side of the Atlantic 10 bracket for the Rams. Their path to the title game is unquestionably easier now. The problem? Dayton would have been a significantly better win for their résumé, which currently is only strong enough to put them right on the cut line. They have a better chance of winning the league’s automatic bid now, but they very well may have to if they want to get in at this point.

VCU (RPI: 23, KenPom: 50, No. 10 seed): VCU advanced to the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament with a win over George Mason, which probably gets them into the tournament. The only reason the Rams are on this list at this point is that they may not have a strong enough profile to survive a bad loss.

LOSERS

Kansas State (RPI: 55, KenPom: 31, play-in game): The Wildcats blew a 12-point deficit in the second half against West Virginia, which leaves Kansas State in a precarious situation. They have the two wins over Baylor and a handful of other quality wins to their name, but they probably needed to beat West Virginia to really feel comfortable about their chances on Selection Sunday. It’s going to be a sweat, but as of today, I think they’re going to be on the right side of the bubble.

Xavier (RPI: 30, KenPom: 42, No. 11 seed): Xavier lost to Creighton in a nail-biter on Friday night, but the Musketeers should still be OK. Their win over Butler was good and they played well even in a loss to the Bluejays. Xavier’s issue is less their résumé and more whether or not they are the same team that got those wins earlier this year. I think they are.

Cal (RPI: 53, KenPom: 57, first four out): Cal is probably going to miss the tournament after losing to Oregon on Friday night. The Golden Bears have decent numbers and don’t lose to bad teams, but their only quality win came at USC. That’s just not going to be enough to cut it this year, even with this disaster of a bubble.

Georgia (RPI: 48, KenPom: 55, first four out): The Bulldogs are probably going to miss the NCAA tournament. They had a shot to get themselves onto the right side of the bubble with a game against Kentucky today, but the Bulldogs dug themselves an 18-point hole and couldn’t work their way out of it. The NIT beckons.

Indiana (RPI: 70, KenPom: 39, next four out): Indiana had a chance to play their way into consideration with a win over Wisconsin. They lost. For my money, the Hoosiers are out.

Houston (RPI: 49, KenPom: 44, next four out): Houston needed to get to the AAC tournament finals to have any shot at an at-large bid. They lost to UConn in the quarters.

 

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.