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St. Bonaventure lands season-changing win vs. No. 16 Rhode Island

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St. Bonaventure put themselves into terrific position to earn an at-large bid on Friday night as they erased a six-point deficit in the final four minutes to take down No. 16 Rhode Island, 77-74.

The star for the Bonnies, Jaylen Adams, struggled shooting the ball, finishing just 2-for-12 from the floor with 10 points, but it was his assists to LaDarien Griffin with less than 30 seconds left that gave Mark Schmidt’s club a lead they would not relinquish.

Matt Mobley led the way for the Bonnies with 26 points and nine boards, but he missed a pair of free throws in the final ten seconds that gave URI two chances to tie or take the lead down the stretch.

What made this win for important for the Bonnies is that they entered Friday night with a lack of great wins of their résumé. They were 3-2 against Quadrant 1 opponents, but their three Quadrant 1 wins came at Buffalo, against Vermont on a neutral floor and at Syracuse. Quadrants are an easy way to group wins, but the committee absolutely is cognizant of who those wins came against.

Rhode Island is a top ten team in the RPI.

This is a marquee win.

This is a win that will help the committee overlook the fact that the Bonnies have losses to Niagara and at St. Joseph’s this season. And while they might have been able to find a way to get an at-large bid to the tournament without this, the fact of the matter is that winning this game all-but assures the Bonnies of a trip to the Big Dance as long as they don’t do something stupid the rest of the way.

USC loses Boatwright for the year

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USC will be without Bennie Boatwright for the rest of the season following a knee injury.

The Trojans made the announcement on Friday after. The 6-foot-10 junior suffered a patella injury in a win over Oregon on Thursday night. It is not expected to require surgery, but it will keep him out throughout the rest of the season.

“It’s just a shame when injuries happen to such hard workers and outstanding young men like Bennie,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said in a statement. “Bennie has been such a valuable part of our program and he was having another very good year, being a factor on offense and defense. As we enter our stretch drive this season, we’ll miss having him, but we’ll be there to support him in his recovery every step of the way.”

Boatwright was averaging 13.6 points this season.

USC, a preseason top ten team, is currently in a fight to just reach the NCAA tournament. Most bracket projections have them somewhere between a play-in game and out of the tournament.

The Trojans are already playing this season short-handed, as sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton was not allowed to suit up following his involvement in the FBI investigation into corruption in college hoops.

Underclassmen help Louisville string together wins

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville’s title prospects appeared shaky 11 days ago following a third consecutive loss and a left ankle injury that sidelined leading scorer Deng Adel.

But the Cardinals (18-8, 8-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) are back in the race with consecutive blowouts of Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh after some lineup changes and impressive contributions from their underclassmen. Their goal now is maintaining that momentum over the final five regular season games that will determine seeding for next month’s conference tournament in Brooklyn, New York.

“Our confidence is high, it always has been,” said Louisville junior forward Ray Spalding, who has nursed a sprained ankle as well. “But now it’s more about paying attention to little things when it comes down to stretches of the basketball game that we didn’t pay attention to before. We’re doing a better job. We’re just staying after it.”

Louisville interim coach David Padgett said Friday that barring further setbacks, Adel “should be ready to go a little bit” on Saturday night against No. 14 North Carolina (20-7, 9-5). The junior forward/guard still leads the Cardinals with a per-game average of 15.5 points, but freshmen — including guard Darius Perry and forward Jordan Nwora and sophomore guard Ryan McMahon — have filled the void with some of their best performances this season.

“They’re always ready to come off the bench when their number is called,” Spalding said.

Nwora has 29 points the past two games behind 6-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. The 6-foot-2 Perry had a team-high seven assists in Sunday’s 94-60 rout of Pitt and has developed backcourt chemistry with senior Quentin Snider. Every contribution has been helpful as the Cardinals sought to regroup from their recent slump.

“It was a collective effort from a lot of guys to step up when we needed to and it helped us get two very good wins,” Padgett added.

That has been evident in Louisville’s tall, lengthy frontcourt, which has developed a strong inside presence with many combinations.

Senior 7-footer Anas Mahmoud has averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds in three starts after coming off the bench the previous 10 contests. Freshman Malik Williams, 6-11, has improved on defense. Despite being injured in a close loss to FSU, Spalding (11.4 points, 8.8 rebounds) has been one of the Cardinals’ most consistent performers on both ends of the floor.

Though Louisville’s wins have come against teams that are a combined 4-23 in league play, the Cardinals will take anything they can get after three defeats by 19 total points. Padgett is especially glad his team quickly regrouped to respectively limit the Yellow Jackets and Panthers to 36 percent and 35 percent shooting while forcing 33 combined turnovers.

“The most impressive thing I saw these last two games with Deng being out is nobody tried to do everything themselves in the absence of one of your better players,” the coach said.

“Guys came in and did what they did. Nobody tried to do anything that they can’t do, nobody tried to do anything that they shouldn’t do. They just played their roles.”

Louisville hopes its depth will help the Cardinals down the stretch, starting with the high-scoring Tar Heels.

Sandwiched between road games next week at No. 12 Duke and Virginia Tech and the regular season finale at North Carolina State the following weekend is a March 1 rematch with top-ranked Virginia, which is 6-1 against the Cardinals since they entered the ACC. A huge hurdle for sure, but one the Cardinals believe they can clear if everyone is involved.

“It’s five very difficult games, there’s no beating around the bush on that,” Padgett said, “but it’s five opportunities to give us a chance to get some really good wins.”

Weekend Preview: Will the Big East title be won on Saturday?

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWN

No. 3 VILLANOVA (-2) at No. 4 XAVIER, Sat. 4:30 p.m. (FOX)

Oh, there is so much to get to with Saturday’s showdown in Cincinnati.

Let’s start with this: Villanova has run absolutely roughshod over the Big East since the conference began anew in 2014. They’ve won four straight league titles by an average of 2.8 games per years. In those four seasons, when you include Big East tournament losses, the Wildcats have lost a total of 11 games to Big East opponents. They’ve won two Big East tournament titles and a national title to boot.

The Kansas streak in the Big 12 is more impressive because of the longevity of it, but Villanova’s dominance over their conference these last four years outweighs what Kansas has done to their league. They’ve been challenged, Villanova — despite playing in a league that has ranked in the top three on KenPom the last three years — has not been.

Until now.

The Wildcats have lost two of their last three games and currently sit one game out of first place in the league standings. Behind Xavier. A loss on Saturday would mean that Villanova is two games out of first place with four games left to play; Xavier would only have three games left on their schedule. The idea of an outright Big East title would essentially be dead, while the Musketeers would only need to win one more game to lock up at least a share of the Big East regular season championship.

But here’s the kicker: As troubling as Villanova’s recent play has been, they’ve kicked Xavier’s hindparts as league rivals. It can’t even be considered a rivalry because that would assume both teams had a chance to win. The Musketeers are 1-9 in ten games against Villanova, including a 24-point loss in Philadelphia earlier this season. Will that correct itself Saturday?

We shall see.

What I do know is that this is the most intriguing game I’ve seen on this season’s schedule, even more so that Virginia’s visit to Duke earlier this year.

In the immortal words of Bart Scott, “CAN’T WAIT!”

WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU WATCH?

  • No. 20 WEST VIRGINIA at No. 13 KANSAS (-4), Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN): This is a big one for Kansas, who could very well fall two games behind Texas Tech in the Big 12 title race with a loss. And West Virginia is certainly good enough to go into Phog Allen and get a win. I just don’t think they will. Kansas (-4)
  • No. 7 TEXAS TECH (-2) at BAYLOR, Sat. 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU): This is a sneaky game for the Red Raiders. Baylor is healthy and playing their best basketball of the season, having won four games in a row. Their zone can cause teams that don’t shoot great trouble, and Tech has had some issues this season playing on the road. Texas Tech (-2)
  • No. 19 WICHITA STATE at No. 5 CINCINNATI (-9), Sun. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN): I was hoping there would be more intrigue with the AAC title race at this point in the season than their is, because this matchup is intriguing. Wichita State can’t guard and Cincinnati can’t score. I think the Shockers keep it close. Wichita State (+9)
  • No. 8 OHIO STATE at No. 22 MICHIGAN (-1), Sun. 1:00 p.m. (CBS): The Buckeyes got worked over by Penn State on Thursday, but that might have been because they were looking forward to Sunday’s trip to Ann Arbor. Michigan, however, will be looking for some revenge for a loss earlier this year. Michigan (-1)
  • No. 12 DUKE (-1) at No. 11 CLEMSON, Sun. 1:00 p.m. (ACC Net): No Shelton Mitchell (probably) and no Donte Grantham (definitely) is tough for Clemson. Will Marvin Bagley play? Either way, I like Duke (-1)
  • No. 16 RHODE ISLAND (-2) at ST. BONAVENTURE, Fri. 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2): The Bonnies, playing at home in a must-win game for their at-large chances, and they’re getting points. St. Bonaventure (+2)

CBT Podcast: The latest on the FBI’s investigation and a preview of Villanova-Xavier

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Rob Dauster walks you through everything you need to know about Thursday’s bombshell report from Yahoo! Sports on the status of the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball. Putting that report into context is the priority here. Then Reags from the Fundamentally Sound podcast joins the show to talk about Villanova-Xavier and why Duke losing Marvin Bagley III for a couple of weeks is actually a good thing. The rundown below:

OPEN: Everything you need to know about the FBI investigation to put the latest into context

10:15: Breaking down the Game of the Year between Xavier and Villanova

25:15: Marvin Bagley III getting hurt was the best thing that could have happened to Duke

33:00: There is a fun game in the Atlantic 10 on Friday night

Bubble Banter: No. 15 Saint Mary’s has worrisome profile after loss to San Francisco

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Thursday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

HOUSTON (RPI: 21, KenPom: 23, NBC seed: 11): After beating Cincinnati on their home floor on Thursday night, the Cougars are pretty close to a lock. They have now won four in a row and six of their last seven, including Wichita State and the Bearcats at home. They are 4-2 against Quadrant 1 opponents with a 20-5 mark on the season, more than enough to get the committee to overlook the fact that they have a loss to Drexel at home and Tulane on the road on their résumé. 

PENN STATE (RPI: 73, KenPom: 28, NBC seed: Out): Suddenly, the Nittany Lions are interesting. Sitting at 18-9 overall and 8-6 in the Big Ten, Penn State has now won four in a row and six of their last seven games, a stretch that is bookended by their only two Quadrant 1 wins of the season — at Ohio State and, on Thursday, a blowout win over Ohio State at home. With two Quadrant 1 games and a Quadrant 2 game left on their schedule, the Nittany Lions are suddenly in the conversation, although a pair of Quadrant 3 losses certainly doesn’t help their case. 

UCLA (RPI: 52, KenPom: 49, NBC seed: Play-in game): There are two things that can break your back in the Pac-12: losing at home to Cal and losing at home to Oregon State. UCLA avoided the latter on Thursday night, knocking off the Beavers in Pauley Pavilion. UCLA’s bid is going to be earned in their last three games, which are all Quadrant 1 opponents: at Utah, at Colorado, at USC. With just two Quadrant 1 wins and a Quadrant 3 loss, I think UCLA needs to go 2-1 in that stretch. 

USC (RPI: 42, KenPom: 50, NBC seed: First four out): The Trojans snapped a three-game losing streak by knocking off Oregon at home. Like UCLA, USC’s tournament hopes are pinned on the trip to the Mountain Schools next weekend. Right now, Andy Enfield’s club has just two Quadrant 1 wins, a 6-8 mark against the top two Quadrants and a Quadrant 4 loss at home to Princeton. It’s not pretty. 

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (RPI: 27, KenPom: 47, NBC seed: 12): The only way I can see Middle Tennessee State getting an at-large bid to the tournament is if they win out and lose to Western Kentucky in the CUSA tournament title game. Otherwise, they’re just another mid-major team with one Quadrant 1 win and more than one Quadrant 3 loss. 

LOSERS

SAINT MARY’S  (RPI: 28, KenPom: 17, NBC seed: 6): Saint Mary’s suddenly has one of the most interesting NCAA tournament profiles in the country. As it stands, the Gaels have played just a sincere Quadrant 1 game: at Gonzaga. They won that game. But they also lost to Gonzaga at home in a blowout to go along with a pair of Quadrant 3 losses — at San Francisco and Washington State on a neutral. The committee taught us something when the top 16 seeds of the bracket was revealed last weekend: They value winning. They prioritize quality wins over just about anything. That’s why Kansas was the No. 6 overall seed. That’s why Oklahoma was a No. 4 seed. It’s why Xavier has come close to lock status for the top seed line. Wins against quality teams are important, and Saint Mary’s has just one of them. They’re just 4-2 against the top two Quadrants. For my money, the Gaels are still a tournament team, but I’m not going to sit here and pretend that their profile is strong enough to take a loss in the WCC tournament — particularly to someone not named Gonzaga — and still be at-large worthy. 

TEMPLE (RPI: 38, KenPom: 82, NBC seed: Next four out): Temple had a chance to give themselves the boost they needed to get onto the right side of the bubble. But they blew a 14-point lead at Wichita State, losing what will go down as a bad loss only because it didn’t have to be a loss. The Owls do have three Quadrant 1 wins, but they also have four Quadrant 3 losses. I think they have to beat Houston at home this weekend to have a real chance. 

WASHINGTON  (RPI: 53, KenPom: 103, NBC seed: 10): The Huskies really did look like they were in line to make a run to the NCAA tournament after beating Arizona and Arizona State at home. But after losing to Utah at home on Thursday night, they’ve now dropped three in a row, none of which were Quadrant 1 games. Those four Quadrant 1 wins are going to help them out, but they need to start winning again, and soon.