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Bubble Banter: Is Sunday a make-or-break game for SMU against Cincinnati?

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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 Sunday.

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

SYRACUSE (RPI: 38, KenPom: 46, NBC seed: Last four in): For the life of me, I do not understand why Syracuse is seeded lower than Louisville in brackets, but they are. The Orange had just one Quadrant 1 win and a Quadrant 3 loss, but they also have a better RPI than Louisville, five Quadrant 2 wins as opposed to just one for the Cardinals and a stronger non-conference SOS. That said, beating Wake Forest doesn’t really help that. So they are what they are for now, I guess. Syracuse’s bid will be earned in the final three weeks. Four of their final six games are against Q1 opponents: N.C. State, at Miami, UNC, at Duke, at BC, Clemson.

LOUISVILLE (RPI: 42, KenPom: 36, NBC seed: 10): The Cardinals the best brakes off of Pitt in Pittsburgh, which doesn’t help anything and may actually hurt their RPI. Louisville has two Quadrant 1 wins and just one Quadrant 2 win, but they have no bad losses and five more chances to improve their profile: UNC, at Duke, at Virginia Tech, Virginia, at N.C. State. All five of those games would be Quadrant 1 wins.

HOUSTON (RPI: 30, KenPom: 29, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Cougars pounded Tulane on Sunday night, which doesn’t mean all that much because Tulane is not very good and the only way this could actually affect them would be a loss. Houston’s at-large bid will be earned or lost this week. They play Cincinnati at home on Thursday night before making the trip up to North Philly to face-off with Temple. Those are their last two Quadrant 1 games, and with just two Quadrant 1 wins to their name, they need the help.

LOSERS

SMU (RPI: 78, KenPom: 60, NBC seed: Out): The Mustangs are in a lot of trouble. They’ve now lost three in a row, four of their last five and seven of their last ten games. They are just 2-5 against Quadrant 1 and 5-9 against Quadrant 1 with a Quadrant 3 loss throw in the mix. The good news is that they have two Quadrant 1 games left, and Wichita State at home will be a third if the Shockers (32) crack the top 30. But none of those wins would be great wins, and I’m not sure they would be enough to jump the ten or so teams between them and the cut line.

NCAA Bracket Reveal: Top four seeds in each region

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On Sunday afternoon, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee announced the top 16 seeds if the NCAA tournament were to be played today.

They are:

EAST (Boston)

No. 1: Villanova
No. 2: Duke
No. 3: Texas Tech
No. 4: Ohio State

SOUTH (Atlanta)

No. 1: Virginia (No. 1 overall seed)
No. 2: Cincinnati
No. 3: Michigan State
No. 4: Tennessee (Top No. 4 seed)

MIDWEST (Omaha)

No. 1: Xavier
No. 2: Auburn (Top No. 2 seed)
No. 3: Clemson (Top No. 3 seed)
No. 4: Oklahoma

WEST (Los Angeles)

No. 1: Purdue
No. 2: Kansas
No. 3: North Carolina
No. 4: Arizona

TAKEAWAYS

Kansas is the No. 6 overall seed as of today, which is clear evidence that the Selection Committee is going to heavily weight the new way of evaluating wins. Kansas has nine Quadrant 1 wins, which is tied with Villanova for the most in the country.

Along those same lines, Michigan State is a No. 3 seed because they have just three Quadrant 1 wins and five Quadrant 2 wins, and combined that is less than the number of Quadrant 1 wins that Kansas has. Throw in a mediocre non-conference SOS and the fact that there really isn’t all that much of a chance for them to improve their profile in the Big Ten, the Spartans are going to be a thorn in the side of some poor No. 1 seed. You don’t want to see them in your region.

One of the most contentious selections here is probably going to end up being Oklahoma — and, to a point, Arizona — as a No. 4 seed over the likes of Rhode Island and Gonzaga. URI and Gonzaga both look like the best teams in their league while Oklahoma has lost three in a row and six of their last eight. But the Sooners play in the Big 12, and thus they have six Quadrant 1 wins. Rhode Island has a great RPI (5) but just a single Quadrant 1 win. Again, those Quadrants and those quality wins are going to be so important.

Frankly, Gonzaga being left out might be more surprising. Mark Few’s club has great predictive metrics and five Quadrant 1 wins, makes their exclusion even more startling. Their RPI is in the middle of the pack, however, and just six of their 23 wins are Quadrant 1 or 2. Such is life in the WCC.

Where teams rank along those top seed lines are going to be really, really important in terms of where they head. Purdue is actually closer to Omaha than Xavier is, but as of today, Xavier is a higher seed as of today. That means that they get preference and the Boilermakers are headed to the other side of the country. What is an easier trip for Purdue fans to make: A drive to Omaha or a flight to LA? That’s significant, especially when you look down at that No. 4 seed in the region. Arizona fans would flood the Staples Center. That’s not exactly ideal playing a team with Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier in front of a crowd that will be majority red.

Then there is Auburn. They are the top No. 2 seed, but they were sent to Omaha instead of Atlanta, which is closer to the school, because the top No. 1 seed and the top No. 2 seed cannot be in the same region. It is one of the bracketing principles. As weird as it sounds, Auburn might actually be better off if they drop a few spots in the pecking order.

Villanova fans might as well buy their tickets to the Boston regional at this point. Of all the teams that are top two seeds, they are easily the closest to Bean-town. I can’t see them ending up anywhere else. Get ’em while they’re cheap!

Gonzaga snaps Saint Mary’s 19-game win streak, 78-65

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MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — By forcing the ball out of Jock Landale’s hands, Gonzaga was able to avenge a home loss to Saint Mary’s and move back into first place in the West Coast Conference.

Rui Hachimura scored 23 points and was a key part of a defensive effort that neutralized Landale as the 12th-ranked Bulldogs ended the nation’s longest active winning streak at 19 games with a 78-65 victory over the 11th ranked Gaels on Saturday night.

Landale made 12 of 15 shots in Saint Mary’s win at Gonzaga last month but was held to just four shots and two baskets because of relentless double teams right from the start in the rematch,

“When they came in our gym they stole one from us at home,” guard Josh Perkins said. “We just wanted to come out of the gate at the get go and set the tone and I think we did that.”

The Bulldogs (23-4, 13-1) jumped on the Gaels (24-3, 13-1) early and never trailed, making 3-pointers on the first three trips and showing off a defensive wrinkle by sending double teams at Landale as soon as he got the ball in the post.

That strategy only worked because of the way Gonzaga recovered to prevent 3-pointers, holding the Gaels to 5 for 20 from long range.

“We wanted to give a different look with the doubles and where they were coming from,” coach Mark Few said. “Our guys did a great job. The doubles are actually the easy part of it. It’s rotating out of it that’s difficult, especially when they put four other guys on the floor who can shoot 3s.”

Zach Norvell Jr. scored 15 points and Johnathan Williams added 12 points and 11 rebounds for Gonzaga.

Cullen Neal scored 18 and Jordan Ford added 17 to lead Saint Mary’s.

Hachimura converted sweeping layups on back-to-back trips early in the second half, adding a foul shot on one of the plays, to help Gonzaga open up a 20-point lead.

Gonzaga raced out to a 22-5 lead, quieting an overflow crowd that turned out for the first matchup of two top 15 teams in WCC history. The Gaels responded and cut the deficit to seven before going into the half down 42-30.

“They came out and kind of just hit us in the mouth,” Ford said. “They got a big lead on us early, and after that it was kind of hard for us to get back.”

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs showed they are still the top dog in the conference by dominating the Gaels on their home floor for their 22nd straight conference road win. They also improved to 6-0 all-time against Saint Mary’s when both teams are ranked, which could happen again in the teams meet in the WCC championship game next month.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels hadn’t lost since dropping back-to-back contests to Washington State and Georgia during a tournament in Anaheim on Thanksgiving weekend. They came into the game leading the nation by shooting 52.8 percent from the field but were taken out of their game offensively with Landale getting no shots in the half-court offense in the first 26 minutes and the team shooting just 41.5 percent overall.

“As soon as it touched my hands I had two guys on top of me,” Landale said. “This team’s not about me. I don’t have to score every possession, and tonight I didn’t. We’ve had games like that where I don’t. But we’ve got to find ways to make those shots count that we get from the perimeter.”

Alkins, Ayton lead No. 13 Arizona past Trojans, 87-67

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Rawle Alkins scored 20 points, Deandre Ayton added 18 and No. 13 Arizona expanded its Pac-12 lead with an 81-67 victory over Southern California on Saturday night.

Dusan Ristic added 16 points, and Allonzo Trier had 13 for the Wildcats (20-6, 10-3 Pac-12).

Chimezie Metu scored 18 points, and Jordan McLaughlin added 16 for the Trojans (17-9, 8-5), who lost their third in a row. Nick Rakocevic scored 12 points, but fouled out with 4:37 to go.

Arizona, beaten Thursday night by UCLA in the Wildcats’ first home loss of the season, defeated USC in Tucson for the eighth straight time. Coupled with UCLA’s loss at Arizona State earlier Saturday, Arizona extended its Pac-12 lead to two games over the second-place Trojans and Bruins with five more to play.

USC, swept in their trip to the Arizona schools this week, led only once Saturday night, 20-18 with 9:08 left in the first half.

Trier scored five, including a 3-pointer, in a 9-0 spurt that put Arizona on top for good 27-20 on Ayton’s 15-footer with 7:06 left in the half.

Metu’s three-point play cut Arizona’s lead to 29-25 with 5:09 left in the half. A pair of 3s by Alkins and Ayton’s hook shot stretched the lead to 37-27 before Derryck Thornton made four straight free throws to slice the Wildcats’ advantage to 37-31 at the break.

The Wildcats outscored USC 16-9 over the final 6:33. Trier’s 3-pointer put Arizona ahead 73-59 with 3:16 to go and Ayton’s 3, followed by a rebound basket by Alkins, gave the Wildcats their biggest lead at 80-61.

BIG PICTURE

USC: Two weeks ago, the Trojans were flying high with six straight victories. Now they’ve lost three in a row on the road to UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona and are slipping back toward the pack. Two home games against the Oregon schools next weekend could provide the Trojans a chance to get close again but the trip to the desert was a missed opportunity.

Arizona: The Wildcats would have found themselves tied with USC for first in the conference with a loss, but they were in control pretty much all of the way, thanks to a balanced attack that featured a return of Alkins as a serious offensive threat. Next up is a big one at rival Arizona State. A win in Tempe and the Wildcats have the Oregon trip and home games against Stanford and Cal in the way of the conference crowd they were predicted to win.

Saturday Recap: No. 2 Virginia gets upset, carnage in the Big 12, Gonzaga’s back

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PLAYER OF THE DAY

The easiest pick in the college basketball this weekend was to beat against No. 21 North Carolina.

The Tar Heels had just knocked off No. 9 Duke in Chapel Hill on Thursday night in a come-from-behind win, and 42 hours later, they had to tip-off on the road against a good N.C. State team that Joel Berry II had said was not an actual rival of the Tar Heels.

Classic trap game.

Luke Maye made that null and void. He scored 27 of his 33 points in the second half and added 17 rebounds in a thrilling, 96-89 win over the Wolfpack. He is now one of two ACC players to have two 30-15 games in one ACC season. The other is Marvin Bagley III.

RELATED: All of Saturday’s Bubble Banter in one place

THE REST OF SATURDAY’S STARS

  • SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s: Nobody in college basketball is hot the way that Shamorie Ponds is hot. Since scoring two points in a loss at Butler, Ponds is averaging 33.5 points, including a 44-point outburst in a win over Marquette on Saturday.
  • DONTE DIVINCENZO, Villanova: The Wildcats bounced back from their loss to St. John’s on Wednesday by beating Butler on Saturday behind a career-high 30 points from the Big Ragu. He outdueled Kelan Martin, who finished with 30 points and eight threes for the Bulldogs.
  • RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga: Hachimura came off the best to score 21 points as No. 12 Gonzaga jumped out to a huge early lead as they beat the No. 11 Gaels, 78-65, in Moraga. The WCC title race is back on.
  • LINDELL WIGGINTON, Iowa State: The best freshman point guard on the floor on Saturday wasn’t Trae Young, it was Wigginton, who had 26 points, five boards and five assists in a win over No. 17 Oklahoma.
  • JEROME ROBINSON and KY BOWMAN, Boston College: The pair combined for 53 points in a win over No. 25 Miami.

TEAM OF THE DAY

How about Virginia Tech?

Not only did they go into No. 2 Virginia’s building and knock off the ACC favorite during College Gameday, but they did it despite the fact that they had all-but given the game to the Wahoos. Check this out: With less than a minute left in the game, Virginia Tech was up 49-45 on UVA. But they turned the ball over, gave up an easy layup, missed the front end of a one-and-one, allowed Virginia to tie it and then turned the ball over again with 4.2 seconds left.

Luckily, Virginia missed the game-winning shot, but they did go up 59-54 on the Hokies with less than a minute left, but Virginia Tech rallied, scoring seven points in the final minute to earn a shocking, 61-60 overtime win.

Oh, and that might end up being the win that keeps them on the right side of the bubble.

GAME OF THE DAY

It was a chess match (we wrote all about that here) between two great coaches that ended with the Preseason National Player of the Year hitting a game-winning shot with 2.7 seconds left.

And, it’s probably worth noting here, that this win moved No. 14 Ohio State into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. Who had that in November?

WTF???? OF THE DAY

What a weird finish to a wild game.

First, Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett fouled Ronnie Harrell’s non-shooting elbow on a three with six seconds left and a two-point lead. Harrell hit all three free throws for the lead. Then at the other end, there was this foul call that allowed Xavier to get the two free throws they needed to win the game:

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

We are as close as we’ve ever been to No. 10 Kansas having their Big 12 title streak snapped. On the same day that the Jayhawks lost at Baylor, 80-64, to snap an 11-game winning streak over the Bears, No. 7 Texas Tech went into Kansas State and smothered the Wildcats, 66-47, to take a one-game lead on Kansas with six games left. Oh, and the Red Raiders get to host the Jayhawks later this month. Buckle up.

Sticking in the Big 12, Oklahoma State kept themselves in the bubble picture by going into Morgantown and knocking off No. 19 West Virginia. OSU has lost four of their last six games. The two wins were at Kansas and at West Virginia. Explain that one.

No Bryce Brown, no problem. No. 8 Auburn bounced back from a loss to Texas A&M by smacking around Georgia. Speaking of Texas A&M, they absolutely embarrassed No. 24 Kentucky in College Station. It was the first time this season that Kentucky looked like they had their spirit broken.

While we’re in the SEC, Alabama beat No. 15 Tennessee by 28 points. Seriously.

The Pac-12 did themselves no favors in the race to earn NCAA tournament bids. No. 13 Arizona knocked off bubble team USC while Oregon State earned a thrilling, two-overtime win at the buzzer to beat Washington, another bubble team:

No. 7 Texas Tech now the favorite to end Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12

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If the streak is going to end, if the one certainty in college basketball — that Kansas will win the Big 12 regular season title — is no longer guaranteed, this is the year for it.

For the first time since Bill Self inherited the Kansas program from Roy Williams back in 2003, Kansas lost four Big 12 games before Feb. 23rd after they fell at Baylor, 80-64. Hell, they’ve only done this five times in the previous 14 seasons. They’ve never lost more than five Big 12 games with Self as their head coach. It’s also the first time that Self lost three games in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in one year, the first time that two of those losses came by double-figures and, if things hold, the first time since the run of Big 12 titles started that Kansas will finish the season ranked as low as 15th in KenPom.

Put another way, this is as beatable as Kansas as ever been under Self.

But they’ve been beatable before. There just hasn’t been anyone in the league good enough to, you know, beat them, to take the Big 12 regular season title for their own.

In 2006, after beating Kansas by 25 points to take over sole possession of first place in the Big 12 by a game, Texas turned around and lost at Texas A&M their next time out. Kansas shared the title. In 2008, holding a one game lead in the Big 12 race with just three games remaining, Texas lost at Texas Tech, sharing another league title with the Jayhawks. In 2013, Kansas State entered the final Saturday of the regular season tied for first place with Kansas, but on a day where Baylor blew out the Jayhawks by 23 points, Kansas State couldn’t find a way to win at Oklahoma State. Again, they shared the title. Iowa State had a chance in 2015, but they lost two of their last four games of the regular season, and Kansas would eventually win the league title outright despite losing five Big 12 games that season.

Which begs the question: Is No. 7 Texas Tech actually good enough to be the team that gets this done?

We know it’s not going to be Oklahoma. The Sooners have now lost three in a row after they fell at Iowa State on Saturday. They’ve lost six of their last eight games and their last five road games with road trips to Texas Tech and Kansas left on the schedule. West Virginia might have a shot, but they still have to play at Kansas — who beat them in Morgantown — and get Texas Tech again.

So Texas Tech then.

It’s there for the taking, more than it’s ever been there before.

With just three weeks left in the regular season, the Red Raiders currently hold a one game lead on Kansas in the Big 12 standings after they went into Manhattan and snuffed out Kansas State the way closing the vents on a grill snuffs out the last remnants of heat on those coals. The final score was 66-47, and it never felt in doubt. It’s the sixth straight win for Chris Beard’s club, their third straight on the road after losing four of their first five road games.

The Red Raiders seem to have solved the issues they had adjusting to life without Zach Smith, who went down in early January with a broken foot, and as a result they’re playing some of their best hoop of the season.

But here’s the most important part: Texas Tech’s second game against Kansas is in Lubbock, where the Red Raiders have not lost a game all season long. Let’s assume that Kansas loses that game. Let’s assume that one of the toughest teams in college basketball beats up on a Kansas team that has lacked exactly that all year long. Let’s assume that one of the nation’s top three defenses, a team that allows opponents to shoot just 31 percent from three and forces turnovers on 24 percent of their defensive possessions finds a way to keep one of the nation’s most three-point reliant teams from getting hot beyond the arc.

Assuming all that happens, the Jayhawks will have to make up a two-game deficit just to earn a share of the Big 12 title. This is a Kansas team that lost at home to Oklahoma State. This is a Kansas team that lost by 16 points to Baylor, who entered Saturday in last place in the Big 12. They play West Virginia and Oklahoma and Iowa State’s Hilton Magic before they even face off with Texas Tech.

Considering where Chris Beard was six years ago — coaching an expansion ABA franchise that didn’t have a single player on the roster when he was hired in late July — it’s remarkable that he has gotten Texas Tech to this place in just his second season with the program.

But none of that will matter if Beard and Texas Tech cannot finish the job.

And for once, I think we finally have found a team that will be up to that task.