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Does Kansas have enough in the tank after rallying to beat West Virginia?

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For the second time this season, Kansas overcame a double-digit deficit to knock off Big 12 rival West Virginia.

This time, the No. 13 Jayhawks might have saved their chances of winning another Big 12 regular-season title with a critical, 77-69 home win over the No. 20 Mountaineers on Saturday evening.

After trailing by as many as 12 points during the second half, the Jayhawks finished the game on a 19-3 run to close things out as West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins was ejected towards the end of the contest.

Struggling to a slow start once again against West Virginia, the Jayhawks grinded out offense at the free-throw line before finally figuring things out down the stretch. Playing with a thin rotation that looked exhausted by the end of the game, Kansas is lucky to come out of this one with a win. The free-throw disparity certainly played a huge part as Kansas had a 35-2 advantage in that department. The discrepancy helped lead to Huggins’ ejection as he had to be frustrated by those numbers. Even though West Virginia is a pressing team that commits a lot of fouls, and shoots a ton of threes, 35-to-2 is a pretty staggering difference.

Big man Udoka Azubuike had a strong second half for the Jayhawks, as he took advantage of additional touches on the interior to finish with a team-high 21 points and five rebounds. Dominant whenever he was able to get a post touch within five feet, Azubuike was 7-for-8 from the floor on Saturday as he’s now 20-for-22 from the floor over his last three games. Also coming up with a few key blocks down the stretch, Azubuike made momentum-shifting plays on both ends of the floor.

While Kansas had a monster performance from its monster in the middle, this was another win in which the Jayhawks needed to claw back from a big deficit to win at home. Not quite the same threat at The Phog this season as they’ve been in years past, the Jayhawks have looked beatable at home during many nights this season.

But even though Kansas hasn’t looked immortal, they’ll certainly take an important win like this over a tough opponent like West Virginia. To put this in context, the Jayhawks entered the day a game out of first place in the Big 12. They ended the game tied for the Big 12 lead after No. 7 Texas Tech fell at Baylor. The Jayhawks still have to make a trip to Lubbock to play the Red Raiders, but they’re now tied for first in the league. The idea of winning the league — hell, of winning an outright regular season title — is still very much in play.

Before they get to that all-important game, however, the Jayhawks have to overcome being worn down. Having to exert a lot of energy by playing starters heavy minutes during emotional comeback wins isn’t going to help in that equation.

Jay Bilas noted that Kansas senior guard Devonte’ Graham has only missed 30 seconds of action total over his last 10 games. The All-American floor general is literally playing 40 minutes per night. And although Graham was still a warrior in finishing with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, he never took over in a tight, must-win game like an All-American would usually do.

Graham made a key three-pointer and still put up a good stat line, but he only finished with six field goal attempts. His teammates were usually the ones going on strong scoring runs. This could ultimately be the byproduct of Graham riding the hot hands of his teammates and being a good floor leader. It should also be noted that Graham went to the charity stripe 10 times as he was getting fouled quite a bit.

But Graham could also be wearing down after all of the recent minutes. Graham is averaging 37.2 minutes per game this season. For perspective, Jimmy Butler is leading the NBA in minutes at 37.3 minutes a night. Basketball fans constantly make jokes about Tom Thibodeau running him into the ground. In other words, Graham’s recent workload has been ridiculous.

And Graham’s fatigue is starting to show in his shooting numbers. Over his last four games, Graham is shooting 36 percent from the floor (20-for-55) as his scoring production has started to dip. Graham is also only 8-for-24 on two-point field goals during that span, as most of his offensive production is coming from threes and free throws. Things aren’t going to get any easier for Graham when he has to face opponents like Trae Young and Oklahoma and Texas Tech next week.

Does Graham have enough in the tank to get Kansas past that stretch for two more wins? When will his teammates run out of gas if they have to keep playing at full speed during every game?

Azubuike also had to play 31 minutes in Saturday’s win over West Virginia — the first time he’s had to play over 25 minutes since Jan. 20. Looking gassed at the end, Azubuike still managed to muster enough energy for those big plays late in the game. Other Kansas starters are also playing well north of 30 minutes every game as it leads to some inconsistent nights.

Even if Kansas somehow manages to win another Big 12 regular season title, it might come at the expense of everything else this season. The Jayhawks might not have anything left to give after another few weeks of games like this.

No. 3 Villanova continues reign of dominance over No. 4 Xavier, winning 95-79

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Villanova is not a perfect basketball team.

They have their flaws. Their depth in an issue. Their defense is a bigger issue. Their health seems to be working itself out, but with a rotation that has been as shallow as six guys at time, they are never more than one sprained ankle away from being put in a spot where their starters play too many minutes.

And despite all of that, one thing remains true about this group: They are always capable of putting together a shooting performance that leaves you wondering how in the world they ever lost a game to begin with.

That’s precisely what happened on Saturday in Cincinnati, as the No. 3 Wildcats — having lost two of their last three games to fall a game out of first place in the Big East — went into the Cintas Center and truck-sticked No. 4 Xavier, 95-79. It’s a result we all probably should have seen coming. Villanova has, after all, won four straight Big East regular season titles, and they weren’t about to lay down and let the Musketeers take control of their league. Especially since it’s Xavier. In the 11 games since Xavier and Villanova became conference foes, the Wildcats are now 10-1 with an average winning margin of 17.6 points.

Mikal Bridges led the way, scoring 16 of his 25 points in a first half where he buried four of Villanova’s 11 threes. Their lead ballooned as high as 21 points, and they took a 51-37 lead into halftime. Xavier made their run in the second half, getting as close as 62-59 before Donte DiVincenzo, who finished with 21 points, nine assists and nine boards, helped to spark a surge that put the game away.

The difference-maker here was Villanova’s shooting. They were 11-for-19 from three in the first half. They shot 16-for-34 for the game. In losses to St. John’s and Providence in the last two weeks, the Wildcats struggled from beyond the arc. They were 8-for-33 against St. John’s, just 2-for-17 in the second half, and they shot 3-for-19 from distance at Providence during the week.

And it is also worth noting that they got some terrific play from two of their young, unproven freshman who combined to score 11 straight points during a five-minute second half stretch. Dhamir Cosby-Rountree had two critical buckets as Villanova pulled away late midway through the second half, when he was on the floor for Eric Paschall, who had picked up four fouls. And Collin Gillispie followed that up by banging home a three and scoring on a tough finger-roll over Sean O’Mara that helped hold Xavier at bay. All told, Cosby-Rountree finished with four points, three boards and a block while Gillispie chipped in with 10 points of his own.

Perhaps most impressive in all of this was that Villanova put together this kind of a performance on an afternoon where Jalen Brunson struggled to get into his normal rhythm. He finished with 11 points and eight assists, but shot just 5-for-12 from the floor and 1-for-6 from three. For a player that is having a historically-great season from an efficiency perspective, those are surprising numbers.

What it all adds up to is this: The Wildcats are not yet ready to relinquish control over the Big East regular season title. Xavier is still technically in first place by a half-game — they’re 12-3 while Villanova is 11-3 — but for all intents and purposes, they’re tied. Xavier’s schedule down the stretch is much easier than what Villanova has remaining. Xavier has road trips to Georgetown and DePaul left while Villanova still has to go to Creighton and Seton Hall.

That story is still left to be told.

But the simple fact of the matter is that Xavier had a chance to take a two-game lead on Villanova with two weeks left in the regular season and they couldn’t get the job done.

And if they slip up again in their final three games, they may be left wondering ‘what if?’ all over again.

No. 2 Michigan State matches largest comeback in a decade with 27-point rally over Northwestern

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Michigan State overcame a 27-point deficit on Saturday afternoon to beat Northwestern, 65-60, for a memorable Big Ten road win. It’s the biggest comeback win in Big Ten history while also matching the largest college basketball comeback of the last decade.

Trailing by 22 points at halftime and by 18 points with 14 minutes left, the comeback for the Spartans was slow and methodical at first, as Michigan State’s defense slowly suffocated the Wildcat offense.

And when the jumpers started falling with a Josh Langford (eight points) three with a little over 13 minutes left, the Spartans made their big push.

Sophomore point guard Cassius Winston was a major catalyst in the comeback for Michigan State as he buried multiple top-of-the-key threes and pull-up jumpers to help give the Spartans a new-found confidence. Winston finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists as he came through in a major way in the second half. With star Miles Bridges (eight points) battling foul trouble in the second half, Winston and other Michigan State role players stepped up in a big way. Big man Nick Ward grinded to 15 points and a lot of key stops on the defensive end. Matt McQuaid knocked down some big shots while taking a charge and playing well on both ends. Jaren Jackson had the go-ahead three-point play to finally give the Spartans their first lead.

This was a team comeback in which Michigan State (26-3, 14-2) used the sum of its parts to slowly dismantle Northwestern. It was one of the more impressive comebacks in recent memory. Doing commentary for Fox, Steve Lavin said this was one of the biggest one-half swings in his 30 years of being around Division I basketball. The win probability chart for this game is definitely unique.

While beating Northwestern isn’t some sort of monumental achievement this season, Michigan State didn’t have a huge comeback win this season. The biggest deficit that the Spartans had overcome to win this season was only 13 points. Now we know that Michigan State is capable of making a comeback from a very large deficit as they showed they’re capable of coming through with the offensive firepower. And Bridges, the team’s leading scorer, only had two field goals.

This is the Michigan State we’ve wanted to consistently see this season. Michigan State getting stops is nothing new. The Spartans held Northwestern scoreless for over 11 minutes at one point in the second half as the Wildcats were brutal shooting the ball in the first half. But if Michigan State’s offense gets rolling like that because of balanced inside/outside contributions from role players? That’s the Spartans everyone keeps hoping will show up in March.

No. 23 Oklahoma loses fifth-straight, Trae Young at risk of missing NCAA tournament?

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Trae Young has hit the freshman wall, and there are few signs that he is ready to break through to the other side.

Let’s start with the good news, I guess: In today’s 77-66 home loss to a Texas team that entered the day tied for eighth in the Big 12 standings, Young finally snapped his streak of 20 missed three-pointers. After starting off Saturday 0-for-4 after missing all nine of his threes at Texas Texas and his last seven threes at Iowa State, Young hit three of his last six triples.

He also made all nine of his free throws, extending that streak to nearly 30 consecutive makes, while scoring 26 points and committing fewer than four turnovers in a game for the first time since December 8th.

Those are all good things!

The problem, however, is that they came in Oklahoma’s fifth straight loss, their sixth loss in the last seven games and their eighth loss in their last ten games. The Sooners have been dreadful for more than a month, and it’s not going to get any easier; they play at Kansas on Monday.

The question “why?” is pretty simple, too. Young is struggling and the rest of the pieces on the roster just have not been good enough to be able to pick up the slack. Brady Manek is a spot-up shooter that has struggling shooting the ball. Kameron McGusty went from being a player that looked like a potential all-Big 12 guy last season to Just A Guy this season. Christian James hasn’t been bad, and Jamuni McNeace and Khadeem Lattin hold their own in the paint, but by and large Young’s supporting cast has not been providing enough support while Young has been in this slump.

The question of whether or not Oklahoma can turn this around is not quite so simple unless you know the reason for Young’s struggles. Has he simply found himself in a place where the grind of a full season of college basketball and two months of Big 12 play — a league where every team has a good-to-great player at the point — has worn him down physically and mentally, or has the blueprint for how to beat the Sooners become too prevalent?

Or is it all of the above?

If Young is gassed, that’s an issue that, in theory, can be solved.

If the Sooners, are a flawed roster that cannot function or win games when opponents sell out to stop their superstar freshman, that isn’t as easy to deal with. Rest can solve the former. You’re not solving the latter, you’re not bring more talent into the program, while Young is still on campus.

At 16-10 overall and 6-8 in the Big 12, Oklahoma still looks like a pretty safe bet to reach the NCAA tournament. For starters, they were listed as a No. 4 seed just six days ago when the Selection Committee unveiled their first iteration of the top 16 seeds. They also have six Quadrant 1 wins and no bad losses to their name. Their won-loss record is a casualty of the Big 12 meat-grinder.

But that doesn’t mean they are safe. If they finish up the Big 12 season going 1-3 — which is feasible given how they’ve played the last month and their remaining opponents: at Kansas, Kansas State, at Baylor, Oklahoma State — then they’ll be 7-11 in the league. No one in more than 25 years has reached the NCAA tournament with a league record four games under .500.

The Sooners aren’t doomed yet.

But it is time for them to figure their issues out.

Bubble Banter: Texas, Syracuse land massive wins

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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 Saturday.

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

TEXAS (RPI: 49, KenPom: 44, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Longhorns landed a massive, massive win for their NCAA tournament chances on Saturday afternoon when they went into Norman and picked off Oklahoma. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and put them into a position where a 2-2 finish to Big 12 play keeps them at 8-10 in the league. That’s relevant because no team more than two games below .500 in league play has reached the NCAA tournament since the early 90s. The Longhorns are now 6-7 against Quadrant 1 opponents with some elite wins in that mix — Texas Tech, at Alabama, a sweep of Oklahoma Butler on a neutral — and no losses worse than Quadrant 2. Texas is going to have a very real chance to be an NCAA tournament team with 14 losses this season.

SYRACUSE (RPI: 41, KenPom: 48, NBC seed: First four out): The Orange hold their bubble future in their own hands, and they got started in the right direction on Saturday by going into Coral Gables and picking off Miami. That’s their third Quadrant 1 win — assuming that Buffalo, who is currently 30th in the RPI, remains top 30 — but a Quadrant 3 loss and the lack of a truly marquee victory is a glaring hole in their résumé. The good news? This is the remaining schedule for the Orange: UNC, at Duke, at Boston College, Clemson. Go 2-2 in that stretch and they will enter the ACC tournament in pretty good shape.

LSU (RPI: 72, KenPom: 64, NBC seed: Next four out): The Tigers picked up another Quadrant 1 win on Saturday, knocking off Missouri at home and ending their five game winning streak. LSU is now 15-11 on the season and 6-8 in the SEC, but they are also 7-5 against Quadrant 1 opponents. Only one of their 11 losses came against a Quadrant 3 opponent. Here’s the kicker: Their last four games are all very winnable: Vanderbilt, at Georgia, at South Carolina, Mississippi State. If they can get to the SEC tournament with a 19-11 record, I think they’ll be in the NCAA tournament.

KANSAS STATE (RPI: 57, KenPom: 47, NBC seed: 10): The Wildcats did what they needed to do on Saturday, dispatching Iowa State in Manhattan and setting themselves up for a critical stretch run. They play the following four games: Texas, at Oklahoma, at TCU, Baylor. Given that Kansas State has a Quadrant 2 loss and that their non-conference SOS is in the 320s, I would think they need two of those wins to feel comfortable. But here’s the catch: if they don’t win either road game, they’ll enter the Big 12 tournament with a 3-9 mark against Quadrant 1 opponents. The Selection Committee told us how much they value quality wins when the bracket was revealed last weekend. Would three Quadrant 1 wins be enough with seven Quadrant 2 wins? It might be, but I don’t think I would want to bet on it.

ARKANSAS (RPI: 30, KenPom: 44, NBC seed: 9): The Razorbacks landed their fifth Quadrant 1 win of the season. They are now 19-8 on the year and have just one loss outside of Quadrant 1. At this point, Arkansas is going to be moved off of the bubble for us. They’re in if they don’t do anything stupid the rest of the way.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: 59, KenPom: 42, NBC seed: 9): The Hokies beat the breaks off of Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday, meaning they finished their three game road trip at 2-1 with a win at Virginia. Not bad. The rest of VT’s schedule looks like this: Clemson, Louisville, Duke, at Miami. With a Quadrant 3 loss and a non-conference SOS of 325, I still think the Hokies need to win two of these games.

BUTLER (RPI: 40, KenPom: 26, NBC seed: 10): The Bulldogs added another Quadrant 2 win to their profile on Saturday with an impressive win over Providence at home. Butler is 3-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents with three Quadrant 1 games left on their schedule: Creighton, at St. John’s, at Seton Hall. I think they’ll probably be in if they win one of those three games, but I would recommend winning two.

N.C. STATE (RPI: 51, KenPom: 60, NBC seed: 11): The Wolfpack did what they needed to do by going into Winston-Salem and knocking off Wake Forest. Kevin Keatts’ club is in a good spot, but they are not a lock. They have some legitimately great wins this season, but they have already lost nine games this season and have a pair of Quadrant 3 losses. They’re in a good spot, but their margin for error is a little bit lower than other bubble teams since they have no more Quadrant 1 opponents on their schedule.

LOSERS

PROVIDENCE (RPI: 34, KenPom: 67, NBC seed: 8): Losing at Butler doesn’t exactly hurt Providence’s profile. Quadrant 1 road losses are what they are. The Friars are interesting because they have five Quadrant 1 wins but two Quadrant 3 losses and a hideous, Quadrant 4 loss to DePaul at home. I think they need two more wins (Seton Hall, at Xavier, at Georgetown, St. John’s) to lock up their at-large bid.

YET TO PLAY

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
BAYLOR
WASHINGTON
TCU
LOUISVILLE
MARQUETTE
UCLA
USC

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.