Checking up on the bubble

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West Virginia 72, No. 8 Notre Dame 58: West Virginia was on the right side of the bubble coming into today, but knocking off the Irish helps solidify their standing and gives the ‘Eers some room for error down the stretch. West Virginia is now 8-6 in the Big East, but three of their last four games come against ranked teams. As long as WVU avoids a slip-up against suddenly scrappy Rutgers, they will get to .500 in the league, which should be enough to earn a bid.

As for Notre Dame, their road struggles continue. They are now 3-5 in true road games, with all five of their losses coming by at least double digits. The wins came at South Florida, DePaul, and Pitt, a team that Mike Brey has discovered the secret to beating. The Irish have done enough that they should still end up being a top four seed, but this won’t help quiet the doubters saying the Irish are going to be overseeded.

Michigan State 61, Illinois 57: This was a huge win for Michigan State. They came in losers of six of their last eight games, but they looked like a different team in their last two games. Illinois has been struggling as well, so the magnitude of this win isn’t what you would normally expect from a matchup of these two programs in February, but it is important nonetheless. The Spartans simply need wins at this point. The real test will come next week at Minnesota and against Purdue.

For Illinois, the loss is just as important. Like Michigan State, Illinois simply needs to start stockpiling wins. They have lost seven of their last 11 now, and are now 17-10 on the season and 7-7 in the Big Ten. Making matters worse, they have now lost five of their last six on the road. The struggles of both the Illini and the Spartans have been will publicized. Michigan State looks like they are on the right track in terms of turning it around. Illinois? They better show up ready to play when they travel to Ohio State and Purdue.

No. 25 Utah State 75, St. Mary’s 65: This game was essentially dubbed the play-out game. With the win, Utah State finally has beaten a top 90 team, but one win over a WCC opponent is not generally enough to earn an at-large bid. The Aggies are probably in precarious enough position that it would behoove them to win the WAC Tournament. As far as St. Mary’s is concerned, the Gaels have now lost two straight games, including at San Diego, who is a sub-300 team in the RPI. The Gaels have a bit of a stronger resume than Utah State does, so they can better absorb the loss, but this is still a dangerous spot for them to be in. The game against Gonzaga next week is now the most important game of their entire season. It also doubles as a chance for the Gaels to win the WCC outright.

No. 19 UNC 48, BC 46: It was an ugly game, but BC’s defense sparked a late run that got them the ball with a chance to win. Unfortunately, Reggie Jackson’s three rimmed out, and while this loss won’t be a knock on BC’s resume, it certainly is a missed opportunity. The Eagles are firmly on the bubble, as there is that much on their resume beyond wins over Texas A&M and Virginia Tech. A road win against a top 25 team could have pushed them over the hump.

Georgia 69, Tennessee 63: The Bulldogs picked up a huge win on Saturday, going into Thompson-Boling Arena and knocking off the Vols. Georgia was in a dangerous spot if they lost this game. They had blown a couple of chances late in games earlier in the season, and with road trips left against Florida and Alabama, there was a distinct possibility that the Bulldogs could finish the season at .500 in SEC play. Georgia still has work to do, but they can feel much better about their chances for dancing with this win.

UNLV 68, Colorado State 61: This might have been the biggest bubble game of the day. UNLV desperately needed this win. Coming in they had five losses in the MWC, with all five coming to BYU, SDSU, and Colorado State. There was no chance that they could get swept by the top three teams in the conference and still earn an NCAA bid. They still have plenty of work left to do even with this win, however. A win over SDSU or BYU in the MWC Tournament would be a good way to start. For Colorado State, this loss all but guarantees that the Rams will miss the NCAA Tournament if they cannot knock off SDSU or BYU. The good news? The Rams get another shot at both during the regular season.

Virginia 61, Virginia Tech 54: Big loss for the Hokies, who have now been swept by the ‘Hoos. Tech has had a couple of bad road losses this year, losing to Georgia Tech and BC in addition to UVa, but they are also 17-8 on the year and, including this loss, have won 13 of their last 17 games. VT is also undefeated at home in ACC play, and if they can pull off an upset of Duke in Blacksburg next week, the Hokies will be fine.

Alabama 69, Arkansas 56: The Crimson Tide has plenty of wins like this. If ‘Bama truly wants to be considered a serious at-large candidate, they need to beat a couple of teams from the SEC East while cleaning up against their divisional opponents. Their early losses have put them in a huge hole in terms of their RPI, but a strong finish can erase those memories.

Texas Tech 78, Baylor 69: Baylor is in big time trouble. They’ve now lost to Texas Tech at home and Oklahoma in league play, they have no quality wins outside Texas A&M, and they are at .500 in league play. The good news? They play Missouri, Texas A&M, and Texas down the stretch, so there are opportunities to play their way in.

Nebraska 70, No. 3 Texas 67: We’ve already discussed what this loss means for the ‘Horns, but it was also significant for the Cornhuskers. Nebraska is now the Cincinnati of the Big 12. They have a nice record, they have no bad losses, but they didn’t have a marquee win until today. Expect Nebraska to break into some bubble watches this week.

Gonzaga 70, San Francisco 53: The Zags are probably still on the wrong side of the bubble, but this was still an important win. They move a game in front of the Dons for second place in the WCC, and with a game next week against St. Mary’s, there is still a chance for them to win a share of the WCC regular season title.

No. 17 Texas A&M 67, Oklahoma State 66: The Cowboys have their backs against the wall, to the point that they can barely be considered on the bubble after this loss. That changes if they can win at Kansas on Monday, then win out in the Big 12. That only gets them to .500 in league play, however.

Rice 67, Memphis 52: The Tigers are all but out of the at-large conversation at this point, even if they can win the C-USA regular season title.

George Mason 77, Northern Iowa 71: This is another nice win for the hottest team in the country. They still cannot afford another conference loss simply because the rest of their opponents are not very good, but this team is getting very close to being an at-large lock.

Cincinnati 93, Providence 81 OT: The Bearcats are not winning pretty — they blew a 16 point second half lead today — but a win is a win. Cincy gets Georgetown twice, UConn, and Marquette in their last four games. They would be smart to win two of those games.

Marquette 73, Seton Hall 64: The Golden Eagles are now back to .500 in league play, but they are still in big trouble. With the number of close losses to good teams that Marquette has racked up, they are still alive. But they probably need to win three of their last four games, including getting a win at UConn.

Butler 79, Illinois-Chicago 52: Believe it or not, the Bulldogs are still on the bubble. This is a long way from what you would call a resume win, but its a win that Butler had to have.

Florida State 84, Wake Forest 66: The Seminoles should win this game without Chris Singleton, but the impressive offensive numbers? Much of that was the result of garbage time.

Kansas State 77, Oklahoma 62: The Wildcats weren’t as impressive as they were in their win over Kansas, but this is a game they absolutely couldn’t afford to lose.

Missouri Valley: Missouri State was crushed by Valpo. Wichita State lost at home to VCU. Indiana State lost at home to Morehead State. Northern Iowa blew an early lead to George Mason at home. This is a one bid league, folks.

Dayton 64, Duquesne 63: The Dukes were a long shot to get an at-large bid as it is, and losing this game — which knocks them two games off the A-10 pace — ends that hope.

UAB 63, UCF 58: UAB actually has a top 40 RPI. They don’t have — and won’t get — any great wins this season, but if they win out they will have a chance at earning a bid.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.