Some non-BCS schools sitting pretty for at-large NCAA bids


Which non-majors have put themselves in a position to be in the at-large discussion next March?

There is, of course, a lot of basketball yet to be played, so things may look a bit different when we launch Bubble Banter in February.  We’ll call this Stocking Stuffer Part I.  Part II will feature a look at major conference teams that could be on or near the bubble come March.

(Note: For this discussion, Atlantic 10, Mountain West, and Conference USA teams will be featured in Part II.)

Teams to watch

Murray State
The Racers have beaten Southern Mississippi at the Great Alaska Shootout, Dayton at home, and Memphis on the road.  Those were the three biggest challenges on Murray’s non-conference slate.  The victory at Memphis figures to hold the most weight, although the Tigers have not looked much like a Top 20 team this season.

Road Bumps: The Ohio Valley Conference isn’t very strong and will certainly be an anchor to Murray’s RPI and overall strength-of-schedule.  The Racers have also played three non-Division I opponents – two of those scheduled at home.  If Murray can finish its non-conference slate unbeaten, the Racers should be able to absorb a loss or two in the OVC.  Any more than that, plus a loss in the OVC tournament, would make it interesting.  How Southern Miss, Dayton, and Memphis finish the season will also be a factor.

The Bluejays’ victory at San Diego State could pay big dividends.  Beating Northwestern (Dec. 22) will be important, too.  That would leave Creighton 2-1 against its best non-conference opponents (CU lost at St. Joseph’s).  Given the Bluejays status as Missouri Valley favorite, the outlook for an at-large bid is favorable if the scenario above unfolds.

Road Bumps: Playing on the road in the Valley is never easy, but it will be important for Creighton to avoid “bad losses” along the way.  It will also help if CU separates itself with or above Northern Iowa and Wichita State at the top of the standings.

Northern Iowa
While the Panthers are off to a strong start – including a 4-1 record away from home, they lack a marquee victory.  UNI’s win at Old Dominion was solid but the Panthers followed it up with a double-digit loss at St. Mary’s – another potential bubble team.  The game with Ohio (Dec. 20) figures to be huge for both schools.

Road Bumps: Northern Iowa will need to keep pace – and beat – both Creighton and Wichita State during the Missouri Valley season.  Much like Creighton, UNI will need to avoid “bad losses” to those at the bottom of the league standings.

Wichita State
After missing chances against Alabama and Temple in Puerto Rico, the Shockers posted a strong win over UNLV at home.  Without that, WSU’s profile is much less inviting.  Thus, the Shockers’ margin for error is a smaller than it might appear.   Last year, Wichita State missed its chances against Connecticut (Maui) and San Diego State (road) and headed to the NIT.  Will the victory over UNLV hold enough weight?  Depends on how the Rebels finish the season.

Road Bumps: See Creighton and Northern Iowa above.  The three frontrunners in the MVC need to stay above the fray and beat each other along the way.

Without a conference tournament, Harvard doesn’t have the option of winning a regular-season title and then losing in its tournament final.  It’s all or nothing.  So the question becomes, could Harvard make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team by finishing second in a conference currently ranked 18th in the RPI?  Wins over Florida State and Central Florida in the Bahamas will help – even though Harvard was outmatched at Connecticut.  The Crimson’s game with St. Joseph’s is their last chance to make a strong impression.

Road Bumps: Other than St. Joe’s, there are no teams ranked in the Top 100 of the RPI remaining on Harvard’s schedule.  Any league losses will be to non-NCAA teams.  Finishing behind one of those teams during the course of the regular season could make an at-large bid hard to find.

The Bruins are team many believe can win a game (or two) in the NCAAs.  But Belmont has to make the field first.  Right now, the Bruins’ best victory is a double-overtime win at Middle Tennessee State – a team the Bruins played on the road again this past week (and lost).  Saturday’s loss at Miami-OH is the one that could sting the Bruins, though.  If close counts, then Belmont’s one-point loss at Duke to open the season may help.  But there’s no question that Duke and Memphis were Belmont’s best chances to make a splash, and the Bruins missed both opportunities.  Beating Marshall (Dec.19) is now critical.  It’s the Bruins’ last chance against an NCAA-caliber team.

Road Bumps: Atlantic Sun play will offer little help, so Belmont will need to win its league (again) in impressive fashion.  Do that and the Bruins can stay in the at-large discussion.  Whether it’s enough depends on how the rest of the national landscape looks on Selection Sunday.

The Gaels’ resume is pretty solid at this point.  Iona has wins over Maryland (neutral), St. Joseph’s (home), Denver (road), and Richmond (road).  Losses are to Purdue (one point – neutral) and at Marshall.  The Gaels are currently in a stretch of eight straight road games have gone 6-1 in the first seven.  Those are numbers and schedule benefits that will compare favorably in March.

Road Bumps: Fairfield will challenge Iona for the MAAC title.  A regular-season title would certainly help the Gaels’ at-large chances.  We saw that with UAB last year.

The Pioneers have wins over Southern Mississippi and St. Mary’s at home.  Both could be fellow bubble teams.  Losses are at California and to Iona at home.  The latter could prove important if those two are compared.  That said, Denver has positioned itself as an at-large candidate if it can win a regular-season Sun Belt title and avoid many more losses along the way.

Road Bumps: Middle Tennessee State has proven it can beat quality teams, so the road to a Sun Belt title won’t be easy.  If both of those teams dominate the conference and play each other in the conference tournament final, it’ll be interesting to see if the loser garners an at-large bid.

Middle Tennessee State
An early win at UCLA is not helping the Blue Raiders much right now.  But a split with Belmont (both at home) is worthy of consideration.  MTSU’s other loss is at UAB – which hurts.  Up next is Mississippi (Dec. 21).  It’s MTSU’s last chance to put something of note on its non-conference resume.

Road Bumps: The Raiders will have to keep pace with Denver in the Sun Belt and split games with the Pioneers to have any realistic shot at an at-large bid.  If that happens, and both teams play in the Sun Belt final, MTSU will likely be on the at-large board.  It may not be enough, but they will be in the discussion.

Long Beach State – Few teams have played a tougher slate.  A victory at Pittsburgh will help, but there was also a miscue at Montana. To date, LBSU has lost at San Diego State, Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina.  Those are all good losses in close games.  The question is whether LBSU can compile enough quality wins.  It may come down to the 49ers game with Xavier on Dec. 22. 

Road Bumps: The Big West isn’t very strong so the conference road has the potential for a host of bad losses.  LBSU doesn’t have to be perfect in conference play, but pretty close.  If the 49ers can avoid more than one or two losses, they should be in the at-large picture.

St. Mary’s
In its toughest games to date, the Gaels beat Northern Iowa at home and lost at Denver. A road trip to Baylor (Dec. 22) and a date with Missouri State are St. Mary’s last chances to do anything outside the West Coast Conference.  A split is important – especially if the Gaels can pull off the upset in Waco. Then it’ll come down to St. Mary’s performance against BYU and Gonzaga in the WCC.

Road Bumps: Playing two non-DI games won’t help the Gaels and the WCC is stronger top to bottom than most people think.

The Cougars are behind the curve after opening with a loss at Utah State and falling easily at Wisconsin.  Saturday, the Cougars missed a golden chance to upset Baylor.  The rest of BYU’s non-conference slate isn’t much to talk about.  Beating Oregon at home is OK, but not the type of victory that will earn many NCAA points.

Road Bumps: At this point, BYU needs to finish with Gonzaga and St. Mary’s at the top of the West Coast Conference.  Finishing third and losing early in the WCC tourney probably won’t be enough.

Ohio – A close loss at Louisville and a victory at Marshall have the Bobcats in contention.  Ohio’s game at Northern Iowa (Dec. 20) is huge.  It would give the Bobcats another notable non-conference victory and position them ahead of UNI heading into conference play.

Road Bumps: Kent State, and a few others, will make the Mid-American Conference journey a bit challenging.  If Ohio can pile up MAC wins, avoid “bad losses”, and reach the conference title game against Kent State, an at-large bid is possible.

Kent State – The Flashes are many people’s favorite to win the Mid-American Conference.  A season-opening victory at West Virginia will help and Kent’s loss to Cleveland State won’t hurt the flashes – even though it was home.  KSU’s biggest issue is that its remaining conference slate has been pretty light, and the Flashes won’t play another Top 100 RPI team until they travel to Ohio on January 18.

Road Bumps: Kent will need a strong run in the MAC season to keep the door open.  That won’t be easy with teams like Ohio, Akron, and Bowling Green to contend with – especially on the road.

Cleveland State – The Vikings have played just two home games.  That will help CSU’s power numbers.  So will victories at Vanderbilt – although the Commodores have sputtered – and Kent State.  The dent in the armor is a “bad loss” at Hofstra.  Whether or not that plays a role depends on CSU’s performance in the Horizon League.  At this point, Horizon foes Butler and Detroit will not provide a significant resume boost Milwaukee is a wildcard.  That could change, of course, but it’s something to note.

Road Bumps: Conference play is never easy.  How the Vikings navigate the Horizon landscape will be telling.  A strong showing and regular-season title will keep CSU in the at-large picture.

Dave Ommen is one of college basketball’s premier bracketologists. You can read more of his work at Bracketville or follow him on Twitter @BracketguyDave.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

kansas mccullar
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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”