Bubble Banter: West Virginia sliding fast, while UConn, Purdue in danger zones

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West Virginia is moving in the wrong direction.  Marquette rallied Friday night in Morgantown and handed the Mountaineers their seventh loss in nine games.  Not that WVU is alone.  Mississippi State and Southern Mississippi have also created some potential bubble trouble for themselves.  Southern Miss has posted consecutive losses to Houston and UTEP – which follows an earlier loss this month to UAB.  Mississippi State has dropped four straight and faces two straight on the road – starting with a trip to Alabama.  These teams: Arkansas, Illinois, and Minnesota have left the bubble entirely.

Championship Week is shaping up to be quite interesting.  What are the odds that every favorite wins its conference tournament?  Certainly less than fifty percent – meaning we’ll have a few bid stealers before Selection Sunday.  March is less than a week away.  Who’s ready for a little Madness?

RPI data is for games played through Feb. 23.

UPDATED: Friday, February 24 | 11:30 p.m. ET

Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.

  • Projected Locks (15): Teams who have secured a spot in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (17): Teams in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (31): Teams projected to be at or near the cutline for being selected as at-large candidates.
  • Spots available (13): Estimated number of openings after Automatic Bids, Locks, and Should Be Ins are considered.
  • RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through games on Thursday, February 23
  • Teams Leaving the Bubble: Davidson, Cleveland State, Arkansas, Wyoming, Illinois, Minnesota
  • Teams Joining the Bubble: West Virginia, Mississippi State, Southern Mississippi, VCU
Atlantic 10
Locks: Temple | Should Be In: St. Louis | Bubble: Dayton, St. Joe’s, Xavier
  • Dayton (17-10 | 7-6) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 58 | – The Flyers have won three of four games to stay in the bubble picture. An 8-7 mark vs. the Top 100 is worth noting. It’s the losses to Miami-OH and Rhode Island that hurt Dayton’s case. Non-conference wins include Alabama, Ole Miss, and Minnesota. They’ve also beaten Temple, St. Louis, and Xavier inside the A-10. The Flyers’ last three (UMass, Richmond, Geo Washington) are all winnable games. A sweep would put UD in decent position heading into the A-10 tournament.
  • St. Joe’s (18-11 | 8-6) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 57 | – Wednesday’s home loss to Richmond puts a lot of pressure on the Hawks to win their last two A-10 regular season games (Temple, St. Bonaventure). St. Joe’s is just 1-5 vs. the Top 50, but is 6-7 vs. Top 100 teams. Wins include Creighton, Dayton, and Drexel at home. Beating Temple will be critical. And the Hawks may need a couple of A-10 tournament wins to stay in the hunt down the stretch.
  • Xavier (17-10 | 8-5) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 48 | – Non-conference wins over Vanderbilt, Purdue, and Cincinnati continue to help the Muskies despite some recent troubles. But XU is far from safe, especially after Tuesday’s loss at Massachusetts. The Musketeers are 6-9 vs. Top 100 teams, and 11-10 vs. the Top 200. A losing mark against the Top 200 has traditionally spelled bubble trouble. XU has home games left with Richmond and Charlotte. Those are critical. The Muskies also travel to St. Louis. XU’s only really bad loss was at Hawaii while several players were suspended.
ACC
Locks: Duke, North Carolina | Should Be In: Florida State, Virginia | Bubble: Miami-FL, NC State
  • Miami-FL (16-10 | 7-6) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 34 | – It’s hard to think that a single win at Duke will carry the Hurricanes into the NCAAs. Right now, that’s about all Miami has to offer. The ‘Canes are 1-7 vs. the Top 50 and just 3-10 vs. Top 100 teams. Several other bubble teams have a more balanced profile. Overall, Miami has lost 3 of 4 including Tuesday’s loss at Maryland. The closing stretch includes Florida State and NC State. Miami may need both.
  • NC State (18-10 | 7-6) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 30 | – The Wolfpack have a win at Miami (Fla) and a neutral courty victory over Texas. Those are the highlights: two wins over bubble teams. NC State is 1-8 vs. Top 50 teams and just 4-9 vs. the Top 100. Closing games include Clemson, Miami, and Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack may need all three to stay in the at-large picture heading into the ACC tournament.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette | Should Be In: Louisville, Notre Dame | Bubble: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Seton Hall, West Virginia
  • Cincinnati (20-8 | 10-5) | RPI: 74 | SOS: 114 | – Cincinnati rallied for a big win over Louisville at home on Thursday. It gives the Bearcats a little margin for error down the stretch. How much remains to be seen. We’ve noted several times that a No. 300-plus non-conference schedule has been a major no-no among committee voters in recent years. Every year is different, but it’s something to keep in mind. Next up is a game at fellow bubble dweller South Florida. Then it’s home to Marquette before closing at Villanova. Cincy has been a decent road team and needs to win at least one of its final two away from home. Winning two of three might be enough, but losing two of three will put a lot of pressure on UC to win a game or two in New York. Overall, the Bearcats are 5-3 vs the Top 50 and 6-5 vs. Top 100 opponents.
  • Connecticut (17-10 | 7-8) | RPI: 23 | SOS: 3 | – With a 6-6 mark vs. the Top 50 and 8-8 mark vs. the Top 100, the Huskies remain in decent bubble position – especially given the nation’s No. 3 ranked strength of schedule. That said, UConn can’t afford a late slide. Next up is a home game with Syracuse. After that, the Huskies close with winnable games against Providence and Pittsburgh. Key non-conference victories include Florida State and Harvard. Losses at Tennessee and Rutgers are the blemishes.
  • Seton Hall (19-9 | 8-8) | RPI: 32 | SOS: 27 | – The Pirates have won 4 of 5 games and have certainly boosted their at-large profile. The only loss during that span, however, was at fellow bubble-dweller Cincinnati. Overall, SHU is 3-7 vs. the Top 50 and 7-8 vs. the Top 100. Notable non-conference wins are Dayton, St. Joe’s, and VCU. How much will those help? The Pirates have winnable games with DePaul and Rutgers left. Win both of those and SHU will be in decent shape heading to New York. Lose either or both and it becomes more concerning.
  • West Virginia (17-12 | 7-9) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 7 | – The Mountaineers have lost 7 of 9 games and find themselves in some trouble after Friday’s home loss to Marquette. A lopsided loss at Notre Dame earlier in the week was particularly ugly. Overall, a victory over Georgetown and a neutral court win over Kansas State are the highlights – along with victories over Oral Roberts and Miami(Fla). Several close losses and a Top 10 schedule will help. The Mountaineers are 8-10 vs. Top 100 teams and nine losses have come to teams in the Top 35 of the RPI. WVU closes with a home game against DePaul before a trip to South Florida. Winning one of those is very important. Losing both would make the Big East tournament a pressure cooker.
BIG 10
Locks: Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan | Should Be In: Indiana, Wisconsin | Bubble: Northwestern, Purdue
  • Northwestern (16-11 | 6-9) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 7 | – If Northwestern misses the NCAAs in a close call, Tuesday’s overtime home loss to Michigan will loom large. The Wildcats have a home win over Michigan State and neutral court victory over Seton Hall. But NW is just 5-11 vs. Top 100 teams, with those other wins being against LSU, Illinois, and Minnesota – none are NCAA caliber right now. A 2-7 road record is also concerning. A Top 10 SOS is a huge plus and NW has no “bad” losses. In fact, all but two losses are to teams ranked in the RPI Top 50. Road trips to Penn State and Iowa remain, sandwiched by a home game with Ohio State. The Wildcats really need to beat PSU and Iowa to get to 8-10 in Big Ten play heading into the Big Ten tournament.
  • Purdue (18-10 | 8-7) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 24 | – The Boilermakers are now without Kelsey Barlow, so that has to be a consideration for the Selection Committee. In his absence, Purdue showed well in a home loss to Michigan State and then routed Nebraska. Overall, the Boilers are in decent shape with five Top 50 wins and an 8-8 mark vs. the Top 100. The real issue is the lack of a marquee win – especially within the Big Ten. Purdue beat Temple and Iona in Puerto Rico and Miami(Fla) in the ACC Challenge, but the Boilers best conference win(s) are a sweep of Northwestern. Purdue has road trips left at Michigan and Indiana, along with Penn State at home. Two of three might be enough. Losing both road games, however, could leave the Boilers without a conference victory over a team above them in the standings.
BIG 12
Locks: Baylor, Kansas, Missouri | Should Be In: Kansas State | Bubble: Iowa State, Texas
  • Iowa State (20-9 | 10-5) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 64 | – The real issue for Iowa State is a low number of quality wins. Beating Kansas and Kansas State at home are solid victories, but those are the best highlights. Overall, ISU is just 3-6 vs. Top 100 teams. The Cyclones split with Texas (on the bubble list below). Three potential “big wins” remain: at Kansas State, at Missouri, and Baylor. Winning one might be enough to slip the Cyclones into the NCAAs but it would be close. Losing all three could prove disasterous. That would leave ISU at 3-9 vs. Top 100 teams. Right now, 17 of ISU’s 20 wins are to teams outside the Top 100.
  • Texas (17-11 | 7-8) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 17 | – The Longhorns have wins over Temple, Kansas State, and Iowa State at home. But they are 3-8 vs. Top 50 teams and 4-9 vs. the Top 100. Equally concerning is an 11-11 mark vs. Top 200 teams. That would suggest UT has no margin for error down the stretch. Texas has to beat Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Period. The Longhorns close with a game at Kansas. Winning all three would help. Winning the first two will keep Texas in the conversation heading into the Big 12 tournament. An strong overall SOS is helping. Losses at Oklahoma State and Oregon State are blemishes.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis | Bubble: Southern Mississippi, Central Florida
  • Central Florida (17-8 | 8-5) | RPI: 64 | SOS: 105 | – Time might be running out on the Knights after a bad loss at Rice, UCF’s third sub-100 loss this season. That’s because the Knights are just 3-5 vs. Top 100 teams and 8-8 against the Top 200. UCF is just 3-6 on the road and has a very unimpressive non-conference SOS (185). Other than a neutral court win over Connecticut in November, UCF has beaten Memphis and Marshall at home. It may very well take a closing sweep (UTEP, at Memphis, UAB) to stay in the at-large picture.
  • Southern Mississippi (20-6 | 9-4) | RPI: 16 | SOS: 50 | – The Golden Eagles have suffered two bad losses in a row (UTEP and Houston). Combine those with an earlier loss to UAB, and USM’s profile is reeling a bit. The Golden Eagles are 3-2 vs. the Top 50 and 9-3 vs. the Top 100, but only one of those wins is against a projected NCAA team outside the conference (Colorado St). Four are against New Mexico State (2) and UCF (2). USM does have a win over South Florida. While there are plenty of good points on the Eagles’ resume, USM is certainly closer to the bubble than Should Be In at this point. Rice, SMU, and Memphis close out USM’s regular-season slate. A loss to anyone but the Tigers would be damaging, especially because it would a bad loss at home.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: Wichita State | Should Be In: Creighton | Bubble: None
  • Right now the Missouri Valley looks to be a two-bid league with Creighton and Wichita State firmly in the Field of 68. Arch Madness is always unpredictable, so a third bid is certainly possible.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: UNLV | Should Be In: San Diego State, New Mexico | Bubble: Colorado State
  • Colorado State (16-9 | 6-5) | RPI: 24 | SOS: 9 | – Back-to-back wins over Wyoming and New Mexico have re-energized the Rams’ hopes. CSU is 7-8 vs. Top 100 teams although just 2-4 vs. the Top 50. The Rams have wins over San Diego State and New Mexico within the league. Outside the MTW, CSU’s best wins are Colorado and Denver – neither of which will move the Rams into the NCAAs. While the Rams’ RPI power numbers are solid, they are somewhat deceiving. The closing stretch will prove decisive. Up next, CSU travels to San Diego State and then hosts UNLV. A split would be okay, but two losses could leave the Rams light on quality wins. A 2-8 mark in road games won’t help CSU if it’s a close call.
PAC-12
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington
  • Arizona (20-9 | 11-5) | RPI: 70 | SOS: 101 | – Arizona has won 6 of 7 games and remains in the hunt despite some very questionable power numbers (RPI and SOS). Other than a win at California, the Wildcats have no wins over projected at-large teams right now. UA was swept by Washington. If there’s a plus, it’s a 6-8 mark vs. Top 100 teams, but again most of those are not NCAA teams right now. The Wildcats are 7-4 on the road, which is a bonus. Arizona closes with UCLA and Arizona State. The Wildcats need to win both heading into the Pac-12 tournament.
  • California (23-6 | 13-3) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 96 | – If Cal can manage to win an outright Pac-12 title, it could be hard to deny the Bears an NCAA bid. While Cal is 7-4 vs. Top 100 teams, they are 0-3 in the Top 50, largely because the Bears are the only Pac-12 team in that category. Overall, Cal has won 6 of 8 games. Blemishes are losses at Oregon State and Washington State. Two road trips remain (Colorado, Stanford). Winning both might be enough to slide Cal into the Should Be In category. But nothing is a sure thing.
  • Oregon (19-8 | 10-5) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 76 | – A victory at Nebraska is all the Ducks have outside of conference play, and it’s hard to think that wins over Washington and Arizona will be enough for the Ducks, even though the win was at Arizona. Overall, the Ducks are just 4-7 against the Top 100. At the same time, the bubble overall remains weak. What Oregon can’t afford is a bad loss, and that’s why the closing stretch is potentially dangerous. The Ducks close with Oregon State, Colorado, and Utah. None of those will help Oregon much, but a loss would certainly hurt.
  • Washington (19-8 | 12-3) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 74 | – The Huskies have won 8 of 9 games and 10 of 12; that’s the good news. The troubling news is that none of those wins were over a Top 50 RPI opponent. Washington is just 4-8 against the Top 100, meaning all but four wins are against teams ranked 101 or below in the RPI. The Huskies have been just an average road team (4-4) so it’s interesting that UW closes with three straight away from home. It could be make or break time for the Huskies – especially since all three road tilts (Wash St., USC, UCLA) could be bad losses. Washington’s best bet is to remain tied with Cal at the top of the Pac-12.
SEC
Locks: Kentucky | Should Be In: Florida, Vanderbilt | Bubble: Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State
  • Alabama (18-9 | 7-6) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 15 | – Alabama is redefining itself following some team turmoil and suspensions. Back-to-back wins over Tennessee and Arkansas will help, but won’t necessarily prove the Tide are an NCAA team. Although just 2-5 vs. the Top 50, Alabama is 9-8 vs. the Top 100. Non-conference wins include Wichita State and Purdue. How much the committee will values those wins given that they came with a different team make-up remains to be seen. Up next is a key home game with Mississippi State. It could be ‘Bama’s final chance to beat an NCAA-level team before the SEC tournament. They close with Auburn and Ole Miss.
  • LSU (17-10 | 7-6) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 59 | – The Tigers have won four straight to move back into the at-large picture. Quality wins include Marquette, Alabama, and Mississippi State at home. A 4-6 road mark is somewhat concerning, as is a No. 202 non-conference schedule. Overall, LSU is 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams and just 5-8 vs. the Top 100. With games left against Ole Miss, Tennessee and Auburn, its conceivable that LSU could close the regular season on a seven-game winning streak. It might take that kind of effort to be in the hunt heading into the SEC tournament.
  • Mississippi State (19-9 | 6-7) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 67 | – A four-game slide has certainly put the Bulldogs in a slippery situation. MSU is now sub-500 in SEC play and 2-5 on the road. On the plus side, MSU is 3-3 vs. Top 50 teams and 7-7 against the Top 100. A win at Vanderbilt is particularly noteworthy. The Bulldogs also have non-conference wins over West Virginia and Arizona. Up next is a big trip to Alabama, followed by games with South Carolina and Arkansas. There’s no reason why MSU shouldnt’ be an NCAA team. But a late slip has put some added pressure on the Bulldogs. Losing two of its final three would be concerning.
WEST COAST
Locks: None | Should Be In: St. Mary’s, Gonzaga | Bubble: BYU
  • BYU (21-7 | 11-4) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 91 | – After a loss at Gonzaga Thursday, the Cougars are 1-5 vs. Top 50 teams. An earlier home win over the ‘Zags is BYU’s only NCAA-level win right now, although Nevada, Oregon, and Weber State could reach the Field of 68. Overall, BYU is 5-5 vs. the Top 100. The only really bad loss is at Utah State. With the Cougars being swept by St. Mary’s, it could be important for BYU to reach the WCC title game. That means they will have beaten Gonzaga (again) or St. Mary’s to earn a second Top 50 win. Up next is Portland.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: None | Should Be In: Murray State | Bubble: Harvard, Iona, Long Beach State, Middle Tennessee State, Nevada, Oral Roberts, VCU
  • Harvard (22-3 | 9-1) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 193 | – Will early wins over Florida State, St. Joseph’s and Central Florida be enough if Harvard loses the regular-season Ivy League crown? That’s a question the Crimson hope doesn’t need answering.
  • Iona (23-6 | 14-3) | RPI: 41 | SOS: 138 | – Beating Nevada in the BracketBusters event helps the Gaels’ profile, along with a win over St. Joseph’s. That said, Iona is 0-1 vs. against the Top 50, a loss to Purdue in Puerto Rico. A 6-3 mark vs. the Top 100 in decent but none are against guaranteed NCAA teams. Losses to Siena and Hofstra – both sub 200 teams – is somewhat costly given the lack of high-level wins.
  • Long Beach State (18-7 | 13-0) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 97 | – When the Selection Committee asks teams to challenge themselves in non-conference play, it speaks volumes that Long Beach has the No. 1 non-conference SOS. During that stretch, the 49ers won at Pittsburgh and Xavier. LBSU’s only so-so loss is a two-point defeat at Montana. LBSU’s remaining losses are to Top 50 RPI teams. If there’s a concern, it’s a two-point BracketBusters’ loss at Creighton. On the surface, that’s another “good loss.” But how many such losses are okay? With Xavier and Pitt struggling, LBSU is left with an 0-6 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a 2-7 mark vs. the Top 100. An at-large bid is by no means guaranteed.
  • Middle Tennesse State (24-4 | 14-1) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 173 | – The Blue Raiders are in complete control of the Sun Belt and have wins over Ole Miss, Belmont, and Akron outside the league. They also beat UCLA in November. Will that be enough if MTSU fails to win an automatic bid? MTSU’s only losses are at Vanderbilt, Belmont (2 OT), at UAB, and at Denver. If the Blue Raiders can make it through the Sun Belt with only one loss, a defeat in the championship game would certainly keep them in the mix for an at-large bid.
  • Nevada (20-5 | 10-1) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 150 | – Nevada will keep rooting for Washington to win the Pac-12 as the Wolfpack’s win over the Huskies is their only potential NCAA-level win at this point. Nevada lost a competitive BracketBusters game at Iona, but that could be a missed chance that costs the Wolfpack. Overall, Nevada is 0-3 vs. Top 50 teams and just 3-3 vs. the Top 100. With 12 wins over teams ranked 200-plus in the RPI, an at-large case is somewhat suspect. If Nevada wins out and loses in the WAC title game, the Wolfpack will be discussed. It’s hard to know if that discussion would generate an at-large bid.
  • Oral Roberts (25-5 | 16-1) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 172 | – ORU has a win at Xavier along with a victory over Missouri State outside the Summit League. Considering the XU victory came against a post-brawl Xavier squad without its best players, there is some question as to how much weight that victory will hold. Only the loss to UT-Arlington is questionnable (No. 184). Other losses are to Gonzaga, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and South Dakota State on the road. When you consider that 15 of ORU’s 25 wins are against teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI, the margin for error is pretty small. ORU beat Akron in the BracketBusters game, but it’s unclear how much that victory will help (Akron did beat Mississippi State).
  • VCU (24-6 | 14-3) | RPI: 68 | SOS: 199 | – The Rams have moved into the at-large picture but still have work to do. In some ways, VCU has been helped by South Florida’s surge. It’s the Rams’ lone Top 50 win. Because the Colonial is down a bit, the league hasn’t provided the same chances for quality wins. VCU is just 3-4 vs. Top 100 teams and has 13 wins over teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI. Other notable wins are at Akron (OT) and over Northern Iowa. A closing win over George Mason would keep VCU in the hunt, but it will still take a run to the CAA title game for serious consideration. VCU lost games to Alabama and Seton Hall and it’s only matchup with Drexel.

No. 1 South Carolina wins 28th straight 87-69 over ‘Cats

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley’s pleased South Carolina had made its once-lopsided series with UConn more competitive the past few years.

She hopes her top-ranked team can accomplish another milestone when the teams meet for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

“It still stands true that we haven’t won up there,” Staley said.

Aliyah Boston had 14 points and 14 rebounds as South Carolina prepared for the top-five showdown with an 87-69 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night.

The Gamecocks (10-0 Southeastern Conference) improved to 22-0 and won their 28th straight, a run that included a 64-49 victory over the Huskies in Minneapolis last April to win the national championship.

Staley had lost her first seven games as South Carolina coach against UConn. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four matchups since.

“This particular class committed to each other,” Staley said. “When you have that type of commitment and you just want to win, you find yourself winning some games that you haven’t won before.”

Against Kentucky, reigning AP player of the year Boston extended her school mark with her 75th career double-double and moved within 11 of the SEC record of 86 games with a double-double held by LSU great Sylvia Fowles.

Things weren’t perfect for South Carolina, which fell behind early, then had its 15-point halftime lead cut to 54-48 midway through the third quarter.

Still, its dominant inside game – South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 62-14 in the paint – was more than enough to shut down Kentucky (10-12, 2-8), the last team to defeat the defending national champions at the SEC Tournament last March.

The Wildcats went on top 16-15 after a pair of baskets by Adebola Adeyeye.

That’s when South Carolina, fueled by its bench, took control with a 17-2 run. Ashlyn Watkins had three inside shots and Kamilla Cardoso scored four points during the surge.

The Wildcats used a 13-4 burst to start the third quarter to give South Carolina a few uncomfortable moments. But the Gamecocks got going once more with an 11-0 run to extend their margin.

Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 reserve, had 14 points and five of South Carolina’s 14 blocks. Defensive ace Brea Beal had 10 including both of the Gamecocks’ 3-pointers.

Beal thought the team held together well to blunt Kentucky’s runs and regain control. “I think it’s our mental aspect of the game and us believing in each other,” she said.

Robyn Benton had 24 points to lead Kentucky, which has lost three of its past four games.

Wildcats coach Kyra Elzy said South Carolina is difficult to match up with because of its deep bench. “They have depth after depth after depth,” she said. “They keep coming.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are the not the same team that featured two-time SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard the past few seasons. They have 10 newcomers – and six freshmen – who are still learning how to play against the SEC’s top teams like South Carolina.

South Carolina: Forgive the Gamecocks if their focus wasn’t fully on this one at first with a big week ahead. In an eight-game span, South Carolina will face No. 5 UConn and No. 3 LSU, a pair of high-profile games could expose any flaw – or show how powerful the Gamecocks are in chasing a second straight NCAA crown.

UCONN KARMA

South Carolina has opened 22-0 twice under coach Dawn Staley, in 2014-15 and the following year. Both runs ended against UConn. Next up for Gamecocks are the Huskies, although South Carolina has won three of the past four games over UConn including last April’s 64-49 victory to win the NCAA Tournament title.

UP NEXT

Kentucky returns home to face Alabama on Feb. 9.

South Carolina heads to No. 5 UConn on Sunday.

Miles, Citron lead No. 9 Irish past Boston College 72-59

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BOSTON — Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron had already scored 10 straight points to put away Boston College when they turned their attention to other things.

“I told Sonia I needed two more assists for the double-double. And she was like, `All right, I’ve got you,”‘ Miles said after helping No. 9 Notre Dame beat BC 72-59 on Thursday night.

“That’s just kind of our communication on the court,” said Miles, who found Citron for baskets on the next two Irish possessions to complete a 14-0 run – with all 14 points from Miles and Citron. “We just really play off each other really well.

Miles scored 22 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds, and Citron scored 23 for the Irish (18-2, 9-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Maria Gakdeng scored 16 points, T’Yana Todd had 13 and Andrea Daly scored 10 with eight rebounds for BC (14-11, 4-8). The Irish beat BC at home 85-48 on New Year’s Day but hadn’t won in Chestnut Hill since 2019.

“This is such a tough place to play,” said Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey, whose team faces No. 16 Duke next. “We’ll celebrate it until about 12:30, and then we’ve got film. Tomorrow we start focusing on Duke.”

BC came within five points, 55-50, before the Irish ran off 14 points in a row – nine by Citron, and five by Miles. That put an end to what had been a back-and-forth game in which the Irish opened big leads and then frittered them away.

“I always feel like we’re close,” BC coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “They’re young; I think consistency comes with experience.

“I think it’s a big improvement from the first time we played Notre Dame,” she said. “I still want to see more, and I want to see us grow up as fast as humanly possible because I think we do have a dangerous team when we going well.”

Notre Dame led by 11 in the first quarter and held a 38-30 lead with two minutes gone in the third. BC scored 13 of the next 18 points, capitalizing on back-to-back Irish turnovers to tie it 43-all with three minutes left in the quarter.

But Natalija Marshall put back the rebound of her own miss, Miles drove to the basket, Maddy Westbeld added a pair of baskets and then Miles stole the ball and found Citron on the fast break to make it 53-43.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame bounced back from their first league loss of the season, a 69-65 defeat at North Carolina State on Sunday. Now they face No. 16 Duke.

The Eagles, who beat Pittsburgh on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak, were looking for their second victory over a Top 25 team this season, having also beaten then-No. 10 N.C. State on Jan. 5.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Hosts No. 16 Duke on Sunday.

Boston College: Visits Syracuse on Sunday.

No. 16 Xavier beats No. 17 Providence 85-83 in OT thriller

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Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY NETWORK
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CINCINNATI — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.

Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.

Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.

A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. A turnover by the Musketeers led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut Xavier’s lead to one with 24 seconds left.

Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.

Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.

Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.

Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.

With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.

Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.

There was a frantic finish to the second half, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason.

Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes.

UP NEXT

Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.

Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.

Florida upends No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 behind Colin Castleton

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Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Colin Castleton had 20 points and nine rebounds, Kyle Lofton added 14 points and Florida used a 13-0 run late in the second half to upend No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 on Wednesday night.

The Volunteers, playing with their highest ranking in four years, lost for the first time in five games. They had won nine of 10.

Tennessee (18-4, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) looked like it had taken control midway through the second half. They outscored Florida by 10 points in the early going to take a six-point lead.

But the Gators (13-9, 6-3) stormed back behind Castleton, who scored 11 of 14 points as Florida rallied. The senior had a dunk, two free throws, a three-point play, a layup and a short jumper – essentially putting the team on his back down the stretch.

Myreon Jones and Will Richard chipped in nine points apiece for the Gators.

Zakai Ziegler led the Vols with 15 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Olivier Nkamhoua added 11 points and nine rebounds for the vistors, who also got 11 points and eight boards from Vescovi Santiago.

Florida led 27-21 at halftime, just the fifth time the Volunteers has trailed at the break this season. Tennessee rallied to win three of the previous four.

The Gators were red hot to start, making six of their first eight shots – including all three from 3-point range – while building a 17-4 advantage. But they quickly cooled against the nation’s best defense, missing nine of their next 11 as Tennessee made cut it to 22-21.

The Vols had it going coming out of the locker room, with Ziegler getting into the paint and making things happen. But it was short-lived – thanks mostly to Castleton.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Tennessee surely will drop a few spots in next week’s AP Top 25 college basketball poll.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers gave up 10 points in the opening four minutes of the games, a rare sluggish start for the nation’s best defense. Tennessee had held four of its first eight SEC opponents scoreless at the first media timeout, roughly the first four minutes of games. It was a sign of things to come.

Florida: The Gators have been resilient much of the season, and this was arguably the most impressive comeback of the season for coach Todd Golden’s team. The Gators squandered a 13-point lead early and a six-point advantage in the second half. But they rallied when it mattered.

IN THE HOUSE

Football coach Billy Napier watched the game from a few rows behind Florida’s bench alongside his two sons and receiver Ricky Pearsall. Former Florida tennis star Ben Shelton, the NCAA singles champion in 2022, also was in attendance. So was former Gators and NFL quarterback Doug Johnson.

UP NEXT

Tennessee hosts No. 25 Auburn and former coach Bruce Pearl on Saturday.

Florida plays at Kentucky on Saturday. The Gators have lost seven of eight in the series.

No. 8 Kansas avenges earlier loss to No. 7 Kansas State, 90-78

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Jalen Wilson had 20 points, Kevin McCullar Jr. added 16 points and 13 rebounds, and No. 8 Kansas avenged a loss to Kansas State just a couple of weeks ago with a 90-78 victory over the seventh-ranked Wildcats.

Dajuan Harris Jr. scored 18 for the Jayhawks (18-4, 6-3 Big 12), who built a 12-point halftime lead before coasting to their 17th straight home win over the Wildcats in the 10th matchup of top-10 teams in series history.

Kansas has rebounded nicely from a rare three-game skid that included the overtime loss to Kansas State, and made sure to avoid taking back-to-back losses in its storied home for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

Markquis Nowell scored 23 points and Keyontae Johnson had 22 to lead the Wildcats (18-4, 6-3), who were trying for their first regular-season sweep of their biggest rival in four decades. Nae’Qwan Tomlin added 11 points and David N’Guessan had 10.

In their first meeting on Jan. 17, the Wildcats raced to a big early lead and controlled the game until late in the second half, when the Jayhawks forced overtime — only for Kansas State to win on Johnson’s alley-oop dunk.

It was the Jayhawks who controlled the rematch.

They used a 16-7 run in the first half that included a technical foul on Kansas State coach Jerome Tang to build a 32-19 lead. And when Johnson answered with eight straight points for the Wildcats, and the lead was eventually trimmed to four, the reigning national champs pulled away again down the stretch.

It was 37-32 when Wilson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Zach Clemence added one of his own. And by the time Wilson made two foul shots with about 10 seconds left, Kansas had built a 49-37 lead that it took to the break.

The Wildcats briefly got within six in the second half before the Jayhawks stretched their lead to as many as 16.

OFFICIATING OOPS

Johnson had to sit with two fouls just 2 1/2 minutes into the game. Only problem? The crew of John Higgins, Kip Kissinger and Marques Pettigrew gave one to the wrong player. By the time they corrected their mistake, the Wildcats’ leading scorer had unnecessarily ridden the bench for several minutes.

SELLOUT … AND THEN SOME

For the first time in more than 15 years, more Kansas students redeemed tickets than there was space available inside Allen Fieldhouse. The overflow had to watch the game on screens in the adjacent Horejsi Family Athletics Center, where the Jayhawks play volleyball games. Those students also got refunds and concessions vouchers.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State’s three losses in league play have been to ranked teams on the road: TCU, Iowa State and Kansas. And with a more forgiving second half to the Big 12 schedule, the Wildcats remain firmly in the conference title hunt.

Kansas got its mojo back with its win over Kentucky last weekend. This victory over another bunch of Wildcats was crucial because the road doesn’t get any easier for the Jayhawks, who are in the midst of three straight games against teams ranked 13th or better.

UP NEXT

Kansas State returns home for another top-10 showdown Saturday against No. 10 Texas.

Kansas hits the road for the third time in four games against No. 13 Iowa State on Saturday.