Bubble update: Tennessee making a push for NCAA consideration

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Riding a six-game conference winning streak, the Tennessee Volunteers find themselves in the thick of the at-large conversation.  Since losing at home to Georgia in early February, the Vols have won three league road games and beaten Kentucky and Florida in Knoxville.  And while one could argue (correctly) that the SEC isn’t particularly strong or deep, Tennessee has given itself a chance to participate in March Madness.  Such a scenario would have been considered a stretch a month ago.

A similar streak helped Illinois overcome a 2-7 mark in the Big Ten.  Without a major slip, the Illini are now a likely NCAA participant.  A lot can change in two weeks.

Which brings us to Selection Sunday – now just over two weeks away.

Our latest bubble update finds teams moving both toward and away from the cutline.  Besides the aforementioned Volunteers, here are some teams climbing the at-large ladder: Temple, Saint Mary’s, and California.  Akron should be included too.  The Zips beat Ohio for a second time Wednesday and have a clear path toward an outright Mid-American Conference title.  That will add credibility to the Zips’ profile if they were to fall short in the MAC tournament.

Teams moving in the opposite direction include Arkansas, Charlotte, and Indiana State.  The Sycamores have lost any momentum they once had and probably need to win the MVC tournament in St. Louis to reach the NCAA tournament.  For now, they’ve been removed from the bubble.

One other Missouri Valley note: Both Creighton and Wichita State remain as “Should Be In” teams at the time of this update.  However, both have slipped a bit of late and certainly aren’t locks.  Saturday, they battle for the MVC title.  The winner takes a significant step toward an NCAA bid as it’s hard to imagine the outright MVC champion being left out of the Field.

RPI and SOS data is credited to ESPN and is for games played through Wednesday, February 27.

UPDATED: Thursday, February 28

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

Automatic Bids (31): None at this time

  • Projected Locks (20): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (16): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (31): Teams projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
  • Spots Available (11): 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 completed on Wednesday, February 27.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Butler, Saint Louis | Should Be In: VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Charlotte, Massachusetts, Xavier
  • Charlotte (18-9 | 6-7) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 97 | – Dayton handed Charlotte its third straight loss Wednesday. Unless the 49ers make a serious run in the A10 tourney, an NCAA bid now appears unlikely.
  • La Salle (19-7 | 9-4) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 73 | – The only thing lacking from La Salle’s resume at this point is a volume of quality wins. A one-point win over Butler and a road victory at VCU stand on their own. The Explorers’ other Top 100 wins are Villanova, Richmond and Saint Joseph’s. So it’s too early to move La Salle off the bubble. Assuming they can avoid a home upset in the next two (Duquesne, Geo Washington), the closing road trip to Saint Louis will tell us how much work – if any – is needed at the A10 tourney.
  • Massachusetts (17-9 | 7-6) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 67 | – UMass beat Dayton last weekend to stay alive in the bubble conversation. But the Minutemen have still lost 3 of 4 games. The next two are big: Xavier and Butler. While the Minutemen are 7-7 vs. the Top 100, they are just 1-5 vs. Top 50 teams. Win their next two and we’ll re-evaluate.
  • Temple (19-8 | 8-5) | RPI: 41 | SOS: 37 | – The Owls have won three straight over fellow A-10 bubble teams – including a 20-point victory over Charlotte. Other victories of note: Syracuse, Saint Louis, and Villanova. A tidy 8-6 mark vs. Top 100 teams is pretty nice given some other bubble teams. With three of four at home down the stretch, Temple controls its NCAA fate.
  • Xavier (16-11 | 8-5) | RPI: 86 | SOS: 96 | – Just when the RPI numbers suggested it was time to remove XU from the bubble, the Musketeers held off Memphis for a crucial victory. When you factor in wins over Butler, Temple, and La Salle, XU has a decent top-end profile. The problem remains overcoming five sub-100 RPI losses and a 4-6 mark vs. Top 100 teams. Xavier has home games left with UMass and Saint Louis before a trip to Butler. A tough slate, but one the Musketeers needs if they want to make a late charge.
ACC
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: NC State | Bubble: North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland
  • Maryland (19-9 | 7-8) | RPI: 73 | SOS: 119 | – The Terrapins have lost back-to-back road games to Boston College and Georgia Tech. That’s an NIT recipe for a bubble team – especially one with a weak non-conference schedule (ranked No. 291). Despite wins over NC State and Duke, Maryland needs to sweep it’s last three to regain any real foothold for an at-large bid. And two of those (Wake Forest and Virginia) are on the road.
  • North Carolina (18-8 | 9-5) | RPI: 20 | SOS: 9 | – Three straight wins have certainly helped the Tar Heels, and their power numbers suggest they are on fairly solid footing. But the Committee won’t overlook a 2-6 mark vs. Top 50 teams – both victories at home. The closing stretch isn’t easy: it includes games at Clemson and Maryland. And there’s that rematch with Duke on March 9.
  • Virginia (19-8 | 9-5) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 142 | – The next two weeks are huge for the Cavaliers – beginning with Duke at home on Thursday night. Even with a pile of questionable losses, Virginia has put itself in position for at-large consideration thanks to wins over NC State, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin – the latter at the Kohl Center during the Big10-ACC Challenge. But a mediocre finish could still spell trouble. A non-conference SOS ranked above 290 is a major reason why.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette | Should Be In: Pittsburgh, Notre Dame | Bubble: Cincinnati, Villanova, St. John’s
  • Cincinnati (19-9 | 7-8) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 26 |After losing three straight and five of six, the Bearcats find themselves moving in the wrong direction. There are plenty of positives – including non-conference wins over Oregon, Iowa State, and Alabama – and no bad losses. But Cincinnati’s final three games now have added importance. They have a solid Connecticut team at home Saturday before a trip to Louisville. A split would be very helpful. Losing both would certainly create some anxious moments heading into the Big East tourney.
  • St. John’s (16-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 61 | SOS: 30 | – Following Sunday’s loss home loss to Pittsburgh (SJU’s third loss in four games), time is quickly working against the Red Storm. And the final three aren’t easy – at Providence, at Notre Dame, Marquette. Winning at least two of those is critical. Anything less and there will be a hill to climb in New York. SJU is 4-8 vs. Top 100 teams.
  • Villanova (17-11 | 9-7) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 39 | – Villanova found a way to lose at Seton Hall Monday. With games at Pittsburgh and home to Georgetown still ahead, that loss could create some issues. Of course, victories over Louisville, Syracuse, and Marquette still hold a lot of weight (3-1 vs. Top 25 teams). Other than SHU, the only other “bad” loss on the Wildcats’ resume is to Columbia in November. A split down the stretch would take some pressure of an early game (or two) at the BE tourney.
BIG 10
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Illinois, Minnesota | Bubble: Iowa
  • Iowa (18-10 | 7-8) | RPI: 90 | SOS: 139 | – Letting a big lead slip away at Nebraska put the Hawkeyes on the fringe of the bubble even with Wednesday’s home win over Purdue. Given a horrible non-conference SOS number (321), a so-so Big Ten profile won’t be enough. It doesn’t help that they are 2-7 in games played outside Carver Hawkeye Arena. And a trip to Bloomington is up next.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
  • Baylor (16-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 36 | – The Bears ended a three-game slide and avoided further trouble by winning at West Virginia. Next up is Kansas State at home. Then it’s a trip to Texas before the home finale with Kansas. Baylor really needs a split with the Kansas schools and a victory at Texas. That would put them in position to do some work at the B12 tourney. The Bears are 4-9 vs. Top 100 teams and have a troubling 9-11 mark vs. the Top 150.
  • Iowa State (19-9 | 9-6) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 72 | – Some tough luck has left Iowa State’s resume a bit bare. That said, the Cyclones look like an NCAA team when you watch them play. If the “eye test” matters in the Committee room, ISU might be okay. At the same time, there’s no escaping a 2-6 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a 3-7 record in road games. A sweep of Baylor helps, but not as much if the Bears fall short. Right now, ISU has just two wins against NCAA teams (K-State, Oklahoma). And there’s the ugly loss at Texas Tech. It would be best for the Cyclones to at least split their upcoming games with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and then take care of West Virginia in Morgantown.
  • Oklahoma (18-9 | 9-6) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 10 | – Although the Sooners have a great computer profile (which helps), their lack of high quality wins remains a concern. Which means losing a big lead against Texas Wednesday wasn’t ideal. OU’s best wins are very good (Oklahoma State, Kansas) but a 2-5 mark overall against Top 50 teams suggests an NCAA berth isn’t wrapped up. A sweep of Baylor helps and the closing stretch is favorable – although Iowa State will be motivated for Saturday’s game in Norman. After that, it’s a home date with West Virginia before a closing trip to TCU. Losing more than one of the closing three would create some uncertainty heading into B12 tournament play. Winning all three would be ideal.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis | Bubble: Southern Miss
  • Southern Miss (19-7 | 10-3) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 80 | – Other than some decent computer numbers Southern Miss doesn’t have much too offer. The Golden Eagles’ best wins are Denver, East Carolina, and UTEP, and they were swept by C-USA leader Memphis.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: None | Should Be In: Creighton, Wichita State | Bubble: None
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: New Mexico | Should Be In: Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV | Bubble: Boise State, Air Force
  • Air Force (14-10 | 7-6) | RPI: 64 | SOS: 52 | – The Falcons’ stayed on the at-large board thanks to a home win over Wyoming Tuesday. But AFA still has considerable work to do given a 3-8 mark vs. Top 50 teams, a 3-7 road record, and a less-than-stellar non-conference schedule (best win was Arkansas Pine-Bluff). Closing games include San Diego State and at New Mexico. AFA really needs both of those.
  • Boise State (17-8 | 7-6) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 99 | – Boise took care of business Wednesday against Nevada. Now, the NCAA push begins for real. The Broncos end with this slate: Colorado State, at UNLV, San Diego State. Win two of those and Boise has a chance for serious consideration. Anything less will leave some work to do at the MTW tournament. A non-conference win at Creighton is a potentially nice wildcard.
PAC 12
Locks: Arizona | Should Be In: Oregon, UCLA, Colorado | Bubble: Arizona State, California
  • Arizona State (20-9 | 9-7) | RPI: 88 | SOS: 128 | – A three-game road trip to end the season – which will likely determine ASU’s post-season invitation – started with an overtime loss at UCLA. Next is USC, which upset Arizona Wednesday. Then it’s off to Arizona. Win both of those and the Sun Devils can stay in the conversation. Lose both and it’ll probably take the P12 tournament title to qualify. Although ASU has four Top 50 wins (including a sweep of Colorado), their overall SOS is suspect. They have played 16 games against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI (and gone 14-2 in the those games).
  • California (18-9 | 10-5) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 32 | – After sweeping the Oregon schools, Cal is probably in better shape than some people think. Their 5-game winning streak includes victories at Arizona and over UCLA. That’s improved Cal to 4-5 vs. Top 50 teams (although they have just 5 Top 100 wins overall). They also have not lost to anyone outside the RPI Top 100. With three games at home to close (Utah, Colorado, and Stanford), a sweep would likely land the Bears in the Field of 68. Some sort of odd split might leave them a little patch-up work to do in the Pac-12 tourney.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee
  • Tennessee (17-10 | 9-6) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 19 | – It’s been a productive two weeks or so for the Volunteers, and they’ve moved from the fringe of bubble consideration all the way to serious at-large consideration. Six straight conference wins have a way of helping (ask Illinois). An earlier blowout of rival Kentucky was followed by Tuesday’s victory over Florida. With two other Top 100 games in that stretch, UT’s record against that group is now 8-9. The Vols also have a win over Wichita State, and their only questionable loss is against Georgia. If Tennessee can avoid two road landmines (@Georgia, @Auburn) up next, they close with Missouri in Knoxville.
  • Alabama (18-9 | 11-4) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 106 | – Piling up SEC wins isn’t necessarily the same as piling up quality wins. Alabama took care of Auburn Tuesday but they still have just one Top 50 RPI win (Kentucky at home). The Crimson Tide split with Tennessee and did beat Villanova. But there are also four sub-100 RPI losses – which include Mercer and Tulane. Upcoming trips to Florida and Ole Miss will likely make or break the Tide’s chances.
  • Arkansas (17-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 81 | SOS: 89 | – Arkansas spent Wednesday night losing at LSU – which dropped the Razorbacks to an ugly 1-8 mark in road games. It’s the sort of thing that sticks out like a sore thumb because there aren’t an NCAA games in Bud Walton Arena. Fortunately, the Hogs have home games remaining with Kentucky and Texas AM. But it might be the trip to Missouri that determines whether this team stays in the hunt. A home victory over Florida is the biggest highlight. But that’s one of only four wins against Top 100 teams.
  • Kentucky (20-8 | 11-4) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 66 | – UK routed Mississippi State Wednesday at Rupp Arena. Which sets the Wildcats up for their stretch run. It begins Saturday with a trip to Arkansas and ends with a home date against the Gators. In between there’s a somewhat testy trip to Georgia. Can UK survive? How the Selection Committee ultimately judges Kentucky without Nerlens Noel remains to be seen. Another quality win or two would make it a lot easier to figure out.
  • Mississippi (21-7 | 10-5) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 149 | – Ole Miss beat Texas AM at home Wednesday and remains firmly on the bubble. The positives are a home win over Missouri and a sweep of Tennessee. The negatives are a weak non-conference SOS (No. 283), a loss at South Carolina last week, and 10 wins against teams ranked 200 or lower in the RPI. There’s aren’t any “up” games left on the Rebels’ schedule – the best is Alabama at home. Best to keep on winning and hope that a high volume of wins makes up for a lack of high-quality ones.
WEST COAST
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s
  • Saint Mary’s (24-5 | 13-2) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 135 | – Saint Mary’s is playing some pretty good basketball these days. But will the “eye test” surpass the resume test? That could be huge for the Gaels. They lost both games to Gonzaga, but looked the part against Creighton last weekend. After blowing past Pepperdine Wednesday, the Gaels close with Santa Clara at home. Win that and Saint Mary’s will be in decent shape heading into the WCC tournament. A potential third matchup with BYU in the WCC semis could yet be important.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Belmont, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech
  • Akron (22-4 | 13-0) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 129 | – The Zips have not lost since December 15 (at Detroit). And Wednesday, they took a major step toward wrapping up an outright MAC title by winning at (and sweeping) Ohio. A clear league championship by multiple games has proven helpful to teams like Akron in the past. An early win over Middle Tennessee State helps, giving the Zips a 3-3 mark vs. the Top 100. The potential negative is a 16-1 mark against teams ranked below 150 in the RPI. Assuming they win out, reaching the MAC title game will give the Committee a reason to seriously consider the Zips for an at-large bid.
  • Belmont (21-6 | 13-2) | RPI: 26 | SOS: 77 | – Good scheduling and a 5-4 mark vs. Top 100 teams has put the Bruins on the radar for at-large consideration. A win over Middle Tennessee State is the Bruins’ best RPI win, although a victory at Stanford might be equally important. There are no “ugly” losses on the Bruins’ resume – although Northeastern isn’t great. If Belmont wins the OVC outright and makes it to the title game the Committee will have an interesting decision. From there, it depends on the overall landscape.
  • Bucknell (23-5 | 11-2) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 173 | – A victory over La Salle highlights a resume that shows a lot of wins but not a lot of quality W’s. Bucknell has beaten New Mexico St and won at Purdue. Unfortunately, the latter isn’t helping like it normally might. The negatives are losses at Penn State and Princeton and a very weak overall schedule.
  • Louisiana Tech (23-3 | 14-0) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 269 | – La Tech’s strength of schedule is a major hurdle to overcome – reflected by 20 games (19-1 record) against sub-150 opponents. The Bulldogs’ best win is over bubble-dweller Southern Miss. There’s also an ugly loss at McNeese State. Despite a high volume of wins, an at-large bid is unlikely.
  • Middle Tennessee (25-4 | 17-1) | RPI: 23 | SOS: 120 | – An early win over Ole Miss helps but the Blue Raiders’ only other Top 100 win is Central Florida. Like some others on this list, a 16-0 mark vs. sub-150 teams is a drag on the schedule. Middle Tennessee also has losses to fellow bubble-dwellers Belmont and Akron – although both were on the road.

Best Bets: The Bettor’s Guide to Thursday’s NCAA tournament games

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At noon the day before every NCAA tournament game day, we will be releasing our Best Bets column, breaking down every single game in the tournament that day.

Odds courtesy DraftKings Sportsbook.

12:15 p.m.: No. 7 LOUISVILLE vs. No. 10 MINNESOTA, CBS

  • LINE: Louisville (-5)
  • TOTAL: 136
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Louisville 70.5, Minnesota 65.5
  • KENPOM: Louisville 71, Minnesota 66

The Pitino Bowl!!!

For those that don’t get it, Louisville fired Rick Pitino 18 months ago. His son, Richard, is the head coach at Minnesota. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be the case that Rick will be flying home from Greece to be at the game, which does take away some of the revenge factor if you like to take a ride down Narrative Street.

There are two problems here for Minnesota. For starters, they do not shoot the ball all that well. Just 28.8 percent of their field goal attempts come from beyond the arc (346th nationally) and they shoot it at just 32.1 percent from three. Louisville runs the Pack-Line, which is a defense designed to cut off penetration and force perimeter jumpers. The other problem that then arises is that Minnesota’s point guard situation is a mess. Isaiah Washington hasn’t really panned out, so Amir Coffey and Dupree MacBrayer are running the show. That’s sub-optimal.

Jordan Murphy is an absolute monster in the paint, and Daniel Oturu is quite promising, but this seems like the kind of matchup and the likes of Malik Williams will be up for and one of those two will have to guard either Sutton or Jordan Nwora.

PICK: I think Louisville is the better team and I think that their style of play matches up really well with Minnesota. The only concern that I have is that Louisville has melted away so many covers because of what they do at the end of games. They’d be a top 10ish team if basketball games ended at the under four timeout. Will we see them collapse again in the tournament? That worry is probably enough to keep me away from this line.

12:40 p.m.: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 YALE, TruTV

  • LINE: LSU (-7.5)
  • TOTAL: 157
  • IMPLIED SCORE: LSU 82.25, Yale 74.75
  • KENPOM: LSU 85, Yale 76

I am all in on the Elis taking down the Tigers on Thursday afternoon.

The biggest reason for this is that LSU is playing without their head coach. Will Wade has been held out by LSU after he refused to speak with the administration following the reports that he was caught on a wiretap by the FBI discussing a payment for a player. That’s big, because Wade is a terrific coach that is terrific when it comes to make in-game adjustments, and I do think there is something to the idea of substitute teacher syndrome setting in.

But beyond that, I just believe in this Yale team. They got dudes. Miye Oni is going to be an NBA draft pick, potentially a first rounder, as a 6-foot-6 combo-guard. Jordan Bruner is a do-it-all, 6-foot-9 forward that should be playing in the SEC, not the Ivy League. Alex Copeland proved that he can take a game over at the point. I also think it’s important to note that LSU does a lot of their damage on the offensive glass, and while Yale is going to be physically outmatched against LSU, they are top 25 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.

There’s talent on Yale, they matchup well with LSU and the Tigers will be missing their coach. I like it when the dots connect.

PICK: I think I lean towards taking the money line instead of just Yale on the points, especially since we can still get it at (+260).

1:30 p.m.: No. 5 AUBURN vs. No. 12 NEW MEXICO STATE, TNT

  • LINE: Auburn (-6)
  • TOTAL: 144.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Auburn 75.25, New Mexico State 69.25
  • KENPOM: Auburn 75, New Mexico State 69

I love New Mexico State in theory. They’re tough, they’re old, they play hard and they won 30 games behind a really, really good coach in Chris Jans. I don’t love this matchup, however. Auburn’s got dudes. Jared Harper is one of the most underrated point guards in the country, Bryce Brown can take over any game on any day and Chuma Okeke — who is a little nicked up — and Anfernee McLemore are both really useful pieces for the way Bruce Pearl wants to play.

They’re also absolutely rolling right now. In the last 12 days, they’ve beaten Tennessee twice, once by 20 points on a neutral floor.

PICK: I just don’t think NMSU has the horses to run with Auburn on Thursday, not when Pearl is going to have those kids ready to run through three brick walls.

(Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

2:00 p.m.: No. 4 FLORIDA STATE vs. No. 13 VERMONT, TBS

  • LINE: Florida State (-9)
  • TOTAL: 133.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Florida State 71.25, Vermont 62.25
  • KENPOM: Florida State 72, Vermont 63

Before the bracket was released, Vermont was one of the mid-majors that I really wanted to pick to win. After the bracket was released, I cannot say the same thing. The Catamounts are not all that big or long or that athletic. Florida State is all of those things, and they go two-deep at every position with players that are all of those things. It’s just the worst possible matchup that Vermont could have drawn as a No. 13 seed.

PICK: I think Florida State wins by about 15 points, and this line is moving in the opposite direction. I’ll keep letting it move.

2:45 p.m.: No. 2 MICHIGAN STATE vs. No. 15 BRADLEY, CBS

  • LINE: Michigan State (-18.5)
  • TOTAL: 133.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 76, Bradley 57.5
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 78, Bradley 57

I want no part of betting this game. Michigan State has been banged up all season long. In the Big Ten tournament, Tom Izzo pulled his starters against Ohio State in the quarterfinals with three minutes left, and they promptly gave up a 12-0 run that blew an easy cover. If you guys want to sweat out Tom Izzo trying to steal a few extra minutes of rest for his point guard that has been an absolute workhorse this season, be my guest. I’ll be betting elsewhere.

3:10 p.m: No. 6 MARYLAND vs. No. 11 BELMONT, TruTV

  • LINE: Maryland (-4)
  • TOTAL: 147.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Maryland 75.75, Belmont 71.75
  • KENPOM: Maryland 76, Belmont 72

I didn’t think that Belmont would be able to deal with the guards on Temple, and I feel the same way about the Bruins and Maryland. But I’m even more concerned about what Belmont will do with Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith, who are first round picks that have just not gotten to the NBA yet. That line seems a little bit low as well, which is why I’m leaning towards Maryland here.

PICK: Nick Muszynski looked really good against Temple. He’s going to have his work cut out for him against Maryland’s bigs, which is why I will be on Maryland (-4) here.

4:00 p.m.: No. 4 KANSAS vs. No. 13 NORTHEASTERN, TNT

  • LINE: Kansas (-6.5)
  • TOTAL: 142.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 74.5, Northeastern 68
  • KENPOM: Kansas 76, Northeastern 68

Kansas is not the Kansas we are used to seeing. They start four freshmen this year, and while two of them are five-star — one of whom has not exactly played like a five-star this year — the other two are the Jayhawks third-string center and a guy that was supposed to redshirt this season. I also think Kansas is overseeded relative to the team they have now based on some non-conference wins they earned with Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick healthy.

Northeastern is a really, really well-coached team that doesn’t beat themselves. They don’t turn the ball over, they shoot it well from three, they control tempo, they don’t give up second chance points and they have a couple of high-level shot-makers, namely Vasa Pusica. The Huskies are dangerous.

PICK: Clearly, I think Northeastern is the play, but again, the money line is +235. I like it better before the line moved, but it’s still good value.

(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

4:30 p.m.: No. 5 MARQUETTE vs. No. 12 MURRAY STATE, TBS

  • LINE: Marquette (-4)
  • TOTAL: 149.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Marquette 76.75, Murray State 72.25
  • KENPOM: Marquette 76, Murray State 72

I just cannot seed the Racers getting this done against Marquette. For starters, I think that the Golden Eagles will be able to hide Markus Howard defensively on one of Murray State’s non-Ja Morant wings. Then, I think that Sacar Anim will be able to go a good enough job on Morant that it will keep him from having one of his 40 point nights. And finally, I think Theo John’s presence at the rim will help prevent Morant from having an absolute blow-up game.

And that’s just on the defensive end of the floor. I think that the Hauser twins are going to be able to get whatever they want against small Murray State defenders.

PICK: I didn’t necessarily envision myself going all-in on Marquette in the first round, but here we are. Marquette (-4) seems low for the matchup.

6:50 p.m.: No. 7 NEVADA vs. No. 10 FLORIDA, TNT

  • LINE: Nevada (-2)
  • TOTAL: 132.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Nevada 67.25, Florida 65.25
  • KENPOM: Nevada 67, Florida 66

This bet is pretty easy for me. Nevada is old, they made a run in the NCAA tournament last year and their season has felt like they were coasting and waiting for the chance to prove themselves on the biggest stage again. Well, here we are.

The Wolf Pack — led by fifth-year seniors Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline — more or less run an offense that identifies matchups and allows their studs to go and try to win that matchup. Florida’s roster is made up of freshmen and inconsistent seniors. They also like to press a bit and that often leaves them cross-matched on the defensive end, with bigs guarding smalls and vice versa. Imagine a point guard trying to stop Jordan Caroline. Good luck.

PICK: Nevada (-2) is one of my favorite bets of the first weekend.

7:10 p.m.: No. 2 KENTUCKY vs. No. 15 ABILENE CHRISTIAN, CBS

  • LINE: Kentucky (-22.5)
  • TOTAL: 132
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kentucky 77.25, Abilene Christian 54.75
  • KENPOM: Kentucky 75, Abilene Christian 59

P.J. Washington has been in a walking boot since Sunday. For my money he is Kentucky’s best and most important player. Are we sure that he is actually healthy? Are we sure that Cal is going to play him a full compliment of minutes? Can Kentucky cover even if Washington doesn’t play or only sees the floor for a limited stretch?

Those are too many questions for me. I’ll fade this game.

7:20 p.m.: No. 6 VILLANOVA vs. No. 11 SAINT MARY’S, TBS

  • LINE: Villanova (-4.5)
  • TOTAL: 130.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Villanova 67.5, Saint Mary’s 63
  • KENPOM: Villanova 66, Saint Mary’s 65

This is the game that I have gone back and forth the most. The spread opened at six, which was an insanely high number considering that KenPom had this line at Villanova (-1). That makes me think Saint Mary’s. But the Gaels also run a lot of ball-screen stuff and get their shots within their offense, which is something that Villanova can take away with the way they switch. That makes me think Villanova.

This is the kicker, however: Villanova shoots 53.5 percent of their field goal attempts from three, which is the third-highest rate nationally. Saint Mary’s game-plans to run teams off of the three-point line, as just 31.4 percent of the field goal attempts against them are threes, which is the ninth-lowest number nationally, and teams have shot just 31.8 percent from three.

PICK: As Saint Mary’s has gotten hot over the last six weeks, their defense has really kicked up a notch, culminating in holding Gonzaga to 47 points in the WCC tournament final last Tuesday. I think it’s also worth noting that both SMC and Nova play really, really slowly. So not only do I like the Gaels here, I think that the under is a solid play as well.

7:27 p.m.: No. 1 GONZAGA vs. No. 16 FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON, TruTV

  • LINE: Gonzaga (-26.5)
  • TOTAL: 152.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Gonzaga 89.5, Fairleigh Dickinson 63
  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 90, Fairleigh Dickinson 65

You can criticize Gonzaga for a lot of things, but one thing they have done pretty consistently is to blow the doors off of their overmatched opponents. Fairleigh Dickinson is overmatched. They are 207th in KenPom this season. Gonzaga has played nine games against sub-200 KenPom opponents, and they’ve won those nine games by an average of 37.2 points. That number jumps to 43.5 points against the six sub-200 teams they played in the non-conference.

Should I mention that Fairleigh Dickinson played on Tuesday and had to travel tonight from Dayton to Salt Lake City to play at elevation?

PICK: Gonzaga (-26.5) is the play.

9:20 p.m.: No. 2 MICHIGAN vs. No. 15 MONTANA, TNT

  • LINE: Michigan (-15.5)
  • TOTAL: 131
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan 72.75, Montana 57.25
  • KENPOM: Michigan 74, Montana 57

This line has been moving as much as any line in the first weekend. It’s down to Michigan (-15.5) at the time of this writing, and I don’t think that it is crazy to say that it is going to move another point. Michigan and Montana played in the first round of the tournament last season. It was ugly as hell, but Michigan found a way to win by 14. The score? 61-47.

PICK: That’s where I think the edge is in this matchup. I think Michigan uglies this game up again. The under seems like the play here.

9:40 p.m.: No. 7 WOFFORD vs. No. 10 SETON HALL, CBS

  • LINE: Wofford (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 143.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Wofford 73, Seton Hall 70.5
  • KENPOM: Wofford 74, Seton Hall 69

It’s a battle of the heat-check all-stars, as Wofford’s Fletcher Magee goes up against Seton Hall’s Myles Powell. As a team, the Terriers are as three-point heavy as anyone. They shoot 41.6 percent from three and more than 40 percent of their points come from beyond the arc, 17th nationally. Seton Hall is not great when it comes to running opponents off of the three-point line, but they do have some long and athletic defenders on the roster. Quincy McKnight and Myles Cale will both get a shots at Fletcher Magee.

I also think it’s important to note that Wofford has more than just Magee. Cameron Jackson is a terrific mid-major big man that is going to have a chance to prove his mettle against a power conference for. Nathan Hoover was the star of Wofford’s two biggest wins — the win at South Carolina by 20 points and the SoCon title game — and Storm Murphy is named Storm.

PICK: The question you have to ask here is just how many points will it take for you to bet on the more athletic team? For me, I think it’s more than Seton Hall (+2.5). This line has already been moving towards Seton Hall, and I think I’m going to wait it out and see how low it will go before I bet on Wofford.

9:50 p.m.: No. 3 PURDUE vs. No. 14 OLD DOMINION, TBS

  • LINE: Purdue (-13)
  • TOTAL: 127
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Purdue 70, Old Dominion 57
  • KENPOM: Purdue 72, Old Dominion 59

I think that Purdue is probably the play here, simply because I don’t think that Old Dominion is going to have an easy time scoring. The Monarchs are just a bad, bad team on the offensive end of the floor, and while Purdue isn’t great defensively, they should be good enough to make life hell for ODU. I do think that this game and this spread is going to come down to whether or not Purdue hits shots, and I think they will be able to get it going a little bit.

PICK: If I’m going to bet this game, I am going to bet the Purdue side. What worries me, however, is this has the feel of a game that is played in the high 50s or low 60s, and 13 points is a lot of points in a game that is that low scoring. The under might be the play, but with the total at 127, I think I’ll probably just fade this game.

9:57 p.m.: No. 8 SYRACUSE vs. No. 9 BAYLOR, TruTV

  • LINE: Syracuse (-2)
  • TOTAL: 133
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Syracuse 67.5, Baylor 65.5
  • KENPOM: Syracuse 67, Baylor 66

Two teams that play zone, two teams that don’t shoot it all that well or run great offense, two teams with coaches that seem to find a way to make it work regardless of who is on their roster. Two things that are worth noting: Syracuse is really good at forcing turnovers while Baylor is pretty sloppy, but they are really bad at getting defensive rebounder and Baylor ranks second nationally is offensive rebounding percentage.

PICK: If I bet this, I’ll probably bet Syracuse simply because Jim Boeheim just finds a way to get it done in March seemingly every year this days.

Careers of all-time great scorers Mike Daum and Chris Clemons come to a close

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The spots for Mike Daum and Chris Clemons in the NCAA record book are now in place.

Both players’ teams lost in NIT openers on Tuesday, with Clemons and Campbell falling to UNC Greensboro, 84-69, while Daum’s Jackrabbits lost at Texas, 79-73.

Clemons finishes third all-time in scoring with 3,225 career points while Daum slots in at sixth with 3,067. Doug McDermott (3,150) and Alphonso Ford (3,165) separate them in fifth and fourth, respectively. LSU great Pete Maravich is first with 3,667.

Daum came to the Jackrabbits as a no-name recruit out of Kimball, Neb. that would ultimately redshirt his first year on campus. He went on to score 518 points as a freshman in the only season he failed top 800. He played in three NCAA tournaments with the Jackrabbits, who lost in the first round of the Summit League tournament as a one-seed, a fate Daum knew was a possibility when he opted not to graduate transfer out of Brookings this past spring. Daum scored 25 in his final game.

Clemons, a North Carolina native, scored at least 1,200 as both a sophomore and a senior, averaging 30 per game during his final collegiate season and nearly 25 for his career, which never featured an NCAA tournament appearance. In his last game, Clemons went out scoring, putting 32 on Greensboro.

Both players spent their careers in relative anonymity at mid-majors, but their legacies will loom large for years to come as two of the most prolific scorers the college game has seen.

Belmont pulls away in second half to beat Temple

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Rick Byrd is on the board.

The Belmont coach, in his 33rd years with the Bruins, has his first NCAA tournament win.

Belmont is moving on after defeating Temple, 81-70, on Tuesday in the First Four, notching that first tournament victory against another coaching fixture, Fran Dunphy, in the latter’s final game with the Owls.

Temple led by as many as five in the second half after erasing an 11-point deficit, but Belmont ripped off a 16-3 run to take an eight-point advantage with under 7 minutes to play that would prove more than enough to move on to the Round of 64.

Temple shot 39.4 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent on 22 attempts from 3-point range while committing 11 turnovers as Dunphy’s accomplished career came to a close in Dayton.

Dunphy is a Big 5 lifer. He played at La Salle, coached at Penn for 17 years and then took over the Temple program in 2006. He finished with 580 career wins in 30 years as a head coach. Assistant Aaron McKie is set to take over the Owls job in Dunphy’s stead in a move that was announced last offseason.

Shizz Alson, Jr. scored a team-high 21 points for the Owls, who finish the season 23-10.

Belmont shot at a blistering 52.8 percent from the floor and got 29 points from Kevin McClain on 8 of 14 shooting that included four triples.  Nick Muszynski, returning from injury, had 16 points (making 8 of 12 shots) along with four rebounds, three assists and two blocks.

The Bruins will now fly south to Jacksonville, where Maryland, a six seed, awaits them for a Thursday tip in the first round of the South region. The Terps went 22-10 and finished fifth in the Big Ten with a 13-7 conference mark. Belmont went 1-1 this season against Power 5 opponents with a win at UCLA and a loss in West Lafayette against Purdue in December.

Fairleigh Dickinson comes from behind for First Four victory

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The first game of the NCAA tournament provided the event’s customary drama.

Fairleigh Dickinson came from 13 down to defeat Prairie View, 82-76, on Tuesday night at the First Four in Dayton to join the rest of the field later this week with a matchup against the West regional’s No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Thursday.

Prairie View built an early double-digit lead thanks to a monster first-half effort from 3-point range in which they connected on eight of 12 shots from distance while also collecting six offensive rebounds. Fairleigh Dickinson, though was able to halve the deficit in time for half to go into the locker room down just seven.

The Panthers once again pushed their lead to 13 in the second half’s opening minutes, but Knights tied the game with 7:33 left and subsequently took the lead only to give it back to Prairie View. The Knights, though, wrestled the lead back on a 3-pointer from Jahlil Jenkins that kickstarted an 8-0 run that put Fairleigh Dickson up six. Prairie View cut the lead to two in the final minute but couldn’t close the gap.

Darnell Edge scored 33 to lead the lights while Jenkins had 22. Gary Blackston had 26 for the Panthers.

Fairleigh Dickinson shot 54.5 percent from the field for the game after converting at a 68 percent clip after halftime to win the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament game.

The Knights will now have to jet west to take on Gonzaga (30-3) in Salt Lake City on Thursday. The Zags figure to be huge favorites but just a year removed from UMBC upending Virginia, 16 seeds will likely be imbued with an extra dose of confidence this March.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Kansas State’s Dean Wade doubtful for tourney

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Kansas State is going to have difficult replicating its NCAA tournament success from a year ago. Unless it can once again survive the loss of its marquee forward.

Dean Wade, the Wildcats’ top player and Big 12 preseason player of the year, is unlikely to play in the tournament due to a lingering foot injury, coach Bruce Weber said Tuesday evening, per Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star.

The Wildcats, a four seed, are slated to meet UC Irvine on Friday in San Jose.

Injuries have cost Wade, who played minimally in K-State Elite Eight run last year because of injury, much of his senior season as it sidelined him for six games starting in December and carrying on into Big 12 play. He then aggravated the injury Feb. 16 in a home loss to Iowa State, but returned to beat Baylor. He did not miss any additional time during the regular season as the Wildcats tied for the Big 12 championship with Texas Tech as Kansas was shutout from a league title for the first time in 14 years.

The injury, though, forced Wade out of both Kansas State’s Big 12 tournament games, including a semifinal loss to eventual champion Iowa State.

“We’ve grown. We went through it, been through it without Dean, which is always tough,” Weber said after the loss to the Cyclones last weekend. “But we survived and advanced last year and we were able to get some experience under our belt. Obviously, it’s not last year. It’s going to be different teams. The ball is going to bounce different. The shots are going to fall different, but it gives us the self-confidence that it’s able to be done.”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game this season while shooting 49.8 percent from the floor.