Bubble Banter: Pitt, N.C. State get huge wins while Cincinnati, Georgia, GW take bad losses

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(This post will be updated throughout the day.)

All it took was one absurd offensive performance for Pitt to go from an NCAA tournament pipe dream to one of the most interesting bubble teams heading down the stretch.

The Panthers shot 66.1 percent from the floor and 8-for-15 from three as they smacked around No. 12 North Carolina at home on Saturday, a win that gives Jamie Dixon’s club the kind of marquee victory to anchor a tournament profile.

READ MORE: Friday’s updated tournament bracket

The Tar Heels entered the day as a top ten team in the RPI, and while that will likely drop a bit after this loss, it still means that the Panthers now have a pair of top 50 wins. They’re 17-9 overall and 6-6 in the ACC, and on the surface, that’s plenty to put them into the conversation.

Here’s the problem — that’s pretty much all there is on their resume. Pitt has just one other top 100 RPI win (3-7 overall, although Georgia Tech and Kansas State are Nos. 101 and 102, respectively), which will make it difficult for the committee to overlook a pair of sub-150 losses to Hawaii and Virginia Tech.

The Panthers play four of their last six regular season games on the road, but they only play one of the ACC’s top five teams, a trip to Virginia on Monday night. Beating UNC was as close to a must-win as you can get at this point in the year, and while it only moves them closer to the bubble’s cut line, it gives the Panthers a puncher’s chance at getting into the dance.

Here’s the rest of today’s bubble action:

WINNERS

  • N.C. State: The Wolfpack were one of the next five out in our latest bracket, which was posted on Friday, and that was before they went into the Yum! Center and knocked off the Cardinals on Saturday. This was a win that N.C. State absolutely had to get after they struggled in a four-point loss to Virginia at home. The Wolfpack don’t have the prettiest resume — they’re 15-11 overall and below .500 in the ACC — but they have a top five strength of schedule and wins over Duke and Louisville, the latter of which came on the road. Now 7-10 against the top 100, the only “bad” loss for N.C. State came at Wake Forest, which looks worse on paper than it is in real life. As of today, N.C. State is probably a tournament team, but barely.
  • Michigan State: The Spartans were on the right side of the bubble entering Saturday, but they were not as safe as you might expect a Tom Izzo team to be. Losing at home to Illinois certainly didn’t help matters, but the Spartans bounced back this weekend by knocking off No. 23 Ohio State. It moves Sparty to 8-4 in the Big Ten and gives them a third top 50 win and a 6-7 record against the top 100.
  • St. John’s: The Johnnies landed a massive win on Saturday, going into Cincinnati and knocking off Xavier. As of Friday morning, St. John’s was barely on the right side of the cut-line, according to our latest bracket, and adding a road win against an RPI top 50 opponent surely will help. The rest of their schedule is tough: at Georgetown, Seton Hall, Xavier, Georgetown, at Marquette and at Villanova. If they go 3-3 in that stretch, they should feel good about getting a bid.
  • Davidson: The Wildcats added another top 100 win to their resume as they went into Philly and knocked off a La Salle team that just won at VCU. Bob McKillop’s club still has some work to do, but they also get a chance to play George Washington twice, at Rhode Island and VCU at home. They’ll have chances.
  • UCLA: The Bruins won one of the first true bubble showdowns of the season on Saturday when they knocked off Oregon in Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins had a rough start to the season, but they’ve turned things around in Pac-12 play. They’re now 7-9 against the top 100 with no embarrassing losses, a win over Utah and a sweep of Stanford. They’ve got work to do still, but if the season ended today, the Bruins would have a good argument for earning one of the final few at-large bids.
  • Dayton: The Flyers took care of business against St. Bonaventure, winning big at home. Despite playing with a shortened bench, Dayton has some breathing room when it comes to the bubble.
  • LSU: The Tigers bounced back from their near-upset of No. 1 Kentucky by going into Knoxville and pounding the Vols, a win that is probably better than it will look on their resume. LSU is still on the right side of the bubble, but they have a tough finishing kick to their season. Five of their last six games are against top 100 opponents. Currently, LSU is 7-4 against the top 100 with four top 35 wins, but they also have three sub-150 league losses.
  • Texas A&M: The Aggies avoided what would have been a second-straight loss at home when Florida was unable to get a shot off at the end of regulation. The Aggies are in a spot where every loss they take gets magnified due to a lack of quality wins on their resume. Billy Kennedy’s club has not beaten a top 50 team this season. They only have three top 100 wins, which includes a win at LSU (currently No. 52 in the RPI). But they also don’t have any bad losses. Their only loss outside the top 65 is Kansas State, who is currently just on the wrong side of the top 100. The other bubble teams cannot make that claim, which is why the Aggies are in the conversation with a lack of quality victories.
  • Temple: The Owls beat East Carolina at home on Saturday, which is notable in that the Owls didn’t pick up a loss against East Carolina. Temple was on the right side of the cut-line entering the day, and this certainly won’t hurt that position.
  • Rhode Island: The Rams beat Saint Louis at home, which means they didn’t lost to Saint Louis at home. Rhody still has plenty of work to do.
  • UMass: The Minutemen avoided what likely would have been an at-large bid crushing loss to Duquesne. Their next two games — at Rhode Island and at VCU — will likely determine their at-large fate.

LOSERS

  • George Washington: The Colonials’ at-large hopes are done. If losing to Duquesne, a teams with a sub-200 RPI, wasn’t bad enough, GW followed that up by whiffing on their final opportunity to land marquee win in league play by getting smacked at home by VCU.
  • Xavier: The Musketeers are a tough team to figure out, but they likely were a tournament team entering the weekend and that probably doesn’t change with a home loss against St. John’s. That said, Xavier cost themselves a chance at picking up a top 50 win at home.
  • Boise State: The Broncos had their eight-game winning streak snapped at Fresno State, dropping them a game off the pace in the Mountain West. More importantly, the loss puts a devastating mark on their NCAA tournament profile. The Bulldogs are No. 232 in the RPI, a blight that simply isn’t compensated for by Boise State’s weak non-conference resume and pair of other sub-125 losses. The Broncos have two top 50 wins and four top 100 wins, meaning they probably need to win at UNLV and at San Diego State to really have a shot at an at-large.
  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats lost on a wild buzzer-beater to Tulane at home, which in itself isn’t a killer loss but it does take away quite a bit of their wiggle room. Cincinnati has four top 35 wins, but they now have two sub-150 losses and three sub-100 losses. Things can get precarious for the Bearcats if they drop another game at Houston, at home against UCF or at Tulane.
  • Georgia: The Bulldogs lost to Auburn (RPI No. 154) at home by one, a loss that, at this point, will probably hurt Georgia’s seeding more than it will hurt their tournament chances. In other words, the Bulldogs are probably still on the right side of the bubble. That said, there are now three sub-100 losses on their resume, including Auburn, which puts Georgia in a tough spot. Their margin for error is much smaller than it was entering the weekend.
  • Colorado State: The Rams lost at San Diego State, which certainly isn’t something that is going to hurt their profile. But it also means that the Rams won’t be able to add anything meaningful to their resume for the rest of the regular season. They don’t play any top 150 teams and only one team in the top 230.
  • Ole Miss: Ole Miss had their six game losing streak snapped at home against Arkansas on Saturday as Jarvis Summers missed a potential game-winning jumper at the buzzer. The missed opportunity to add to their profile will hurt more than the loss itself, meaning the Rebels should still be in pretty good shape. There are a couple of weird losses in their profile — Charleston Southern and TCU — but they have three top 50 wins and six top 100 wins, half of which came on the road.
  • Oregon: Oregon lost at UCLA on Saturday. The Ducks are one of a handful of teams right there on the cut-line, and losing a road game to a team with a top 50 RPI isn’t going to do much to hurt their resume. Missing out on the opportunity to improve their resume is what will hurt the most.
  • Seton Hall: The Pirates are a mess and in the midst of a collapse as the locker room fractures. On Saturday, they lost at Providence. I’m not sure that’s a coincidence.

Alabama coach Nate Oats gets new 6-year, $30 million deal

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nate Oats has agreed to a new six-year, $30 million contract amid the program’s best regular season in decades.

Oats will average $5 million plus incentives over the deal running through the 2028-29 season under a deal approved Friday by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees Compensation Committee.

It makes him the fourth-highest paid basketball coach in the Southeastern Conference and among the Top 10 nationally, athletic director Greg Byrne said.

Oats, who is in his fourth season, will make $4.5 million for the first year with $200,000 annual raises. The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (19-3, 9-0 SEC) has the team’s highest ranking this deep into a season since 1976-77.

“I am honored and humbled to receive a contract extension from the University of Alabama,” Oats said in a statement. “As I have said many times, my family and I love this community, the city of Tuscaloosa and the university.

“I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to build during our time at UA which is a direct reflection of the student-athletes, coaches and staff who have all played a big part in our success. I am excited for what’s happening in the future of our program and the direction we are heading.”

Alabama has gone 80-39 under Oats, winning the 2021 SEC regular season and tournament championships.

“Coach Oats has done an outstanding job leading our men’s basketball program, and we want him to continue doing so for many years to come,” Byrne said in a statement. “He and his staff have lifted the program back to national prominence and built a product that is exciting to be a part of for our team and for our fans.

“We were confident Nate was going to be an outstanding coach for us when we hired him, and he is not only that, but also a great leader of our young men.”

The new contract comes nearly three weeks after Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder following a fatal shooting near campus. Miles, a reserve forward, was removed from the team and suspended from the university following his arrest.

Duke women’s coach Kara Lawson says men’s ball used vs. FSU

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Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team played with a men’s basketball for the first half of a loss to Florida Stated.

The 16th-ranked Blue Devils lost to the Seminoles 70-57 in Tallahassee, Florida – the team’s second Atlantic Coast Conference loss of the season.

After her team beat Pittsburgh 53-44 , Lawson ended her news conference by speaking animatedly.

“This would never happen in a men’s game. This would never happen. It’s embarrassing for our sport,” she said.

The circumference of a women’s ball is about an inch smaller than a men’s ball and it is typically 2 ounces lighter. While it may not seem like a lot, that’s a big difference.

Lawson said throughout the first half, Duke players were “complaining about the ball.” The Blue Devils were 7 for 34 from the field in the opening 20 minutes of that game. They were 12 for 38 in the second half. Florida State made 10 of its 30 shots in the first two quarters and 14 of 31 in the second half.

“To have a game that, at the end of the season, could be the difference between a seed, between a title, my players don’t deserve that and neither do their players,” Lawson said. “It’s a complete failure. And you can figure out who the people I’m talking about that failed the sport and our players and both teams.”

Lawson said assistant coach Winston Gandy went to the scorer’s table at the half to check on the ball when he realized what the problem was. She said the game officials changed the ball to start the second half.

“We have concluded through our investigation that it was a men’s ball,” Lawson said. “The conference and Florida State is saying that it wasn’t.”

The ACC said it did a comprehensive review talking with game officials, administrators, the table crew and both schools.

“Following the thorough and objective review process, there was no evidence found to support the claim,” the conference said in a statement. “Per NCAA playing rules, there is no appeal or protest process.”

The ACC has instituted a procedural change that the game ball will be brought to the pregame meeting with the captains for approval.

“It’s very frustrating that (the game) … was not treated with the utmost respect that players on both teams deserve,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened in women’s basketball. In 2017, the College of Charleston played home games and practiced with men’s balls for most of its season until the error was was discovered.

“Let me be clear: Florida State beat us. They beat us playing with a men’s ball in the first half and a women’s ball in the second half. But I can’t say if we’d have played with a women’s ball in the first half and the second half that we would have won. But they can’t say that either,” Lawson said.

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.