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.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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

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

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

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

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

Butler is the key.

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

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

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He needs security.

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

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

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

I don’t get it.

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

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

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