Bubble Banter: Pitt, St. John’s, Texas A&M win, Texas trending towards the NIT?

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Texas lost at home to Iowa State today (AP Photo)

It’s incredible when you think about it, but Texas has reached the point this season where a trip to the NIT seems almost as likely as a trip to the NCAA tournament.

On Saturday afternoon, the Longhorns lost at home to No. 14 Iowa State in a game the Cyclones seemed to have control of for most of the second half. That’s the second straight loss for Texas and the sixth in their last nine games. They’re 17-10 overall and 6-8 in the Big 12. All 10 of those losses came against top 50 competition, but they’re just 1-10 overall against the top 50 with 12 of their 17 wins coming against sub-100 competition — and it’s worth noting here that they beat Kansas State, who is No. 100 in the RPI as of today.

That’s bad.

But it gets worse.

Five of those six Big 12 wins came against TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State, the only three teams in the league that are not in the NCAA tournament picture. Next week, the Longhorns play at West Virginia — who is streaking and will be looking for revenge for the 27-point loss they took at Texas in January — and at Kansas, which means that it’s very possible that we could enter the last week of the regular season with the Longhorns sitting at 17-12.

The good news for Texas is that three of their four remaining games — next week’s roadies and a home game against Baylor — would all go on their resume as elite wins, but at this point, what have the Longhorns done to make us believe they can win a game like that? They haven’t beaten a tournament team since January 17th.

The next question: If Barnes does miss out on the NCAA tournament, at what point do the hot seat rumors kick up again?

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WINNERS

  • Pitt: The Panthers were in a must-win situation on Saturday in Syracuse, and they pulled out the win, meaning the Panthers inch just that much closer to truly being a contender for an at-large bid. Pitt still has a lot of work left to do, however, to the point that they may not be able to afford another loss in the regular season. The Panthers own a pair of top 25ish wins over Notre Dame and North Carolina, but they have just three other top 100 wins: a sweep of Syracuse and a win over No. 100 Kansas State, who may or may not be in the top 100 come Selection Sunday. Combined that with a pair of sub-150 losses and a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks in the 150s, and the Panthers didn’t even crack the next five teams out in our latest bracket. With just one top 100 opponent left on their resume, the Panthers A) cannot afford another bad loss, and B) still need to add to their profile.
  • St. John’s: If the Johnnies are going to end up being an at-large team, it’s going to be earned this week. On Saturday, they added a much-needed win over Seton Hall at home, and in the next seven day, they’ll get both Xavier (No. 33) and Georgetown (No. 20) in NYC. With a 3-6 record against the top 50, just six top 100 wins and a pair of sub-100 losses, St. John’s probably needs all three to get themselves out of the muck that makes up the cut-line. Entering the weekend, they were still in the play-in game in our latest bracket.
  • LSU: The Tigers picked up a win at home over Florida on Saturday, giving them an even ten top 100 wins. Their three sub-140 losses are a blight on an otherwise very solid profile, which is why they will be in a good spot if they can get past a road trip to Auburn, their last non-top 100 opponent, next week.
  • Texas A&M: There are three pieces of good news to report on the Aggies. LSU, who they’ve swept, is still ranked in the top 50 (No. 48) and Kansas State, who they lost to, climbed back up to No. 100, which means that the Aggies still have two top 50 wins and now don’t have a sub-100 loss. They also added a top 100 road win on Saturday (at South Carolina), keeping them on the right side of the bubble for now. Wednesday’s game at Arkansas can be something of a clincher for the Aggies.
  • Xavier: The Musketeers add another quality win to their resume, knocking off Butler at home in impressive fashion. They’re now 17-10 overall with the kind of schizophrenic profile that makes the bubble so much fun. They have four top 25 wins and are 9-6 against the top 100 … and they’ve lost to four different sub-100 teams. As long as they beat Creighton in the season finale, Xavier should be in.
  • Stanford: The Cardinal had lost four out of five entering Saturday’s rivalry battle with Cal, and while Johnny Dawkins’ club snapped their skid, those losses put them in a bad spot. Thanks to the recent struggles of UConn and Texas, the Cardinal now have just three top 80 wins, which is the same number of sub-100 losses they have. With four games left against top 100 opponents — a visit from the Oregon schools and a trip to the Arizona schools — Stanford has work left to do to get off of the cut-line.
  • Boise State: The Rams avoided a slip-up at Nevada, but they’re still in a bad spot. They have as many top 100 wins (three) as sub-100 losses. They really need to win at SDSU next weekend to have a shot at being on the right side of the bubble heading into March.
  • Ole Miss: The Rebels did what they had to do on a quick turnaround, landing a win over Tennessee at home to keep themselves on the right side of the bubble for now. I’m not sure they’re quite as comfortable as some think, however. They have just two top 50 wins against three sub-100 losses, although their 8-5 record against the top 100 is solid enough. Their final four games: Georgia, at LSU, at Alabama, Vanderbilt.
  • Georgia: The Bulldogs certainly didn’t need losses to Auburn and South Carolina considering the strength of their profile was their computer numbers and a lack bad losses. The Bulldogs bounced back with a win at Alabama on Saturday, but there is still some work to be done. They still have to go to Ole Miss and get a visit from Kentucky, so there are opportunities to improve their resume.
  • Rhode Island: URI avoided a loss at George Mason, giving them a chance to play their way into the tournament. Their next three games: Davidson, at La Salle, at Dayton. Win two of those, and don’t lose to St. Joe’s at home, and the Rams will have a shot at climbing the ladder and getting on the right side of the cut-line.
  • Davidson: All the Wildcats did in beating Fordham was avoid a devastating loss. They’re on the outside looking in right now, meaning that their next three games — at Rhode Island and home for George Washington and VCU — will end up being what makes the difference for them.
  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats snapped a three-game losing streak by winning at Houston, which is the kind of win that is only good in that it’s not a loss. Cincy was a No. 10 seed entering the weekend.
  • N.C. State: The Wolfpack avoided a crushing loss to Virginia Tech, meaning that next week’s trip to the Dean Dome could end up being what gets them off of the cut-line.
  • Colorado State: The Rams are probably in the tournament right now, but with a schedule that has nothing but potentially awful losses remaining, they’re not safe yet. Beating Air Force gets them a step closer.
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AP

LOSERS

  • Dayton: The one thing that was keeping the Flyers sitting comfortably in the 8-9 game on most brackets was that they did not have any ugly losses on their profile. That changed Saturday, dropping a game at Duquesne, who checks in at No. 254 in the RPI. They’re still probably OK as of today, but losing to George Mason (No. 222) next week would put a lot of pressure on them in their final three games: at VCU, Rhode Island, at La Salle.
  • Miami: The Hurricanes whiffed on a great shot to land a marquee win at Louisville on Saturday, blowing a double-digit halftime lead and missing a would-be game-winner at the buzzer. Miami is still in the mix, meaning they’ll still end up being one of the last four or first four out of just about every bracket you see today, and that should tell you why missing on this opportunity hurts so much.
  • UCLA: You have to think that UCLA is in some trouble after failing to secure a win at Arizona on Saturday night. They’re 16-11 on the season with a win over Utah and a top 25 strength of schedule — and, arguably, a sweep of Stanford — really being the only two noteworthy pieces of their profile. They’re 6-10 against the top 100, and they only have one top 100 opponent left on the schedule. A loss in their final three games would be disastrous, and even then, they’re going to want to make a run in the Pac-12 tournament to feel at all comfortable.
  • Oklahoma State: Even after losing to West Virginia at home, the Pokes are not in trouble just yet. But they’re 17-10 overall and 7-8 in the Big 12 right now, which means that losing to either TCU or Texas Tech — their next two opponents — could put them in a tough spot.
  • St. Mary’s: The Gaels had a chance if they had beaten Gonzaga. They lost, and now they need to win the automatic bid.
  • UMass: The Minutemen had two chances this week to land the kind of quality road win that they needed to make themselves a real candidate to sneak onto the right side of the bubble. They lost both, including Saturday’s visit to No. 25 VCU.
  • Seton Hall: The Pirates lost their sixth straight on Saturday, falling at St. John’s. This is the last time that you will see Seton Hall mentioned on the bubble unless something drastic happens.

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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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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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.