Bubble Banter: Boise State, St. John’s, Dayton win the day; Texas, N.C. State lose; and Kansas State?

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(This post will be updated as the day progresses.)

Let’s talk about Kansas State for a minute, shall we?

The Wildcats knocked off No. 12 Iowa State today in Manhattan, their second straight massive upset of a Big 12 title contender. This isn’t the first time that they have beaten good teams, either. The Wildcats have also swept Oklahoma, beaten Baylor and Oklahoma State at home, and knocked off Texas A&M on a neutral court. That’s seven top 50 wins for those of you counting at home. All told, Kansas State is 7-10 against the top 50 and 8-11 against the top 100.

The problem?

The Wildcats are 15-15 on the season with four sub-100 losses, including games where they were tripped up at Long Beach State and at home against Texas Southern.

They needed to beat Iowa State just to get over .500 on the season.

Can we really call the Wildcats a bubble team?

At this point, probably not. Their RPI is too low, they have too many bad losses and, frankly, just too many losses period.

But compare this resume to Temple. The Owls have beaten Kansas … and that’s it. They don’t have another top 50 win. In fact, they’ve only played seven top 50 opponents all season long. They also have an ugly loss to St. Joe’s on their resume.

What about Tulsa? The Golden Hurricane have just two top 50 wins on their resume — a sweep of, you guessed it, Temple — and four top 100 wins with losses to Oral Roberts and Southeast Oklahoma State, the latter of which technically doesn’t count because it is a Division II school.

And then there is Texas A&M. As of today, the Aggies do not have a top 50 win, as their sweep of LSU doesn’t look as good when the Tigers drop out of the top 50. A&M doesn’t have any bad losses, however, which should tell you what the committee prioritizes.

Kansas State has work left to do. They play at Texas next week, a game they probably want to win. And it sure wouldn’t hurt to pick up a win or two in the Big 12 tournament. But as crazy as it sounds, Kansas State has managed to put themselves into the bubble conversation this season.

WINNERS

  • Boise State: The Broncos are Saturday’s biggest winners, as they completed a season sweep of San Diego State by going into Viejas Arena, one of the toughest places to play, and leaving with a win. The Broncos jump up to the right side of the bubble with the win, as the Aztecs are a top 25 win. Boise State now has three top 25ish wins and a 6-4 record against the top 100, although those three sub-100 losses are less than ideal. The Broncos can’t slip up against San Jose State or Fresno State, but as of today, they’re probably in the tournament. Considering where they were in December, that’s an incredible accomplishment.
  • BYU: The Cougars got the win that they needed, going into Spokane and knocking off No. 3 Gonzaga, but their work isn’t done yet. Gonzaga now has just one top 50 win on the season. This was their fourth top 100 win to go along with three sub-100 losses. If the tournament started today, BYU would be on the outside looking in.
  • St. John’s: The Johnnies are all but in the tournament after beating Georgetown convincingly on Saturday. They won the two games they needed to win this week, and now have five top 50 wins and a 9-7 record against the top 100. The only reason they’re not a lock yet? They still have to play at Marquette, and St. John’s has a penchant for not playing up to their ability away from home. But even with a loss at Marquette and at Villanova in the finale, the Johnnies still might be in with a loss in the first round of the Big East tournament.
  • Dayton: Welcome to the tournament, Dayton. The Flyers won at VCU on Saturday, a top 15 road win that is now the highlight of an otherwise strong profile. They’re now 22-6 on the season with six top 100 wins and just one bad loss — at Duquesne.
  • LSU: The Tigers picked up a key win on Saturday, completely a sweep of Ole Miss by knocking off the Rebels at home. LSU needs to collect all the quality wins that they can, as their profile has some holes. Namely, they have a non-conference schedule strength ranked in the 170s and three losses to sub-100 teams. They are 10-5 against the top 100, but just two of those 10 are in the top 45. Beat Tennessee at home and the Tigers should feel good about their chances.
  • Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane added a big win to their resume, going into Memphis and notching a come-from-behind win over the Tigers. Adding top 100 road wins at this point in the season never hurts, but the key for this group will be their next two games. They play Cincinnati at home and SMU on the road, a game that will have American title implications.
  • Texas A&M: The best thing that can be said about the Aggie win over Auburn is that it wasn’t a loss. Without any top 50 wins on their resume, the Aggies cannot afford a bad loss. Auburn would have been a bad loss.
  • Georgia: The Bulldogs beat Missouri, which is important mostly because they already have four sub-100 losses on their resume. Georgia is probably in the tournament as of today, but they can lock up a bid next week when they take on Kentucky in Athens.
  • Iowa: The Hawkeyes went into State College and knocked off Penn State on Saturday, keeping them safely above the cut-line and out of real bubble danger. They’d be wise to at least split their last two games — at Indiana, home for Northwestern.
  • Davidson: The Wildcats picked up a big win against George Washington on Saturday, their seventh top 100 win of the season. The Wildcats are still very, very bubbly — their poor strength of schedule, a couple of bad loss and just one top 50 win will do that — but with a visit from VCU coming this week, they’ll have an opportunity to play their way in.
  • Illinois: The Illini avoided a bad loss, smacking around Northwestern in Champaign. Unfortunately for Illinois, they’re probably on the wrong side of the bubble right now, meaning that they cannot afford another loss during the regular season. They’re 3-6 against the top 50 and 5-10 against the top 100, and while they have a pair of top ten wins, they won’t have another chance to boost their profile until the Big Ten tournament.
  • Rhode Island: URI’s slim hopes of getting an at-large bid are still alive after the Rams won at La Salle. It’s their fifth top 100 win, but URI does not have a top 50 win. They do have two sub-100 losses, however. The Rams have to win out, and they probably need at least two wins in the Atlantic 10 tournament to have a real shot.
  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats beat Tulane in New Orleans, which is better than what they did when the Green Wave came to Cincinnati. The Bearcats are in a good spot, and as long as they win one of their final two regular season games — at Tulsa and home against Memphis — they should feel pretty good heading into the American tournament.
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LOSERS

  • Texas: The Longhorns lost to Kansas on Saturday afternoon, a loss that has dropped them to 17-12 overall and just 6-10 in the Big 12 and will likely find themselves on the wrong side of many bubble projections come Monday morning. Four of those six wins came against TCU and Texas Tech, and with games left against Baylor and the now-streaking Kansas State, Texas could very easily finish the season 6-12 in the Big 12. It will be an interesting debate, Texas has no losses to teams outside KenPom’s top 35, but they’re just 1-12 against the RPI top 50. Should a team that doesn’t lose to bad teams but cannot beat the best of the best deserve a bid to the tournament?
  • N.C. State: In the immortal words of one Jeffrey Borzello, “N.C. State and the bubble are never able to truly break up and go their separate ways.” That sums up the Wolfpack’s week pretty succinctly. After beating down North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Tuesday night, Mark Gottfried’s club went up to Conte Forum to take on Boston College … and got blown out. That adds even more intrigue to a profile that really didn’t need to get murkier. N.C. State has wins Duke and at Louisville and North Carolina. They have five top 50 wins and eight top 100 wins. But they’re also 17-12 overall with a pair of sub-125 losses, including B.C. As of Friday, they were a No. 9 seed in our latest bracket. This loss could drop them a seed line. Maybe two. Word of advice to N.C. State: win at Clemson. Beat Syracuse. Don’t risk it.
  • Oklahoma State: All of a sudden, the Pokes are in some trouble. After losing to Texas Tech on Saturday, Oklahoma State is now 17-11 overall and 7-9 in the Big 12, having lost their last four games. They have six top 50 wins — including three top ten wins — but they also have three sub-100 losses, including a pair in the last two weeks. They get TCU at home next week, which is a win they really need before going to West Virginia next weekend.
  • Ole Miss: The Rebels lost at LSU on Saturday, which is far from a killer loss. It probably won’t even drop Ole Miss off of the No. 9-10 seed range where they are in most projections right now. But it does limit their margin of error. Andy Kennedy’s club already has three sub-100 losses this season and still has to play at Alabama and Vanderbilt at home.
  • Xavier: The Musketeers lost to Villanova at home on Saturday, which is far from a killer loss. A win would have locked up a bid, but at this point, with four top 25 wins and four sub-100 losses, the Musketeers will be in if they beat Creighton next week. Lose, and they’ll still be in a pretty good spot.
  • Miami: The Hurricanes missed on a chance to beat North Carolina in Coral Gables on Saturday, and while that certainly doesn’t hurt their bubble standing, it doesn’t help. And at this point, Miami needs all the help they can get. That win at Duke looks amazing, but it’s basically the only thing keeping a team with four sub-100 losses and just one other top 60 win in the conversation. Miami needs to win at Pitt, win at Virginia Tech and beat a notable team in the ACC tournament to really have a chance.

STILL TO PLAY

Tulsa at Memphis, 8:00 p.m.
Boise State at San Diego State, 8:00 p.m.
Auburn at Texas A&M 8:30 p.m.
BYU at No. 3 Gonzaga, 10:00 p.m.

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.