Bubble Banter: So what do we make of LSU, Indiana and Boise State?

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(This post will be updated throughout the day.)

READ MORE: Thursday’s Bubble Banter | Friday’s Bracketology

WINNERS

  • Davidson: I still think that the Wildcats are closer to the bubble’s cut-line than a lot of folks are implying at this point, but that doesn’t change the fact that today’s buzzer-beating win over La Salle should just about lock up their bid. Here’s why: Davidson would have a ways to go to drop to the wrong side of the bubble, but thanks to the bloodbath that was Thursday’s action for bubble teams, there aren’t enough teams close enough to actually threaten the Wildcats with an NIT trip. Think about it like this: Using our latest bracket, we can assume that the Wildcats are, at worst, the sixth-to-last team in the bracket. That means they’d need at least six teams to jump them in order to lose their bid. A loss to either Richmond or VCU won’t hurt all that much, and of the teams behind them, only Indiana, Tulsa, UCLA, Richmond and Rhode Island have yet to get knocked out of their league tournaments. They’re safe.
  • Temple: The Owls did what they needed to do against Memphis, getting a win and advancing to face SMU in the American semifinals. Temple is probably on the right side of the bubble as of today, and while today’s win does help, it certainly doesn’t lock them into a bid. Beating SMU would. A loss on Saturday wouldn’t be a killer, but it would make Selection Sunday quite stressful.
  • Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane got past Houston, which would have been the loss that kept them out of the NCAA tournament. As it stands, Frank Haith is probably on the wrong side of the bubble. I’m not convinced that Tulsa can get in without winning the automatic bid given the way the American bracket shook out; beating Cincinnati or UConn in the semifinals is not the kind of win that drastically changes a profile.
  • Purdue: The Boilermakers likely locked up their bid on Friday by beating Penn State. With two horrid non-conference home losses on their resume and an ugly non-conference strength of schedule, Purdue could not afford another “bad” loss. They were on the right side of the bubble entering the day, and losing to Wisconsin in the semifinals tomorrow won’t change that.
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LOSERS

  • LSU: LSU just couldn’t make it easy, could they? The Tigers lost (choked?) to Auburn in a thriller in the SEC tournament quarterfinals, and it’s a loss that I’m not sure the Tigers can afford. At the very least, they are going to be one of the most intriguing bubble discussions on Sunday. Let’s lay it out for you: LSU has 13 top 100 wins, but only three of those wins are against the top 50. They won at Arkansas and at West Virginia, which are two very impressive road victories, but they also lost to five (!!!) teams ranked outside the top 100 of the RPI, two of whom are ranked outside the top 200. The only reason they don’t have six sub-100 losses is that Tennessee is still, as of today, ranked in the top 100. Their non-conference schedule strength is 186th, and as we saw with SMU last season, that’s a major factor for the committee. It’s going to be a long, long 48 hours for Johnny Jones and company. They’re going to be rooting very strongly against everyone else on the bubble for the rest of the weekend.
  • Indiana: The Hoosiers lost to Maryland on Friday night in the Big Ten quarterfinals, meaning that they are going to end up being one of the most discussed bubble teams out there. Personally, I think they’re in, and I think that most bracket projections will say as much. They were in entering the day, and they lost to a top ten team where they had a shot to take the lead in the final two minutes. The issue would be whether or not the bubble teams behind them win the games they need to move past them in the pecking order, and for the most part, bubble teams have not had a good week (ahem, looking at you, LSU). They need teams like Tulsa, UConn and UCLA to lose. My guess: they’re in on Selection Sunday, but it’s going to be a long couple of days.
  • UCLA: The Bruins badly needed to land a win over No. 5 Arizona in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament on Friday night, and they came up short. That means that UCLA will have to wait it out until Selection Sunday, and for my money, they’re going to end up being on the wrong side of the bubble. They have wins over Oregon and Utah, which are nice, but they have three sub-100 losses, they’re just 5-10 against the top 100 and their only two road wins are at Stanford and at Arizona State. Compare that to LSU, who has 13 top 100 wins and three top 50 wins.
  • Boise State: The Broncos lost to Wyoming on Friday, which is far from a crushing loss. The Pokes are ranked 90th in the RPI, but their numbers are skewed by a couple of losses that they took while their star, Larry Nance Jr., was battling mono. The problem is that Boise State has just three top 50 wins — all top 30, including a win at San Diego State — and three sub-100 losses. They did win the Mountain West regular season title, but their non-conference schedule strength is 176th and they have just one other top 100 win. The complicating factor? This team actually got markedly better when Anthony Drmic made the decision to sit out the season in mid-December. Boise State is in a tough spot, and while they got helped out by the fact that seemingly every team behind them in the bubble pecking order lost, there’s still a good chance that they don’t end up hearing their name called. At this point, I think they’re out.
  • Colorado State: The Rams might be in some trouble after losing to San Diego State in the MWC semifinals. They have just two top 50 wins (Boise State and San Diego State) and they are just 5-5 against the top 100 with an ugly loss at New Mexico. That said, Larry Eustachy is a master of working the RPI, which is why the Rams currently are No. 25 in that ranking. If I had to guess, they’re probably looking at a play-in game.
  • Richmond: The Spiders wouldn’t have been a lock even if they had beaten the Rams on Friday, but they ended losing a thriller in the A-10 quarterfinals, which likely relegates them to the NIT.

STILL TO PLAY

Colorado State vs. San Diego State, 11:30 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.