Fixing his flaws: How Kris Dunn has attacked the two weaknesses in his game

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SANTA MONICA, California — There aren’t many point guards that can fill up a stat sheet the way that Providence point guard Kris Dunn can.

Look at these numbers that he posted during the 2014-15 season: 15.6 points, 7.5 assists, 5.5 boards, 2.7 steals. A fantasy basketball player’s dream.

Throw in the fact that Dunn is a strong, athletic, 6-foot-3 point guard with long arms and a great feel for operating in ball-screen actions and it’s no wonder that his decision to turn down a shot at being a lottery pick for his junior season was considered the most surprising choice of any prospect this spring.

There were really two reasons that impacted Dunn’s decision to return to school, he told NBCSports.com during a conversation at the Nike Academy last month. The biggest was that he wanted to get his degree. Education was something that was hammered home by Dunn’s father and stepmother back in New London, Connecticut, and as corny or cliche as it sounds, being able to call himself a college graduate matters to him. Dunn is a junior eligibility-wise, but this will be his fourth season in college; he was granted a medical redshirt after shoulder surgery limited him to four games in 2013-14.

The other reason that Dunn decided to come back to school is that he not only wants to be on an NBA roster when he arrives in the league, he wants to be an impact player, an important piece wherever he ends up, not just a prospect that begins his career as nothing more than a name on a roster leading cheers from the end of the bench.

“Right now, I may be an NBA talent, as you say, and for myself I can see that. But for me, I want to be ready when I come in,” Dunn said.

And for Dunn to be “ready” when he does get to the next level, there are two glaring holes in his game that he needs to fix: he needs to become a more consistent jump-shooter, particularly from three-point range, and he needs to do something about all those turnovers.

Dunn was an NBCSports.com second-team All-American a season ago, but despite the voluminous raw numbers that he was able to produce for a top 25 team that reached the NCAA tournament, that was not a consensus opinion. You see, the way that Ed Cooley’s offense operates, whoever is running the point is going to produce. They’re going to be put in ball-screen after ball-screen. They’re going to be asked to make decisions and to make plays. They’re going to have the ball in their hands the majority of the time. And if they’re any good — like Dunn is, like Bryce Cotton was before him, like Vincent Council was before that — their numbers will be impressive.

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Dunn’s usage rate last season — a number that determines how often that player ends a possession, either through a made shot, a missed shot that isn’t rebounded by the offense or through a turnover — was 30.2, the sixth-highest rate for any high-major player in the country. That number doesn’t factor in his assists, either, as Dunn led the nation in assist rate, per KenPom.com. In other words, there may not be a player in the country that played a bigger role for his team offensively than Dunn did last season.

The issue for voters was Dunn’s efficiency. Or, frankly, lack thereof. He averaged 4.2 turnovers per game, finishing the year with an assist-to-turnover ratio of just 1.85-to-1 despite finishing second in the nation in assists. His offensive rating, per KenPom, was 103.0, a number that fell to 96.5 against top 50 competition. By comparison, 2015 NBCSports.com Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky’s offensive rating was 126.2 while D’Angelo Russell’s was 113.6. According to Synergy, Dunn averaged 0.820 points-per-possession — good for the 42nd percentile — overall and just 0.759 PPP in a half court setting — the 34th percentile.

To put it simply, Dunn did not always make the most of his opportunities when he had the ball in his hands.

And it makes Dunn one of the most intriguing prospects in college basketball in 2015-16. He’s got the physical tools and skill-set to be a terrific point guard in the NBA for years, yet the flaws in his game are as obvious as the sky is blue.

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Shooting is the easiest facet of a basketball player’s game to develop.

Repetition. Muscle memory. Confidence. If a player truly wants to become a better shooter, all it really takes is the time and the effort to perfect his form. Once that happens, once that player has reached a point where every shot that he takes comes off of his hands the same way, he can work on situational shooting; things like squaring his shoulders to the rim regardless of which direction he comes off of a pindown or maintaining his balance with his lower body while increasing how much space he can create using a step-back.

This is what Dunn’s summer has consisted of.

“I have to learn to play within the system and take the shots the defense is giving me,” Dunn said. “I have to learn how to do that. It’s what I’ve been focusing on all offseason.”

Here’s an example: One of the situational shots that Dunn has been working on is taking an open three when his defender goes under a ball-screen. To work on this, Cooley runs Dunn through something he calls the “Cone Drill”. Dunn, with the ball, comes off a ball-screen and has to react to a call the coaching staff makes. If they say over, Dunn has to attack off the screen, pulling up in the mid-range or making a move as he practices snaking his way to the rim. But if they call under, Dunn has to pull his dribble back and shoot that three.

When everything goes well, this is what it’s supposed to look like:

The problem is that, for Dunn, everything didn’t go that well that often. According to Synergy, Dunn was involved in 461 ball-screens in 2014-15, and only seven times did he bury a three after a defender went under the screen. Part of this is procedural; it’s fairly rare for defenses to go under ball-screens these days. But the other issue is that Dunn didn’t always look to take that shot when defenses gave him that opportunity. Just 17 times in the 33 games he played did Dunn shoot a three after a defender went under the screen.

When things went wrong, those ball-screen actions didn’t look quite as pretty:

That’s where confidence comes into play. Instead of forcing a drive into traffic or trying to thread the needle on a no-look, over-the-shoulder pass to a big man with so-so hands and a defender to beat, take that top-of-the-key three. Have the belief in himself that he’s able to make that shot. Throughout his entire career, Dunn has been bigger, quicker and stronger than anyone he’s played against. He never developed his jumpshot in high school because he never needed to; Connecticut high school basketball isn’t as bad as some might make it out to be, but let’s just say Dunn wasn’t playing against Division I prospects on a nightly basis.

“In high school, I probably shot like one jump shot a game,” Dunn explained. “I could get to the basket anytime I wanted and my dad always told me if you can get a bucket without shooting [a jumper] get to the bucket.”

“In college, you can’t get to the rim all the time. Coaches do a terrific job of scouting, so they know that I like to get to the basket.”

The core of the issue was Dunn’s decision-making, not just being able to read his teammates and what the defense is doing, but reacting to it properly. That was a common theme with Dunn last season, according to Cooley, and a major reason that he finished the year with 138 turnovers in those 33 games. I charted every one of those 138 turnovers, and after subtracting seven that weren’t Dunn’s fault (i.e. a pass goes through a teammate’s hands), what I found was that 38 of those turnovers — or 29.0 percent — were a direct result of Dunn making a poor decision, whether that be firing a bounce-pass at a seven-footer’s knees (the first of six clips in the video below), throwing no-look passes to big men in transition, over-dribbling into traffic or simply not recognizing who he is passing to; finding an open teammate is important, but the best point guards get the ball to their teammates in a position where they can be effective:

“A third of his turnovers came with him him giving the ball up too early to non-ball handlers but good finishers,” Cooley said. “Give those guys the ball where he can finish, not give them a decision to make a play or make a shot.”

“I was being too aggressive, always trying to make the home-run play,” Dunn added. “What we’ve been working on is situations where basically I can make a hockey assist, making the pass that leads to the assist.”

Another 24 of those turnovers were the direct result of Dunn simply being careless with the ball. Seriously. There were 24 of these:

Do the math, and 47.3 percent of Dunn’s turnovers from last season were avoidable.

This is where film study comes into play for Cooley, because getting Dunn to better take care of the ball isn’t as easy as getting him to make 500 jumpers a day. Recognizing defenses takes more than just muscle memory.

“You really get those kids to watch film and see the game, to know what we’re doing offensively,” Cooley said. “You can show him [those turnovers] and say, ‘this is your turnover, tell me what you should do differently.'”

“We want to be three or less turnovers per game. We’re going to play at a frenetic pace this year. He had 138 turnovers, and we’ve gotta try to cut those, I’m not going to say half, but if we can get it down to 60 percent, now those are times where we get the ball and at least we’re getting shots.”

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“I see John Wall, but a B-plus athlete instead of an A-plus athlete.”

That’s how one NBA scout described Dunn’s game to NBCSports.com, and it’s a more-than-fair comparison when you really look at it. Their physical profiles are strikingly similar: Big point guards, long arms, proven ability in ball-screen actions. Wall, as the scout mentioned, is one of the best athletes at the point guard position in the NBA, with the kind of explosiveness that deservedly puts him in the same league as the likes of Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose circa the MVP years. Dunn is a better defender than Wall, but he’s not the same level of athlete.

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The similarities go deeper than that.

In Wall’s one season at Kentucky, he averaged 16.6 points, 6.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds. He also shot 32.5 percent from three while turning the ball over 4.0 times per game. Those numbers may as well be a carbon-copy of what Dunn produced in 2014-15.

The key question is going to be what those numbers look like this season. Will Dunn be a better shooter? Will he get his turnover problems under control? Last year was Dunn’s first full season as the college level, the first time in two years that he was healthy after undergoing a pair of surgeries on his right shoulder in the span of 18 months. He missed the first nine games of his freshman year and all but four games of the 2013-14 season, when he received the medical redshirt.

Throw in the fact that this was the first time that Dunn was asked to play the point full-time at a level higher than a Connecticut high school league, and there’s some wiggle room here. Maybe he was rusty. Maybe he was adjusting to the level of competition. Maybe it was just a hurdle on the track of his development.

That’s what the scouts are going to be looking for in 2015-16. When a player returns to school a year longer than expected, the conversation always changes. It’s inevitable. Instead of focusing on what the player is capable of doing on a basketball court, the discussion is led by weaknesses. What can’t he do, and why?

And therein lies the challenge for Dunn.

With a roster that loses LaDontae Henton, Paschal Chukwu, Tyler Harris and Carson Desrosiers, the Friars are going to look for Dunn to handle even more of the responsibility offensively this season.

“Kris, especially with the new rule — no five-second, close to the ball count — is going to dominate the ball,” Cooley said.

He’s going to put up gaudy numbers once again.

But his future and his draft stock will depend on just how many of his mistakes he can eliminate.

Bubble Watch: Breaking down every team in at-large conversation

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It’s that time of the year again, which means that we are diving head first into our annual NCAA tournament bubble watch.

The way that it will work is simple: We’ll be looking at every team that our Dave Ommen, the best bracketologist in the business, considers in the mix for an at-large bid. In an effort to keep this somewhat manageable, we are going to assume that the top 36 teams in the field — every team that is a No. 9-seed or above — is “off the bubble”. This does not mean those teams are a lock to dance, it just means that they have given themselves enough room for error that we can take them out of the conversation until they do something dumb.

Dave’s latest bracket can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

So with all that in mind, let’s get into the full NCAA tournament bubble watch:



ACC BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Duke (NBC: 2), Florida State (NBC: 2), Louisville (NBC: 3)

VIRGINIA (NET: 50, NBC: 9): Virginia won for the fourth straight time on Saturday, knocking off Pitt (100) on the road. They only have three Quad 1 wins and a 9-6 mark against the top two Quads with home dates left against Duke (6) and Louisville (8). They can’t afford slip-ups, and could really use three or four more wins before Selection Sunday. But Virginia is starting to play much better, and as of today they are in a pretty good spot to get to the tournament.

N.C. STATE (NET: 53, NBC: 10): The Wolfpack fell to 17-11 on the season as North Carolina (96) finished off a season sweep with an 85-79 win in Chapel Hill. N.C. State has a weird resume. They are the proud owners of three Quad 3 losses as well as four more losses to sub-70 teams on the road. That’s not good. But they beat Duke (6) by 22 points in Raleigh, which is just one of their five Quad 1 wins. They are 9-8 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents on the season. It’s worth noting that Markell Johnson, N.C. State’s best player, did not play in one of the three Quad 3 losses — Georgia Tech (79) — so that will be something to monitor for the Selection Committee.


AMERICAN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Houston (NBC: 9)

WICHITA STATE (NET: 43, NBC: Play-in game): Wichita State saw their three-game winning streak snapped on Sunday afternoon, losing by three at Cincinnati (53). They have beaten VCU (57) and Oklahoma (54) at home, and they don’t have any truly terrible losses, but with just one potential Quad 1 games left on their schedule — all of which are on the road — and without a top 50 win on the season, I think the Shockers are going to have an uncomfortable Selection Sunday. The fact that they are 8-7 against the top two Quads without a bad loss is something of a saving grace at this point.

MEMPHIS (NET: 61, NBC: First four out): Memphis is hanging on by a thread right now, and losing at SMU (86) on Tuesday night is certainly not going to help anything. They are still alive after landed a critical win over Houston (24) at home over the weekend, but Memphis still only has a pair of Quad 1 wins compared to three Quad 3 losses. Memphis is also playing with D.J. Jeffries right now, which complicates matters as well. They end their season like this: at Tulane (174), Wichita State (44), at Houston (24). I think they need to win all three at this point.

CINCINNATI (NET: 53, NBC: 11): The Bearcats shot themselves in the foot on Wednesday, losing at home to UCF (125). They bounced back and beat Wichita State (43) at home on Saturday, which gives Cincinnati an eighth win over Quad 1 and 2 opponents. As of this very moment, Cincinnati has just two Quad 1 wins and four Quad 3 losses, all of which came to teams sitting outside the top 100. They’re in a bad spot right now, and with just one more potential Quad 1 win on their resume, I’m not sure just how much they’ll be able to do to fix it. Beating Houston (25) on the road next Sunday has become a must-win.


ATLANTIC 10 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Dayton (NBC: 2)

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 36, NBC: 10): The Rams did not help themselves by losing at Davidson (76) on Saturday, which isn’t a killer but is a Quad 2 loss. They’re now 19-7 overall with just one Quad 1 win, but they are 6-6 against the top two Quads. The loss to Brown (218) is ugly, but as long as URI avoids the landmines on their schedule, I think they can get an at-large even with a loss to Dayton (5) at home in March.

RICHMOND (NET: 48, NBC: First four out): Richmond had their five-game winning streak snapped on the road against St. Bonaventure, which is not a bad loss in real life but is a bad loss on an NCAA tournament resume. The Spiders only have one truly terrible loss to their name — Radford (162) got them on a neutral court — but they only have two Quad 1 wins and a 4-6 record against the top two Quads. Their margin for error is completely gone.


BIG 12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Baylor (NBC: 1), Kansas (NBC: 1), West Virginia (NBC: 6), Texas Tech (NBC: 8)

OKLAHOMA (NET: 55, NBC: Play-in game): The biggest winner of the night was, without question, Oklahoma. The Sooners picked up their fourth Quad 1 win of the season with an impressive, 65-51 win over Texas Tech (15). It snaps a three-game losing streak that had dropped Oklahoma to 17-11 on the season and sets them up for a massive trip to West Virginia (17) on Saturday, who they beat at home earlier this month. They are now 17-11 on the season and are sitting with a 4-9 record against the top Quad and nine total wins against the top two Quads. It’s also worth noting they only have two road wins on the season — at Texas (66) and at North Texas (92).

TEXAS (NET: 66, NBC: Off the bubble): The Longhorns won their third straight game on Monday night, as they beat No. 20 West Virginia (17) despite playing without Jericho Sims, Gerald Liddell and Jase Febres. Suddenly, a team that we had all written off is right back in the mix, as the Mountaineers are a top 20 team in the NET and the kind of elite win that Texas was sorely lacking on their resume. As it stands, the Longhorns are sitting at 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the Big 12. They have three Quad 1 wins, Monday night’s win as well as roadies at Purdue (36) and Oklahoma State (69), and a 5-11 mark against the top two Quads without a bad loss to their name. Saturday’s trip to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech (15) is going to be the make or break game. It’s not a win-and-you’re-win type deal, but I do think that taking a loss to the Red Raiders would mean that the Longhorns will have to beat one of the Big 12’s top four teams in the conference tournament to have a realistic shot at getting to the dance.


BIG EAST BUBBLE WATCH

Top 9: Seton Hall (NBC: 3), Villanova (NBC: 3), Creighton (NBC: 3), Butler (NBC: 6), Marquette (NBC: 7)

XAVIER (NET: 43, NBC: 10): The Musketeers shook off a loss to Villanova (12) at home on Saturday by knocking off DePaul (73) on Tuesday night. The best thing about this Xavier team’s resume is that they really have not taken all that many bad losses. Their worst loss of the season came at Wake Forest (109), which is a Quad 2 loss. It’s the only team ranked outside of the top 35 in the NET that Xavier has lost to. They only have three Quad 1 wins — and two of them are at St. John’s (70) and at DePaul (73) — but they do have a win over Seton Hall (17) in Newark, which helps quite a bit. I personally think that Xavier has to do more work that it looks like. They are just 3-9 against Quad 1 opponents, and that could drop to 1-9 if St. John’s and DePaul fall outside the top 75. With games at Georgetown (58), at Providence (48) and Butler (23), they’ll have three more chances to land Quad 1 wins. I think Xavier probably should win two of those to really feel comfortable.

PROVIDENCE (NET: 46, NBC: Play-in game): The Friars are now the official owners of the strangest resume in college basketball. On Friday, Marquette (26) paid a visit to The Dunk and lost. Providence has now won three straight games and have now won five of their last seven. All five of those wins are Quad 1 wins, and they include a road win over Butler (20), home wins against Creighton (11) and Seton Hall (17), and Saturday’s win against Marquette. The Friars now have seven Quad 1 wins. If you only look at wins, Providence is like a five seed.

The problem is the losses. There are 12 of them, and some of them are really, really bad. Providence lost to Charleston (142) and Long Beach State (288) on neutral courts, at Northwestern (164) and to Penn (154) at home. That’s three Quad 3 losses and a Quad 4 loss. It’s wild that the Friars are even in the conversation with all of that garbage on their resume, but they very much are.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 55, NBC: Next four out): This is why Georgetown can’t have nice things. After beating Butler (20) on the road to play themselves onto the right side of the bubble, the Hoyas went out this week and lost to Providence (46) at home and at DePaul (72) on Saturday. They still get Marquette (26) and Creighton (11) on the road, and Villanova (10) at home, so they’re not dead. But they are in a bad spot.


BIG TEN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Maryland (NBC: 2), Michigan (NBC: 4), Penn State (NBC: 4), Ohio State (NBC: 5), Michigan State (NBC: 5), Iowa (NBC: 6),  Illinois (NBC: 7), Wisconsin (NBC: 7), Indiana (NBC: 8)

RUTGERS (NET: 33, NBC: 10): The Scarlet Knights have one of the weirder resumes on the bubble right now after losing at Wisconsin (30) on Sunday. They’re 17-10 overall and they are 9-8 in a Big Ten that is as deep as any league I can remember. They have three Quad 1 wins, just one Quad 3 loss and a 7-9 mark against the top two Quads. Eight of their ten losses are to Quad 1 opponents. They played a tough non-conference schedule, and they have some really impressive home wins. The problem? They’ve only won a single game outside of the RAC this year, and that came at Nebraska (183), who is more or less the worst team in the Big Ten. Their season finishes like this: at Penn State (24), Maryland (7), at Purdue (37). Rutgers has some work left to do, and I really think winning one of those two road games will be the most important part.

PURDUE (NET: 37, NBC: Off the bubble): After the Boilermakers lost to Michigan (23) at home on Saturday, they are sitting at 14-14 overall and just 7-10 in the Big Ten. They do actually have a pretty strong resume in regards to the number of good wins that they have, but the biggest issue currently facing Purdue is the number of losses, including a Quad 3 loss. The most losses an at-large team has ever had is 15. For context, Indiana last season was 17-15 with six Quad 1 wins and nine Quad 1 and 2 wins and they were left out. Purdue is 5-10 against Quad 1 opponents — three of those five wins vacillate between Quad 1 and Quad 2 — and 7-12 against the top two Quads with a 3-8 record on the road. Their best road win is at Indiana (58). They’re in a tough spot right now.


PAC-12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Oregon (NBC: 4), Colorado (NBC: 5), Arizona (NBC: 7), Arizona State (NBC: 8)

UCLA (NET: 76, NBC: First four out): The Bruins are making a push to get into the NCAA tournament. On Saturday, they completed a sweet of the mountain schools — the toughest road trip in all of college basketball — and have now won five in a row and nine of their last 11 games. They own a sweep of Colorado (18), they won at Arizona (9) and while they do have a Quad 3 loss — Hofstra (114) — and a Quad 4 loss — Fullerton (261) — the Bruins are now sitting on five Quad 1 wins, three of which came against top 15 teams, two on the road. The metrics don’t love the Bruins, but today’s win will help and if the metrics love Arizona and Colorado this much, it should mean quite a bit that UCLA was able to beat them. Their resume isn’t quite as weird as Providence’s, but both of these teams are going to give the Selection Committee a headache on Selection Sunday.

With games left against Arizona, Arizona State and USC, the Bruins will have the chances to play their way in. It’s wild to think that we’re here after the way the season started, but we are.

USC (NET: 47, NBC: Play-in game): After sweeping the Washington schools in LA two weeks ago, the Trojans turned around and lost at Colorado (18) and Utah (81) last week. Suddenly, they’re in a bit of a bad spot. They only have two Quad 1 wins and are now 8-8 against the top two Quads with an 8-7 mark away from the Galen Center, including five road wins. The home loss to Temple (111) is not ideal, but it is survivable. The biggest issue may be how tough their remaining schedule is. The Trojans still get Arizona (8), Arizona State (41) and UCLA (76), who is a game out of first place in the Pac-12, at home. I think they’re still in a pretty good spot, but it’s not going to be comfortable if they don’t win at least two more games before Selection Sunday.

STANFORD (NET: 31, NBC: First four out): The Cardinal finally snapped their losing streak by going into Seattle and knocking off Washington (65) to pick up their third Quad 1 win of the season. They followed that up by winning at Washington State (121), which is tougher than it has been in the past. They are just 2-5 against Quad 1 opponents, 6-8 against the top two Quads and have a Quad 3 loss — at Cal (142) — to their name. They still get Colorado (12) at home and Oregon (19) on the road, so there will be chances to improve their resume, but the Cardinal will need to capitalize on those to feel good on Selection Sunday.


SEC BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Kentucky (NBC: 4), Auburn (NBC: 5), LSU (NBC: 8), Florida (NBC: 9)

ARKANSAS (NET: 45, NBC: Next four out): The Razorbacks snapped a five-game losing streak on Saturday by beating Missouri (87) at home. They have a pair of Quad 1 wins and a 4-10 mark against the top two Quads, but the more important record is this: They are 16-5 on the season with a healthy Isaiah Joe, who returned to action and scored 21 points on Saturday. It will be very interesting to see how the selection committee handles Arkansas.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 57, NBC: Next four out): Mississippi State significantly dinged their at-large chances by losing at Texas A&M (117) on Saturday. That’s the third bad loss on their resume, and with a win at Florida (34) and a sweep of Arkansas (45) the only notable accomplishments to date, the Bulldogs find themselves in a tough spot. Saturday’s win against Alabama (40) at home on Tuesday helps, but that’s only a Quad 2 win. The Bulldogs have just Quad 1 wins to date. What’s worse is that they only get one more Quad 1 opportunity in the regular season, and that’s a game at South Carolina (63).

ALABAMA (NET: 40, NBC: Next four out): The Crimson Tide lost on Tuesday, falling at Mississippi State (57) in what was their last opportunity to land a Quad 1 win. They’re now 15-13 overall and while they do have two Quad 1 wins — Auburn (28) and LSU (29) at home — but both of those teams are one loss away from potentially falling out of the Quad 1 range. They also have a pair of Quad 3 home losses. I think the dream is done for Alabama.

SOUTH CAROLINA (NET: 63, NBC: Off the bubble): The Gamecocks had a chance to play themselves into a really good spot on Saturday, but they lost to LSU (29) at home. At 16-11 overall with a Quad 3 and a Quad 4 loss, the Gamecocks have plenty of work left to do and not all that many great chances left for wins. They’re in trouble.


BUBBLE WATCH FOR EVERYONE ELSE

TOP 9: Gonzaga (NBC: 1), San Diego State (NBC: 1), BYU (NBC: 6), Saint Mary’s (NBC: 9)

UTAH STATE (NET: 38, NBC: 11): After wiping the floor with San Jose State (280), the Aggies have won six in a row and nine of their last ten games, ensuring they are still in the NCAA tournament mix and fully turning around a season that looked like it was lost as recently as five weeks ago. Wins over LSU (29) and Florida (33) are nice, but with three road losses to sub-85 teams and no more chances to land marquee wins, how are they going to make up for those losses? They don’t play another top 100 team the rest of the season. I don’t see how they can feel comfortable about getting in without beating San Diego State (5) in the MWC tournament.

NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 46, NBC: 12): Northern Iowa snapped a two-game losing streak on Sunday, beating Southern Illinois (139) and maintaining a hold on first place in the Missouri Valley. UNI has a win at Colorado (18) and they beat South Carolina (63) on a neutral court, but they are 5-3 against the top two Quads with a pair of Quad 3 losses. I want to see them get an at-large — every one of their non-Quad 1 losses is a road game in league play — but I’m not sure they have done enough to beat out some of these power conference teams.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 38, NBC: 11): After beating Furman (76) on Wednesday night, the Buccaneers have gotten through the toughest part of their schedule. They have a win at UNCG (62) and a win at LSU (30). With a 22-4 record and a loss to Mercer (197) at home, the Buccaneers have to win out and lose to only UNCG or Furman in the SoCon tournament to have a chance, and even that might be a bit of a longshot.

Bracketology: Kansas grabs No. 1 overall seed

NCAA tournament bracketology
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Here is today’s updated NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Following its win at Baylor, Kansas grabs the No. 1 overall seed in today’s bracket update.  That said, it’s basically semantics. Kansas continues to lead the Midwest Region and Baylor the South Region.  The margin between the two is more of a 1-A and 1-B approach.

The biggest surprise of the weekend was San Diego State losing at home to UNLV.  For now, the Aztecs hold onto their No. 1 seed in the East.  Maryland could have made a strong case had the Terrapins won at Ohio State on Sunday.  Either way, the door is now open for a Big Ten, Big East, or ACC champion to potentially overtake SDSU. Dayton is squarely in the mix, too.

As for the Bubble, the Providence Friars and UCLA Bruins have both recovered from challenging starts to emerge as serious at-large contenders.

Anyway, here is today’s updated NCAA tournament bracketology. If you’re looking for the NBC Sports Bubble Watch, it can be found here.



The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: February 24, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
MIDWEST REGION Oklahoma vs. USC
SOUTH REGION Providence vs. Wichita State
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW-AM vs. ST. PETERS
MIDWEST REGION ROBERT MORRIS vs. NC A&T

MIDWEST Indianapolis SOUTH – Houston                    
Omaha St. Louis
1) KANSAS 1) Baylor
16) ROB MORRIS / NC A&T 16) PV-AM / ST. PETERS
8) ARIZONA STATE 8) LSU
9) Florida 9) Saint Mary’s
Sacramento Tampa
5) Auburn 5) Colorado
12) NORTHERN IOWA 12) Providence / Wichita St
4) Michigan 4) Penn State
13) AKRON 13) VERMONT
St. Louis Albany
6) BYU 6) Iowa
11) Oklahoma / USC 11) Utah State
3) Creighton 3) SETON HALL
14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST 14) COLGATE
Greensboro Tampa
7) Wisconsin 7) Marquette
10) Rhode Island 10) Rutgers
2) Duke 2) Florida State
15) BELMONT 15) LITTLE ROCK
EAST – New York WEST – Los Angeles
Sacramento Spokane
1) SAN DIEGO ST 1) GONZAGA
16) RADFORD 16) MONTANA
8) Indiana 8) Texas Tech
9) Virginia 9) Houston
Omaha Spokane
5) Ohio State 5) Michigan State
12) LIBERTY 12) S.F. AUSTIN
4) KENTUCKY 4) Oregon
13) YALE 13) NORTH TEXAS
Albany Cleveland
6) West Virginia 6) Butler
11) EAST TENNESSEE ST 11) CINCINNATI
3) Villanova 3) LOUISVILLE
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) NEW MEXICO ST
Cleveland Tampa
7) Illinois 7) Arizona
10) NC State 10) Xavier
2) DAYTON 2) MARYLAND
15) HOFSTRA 15) UC-IRVINE

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Rutgers Providence Stanford Alabama
NC State Wichita State UCLA Mississippi State
Rhode Island Oklahoma Memphis Arkansas
Utah State USC Richmond Georgetown

Top Seed Line

Kansas, Baylor, Gonzaga, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …

Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
Pac 12 (5)
Big 12 (5)
SEC (4)
ACC (4)
West Coast (3)
American (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (2)

OK, how good are you guys at NCAA tournament bracketology?

Not too bad. Our bracketologist, Dave Ommen, is sitting atop the ranks for the bracket matrix, which cobbles together everyone who does this for a living. So yeah, we’re on our game.

When do conference tournaments begin?

Conference tournaments — when teams can earn automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament — begin on Tuesday, March 3. Most of the league tournaments for that week are mid-major and low-major schools (though those can often be the most exciting games to watch).

There is a full schedule for all 32 conference tournaments here, though check back with us later on for previews for all those tournaments, recaps and highlights from the buzzer-beaters and many dunks for the start of March.

When do Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament begin?

Selection Sunday for the 2020 NCAA Tournament is on March 15 (about 4 pm ET), while the games begin a couple days later. The First Four is on March 17 and 18, while the craziness of Round 1 starts on Thursday, March 19.

The Final Four, held in Atlanta this year, starts on Saturday, April 4. The National Title Game is Monday, April 6.

Bubble Banter: Oklahoma lands massive win over No. 22 Texas Tech

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There is plenty of action happening on the bracketology bubble watch despite it being a relatively slow night for college hoops.

Dave Ommen’s latest bracketology can be found here. Rob Dauster’s Bubble Watch can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

Here is everything you need to know to.

THE BUBBLE WATCH WINNERS

OKLAHOMA (NET: 55, NBC: Play-in game): The biggest winner of the night was, without question, Oklahoma. The Sooners picked up their fourth Quad 1 win of the season with an impressive, 65-51 win over Texas Tech (15). It snaps a three-game losing streak that had dropped Oklahoma to 17-11 on the season and sets them up for a massive trip to West Virginia (17) on Saturday, who they beat at home earlier this month. They are now 17-11 on the season and are sitting with a 4-9 record against the top Quad and nine total wins against the top two Quads. It’s also worth noting they only have two road wins on the season — at Texas (66) and at North Texas (92).

XAVIER (NET: 43, NBC: 10): The Musketeers shook off a loss to Villanova (12) at home on Saturday by knocking off DePaul (73) on Tuesday night. The best thing about this Xavier team’s resume is that they really have not taken all that many bad losses. Their worst loss of the season came at Wake Forest (109), which is a Quad 2 loss. It’s the only team ranked outside of the top 35 in the NET that Xavier has lost to. They only have three Quad 1 wins — and two of them are at St. John’s (70) and at DePaul (73) — but they do have a win over Seton Hall (17) in Newark, which helps quite a bit. I personally think that Xavier has to do more work that it looks like. They are just 3-9 against Quad 1 opponents, and that could drop to 1-9 if St. John’s and DePaul fall outside the top 75. With games at Georgetown (58), at Providence (48) and Butler (23), they’ll have three more chances to land Quad 1 wins. I think Xavier probably should win two of those to really feel comfortable.

UTAH STATE (NET: 38, NBC: 11): After wiping the floor with San Jose State (280), the Aggies have won six in a row and nine of their last ten games, ensuring they are still in the NCAA tournament mix and fully turning around a season that looked like it was lost as recently as five weeks ago. Wins over LSU (29) and Florida (33) are nice, but with three road losses to sub-85 teams and no more chances to land marquee wins, how are they going to make up for those losses? They don’t play another top 100 team the rest of the season. I don’t see how they can feel comfortable about getting in without beating San Diego State (5) in the MWC tournament.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 57, NBC: Next four out): Mississippi State significantly dinged their at-large chances by losing at Texas A&M (117) on Saturday. That’s the third bad loss on their resume, and with a win at Florida (34) and a sweep of Arkansas (45) the only notable accomplishments to date, the Bulldogs find themselves in a tough spot. Saturday’s win against Alabama (40) at home on Tuesday helps, but that’s only a Quad 2 win. The Bulldogs have just Quad 1 wins to date. What’s worse is that they only get one more Quad 1 opportunity in the regular season, and that’s a game at South Carolina (63).

… AND LOSERS

N.C. STATE (NET: 53, NBC: 10): The Wolfpack fell to 17-11 on the season as North Carolina (96) finished off a season sweep with an 85-79 win in Chapel Hill. N.C. State has a weird resume. They are the proud owners of three Quad 3 losses as well as four more losses to sub-70 teams on the road. That’s not good. But they beat Duke (6) by 22 points in Raleigh, which is just one of their five Quad 1 wins. They are 9-8 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents on the season. It’s worth noting that Markell Johnson, N.C. State’s best player, did not play in one of the three Quad 3 losses — Georgia Tech (79) — so that will be something to monitor for the Selection Committee.

MEMPHIS (NET: 61, NBC: First four out): Memphis is hanging on by a thread right now, and losing at SMU (86) on Tuesday night is certainly not going to help anything. They are still alive after landed a critical win over Houston (24) at home over the weekend, but Memphis still only has a pair of Quad 1 wins compared to three Quad 3 losses. Memphis is also playing with D.J. Jeffries right now, which complicates matters as well. They end their season like this: at Tulane (174), Wichita State (44), at Houston (24). I think they need to win all three at this point.

ALABAMA (NET: 40, NBC: Next four out): The Crimson Tide lost on Tuesday, falling at Mississippi State (57) in what was their last opportunity to land a Quad 1 win. They’re now 15-13 overall and while they do have two Quad 1 wins — Auburn (28) and LSU (29) at home — but both of those teams are one loss away from potentially falling out of the Quad 1 range. They also have a pair of Quad 3 home losses. I think the dream is done for Alabama.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Michigan State rallies by Iowa; Wake Forest stuns Duke in 2OT

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Tuesday night in college basketball saw Michigan State rally to knock off Iowa in the Big Ten while Wake Forest held off No. 7 Duke in double overtime. Oklahoma also stopped its recent three-game slide with a huge win over Texas Tech in the Big 12.

No. 24 Michigan State takes down No. 19 Iowa

Second place in the Big Ten is a crowded field.

Michigan State separated themselves from a six-game pack on Tuesday night with a home win over Iowa.

The Spartans rallied in the second half to earn one of their better wins of the season. Senior point guard Cassius Winston (20 points, nine assists) stepped up in the second half. Junior big man Xavier Tillman Sr. (six points, six rebounds) had modest numbers. Most importantly, Tillman made life very difficult on Iowa star center Luka Garza. The Player of the Year candidate played all 40 minutes. He was limited to 20 points on 8-for-21 shooting. And freshman guard Rocket Watts (23 points) and sophomore wing Aaron Henry (17 points) stepped up in the scoring column when Winston was slow to start.

Michigan State has a very strong schedule to close out the Big Ten regular season. Road games with Maryland and Penn State still loom. A home game with Ohio State to close out the regular season won’t be easy. But we’ll get to see how the preseason No. 1 team looks down the stretch against the type of schedule they’ll face in March.

It’s only one win at home against Iowa. Michigan State also slowed down a Player of the Year candidate and rallied on a night when their senior leader was sluggish in the first half. This is the type of win the Spartans will take at this point in the season.

Wake Forest stuns No. 7 Duke in 2OT

Tuesday night’s biggest upset went to Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons finally prevailed in double overtime over No. 7 Duke.

Wake Forest had five players with at least 16 points in the win. Olivier Sann (25 points) and Chaundee Brown (24 points) led the scoring. The Demon Deacons took advantage of 50 free throws (making 37) while shooting 51 percent from the field and 54 percent from three-point range in the win.

Duke was led by Wendell Moore Jr. (25 points) and Tre Jones (24 points). The Blue Devils dealt with foul trouble to freshman big man Vernon Carey Jr. and inconsistent play from other rotations players.

This win puts Florida State ahead of the ACC pack with only a few games to go. This is a shocking loss for the Blue Devils when it comes to conference play. But as long as Duke gets over this late-season swoon they should be fine for the NCAA tournament.

Oklahoma earns huge bubble win over No. 22 Texas Tech

The night’s most important bubble win goes to Oklahoma.

Playing in Oklahoma City, the Sooners raced out to a strong start and used it to run past Texas Tech for a Big 12 home win.

Losers of three consecutive games entering this one, Oklahoma was in a recent freefall they needed to stop. The Sooners put together one of their stronger defensive efforts this season as Kristian Doolittle led with 19 points.

The Sooners really helped their cause with a win like this over Texas Tech. The next one for Oklahoma comes at a West Virginia team desperate for a win. That one should be fascinating.

Wake Forest stuns No. 7 Duke in 2OT

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Brandon Childress shook off an awful shooting start, hit a tying 3-pointer late in regulation and helped Wake Forest stun seventh-ranked Duke 113-101 in double overtime Tuesday night.

Childress missed his first 10 shots before hitting the tying 3 with 15.5 seconds left in regulation. And once the game went into a second extra period, Childress buried another on the first possession to put the Demon Deacons (12-15, 5-12 Atlantic Coast Conference) ahead to stay, sending them to their first win against the Blue Devils in nearly six years.

NBC SPORTS BRACKETOLOGY

He finished with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists. Childress made six of his last 10 shots and scored 13 points in the two overtimes. Isaiah Mucius came up with a dunk with 14.7 seconds left to finally punctuate a huge victory for Danny Manning’s club.

“I don’t care about percentages,” Childress said of his 0-for-10 start. “I’m satisfied with the shots I take. I practice those. It might not have went as much as I’d like to. But I just wanted to find the right moment to take over the game, and I did that.”

When it was over, Wake Forest fans stormed the court to celebrate their first win against Duke since March 2014. Childress got carried around the court on shoulders.

“The second overtime, they just took over,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Obviously the total game, they were the team that was deserving of winning, and they did.”

It marked the second time in a week the Blue Devils (23-5, 13-4) lost on the road to an unranked, instate opponent. They lost by 22 points at North Carolina State last week, a game that ended with another court-storming celebration.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL SCOREBOARD

Freshman Wendell Moore Jr. had a season-high 25 points to lead the Blue Devils, and Tre Jones added 24 points, seven rebounds and nine assists at the point. But star big man Vernon Carey Jr. had 10 points before becoming one of three Blue Devils to foul out in a game they appeared to have under control, leading 78-69 with 1:21 left in regulation.

A few turnovers opened the door, just enough for Childress and the Demon Deacons to jump through.

Olivier Sarr scored a career-high 25 points before fouling out to lead Wake Forest, which shot 52% from the game and helped itself by getting to the line repeatedly. The Demon Deacons made 37 of 50 free throws, including 13 of 15 in the overtimes to finally wrestle control.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It’s a costly loss for the Blue Devils, who fell a game behind league-leading and sixth-ranked Florida State in the ACC standings with three games to play.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons had lost four of five coming in, sitting a game ahead of last-place North Carolina in the ACC. Now they have a huge win, ending an 11-game skid against the Blue Devils.

UP NEXT

Duke: The Blue Devils visit reigning national champion Virginia, which has won four straight and seven of eight, on Saturday.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons host Notre Dame on Saturday.