BUBBLE BANTER: Clemson-Pitt in a key bubble battle headline the night

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The latest NBCSports.com NCAA Tournament bracket can be found here.

WINNERS

Clemson (13-7, KenPom: 51, RPI: 92) is shaping up to be one of the most interesting bubble teams this season. They already have five wins against the RPI top 50 and a sixth coming at Syracuse, who currently is sitting at 51st in the RPI. They do have a pair of ugly losses to Minnesota and UMass, who are sub-150 on both the RPI and KenPom, and a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 331st, which is a major, major black eye on their profile.

In other words, that non-conference RPI number eliminates any margin for error that the Tigers have. If you remember, SMU was snubbed for the 2014 NCAA tournament in a season where just about every bracket projection had them slotted right around a No. 9 seed. They’re currently slotted as an one of the last four at-large bids in our latest bracket.

Clemson cannot afford another loss that could be considered even a moderately bad loss and they probably need to beat Virginia and Notre Dame at home to really feel comfortable. But the fact this team is even in the conversation at this point should go to show you just how good of a job Brad Brownell has done since league play started.

The rest of Wednesday’s winners:

  • Wichita State (15-5, KenPom: 17, RPI: 22): The Shockers are going to be another interesting at-large case. They’re 14-2 on the season when Fred VanVleet is in the lineup and both losses were true road games. But their two best wins are against a UNLV team that could be NIT bound and a Utah team that projects to finish in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12. The issue is that the MVC is only going to bring their résumé down, as Evansville is the lone remaining conference member in the RPI top 100, and Wichita State gets them on the road on Saturday. The Shockers beat Loyola (IL) Wednesday night.
  • Seton Hall (14-6, KenPom: 39, RPI: 49): The Pirates avoided losing to St. John’s at home, setting them up for a critical two-week stretch: at Creighton and then a three-game home stand against Marquette, Georgetown and Butler. For a team with just two top 50 wins (Wichita State at home, at Providence) they need to add some depth to their profile.
  • Colorado (16-5, KenPom: 48, RPI: 20): The Buffaloes added another solid win to an already strong résumé when they knocked off Stanford on Wednesday night. They have four RPI top 50 wins and their only two losses outside the RPI top 20 are on the road to league foes. That said, on KenPom, the Buffs only have one top 50 win to their name.
  • St. Joseph’s (17-3, KenPom: 54, RPI 37): The Hawks have no bad losses this season. They also have no good wins. Their best win is either Princeton or at Temple, and beating UMass Wednesday won’t change that. Assuming they beat who they’re expected to beat, the Hawks could see their season come down whether or not they can beat Dayton.
  • Butler (14-6, KenPom: 38, RPI: 53): Beating DePaul earned the Bulldogs their third league win of the season, all of which came against DePaul or St. John’s. Butler is 0-4 against the top of the conference, and while they have no bad losses this season, their only two good wins are against Purdue and over Cincinnati on the road. Butler needs to big off one of the Big East’s Big Boys down the stretch of the season.
  • Arkansas (10-10, KenPom: 55, RPI 103): The Razorbacks have a ways to go to really get back into bubble contention. A good way to start? Beating Texas A&M. Now they have a marquee win to hang on a profile with just one sub-100 loss.

LOSERS

The Pitt Panthers (16-4, KenPom: 50, RPI: 30) have been a bit of a running joke in recent years. That’s what happens when you don’t play anyone in the non-conference portion of your schedule and proceed to get worked over in league play. And while it may seem like the latter has happened this season, Pitt actually has a surprisingly solid résumé, even with Wednesday’s loss at Clemson. They have won at Notre Dame and at Florida State, which are top 50 wins in both the RPI and KenPom. They beat Davidson as well, and their two bad losses – N.C. State at home and at Clemson — both register as top 100 teams in both metrics. The bad? A non-conference strength of schedule that ranks in the 180s and 11 wins over teams that rank 115 or lower on KenPom.

In other words, Pitt has a record of 16-4, an RPI of 30 and a pair of top 50 road wins without a bad loss to their name and games left against Virginia, Miami, North Carolina, Syracuse, Louisville and Duke. They were a seven seed in our most recent bracket, and it’s hard to see a loss at Clemson changing that too much. So when we talk about Pitt needing to prove themselves and Pitt not being all that good, understand that Pitt can still be in a good spot when it comes to the NCAA tournament.

The rest of Wednesday’s losers:

  • Stanford (11-8, KenPom: 95, RPI 46): The good news for Stanford is that losing at Colorado is anything but a bad loss. The Buffaloes are 20th in the RPI and 48th on KenPom. The Cardinal don’t have a bad loss on their résumé, but they’re just 2-8 against the KenPom top 50 and they have just five total top 100 RPI wins. They’re not in a terrible spot to make a run at a bid, but they need to start racking up some wins.
  • Temple (11-8, KenPom: 97, RPI: 72): The Owls followed up a great home win over SMU by losing to East Carolina. They now have three sub-100 losses in the RPI while a sweep of Cincinnati and a win at UConn are their only other top 150 wins in the RPI. The Owls weren’t even one of the Next Four Out in our most recent bracket, and that was before the loss.
  • Cal (14-7, KenPom: 37, RPI: 35): The Golden Bears actually have a stronger profile that many will realize, particularly if value is put on the RPI. They have five top 50 wins and just two losses outside the top 50, the “worst” of which is against Richmond. A loss at Utah, who is ranked 18th in the RPI, is not going to hurt. The one red flag with this group is that they’re now 1-7 away from home this season.
  • Boise State (15-6, KenPom: 73, RPI: 62): The loss that Boise State took at UNLV on Wednesday will look a lot worse on paper than it was in real life. And if the Rebels continue to play up to their potential, as they have done in the last two weeks, this likely won’t be a sub-100 loss come the end of the season.
  • Tulsa (13-7, KenPom: 66, RPI: 61): The Golden Hurricane took a brutal loss on Wednesday night, getting blown out at Houston, who needed this win to get them back into the RPI Top 150. Tulsa is just 2-5 against the RPI top 100 with their best win coming against a Wichita State team that looks way better on KenPom (17th) than the RPI (50th).
  • Marquette (13-7, KenPom: 120, RPI: 117): This is a team that ranks 280th in non-conference strength of schedule that played a game tonight against Stetson, who ranks 295th in the RPI. They’re not dead yet, but they’re getting close.
  • Virginia Tech (12-9, KenPom: 105, RPI: 103): With just one bad loss (horrific loss, to sub-300 Alabama State), the Hokies still had a fighting chance after starting ACC play 4-1 with a win over Virginia. But after losing to Louisville, they now have six straight games against teams ranked 51st or higher in KenPom, with four of them away.

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.

Clemson starter Galloway will miss time after surgery

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson starter Brevin Galloway is expected to miss games for the 24th-ranked Tigers after having surgery on his groin area Thursday.

The 6-foot-3 Galloway has started 20 of 21 games after transferring from Boston College this past offseason.

Galloway posted on social media that he’d had the surgery. Clemson coach Brad Brownell confirmed in a text to The Associated Press that Galloway had the operation.

Galloway said in his post he will be in uniform soon. He is not expected to play at Florida State on Saturday.

A fifth-year player, Galloway has averaged 10.6 points a game this season. He’s second on the Tigers with 55 assists and 18 steals.

The Tigers (17-4) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-1 in league play.

Clemson is already down two experienced players due to injury.

Point guard Chase Hunter, who started the team’s first 18 games, has missed the past three with a foot injury.

Guard Alex Hemenway, in his fourth season, has missed the past nine games with a foot injury. Hemenway was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (27 of 54) before getting hurt.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.