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Bubble Banter: Carnage in the Big 12 is great news for the league’s bubble-dwellers

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For the most up-to-date bracket projection, click here. This is where the seedings listed below are from. 

WINNERS

The Big 12: Depending on how you look at it, Saturday was either a day full of carnage of the best day of the year for the conference. The three top teams in the league all lost at home. That’s bad. But those losses all came to teams that were on the bubble and, as of now, probably are going to end up in the NCAA tournament. That’s good, right?:

  • Iowa State (RPI: 51, KenPom: 28, No. 9 seed): The Cyclones just played their way off the bubble. Iowa State went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and beat Kansas. That will be, at worst, one of the top three wins in college basketball this season. It may be the best. Iowa State was already in a pretty good spot. They’re not a lock to dance yet – there’s still a lot of basketball to be played – but as long as they don’t do anything stupid the rest of the season, they’ll be getting an at-large bid.
  • Kansas State (RPI: 49, KenPom: 29, play-in game): The Wildcats played their way out of bubble contention for the time being as they went into Waco and knocked off No. 2 Baylor. For a team that entered the day just 2-7 against the RPI top 100, picking up a road win over a top ten team is a pretty big deal. As of today, the Wildcats are comfortably in the tournament.
  • Oklahoma State (RPI: 33, KenPom: 23, No. 11 seed): Continuing with the theme of the day, the Cowboys picked up a road win over West Virginia, their fifth consecutive win and the fourth time in that span where the Pokes beat a team that will likely be in the NCAA tournament. Three of those four wins were on the road. Pretty impressive turnaround for a team that lost their first six conference games.

Syracuse (RPI: 83, KenPom: 53, bubble): It’s hard to imagine that there will be a bigger bubble winner today than the Orange*, who landed a come-from-behind win to knock off the same No. 9 Virginia team that they came from behind to beat in the Elite 8 last season. The Orange have now won four straight games, with home victories over Florida State and UVA in that run, and suddenly, a team that looked like they were out of the running for an at-large bid is suddenly very much in the mix. As of today, I think the Orange are still on the wrong side of the bubble. They have the three worst losses of any team in contention right now – Boston College, UConn and St. John’s, all of whom are outside the RPI top 125 – and they only have one win in a games that came on the road or on a neutral court.

*(Looks really dumb after Iowa State’s win at Kansas the Big 12 went insane.)

SYRACUSE, NY - JANUARY 28: Tyler Roberson #21 of the Syracuse Orange dunks the ball against the Florida State Seminoles during the first half at the Carrier Dome on January 28, 2017 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

Seton Hall (RPI: 47, KenPom: 55, first four out): The Pirates picked up a really nice road win in overtime, knocking off Georgetown, a fellow bubble-dweller. The Pirates are quietly playing themselves into the NCAA tournament. Four of their five best wins came on the road or on a neutral, and they still get Creighton, Butler and Villanova at home later this month.

Wichita State (RPI: 78, KenPom: 21, first four out): The Shockers vaulted themselves into a tie for first place in the Missouri Valley with a 41-point win over Illinois State. The Shockers are likely going to be right there on the cut line come Selection Sunday.

Miami (RPI: 71, KenPom: 44, first four out): The Hurricanes added a nice road win to their résumé by picking off another bubble-dweller in N.C. State. Miami landed a nice win over North Carolina last weekend, but that’s really all there is to their profile at this point. Hurricane fans are going to be rooting for the Wolfpack to figure it out down the stretch; beating a bad team on the road doesn’t mean much. Beating a top 75ish team on the road does.

TCU (RPI: 39, KenPom: 34, play-in game): The Horned Frogs did what they had to do, beating Texas to avoid that black mark on their profile. TCU’s two best wins are against Illinois State and at Kansas State. They’re going to have to beat one of the elite in the Big 12 to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday.

Texas Tech (RPI: 85, KenPom: 43, next four out): The Red Raiders kept themselves in a good spot on the bubble with a win over an 8-14 Oklahoma team on Saturday. Chris Beard’s club still has some work to do to make up for a slow start in Big 12 play.

Minnesota (RPI: 23, KenPom: 42, No. 11 seed): The Gophers landed a nice win at Illinois to end an ugly, five-game losing streak. I still think the Gophers, who have four top 50 wins, two of which came on the road, and eight top 100 wins, are more comfortably in the tournament that a No. 11 seed.

Wake Forest (RPI: 30, KenPom: 33, next four out): The Demon Deacons worked themselves ever closer to the cut line on Saturday, picking up a win they badly needed to get at home against Georgia Tech. Wake is still without a top 50 win, but with four top 50 road games left and a home date with Louisville, Danny Manning’s club will have plenty of chances to play their way into the tournament.

Marquette (RPI: 67, KenPom: 37, No. 10 seed): The Golden Eagles kept their spot on the right side of the bubble as they went into Chicago and knocked off DePaul.

VCU (RPI: 32, KenPom: 47, No. 9 seed): VCU won when a technical foul was called with 0.4 seconds left at St. Bonaventure because the fans stormed the court before the game was over. Instead of losing in regulation they won in overtime. If VCU ends up on the cut line come Selection Sunday, remember this day.

USC (RPI: 27, KenPom: 59, No. 8 seed): USC swept a road weekend for the first time in Andy Enfield’s tenure with the program as they won at Washington State on Saturday. The Trojans have now won four in a row and are trending in the right direction.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 9: Head coach Richard Pitino of the Minnesota Golden Gophers reacts against the Illinois Fighting Illini in the first round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 9, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Illinois defeated Minnesota 85-52. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Head coach Richard Pitino (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

LOSERS

Georgia Tech (RPI: 65, KenPom: 74, No. 10 seed): The Yellow Jackets fell at Wake Forest on Saturday, a loss that doesn’t look as bad on paper as it probably sounds in your head. I’m not even sure this loss would drop them a seed line right now.

Illinois State (RPI: 35, KenPom: 39, No. 9 seed): The Redbirds were obliterated on Saturday at Wichita State, losing by 41 points. On the one hand, that’s gross. On the other, this loss came with MiKyle McIntosh available. He averages 13.5 points. If the committee takes that into account, this loss may not hurt them as much as you’d think. Might this have been a best-case scenario for the Missouri Valley?

Tennessee (RPI: 34, KenPom: 35, play-in game): The Vols may be the biggest loser on the bubble today. Not only did they watch four teams near or behind them in the standings land wins over top ten teams, but they blew a 19-point lead on the road and lost to a bad Mississippi State team. Ouch.

Arkansas (RPI: 25, KenPom: 49, No. 9 seed): The Razorbacks probably didn’t cost themselves a spot in the NCAA tournament by losing at Missouri on Saturday, but they certainly didn’t make the job they have in front of them any easier. Missouri snapped a 13-game losing streak with the win. Gross.

Michigan (RPI: 60, KenPom: 32, No. 10 seed): The Wolverines’ résumé took a hit on Saturday as they lost at home to Ohio State. It’s hardly a killer for Michigan, not when they have five games left against top 50 opponents, but with just one top 50 win under their belt, making the margin for error smaller isn’t doing themselves any favors.

Georgetown (RPI: 52, KenPom: 56, first four out): The Hoyas put themselves back into the conversation for an NCAA tournament bid last week, as they beat Creighton and won at Butler. Losing to Seton Hall at home in overtime is going to hurt, not because it’s an awful loss but because that was a quality résumé win that they A) needed to make up ground and B) didn’t get.

Valpo (RPI: 61, KenPom: 81, No. 12 seed): The Crusaders got smacked around on Saturday at Green Bay, who is a title contender in the Horizon. All things consider, it’s not an awful loss by any stretch, but it is the kind of loss that Valpo’s profile may not be able to handle. I’m not sure that they can get an at-large at this point.

Middle Tennessee State  (RPI: 41, KenPom: 48, No. 8 seed): MTSU blew a double-digit lead on the road against 8-14 UTEP as they lost their first game of the CUSA season. As of now, I would guess the Blue Raiders have a good enough profile to get them into the NCAA tournament, but that is going to continue to drop compated to the rest of the field.

N.C. State (RPI: 82, KenPom: 87, next four out): The more N.C. State plays, the more their win at Duke looks like a total fluke. The Wolfpack dropped to 14-10 overall and 3-8 in the ACC with a loss to Miami at home. I don’t think their season is going to get turned around.

 

Texas A&M loses third underclassmen to pro ranks

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Texas A&M left us wanting more throughout the 2017-18 season, as a team with enough talent to win the SEC title lost 13 games and finished 9-9 in league play, somehow salvaging the memory of the year with a trip to the Sweet 16.

And after a third starter opted to sign with an agent this week, it appears as if the run the Aggies made will be the last, at least for the time being.

Tyler Davis, who led the Aggies in scoring (14.9 ppg) and was second in rebounding (8.9 rpg), will sign with an agent, he told The Undefeated. He’ll follow Robert Williams and D.J. Hogg as underclassmen leaving school, while seniors Duane Wilson and Tony Trocha-Morelos graduate. Williams is the only one of that group that is expected to be drafted on June 21st.

What that means is that Billy Kennedy’s window as an SEC contender has slammed shut.

Texas A&M only returns two of their top eight from what was quite possibly the most disappointing team in college basketball this side of Arizona. They currently have just nine scholarship players on the roster, including just three front court pieces. One, Josh Nebo, is a transfer from an NEC program, while the other two combined to play in 15 games last season.

This team is going to go as far as T.J. Starks, Admon Gilder and Savion Flagg carry them, and in an SEC that could quite possibly begin the year with five top 25 teams — four of which are in the NBC Sports top 15 — it’s hard to imagine that core doing much.

It’s unfortunate that the one team that Kennedy put together with a chance to make some noise never actually found a way to get going.

Report: Western Kentucky’s Lamonte Bearden staying in 2018 NBA Draft

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Western Kentucky guard Lamonte Bearden will stay in the 2018 NBA Draft after hiring an agent, according to a report from ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-3 Bearden just completed his redshirt junior season with the Hilltoppers as he averaged 11.8 points, 3.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game. A slippery guard with good size, Bearden shot 47 percent from the field and 82 percent from the charity stripe while also getting in the passing lanes for 1.7 steals per game.

Although Bearden has good size and athleticism at lead guard, his perimeter jumper has been inconsistent during his college career. He was 31 percent from three-point range (a career high) this past season. Starting his college career at Buffalo, Bearden helped lead the Bulls to the NCAA tournament before opting to play in Conference USA for Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers will certainly miss Bearden’s presence in their backcourt as the program has seven new players signed for next season.

USC makes a statement landing Class of 2019 four-star forward Isaiah Mobley

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USC ended a strong week of recruiting with another major statement on Friday afternoon as four-star Class of 2019 forward Isaiah Mobley pledged to the Trojans.

The second major Class of 2019 commitment for USC during the week, the 6-foot-9 power forward joins five-star big man Onyeka Okongwu. The Compton Magic teammates should be able to help replace the loss of Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, with Mobley playing the skilled, floor-spacing Boatwright’s role and Okongwu providing the interior energy of Metu.

Having two highly-touted big men commit in the same week is huge for USC. And it looks like the start of even bigger things in a continually-evolving SoCal recruiting war against Pac-12 rival UCLA.

Landing both Mobley and Okongwu is significant for the Trojans for a number of reasons. As previously mentioned, both come from the famous Compton Magic grassroots program that runs on the adidas Gauntlet. While landing AAU teammates from a regional program is common for high-major programs of USC’s stature, the commitments signify that the Trojans are the ones with the biggest pull with the Magic at the current moment.

And the Magic used to get raided by UCLA.

In the past few years, the Bruins signed T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Jaylen Hands and Jalen Hill from the Compton Magic. Now, it’s USC who looks to be in the driver’s seat recruiting the program.

The Trojans aren’t done, either.

Newly-hired USC assistant coach Eric Mobley is the father Isaiah Mobley, as well as five-star Class of 2020 big man Evan Mobley. As Rivals national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi noted in his story about Isaiah, “Barring something strange happening, look for the younger Mobley to join his brother and father by committing to USC within the next two weeks.”

That would mean the Trojans would have landed three top-30 caliber big men in the span of a few weeks. That allows the USC coaching staff to recruit other positions extremely hard. Outside of Kentucky, USC has arguably the best future recruiting status of any program in the country.

The Trojans have taken full advantage of UCLA letting go popular assistant coach David Grace. The Bruins are still pulling in top-100 prospects, as evidenced by Grant Sherfield and Jaime Jaquez’s commitments in the Class of 2019, but losing two Magic kids in a week to a rival has to sting.

Considering where USC was last fall with the FBI investigation, who saw this type of recruiting swing coming? Other programs involved in the investigation like Arizona, Auburn and Oklahoma State have landed solid recruits. They also haven’t pulled in nearly the high-level talent that the Trojans currently have committed.

Even amidst the uncertainty surrounding the FBI investigation, USC is still pulling in elite talent while beating local rivals. It’ll be fascinating to see if the Trojans can continue to recruit at this level as they try to fill out the rest of an important recruiting class.

USF signs Oklahoma State transfer Zack Dawson

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USF landed a major addition on Friday as the school announced the signing of Oklahoma State transfer guard Zack Dawson.

The 6-foot-3 Dawson is a former consensus top-100 prospect coming out of high school as he’ll have to sit out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules. A native of the region, Dawson will have three years of eligibility remaining once he’s able to play again.

Dismissed from Oklahoma State on Dec. 14 for violating team rules, Dawson averaged 4.4 points and1.6 assists per contest as he only suited up in five games for the Cowboys. Once Dawson is eligible to play for USF, he gives the Bulls a potentially dynamic backcourt along with rising sophomore guard David Collins.

“We are excited to welcome Zack back home to Florida as a member of the Bulls family,” USF head coach Brian Gregory said in a release. “He is a dynamic and versatile guard who can impact the game in a variety of ways. Zack comes from one of the best high school programs in the state, South Miami High School, so he immediately brings a championship attitude here to the University of South Florida.”

This is a really nice pickup for the Bulls, as they utilized a local transfer to help bolster the roster. Landing top-100 kids out of high school is going to be tough until USF boosts its basketball credibility. But getting a former top-100 player on the transfer market is a solid approach to building the Bulls into a respectable threat.

Michael Porter Jr.: ‘I’m the best player in this draft’

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The more I think about it, the more that Michael Porter Jr. is becoming the most interesting prospect at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft.

As a high school senior, he was considered by many to be the top player in the class, a 6-foot-10 combo-forward with a lethal three-point shot, NBA dunk contest athleticism and the versatility to, one day, be a multi-positional defender that would seamlessly fit into fit into the modern NBA.

But his one and only season at Missouri was derailed by back surgery, and that has allowed the rest of the class of 2017 to shine while we have focused on everything else that comes with drafting Porter. The reputation that he had for the majority of his high school career of being soft. The intel that was coming out of Missouri, that he was cocky and arrogant and something of a bad teammate. Questions about whether or not he is truly a wing or a four, more like a more athletic Lauri Markkanen.

When the only thing that we’ve had a chance to see this season is an out-of-shape Porter struggling in postseason games, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that his hype train has derailed.

“I know without a doubt that I’m the — I played against all these guys, they’re all great players — but I’m the best player in this draft,” Porter told ESPN. “And I just can’t wait to show what I’m capable of.”

And therein lies the conundrum for any team drafting him.

I have little doubt that Porter is going to be able to score and score a lot in the NBA. I think he and Bagley are the safest bets to average 20 points at the NBA level before their rookie contract runs out.

But putting up points and playing on winning basketball teams are not one and the same. For a ten-year stretch after his rookie season, Rudy Gay averaged at least 17.2 points while making the playoffs once during that stretch. Is that what Porter is going to turn into at the next level? Or will be find a way to become the kind of NBA defender his athleticism says he should be and, by the time he signs his first contract extension, end up the player that Paul George is?

The mitigating factor here is that Porter is going to do a fantastic job in every interview he has. He’s an intelligent, charismatic and articulate kid that is going to be able to sell himself. The red flags that he has aren’t going to show when he’s sitting down in front of NBA general managers.

They would have shown up — or been written off — if there was a season’s worth of game-tape available, but there isn’t. What that means is that scouts are going to have to decide whether or not Porter, who by all accounts had a very impressive senior season in high school, is that player or the one that had the reputation for being soft for years before that.

And all of that is going to come after the doctor’s have a chance to examine his back to see if the surgery he underwent fixed what was wrong, or if this is the kind of situation where a recurrence is likely.

The result is the widest range for any player at the top of the draft.

He could sell someone on taking him as a top four pick. He could also slide his way down to the Knicks at No. 9 or the 76ers at No. 10.

Which is what makes him the most interesting prospect at the top of this draft.