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American Athletic Conference Preview: Welcome, Wichita State!

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the American Athletic Conference.

The American gains a huge new program with the addition of Wichita State this season as head coach Gregg Marshall brings his highly-successful outfit into a bigger league.

Expected to compete for the league title right away, even after the leap in conference levels, the Shockers addition into the American gives the league a unique storyline that isn’t often seen in any level of sports.

Although Wichita State will be a big national focus, don’t sleep on teams like Cincinnati, UCF and SMU as those three teams are also making a push for the Big Dance.

RELATEDBig Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Atlantic 10Mountain West

Markis McDuffie (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. The American welcomes (a very good) Wichita State

Now we’ll finally get to see how good Wichita State will look playing in a multi-bid league. No disrespect to a tough Missouri Valley Conference but the American is going to be a much harder game-by-game league for the Shockers than anything they’ve dealt with over the past few years.

Luckily for Wichita State, they have the perfect roster loaded with depth and experience to make this leap upwards at this very moment. Following last season’s close Round of 32 loss to Kentucky, Wichita State only loses guard Daishon Smith as they bring back plenty of talented pieces.

The key for Wichita State’s season will be health of their stars, sophomore point guard Landry Shamet and junior wing Markis McDuffie. An All-American candidate if he is healthy and ready to play, Shamet suffered a stress fracture in his foot and had surgery in July, leaving his status slightly up in the air at the beginning of the season. Shamet is expected to make a full recovery and return by mid-November but his health is definitely something to monitor, especially since the Shockers have some unproven depth behind him at point.

Forward Markis McDuffie is coming off of a strong sophomore season that saw him lead the Shockers in scoring and rebounding, but he could miss a month of the season – if not more – recovering from a stress fracture in the navicular bone in his left foot. That’s the same bone that has derailed many basketball careers, including Joel Embiid. As versatile as any frontcourt player in the country, it wouldn’t at all surprise if McDuffie took an additional leap as a junior and was an all-conference performer once again.

Returning in the backcourt with Shamet is experienced shooter Conner Frankamp, who spent a season in the Big 12 at Kansas and shouldn’t be at all intimidated by the move up the American. Rugged three-year starter Zach Brown also returns as the team’s premier wing defender while another senior, Rashard Kelly, is also back to provide more depth. The team’s big men are also experienced as senior center Shaquille Morris has two solid season backups in Rauno Nurger and Darral Willis Jr.

Expectations are very high for Wichita State as many projections place them high in preseason top-25 rankings. Many have even picked the Shockers to win the American in their very first season in the league. Seeing how this entire team adapts to a new league is going to be one of the best early conference storylines to follow.

RELATED: Perry Ellis All-Stars | Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia


2. Cincinnati remains a major title contender

Very quietly, Cincinnati has become one of the most consistent programs in the country. Coming off of a 30-win season and a seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the Bearcats and head coach Mick Cronin have a very good thing going right now.

Losing the backcourt of seniors Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson is going to hurt. Two of the winningest guards in program history, it will be tough for Cincinnati to move on without their consistent presence. The Bearcats are hoping that Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome can be an adequate replacement. The nation’s sixth-leading scorer at 23.1 points per game two seasons ago as a sophomore, Broome will play a new role at point for Cincinnati. If Broome can maintain his double-figure scoring status while getting others good looks then Cincinnati actually might have a better offense than last year. Junior Justin Jenifer is a solid security blanket should Broome struggle as he’s also provided minutes at point backing up Caupain.

After a breakout sophomore campaign, Jacob Evans returns on the wing after putting up numbers across the board while shooting 41 percent from three-point range. Evans is an all-league threat who might be a Player of the Year candidate if he can make another leap in the scoring column. Johnson’s spot in the lineup will be filled by sophomore Jarron Cumberland, a tough bucket-getter who could also be a potential upgrade from an offensive perspective.

Cincinnati’s frontcourt is perhaps the league’s best as versatile senior forwards Gary Clark and Kyle Washington return. A former league Defensive Player of the Year, Clark is a huge presence on the floor for Cincinnati at both ends while Washington is springy enough to block shots on defense while being skilled enough to stretch the floor a bit on offense.

Besides replacing a point guard, depth is going to be a question for Cincinnati. The frontcourt depth is there, but many of the pieces like sophomores Nysier Brooks and Tre Scott and freshmen Mamoudou Diarra and Eliel Nsoseme are inexperienced. Besides for Jennifer, Cincinnati doesn’t have many proven perimeter players who can come in and give a lift.

We know that Mick Cronin teams always have a chip on their shoulders and they’ll play physical and defend. Despite a 30-win season, nobody from the Bearcats was first-team All-AAC last season. Wichita State is getting all of this positive buzz now as the new guy. You think that doesn’t make Cincinnati angry? If the Bearcats can stay healthy then they have the offensive pop to be a really scary team this season.

Mick Cronin (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

3. SMU can still be a factor despite losing so much

Coming off of a 30-win season of their own, SMU has to replace a lot of proven scoring from Semi Ojeleye, Ben Moore and Sterling Brown. Losing three NBA-level dudes is pretty much impossible to replace if you’re not a blueblood. While those three veterans are a huge loss, the return of juniors Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster should help.

Milton is one of the league’s most productive players and a lethal three-point threat who can also run the team’s offense. Now that the roster is more depleted, Milton could see his scoring numbers rise this season as the Mustangs don’t have nearly as many weapons around him. For SMU to have a great season, Milton has to have a big year.

The underrated Foster is a versatile defender who could be asked to play the small-ball four this season as he is also a strong perimeter shooter. Inconsistent at times on the offensive end, SMU needs Foster to also take a leap in scoring this season as he’ll need to shoot a lot more. Valuable role guy Ben Emelogu II is also back for his senior season as he’s a plus defender on the wing.

The Mustangs aren’t going to replace Moore and Ojeleye in the frontcourt very easily but Georgetown graduate transfer Akoy Agau is at least an experienced plug for this season who should give some decent minutes. Arkansas transfer Jimmy Whitt should also be a factor for SMU as he could provide a scoring lift while also playing a bit on the ball. If Jahmal McMurray returns to the team as expected in December then he’ll be another guard to watch on this roster.

Frontcourt depth is going to be the major concern for the Mustangs. Agau is experienced, but he only played 15 minutes for a mediocre Georgetown team last season and hasn’t logged big minutes very often during his injury-filled college career. Behind Agau, freshmen like Everett Ray and Ethan Chargois are unproven as they could be asked to give a lift. Those are the only three players who are 6-foot-7 or taller on the SMU roster.

This SMU team will likely have go small and try to space the floor as much as possible this season. Foster is a solid rebounder and defender who would be giving up some size to bigger lineups, but he’s also the type of floor spacer that would make for a tough cover on the other end. Foster’s ability to man that spot could be the key to SMU’s season.

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4. Watch out for UCF

UCF hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since they were in the Atlantic Sun 12 years ago. But they’re coming off of a 24-win season and solid NIT semifinal run despite only playing seven scholarship players last season. With injuries that number sometimes dwindled to five. Double-figure scorer and sharpshooter Matt Williams is a notable loss but the Knights have a lot of talent returning this season to go along with transfer additions to fill out the bench.

Junior B.J. Taylor is one of the most slept-on players in college basketball as he put up 17.4 points per game as a sophomore. If Taylor improves his efficiency then he could easily be a Player of the Year candidate. Center Tacko Fall returns for his junior season. The 7-foot-6 big man is a double-double threat who shot 71 percent from the field. The league’s returning Defensive Player of the Year, Fall could see his scoring numbers rise as he continues to learn post moves. Senior A.J. Davis can maintain multiple positions while filling up the box score in a number of ways. Junior Chad Brown is another frontcourt returner who could make a leap this season.

The returnees at UCF will get a huge boost from transfers who sat out last season. Michigan transfer Aubrey Dawkins, son of head coach Johnny Dawkins, joins the rotation as he should help offset the loss of Williams’ scoring. Big man Rokas Ulvydas (Texas Tech) and guards Dayon Griffin (Louisiana Tech) and Terrell Allen (Drexel) also should play a factor for minutes as the Knights have options this season.

Again, this is a roster that already tasted some postseason success last season despite having a heavily-depleted roster. Taylor is a potential star, Fall is as unique a weapon as there is in college basketball and now this group adds reinforcements who are already familiar with the program after practicing with them last season. Watch out for the Knights.

5. UConn is hoping to make a push back into national prominence

Last season saw UConn struggle to its first losing season since Jim Calhoun’s first year on the job in 1986-87. Gutted with injuries that led to a depleted and inexperienced lineup, the Huskies are hoping for a turnaround in 2017-18.

After only combining for about seven total games due to season-ending injuries last season, junior forward Terry Larrier and point guard Alterique Gilbert both return to the UConn rotation and should provide a huge lift. UConn needs the 6-foot-8 Larrier to make an impact on both ends of the floor while Gilbert, a former McDonald’s All-American, can be electric with the ball in his hands.

Those two will have help from AAC Player of the Year candidate Jalen Adams as the junior guard is coming off of a strong season. The league’s leader in assists while scoring 14.1 points per game last season, Adams could see his scoring numbers rise if Gilbert allows him to play some off the ball. Sophomore Christian Vital is also back after providing some scoring pop last season. Vital’s presence gives UConn some three-guard lineup options or Vital can also be effective as a bench scorer. Fordham graduate transfer Antwoine Anderson gives the Huskies the luxury of a solid scorer who can run point.

Besides for the health of Gilbert and Larrier, the frontcourt remains a big question for the Huskies. While the perimeter rotation has some solid options, UConn needs new pieces to step up inside. Cornell graduate transfer David Onuorah is a proven rim protector but he’s also making a significant leap into a new league. The Huskies also hit the juco ranks for bigs as Eric Cobb (who was at South Carolina as a freshman) and Kwintin Williams (an absurd athlete and elite dunker) could both play a factor.  Mamadou Diarra is also returning from a season lost to injury as he’s a solid rebounder and defender.

It’s hard to say if UConn can overcome last season’s disjointed effort but they have a lot of intriguing perimeter options and Larrier could be one of the league’s better players if he’s healthy.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Landry Shamet (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

PRESEASON AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Landry Shamet, Wichita State

Health is obviously the big question for the 6-foot-4 Shamet but it will also be interesting to see him play a full season at point guard. Inserted into that role in mid-January of last season after playing shooting guard, Shamet and the Shockers didn’t lose when he became the team’s full-time point guard until their loss in the NCAA tournament.

THE REST OF THE AMERICAN FIRST TEAM

  • Rob Gray Jr., Houston: The league’s returning leading scorer at 20.6 points per game, Gray is one of the biggest perimeter scoring threats in college basketball. Gray could be in line for a monster senior year.
  • Shake Milton, SMU: Shooting the ball at a high level last season, Milton led the American at 42 percent three-point shooting while putting up 13.0 points and 4.5 assists per game.
  • Gary Clark, Cincinnati: A former Defensive Player of the Year in the American, if this senior forward can improve his woeful perimeter shooting then he becomes a major threat at both ends of the floor.
  • Jacob Evans, Cincinnati: The do-it-all junior wing is capable of scoring, helping on the glass, knocking down a perimeter shot or playing aggressively in passing lanes.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Jalen Adams, UConn
  • Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
  • B.J. Taylor, UCF
  • Tacko Fall, UCF
  • Obi Enechionyia, Temple

BREAKOUT STAR: UCF’s B.J. Taylor

Okay, so Taylor is probably too established to consider him a true “breakout” player, but he has a chance to have a huge season on a bigger national stage. An absolute warrior who carried the Knights down the stretch, Taylor helped a team with seven scholarship players reach the NIT semifinals as he played nearly every minute of every game. And this was Taylor logging heavy minutes after missing the previous season when he redshirted with a lower leg injury. Taylor dropped 27 on Cincinnati in an upset win and also averaged 21 points a game in two losses to SMU, only missing one minute between all three games. Now with more weapons around him this season, the 6-foot-4 Taylor can improve upon his solid 3.5 assists per game average as he has a chance to be a top-ten scorer and assist man in the conference once again.

COACH UNDER PRESSUREEast Carolina’s Jeff Lebo

East Carolina still hasn’t made an NCAA tournament appearance in Lebo’s seven seasons as they’ve been a decidedly mediocre 114-118 in that span. The program is only 21-49 in conference play the past four seasons as East Carolina has never found its footing since moving into the American. Finishing ninth place last season, the Pirates will likely have to win some games in order for Lebo to feel secure. Thankfully for East Carolina, Lebo is fully healthy after missing the last 14 games of last season after a hip replacement.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

The American is looking strong in this season’s field as Wichita State and Cincinnati are both major threats.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT

Seeing Wichita State in a conference that is much more competitive should be a lot of fun, especially for this battle-tested group that is hungry to prove itself after the close NCAA tournament loss to Kentucky.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • 12/2, Wichita State at Baylor
  • 12/2, Cincinnati at Xavier
  • 12/2, USC at SMU
  • 12/3, UCF at Alabama
  • 12/9, Cincinnati vs. Florida (Newark, NJ)
RELATED: Perry Ellis All-Stars | Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia

Tacko Fall (Dan Forcella/UCF Athletics)

POWER RANKINGS

1. Cincinnati: Cincinnati has the experience and talent to win the league this season as the Bearcats should have more scoring pop than a typical Mick Cronin group. Broome’s addition in the backcourt is one to watch. It’s also noteworthy that Cincinnati will play its home games at Northern Kentucky’s BB&T Arena this season as their own arena undergoes renovations.
2. Wichita State: The Shockers finally get a call to the big leagues as they can immediately win this league if Shamet is healthy. Among the league’s deepest teams, Wichita State can wear anybody down by coming in waves as they’ll have the league’s best bench.
3. SMU: A severe lack of size could ultimately hurt the Mustangs this season but they’ll have some fun lineups with a lot of floor spacing. Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster are both proven AAC performers and as long as the transfers can step up, the Mustangs should be back in the Big Dance.
4. UCF: This could be a major year for the Knights as they advanced to the NIT semis with only seven scholarship players last season. Armed now with a complete roster that includes a big-time scorer and an elite rim protector, UCF could be a surprise nationally this season.
5. Temple: After a disappointing season, the Owls could make an NCAA tournament run if they are back at full strength. Senior Obi Enechionyia is one of the league’s best bigs while junior guard Shizz Alston is a proven scorer. If senior point guard Josh Brown looks like his old self after an Achilles’ injury then the Owls should bounce back.
6. UConn: The Huskies need to stay healthy in order to reach their ceiling but the roster still has plenty of talent. As long as the new frontcourt can hold its own during most games, UConn will have a chance to make it back to the postseason.
7. Houston: Besides for their unbelievable charity work in assisting after Hurricane Harvey, Houston is coming off of back-to-back 20-win seasons. Senior scorer Rob Gray, junior point guard Galen Robinson Jr. and senior forward Devin Davis are all back but they’ll need help from eight newcomers.
8. Tulsa: Last season, Tulsa had to integrate 10 new players into the roster so the Golden Hurricane should be more cohesive this season after only losing two this offseason. Senior forward Junior Etou is an all-league candidate while junior Sterling Taphorn is a solid floor leader.
9. East Carolina: The Pirates return a strong core trio in Kentrell Barkley, B.J. Tyson and Jeremy Sheppard but East Carolina is still lacking proven size. Having Lebo back on the sidelines will help but East Carolina still has too many question marks.
10. Tulane: Last season’s six-win effort was ugly for the Green Wave but there is some returning talent to keep an eye on. Junior guard Cameron Reynolds is a sleeper all-league candidate while Melvin Fraser and Ray Ona Embo showed flashes of strong play last season. Transfers Jordan Cornish (UNLV) and Samir Sehic (Vanderbilt) will help.
11. Memphis: Things got ugly for the Memphis roster when the Lawson brothers transferred to Kansas this offseason. Junior guard Jeremiah Martin finished last season in strong fashion but he doesn’t have a lot of proven help around him. JUCO all-americans Kareem Brewton and Kyvon Davenport need to contribute immediately.
12. USF: New head coach Brian Gregory brings in nearly an entirely new roster after seven players transferred this offseason. Returnees Troy Holston and Tulio Da Silva are both solid and the Bulls have a lot of help from grad transfers.

Late 3 salvages win over Rutgers for No. 16 Penn State

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Myles Dread hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 28 seconds left to lift No. 16 Penn State over Rutgers 65-64 on Wednesday night after the Nittany Lions blew a 21-point lead.

Trailing 40-19 late in the first half, the Scarlet Knights tied the game at 62 with 1:32 left in the game on Geo Baker’s layup. His jumper gave Rutgers a two-point lead with 42 seconds remaining.

After a timeout, Dread hit his 3-pointer and Akwasi Yeboah’s shot at before the buzzer was off.

Izaiah Brockington scored 16 points and Lamar Stevens added nine for the Nittany Lions (21-7, 11-6 Big Ten).

Jacob Young scored 13 points for the Scarlet Knights (18-11, 9-9), who lost their third straight.

Penn State led for all but 2:04 and by double digits well into the second before the Scarlet Knights rallied.

Beforehand, the Scarlet Knights had cut it to 51-50 with a 15-2 run that began as Young found ways to penetrate Penn State’s defense.

Young, who entered the night averaging eight points per game, hit a layup with 14:45 left and added two more along with a dunk from Ron Harper Jr. and a layup from Myles Johnson to pull the Scarlet Knights within a point with 10:03 left.

Stevens scored the next two baskets and Penn State got some more offense to go back up by 10.

Both teams played sturdy defense early before the Nittany Lions edged ahead 13-10 eight minutes in. Stevens increased his team’s lead with a 3-pointer from the corner two minutes later. Stevens’ first make of the game sparked a 27-9 run to make it a 21-point lead.

THE BIG PICTURE

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have had a season to remember, but most of the highlights came in the first half when they went 12-3 up until Jan. 7. Since then they’re 6-8.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions have been coughing up big leads in the second half of the season. They needed to halt their skid and were able to do so, though coach Patrick Chambers still wants his team to develop a killer instinct to put teams away.

UP NEXT

Rutgers: Hosts No. 9 Maryland on Tuesday.

Penn State: Visits No. 18 Iowa on Saturday.

No. 12 Villanova topples St. John’s

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VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — Saddiq Bey scored 23 points and Justin Moore added 21 to lead No. 12 Villanova past St. John’s 71-60 on Wednesday night.

The Wildcats (22-6, 11-4 Big East) had trouble shaking St. John’s until late on a night the program honored former star Kyle Lowry. Lowry, a five-time All-Star guard for the NBA champion Toronto Raptors, played two seasons for the Wildcats and was one of the early pieces that helped build coach Jay Wright’s program into a national power.

Lowry was flanked by former teammates and called the jersey recognition honor a “once in a lifetime” experience that he was able to share with his wife and two young sons. His sons, Karter and Kameron, played with the microphones at a halftime press conference.

Lowry played from 2004-2006 when the Wildcats made their first two NCAA Tournament trips of Wright’s young tenure.

“From the time I got here, he was kind of on that proverbial hot seat,” Lowry said. “Now, he’s never going anywhere and he’s one of the best coaches in the history of college basketball.”

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Wright has since won two national titles at Villanova and was named the AP Coach of the Decade. Wright has said how Lowry skipped classes and was disruptive at practice, so much so that it got to the point where the feisty guard might not have made it to a second season. Lowry, now extremely close with Wright, laughed when he recalled his rocky relationship with his coach.

“My freshman year, I was such an immature kid and I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know what I wanted or what I could do or what my abilities were off the court,” Lowry said. “I didn’t know what I was, I didn’t know who I was. Me and Coach never talked about basketball. We always talked about these things off the court. That’s why me and Jay, to this day, have the relationship that we have. It wasn’t nothing about basketball. He didn’t worry about me on the court. He worried about me as a man.”

Wright’s biggest worry Wednesday was a St. John’s team that came in 12½-point underdogs and kept the deficit within single digits for most of the second half. Greg Williams Jr. buried a 3 for the Red Storm (14-14, 3-12) with 4:37 left that pulled them within six.

Moore, though, steadied the Wildcats with his fifth 3 of the game, a driving layup and a pull-up jumper in succession that stretched the lead to 13 and sealed another win for the perennial Big East power.

PRETTY CLOSE

Villanova hit seven 3s to St. John’s one in the first half but only led 36-34 at the break.

BIG PICTURE

St. John’s is just counting down the days until the season ends. Barring an improbable run to a championship in the Big East Tournament, the Red Storm are looking for the future. They played their fourth straight game without Mustapha Heron (13.8 points) because of a sprained right ankle.

Villanova won its fifth straight game and has a big rematch against No. 13 Seton Hall ahead on March 4. Seton Hall won the first meeting and both teams could meet again in a conference tournament title game.

NOVA-ON-NOVA RUMBLE

Lowry had a staredown with former Wildcat Donte DiVincenzo, the most outstanding player of Villanova’s 2018 title team, after a hard foul in Toronto’s game against Milwaukee on Tuesday.

“Donte better cut that stuff out,” Lowry said with a laugh. “That’s my guy, though. I fouled him hard and he didn’t like it. It’s all in the competitive nature. I love Donte and what he’s doing. He’s having a great year. Hopefully, we see them in the playoffs.”

UP NEXT

St. John’s returns home to play No. 10 Creighton

The Wildcats play Providence on Saturday at Wells Fargo Center.

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.