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Pac-12 Conference Preview: Will the FBI investigation overshadow a promising season?

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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 Pac-12.

The Pac-12 won’t have nearly as much star power this season.

Losing the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks after one season would hurt any league but the Pac-12 is also hurting after only four teams made the 2017 NCAA tournament.

While Arizona remains a national title contender and USC is a darkhorse candidate to do a lot of damage nationally, UCLA and Oregon are building on the fly with a lot of new pieces.

Outside of the four NCAA tournament teams, the league still faces a lot of postseason uncertainty as unproven players and new head coaches are featured throughout the league.

There might not be a superstar like Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball but there are still plenty of reasons to stay up late for Pac-12 hoops this season.

Allonzo Trier (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Arizona is in position to make a Final Four (if they can stay focused)

Arizona is going to be one of the most fascinating teams to follow in recent memory this season thanks to a very talented roster and some intriguing off-the-court storylines.

To start with the product on the hardwood, this team is good enough to be in the running for preseason No. 1. Allonzo Trier is back, as the preseason All-American will be counted on to be one of the nation’s premier scorers. The junior guard is good enough to put the Wildcats on his back with dominant scoring stretches against great teams, but he’s also prone to playing hero ball and freezing out his teammates. If Trier can find a healthy balance between the two then he’s a darkhorse Player of the Year candidate.

Trusting teammates shouldn’t be difficult for Trier this season since he has so much talent around him. After a solid freshman campaign that saw him average double-figures, Rawle Alkins is back on the perimeter. Senior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright doesn’t put up big numbers but he’s a steady veteran ball-handling presence who can knock down perimeter jumpers.

The interior sees the return of stable senior center Dusan Ristic, an efficient double-figure scorer who doesn’t get enough credit nationally for his post-scoring skill. Energy senior big man Keanu Pinder is back to give a lift off the bench with his high-motor play.

And then there is the incoming freshman class has some ridiculous talent and depth.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke

Once considered the No. 1 player in the country, 7-foot center Deandre Ayton is a freak athlete who has surprising touch for a player his size. Think about Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond, Greg Oden and DeAndre Jordan. All of those guys can dominate athletically on the interior at 7-feet-tall but none of them have shooting touch outside of the paint. They’re all awful from the free-throw line. Ayton is different in that regard. He has the touch to extend his range to at times knock down three-pointers while also shooting around 80 percent from the charity stripe over a 20-game span in the Nike EYBL.

The huge question with Ayton is his motor. Sometimes Ayton is motivated enough to run through all of the nation’s elite big men (including Duke’s Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter) at Peach Jam in succession. Other times, he barely shows up and it doesn’t look like he wants to play basketball. Whichever Ayton that Arizona gets could dictate this team’s true ceiling.

Besides Ayton, Miller did a great job of stockpiling the roster with additional depth at multiple spots. Five-star wing Emmanuel Akot is an intriguing athlete at wing forward who could be a boost defensively and on the glass. Brandon Randolph is a 6-foot-6 perimeter threat with a beautiful-looking jumper who might provide much-needed floor spacing. Ira Lee is a consensus top-100 prospect who can give energy minutes.

But how will this team fit together? Does Ayton get enough touches to stay consistently hungry to be great? Will any of the other freshmen be good enough to be more than role players?

The on-court questions are riveting enough. Now also factor in that Arizona is also one of four programs who had an assistant coach — Emmanuel “Book” Richardson — arrested as part of the FBI’s investigation into bribery in college recruiting practices. The Wildcats just lost a five-star point guard for next year, Jahvon Quinerly, in recruiting. Clearly, this isn’t an issue that is going away anytime soon and the Wildcats will have to get used to hearing about it for the foreseeable future. How they handle all of the off-the-court drama – especially with five freshmen – could determine their season.

We went deep on Arizona’s prospects this season here.

Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview
Chimezie Metu (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

2. USC is absolutely loaded

One of the teams to watch out west this season will be USC as the Trojans return a ton of talent from a team that advanced to the NCAA tournament. Six players return who made at least 18 starts last season, including the senior backcourt of point guard Jordan McLaughlin and shooting guard Elijah Stewart.

The duo can both shoot, they’re comfortable with head coach Andy Enfield’s system and they’re a major part of a very balanced roster. Up front the Trojans get even scarier. Junior forward Chimezie Metu was one of the nation’s prominent breakout players last season as he’s a great athlete on both ends of the floor. After missing half the year, junior Bennie Boatwright provides floor spacing and rebounding at 6-foot-10.

Sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton is a valuable defender and glue guy and junior wing Shaqquan Aaron started 20 games last season. USC’s wealth of backcourt riches continues with sophomore Jonah Mathews.

The newcomers USC adds also gives them that extra boost to be a national player this season. It didn’t work out at Duke for point guard Derryck Thornton, but after sitting out a transfer season, he is a valuable guard to have in the rotation as he provides steady ball handling and perimeter defense.

McDonald’s All-American wing Charles O’Bannon Jr. also joins the Trojans, going across town from where his father starred in Westwood. The younger O’Bannon gives USC another potential wing scorer and perimeter shooter as they’ll be deep on the wing and on the perimeter.

Frontcourt depth could be a concern for USC. The Trojans can go to a lot of small-ball lineups if needed but there isn’t a lot of dependable size outside of Metu and Boatwright. Sophomore Nick Rakocevic played some solid minutes but he can also be inconsistent. Freshmen like Jordan Usher and 6-foot-11 Victor Uyaelunmo are also unproven.

If this group can stay healthy and get a lift from the new guys then the Trojans should have all the pieces in place to make a run at the second weekend.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team
Jordan McLaughlin (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

3. UCLA has a lot of new faces (and a new Ball brother) on a talented team

There are reasons to pay attention to UCLA this season but the Bruins won’t be nearly as engrossing as the Lonzo Ball-led group of last season.

For one, Lonzo is with the Lakers now. The Bruins still have a Ball brother — freshman LiAngelo, the middle of the three brothers — but he’s a shooting guard who hasn’t displayed nearly as much promise as his older brother. More on him in a minute.

UCLA loses a lot but there is also a lot to like. Senior big man Thomas Welsh is back manning the middle as he’s a consistent double-double threat who can provide spurts of really good offense. Junior guard Aaron Holiday is back after being arguably the nation’s best player off the bench last season. A tenacious defender who can play on or off the ball, Holiday could have a huge year now that he’ll be the team’s most experience perimeter player.

And, once again, head coach Steve Alford has a top-flight recruiting class coming into Westwood. LiAngelo, a three-star prospect, might actually be the lowest-rated member of the six-man group. Point guard Jaylen Hands and 6-foot-8 wing Kris Wilkes are both very athletic McDonald’s All-Americans who should be counted on to produce right away.

Hands doesn’t play with the unselfishness of Lonzo by pushing the ball ahead with the pass, but he’s a very aggressive downhill guard. If Hands can show a workable perimeter jumper then he should still be a major boost to a UCLA offense that wants to continue to play fast. Wilkes can be electric on the wing in the open floor and he has the type of scoring prowess to be a double-figure guy from day one. If frontcourt freshmen like Cody Riley and Jalen Hill can give Welsh some help then UCLA should remain stable in the frontcourt as well.

But the big question for this team (besides the obvious one of replacing Lonzo at point) might actually be perimeter shooting. The Bruins should be adequate. They were elite last season.

Lonzo, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton all made at least 74 triples last season — with the first two on that list both being at least 41 percent. T.J. Leaf was a stretch option who nailed 46 percent of his three-pointers. This year’s UCLA team brings back a solid 41 percent three-point shooter in Holiday but they’re actually going to need LiAngelo to come through and be a floor spacer to have an offense nearly as capable as last season.

And that doesn’t even factor in how many easy looks UCLA got last year by having unselfish floor leaders who loved to move the ball. Lonzo’s unselfishness could be contagious. Hands can be a scoring guard who will sometimes set up others but he hasn’t necessarily shown an ability to get others easy looks on a regular basis.

UCLA still has a high ceiling and a bevy of young talent. They’ll put up a lot of points on some nights, and this year’s team might actually be more athletic on the perimeter. But it’ll be nearly impossible to replace the nightly magic last year’s Bruins seemed to produce on the way to a Sweet 16.

This team should be fascinating.

RELATEDACC Preview | Perry Ellis All-Stars | Contender Series
Steve Alford (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

4. Oregon needs its newcomers to be productive

Coming off of last season’s Final Four appearance things will be dramatically different at Oregon this year. Five double-figure scorers have departed, along with dependable rotation guard Casey Benson. It’ll be hard to replace the energy of Jordan Bell (arguably the best player in the 2016 NCAA tournament), the versatility of Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks and the scoring ability of Tyler Dorsey.

Payton Pritchard will be a huge key for the Ducks. After a freshman season that saw him play more minutes and with more production than many had probably envisioned, now Pritchard is Oregon’s best returning player from last season’s roster. Likely responsible for running point, Pritchard needs to improve his shooting efficiency and consistency but he’s also capable of getting hot from deep and he’s coming off a strong summer after making the USA U19 World Cup team. Senior forward Roman Sorkin and sophomore Keith Smith are the only two returning players besides Pritchard from last season’s team. The rest of the roster will be based off the play of newcomers.

Transfers will be a huge part of Oregon’s season. New Mexico transfer Elijah Brown enters the backcourt picture and he’s provided production everywhere he’s gone. The major question with Brown is his ability to play intelligent and winning basketball. McKyle McIntosh was a solid grab from Illinois State as he is a versatile two-way forward who plays with a solid motor. After sitting out most of the last two seasons, Paul White is hoping to remain healthy and help on the interior as he brings a high skill level to Oregon from Georgetown.

Credit head coach Dana Altman for also bringing in a solid group of newcomers as this freshman class should also help. Las Vegas native Troy Brown is a five-star perimeter threat who is versatile enough to play multiple positions with a good degree of skill. The frontcourt should also get some help from 6-foot-7 Abu Kigab, who averaged a double-double for the Canadians during the FIBA U19 World Cup this summer.

Obviously a lot of things need to fall into place for the Ducks but they at least have a known point guard in Pritchard and athleticism and versatility at multiple positions like Altman craves out of his rotation. Oregon needs to find some rim-protecting big men who can eat up minutes on the interior but they should be talented and experienced enough to make it back to the tournament.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
Dana Altman (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

5. Will another team step up and make the NCAA tournament? 

For as good as the top teams were in the Pac-12 last season, the rest of the league was pretty dreadful by power conference standards.

Three teams played in the NIT last season, Cal, Colorado and Utah, and all three got hit hard with players leaving the roster. Five teams from the league missed the postseason completely as many of the teams in the conference are still in rebuilding mode.

Perhaps the teams with the best chance at a breakthrough in the Pac-12 this season is Stanford. We know that junior forward Reid Travis is one of the best frontcourt players in the nation while senior Dorian Pickens is a double-figure scorer. But the Cardinal need to be more consistent. Senior big man Michael Humphrey is hit or miss and point guard Robert Cartwright will be pushed if he doesn’t improve his mediocre shooting.

Stanford also has intriguing young talents like four-star prospects Daejon Davis and Kezie Okpala entering the picture. Davis should push for backcourt minutes early as his athleticism is a huge boost while Okpala is an intriguing long-term prospect on the wing at 6-foot-8. Redshirt freshman Kodye Pugh is also one to keep an eye on.

But even with all of that talent, Stanford has been woefully inconsistent when it comes to scoring and perimeter shooting. They need a lot of work in that department to make a run.

Other teams have intriguing parts about them but the giant question marks are just as glaring. Utah has been a consistent presence in the top half of the Pac-12 and David Collette is back but there are holes in other spots. Arizona State and Oregon State both have talent but many of their players are either unproven or coming off of poor showings last season.

It’s hard to say if the Pac-12 can improve and get more than four teams in the 2018 NCAA tournament but nobody outside the top four really stands out at the moment.

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

PRESEASON PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Allonzo Trier, Arizona

It was a strange junior year for Trier, as he had to sit out the first 19 games of the season. He had to wait until late January to play and still put up numbers against only Pac-12 and NCAA tournament competition. With a full season of being in a rhythm and knowing his teammates, Trier could be in for a huge junior season as the guard has the ability to take over a game with his scoring.

THE REST OF THE PAC-12 FIRST TEAM

  • Chimezie Metu, USC: The league’s most improved player last season, Metu is a bouncy double-double threat who is capable of impacting the game above the rim on both ends.
  • Deandre Ayton, Arizona: Ayton could be a dominant one-and-done freshman this season as he’ll be one of the most athletic 7-footers the college game has seen in years.
  • Reid Travis, Stanford: Healthy and thriving, the junior forward was the only Pac-12 player to be in the top five in scoring and rebounding last season.
  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC: Overshadowed in a league that featured the top two picks in this year’s draft, McLaughlin has a chance to break the USC career assist record this season.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Rawle Alkins, Arizona
  • Aaron Holiday, UCLA
  • Bennie Boatwright, USC
  • Thomas Welsh, UCLA
  • Payton Pritchard, Oregon
Aaron Holiday (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

BREAKOUT STAR: Aaron Holiday, UCLA

Overshadowed by Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton a season ago, Holiday could have a huge year during his junior campaign. Even though Holiday saw his minutes decrease as a sophomore, he became a far more efficient shooter as he finished at 48 percent from the floor and 41 percent from three-point range. The interesting thing with Holiday this season could be which role he plays. If he plays more on the ball, then Holiday needs to decrease his turnovers. Off-the-ball, Holiday would need to become one of UCLA’s go-to scorers after the team lost so much firepower.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Sean Miller, Arizona

The Pac-12 doesn’t have a lot of traditional “hot seat” pressure from coaches who need to win to keep their jobs. A different kind of pressure is what Miller is dealing with in Tucson. Since Arizona still has yet to advance to the Final Four under Miller, he will continue to deal with scrutiny if he falls short of the final weekend in March. With a roster talented enough to be considered preseason No. 1 in the country by some, Miller has all of the pieces to make it to San Antonio. But he’ll have to deal with keeping a lot of players who want shots and minutes happy while also handling the black cloud of the FBI investigation looming over his program.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

Top teams like Arizona, USC and UCLA show promise but the Pac-12 had another disappointing year for NCAA tournament teams.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT

the Pac-12 Tournament. Since it moved to Las Vegas it has become one of the must-see college hoops events of the season thanks to an unbelievable atmosphere. And as a bonus, the Pac-12 can’t screw up the schedule like they did with the regular season.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • 11/23, Connecticut vs. Oregon (start of PK 80 in Portland)
  • 11/26, Texas A&M at USC
  • 12/5, Arizona vs. Texas A&M (at Phoenix)
  • 12/9, Arizona vs. Alabama
  • 12/16, Cincinnati at UCLA

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @Pac12Network

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke

POWER RANKINGS

1. Arizona: This team has almost everything they could want to make a run. A senior point guard, a dominant All-American scorer, potentially unstoppable post scoring and depth at multiple spots. The sky is the limit for Arizona this season as they face the immense pressure to win a national title.
2. USC: Backcourts as experienced and deep as USC’s tend to do well in the postseason and not many in the nation will be better than Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart. Coupled with some scary upside in the frontcourt and this is a sleeper pick to make a really deep tournament run.
3. UCLA: UCLA continues to recruit at an elite level and it means they have the potential to have a big season once again. But this group needs to share the ball and continue to shoot at a high level if they want to reach the second weekend like they did last season.
4. Oregon: Interior production could be a key for the Ducks as they’re hopeful some young players can step up and provide minutes. Four-star freshman Victor Bailey is another big-time athlete who should compete for rotation minutes for a team that is still athletic and skilled.
5. Stanford: The Cardinal faltered down the stretch last season but five of the team’s top six scorers are back. Reid Travis is a Player of the Year candidate in the league while Dorian Pickens doesn’t get enough national love. Finding reliable (and healthy) role players around them is key.
6. Utah: The Utes were hit with some offseason departures but senior big man David Collette is back along with some other solid options. Point guard Sedrick Barefield gets a full season to lead and Collette has a lot of depth around him in the frontcourt.
7. Arizona State: Expect the Sun Devils to have one of the better backcourts in the league with three seniors in Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice. The frontcourt has major question marks as redshirt freshman Romello White and juco rim protector De’Quon Lake should help.
8. Oregon State: The Beavers bottomed out at 1-17 in league play last year as Tres Tinkle was hurt and a young team struggled. The good news is that Tinkle and nearly the entire roster is back. Top-75 recruit Ethan Thompson, a noted perimeter shooter, will be added to the rotation at guard.
9. Colorado: Four starters are gone from a 19-win team as the Buffaloes get a lot of fresh faces. Solid senior George King is back and the freshman class, potentially Tad Boyle’s best during his tenure, could dictate whether Colorado builds for the future or fights for the postseason now.
10. Washington: The Huskies don’t have the lottery pick talent of the past few seasons as Mike Hopkins takes over the beginnings of a rebuild. Junior wing Matisse Thybulle is back after a solid season while junior guard David Crisp can also produce. It’ll be fascinating to see how Hopkins coaches his own team and how much he takes from his time under Jim Boeheim.
11. California: New head coach Wyking Jones has a veteran frontcourt in senior center Kingsley Okoroh and Kentucky transfer forward Marcus Lee (a Perry Ellis All-Star) but the backcourt has giant question marks after nearly everyone left. Seeing if Jones tries to go uptempo while utilizing a full-court press is something to monitor for how Cal wants to play in the future.
12. Washington State: Underrated forward Josh Hawkinson is gone and the Cougars need a lot of new pieces to step up. Sophomore point guard Malachi Flynn showed promise last season as he has a chance to be a breakout player.

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: 52, NBC: 10): The Wolfpack missed out on a chance to land another elite win on Saturday, blowing a halftime lead and losing at home to Florida State (12). The big news was picking up the win over Duke (6) on Wednesday night. It was the fifth Quad 1 win for Kevin Keatts — they’ve also beaten Wisconsin (30) at home and three sub-50 teams on the road — to go along with a 9-7 record against the top two Quads. The biggest problem here is that they have three Quad 3 losses, two of which came at home. Before beating Duke, the Wolfpack lost at Boston College (143). 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 like Arkansas, this will certainly be something the committee takes into account.


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, but they are still alive after landed a critical win over Houston (25) at home. Memphis now has a pair of Quad 1 wins, and finally have a win over a team ranked in the top 50. The Tigers have also won at Tennessee (65), beaten Cincinnati at home (53) and beat N.C. State (52) on a neutral. The program? Those three Quad 2 home losses, and the fact that they are playing without D.J. Jeffries, their best perimeter weapon. With three of their last four on the road and a home date with Wichita State (43), Memphis has chances to improve their resume.

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: 54, NBC: Play-in game): Oklahoma lost again on Saturday, this time at Oklahoma State (67), and I’m having trouble figuring out why they are considered in the tournament safely as a 10 seed. They’ve now lost three in a row and five of their last eight games. They are 16-11 on the season and are sitting with just two Quad 1 wins and a 2-9 record against the top Quad. They do have six Quad 2 wins, but outside of a win over West Virginia (10) at home earlier this month, there really is nothing about this profile that is overly impressive. They certainly belong in the mix, but I think they are in a far tougher spot than the consensus.

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: 44, NBC: 10): 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 (108), 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 (69) and at DePaul (72) — 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 (59), 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: 56, 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. 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 (62).

ALABAMA (NET: 40, NBC: Next four out): The Crimson Tide did what they could on Saturday, blowing out Ole Miss (94) on the road. It’s the fourth road win for Alabama, which is relevant for a team that doesn’t have all that much else going for it. They’re 15-12 overall. They have just two Quad 1 wins compared to a pair of Quad 3 losses. They have no margin of error left.

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: 39, NBC: 11): After beating Wyoming (301), the Aggies have won five in a row and eight of their last nine 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 four weeks ago. Wins over LSU (30) 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 get in without beating San Diego State (1) 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.

Monday’s Things To Know: Florida State rolls, Texas is back?

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There was some action on Monday night in the college basketball world, and we are here to talk you through all of it.

1. FLORIDA STATE’S SECOND HALF DEMOLITION OF LOUISVILLE IS SCARY

Trent Forrest scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half and the No. 6 Seminoles used a 42-16 tidal wave over the course of the final 15 minutes to turn a 51-40 deficit into an 82-67 win over No. 11 Louisville.

It was everything that you expect a Florida State team to be during that stretch. They forced turnovers, they switched everything defensively, they dared you to try and beat them in isolation, and they did it all while getting the kind of balanced effort that makes it impossible to key in on a single player. Five guys were in double-figures on Monday night, and that doesn’t include the eight points that Leonard Hamilton’s club got from Anthony Polite off the bench.

This program is a machine.

All they do is produce physical, tough, athletic wings that stand somewhere between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-8, guard like their life depends on it and completely by in to what Leonard Hamilton is trying to do.

I would not want to see them in March.

2. TEXAS ISN’T DEAD YET

The Longhorns won their third straight game on Monday night, as they beat No. 20 West Virginia, 67-57, 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 15 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 and Oklahoma State, and a 5-11 mark against the top two Quads without a bad loss to their name.

Put another way, this team is suddenly very much in the bubble picture.

Now, I still think they have plenty of work to do, and given the fact that neither a road win at Oklahoma or a home win over Oklahoma State is going to change all that much for them, I think Saturday’s trip to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech 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.

Regardless of what it actually is, the bottom line is pretty simple: Texas needs to keep on winning.

3. KANSAS ROLLS IN FIRST GAME AS NO. 1

The Jayhawks, in their first game as the No. 1 team in the country, did not have any kind of a letdown.

Udoka Azubuike finished with 19 points, 16 boards, three blocks, two assists and hit 7-for-8 from the free throw line in an 83-58 win over Oklahoma State in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

No. 6 Florida State’s steamrolls No. 11 Louisville

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Trent Forrest scored 14 of his 16 points after halftime, and No. 6 Florida State rallied from a double-digit deficit to beat No. 11 Louisville 82-67 on Monday night.

The Seminoles (24-4, 14-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) moved past the Cardinals into first place in the ACC. They lead Louisville and No. 7 Duke by a half-game.

Patrick Williams’ thunderous dunk put an exclamation point to a 15-0 run that put the Seminoles ahead for good. Florida State outscored Louisville 50-27 in the second half and extended its home winning streak to 22 games.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

Devin Vassell and M.J. Walker each scored 12 points for FSU, which set a school record for ACC regular-season wins with three remaining in the 20-game schedule.

Ryan McMahon scored 14 points and Jordan Nwora had 13 points and eight rebounds for Louisville (23-6, 14-4), which went more than seven minutes without a field goal during one second-half stretch.

The Cardinals played short-handed most of the night after junior center Malik Williams injured his left foot minutes into the game. He returned to the bench with a boot on the foot.

BIG PICTURE

Louisville: The Cardinals shot well in the first half, making 52% before cooling off to 32% in the second.

Florida State: The Seminoles shot 50% in each half and overcame nine first-half turnovers to complete a season sweep of Louisville.

UP NEXT

Louisville hosts Virginia Tech on Sunday.

Florida State visits Clemson on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Ionescu first player to 2,000 points, 1,000 assists, 1,000 rebounds

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STANFORD, Calif. — Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu is the first player, man or woman, to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds.

Ionescu hit the milestone on a defensive rebound with 1:47 remaining in the third quarter for the third-ranked Ducks against No. 3 Stanford on Monday night, only hours after she spoke at the memorial service for Kobe Bryant and daughter, Gianna, in Southern California.

Ionescu got to 1,000 assists in a win at UCLA on Feb. 14. She notched her NCAA-record 25th career triple-double at California on Friday night – also most in the men’s or women’s game. She came into Monday’s game needing nine rebounds for the 1,000 mark.

Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry sat courtside for the second straight game to support Ionescu and women’s basketball.