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College Basketball’s Best Backcourts

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The most difficult thing to do when putting together a list of the nation’s best back courts if figuring out who, exactly, belongs listed as a member of the back court. 

Take Miles Bridges, for example. Last season, he played the four for Michigan State, typically lining up alongside Nick Ward on the Michigan State front line.

But given his skill-set and his physical tools, he natural position is probably as a three. Then if you actually go back and watch the film, the role he played was essentially as a scoring guard, a walking mismatch that took bigger defenders out to the perimeter. 

Positionless basketball, by definition, makes identifying positions a nightmare. 

So we worked through a lot of these. Bridges is listed as a member of the front court. Louisville’s Deng Adel is in our back court rankings because, like Arizona’s Rawle Alkins, he’s a natural wing. Kevin Knox is a forward even if he’s going to end up playing some on the wing this season.

So with that in mind, let’s get to our list of the top back courts in the country.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Allonzo Trier (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

1. ARIZONA: Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith

Let’s start with the good, because there is plenty of it.

Allonzo Trier is going to be in the mix for National Player of the Year. He could end up averaging 20 points for a team that could end up being the best in the country. I’m not sure there is a better pure scorer in college basketball this season. He’s joined on the perimeter by Rawle Alkins, a former five-star recruit and a potential first round pick that should be in line for an uptick in shots once he returns from a foot injury.

Brandon Randolph is an impressive freshman that will give some good minutes early in his career, and UNC-Asheville transfer Dylan Smith is, at worst, a serviceable backup at the point.

And that is going to be where the big question with this group lies. The one constant with Arizona over the course of the last four years as been terrific leadership and a defensive menace at the point guard spot. First, it was T.J. McConnell. Then it was Kadeem Allen. Now, it looks like that job is going to be Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s to lose. And he’s not bad. In fact, when you consider the number of people that are going to be needing shots in that offense, it’s not a bad thing to have a point guard on the floor that wants to be a facilitator.

But the question I have is whether or not he can be the defender they need at that point guard spot, and if he is built to be the leader that can get a guy like Trier or Alkins to give up shots when it behooves the team.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

2. MIAMI: Bruce Brown, Lonnie Walker, Ja’Quan Newton, Dejan Vasilijevic, Chris Lykes

Miami might have my favorite back court in college basketball this season.

Jim Larrañaga’s best teams have come when he has talented and aggressive guards that thrive in ball-screens, and that’s what he has at his disposal this season. Most ACC fans probably know the name Ja’Quan Newton by now. He’s a senior and a former top 50 prospect that has had a couple really good years for the Canes.

But he’s not the guys here to get excited about. Lonnie Walker, a top 15 prospect in the Class of 2017 and a potential lottery pick, is. He’s arguably the best off-guard in this class, and so long as his knee is healthy, he should have a big year. He’s also the second-best prospect on this team. Bruce Brown is the star. A former football player and a dynamic athlete at the combo-guard spot, Brown is projected by many to develop into an all-american player this season.

And if he does, he’ll be the anchor that Larrañaga can build an ACC title contender around.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
Bruce Brown (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

3. VILLANOVA: Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Collin Gillispie

The Josh Hart era is now over, and it may have ended midway through last season, when Jalen Brunson went from being his sidekick to the best player on Villanova’s roster.

There is nothing flashy about Brunson’s game. He’s not going to break ankles and he’s not going to dunk on anyone. What makes him so good is that he understands the game on a level that very few people do, and that he is hyper-efficient with the possessions that he does use. At the end of a day, the most important stat when it comes to a point guard is wins, and there are very few guards that have won more over the course of the last two years than Brunson.

The rest of Villanova’s back court rotation is impressive as well. Phil Booth is healthy again after missing most of last season through injury, and Collin Gillispie is likely going to be the next star Villanova point guard. The name to know here, however, is Donte DiVincenzo, a redshirt sophomore that was very impressive in limited minutes last season. He may not be Hart, but he has a real shot to be an all-Big East player this season.

This group isn’t going to awe you or make NBA scouts swoon, but don’t be surprised when they once again win more than 30 games and a Big East regular season title.

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

4. KANSAS: Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk, LaGerald Vick, Sam Cunliffe, Marcus Garrett

At this point, we know what this back court is, or at least what they’re going to be this year, right?

Malik Newman is a former five-star recruit that will probably lead the team in scoring. Devonte’ Graham is the point guard that is finally going to be able to play full-time point guard and looks to be in line for an all-american season. Svi Mykhailiuk is a 20-year old senior that may, finally, live up to his hype this season while LaGerald Vick and Sam Cunliffe are the athletic wings that will space the floor and make plays defensively. The only real unknown is probably Marcus Garrett, and there has been some talk that the 6-foot-5 freshman could end up being better than most realize.

The far more interesting discussion will be with how this group has to play. Specifically, will they be asked to play small-ball again? Kansas, as we discussed in detail here, has a weird roster this year, one that isn’t really built to play with two big men but that lacks the kind of small-ball four that Josh Jackson was last year.

There are questions with this group, but it certainly isn’t talent.

Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview

5. DUKE: Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Trevon Duval, Alex O’Connell, Jordan Tucker

If we’re talking raw talent, I’m not sure that anyone’s back court truly stacks up to Duke’s. We’ve been over this before: Trevon Duval is the No. 1 point guard and a top five prospect in the Class of 2017. Gary Trent Jr. is a top two shooting guard in the class. Alex O’Connell and Jordan Tucker are four-star freshmen.

And then there is Grayson Allen, a much-maligned senior that struggled through last season as he dealt with the fallout of his inability to control his feet and nagging ankle injury. But he’s healthy now, meaning that, in theory, he is back to being the guy that he was as a sophomore, when he averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists while shooting 41 percent from three.

So why is Duke at fifth on this list?

Part of it is their questionable perimeter shooting. Part of it is that there may not be enough shots to go around. But the biggest issue is at the point guard spot, where Trevon Duval is slated to be the guy that finally replaces Tyus Jones. The question is whether or not he is the kind of point guard that can actually do that. Duval has more Derrick Rose in him than Jones. He’s big, he’s athletic and he’s terrific getting downhill, but he’s not a shooter and he has never proven to be the kind of facilitator that Duke will need. Duval may actually be the fifth-best scorer in Duke’s starting lineup. Does he know that?

It’s the same issue that has plagued Duke each of the last two seasons, and I’m just not yet convinced that Duval is the player that is going to solve that equation. If he is, if he lives up to the hype, then I think it is safe to say that this Duke team will be the favorite to win the national title.

And if he is, having then sixth will look almost as silly as having Kentucky’s back court ranked sixth heading into last season.

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

6. USC: Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart, De’Anthony Melton, Jonah Mathews, Chuck O’Bannon Jr., Shaqquan Aaron, Derryck Thornton Jr.

I love USC this season, and much of it has to do with the depth of talent in their back court.

Jordan McLaughlin is one of the most underrated point guards in the country. Elijah Stewart and De’Anthony Melton are two of the better athletes you’ll find on the wing who skillsets – Stewart is a scorer where Melton is a swiss-army knife – compliment each other. Chuck O’Bannon Jr. is a top 40 recruit that will provide quality depth alongside Shaqquan Aaron and Jonah Mathews, while Derryck Thornton Jr. is the ultimate wildcard: A former five-star recruit and a transfer from Duke that didn’t find the fit that he needed at the point.

The Trojans don’t have the star power of some of these other groups, but they have a number of really good, veteran players that understand and excel in their role. That matters.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami

7. XAVIER: Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Elias Harden, Naji Marshall

J.P. Macura is a perennially underrated talent. Quentin Goodin had some promising moments as a freshman at the point. Paul Scruggs, Elias Harden and Naji Marshall are all four-star recruits that will have a varying, but likely significant, impact on the Musketeers.

But the reason that Xavier is ranked this high on this list is the presence of Trevon Bluiett. Bluiett was arguably the best player in the NCAA tournament through the first three rounds last season. Hell, if he didn’t sprain his ankle midway through Big East play last season, he might have been able to play his way into the conversation for the league’s Player of the Year.

Expect more of the same from Bluiett this year.

8. SETON HALL: Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Myles Powell, Myles Cale

Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard has quietly put together one of the best rosters in the country that no one seems to be talking about, and this list doesn’t even include the Hall’s all-american big man Angel Delgado.

As good as this group has a chance to be, it all is really going to come down to the play of Khadeen Carrington. A 6-foot-2 combo-guard, Carrington is going to be tasked with playing the point full-time this season, a change from his role as a go-to scorer over the course of the last two years. Desi Rodriguez has quietly put together a fantastic career, while the Myles’ – Cale and Powell – are promising youngsters that will carry the program when the old guys finally graduate, but none of it will matter if Carrington’s adjustment to a new position doesn’t go well.

Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview
Aaron Holiday (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

9. UCLA: Aaron Holiday, Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes, LiAngelo Ball, Prince Ali, Chris Smith

It’s hard to believe that a team could lose a talent like Lonzo Ball and remain among the best back courts in the country, but that’s exactly what happens when you have a guard as good as Aaron Holiday on the roster.

Holiday and Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham have a lot in common in the sense that they are point guards that are going to be allowed to play the point this season. Holiday will be joined by a pair of five-star prospects in Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, while Prince Ali, a redshirt sophomore, should be ready to chip in this year, but the key may end up being how LiAngelo Ball fits in with this group. Lonzo’s younger brother, Gelo is not on the level of his older brother. How will LaVar react to that?

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami

10. NORTH CAROLINA: Joel Berry II, Jalek Felton, Kenny Williams, Cam Johnson, Seventh Woods

This is going to sound weird, but bear with me: It’s not actually a bad thing that Joel Berry II broke his hand. I’m not even calling it a silver lining. I’m flat-out saying North Carolina will be better in the long-term because of it.

Berry is a senior. He was an all-league player the last two years. He was part of the most heart-breaking national title game loss of all-time and followed that up the next season by winning a national title and Final Four MOP. He’s a winner. He can miss a month and he won’t miss a beat.

But the rest of the guys on this list? Jalek Felton is a freshman. Seventh Woods is a sophomore that barely played. Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson are going to be asked to play bigger roles this season than they have in years passed, while Cam Johnson is a transfer from Pitt trying to learn a new system.

Berry will be out a month. He’ll miss two weeks of games. Those two weeks will allow some of these younger guys to get thrown into the fire in games that, frankly, don’t mean all that much.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Khyri Thomas (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
  • 11. CREIGHTON: Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas, Davion Mintz, Kaleb Joseph, Tyler Clement, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock: Marcus Foster will put up all-american numbers this season and Khyri Thomas may actually be the single-most under-appreciated player in college basketball, but until we know the answer at the point, Creighton will have serious question marks
  • 12. ALABAMA: Collin Sexton, John Petty, Avery Johnson Jr., Dazon Ingram, Ar’mond Davis, Riley Norris: Alabama was top ten nationally in defensive efficiency last season but missed the NCAA tournament because they couldn’t score. So what did Avery Johnson do? Oh, he went and signed Collin Sexton, the best scorer in this high school class.
  • 13. KENTUCKY: Hamidou Diallo, Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jemarl Baker: Like Alabama, this Kentucky team should end up being one of the nation’s best defensive back courts. Unlike Alabama, they don’t have a scorer of the ilk of Collin Sexton. The other issue: Who is going to make jump shots?
  • 14. LOUISVILLE: Quentin Snider, Deng Adel, Dwayne Sutton, V.J. King, Darius Perry: Deng Adel is going to have a chance to prove he can carry a team and Quentin Snider is back for what feels like his 17th season, but the key to this Louisville group is V.J. King. Can he take the ‘Donovan Mitchell leap’ if Rick Pitino is not coaching?
  • 15. NOTRE DAME: Matt Farrell, Temple Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, D.J. Harvey: Matt Farrell was one of the most improved players in the country last season. I fully expect both Temple Gibbs and Rex Pflueger to take a similar leap, while D.J. Harvey is talented enough to have an immediate impact.
MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team
Matt Farrell (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
  • 16. MICHIGAN STATE: Cassius Winston, Josh Langford, Matt McQuaid, Tum Tum Nairn, Kyle Aherns: The Spartans team is the toughest to rank on this list. Based on last year, they don’t deserve to be on this list. But the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. Right, Cassius Winston and Josh Langford?
  • 17. MINNESOTA: Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Isaiah Washington, Amir Coffey: Nate Mason is a criminally underrated point guard. Dupree McBrayer and Isaiah Washington are both talented, but the x-factor is Amir Coffey. He’s a versatile wing that lets Richard Pitino play with different looks.
  • 18. ST. JOHN’S: Shamorie Ponds, Marcus Lovett Jr., Justin Simon: I was torn on where to rank this group, but the bottom-line is this: Ponds and Lovett are going to be a nightmare for opponents to defend on a nightly basis.
  • 19. NORTHWESTERN: Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law, Isiah Brown, Jordan Ash, Anthony Gaines: After getting to the NCAA tournament for the first time in the history of the program, the Wildcats bring back basically everyone, including stars Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey.
  • 20. YALE: Makai Mason, Miye Oni, Trey Phills, Alex Copeland: Laugh if you want, but Makai Mason has already committed to Baylor for his grad transfer season and Miye Oni, just a sophomore, has attracted NBA scouts to New Haven. Should I mention Alex Copeland actually led the team in scoring last season?

NBC Sports Top 25: Kentucky beats Tennessee as injuries abound

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The big talking point this week comes with Kentucky’s win over Tennessee, which came just four days after Kentucky lost at home to LSU.

I wrote all about the top five battle on Saturday. Without taking anything away from what Kentucky did, I think that the way that game played out had as much to do with situation — Kentucky, at home, coming off a brutal loss against a team that hadn’t been tested in two months — and matchup as it did with what each of those two teams are.

Put another way, I still buy the idea that this Tennessee team can win it all, just like I still believe Virginia can win it all despite losing to Duke twice in the last month.

Beyond that, the toughest thing to do with ranking teams this week was figure out what to do about injuries. I dropped Michigan State to No. 17 because it appears that they have lost Nick Ward for an extended period of time. The Spartans were not all that talented to begin with and now they are down their top two scorers. I also dropped Kansas State over the uncertainty surrounding Dean Wade’s health. If he’s not 100 percent — and if Cartier Diarra isn’t playing — then Kansas State is a bad basketball team offensively.

Anyway, here is the rest of the top 25:

1. Duke (23-2, Last Week: 1)
2. Gonzaga (25-2, 3)
3. Virginia (22-2, 4)
4. Kentucky (21-4, 5)
5. Tennessee (23-2, 2)
6. Michigan (23-3, 6)
7. North Carolina (20-5, 7)
8. Marquette (21-4, 9)
9. Nevada (24-1, 11)
10. Iowa State (19-6, 15)
11. Texas Tech (21-5, 16)
12. Houston (25-1, 13)
13. Kansas (20-6, 17)
14. Villanova (20-6, 10)
15. LSU (21-4, 20)
16. Purdue (18-7, 12)
17. Michigan State (21-5, 8)
18. Virginia Tech (20-5, 18)
19. Kansas State (19-6, 14)
20. Wisconsin (17-8, 19)
21. Louisville (18-8, 21)
22. Iowa (20-5, 22)
23. Buffalo (22-3, 23)
24. Florida State (20-5, 24)
25. Wofford (23-4, 25)

Dropped Out: None
New Additions: None

St. John’s rallies from 14-point deficit to stun No. 13 Villanova

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NEW YORK (AP) — A 70-foot shot just before halftime gave St. John’s momentum, and LJ Figueroa and the Red Storm used a strong defensive effort in the second half to surprise No. 13 Villanova.

Figueroa scored 22 points and St. John’s rallied to beat the Wildcats 71-65 on Sunday night. It was the first win for the Red Storm at Madison Square Garden against Villanova in 17 years, and they accomplished the feat in front of an energetic sellout crowd of nearly 20,000 fans.

“It was as loud as I can remember, maybe louder,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said. “I’m happy for them they got to experience that too. There’s nothing like that. There are some great places to play college basketball, but when you get a full Madison Square Garden against a championship team like Villanova there’s nothing like that. It’s awesome. It helped us. It kept us in the game and took us to another level.”

Trailing by 17 late in the first half, the Red Storm scored the final six points, including Justin Simon’s shot from the opposite 3-point line that banked in just before the buzzer and made it 37-26.

“We were screaming the whole way into the locker room,” said Mustapha Heron, who added 19 points. “We had to do it on the defensive end (in the second half).”

The Red Storm (19-7, 7-6 Big East) were down 48-34 with 12:30 left. They scored 20 of the next 25 points to take their first lead on Figueroa’s 3-pointer from the corner.

During that run, Villanova coach Jay Wright was hit with a technical foul for arguing a call.

“Their half-court defense went to another level after they pressed us and the crowd got going,” Wright said. “We had it to 11-12 in the second half there and they started pressing us. They got that turnover at half court and we got the technical that really got them going. That was the turning point in the game.”

The teams traded the lead over the next few minutes before Figueroa hit another 3-pointer that gave the Red Storm a 58-57 advantage with 3:12 left and started an 8-0 run.

The Red Storm led 63-57 with 50 seconds left when Villanova’s Phil Booth was fouled shooting a 3-pointer. He made two free throws to get the Wildcats within four.

That’s as close as they could get as St. John’s converted its free throws down the stretch to complete the biggest comeback since the team rallied from a 20-point deficit against DePaul in 2010.

Joe Cremo scored 14 points for Villanova (20-6, 11-2), and Eric Paschall added 11 points and 14 rebounds.

“It was a tale of two halves,” Wright said. “We were really dominant in the first half, the second half they matched up the intensity.”

The game was a little bit of revenge for the Red Storm, who lost to Villanova by five after blowing an 11-point second-half lead on Jan. 8.

The Wildcats jumped all over the Red Storm early on, outscoring them 29-10 over the first 12 minutes. During that stretch, the Red Storm went without a basket for 7:39.

Bubble Banter: All of the weekend’s bubble action in one spot

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There is now just under a month left in conference play, so it is time for us to go all-in on the “who’s-in-who’s-out” discussion. Bubble Banter has never been more important!

Some quick housekeeping before we dive into it:

  • This page will be updated throughout the weekend, so be sure to check back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the games get played. 
  • We’ll update them best that we can, but the NET rankings will be accurate through Friday morning. 
  • If you see something we missed, if you have an issue with a team we left out or if you want to congratulate us on a job well done, drop a comment below or hit us up here: @RobDauster.
  • The cut-off we will be using this year for teams that are “on the bubble” is the No. 9 seed line. If your favorite team is seeded as a No. 9 or better in our most recent bracket, they will not be discussed below. This does not mean that those teams are locks, but it means they need to do something dumb before they are in danger of missing out on the tournament. 
  • On Thursday, our Dave Ommen released an updated bracket, and these eight teams were placed in an 8-9 game: Buffalo, Alabama, Baylor, Syracuse, St. John’s, Auburn, Washington and TCU.

Onto the weekend’s action.

WINNERS

OKLAHOMA (NET: 41, SOS: 12): The Sooners finally snapped a five-game losing streak by going into Fort Worth and picking off TCU, 71-62. I still think that the Sooners are in a tough spot as it stands, but they now how four Q1 wins and just one loss to a team outside the top 35 in the NET — at West Virginia (115), a Q2 loss. A 4-8 mark against Q1 is not great, and neither is their 16-10 record or 4-9 mark in the Big 12, but OU does have three more shots at Q1 wins, and that doesn’t count Texas at home. Their bid is in their hands.

SETON HALL (NET: 61, SOS: 36): Seton Hall may have just about punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament on Sunday afternoon. They landed their third Q1 win of the season by going into Omaha and picking off Creighton (59), but making it all the more impressive is the fact that their first two Q1 wins came against Kentucky (6) on a neutral and at Maryland (21). They do have three unimpressive losses — they were swept by DePaul (91) and lost at home to Saint Louis (123) — but they are now 10-7 against Q1 and Q2 opponents. They end the season like this: Xavier (104), at St. John’s (49), at Georgetown (79), Marquette (20), Villanova (19). Win three more games and they’re in. Win two more and they’re probably feeling pretty good.

MINNESOTA (NET: 58, SOS: 60): The Golden Gophers got screwed on a bad foul call in the final seconds of a loss on Wednesday night, which cost them a Q1 win. They bounced back by absolutely humiliating Indiana at home, a win that won’t carry quite as much weight on Selection Sunday but that will keep the Gophers heading in the right direction. I personally think Minnesota is in really good shape right now given their win at Wisconsin and a win over Washington on a neutral. The 3-7 record in Q1 games isn’t ideal, but their worst loss is only a Q2 loss at Boston College. They close the season like this: Michigan (8), at Rutgers (118), at Northwestern (72), Purdue (11), at Maryland (21). If they go 3-2 in that stretch, they’re dancing, and 2-3 might even be enough to get the job done.

FLORIDA (NET: 42, SOS: 43): The Gators are not going to let us quit them. They picked up their best win of the season on Saturday, going into Tuscaloosa and pounding Alabama (45). That’s just Florida’s second Q1 win of the season. They are now 2-9 against Q1 opponents with a Q3 home loss to South Carolina in the mix. Their 14-11 overall record is not good, and their metrics are floated by the fact that they’ve played a lot of good teams close. Mike White’s team still has some ground to make up, but with two games against LSU (14) and a trip to Kentucky (6) on the schedule, they’ll have chances.

NEBRASKA (NET: 40, SOS: 70): I just can’t quit you, Nebraska. The Cornhuskers won their second straight game on Saturday, adding another Q2 win by picking off Northwestern (72) at home. I know that they lost seven straight earlier this year, but the Huskers are now 8-11 in Q1 and Q2 games with a pair of Q1 road wins. That’s enough to keep them in the mix, and with a schedule that is just absolutely brutal in the final three weeks of the season — at Penn State (70), Purdue (11), at Michigan (8), at Michigan State (7), Iowa (28) — they’ll get five more chances to notch Q1 wins.

WOFFORD (NET: 28, SOS: 167): Wofford absolutely beat the brakes off of the second-best team in the SoCon, UNC Greensboro. They won by 30 points. It’s not a Q1 win because it’s at home, but it is their fourth Q2 win to go along with a 2-4 mark against Q1. As long as the Terriers avoid losing at Chattanooga and at Samford, they are an at-large team in my mind. A 15-0 league record against a conference with more top 60 NET teams than the Pac-12 deserves to get in.

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 72, SOS: 67): Arizona State has one of the strangest resumes in college hoops this season. They are 4-1 in Q1 games and have another Q2 win at UCLA (107). But they’ve lost four Q3 games — Princeton (90), Utah (101), at USC (145), at Vanderbilt (189) — and that doesn’t court their worst loss of the year, at home to Washington State (230) by 21 points.

TEMPLE (NET: 55, SOS: 58): Here is the catch-22 for life on the bubble: Entering Saturday, Temple winning at USF (76) would have been a Q1 win. The Owls went out and they beat the Bulls in overtime. The problem? That loss dropped USF to 76th in the NET, meaning that it is now a Q2 win and Temple’s resume is still a win over Houston (5) and not much else. The reality is that won’t matter all that much. The committee will take into account that winning South Florida, whether it’s Q1 or Q2, is not a game-changer, which is why I’m still of the mindset that Temple needs to win at least four of their final five regular season games and avoid an AAC tournament loss to one of the teams at the bottom of the league.

BUTLER (NET: 53, SOS: 25): The Bulldogs beat DePaul on Saturday night, getting the win they needed to set themselves up for a shot at an at-large. Butler plays at Marquette on Wednesday and at Villanova in two weeks. With just one Q1 win to date, Butler might need to get both to really feel comfortable.

VCU (NET: 43, SOS: 40): The Rams were up by 22 points at Dayton (82) early in the second half and blew the lead, but thanks to a late Marcus Evans bucket, they were able to get out of Dayton Arena with a win. The win at Texas (35) continues to look better and better, a 3-2 mark against Q2 teams is solid and with just one bad loss — a Q3 home loss to Charleston (113) — the Rams are the Atlantic 10’s best chance at an at-large.

BELMONT (NET: 60, SOS: 166): For the Bruins to have a chance at an at-large, they need to win out and lost to Murray State and only Murray State in the OVC tournament. On Saturday night, they smacked around Tennessee Tech. So far so good.

UTAH STATE (NET: 38, SOS: 126): The Aggies probably couldn’t afford a loss to Air Force, and they did what they needed to win — win. There are two things that Utah State needs to do in they truly want to get an at-large bid to the tournament: 1. Beat Nevada at home, and 2. Hope that Fresno State cracks the top 75 in the NET. If they two, that’s one less Q3 loss and one more Q1 win on their resume.

UCF (NET: 45, SOS: 83): UCF won against Memphis in Orlando, which gives them a sixth Q2 win but doesn’t do much to change the biggest flaw in their profile: A total lack of Q1 wins. The Knights play at Cincinnati on Thursday. That will be the game-changer.

TEXAS (NET: 35, SOS: 6): The Longhorns did what they needed to do on Saturday, knocking off Oklahoma State in Austin to avoid picking up their second Q3 loss of the year. The Longhorns are now 15-11 overall and just 7-6 in the Big 12, but they have the No. 6 SOS and No. 11 non-conference SOS nationally. Combine that with a neutral court win over UNC (9), home wins over Purdue (11) and Kansas (18) and a win at Kansas State (26), and the Longhorns are in a pretty good spot.

LIPSCOMB (NET: 30, SOS: 188): Losing to a three-win Kennesaw State team would have been a dream-killer for the Bisons. They won and live to fight another day.

LOSERS

N.C. STATE (NET: 37, SOS: 239): The Wolfpack lost at Duke on Saturday, which is what we all expected to see happen. The chink in N.C. State’s armor is that they played the worst non-conference schedule in the country, and when combined with A) just one Q1 win and B) a Q3 loss, Kevin Keatts is not in a place where he can feel comfortable yet. The most troubling part: N.C. State’s season ends like this: Boston College, Wake Forest, at Florida State, Georgia Tech, at Boston College. They have one Q1 opportunity left. They really, really need to win it.

UNC GREENSBORO (NET: 46, SOS: 191): The Spartans were whipped at Wofford, losing by 30 to the SoCon leaders. It’s their second loss this week and probably takes them out of serious bubble consideration. We’ll keep them around, but they’re probably not going to have enough good wins.

ARKANSAS (NET: 63, SOS: 45): I don’t get the appeal of Arkansas as a bubble team. They won at LSU, which is nice, but that is their only Q1 win in seven tries and they are 3-10 against Q1 and Q2 opponents. They’ve also lost at home to both Georgia Tech (118) and Western Kentucky (121), which are Q3 losses. What is the appeal here? What am I missing?

INDIANA (NET: 49, SOS: 36): Indiana is off the bubble at this point. They went into Minnesota and got absolutely poleaxed. The Hoosiers have now lost 10 of their last 11 games to fall to 13-12 on the season and 4-10 in the Big Ten. If they can somehow find a way to put together a winning streak late in the year, they have some great wins — at Michigan State (7), Louisville (16), Marquette (20) — and no bad losses, but that feels like saying if I can lose 30 pounds and get my six pack back I could be an underwear model.

CLEMSON (NET: 42, SOS: 33): The Tigers had a shot to land their second Q1 win of the season, but after erasing and eight point lead in the final minute and forcing a turnover with 3.5 seconds left, the Tigers had a layup blocked with that would have won the game. The result doesn’t really hurt their profile other than the opportunity cost — this is the kind of win that, on this year’s bubble, can jump Clemson up four or five spots in the seed list. That’s a tough miss.

No. 11 Michigan State’s win over Ohio State overshadowed by Nick Ward injury

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No. 11 Michigan State used a 20-2 run over the course of the final eight minutes on Saturday afternoon, sending Ohio State back to Columbus with a 62-44 loss to keep pace with Purdue and Michigan atop the Big Ten standings, but no one is going to be talking about that today.

They’re going to be talking about Nick Ward.

The 6-foot-9 junior center for the Spartans emerged from halftime with his left hand — shooting hand — heavily bandaged and played just four second half minutes because of the injury. Michigan State announced after the game that Ward suffered a hairline fracture in his left hand towards the end of the first half. The injury occurred when Ward hit his hand on the rim, a source close to the program said.

Michigan State is already down their second-best scorer with Josh Langford injured. Losing Ward would mean losing their best low-post scorer and a guy that gets them a couple of easy buckets every night because of his ability to run the floor and the way Cassius Winston can find him in transition.

With Langford out of commission, Michigan State is going to have a tough enough time with Michigan in two of their last four game.

Without Ward?

It’s hard to see the Spartans winning much if Ward cannot return in time for the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

Saturday’s Things To Know: Barrett shines, Kentucky rolls, Kansas’ time is a flat circle

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: R.J. Barrett, Duke

Barrett has been something of a disappointment this season considering what the expectations for him were coming into the year. He was the No. 1 prospect in the class, the guy we thought was going to the No. 1 pick, and he’s been … just an all-american?

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, I guess.

One of the knocks on Barrett throughout the year has been that he can be too selfish and that he’s an inefficient gunner. Well, on Saturday, as Zion Williamson poured in 32 points while battling foul trouble in a 94-78 win over N.C. State, Barrett completed just the fourth triple-double in the history of the Duke program. He had 23 points (8-for-16 shooting), 11 boards and 10 assists, and he did it without committing a turnover.

Not bad.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Kentucky Wildcats

No. 5 Kentucky smacked around the No. 1 team in the country on Saturday, beating Tennessee, 86-69, in Lexington. It was their ceiling game. We wrote 1,000 words all about it here.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Joe Wieskamp, Iowa

After Geo Baker hit a go-ahead three with 3.3 seconds left, Iowa answered with one of the wildest shots of the season. Check this out:

EXTRA ONIONS: David Jenkins, South Dakota State

Jenkins capped off a comeback from 17 points down in the second half as the Jackrabbits knocked off North Dakota State with a buzzer-beater from halfcourt:

WINNERS

MICHIGAN: The Wolverines kept a hold on first place in the Big Ten race by rolling over No. 24 Maryland in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

AVERY BENSON AND ANDREW SORRELLS: No. 15 Texas Tech steam-rolled another Big 12 opponent on Saturday, beating Baylor by 25 points. And while the win didn’t make all that much noise, Texas Tech did make some headlines thanks to a pair of walk-ons who through an alley-oop in the final seconds of a blowout win. Chris Beard was not happy:

My take?

Whatever the punishment ends up being — the suicides, the wall-sits, whatever it is — it was worth it. Walk-ons only get so many shots at glory. If you have a chance to throw a lob or catch a lob and dunk it as a walk-on, you take it. Those two already are legends on campus.

Like I said, it was worth it.

LSU: The Tigers hung on to beat Georgia on the road, their second road win of the week. This is significant because Kentucky knocked off Tennessee on Saturday as well, and that Wildcat win means that LSU is now tied with Tennessee for first place in the league standings. The best news? Four of LSU’s final six games are at home, including hosting a game against the Vols. And the Vols also have to play Kentucky against. Is … is LSU the odds-on favorite to win the SEC now?

LOSERS

INDIANA: This has to be rock bottom for the Hoosiers, right?

Not only have they now lost 10 out of their last 11 games, but this loss was a total and complete humiliation. The Hoosiers lost by 21 points at Minnesota. They trailed by as many as 30. With an NCAA tournament bid still up in the air, Indiana played as if they didn’t even want to make the trip up to Minneapolis. This has not been the sophomore season that Archie Miller wanted.

DEAN WADE’S FOOT: No. 18 Kansas State lost to No. 23 Iowa State at home on Saturday, which cost them the cushion they had in the Big 12 title race, but that might not be their biggest loss of the day. Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Dean Wade suffered another foot injury. It does not appear to be all that serious, but for a guy that has missed long stretches of each of the last two seasons with foot injuries, everything is serious.

CLEMSON: The Tigers lost their second straight game in demoralizing fashion on Saturday. Against Louisville, the Tigers erased a seven point deficit in less than 15 seconds and, with 3.5 seconds left in a one-point game, forced a turnover and had two shots two win it at the buzzer. Spoiler alert: They didn’t. On Wednesday, it was Miami — one of the worst teams in the ACC — hitting a last-second jumper that bounced off the backboard twice before going in. There’s only a bid to the NCAA tournament on the line here.

FINAL THOUGHT

Kansas is always going to find a way to win the Big 12.

Right?

I mean, it’s proven to be true for 14 straight years, regardless of what disaster or obstacle gets put in their way.

And after what transpired on Saturday, it looks like we’re heading down that same road again.

Kansas State entered the day holding a two game lead in the loss column in the league title race. But they lost at home to Iowa State and, in the process, lost Dean Wade. The injury does not appear to be serious, but it does appear to be something that will, at the very least, bother him for a little while. We know what Kansas State is without Wade on the floor at 100 percent (not very good), which opens the door for Kansas.

The standings, as of today, look like this:

  • Kansas State (9-3)
  • Texas Tech (9-4)
  • Kansas (9-4)
  • Iowa State (8-4)

Kansas still has to play at Texas Tech next Saturday in the game that appears to be the most likely to keep Kansas from calling themselves Big 12 champions one again. The Jayhawks also host Kansas State while Texas Tech pays a visit to Iowa State on the last day of the regular season.

Those are the games that will decide the Big 12 regular season title.

And despite starting four freshmen, one of whom was supposed to redshirt this season, while playing without Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett and Lagerald Vick, Kansas is very much in the thick of the race.

One win in Lubbock next week, and they might even be the favorites.

Someone once told me, time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re going to do over and over and over again.