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College Basketball’s Best Frontcourts

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

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Miles Bridges (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

1. MICHIGAN STATE: Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Jaren Jackson Jr., Gavin Schilling, Kenny Goins, Ben Carter, Xavier Tillman

With a chance for a special season, Michigan State had so many unique things come together to form one of the best frontcourts in recent memory. The return of Miles Bridges for his sophomore season was a major surprise in college basketball as the leading preseason Player of the Year candidate will have to play more at the three this season.

That should be fine for Bridges, who utilizes mismatches wherever thanks to his powerful athleticism. As long as his perimeter jumper is consistent then there should be no issues. Sophomore Nick Ward is also back as the bruising big man isn’t afraid to mix it up with anybody on the interior. Complementing Bridges and Ward should be the five-star freshman Jackson as he can shoot with range while also defending the rim and rebounding at a high level.

And then the Spartans also got lucky with returning depth. After Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter missed last season due to injury, both are back for their senior seasons as they bring a lot of experience. Schilling has already been a starter for Sparty on some great teams while Carter is a graduate transfer from UNLV who provides additional depth. Kenny Goins also got minutes when Michigan State was really depleted last season as he adds to the absurd amount of talent. Even if Michigan State sustains an injury or has a player go through a slump, they’ll have another player to step up and contribute.

2. KENTUCKY: Wenyen Gabriel, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards, P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Tai Wynyard

This group features an astounding six former five-star prospects and a ton of upside at multiple spots on the floor. Gabriel is the elder statesman of the group as far as experience is concerned as he will need to improve his offense after being inconsistent as a shooter last season.

From there, this will be a group mostly dominated by (surprise, surprise) freshmen. The 6-foot-7 Knox is perhaps Kentucky’s best NBA prospect as he has the athleticism to be a major factor this season. The issue with Knox is that he’ll probably be forced to play at the three when he might be more ideally suited to be a small-ball four in college with his inconsistent perimeter shot.

In fact, shooting is the major issue for this Kentucky frontcourt (and team in general in 2017-18). Richards and Washington are both very good athletes who should be productive close to the hoop, but they won’t provide floor spacing. Other teams will likely try to pack it in against the Wildcats, and SEC teams with deep frontcourts like Texas A&M and Georgia will pose as intriguing matchups in that regard.

Vanderbilt’s health could also be a big factor since he is the best with the ball in his hands among the group. If Vanderbilt plays for Kentucky this season, it’s just adding to a wealth of riches on both ends.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Deandre Ayton (Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami

3. ARIZONA: Deandre Ayton, Dusan Ristic, Keanu Pinder, Emmanuel Akot, Ira Lee

Considering that Arizona also has the No. 1 backcourt entering this season and you can see why fans in Tucson are so excited for this season. The big key will be Ayton. It’s pretty safe to assume that Ristic can remain productive and that Pinder will be an energy guy off the bench.

But which version of Ayton will we see? Rated as the No. 1 player in the country for much of his high school career, most of the freshman chatter seems to be centered on Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. and Duke’s Marvin Bagley when it comes to potential No. 1 picks. If Ayton plays motivated and capable he’ll put his name in that conversation. College basketball hasn’t seen many 7-footers with the athleticism and skill of Ayton. His level of play all depends on his motor and how Ayton reacts when the Wildcat guards freeze him out for possessions at a time to get their own shots.

Akot and Lee are also touted freshmen who could make their way into the rotation. The late addition of the 6-foot-7 Akot was particularly intriguing as he could give the second unit a huge boost with his athleticism and versatility.

4. DUKE: Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier

With two potential lottery picks and another former five-star center, the Blue Devils will be a fascinating group to check out this season. Adding Bagley, a freshman who doubles as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, in August gave the Blue Devils the No. 1 preseason ranking in the eyes of many. Bagley is one of the best prospects coming out of high school in the last decade as he’s a truly elite leaper and athlete to go along with a polished skill level.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Marvin Bagley III (Reagan Lunn/Duke Athletics)

Combining Bagley with Carter — another highly-touted top-ten prospect — is going to be the fascinating thing to watch. Neither Bagley nor Carter are known for being able to knock down perimeter jumpers with consistency and Coach K has also been hesitant to allow some of his big men to shoot with range in the past. Carter and Bagley will be able to defend and rebound at a high level but this Duke team’s greatest weakness could be floor spacing and perimeter shooting.

And where does Bolden fall into the equation? Once thought of as a potential lottery pick, Bolden was injured right before his freshman season and found himself in the doghouse much of the year. There was an offseason report of Bolden even transferring that turned out to be false. So how does Bolden feel now that Bagley swooped in and took a lot of his minutes right before school started? Hopefully it motivates Bolden to try to earn back playing time but there is the potential that this backfires and Bolden loses all of his confidence and desire to play.

5. TEXAS A&M: Robert Williams, Tyler Davis, D.J. Hogg, Tonny Trocha-Morelos, Isiah Jasey, John Walker

It could be a mistake ranking Texas A&M this low. The combination of Williams, Davis and Hogg has a chance to be the nation’s best starting frontcourts this season because of how the three combine together. Williams is the major NBA prospect thanks to his ridiculous leaping ability. Showing more offensive polish than many knew he had, Williams was a breakout player last season who could emerge as a top-ten pick.

The junior duo of Davis and Hogg have been together since they played for the Texas Titans in the Nike EYBL as their inside-outside combination can be tough to stop. Looking more nimble this summer after getting in even better shape, Davis is still a load to handle for any post defender as he’ll be one of the few big men in college hoops who should command a double team. Hogg has great size on the wing as a shooter but he has to get a bit more efficient to truly reach his ceiling.

Trocha-Morelos also started 27 games and logged heavy minutes last season, as the senior just gives the Aggies even more size to contend with on the interior. Now armed with guards who can do a better job of working the ball inside, Texas A&M has the talent in place to be a major force this season.

6. USC: Chimezie Metu, Bennie Boatwright, Nick Rakocevic, Jordan Usher

The Trojans don’t have as much depth as many of the teams on this list but it’s hard to argue with a starting frontcourt that could both leave a year early for the 2018 NBA Draft. Metu was one of college basketball’s breakout players last season as he put together a great campaign on both ends of the floor.

Boatwright wasn’t healthy for all of last season, but his perimeter stroke is a perfect compliment to Metu’s game and the two collectively do a solid job on the glass and defending the interior. If both Boatwright and Metu stay healthy and play the full season together, USC has a very high ceiling for this season thanks to an experienced backcourt that should know how to get these guys the ball.

Depth is the big question mark. Rakocevic was serviceable during his freshman year but he wasn’t more than a role player while Usher is a freshman. Don’t be surprised to also see the Trojans experiment with some small-ball lineups with some bigger wings at the four if foul trouble or injuries arise.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

7. SETON HALL: Angel Delgado, Ismael Sanogo, Michael Nzei

Angel Delgado is the reason the Pirates are this high on the frontcourt list. When one player can single-handedly control the glass while potentially scoring 20 points every night, it’s a pretty big deal. Delgado was overshadowed by Caleb Swanigan’s impressive season at Purdue but the Seton Hall big man was throwing up double-doubles nearly every single game. Delgado also improved enough as a passer out of double teams that he just missed a triple-double in the Big East Tournament last season.

Besides for Delgado, Sanogo and Nzei are serviceable upperclassmen who both started at least 14 games each last season. Sanogo is effective as a second player on the glass if Delgado happens to miss a rebound while Nzei is content being a role player who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.

8. CINCINNATI: Gary Clark, Kyle Washington, Tre Scott, Nysier Brooks, Mamadou Diarra

It always seems like Cincinnati gets left out of too many national conversations but this group is definitely worth discussing. Clark is one of the nation’s better frontcourt defenders, a former AAC Defensive Player of the Year who can also be productive on offense. If Clark’s perimeter shooting becomes a bit more consistent then he could be up for a monster senior season.

The addition of Washington last season brought the Bearcats to a whole new level. At 6-foot-9 and with the ability to protect the rim and space the floor with jumpers, Washington was Cincinnati’s second-leading scorer and rebounder last season as he helps immensely on both ends of the floor.

Reserves Tre Scott and Nysier Brooks are both big bodies who earned some run last season while the late signing of  Diarra, a former Washington commit, could also prove beneficial for the Bearcat frontcourt rotation.

9. LOUISVILLE: Raymond Spalding, Anas Mahmoud, Malik Williams, Lance Thomas, Jordan Nwora

The numbers these guys put up won’t jump out at you but not many frontcourts create as many issues on the defensive end as Louisville. Spalding is a maddening player to watch on a nightly basis because you don’t know what to expect from him. Some games, Spalding is the long-and-active defender who seems to be everywhere in a press or a zone. Other games he barely registers a blip on the box score. Offensively, Spalding gets lost in the shuffle way too frequently. But he also has the upside to be a major breakout player if he puts everything together.

At center, Mahmoud is an above average defender and rim protector who also shoots a high percentage. His big problem is that he’s never played heavy minutes and his skinny frame might not be up for banging in the post for extended minutes every game. Thankfully, the Cardinals brought in a five-star center in Malik Williams, who should be able to fill some of Mangok Mathiang’s minutes. Williams is talented enough to space the floor a bit and he moves very well for his size.

Two other talented freshman, Lance Thomas and Jordan Nwora, probably would not have seen a lot of time if Rick Pitino was still coaching but it’s hard to say how new head coach David Padgett will utilize freshmen.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Markis McDuffie (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

10. WICHITA STATE: Markis McDuffie, Shaquille Morris, Zach Brown, Rashard Kelly, Darral Willis Jr., Rauno Nurger

McDuffie’s health will be the main thing to monitor, since he’ll miss time early in the season, but the Shockers have some insane depth coming back. The group admittedly lacks star power with McDuffie out, but the other five players on the list are all seniors who averaged at least 14 minutes per game last season. Not many teams in the country can match that kind of depth and experience in the frontcourt. Wichita State can just wear you down with body after body.  It’s part of the reason why many have pegged the Shockers to hit the ground running in the American.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Reid Travis (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
  • 11. STANFORD: Reid Travis, Michael Humphrey, Josh Sharma, Oscar da Silva, Kezie Okpala, Kodye Pugh: Former McDonald’s All-American Reid Travis is finally living up to the hype after staying healthy as he’s a darkhorse Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate. Humphrey is a rock-solid senior who is productive at times as a scorer while the depth of Sharma can give more some center minutes. If one of the three freshmen of da Silva, Okpala or Pugh can help then this could be a deep unit.
  • 12. GEORGIA: Yante Maten, Derek Ogbeide, Mike Edwards, E’Torrion Wilridge, Pape Diatta, Rayshaun Hammonds: Maten is one of college basketball’s most underappreciated players as he could be an All-American with a big season. Junior rebounding machine Ogbeide also returns and Edwards, Wilridge and Diatta were all solid role players last season. Hammonds, a four-star recruit, might force his way into the rotation as well. This frontcourt is way deeper than people give them credit for.
  • 13. PURDUE: Vincent Edwards, Isaac Haas, Jacquil Taylor, Matt Haarms, Aaron Wheeler: The loss of Biggie Swanigan will loom large but the Boilermakers have two productive seniors back in Edwards and Haas. Edwards can do a bit of everything in the frontcourt while the 7-foot-2 Haas remains a matchup nightmare. Taylor needs to stay healthy to crack the rotation while Haarms and Wheeler are freshmen who could contribute.
  • 14. SAINT MARY’S: Jock Landale, Calvin Hermanson, Evan Fitzner, Jordan Hunter, Jock Perry: Do yourself a favor and stay up late to watch this group play. Landale is a joy to watch if you like post production as he’s a threat to hit 20 points and a double-double on any given night. Hermanson and Fitzner both provide valuable floor spacing and solid overall production. If one of the Australian centers in Hunter or Perry can give a boost then less will be asked of Landale.
  • 15. TEXAS: Mohamed Bamba, Dylan Osetkowski, James Banks, Royce Hamm, Jericho Sims: A lot of new faces for the Longhorns up front led by a potential lottery pick in Bamba. Osetkowski steps in from Tulane as he should make a difference right away on both ends while the Longhorns need some of their young bigs to step up. Banks has potential but wasn’t very productive as a freshman while Hamm and Sims were a pair of top-100 prospects that Smart recruited with Bamba.
Mohamed Bamba, Jon Lopez/Nike
  • 16. MINNESOTA: Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Bakary Konate, Michael Hurt, Davonte Fitzgerald: The Gophers return the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in Lynch, a shot-blocking machine, as he leads a strong unit. Murphy is another starter who is an all-Big Ten candidate as he can score and help on the glass a bit. Konate is a reserve center with experience while Hurt could be a floor spacer with added strength. Fitzgerald is the wild card after missing the past two seasons (transfer redshirt followed by injury).
  • 17. VILLANOVA: Omari Spellman, Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall, Dylan Painter, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Jermaine Samuels: We were robbed of seeing a talented Villanova team with Spellman last season as the redshirt freshman gives the Wildcats a legitimate post scorer who can draw double teams. Bridges and Paschall are both back to be defensive menaces with their length and ability to move all over. Painter has played enough to know what he’s doing.
  • 18. IOWA: Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl, Nicholas Baer, Dom Uhl, Ahmad Wagner, Ryan Kriener, Luka Garza, Jack Nunge: There isn’t one star player on this deep and intriguing unit but Cook has a chance to be a breakout player during his sophomore season. The first five players on this list all played at least 15 minutes per game each last season while Kriener could still crack the rotation as a shooter. Garza and Nunge are a pair of 6-foot-11 freshmen who add size and rebounding.
  • 19. NEVADA: Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Darien Williams, Elijah Foster: The return of Mountain West Player of the Year candidate Jordan Caroline alone was enough to warrant mention for this list but the depth added from transfers Caleb and Cody Martin (N.C. State) and Darien Williams (St. John’s) gives the Wolfpack a big lift. Elijah Foster, previously suspended last season, could also have a big year.
  • 20. OREGON STATE: Tres Tinkle, Drew Eubanks, Gligorije Rakocevic, Ben Kone, Seth Burger: The return of Tres Tinkle is the key to this underrated group. The duo of Tinkle and junior center Drew Eubanks could be among the most productive frontcourts in the country. Rakocevic and Kone have also given solid minutes while Burger adds to the rotation as a graduate transfer from UMass.

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.”

RELATED: NBC SPORT’S LATEST BRACKETOLOGY

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.