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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.

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: 4)

VIRGINIA (NET: 55, NBC: 10): The Wahoos have now won three in a row and six of their last seven after picking off Boston College (143) at home. They have three Quad 1 wins and an 8-6 mark against the top two Quads with home dates left against Duke (6) and Louisville (10). They can’t afford slip-ups, and could really use four or five more wins before Selection Sunday. But Virginia is starting to make much better, and as of today they are in a pretty good spot.

N.C. STATE (NET: 52, NBC: 11): The Wolfpack are easily the biggest bubble winners of the week, as they blew out Duke (6) at home on Wednesday. It’s the fifth Quad 1 win for Kevin Keatts — they’ve also beaten Wisconsin (29) at home and three sub-50 teams on the road — to go along with an 8-6 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 two of the three Quad 3 losses — Georgia Tech (81) and North Carolina (94) at home.


AMERICAN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Houston (NBC: 8)

WICHITA STATE (NET: 42, NBC: 10): Wichita State is up to three straight wins after handling South Florida (113) at home on Thursday. They have beaten VCU (49) and Oklahoma (46) at home, and they don’t have any truly terrible losses, but with just three potential Quad 1 games left on their schedule — all of which are on the road — the Shockers need to get hot, and soon. I think they need to win two of at Cincinnati (56), at SMU (75) and at Memphis (63)

MEMPHIS (NET: 63, NBC: Next four out): Memphis is hanging on by a thread right now, but they are still alive after knocking off a bad East Carolina (208) team at home. Memphis has just one Quad 1 win and they don’t have a win over a team inside the top 50; their best win is Cincinnati (56) at home. Throw in a pair of Quad 3 losses, and the Tigers have plenty of work to do. The good news? They still get two games against Houston (26), a trip to SMU (75) and a home date with Wichita State (42), but playing without D.J. Jefferies, I don’t think that this ends well.

CINCINNATI (NET: 56, NBC: First four out): The Bearcats shot themselves in the foot on Wednesday, losing at home to UCF (125) in the fourth straight overtime game that they have played and their sixth one possession game in a row. The loss came after Jarron Cumberland hit a halfcourt shot that came just a split second after the buzzer in a second overtime. 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.


ATLANTIC 10 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Dayton (NBC: 2)

VCU (NET: 52, NBC: Off the bubble): VCU lost at home to Dayton (5) on Tuesday, which essentially eliminates them from being in bubble contention this season. This is the last time they’ll be listed in this space for the time being.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 31, NBC: 11): URI did what they needed to do and picked off St. Joseph’s (237) at home on Saturday. They have not played since then. They’re 19-6 overall and they have just one Quad 1 win, but they are 6-5 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: 43, NBC: Play-in game): The Spiders are still in a good spot for an at-large bid after beating up on George Mason (167) at home. They’re sitting at 20-6 overall with a pair of Quad 1 wins — Wisconsin (29) on a neutral and at Rhode Island (31) — as well as two Quad 2 wins. The trouble with their resume is a pair of Quad 3 losses, but in a year where so many bubble teams look destined to amass 11 or 12 losses, Richmond will be in the mix. They cannot truly improve their resume until the A-10 tournament, but they are the best hope that the A-10 has at getting a third bid to the NCAA tournament.


BIG 12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Baylor (NBC: 1), Kansas (NBC: 1), West Virginia (NBC: 4), Texas Tech (NBC: 8)

OKLAHOMA (NET:46 , NBC: 10): The Sooners have a weird resume. After losing to Kansas (4) and Baylor (2) in the last week, they are sitting at 16-10 overall and 6-7 in the Big 12. They don’t have a truly bad loss this season — nine of their ten losses are of the Quad 1 variety, and the 10th is a Quad 2 road loss to Kansas State (99) — but they also only have one Quad 1 win — West Virginia (10). Oklahoma is 1-9 against Quad 1 opponents but they are 8-1 against Quad 2 teams. Their next three games — at Oklahoma State (70), Texas Tech (20), at West Virginia (10) — are all of the Quad 1 variety. This is their chance.


BIG EAST BUBBLE WATCH

Top 9: Seton Hall (NBC: 3), Villanova (NBC: 3), Creighton (NBC: 3), Butler (NBC: 5), Marquette (NBC: 7), Xavier (NBC: 9)

GEORGETOWN (NET: 43, NBC: Play-in game): Georgetown is one of the biggest bubble winners last week after they landed their fifth Quad 1 of the season and by far their best win of the year by going into Indianapolis and knocking off Butler (17). And it’s fitting that the Hoyas followed that up by losing at home to Providence (51). They are now 15-11 on the season with road trips to DePaul (74), Marquette (23) and Creighton (11) and home dates with Xavier (41) and Villanova (14), Georgetown has a tough, tough schedule remaining. They do have five Quad 1 wins and a 9-11 mark against the top two Quads, so they are in a good spot, but those losses are adding up.


BIG TEN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Maryland (NBC: 2), Penn State (NBC: 4), Michigan State (NBC: 5), Iowa (NBC: 6), Ohio State (NBC: 6), Michigan (NBC: 6), Illinois (NBC: 7), Wisconsin (NBC: 7), Indiana (NBC: 9)

RUTGERS (NET: 35, NBC: 10): The Scarlet Knights have one of the weirder resumes on the bubble right now. They’re 17-9 overall and they are 9-7 in the Big Ten. They had three Quad 1 wins, just one Quad 3 loss and a 7-8 mark against the top two Quads. They played a tough non-conference schedule, and they have some really impressive home wins. The problem? They’re only one 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 Wisconsin (29), at Penn State (25), Maryland (8), Purdue (32). Rutgers has some work left to do.

PURDUE (NET: 32, NBC: First four out): After the Boilermakers lost at Wisconsin (29) on Tuesday night they are sitting at 14-13 on the season. 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 pair of Quad 3 losses. The most losses and 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 7-11 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: 6), Arizona State (NBC: 9)

USC (NET: 44, NBC: Play-in game): Even after losing at Colorado (18) on Thursday night, I think USC is in a decent shape after sweeping the Washington schools in LA last week. They only have two Quad 1 wins, but they are now 8-7 against the top two Quads with an 8-6 mark away from the Galen Center, including five road wins. The home loss to Temple (104) is not ideal, but it is survivable. The biggest issue may be how tough their remaining schedule is. The Trojans still play at Utah (92) and then get Arizona (7), Arizona State (40) and UCLA (90), who is a game out of first place in the Pac-12, at home.

STANFORD (NET: 34, NBC: First four out): The Cardinal finally snapped their losing streak by going into Seattle and knocking off Washington (71) to pick up their third Quad 1 win of the season. They are now 3-5 against Quad 1 opponents, 5-8 against the top two Quads and have just a single Quad 3 loss 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.


SEC BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Kentucky (NBC: 4), Auburn (NBC: 5), LSU (NBC: 8), Florida (NBC: 9)

ARKANSAS (NET: 48, NBC: Off the bubble): The Razorbacks lost at Florida (36) on Tuesday night, meaning that they have now lost four straight games and are sitting with a 4-10 record against the top two Quadrants with just two Quad 1 wins — at Alabama (45) and at Indiana (58). They desperately need to get Isaiah Joe back, but it might be too little, too late by the time he returns.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 50, NBC: First four out): After beating South Carolina (62) at home on Wednesday night, the Bulldogs have now won two straight games and five of their last seven games. Those two Quad 3 losses are not going away, but with a pair of Quad 1 road wins and a 6-7 mark against the top two Quads, Mississippi State has themselves in a spot where they have a shot. They cannot afford to slip-up given that they have just a single Quad 1 opportunity left on their schedule.

ALABAMA (NET: 45, NBC: Off the bubble): Alabama fell to 14-12 overall with a loss to a bad Texas A&M (125) on Wednesday. They now have just one Quad 1 win compared to a pair of Quad 3 losses. Throw in their overall record and the fact that they don’t have a road win over a team ranked in the top 95, and they are in serious trouble.

SOUTH CAROLINA (NET: 62, NBC: Next four out): The Gamecocks had a chance to play themselves into a really good spot on Wednesday, but they lost a close game at Mississippi State (50). At 16-10 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.


BUBBLE WATCH FOR EVERYONE ELSE

TOP 9: Gonzaga (NBC: 1), San Diego State (NBC: 1), BYU (NBC: 7), Saint Mary’s (NBC: 8)

UTAH STATE (NET: 41, NBC: Play-in game): 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 (36) are nice, but with three road losses to sub-90 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: 47, NBC: 12): Northern Iowa has now lost back-to-back road games. Losing at Loyola-Chicago (95) might have been survivable. But losing at Indiana State (107), that might not be. UNI has a win at Colorado (12) and they beat South Carolina (62) on a neutral court, but they are 4-3 against the top two Quads and a pair of Quad 3 losses. I’m not sure they can get in.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 41, 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 (60) and a win at LSU (30). With a 21-4 record and a loss to Mercer (205) 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.

Best Bets: Previewing Kansas-Baylor, the biggest game of the season

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Baylor vs. Kansas.

The No. 1 vs. No. 3 in the AP Poll. The No. 1 vs. No. 2 in KenPom. And the No. 1 team is not the same in both rankings.

The Bears have won a Big 12 record 23 straight games. Kansas has only lost once since Christmas, and that loss came the first time they faced off with Baylor this season.

This is, almost without a doubt, the biggest game of the college basketball season to date. The first time these two teams faced off, the Bears went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and knocked off a banged up Kansas team, 67-55, while landing the first win for Scott Drew in Lawrence in his 17-year tenure in Waco.

Saturday is the rematch.

Here’s the breakdown.

No. 3 KANSAS at No. 1 BAYLOR, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Baylor 64, Kansas 63
  • TORVIK: Baylor 64, Kansas 61
  • HASLAM: Kansas 64, Baylor 62

Bill Self is the king of adjustments, so I will be fascinated to see what he schemes up to try and create some space for Udoka Azubuike to operate. The first time these two teams squared off, Baylor fronted the post and helped all the way off whoever was in the corner of the floor, making sure that a lob pass over the top of the defense was not possible. The concept was simple, really: Make sure that Doke was going to have to beat two guys just to get a post touch, pressure the hell out of the Kansas ball-handlers and force them to beat a crop of elite defenders off the dribble and make kick-out threes.

It did not go well.

I expect much of the same from the Bears on Saturday. This was nothing more than a somewhat exaggerated version of the defense that they play on a nightly basis, and I can’t imagine that Scott Drew will switch up too much considering the fact that this defense has led him to three months worth of consecutive wins. So the question then becomes whether or not Bill Self, who has had four days to prepare and install a game-plan for Saturday, can figure out something to beat this Baylor defense.

As far as what he’ll do, I think that the Jayhawks will end up doing two things to try and beat this Baylor defense. The first is to get out and run in transition. As good as Devon Dotson has been, I still think that he is at his best when he is running at a defense before it gets set, and considering just how hard Baylor goes to the offensive glass, Dotson will get his opportunities in transition. I also expect that Kansas will play more four guard lineups and will run more ball-screen stuff. Baylor likes to switch 1-through-5, and if Kansas can create situations where either Dotson can turn the corner or force a switch, it will play into the KU advantage.

All that said, the truth might end up being this simple: This game will probably come down to whether or not Kansas can continue to make threes at the rate that they have made threes the last two games. They are a combined 23-for-49 the last two games. They shot 4-for-15 the first time they faced off with Baylor.

BEST BET: I know this game is going to be played in Waco, but I think the answer here is Kansas. If they’re getting points, I’ll be on the moneyline. I just think that you’re giving Bill Self too much time to prepare, and that the Jayhawks have been playing much better basketball of late. I also think that Kansas has figured things out defensively to the point that they are the nation’s best defensive team.

Personally, I’m hoping that the Jayhawks win, that we get to the Big 12 title game with neither team taking another loss and that battle gets played to determine the No. 1 overall seed. That would be fun.

No. 2 GONZAGA at BYU, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 82, BYU 80
  • TORVIK: Gonzaga 82, BYU 80
  • HASLAM: Gonzaga 85, BYU 79

Gonzaga and BYU both rank in the top five nationally in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They both rank in the top three of effective field goal percentage. BYU leads the nation in three-point shooting at a crisp 41.9 percent. Gonzaga is third at 39.4 percent. These are two of the nation’s elite offenses. obviously, which is why you are seeing projections that are so high.

I’m going to assume that Killian Tillie is playing for the Zags because he played on Thursday night against San Francisco, and that ends up being a major difference maker. He’s the athletic four that can create all of the mismatch problems against a smaller team like the Cougars.

BEST BET: My favorite bet here is going to be Gonzaga (-2), and the biggest reason is that the way Gonzaga wants to play, they pound the ball into the post for Filip Petrusev and Drew Timme. BYU’s best player, Yoeli Childs, has committed four fouls in the last two, three of the last four and four of the last six games. I would also lean towards the over, especially if the total ends up somewhere south of 160.

No. 14 OREGON AT No. 24 ARIZONA, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Arizona 74, Oregon 69
  • TORVIK: Arizona 73, Oregon 67
  • HASLAM: Arizona 71, Oregon 66

This has suddenly turned into a must-win spot for Oregon if they want to remain in the Pac-12 regular season title race. The Ducks lost on Thrusday night at Arizona State while Arizona is coming off of an easy home win over Oregon State.

The first time these two teams played, Oregon erased a big second half deficit, eventually winning in overtime. I do think that the Oregon zone will cause some problems for Arizona, but there won’t be enough size inside to deal with Zeke Nnaji.

BEST BET: I think I lean Oregon here, especially if this line gets up past (+6). I do think the Ducks are the better team, because the metrics are way higher on Arizona than they should be.

No. 21 BUTLER at No. 13 CREIGHTON, Sun. 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Creighton 73, Butler 68
  • TORVIK: Creighton 72, Butler 66
  • HASLAM: Creighton 72, Butler 65

The first time that these two teams played, Butler won fairly easily. But the Bulldogs were a different team then. They were 14-1 on the season. They were playing as well defensively as anyone in the country. Kamar Baldwin wasn’t having to put the team on his back as often. Since that game, these two teams have gone in entirely different directions. Creighton has won eight of their last nine games and, with three of their last four games at home and a date with Seton Hall in the season finale, they have a very real chance of winning the Big East regular season title. Butler, on the other have, has lost two straight, three of their last four and seven of their last 11. They are now just .500 in Big East play.

BEST BET: The Bluejays have covered four in a row and seven of their last eight games. They are playing at home, where they have won three straight by double-digits and lost just once this season. I’ll be on Creighton up to (-6.5).

MICHIGAN at PURDUE, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Purdue 67, Michigan 65
  • TORVIK: Purdue 65, Michigan 63
  • HASLAM: Purdue 66, Michigan 63

I know how good Purdue can be at home. But Michigan has turned a corner, and if Isaiah Livers is playing, than I want my money on the Wolverines. Michigan is 11-3 with a healthy Rivers. They are 6-6 when he sits out, and they just because the first team in college basketball this season to win at Rutgers, and they did that without Livers.

BEST BET: Michigan ML if and when we get word that Isaiah Livers will be healthy.

FLORIDA at No. 12 KENTUCKY, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kentucky 72, Florida 67
  • TORVIK: Kentucky 70, Florida 66
  • HASLAM: Kentucky 70, Florida 67

As this projection continues to creep towards Kentucky, it does feel like the value here is on Florida. The Gators are not going to have to worry about big wings taking advantage of their smaller guards, and while Nick Richards has been a monster this season, Kerry Blackshear ranks 16th nationally by drawing 6.9 fouls per 40 minutes. If Richards gets into foul trouble, Kentucky is going to be in trouble.

BEST BET: I lean Florida in this spot, but I’m going to hope that I can find the line at (+6) somewhere.

Bracketology: Are the No. 1 seeds locked up by now?

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Here is today’s updated NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

We’re about to enter the final two weeks of the regular season, and we’ve had the same No. 1 seed line for more than a month.  Which begs the question: Are the No. 1 seeds locked up?

We can’t go that far … yet.  But we may not be far off, either.  Baylor and Kansas play again Saturday in Waco.  At least for now, the outcome affects the Big 12 title chase more than it does the top line of the bracket.  Gonzaga plays at BYU, but would a single loss at a tough venue drop the one-loss Zags?  Probably not, although it could open the door for San Diego State to claim the West Region.  As for the Aztecs, they will be heavily favored in every remaining regular season game.  Without a surprise, they will enter the Mountain West tournament with a perfect record.  That’s an incredible accomplishment.

Anyway, here is today’s updated NCAA tournament bracketology projection. 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 21, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
MIDWEST REGION Richmond vs. Georgetown
WEST REGION Utah State vs. USC
SOUTH REGION  ST. FRANCIS (PA) vs. NORFOLK ST
MIDWEST REGION SIENA vs. PRAIRIE VIEW-AM

SOUTH Houston MIDWEST – Indianapolis                 
St. Louis Omaha
1) BAYLOR 1) Kansas
16) ST. FRANCIS / NORFOLK ST 16) PV-AM / SIENA
8) LSU 8) HOUSTON
9) Arizona State 9) Xavier
Tampa Omaha
5) Butler 5) COLORADO
12) NORTHERN IOWA 12) Richmond / Georgetown
4) KENTUCKY 4) LOUISVILLE
13) NORTH TEXAS 13) VERMONT
Cleveland Albany
6) Arizona 6) Ohio State
11) EAST TENNESSEE ST 11) NC State
3) Penn State 3) Villanova
14) NEW MEXICO ST 14) WRIGHT STATE
Greensboro Cleveland
7) Wisconsin 7) Illinois
10) Wichita State 10) Oklahoma
2) Duke 2) DAYTON
15) WINTHROP 15) AUSTIN PEAY
EAST – New York WEST – Los Angeles
Sacramento Spokane
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) GONZAGA
16) LITTLE ROCK 16) MONTANA
8) Saint Mary’s 8) Texas Tech
9) Florida 9) Indiana
Sacramento Spokane
5) Auburn 5) Michigan State
12) LIBERTY 12) S.F. AUSTIN
4) West Virginia 4) Oregon
13) YALE 13) AKRON
Albany St. Louis
6) Michigan 6) Iowa
11) Rhode Island 11) Utah State / USC
3) SETON HALL 3) Creighton
14) COLGATE 14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
Greensboro Tampa
7) Marquette 7) BYU
10) Virginia 10) Rutgers
2) MARYLAND 2) Florida State
15) HOFSTRA 15) UC-IRVINE

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Oklahoma Utah State Mississippi State Providence
Wichita State USC Stanford South Carolina
Rhode Island Richmond Cincinnati Memphis
NC State Georgetown Purdue UNC-Greensboro

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Kansas, 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)
Atlantic 10 (3)
American (2)
Mountain West (2)

Thursday’s Things To Know: The Pac-12 gets wild and the greatest comeback of the year

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It was a wild night out west, as the WCC and the Pac-12 got a little rowdy.

Here’s everything you need to know.

1. THERE IS STILL A THREE-WAY TIE ATOP THE PAC-12

We did not get much more clarity in the Pac-12 regular season title race on Thursday night. All four teams that were sitting in a tie for first-place in the league were in action, and the only one that lost — No. 14 Oregon — is the one that was playing on the road against another league leader.

The Ducks fell at Arizona State on Thursday night, losing 77-72 as the Sun Devils picked up their sixth straight win. They are now sitting at 9-4 in the league and have more or less played their way into a spot where missing out of the NCAA tournament would be something of an upset.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, No. 18 Colorado erased an early double-digit deficit at home against USC as the Buffaloes moved to 10-4 in the Pac-12. Technically speaking, Colorado is sitting all alone in first place in the league, one game up in the win column on both of the Arizona schools.

Speaking of Arizona, the No. 24 Wildcats blew out Oregon State at home on Thursday night, winning by 26 as their three freshman combined for 43 points. The Ducks will visit the Wildcats on Saturday afternoon at the same time that Arizona State is hosting Oregon State. UCLA, who is sitting just a game out of first place in the Pac-12, will pay a visit to Colorado.

Put another way, we’re one wacky Saturday away from having a five-way tie atop the Pac-12.

I’m here for that insanity.

2. SAN FRANCISCO MADE THINGS INTERESTING ENOUGH TO KEEP ME UP LATE

The Dons gave No. 2 Gonzaga their toughest fight of the WCC season in San Francisco last month, and at halftime of their visit up to Spokane on Thursday night, it looked like we were in store for another battle.

USF was up 31-22 at the half. By the time they woke in the second half, they were down 46-33. That’s a 24-2 run for those of you scoring at home.

The Zags would go on to win 71-54.

3. EASTERN ILLINOIS ERASES 27-POINT LEAD WITH 40-10 RUN

Eastern Illinois trailed Murray State, who entered the night tied for the lead in the Ohio Valley, 50-23 with just over 11 minutes left in the game. They trailed by 21 points with just over six minutes left. They were down by 15 points at the four minute mark.

Then, over the course of the last 3:34, the Panthers hit nine straight shots, went on a 23-5 run and won when this shot went in at the buzzer:

Arizona State lands sixth straight win over No. 14 Oregon

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Alonzo Verge Jr. scored 26 points, Rob Edwards added 24 and Arizona State beat No. 14 Oregon 77-72 on Thursday night for its sixth straight victory.

The Sun Devils (18-8, 9-4 Pac-12) continued their unexpected charge up the conference standings following a mediocre January. Every team in the Pac-12 has lost at least four league games.

Oregon (20-7, 9-5) bumbled its way through a big chunk of the game, clanking errant 3-pointers and giving up turnovers. But the Ducks used an 11-0 run to it at 54 with 7:17 left.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch

Arizona State responded with the next six points, which included a 3-pointer from Edwards, and never trailed again.

Payton Pritchard had 18 points for Oregon but fouled out with about two minutes left, badly hurting the Ducks’ chances of a last-minute rally. Will Richardson also had 18 points and Chris Duarte added 10.

Oregon struggled for most of the first half, especially in the first few minutes, and missed 11 of its first 12 shots. Arizona State started slowly too, but closed the first half on a 12-4 run. Remy Martin hit a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to give the Sun Devils a 34-23 halftime lead.

Martin – the team’s leading scorer at about 20 points per game – took an inadvertent elbow to the face midway through the first half and had to go to the locker room. He missed a few minutes before returning and banking a 3-pointer into the basket on the next possession.

The Ducks shot just 37% in the first half and had 11 turnovers.

BIG PICTURE

Oregon: The Ducks made a run in the second half to make things interesting but couldn’t totally overcome their rough offensive game. Oregon’s now lost three straight road games.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils continued their mid-season surge with a gritty performance that relied on defense and hustle. The program’s trying to make its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time since the 1960s.

UP NEXT

Oregon has another road game against No. 24 Arizona on Saturday.

Arizona State hosts Oregon State on Saturday.

Follow David Brandt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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