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2017-18 NBC Sports Mid-Major Preseason Power Rankings

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The question of what programs qualify as “high-majors” and which are “mid-majors” has been one that’s been up for argument since the late-1990’s (a gift given to us by the Bowl Championship Series).

For the sake of this post, members of the following conferences will be excluded: ACC, American, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12, SEC.

We’ll also be leaving out BYU and Gonzaga of the WCC, which is likely to fire up our readers with Saint Mary’s’ interests.

While it can certainly be argued that some teams within some of these conferences would qualify as mid-major, the split described above makes the below list a little easier to navigate.

While this portion of college basketball has taken some hits in recent years due to conference realignment, with Wichita State now in the American and many of the Atlantic 10’s gains (to make up for the losses of Butler, Temple and Xavier) coming at the expense of the CAA, there are still incredibly talented teams and players to keep an eye on.

Below are some of the best mid-major programs in the country entering the 2017-18 season.

1. Saint Mary’s

After winning 29 games and going 16-2 in WCC play, Randy Bennett’s Gaels are viewed as the preseason favorites to win the conference in 2017-18. And given the talent that’s returning to Moraga, that line of thinking makes sense. Senior center Jock Landale, who averaged 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, is one of the top big men in the the country and will once again lead the way for the Gaels. In total Saint Mary’s returns its top three scorers from last season, with forward Calvin Hermanson (13.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and guard Emmett Naar (9.4 ppg, 5.6 apg) being the others, and four starters are back with forward Evan Fitzner completing the quartet.

Saint Mary’s will have to account for the losses of assist co-leader Joe Rahon and their second-best rebounder in Dane Pineau. The Gaels have multiple front court options who can provide depth beyond Landale, Hermanson and Fitzner, and the addition of Ole Miss transfer Cullen Neal will help on the perimeter.

2. UT-Arlington

Scott Cross’ Mavericks won 27 games and the Sun Belt regular season title in 2016-17, with one of their wins being an impressive 65-51 conquest at Saint Mary’s. UTA may only return two starters from that team, but one happens to be a front court player who deserves more attention nationally in senior Kevin Hervey. Hervey averaged 17.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game last season, and along with guard Erick Neal will lead the way offensively for the Mavericks. As a junior Neal averaged 10.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game, and he’s also led UTA in steals in each of his first three seasons with the program.

With a total of six seniors among the nine returnees, including another quality guard in Kaelon Wilson, UTA has the experience needed to not only hit the ground running come November but be the kind of team you don’t want to see in an NCAA tournament matchup. Likely motivated by missing out on the NCAA tournament last season, UT-Arlington is a team to keep an eye on this season.

Kevin Hervey (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

3. Missouri State

With Wichita State having moved on to the American Athletic Conference, the question in the Missouri Valley is which team (or teams) can step forward and carry the conference banner nationally. Paul Lusk’s Bears are one possibility, as Missouri State will be led by a senior forward in Alize Johnson who was not only the top newcomer in the Valley but a first team all-conference selection as well. In his first season with the program Johnson averaged 14.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, posting 17 double-doubles while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from three.

Johnson is one of four starters back from a team that won 17 games last season, and in total six of the team’s top seven scorers are back. The front court tandem of Johnson and Obediah Church should be one of the best in the Valley, and senior Ronnie Rousseau III and junior Jarred Dixon among the players on the perimeter who will look to help account for the loss of second-leading scorer Dequon Miller.

4. Oakland

Four starters return from a team that won 25 games and a share of the Horizon League regular season title a season ago, with guard Martez Walker (17.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and forward Jalen Hayes (15.9, 8.0) leading the way for Greg Kampe’s squad. In total nine contributors from that team are back, and of the five newcomers four will be eligible to compete immediately with former Illinois guard Kendrick Nunn being one of those four.

If there’s an area where Oakland can stand to improve from last season it would be their perimeter shooting, as they made just 33.3 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. That’s an area where the aforementioned Nunn can help, as he shot nearly 38 percent from three in his three seasons at Illinois. Under Kampe the Golden Grizzlies have been able to incorporate transfers into their rotation and reap the rewards more often than not, and that could once again be the case in 2017-18.

5. Middle Tennessee

Kermit Davis has led the Middle Tennessee program to 24 wins or more in five of the last six seasons, and in each of the last two campaigns not only have the Blue Raiders reached the NCAA tournament but they’ve won a game once there as well. In what should be a competitive race at the top of Conference USA, the Blue Raiders are one of the teams that will at the very least contend for the league’s automatic bid.

Losing two of their top three scorers in JaCorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw Jr. is something that Middle Tennessee will have to account for, but three starters return led by senior guard Giddy Potts. In addition to averaging 15.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game last season, Potts shot 48.2 percent from the field and 38.4 percent from three. The key for the Blue Raiders will be to get scoring from players other than Potts, but with a number of the team’s supplementary contributors back (including point guard Tyrik Dixon) and some talented newcomers they could make a third straight NCAA tournament.

Makai Mason (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

6. Yale

After earning the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1962 in 2016, the Bulldogs won 18 games and reached the title game of the first Ivy League tournament last season. Head coach James Jones welcomes back the top two scorers from that team in junior guard Alex Copeland and sophomore forward Miye Oni, and Yale will also have point guard Makai Mason. Mason, who key in the team’s win over Baylor in the 2016 NCAA tournament, missed all of last season with a broken foot.

The losses of forward Sam Downey and guard Anthony Dallier is something that Yale will have to account for, but rotation players Blake Reynolds and Jordan Bruner should be ready to take a step forward for the Ivy League favorites.

7. College of Charleston

Since Earl Grant took over as head coach in 2014 the Cougars have made significant strides, going from nine wins in his first season to 17 in 2015-16, and from 17 to 25 wins last season. And with the top five scorers from a season ago, led by preseason CAA Player of the Year Joe Chealey (17.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.2 apg), the Cougars are well-positioned to earn the program’s first NCAA tournament bid since 1999. Forward Jarrell Brantley and guard Grant Riller were also double-digit scorers last season, with Brantley ranking third in the CAA with an average of 8.2 rebounds per game.

Under Grant’s tutelage the Cougars have taken better care of the basketball, and they’ve also made significant strides offensively. And with the scoring options that this team has, the College of Charleston could prove to be a team worth avoiding come March.

8. Vermont

John Becker’s Catamounts ran the table in America East last season, going 19-0 against conference competition to earn the program’s first NCAA tournament bid since 2012. Four starters return from last season, led by the conference’s top freshman in Anthony Lamb. The 6-foot-6 sophomore averaged 12.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season, shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from beyond the arc. Senior guard Trae Bell-Haynes was named America East Player of the Year for his efforts, and forward Payton Henson and guard Ernie Duncan will once again be key contributors as well.

If there’s one concern for UVM heading into the season, it has to be how they’ll account for the loss of guard Dre Wills. While he averaged just 6.4 points and 3.6 assists per game, Wills was the player they called upon for their toughest defensive matchups on the perimeter. While other teams in an improved America East will make things tougher for Vermont, the Catamounts remain the favorites to win the conference title.

Anthony Lamb (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

9. Bucknell

Bucknell may not have gone undefeated in its run to the Patriot League crown last season, but the Bison left no doubt as they won the regular season title by three games before claiming the automatic bid. Head coach Nathan Davis welcomes back his top nine scorers from last season, led by forward Zach Thomas (15.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Patriot League Player of the Year Nana Foulland (15.0, 7.8, 2.1 bpg).

Guards Kimbal McKenzie and Stephen Brown were also double-digit scorers for the Bison, who ranked 20th in the nation in effective field goal percentage (55.3 percent). Bucknell led the Patriot League in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season, and given all of the returnees it would not come as a shock if the Bison duplicated that feat in 2017-18.

10. FGCU

The Eagles have made two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances under head coach Joe Dooley, and the pieces are in place to extend that streak to three. Four starters return from last season’s team, led by last season’s A-Sun Newcomer of the Year in guard Brandon Goodwin. In his first season on the court for FGCU after transferring in from UCF, Goodwin averaged 18.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, shooting 51 percent from the field. Goodwin’s ability to produce in an efficient manner makes him, and by extension FCGU as a whole, a difficult team to defend.

Guards Zach Johnson and Christian Terrell and forward Antravious Simmons are also back, and in the front court the addition of transfers Ricky Doyle (Michigan) and Michael Gilmore (VCU; eligible in December) will give FGCU additional depth inside. Also worth keeping an eye on inside are freshman Brian Thomas and redshirt sophomore Brady Ernst, with the latter beginning his collegiate career at Iowa State before averaging 9.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game at Indian Hills CC last season.

11. San Francisco

With so much attention being paid to the triumvirate of Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU from a national standpoint, some of the other programs in the WCC can be overlooked on occasion. Get familiar with Kyle Smith’s USF Dons, because he welcomes back all five starters from a team that won 20 games in his first season as head coach. Senior forward Chase Foster is the top returning scorer as he averaged 10.1 points per game, and the Dons also have two WCC All-Freshman Team honorees back in guards Jordan Rahtino and Charles Minlend.

Forwards Matt McCarthy and Nate Renfro provided additional experience in the front court, with juniors Mladen Djordjevic and Frankie Ferrari doing so on the perimeter. Don’t be surprised if USF finds a way to crack the predicted top three of Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU in the WCC this season.

12. Belmont

Since making the program’s first Division I NCAA tournament appearance in 2006, Belmont has failed to win at least 20 games in a season just once. Last year’s group won 23 games, but for the second consecutive campaign Rick Byrd’s squad fell short of the NCAA tournament. Despite losing their top two scorers in Evan Bradds and Taylor Barnette, Belmont is once again considered to be the favorite to win the OVC. Amanze Egekeze, who averaged 11.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season, is back as are guard Austin Luke and guard/forward Dylan Windler.

Guard Kevin McClain and center Seth Adelsperger are among the returnees who will look to earn more minutes, and a freshman class that includes guards Gray Murphy and Pedro Bradshaw will have the opportunity to contribute as well. Losing Bradds, Barnette and Nick Smith will have an impact, but at this point it’s more than reasonable to trust Coach Byrd and his staff to figure things out.

13. Mercer

After winning 19 games in each of the program’s first two seasons in the Southern Conference, Mercer finished below .500 (15-17) for the first time since the 2010-11 season in 2016-17. Bob Hoffman’s program appears poised for a bounce-back campaign however, as the Bears return all five starters from that team led by senior guards Ria’n Holland, Jordan Strawberry and Demetre Rivers. In his first season with the program Holland, whose career began at Wichita State before spending a season at Indian Hills CC, averaged 17.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, shooting 37.3 percent from three and posting an effective field goal percentage of 52.7 percent.

In the front court, seniors Desmond Ringer and Stephon Jelks will lead the way, as they combined to average 14.9 points and 12.5 rebounds per contest in 2016-17. With the talent and experience on this roster Mercer is more than capable of winning what should be a tight SoCon race with Furman, Samford and ETSU in the mix as well.

14. Albany

Vermont is the preseason favorite in America East, but the Catamounts will not lack for challengers with Will Brown’s Great Danes leading the charge. UAlbany is led by a very impressive backcourt tandem in juniors David Nichols and Joe Cremo, with the former being a first team all-conference selection last season and the latter landing on the second team. Nichols and Cremo combined to average nearly 34 points and seven assists per game, and when a team has guards this good they’ll be in the mix more often than not.

Also in the perimeter rotation is Devonte Campbell, one of America East’s top defenders who also averaged 7.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in 2016-17. In the front court seniors Travis Charles and Greg Stire both return, which should help the Great Danes account for the loss of their leading rebounder from a season ago in Mike Rowley.

15. Louisiana Tech

The Bulldogs have won 23 games in each of Eric Konkol’s first two seasons at head coach, and similar success could be in the offing for this program in 2017-18. Three starters, all guards, return led by one of Conference USA’s top defenders in senior Jacobi Boykins, and sophomores DeQuan Bracey and Derric Jean. In addition to his abilities as a defender (2.0 spg), Boykins averaged 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in earning third team all-conference honors as a junior.

Bracey and Jean were two of C-USA’s top newcomers last season, with Bracey earning a spot on the All-Freshman team. Another sophomore guard, Jalen Harris, averaged 10.1 points per game in a reserve role and joined Bracey on the All-Freshman team at season’s end. The losses of forwards Erik McCree, who led the team in scoring and rebounding, and Omar Sherman do hurt, but the Bulldogs won’t lack for options with juniors Joniah White and Pensacola State CC product Harrison Curry among the players who will fight for minutes. If Louisiana Tech can solidify its front court rotation, the guards are good enough to lead the Bulldogs to a Conference USA title.

16. Harvard

Tommy Amaker’s Crimson were the preseason pick to win the Ivy League in the official poll, edging out Yale and Princeton for that honor. Four of the team’s top five scorers from a season ago return, led by first team All-Ivy selection and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Bryce Aiken. As a freshman the 6-foot tall Aiken averaged 14.5 points, 2.8 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game, starting just nine of the 26 games in which he played. With Siyani Chambers having graduated, Aiken stands to figure even more prominently in the Harvard offensive attack.

Forwards Seth Towns and Chris Lewis and guard Corey Johnson all return as well, with the 6-foot-7 Towns looking to build on a freshman season in which he averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. With the aforementioned Chambers and forward Zena Edosomwan being the most noteworthy departures, Harvard will at minimum contend for the Ivy League crown. It’s also worth noting that the program has just three seniors on the roster, meaning that a program that went to four straight NCAA tournaments from 2012 to 2015 could go on another run if they reach the Big Dance this season.

17. Grand Canyon

After spending four years as a provisional Division I member, Dan Majerle’s Antelopes are finally eligible to earn an NCAA tournament bid. GCU’s roster is well-stocked to do just that, with guard Joshua Braun (17.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg) leading the way. With leading scorer Dewayne Russell gone, Braun will be the feature offensive option for a team that also returns the likes of guards Oscar Frayer and Gerard Martin, and forward Keonta Vernon.

The loss of Russell hurts, but GCU should be fine when it comes to the point guard position due to the arrival of Oregon transfer Casey Benson. Part of the rotation on a team that reached the Final Four last season, Benson is immediately eligible to compete. The question mark for GCU, which will have to deal with New Mexico State and CSU Bakersfield at the top of the WAC, comes in the front court. If some options step forward alongside Vernon, the Antelopes could earn a tournament bid in their first season of eligibility.

18. Furman

As noted above the SoCon race is expected to be a tight one, with Furman in the mix along with Mercer, Samford and ETSU. As for the Paladins, they return the conference’s top player in senior guard Devin Sibley. Sibley, who averaged 17.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game last season, is one of four starters back from a team that won 22 games. That experience should help first-year head coach Bob Richey, who in addition to Sibley has another talented senior guard to work with in Daniel Fowler.

The key for Furman will be to account for the production lost due to the departure of forward Kris Acox, who averaged 13.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a senior. Matt Rafferty (7.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Geoff Beans (6.3, 2.5), with the latter shooting 39.1 percent from three last season, are among the front court options who will look to fill the void left by the loss of Acox.

19. Western Michigan

Steve Hawkins’ Broncos went just 16-16 overall last season, but WMU’s 11 conference wins were good enough to gain a share of the MAC West top spot. Four starters from that team return, led by senior guard Thomas Wilder. Wilder averaged 19.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game last season, shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three. Simply put, he’s one of the top shooters in college basketball.

Sophomore wing Reggie Jones earned MAC All-Freshman Team honors after averaging 9.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest, with fellow sophomore Brandon Johnson starting all 32 games and averaging 8.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Add in the team’s best defender in junior guard Bryce Moore, and centers Seth Dugan and Drake LaMont, and Western Michigan has the talent needed to make a run at the MAC title.

20. Western Kentucky

Rick Stansbury’s Hilltoppers are a bit of a wild card in this, as they’ll be counting on multiple transfers to have an immediate impact. There’s also the question of “what could have been” regarding the Mitchell Robinson, but his departure given the circus that came with his short time on campus could prove to be a blessing in disguise for WKU. Former Buffalo guard Lamonte Bearden is eligible after sitting out last season, and grad students Dwight Coleby (Kansas) and Darius Thompson (Virginia) will be eligible immediately.

WKU also adds Northwest Florida State transfer Moustapha Diagne, a one-time four-star recruit who signed with Syracuse before not being cleared academically. The newcomers will help Stansbury fill holes on a roster that lost four starters from a season ago, with leading scorer Justin Johnson (14.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg) being the lone returnee. There’s no question that WKU has a talented roster. But will all of the pieces mesh and make the Hilltoppers contenders in a Conference USA race that won’t lack for quality programs? That remains to be seen.

Others considered (in alphabetical order): CSU Bakersfield, East Tennessee State, Iona, Louisiana, New Mexico State, Northern Iowa, Old Dominion, Samford, Santa Clara, South Dakota State, UAB, UNC Asheville, UNC Wilmington.

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: 50, NBC: 10): Virginia won for the fourth straight time on Saturday, knocking off Pitt (100) on the road. They only have three Quad 1 wins and a 9-6 mark against the top two Quads with home dates left against Duke (6) and Louisville (8). They can’t afford slip-ups, and could really use three or four more wins before Selection Sunday. But Virginia is starting to play much better, and as of today they are in a pretty good spot to get to the tournament.

N.C. STATE (NET: 52, NBC: 11): The Wolfpack missed out on a chance to land another elite win on Saturday, blowing a halftime lead and losing at home to Florida State (12). The big news was picking up the win over Duke (6) on Wednesday night. It was the fifth Quad 1 win for Kevin Keatts — they’ve also beaten Wisconsin (29) at home and three sub-50 teams on the road — to go along with a 9-7 record against the top two Quads. The biggest problem here is that they have three Quad 3 losses, two of which came at home. Before beating Duke, the Wolfpack lost at Boston College (143). It’s worth noting that Markell Johnson, N.C. State’s best player, did not play in one of the three Quad 3 losses — Georgia Tech (79) — so like Arkansas, this will certainly be something the committee takes into account.


AMERICAN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Houston (NBC: 8)

WICHITA STATE (NET: 43, 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: 61, NBC: Next four out): Memphis is hanging on by a thread right now, but they are still alive after landed a critical win over Houston (25) at home. Memphis now has a pair of Quad 1 wins, and finally have a win over a team ranked in the top 50. The Tigers have also won at Tennessee (65), beaten Cincinnati at home (53) and beat N.C. State (52) on a neutral. The program? Those three Quad 2 home losses, and the fact that they are playing without D.J. Jeffries, their best perimeter weapon. With three of their last four on the road and a home date with Wichita State (43), Memphis has chances to improve their resume.

CINCINNATI (NET: 53, NBC: 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)

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 36, NBC: 11): 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: Play-in game): 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 (165) 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: 4), Texas Tech (NBC: 8)

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


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)

PROVIDENCE (NET: 46, NBC: Off the bubble): 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: Play-in game): 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), 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: 33, 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: 37, NBC: First four out): 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: 6), Arizona State (NBC: 9)

UCLA (NET: 78, NBC: Off the bubble): 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: 41, 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: 32, 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: 45, NBC: Off the bubble): The Razorbacks snapped a five-game losing streak on Saturday by beating Missouri (87) at home. They have a pair of Quad 1 wins and a 4-10 mark against the top two Quads, but the more important record is this: They are 16-5 on the season with a healthy Isaiah Joe, who returned to action and scored 21 points on Saturday. It will be very interesting to see how the selection committee handles Arkansas.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 56, NBC: First four out): Mississippi State significantly dinged their at-large chances by losing at Texas A&M (117) on Saturday. That’s the third bad loss on their resume, and with a win at Florida (34) and a sweep of Arkansas (45) the only notable accomplishments to date, the Bulldogs find themselves in a tough spot. What’s worse is that they only get one more Quad 1 opportunity in the regular season, and that’s a game at South Carolina (62).

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

SOUTH CAROLINA (NET: 63, NBC: Next four out): 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: 7), Saint Mary’s (NBC: 8)

UTAH STATE (NET: 39, 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: 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 (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.

No. 14 Oregon ride Pritchard to beat No. 24 Arizona in OT

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Payton Pritchard scored a career-high 38 points, Shakur Juiston added all of Oregon’s points in overtime and the 14th-ranked Ducks rallied to beat No. 24 Arizona 73-72 on Saturday night.

Pritchard had a terrific game in regulation and Juiston was the unlikely hero in overtime, scoring nine points, including a layup with 1.4 seconds left that was the winner. Arizona had one more great opportunity but Christian Koloko missed two free throws with one second left that could have tied or won the game.

Arizona led 64-58 with 3:27 left in regulation but the Wildcats went cold and Pritchard hit six straight free throws to pull the Ducks (21-7, 10-5 Pac-12) even with 15 seconds left. Arizona’s Josh Green missed two free throws with 2.5 seconds remaining that would have put the Wildcats ahead.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

Dylan Smith led Arizona (19-8, 9-5) with 18 points. Zeke Nnaji and Nico Mannion both scored 13. The Wildcats had a rough night at the free-throw line, making just 10 of 21 and missing the four crucial ones by Green and Koloko.

Oregon’s offense revolved around the great shooting of Pritchard. He gave the Ducks a huge boost by making several difficult 3-pointers, shooting over Arizona defenders who were right in his face.

The rest of the team didn’t have a particularly good night until Juiston’s clutch play in the final minutes. Oregon snapped a three-game road losing streak. Juiston finished with 14 points.

Pritchard scored 20 points in the first half as Oregon pushed to a 36-33 halftime lead. He hit 7 of 11 shots – including 4 of 8 from behind the 3-point line – before the break. Nnaji had eight points and five rebounds for the Wildcats in the first half.

BIG PICTURE

Oregon: The Ducks were competitive on the road and finally broke through with a big win. Oregon’s offense was stagnant outside of Pritchard and too many possessions consisted of four players watching the senior guard try to work his shot-making magic. Juiston’s overtime scoring was sorely needed.

Arizona: The Wildcats are playing well at the right time of the year but this one stings. Their newfound confidence will get a big test when they head to California and face USC and UCLA next week.

UP NEXT

Oregon: Hosts Oregon State on Thursday night.

Arizona: At Southern California in Thursday night.

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

No. 23 BYU upsets No. 2 Gonzaga 91-78

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PROVO, Utah (AP) Yoeli Childs scored 28 points to help No. 23 BYU upset second-ranked Gonzaga 91-78 on Saturday night and end the Bulldogs’ 19-game winning streak.

Jake Toolson added 17 points and T.J. Haws had 16 points. BYU (23-7, 12-3 WCC) never trailed after halftime en route to winning its eighth straight game.

Killian Tillie scored 18 points and Corey Kispert added 16 to lead the Bulldogs. Filip Petrusev added 14 points and Admon Gilder chipped in 13. Gonzaga (27-2, 13-1) won the previous five meetings in Provo before Saturday.

Gonzaga trailed by 14 points early in the second half before mounting a comeback. The Bulldogs cut the deficit to 70-68 on a jumper from Drew Timme with 7:52 remaining. BYU did not let Gonzaga erase the lead entirely.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

Zac Seljaas made back-to-back baskets to give the Cougars a little breathing room again. Then Childs bookended a string of four straight BYU baskets with a layup and a jumper to put the Cougars up 87-76 with 3:15 left.

BYU got a big lift from Childs in the first half. The senior forward crashed the boards and made several critical baskets to provide a much-needed spark for the Cougars on offense.

Childs capped a 13-4 run that gave BYU a 21-18 lead with back-to-back baskets. Gonzaga briefly regained a 25-24 lead on back-to-back baskets from Kispert and Petrusev. The Cougars surged back ahead before halftime thanks to Childs.

He accounted for three buckets on a run of five straight possessions that ended in baskets for BYU. It helped the Cougars claw out a 38-32 lead.

Gonzaga struggled to keep pace with BYU after going without a field goal over the final 4:36 of the first half.

The Cougars kept building on their momentum early in the second half. 3-pointers from Kolby Lee and Toolson highlighted a run of four straight baskets that put BYU up 58-44.

A win over a Gonzaga team that spent part of the season ranked no. 1 overall will go a long way to helping the Cougars lock up an NCAA Tournament bid in March.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga hosts San Diego on Thursday.

BYU visits Pepperdine on Saturday.

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

Saturday’s Things To Know: Three of the nation’s top four teams lose

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It was a wild Saturday in college basketball, as it started with No. 3 beating No. 1 and ended with the final undefeated team in the country losing right before the No. 2 team in the nation took their second loss.

Here are the ten things that you need to know:

1. NO. 3 KANSAS BEAT NO. 1 BAYLOR IN WACO

It’s weird when the highlight of a college basketball Saturday happens in the first game, but that was precisely the case today, as Udoka Azubuike put together one of the most dominant performances on both ends of the floor that we have seen this season in a 64-61 win over the No. 1-ranked Baylor Bears in Waco.

I wrote all about that game and Azubuike right here.

2. UNLV ENDED SAN DIEGO STATE’S UNDEFEATED SEASON

That sucks. My column.

3. OH, AND GONZAGA LOST, TOO

If it wasn’t enough that the No. 1 team in the country and the lone remaining unbeaten team in the country both lost on Saturday, No. 2 Gonzaga lost as well. The Zags went into Provo and got dropped, 91-78, by No. 23 BYU.

Yoeli Childs led the way for the Cougars with 28 points, 10 boards, three assists and a pair of steals while Tyler Haws and Jake Toolson combine for 33 points and 14 assists. It’s precisely the kind of marquee win that BYU needed on their resume if they want to climb up to the No. 5 or 6 seed line on Selection Sunday.

It certainly was a statement of intent by BYU, but I’m not all that worried about Gonzaga after this loss. The Cougars are a dangerous team when Haws and Toolson are making shots. The Marriott Center is a wild environment for a game of this magnitude. There were 20,000 fans going absolutely bonkers, and if the Zags had made a couple of the open threes that they missed late in the second half, when they had cut a 14 point lead to just two points, maybe this game would have been different.

Put another way, Gonzaga is not going to shoot 5-for-25 from three all that often. Corey Kispert is not going to shoot 1-for-10 from three all that often. Everyone has off nights, and when it happens on the road against a ranked team, you lose.

Even if you’re Gonzaga.

4. PAYTON PRITCHARD WENT NUTS

No. 14 Oregon and No. 24 Arizona played another overtime thriller on Saturday night. Oregon won, 73-72, but this one had too many twists and turns in the final minutes to hash it all out here. Just know this: Arizona had two free throws to win the game in regulation and Josh Green missed both. In overtime, they had two more free throws with 1.1 seconds left down by one, and Christian Koloko missed both.

You don’t see that happen often.

The bigger story, however, was the play of Payton Pritchard, who made sure to remind everyone that he is still in the National Player of the Year race. He finished with 38 of Oregon’s 73 points. He was 12-for-27 from the floor. He had six boards and four assists and he turned the ball over just twice despite being asked to have the ball in his hands on just about every possession.

He was dominant. He hit big shots. He made big plays. And he’s done it all season long.

I don’t know if I would have Pritchard as the National Player of the Year, but it’s hard to talk myself out of him being a first-team All-American this season.

5. PROVIDENCE IS THE WEIRDEST TEAM IN THE COUNTRY …

I’m not sure there is a team in the country that had a more disappointing run through the non-conference portion of the schedule.

The Friars, who were thought to be a borderline top 25 team entering the year, lost to Northwester, Penn, Long Beach State and Charleston. They got smacked by in-state rival Rhode Island. They got blown out by Florida. Entering the month of February, the Friars were sitting at 11-10 overall and 4-4 in the Big East having lost three straight games.

Then everything changed in February. They won at Butler. They beat Creighton, the only team to do so since January 15th. They beat Seton Hall in a game they led by as many as 25 points. They won at Georgetown. And, on Saturday, they blew out Marquette, winning 84-72 in a game they led by as many as 20 points despite allowing Markus Howard to go for 38.

They have seven Quad 1 wins, which is incredible when you consider that they still have a lot of work to do to get into the NCAA tournament.

I would not want to have to face the Friars in March.

6. … BUT UCLA ISN’T FAR BEHIND

Back in December, as the calendar was getting ready to turn, UCLA fans were trying to fire their new head coach, Mick Cronin. After losing to Cal St. Fullerton — who is horrendous — the Bruins were sitting at 7-6 on the season with a pair of losses to mid-major programs in Pauley Pavilion; back in November, they lost to Hofstra at home.

And it only got worse from there. After winning at Washington to open Pac-12 play, the Bruins reeled off three straight losses. They were sitting under .500 on the season in mid-January, and it was the best thing to happen to them?

Because it was the spark that UCLA needed.

Since losing to Stanford at home on January 15th, UCLA has won nine of their last 11 games. After winning at Colorado on Saturday, the Bruins have now won five straight games. They swept Colorado. They won at Arizona. And, sitting at 17-11 on the season, they can probably play their way into the NCAA tournament in they can beat Arizona State and Arizona at home and win at USC.

7. MEMPHIS KEPT THEIR AT-LARGE HOPES ALIVE

The Tigers are hanging on by a thread, but they are still hanging on right now.

Memphis knocked off No. 22 Houston, 60-59, in the FedEx Forum on Saturday afternoon. They still have some work to do if they are going to go dancing, but with a pair of Quad 1 wins and trips to SMU and Houston with a home date against Wichita State left, the Tigers still have a chance to get this done.

8. IMMANUEL IS QUICKLEY BECOMING A STAR

No. 10 Kentucky survived Florida, 65-59, on Saturday in large part due to the play of Quickley, who finished with 26 points. He’s been easily the most consistent player on this Kentucky roster, and he has made a habit of hitting the biggest shots over the course of a game. On Saturday, it was three straight triples to turn a 44-41 deficit into a 50-44 lead.

And then there is this stat from Kyle Tucker of The Athletic: Quickley, who is averaging 15.2 ppg on the season, is averaging 15.5 ppg in the second half of the last six games.

9. VIRGINIA IS THE HOTTEST TEAM IN THE ACC

Kihei Clark led four players in double figures with 17 points and Virginia went on the road to knock off Pitt, 59-56, meaning that they have now won four straight games and seven of their last eight. With just four games left in the regular season, the Wahoos have a chance to prove themselves in the final two weeks: They still get Duke and Louisville at home.

10. MICHIGAN IS THE HOTTEST TEAM IN THE BIG TEN

The Wolverines have now won five straight games after going into Mackey Arena and dropping a hammer on Purdue. They’ve won seven of their last eight games. This week, they went into the RAC and won as well, meaning that the Wolverines went 2-0 in arenas where the road team had been 3-27 combined on the season.

Isaiah Livers played on Saturday. He was on the floor for 36 minutes. He finished with 19 points on 5-for-11 shooting with six boards and a pair of blocks.

Michigan is back, baby.

UNLV hands No. 4 San Diego State its first loss, 66-63

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SAN DIEGO — Elijah Mitrou-Long scored 19 points, including two free throws with 11.5 seconds left, and UNLV handed No. 4 San Diego State its first loss of the season, 66-63 on Saturday night to end the Aztecs’ 26-game winning streak.

San Diego State, which had been the nation’s only undefeated team since Jan. 15, erased most of a 14-point deficit when it pulled to 64-63 on Malachi Flynn’s 3-pointer with 14.5 seconds left. Mitrou-Long was fouled by Matt Mitchell with 11.5 seconds left and made both free throws.

Flynn missed a contested 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left and the ball went to the Runnin’ Rebels. After a long pass down the court, Mitchell ended up with the ball and his desperation shot at the buzzer fell short.

SDSU (26-1, 15-1 Mountain West) unveiled the regular-season conference banner before the game and then looked nothing like the team that raced to the best start in school history. The Aztecs trailed by 14 midway through the second half and were down 11 with 4:32 to go.

They were uncharacteristically porous on defense and sloppy on offense, missing easy shots and committing careless turnovers.

SDSU had been projected as the No. 1 seed in the East in the NCAA Tournament. Providing the Aztecs don’t stumble again, the loss could keep the Aztecs in the West as the No. 2 seed. Gonzaga is the projected No. 1 seed in the West, where the regionals will be at Staples Center up the freeway in Los Angeles.

Amauri Hardy scored 17 points and Bryce Hamilton added 11 points and 10 rebounds for UNLV (15-14, 10-6).

Flynn scored 24, Mitchell 13 and Jordan Schakel 10 for SDSU.

SDSU pulled to 62-60 on Flynn’s two free throws with 1:47 left and Arop Aguek’s layup with 25.6 seconds left. Mitrou-Long then made two free throws with 19.9 seconds left for a four-point lead.

Hardy’s jumper gave UNLV a 44-30 lead three minutes into the second half before SDSU pulled within seven, thanks to Flynn’s layup and Jordan Schakel’s 3-pointer. But Hardy then made a jumper from the free-throw line and a layup to put the Runnin’ Rebels back up by double digits.

UNLV took advantage of numerous SDSU breakdowns to take a double-digit lead midway through the first half and pushed it to 37-25 at halftime on a steal and slam dunk by Mitrou-Long.

SDSU had the lead just once, at 14-13 after Flynn’s 3-pointer, and then allowed UNLV to go on a 10-0 run. Mitrou-Long started it by converting a 4-point play when he hit a 3-pointer and was fouled by Flynn. Cheikh Mbacke Diong scored inside and then Hardy hit a floater and Mitrou-Long made a layup.

SDSU’s only points in a four-minute span were two free throws apiece by Mitchell and Flynn. UNLV kept connecting, though, getting a bank shot by Hamilton and a 3-pointer by Mitrou-Long to take its first double-digit lead, 28-18 with 7:12 before halftime.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Aztecs will drop from their No. 4 spot in the Top 25, which matched the highest ranking in school history.

BIG PICTURE

UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels lost at home to SDSU by just four points on Jan. 26. They came out strong on the road and let SDSU have the lead just once in the first half, at 14-13 after Flynn’s 3-pointer.

SDSU: Matt Mitchell was recognized before the game for reaching the 1,000-point plateau, which he accomplished in the previous home game, Feb. 11 against New Mexico.

UP NEXT

UNLV hosts Boise State in its home finale on Wednesday night.

SDSU hosts Colorado State in its home finale on Tuesday night.