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SEC Preview: Kentucky, Florida and Texas A&M look primed to battle for a title

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the SEC.

The SEC has generated quite a bit of hype this offseason.

Some of it is justified.

Increased recruiting efforts by the likes of Alabama, Missouri, Auburn and Mississippi State mean that there are a number of teams that aren’t accustomed to NCAA tournament buzz getting some in October.

That’s before you consider that Kentucky, Florida and Texas A&M all look top 25-good while Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Arkansas have ‘tough out’ written all over them.

But we’ve heard this story before.

Will this season be any different than the last?

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

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Kentucky is ridiculously talented, but the pieces may not fit together

The Wildcats are loaded with talent once again. When Jarred Vanderbilt returns from his foot injury, John Calipari will have eight five-star prospects at his disposal this year. Three of them – Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Hamidou Diallo – spent last season as a part of the program in one way or another, and that doesn’t even include Shae Gilgeous-Alexander, who has quietly been climbing up NBA Draft boards.

Kentucky should be terrific on the defensive end of the floor thanks to all that length and athleticism. The problem is on the offensive side of the ball. For starters, there just isn’t enough shooting on the roster to be able to space the floor. There also is a lack of elite-level playmaking and shot creation. Put another way, if Kentucky finds themselves in a grind-it-out half-court game, how are they going to be able to create offense? Who on this team scares you if you are an opposing coach?

Part of the problem is the roster construction. Much like the 2014-15 team, Kentucky may have too many big guys. Don’t be surprised to see Kevin Knox, who should be a four at the college level, play the majority of his minutes on the perimeter. But unlike that Kentucky team, this one doesn’t have the same caliber of potential NBA talent. There is no Karl Towns or Devin Booker. There is n Tyler Ulis or Harrison twin. I would even argue that Knox is less effective on the perimeter than Trey Lyles was.

I trust in John Calipari to figure this thing out, to find a role for each of his guy’s to play and a way to get them to buy into that role. He’s one of the best at that.

I just can’t see how that is going to play out from where I’m sitting.

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Tyler Davis (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

2. Texas A&M can actually contend for the SEC crown

I firmly believe that this season, and it starts with their front court, which is as big and as talented as anyone. The name to know is probably Robert Williams, a 6-foot-10 sophomore from tiny Oil City, Louisiana, who opted to forgo the NBA and return to college for his sophomore season. He is a potential top five pick, should his jumper and perimeter ability catch up to his ridiculous athleticism and physical tools, but he probably won’t be the best big on the Texas A&M roster this season.

That title belongs to Tyler Davis, a 6-foot-9 behemoth. He’s the rock on the low block for the Aggies, who can score and draw fouls in the paint and own the glass. Throw in shooters like Tony Trocha-Morelos and D.J. Hogg to space the floor, and that’s going to be tough to deal with.

The concern is in the back court. Texas A&M was without a point guard last year and brought in three potential cures to that issues: freshman Jay Jay Chandler, redshirt freshman J.J. Caldwell and grad transfer Duane Wilson, who left Marquette to enroll with the Aggies. One of those three is going to have to step up and take over the position this year.

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3. Kentucky isn’t the only team with awesome freshmen

While the Wildcats have the most – as in number – talented recruits on their roster, they don’t have the most – as in best – talented newbies in the SEC.

That title probably belongs to Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr., a 6-foot-10 freak-of-nature athlete who already has advanced perimeter skills and an impressive ability to knock down the three. I’m not comparing him to Kevin Durant as a player – Nno one should ever be compared to Kevin Durant as a player unless it’s to say “he’s not ever going to be as good as Kevin Durant” – but I could see his freshman season following in the footsteps of Durant’s: Massive numbers on a team that he carries, early round NCAA tournament exit after landing a middling seed. Simply put: Missouri’s supporting cast is either A) a freshman, like his younger brother Jontay, or B) not all that talented.

While Porter could end up being the first pick of the 2018 NBA Draft, the first point guard taken off the board looks like it could end up being Alabama’s Collin Sexton. Sexton is interesting for a couple reasons:

  1. He’s a high-volume scorer that did so much of his work by drawing fouls. Is he going to get the same calls at the college level that he got in high school and AAU?
  2. He’s a guy that could average 20 points on a team that desperately needs a scoring boost. The Crimson Tide finished 158th nationally in offensive efficiency last season. They were 10th in defensive efficiency. They need Sexton.

The addition of both Porters immediately makes Missouri one of the most interesting teams in the country, let alone the league. Will that be enough for Cuonzo Martin to get to his third NCAA tournament in ten seasons as a head coach? On the other hand, Alabama has a legitimate argument to be considered a top three team in the league. We’ll see if either of those things lasts.

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Michael Porter Jr., Missouri Athletics

4. The losses suffered by Florida are going to hurt more than you think

The good news for the Gators is that they returned KeVaughn Allen, who is one of the most dangerous scorers in all of college basketball. He’s capable of popping off for 30 points on any given night, and if he, as an upperclassmen this season, can find a way to iron out some of those inconsistencies, we’re talking about a potential SEC Player of the Year candidate.

That’s big.

But it’s also burying the lede, because the Gators lost three critical pieces from last season’s team: Kasey Hill, Devin Robinson and Justin Leon. Hill never did live up to the hype that he had coming out of high school, but by the time that he graduated from Florida he was a veteran leader, an above average playmaker and a defensive menace at the point. Throw in Robinson and Leon, two versatile, athletic forwards that were switchable defensively, and this group is going to take a big step down from the team that finished last season ranked as college basketball’s No. 2 defense, according to KenPom.

I think Chiozza will be fine at the point, and Egor Koulechov and Jalen Hudson should be able to impact this team immediately, but unless the likes of Keith Stone and DeAundre Ballard are ready to fill the void left by Robinson and Leon, the Gators are going to have some growing pains.

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

5. Critical seasons are on tap for Bruce Pearl and Ben Howland

For the last three years, we’ve been hearing about how the influx of talent and investment into coaching ability was going to change the trajectory of SEC basketball for the teams not named Kentucky and Florida in the league. To date, that hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Frank Martin reached the Final Four last season with a once-in-a-generation South Carolina team. Rick Barnes has been fine at Tennessee; the Vols play hard and win above their talent level, and they have a solid young core that could make them relevant in a year or two.

Pearl and Howland are a different story. Pearl is in year four now, and after arriving at Auburn with a massive amount of hype, he’s yet to even sniff the NCAA tournament. This year’s team has the talent to do so, but the cloud of the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball is hanging over the program. A former assistant coach, Chuck Person, was arrested after taking more than $90,000 in bribe money from a financial advisor, some of which was supposed to be earmarked for players on the Auburn roster.

Auburn has a roster that is good enough to make the NCAA tournament this season. Will all of those players remain eligible all season long? Will Bruce Pearl still be employed in March?

Howland is in a bit of a different situation. Mississippi State has had a number of strong recruiting classes in a row, and with Quinndary Weatherspoon retuning to school and being joined in Starkville by his brother, Nick, the Bulldogs look like a team that should be able to make a run, particularly when you factor in Lamar Peters. But chemistry issues have dogged this program, and Howland has never really been one for team-building activities, so there are some real concerns.

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Bruce Pearl (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Davis, Texas A&M

I’m not sure that there is a tougher big man to guard in college basketball than Tyler Davis. At 6-foot-10 and 261 pounds of solid muscle, Davis has slimmed down from the 300-pound behemoth that committed to A&M. He immovable when he gets position on the block, and while he’s something of a land warrior when it comes to protecting the rim, he does have some solid moves on the block, a soft touch around the rim and the ability to use his body to create angles.

THE REST OF THE ALL-SEC FIRST TEAM

  • Michael Porter Jr., Missouri: Porter is an obscenely talented freshman, a player that has the potential to end up being the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. His 6-foot-10 size, athleticism and ability to play on the perimeter like a guard makes him a candidate to score 20 points per game this season.
  • KeVaughn Allen, Florida: Allen is one of the most dangerous scorers in college basketball. We all saw him go for 35 points on Wisconsin. Consistency is the issue with him.
  • Yante Maten, Georgia: Perennially underrated playing for a middlling SEC program like Georgia, Maten’s flown under the radar over the course of the last two seasons. He’s the best big man in this league, and that’s saying a lot.
  • Robert Williams, Texas A&M: Big Bob Williams made the decision to return to school for his sophomore season, something that was relatively unexpected but that really helped boost the stock of the Aggies.
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FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky
  • Mustapha Heron, Auburn
  • Collin Sexton, Alabama
  • Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State
  • Terrence Davis, Ole Miss
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Grant Williams (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

BREAKOUT STAR: Grant Williams, Tennessee

Grant Williams doesn’t look like a guy that would be a great basketball player. Generously listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, Williams has the build of a tight end, not a power forward, but that didn’t stop him from putting together a terrific freshman season. He averaged 12.6 points, 5.9 boards and 1.9 blocks and, with the Volunteers losing a couple of scorers off last year’s roster, he’ll be asked to play a bigger role this year. He’ll be a name SEC teams have to pay attention to.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Mark Fox, Georgia

Mark Fox is one of the more well-respected coaches in the SEC. His teams run good offense, they’re well-disciplined defensively, generally-speaking they tend to play above their talent level. He’s good at what he does. He’s also a basketball coach at a football school in a football state, and while he’s done well to make the program respectable – he’s been there for eight seasons, reached two NCAA tournament and three NITS and hasn’t finished below .500 in the league since 2012 – but at some point winning matters. With J.J. Frazier gone, Fox is heading into Yante Maten’s senior year without much coming down the pipeline.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

How did the SEC end up getting seven teams into the NCAA tournament?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

… the one season that we’ll get Michael Porter Jr. on a college campus. He has a chance to be special.

EIGHT NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • 11/10, Texas A&M vs. West Virginia (Germany)
  • 11/14, Kentucky vs. Kansas (Chicago, Champions Classic)
  • 11/26, Texas A&M at USC
  • 12/5, Texas A&M vs. Arizona (Phoenix)
  • 12/9, Florida vs. Cincinnati (Newark, N.J.)
  • 12/23, UCLA vs. Kentucky (New Orleans, CBS Sports Classic)
  • 12/29, Louisville at Kentucky
  • 1/27, Kentucky at West Virginia
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Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky Athletics
CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke

POWER RANKINGS

1. Texas A&M: The Aggies have a front court that is absolutely loaded. One of the best in the country. Picking them to win the conference means betting that Billy Kennedy will be able to figure it out with the young point guards on his roster.
2. Kentucky: This is a young, athletic and talented Kentucky roster that doesn’t seem to fit together all that well. I have expanded thoughts here, but in a nutshell: I think they’ll take their lumps early but that John Calipari will figure it out.
3. Florida: Florida will be good, but as I wrote earlier, I’m not buying the hype that this is a top ten team entering the season.
4. Alabama: I’m not sure what else there is to add about Alabama from what I wrote earlier. This is a team that was elite defensively and lacked scoring before going out and landing Collin Sexton.
5. Missouri: This is where the SEC gets really interesting. The top four in the league is pretty clear-cut, but the teams ranked 5-10 can pretty much be put into any order. I bet on talent, which is why I have Michael Porter Jr.’s team at the top of this group, but my concerns about this roster makeup can be read in full here.
6. Tennessee: The Vols are my sleeper in the SEC this season. This is a young group that plays hard, defends well and has an up-and-coming star in this league in Grant Williams. Rick Barnes is a better coach than you realize.
7. Ole Miss: I have no idea what Andy Kennedy is going to do with this front court to replace Sebastian Saiz, but I do know that a back court that includes Deandre Burnett, Terence Davis, Markel Crawford, Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler – and that doesn’t include Cullen Neal – is one of the nation’s most underrated.
8. Arkansas: I don’t get the hype Arkansas has gotten this offseason. They lost one of the SEC’s best rim protectors and rebounders in Moses Kingsley and once of the best floor-spacers in Dusty Hannahs, and they’re supposed to get better?
9. Vanderbilt: The loss of Luke Kornet is really going to hurt this group. Matthew Fisher-Davis is one of the better guards in the SEC you probably haven’t heard of, and the ‘Dores are going to be old and well-coached, but I’m not seeing tournament upside here.
10. Auburn: The Tigers have top four upside, particularly in Austin Wiley can get healthy (and in shape) and Mustapha Heron continues to develop as a scorer. But I’m still not sold on this team being able to overcome everything that is currently swirling around the program.
11. Georgia: I think Mark Fox is a terrific coach and Yante Maten is a terrific player, but there just isn’t enough talent on this roster to beat out what is a good middle-of-the-pack in the SEC.
12. Mississippi State: As much talent as there is on the Bulldogs roster, I’m worried about their front court. Mario Kegler was the one guy that could space the floor. He transferred.
13. South Carolina: The loss of Sindarius Thornwell is a blow, but losing P.J. Dozier might have hurt more. He was a guy the Gamecocks could have built around this season. Not anymore.
14. LSU: I do think that the future is bright for LSU under Will Wade. They are already recruiting well, landing a top point guard prospect in the Class of 2017 in Tremont Waters. But when the best thing you can say about a program is ‘they’re recruiting well,’ it’s not a good sign for the present.

Illinois outlasts No. 9 Penn State

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Ayo Dosunmu scored 24 points and Illinois snapped a four-game losing streak with a 62-56 victory over No. 9 Penn State on Tuesday night.

Kofi Cockburn added 14 points for the Fighting Illini (17-9, 9-6 Big Ten), who led most of the way and ended Penn State’s eight-game winning streak.

The win also snapped Illinois’ six-game losing streak against Penn State.

NBC SPORTS BRACKETOLOGY

Lamar Stevens scored 13 points for the Nittany Lions (20-6, 10-5), who entered with their highest ranking in the AP Top 25 since they were No. 9 at the same point of the 1996 season.

Izaiah Brockington added 10 points for the Nittany Lions, who trailed 30-26 at halftime and by as many as nine points with 5:35 to play.

Penn State got a pair of free throws from Seth Lundy that cut its deficit to 58-56 with a minute left, but Dosunmu iced it with a layup 30 seconds later.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL SCOREBOARD

It was back-and-forth early as teams swapped the lead five times in the first. The Illini controlled play for 9:06 and Griffin gave them their biggest lead of the half when he hit a 3-pointer, drew a foul and hit the ensuing free throw to put the Illini up 21-16 with 8:54 before halftime.

Penn State used an 8-1 run, capped by a steal and dunk by Lundy, to retake the lead 4:22 later.

But Illinois got eight straight points from Dosunmu before a put-back by Giorgi Bezhanishvili to go up 30-26 at the break.

THE BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini needed a win to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, and getting Dosunmu back certainly helped. The sophomore guard had missed Saturday’s loss at Rutgers after suffering an injury to his left knee is a win over Michigan State on Feb. 11. Despite their recent shooting woes, they looked confident against a strong Penn State defense that’s been nearly flawless at home.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions entered the evening a game behind Maryland in the hunt for the Big Ten’s top seed. There’s still plenty of time for them to recover and make up ground.

UP NEXT

Illinois: Hosts Nebraska on Monday.

Penn State: Visits Indiana on Sunday.

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

All-out brawl mars the end of Jackson State-Prairie View A&M game

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After a chippy end to Prairie View A&M’s 70-61 win over Jackson State on Monday night, several players were involved in a fight that came after the buzzer sounded and knocked over fans sitting courtside.

The skirmish started during the handshake line, when Jackson State’s Dontelius Ross appeared to take exception to something that was said by Prairie View’s Darius Williams. He was initially held back, but the melee continued elsewhere on the floor.

Here is another angle of the brawl:

Monday’s Things To Know: Kansas is ready for Baylor, UNC drops another heartbreaker

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Monday was a slow night for college basketball, but we did get a couple of fun finishes around the country.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. NORTH CAROLINA’S HEART-BREAKING SEASON CONTINUES

No team in the country has suffered more soul-crushing losses than the Tar Heels have this season.

Remember when they lost to Virginia Tech in double-overtime? Remember when they lost to Clemson in the Dean Dome for the first time ever because Roy Williams forgot to tell his team to foul up three? What about the time they lost to Boston College because Brandon Robinson sprained his ankle while “fouling” a three-point shooter with 17 seconds left? We all remember the collapse against Duke, but did you see Tomas Woldetensae’s game-winning three for Virginia on Saturday?

And if that wasn’t enough, the Tar Heels lost at Notre Dame on Monday night when Nate Laszewski hit a three with 1.8 seconds left for a 77-76 win in South Bend.

That is now six straight losses for the Tar Heels, if you’re scoring at home. Four of the six are one possessions losses. They lost by six at Florida State in a game they led by eight late in the first half, too. They are really not all that far away from being a team with a pretty good record, but as it stands, they are now going to finish the season under .500.

It’s been a tough, tough season for the Tar Heels.

2. ZACH FREEMANTLE SAVES XAVIER

Zach Freemantle, a freshman forward for the Musketeers, scored four points in the final 10.4 seconds as Xavier landed a key win at St. John’s on Monday night.

The Musketeers are still fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament. They do have some room to spare right now, but if they can find a way to win out during the regular season, the Musketeers will have a shot of climbing up past the 8-9 game. They’ve now won four of their last five games.

3. DEVON DOTSON SHOWS OUT AS KANSAS IS FINDING A RHYTHM OFFENSIVELY

Kansas has picked a great time to get hot.

On Saturday, the Jayhawks put up 87 points — the most points they have scored in regulation against a high-major opponent this season — in a 17 point win over Oklahoma on Saturday. They shot 11-for-22 from three in that game.

On Monday, they Jayhawks put up 91 points after shooting 12-for-27 from three against Iowa State. Marcus Garrett scored 24 points on Saturday. Devon Dotson scored 29 points on Monday.

Why is this important?

Because the Jayhawks play No. 1 Baylor in Waco on Saturday. When these two teams last faced off, the Bears beat the Jayhawks 67-55 in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. They’ll be ready for the rematch.

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: 11): Tomas Woldetensae hit a three with a second left on the clock to beat North Carolina (95) in Chapel Hill on Saturday. The Wahoos are now 17-7 overall with a 7-6 mark against the top two Quads thanks to this win. They do have three Quad 1 wins, but just one of them — Florida State (15) at home — is a surefire Quad 1 win to go along with a Quad 3 loss at Boston College (143). Perhaps the biggest issue is that UVA has just two potential Quad 1 wins left on their schedule. They can’t afford slip-ups, and could really use a win over Duke (6) or Louisville (7) next month. But as of today they are in a pretty good spot.

N.C. STATE (NET: 61, NBC: First four out): The Wolfpack landed their third Quad 1 win of the season by going into the Carrier Dome and picking off Syracuse (69) on Tuesday night, but they followed that up with their third Quad 3 loss, a 71-68 loss at Boston College (143). N.C. State has just one win over a top 50 team — a home win over Wisconsin (33) — but they do have those three Quad 1 road wins. Three Quad 3 losses weigh things down quite a bit, but if they’re going to get to the NCAA tournament, they can earn it this week when they host Duke (6) and Florida State (14).


AMERICAN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Houston (NBC: 8)

WICHITA STATE (NET: 46, NBC: 10): The Shocker shook off a recent three-game losing streak with back-to-back impressive wins against the bottom of the AAC. They have beaten VCU (52) and Oklahoma (47) 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 (51), at SMU (67) and at Memphis (60)

MEMPHIS (NET: 59, NBC: NExt four out): The Tigers are now in the midst of a three-game losing streak after losing yet another nailbiter at UConn (71). They’ve now lost their last three games by a total of 11 points, one of which came in overtime. In total, they have lost five of their last eight and seven of their last 12 games, and they are playing without D.J. Jeffries, their second-leading scorer. They have more Quad 3 losses (two) than Quad 1 wins (one) and the two best teams that they have beaten on the season are on the bubble. I don’t think this ends well for Memphis.

CINCINNATI (NET: 48, NBC: Play-in game): Cincinnati avoided disaster by beating East Carolina in overtime on Sunday. It’s their third straight overtime game: they beat Memphis (60) and home and lost at UConn (71). They’ve won seven of their last eight games and nine of their last 11, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are two major problems with Cincinnati’s resume right now: They don’t have an elite win and the best win available to them during league play is at Houston (29) in two weeks. They do have a pair of Quad 1 wins and an 8-5 mark against the top two Quads, but with three Quad 3 losses to their name, there is still some ground for them to makeup if they want to feel comfortable. They need to keep on winning, but the Bearcats are probably in the NCAA tournament as of today. My gut says they do enough to get there.


ATLANTIC 10 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Dayton (NBC: 2)

VCU (NET: 42, NBC: Off the bubble): The Rams are in a terrible spot after losing three of their last four games, including a blowout loss at Richmond (45) on Saturday. Ig they do not beat Dayton (5) on Tuesday next week, than discussing the rest of their resume will not matter. They will not be a tournament team. We’ll talk Wednesday.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 34, NBC: 11): URI did what they needed to do and picked off St. Joseph’s (237) at home on Saturday. 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 (219) 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: 52, NBC: Play-in game): The Spiders picked up a win in the toughest game they have left on their schedule, beating VCU (52) by 18 points at home. For my money, the Spiders’ at-large hopes are a longshot. I cannot see how they are going to be able to get enough wins to stay on the right side of the cutline without a win over Dayton (5). But stranger things have happened, and they could end up getting another shot at the Flyers in the Atlantic 10 tournament.


BIG 12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Baylor (NBC: 1), Kansas (NBC: 1), West Virginia (NBC: 5), Texas Tech (NBC: 8), Oklahoma (NBC: 9)

No one on the bubble.


BIG EAST BUBBLE WATCH

Top 9: Seton Hall (NBC: 3), Villanova (NBC: 3), Creighton (NBC: 3), Butler (NBC: 4), Marquette (NBC: 6), Xavier (NBC: 9)

GEORGETOWN (NET: 43, NBC: Play-in game): Without question, the biggest bubble winner the week is Georgetown, who 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 (20). There are two major problems with Georgetown’s NCAA tournament profile: The first is that they already have ten losses, but some of that is explainable: They are 5-9 against Quad 1 opponents and 9-10 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents. They have played 19 games against top 75 teams. That’s a lot of good games, and a 9-10 record against them is hardly a bad thing. The other issue was a lack of elite wins, but they already had a win over Creighton (13) in their back pocket, and now they can add a road win over a top 20 team to the mix.


BIG TEN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Maryland (NBC: 2), Penn State (NBC: 4), Michigan State (NBC: 5), Iowa (NBC: 6), Ohio State (NBC: 6), Illinois (NBC: 7), Michigan (NBC: 7), Wisconsin (NBC: 8), Rutgers (NBC: 9)

INDIANA (NET: 63, NBC: 10): Indiana is 16-9 on the season and 6-8 in the Big Ten, which is not ideal. Neither is their 1-6 record on the road. But the Hoosiers do have four Quad 1 wins and are sitting at 6-9 against the top two Quads without a single loss to a team that ranks outside the top 50. They’ve beaten three top 20 teams at home. Indiana fans are losing their minds, but they are in a better spot right now than they realize. Beating someone other than Nebraska (175) on the road would certainly make a different.

PURDUE (NET: 33, NBC: FIRST FOUR OUT): The biggest issue currently facing Purdue after losing at Ohio State (18) is that they now have 12 losses on the season, including a pair of Quad 3 losses, and the rest of their schedule is absolutely brutal. 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 3-9 against Quad 1 opponents and 7-10 against the top two Quads with a 3-7 record on the road. Their best road win is at Indiana (58). They’re in a tough spot right now.

MINNESOTA (NET: 40, NBC: Off the bubble): After blowing a late, eight point lead to Iowa (28) at home, the Gophers have lost four of their last five and five of their last seven games. They are 4-10 against Quad 1 opponents and sit at 6-12 against the top two Quads. Their 12-11 record on the season is certainly a problem, but their “worst” loss is DePaul (67) at home. The biggest red flag with Minnesota is that they have just one win away from home on the season — at Ohio State (15). They need to start winning, but they are in a place where getting hot for two weeks will be enough to get them up as high as a No. 8 seed. But they need to start winning now.


PAC-12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Oregon (NBC: 4), Colorado (NBC: 5), Arizona (NBC: 7)

USC (NET: 49, NBC: 10): I think USC is in a pretty good spot after sweeping the Washington schools in LA this week and doing so without Onyeka Okongwu. They only have two Quad 1 wins, but they are 8-6 against the top two Quads. The home loss to Temple (106) is not ideal, but it is survivable. They should be OK as long as they don’t do anything stupid down the stretch.

STANFORD (NET: 37, NBC: NEXT four out): The Cardinal lost their fourth straight game on Saturday night at home against Arizona (8). It was their seventh loss in the last eight games. They have an ugly Quad 3 loss to Cal (155) and just two total Quad 1 wins. Stanford will have chances down the stretch, but should we actually trust them to take advantage of those chances?

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 50, NBC: 10): The Sun Devils won their fifth straight game on Saturday night, winning at Cal (155) three days after they beat Stanford (37) on the road, their fourth Quad 1 win. They’re now 4-6 against Quad 1 opponents with three of those wins coming on the road. They are 7-8 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents and their “worst” loss is a Quad 2 loss at Washington State (107). Should I mention that they are tied for the lead in the Pac-12 with four other teams? Arizona State is in a good spot right now.


SEC BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Kentucky (NBC: 4), Auburn (NBC: 4), LSU (NBC: 7), Florida (NBC: 9)

ARKANSAS (NET: 48, NBC: Next four out): The Razorbacks fell at the buzzer on Saturday when Mississippi State’s (53) Abdul Ado tipped in a missed shot with less than a second left. They ave now lost four straight games, are sitting with a 4-9 recorded against the top two Quadrants with just two Quad 1 wins — at Alabama (36) and at Indiana (63). They desperately need to get Isaiah Joe back.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 53, NBC: First four out): Abdul Ado made the biggest player of the year for the Bulldogs, tipping home a game-winning bucket with less than a second left on the clock in a 78-77 win at Arkansas (48) on Saturday. The enormity of this win cannot be overstated. For starters, Mississippi State only had one Quad 1 entering the day, and adding a second Quad 1 win means they now have the same number as their Quad 3 losses. But the bigger issue is that MSU’s schedule down the stretch features precisely one top 65 opponent. This was their last chance at a good win for their resume until the SEC tournament, and they got it.

ALABAMA (NET: 36, NBC: First four out): The Crimson Tide picked up an enormous win on Saturday, as they knocked off LSU (29) in Tuscaloosa for their second Quad 1 win of the season. Alabama is now 14-11 overall and while their 6-10 record against Quad 1 and 2 opponents is solid, a 3-6 mark on the road, a home loss to Penn (153) and just two Quad 1 wins is not a good sign. At this point, I think Alabama needs to win out during the regular season for the simple fact that their schedule is not all that strong. But they have a shot if they do.

SOUTH CAROLINA (NET: 65, NBC: Next four out): Suddenly, South Carolina is in the mix for the bubble. They are 7-7 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents with a trio of Quad 1 wins — Kentucky (24), at Arkansas (48), at Virginia (55). They do have a Quad 3 loss — Boston (152) — and a Quad 4 loss — Stetson (290) — so they do have some more work to do. With a schedule that includes a pair of games against Mississippi State and dates with LSU and at Alabama, they’ll have a chance to build.


BUBBLE WATCH FOR EVERYONE ELSE

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

UTAH STATE (NET: 41, NBC: Play-in game): After beating Fresno State, the Aggies have won four in a row and seven of their last eight 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 three weeks ago. Wins over LSU (27) and Florida (38) are nice, but with three road losses to sub-85 teams and no more chances to land marquee wins, how are they going to make up for those losses? They don’t play another top 100 team the rest of the season. I don’t see how they can get in without beating San Diego State (1) in the MWC tournament.

NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 40, NBC: 11): The Panthers lost at Loyola (94), which is hardly a bad loss, especially in the MVC, but I’m not sure that it is a loss they can afford. Their strong NET and wins at Colorado (17) and over South Carolina (66) on a neutral keep the Panthers in the conversation, but losses at Southern Illinois (151) and Illinois State (203) are killers. UNI cannot lose another game unless it is against Loyola-Chicago in the MVC tournament if they really want a chance at an at-large, and even then, it will be tough.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 41, NBC: 11): ETSU has a win at UNCG (61) and a win at LSU (27). With a 20-4 record and a loss to Mercer (205) at home, the Buccaneers have to win out and lost to only UNCG or Furman (73) in the SoCon tournament to have a chance, and even that will be a bit of a longshot. They went 2-0 this week.

Top of AP poll steady as Baylor, Kansas set collision course

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A new college basketball AP Poll has been released, and Baylor and Kansas just keep winning, setting up a monumental showdown Saturday between the top-ranked Bears and No. 3 Jayhawks that could help decide not only the Big 12 title but the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament.

The two teams were separated once again by Gonzaga in the latest college basketball poll from The Associated Press on Monday. The Bears (23-1) had 48 first-place votes from the 63-member media panel, while the Bulldogs (26-1) had 14 first-place nods and the Jayhawks (22-3) had the only remaining first-place vote.

Dave Ommen’s latest bracketology can be found here. Rob Dauster’s Bubble Watch can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

“The best we could be right now is being the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. We’re No. 2,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, whose team beat West Virginia and Oklahoma last week. “The reason we’re not No. 1 is Baylor beat us on our home floor. They deserve it. I’m not looking at it like we haven’t done as well as our record because we’re in second place. I’m looking at it like we played pretty good that day and got beat by a better team, and now we have a chance to get them back.”

The Bears and Jayhawks both have business to handle before they collide on Saturday, though. Kansas got a visit from Iowa State to Allen Fieldhouse on Monday night while Baylor will be visiting Oklahoma on Tuesday night.

If both win, it would set up one of the biggest games in the history of the Ferrell Center.

“I think it’s a tribute to the players, their belief,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We’ve been operating under joy … (and) focusing one game at a time and we’ll keep doing that.”

San Diego State (26-0) remained the nation’s last unbeaten team and was No. 4 in the latest poll, while Dayton (23-2) climbed one spot to fifth after wins over Rhode Island and Massachusetts and a rough week for then-No. 5 Louisville.

“I told our team, `Let’s get greedy. Let’s play for perfection,”‘ Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said. “If we’re this close, we might as well play for a perfect regular season. … Let’s do something special.”

That’s exactly what the Flyers are trying to do, too.

“We’re trying to win a national championship,” Dayton guard Jalen Crutcher said. “We feel like that there’s no team in the country we can’t beat. We feel like we can go and win a national championship, and we talk about that a lot.”

The Cardinals lost to Georgia Tech and Clemson to plummet all the way to No. 11, but they weren’t the only ranked team to lose to an unranked foe on Saturday. Auburn fell at Missouri, Seton Hall lost to Providence, Butler lost at Georgetown, Illinois lost at Rutgers, Houston fell at SMU, Texas Tech fell at Oklahoma State and LSU was beaten on the road by Alabama.

Throw in then-No. 14 West Virginia’s loss to Baylor and nine ranked teams were beaten. Eight lost to unranked opponents, the most in a single day this season.

“This week wasn’t a good week for us,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “The teams we’re playing are too together and we’re not right now. It’s unfortunate, but it happens sometimes and my job is to keep our team on course and get better.”

The Penn State Nittany Lions moved up into the No. 9 spot, tying the school’s highest ranking ever in the AP Poll era.

Here is the full college basketball AP Poll:

1. Baylor
2. Gonzaga
3. Kansas
4. San Diego State
5. Dayton
6. Duke
7. Maryland
8. Florida State
9. Penn State
10. Kentucky
11. Louisville
12. Villanova
13. Auburn
14. Oregon
15. Creighton
16. Seton Hall
17. West Virginia
18. Colorado
19. Marquette
20. Iowa
21. Butler
22. Houston
23. BYU
24. Arizona
25. Ohio State

Others receiving votes: Texas Tech 92, Michigan State 87, Michigan 83, LSU 55, Rhode Island 39, Virginia 32, Cincinnati 14, Stephen F. Austin 14, Illinois 12, Northern Iowa 9, Utah State 8, Rutgers 6, Florida 6, East Tennessee State 5, Saint Mary’s 4, Tulsa 3, Richmond 3, SMU 2, New Mexico State 2, Wright State 1, Arizona State 1

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