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Big East Conference Preview: Villanova looks to hold off challengers

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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 Big East Conference.

Since the Big East’s reconfiguration in 2013, Villanova has served as the standard bearer with four straight regular season titles, two Big East tournament titles and a national title in 2016.

Jay Wright’s team has enough talent and experience to extend the streak to five, but the 2017-18 campaign sets up as one in which there are multiple teams poised to challenge the Wildcats.

Seton Hall, Xavier and maybe even Providence have the goods to push the Wildcats this season.

With the middle of the pack getting stronger and two head coaching changes, one of which being a Big East legend returning to his alma mater, this should be a fun year in the Big East.

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

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Villanova looks to replace three starters and remain atop the conference: With the end of the 2016-17 season came the end of three collegiate careers, with Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds all out of eligibility. All three provided key intangibles for Villanova, with Hart and Jenkins also being two of the team’s top three scorers from a season ago. The question: how will the Wildcats account for those losses, with regards to both production and leadership?

There will be some adjustments to make, but simply put the pieces are there for Villanova to remain atop the Big East. Jalen Brunson, one of the nation’s best point guards, is back for his junior season as are wing Mikal Bridges and forward Eric Paschall. Sophomore guard Donte DiVencenzo, who earned a spot on the Big East’s All-Freshman team and was also the Big 5 Newcomer of the Year, is back for his sophomore season, and Phil Booth is healthy after sitting out most of last season with a knee injury.

Add in freshmen Omari Spellman and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree inside, and Jermaine Samuels Jr. on the wing, and Villanova will not lack for talent. And in Spellman, who sat out last season, they have a big who can get them points on the block on a consistent basis. For that reason this team will be different from last year’s group, which may make the Wildcats even tougher to defend.

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Khadeen Carrington (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

2. Seton Hall, Xavier and Providence are all worthy challengers: Due to its track record and combination of returnees and newcomers, Villanova has earned the right to be preseason favorites. But this season may provide the best group of challengers to the throne since the reconfiguration of the Big East.

Xavier brings back an experienced group led by an All-America candidate in senior forward Trevon Bluiett, and the experience gained by Quentin Goodin as a result of Edmond Sumner’s injury could pay off for the sophomore in 2017-18. Add in a talented freshman class led by wing Paul Scruggs, and grad transfer Kerem Kanter, and it would not be a surprise if Chris Mack’s Musketeers won the Big East.

A similar argument could be made for Seton Hall, as Kevin Willard has a squad led by four tough, talented seniors. Angel Delgado is the nation’s best rebounder, a big man who was near automatic when it came to racking up double-doubles last season. Wing Desi Rodriguez can get hot offensively on a moment’s notice, and forward Ismael Sanogo deserves more respect nationally for his abilities as a defender. The key for the Pirates: how Khadeen Carrington, a talented guard who can make plays off the bounce as well as hit perimeter shots, adjusts to the shift to the point. If he handles it well, Seton Hall can be a major factor.

As for Providence, Ed Cooley has a senior point guard in Kyron Cartwright to trust with the offense. Cartwright averaged nearly seven assists per game last season, and that number could be even higher given the improvements made by the other options on the roster. Rodney Bullock has the potential to be an all-conference player if he becomes more efficient offensively, and forward Alpha Diallo appears poised to take a significant step forward. Makai Ashton-Langford is one of the key pieces in a good recruiting class, but the key may be the health of senior big man Emmitt Holt.

Holt’s been dealing with an abdominal issue during the preseason, and if he’s limited even more will be asked of freshmen Nate Watson and Dajour Dickens.

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Khyri Thomas (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

3. The conference’s “midsection” should be improved: Given the fact that seven teams reached the NCAA tournament last season, this may feel like a weird thing to read. But with the combination of newcomers and returnees at many of the Big East schools that populated the middle portion of the standings last season, those matchups are going to be even tougher this season.

Creighton welcomes back guards Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, and they’ll add a transfer at the point in former Syracuse guard Kaleb Joseph. The key for Joseph will be to regain the confidence that he seemingly lost during his two seasons at Syracuse, but the combination of sitting out a year and being in a system that gives guys the freedom to make plays should help.

Marquette, which won 19 games and reached the NCAA tournament last season, has a very good perimeter tandem in Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard, with the latter being one of the best shooters in the country as a freshman. The question mark for the Golden Eagles is how productive their big men will be, with SMU transfer Harry Froling set to join the likes of junior Matt Heldt and freshman Theo John in December.

Butler will be led by senior forward Kelan Martin, sophomore guard Kamar Baldwin and a new head coach in LaVall Jordan (more on the Bulldogs below), and St. John’s may be the ultimate “wild card.” Guards Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett Jr. return, and the additions of transfers Marvin Clark II and Justin Simon will help immensely. If the pieces mesh, Chris Mullin has a roster that could turn heads in the Big East.

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Kamar Baldwin (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

4. LaVall Jordan looks to build upon the “Butler Way”: While the Brad Stevens era was critical with regards to the growth of the Butler basketball program, which reached the national title game two consecutive years and moved from the Horizon League to the Big East, the “Butler Way” began well before that point. Among those who played a role in the success is LaVall Jordan, who played on three NCAA tournament teams between 1998 and 2001 for Barry Collier and Thad Matta.

After brief stay at Milwaukee that was preceded by a six-year stint on John Beilein’s staff at Michigan, Jordan has returned to his alma mater to fill the vacancy left by Chris Holtmann’s move to Ohio State. Jordan won’t be operating with an empty cupboard either, as Kelan Martin (16.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Kamar Baldwin (10.1, 3.7) return from a team that won 25 games a season ago. Butler did lose three starters from that team, most notably forward Andrew Chrabascz, but do not expect this program to simply fall off of a cliff.

5. Patrick Ewing, arguably the most important player in Big East history, makes his return to Georgetown: To say that Ewing was “arguably” the most important player in league history may be an understatement; as the crown jewel of a 1981 class that included the likes of Chris Mullin (St. John’s) and Villanova’s “Expansion Crew,” Ewing helped usher in an era of dominance for the Big East in the 1980’s. The Georgetown teams he led were both feared and respected, and with his return to The Hilltop as head coach the goal is the bring back those glory years.

Ewing, in his first head coaching job after spending well over a decade as an assistant in the NBA, has some talent to work with inside as Marcus Derrickson (8.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and Jesse Govan (10.1, 5.0) both return. But there are a lot of holes to fill on this roster, especially on the perimeter with the losses of Rodney Pryor and L.J. Peak. Look for freshman wing JaMarko Pickett to get plenty of opportunities in his debut season, one that could be difficult for the Hoyas once they begin conference play.

Angel Delgado (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Angel Delgado, Seton Hall

Only one player in college basketball (Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan) had more double-doubles than Delgado last season. The senior big man averaged 15.2 points, 13.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game last season, shooting 54.3 percent from the field. On a team expected to contend in the Big East, Delgado will once again be a focal point for the Pirates. And if he can improve on the turnover count (3.0 tpg last season) Delgado will be even tougher to slow down.

THE REST OF THE BIG EAST FIRST TEAM

  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova: One of the best point guards in college basketball, Brunson will have more leadership responsibilities on his plate in 2017-18.
  • Marcus Foster, Creighton: Foster’s first season in a Creighton uniform was a productive one, as he averaged 18.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
  • Trevon Blueitt, Xavier: Bluiett should be heard from with regards to both Big East Player of the Year and All-America honors. Last season he averaged 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.
  • Rodney Bullock, Providence: Butler’s Kelan Martin would be a solid choice here as well, but if he can be a more efficient player offensively Bullock will have a good shot at a first team spot as well.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Kelan Martin, Butler
  • Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
  • Omari Spellman and Mikal Bridges, Villanova
  • Marcus LoVett Jr. and Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s
  • Khyri Thomas, Creighton

BREAKOUT STAR: Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova

DiVincenzo is the biggest reason that I’m not that worried about Villanova trying to replace Josh Hart this season. I don’t know that he turns into the player Hart was this year, but he’s already proven that he had the ability to be an explosive scorer – he reached double-figures 14 times and scored at least 19 points four times coming off the bench – and he has the kind of toughness and defensive intelligence that he fit in with Villanova seamlessly on that end of the floor as well.

The only real concern about having DiVincenzo on this list is how good Villanova will be. They’re quite deep on the perimeter and return Phil Booth from injury. He could end up being a much-improved player with a markedly better season and end up with numbers that don’t look all that dissimilar from this season’s.

Donte DiVincenzo (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Chris Mullin, St. John’s

With John Thompson III being replaced at Georgetown during the spring, there really isn’t a coach in the Big East that’s truly on the proverbial hot seat. The pick here is Mullin, whose teams have improved in the win column in each of the last two seasons. So why Mullin? Because with the talent on this season’s roster, expecting the Red Storm to at the very least challenge for an NCAA tournament berth would be reasonable.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

Four teams have credible hopes of reaching the Final Four.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT

the impact that Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II can have for St. John’s. The Red Storm can be an NCAA tournament team this year.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • November 13, Minnesota at Providence
  • November 22-24, Villanova at Paradise Jam
  • November 28, Baylor at Xavier
  • December 3, Seton Hall at Louisville
  • December 5, Gonzaga vs. Villanova (in New York City)

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @BigEastTourney

POWER RANKINGS

1. Villanova: The Wildcats are once again favored to win the Big East, thanks to the combination of newcomers and returnees. The return of Phil Booth, and the additions of Omari Spellman and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, will certainly help matters for Jay Wright’s team.
2. Seton Hall: With four senior starters, the Pirates are one of the most experienced teams in college basketball. And if new point guard Khadeen Carrington can balance scoring with getting other guys the ball in good spots, look out.
3. Xavier: Trevon Bluiett will once again lead the way, with J.P. Macura being another senior capable of making an impact on a game. If the talented recruiting class, led by Paul Scruggs, is ready and Quentin Goodin takes another step forward the Musketeers can win the league.
4. Providence: In Kyron Cartwright the Friars have a special point guard. He’s surrounded with talented offensive option, including Rodney Bullock, and the arrival of Makai Ashton-Langford should give Cartwright the occasional respite. The Friars will certainly be head from this season as they look to make a 5th straight NCAA tournament appearance.
5. Creighton: In Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas the Bluejays have one of the top perimeter tandems in the country, much less the Big East. If Kaleb Joseph is ready to run the show at the point, Creighton is capable of contending.
6. Marquette: With Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard among the returnees, it’s known that Steve Wojciechowski’s team can put points on the board. But can they be more effective defensively? If so, the Golden Eagles should make a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
7. St. John’s: The Red Storm are the “wild card” in this race. With the additions of Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II, St. John’s has the talent needed to make waves in the Big East race. But will this be a cohesive unit when the games truly matter?
8. Butler: LaVall Jordan has some talent to work with in his first season leading his alma mater, including guard Kamar Baldwin and forward Kelan Martin. What may make things more difficult for Butler are the loss of three starters and the improvements made by other teams in the league.
9. DePaul: Will the Blue Demons escape the Big East cellar for the second time in the last three seasons? Yes, thanks to the return of Eli Cain and the additions of Austin Grandstaff and Max Strus.
10. Georgetown: Patrick Ewing’s return as head coach will be a difficult one, given the strength of the Big East and his team’s lack of perimeter shooters. That being said, having Jesse Govan and Marcus Derrickson back in the front court should help matters.

Bubble Watch: Breaking down every team in at-large conversation

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It’s that time of the year again, which means that we are diving head first into our annual NCAA tournament bubble watch.

The way that it will work is simple: We’ll be looking at every team that our Dave Ommen, the best bracketologist in the business, considers in the mix for an at-large bid. In an effort to keep this somewhat manageable, we are going to assume that the top 36 teams in the field — every team that is a No. 9-seed or above — is “off the bubble”. This does not mean those teams are a lock to dance, it just means that they have given themselves enough room for error that we can take them out of the conversation until they do something dumb.

Dave’s latest bracket can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

So with all that in mind, let’s get into the full NCAA tournament bubble watch:



ACC BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Duke (NBC: 2), Florida State (NBC: 2), Louisville (NBC: 3)

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

N.C. STATE (NET: 52, NBC: 10): 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 (30) 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: 9)

WICHITA STATE (NET: 43, NBC: Play-in game): Wichita State saw their three-game winning streak snapped on Sunday afternoon, losing by three at Cincinnati (53). They have beaten VCU (57) and Oklahoma (54) at home, and they don’t have any truly terrible losses, but with just one potential Quad 1 games left on their schedule — all of which are on the road — and without a top 50 win on the season, I think the Shockers are going to have an uncomfortable Selection Sunday. The fact that they are 8-7 against the top two Quads without a bad loss is something of a saving grace at this point.

MEMPHIS (NET: 61, NBC: First four out): Memphis is hanging on by a thread right now, 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: 11): The Bearcats shot themselves in the foot on Wednesday, losing at home to UCF (125). They bounced back and beat Wichita State (43) at home on Saturday, which gives Cincinnati an eighth win over Quad 1 and 2 opponents. As of this very moment, Cincinnati has just two Quad 1 wins and four Quad 3 losses, all of which came to teams sitting outside the top 100. They’re in a bad spot right now, and with just one more potential Quad 1 win on their resume, I’m not sure just how much they’ll be able to do to fix it. Beating Houston (25) on the road next Sunday has become a must-win.


ATLANTIC 10 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Dayton (NBC: 2)

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 36, NBC: 10): The Rams did not help themselves by losing at Davidson (76) on Saturday, which isn’t a killer but is a Quad 2 loss. They’re now 19-7 overall with just one Quad 1 win, but they are 6-6 against the top two Quads. The loss to Brown (218) is ugly, but as long as URI avoids the landmines on their schedule, I think they can get an at-large even with a loss to Dayton (5) at home in March.

RICHMOND (NET: 48, NBC: First four out): Richmond had their five-game winning streak snapped on the road against St. Bonaventure, which is not a bad loss in real life but is a bad loss on an NCAA tournament resume. The Spiders only have one truly terrible loss to their name — Radford (162) got them on a neutral court — but they only have two Quad 1 wins and a 4-6 record against the top two Quads. Their margin for error is completely gone.


BIG 12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Baylor (NBC: 1), Kansas (NBC: 1), West Virginia (NBC: 6), Texas Tech (NBC: 8)

OKLAHOMA (NET: 54, NBC: Play-in game): 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.

TEXAS (NET: 66, NBC: Off the bubble): The Longhorns won their third straight game on Monday night, as they beat No. 20 West Virginia (17) despite playing without Jericho Sims, Gerald Liddell and Jase Febres. Suddenly, a team that we had all written off is right back in the mix, as the Mountaineers are a top 20 team in the NET and the kind of elite win that Texas was sorely lacking on their resume. As it stands, the Longhorns are sitting at 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the Big 12. They have three Quad 1 wins, Monday night’s win as well as roadies at Purdue (36) and Oklahoma State (69), and a 5-11 mark against the top two Quads without a bad loss to their name. Saturday’s trip to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech (15) is going to be the make or break game. It’s not a win-and-you’re-win type deal, but I do think that taking a loss to the Red Raiders would mean that the Longhorns will have to beat one of the Big 12’s top four teams in the conference tournament to have a realistic shot at getting to the dance.


BIG EAST BUBBLE WATCH

Top 9: Seton Hall (NBC: 3), Villanova (NBC: 3), Creighton (NBC: 3), Butler (NBC: 6), Marquette (NBC: 7)

XAVIER (NET: 44, NBC: 10): The best thing about this Xavier team’s resume is that they really have not taken all that many bad losses. Their worst loss of the season came at Wake Forest (108), which is a Quad 2 loss. It’s the only team ranked outside of the top 35 in the NET that Xavier has lost to. They only have three Quad 1 wins — and two of them are at St. John’s (69) and at DePaul (72) — but they do have a win over Seton Hall (17) in Newark, which helps quite a bit. I personally think that Xavier has to do more work that it looks like. They are just 3-9 against Quad 1 opponents, and that could drop to 1-9 if St. John’s and DePaul fall outside the top 75. With games at Georgetown (59), at Providence (48) and Butler (23), they’ll have three more chances to land Quad 1 wins. I think Xavier probably should win two of those to really feel comfortable.

PROVIDENCE (NET: 46, NBC: Play-in game): The Friars are now the official owners of the strangest resume in college basketball. On Friday, Marquette (26) paid a visit to The Dunk and lost. Providence has now won three straight games and have now won five of their last seven. All five of those wins are Quad 1 wins, and they include a road win over Butler (20), home wins against Creighton (11) and Seton Hall (17), and Saturday’s win against Marquette. The Friars now have seven Quad 1 wins. If you only look at wins, Providence is like a five seed.

The problem is the losses. There are 12 of them, and some of them are really, really bad. Providence lost to Charleston (142) and Long Beach State (288) on neutral courts, at Northwestern (164) and to Penn (154) at home. That’s three Quad 3 losses and a Quad 4 loss. It’s wild that the Friars are even in the conversation with all of that garbage on their resume, but they very much are.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 55, NBC: Next four out): This is why Georgetown can’t have nice things. After beating Butler (20) on the road to play themselves onto the right side of the bubble, the Hoyas went out this week and lost to Providence (46) at home and at DePaul (72) on Saturday. They still get Marquette (26) and Creighton (11) on the road, and Villanova (10) at home, so they’re not dead. But they are in a bad spot.


BIG TEN BUBBLE WATCH

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

RUTGERS (NET: 33, NBC: 10): The Scarlet Knights have one of the weirder resumes on the bubble right now after losing at Wisconsin (30) on Sunday. They’re 17-10 overall and they are 9-8 in a Big Ten that is as deep as any league I can remember. They have three Quad 1 wins, just one Quad 3 loss and a 7-9 mark against the top two Quads. Eight of their ten losses are to Quad 1 opponents. They played a tough non-conference schedule, and they have some really impressive home wins. The problem? They’ve only won a single game outside of the RAC this year, and that came at Nebraska (183), who is more or less the worst team in the Big Ten. Their season finishes like this: at Penn State (24), Maryland (7), at Purdue (37). Rutgers has some work left to do, and I really think winning one of those two road games will be the most important part.

PURDUE (NET: 37, NBC: Off the bubble): After the Boilermakers lost to Michigan (23) at home on Saturday, they are sitting at 14-14 overall and just 7-10 in the Big Ten. They do actually have a pretty strong resume in regards to the number of good wins that they have, but the biggest issue currently facing Purdue is the number of losses, including a Quad 3 loss. The most losses an at-large team has ever had is 15. For context, Indiana last season was 17-15 with six Quad 1 wins and nine Quad 1 and 2 wins and they were left out. Purdue is 5-10 against Quad 1 opponents — three of those five wins vacillate between Quad 1 and Quad 2 — and 7-12 against the top two Quads with a 3-8 record on the road. Their best road win is at Indiana (58). They’re in a tough spot right now.


PAC-12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Oregon (NBC: 4), Colorado (NBC: 5), Arizona (NBC: 7), Arizona State (NBC: 8)

UCLA (NET: 76, NBC: First four out): The Bruins are making a push to get into the NCAA tournament. On Saturday, they completed a sweet of the mountain schools — the toughest road trip in all of college basketball — and have now won five in a row and nine of their last 11 games. They own a sweep of Colorado (18), they won at Arizona (9) and while they do have a Quad 3 loss — Hofstra (114) — and a Quad 4 loss — Fullerton (261) — the Bruins are now sitting on five Quad 1 wins, three of which came against top 15 teams, two on the road. The metrics don’t love the Bruins, but today’s win will help and if the metrics love Arizona and Colorado this much, it should mean quite a bit that UCLA was able to beat them. Their resume isn’t quite as weird as Providence’s, but both of these teams are going to give the Selection Committee a headache on Selection Sunday.

With games left against Arizona, Arizona State and USC, the Bruins will have the chances to play their way in. It’s wild to think that we’re here after the way the season started, but we are.

USC (NET: 47, NBC: Play-in game): After sweeping the Washington schools in LA two weeks ago, the Trojans turned around and lost at Colorado (18) and Utah (81) last week. Suddenly, they’re in a bit of a bad spot. They only have two Quad 1 wins and are now 8-8 against the top two Quads with an 8-7 mark away from the Galen Center, including five road wins. The home loss to Temple (111) is not ideal, but it is survivable. The biggest issue may be how tough their remaining schedule is. The Trojans still get Arizona (8), Arizona State (41) and UCLA (76), who is a game out of first place in the Pac-12, at home. I think they’re still in a pretty good spot, but it’s not going to be comfortable if they don’t win at least two more games before Selection Sunday.

STANFORD (NET: 31, NBC: First four out): The Cardinal finally snapped their losing streak by going into Seattle and knocking off Washington (65) to pick up their third Quad 1 win of the season. They followed that up by winning at Washington State (121), which is tougher than it has been in the past. They are just 2-5 against Quad 1 opponents, 6-8 against the top two Quads and have a Quad 3 loss — at Cal (142) — to their name. They still get Colorado (12) at home and Oregon (19) on the road, so there will be chances to improve their resume, but the Cardinal will need to capitalize on those to feel good on Selection Sunday.


SEC BUBBLE WATCH

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

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

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 56, NBC: Next four out): Mississippi State significantly dinged their at-large chances by losing at Texas A&M (117) on Saturday. That’s the third bad loss on their resume, and with a win at Florida (34) and a sweep of Arkansas (45) the only notable accomplishments to date, the Bulldogs find themselves in a tough spot. 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: Next four out): 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: Off the bubble): The Gamecocks had a chance to play themselves into a really good spot on Saturday, but they lost to LSU (29) at home. At 16-11 overall with a Quad 3 and a Quad 4 loss, the Gamecocks have plenty of work left to do and not all that many great chances left for wins. They’re in trouble.


BUBBLE WATCH FOR EVERYONE ELSE

TOP 9: Gonzaga (NBC: 1), San Diego State (NBC: 1), BYU (NBC: 6), Saint Mary’s (NBC: 9)

UTAH STATE (NET: 39, NBC: 11): 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 (33) are nice, but with three road losses to sub-85 teams and no more chances to land marquee wins, how are they going to make up for those losses? They don’t play another top 100 team the rest of the season. I don’t see how they can get in without beating San Diego State (1) in the MWC tournament.

NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 46, NBC: 12): Northern Iowa snapped a two-game losing streak on Sunday, beating Southern Illinois (139) and maintaining a hold on first place in the Missouri Valley. UNI has a win at Colorado (18) and they beat South Carolina (63) on a neutral court, but they are 5-3 against the top two Quads with a pair of Quad 3 losses. I want to see them get an at-large — every one of their non-Quad 1 losses is a road game in league play — but I’m not sure they have done enough to beat out some of these power conference teams.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 38, NBC: 11): After beating Furman (76) on Wednesday night, the Buccaneers have gotten through the toughest part of their schedule. They have a win at UNCG (62) and a win at LSU (30). With a 22-4 record and a loss to Mercer (197) at home, the Buccaneers have to win out and lose to only UNCG or Furman in the SoCon tournament to have a chance, and even that might be a bit of a longshot.

Bracketology: Kansas grabs No. 1 overall seed

NCAA tournament bracketology
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Here is today’s updated NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Following its win at Baylor, Kansas grabs the No. 1 overall seed in today’s bracket update.  That said, it’s basically semantics. Kansas continues to lead the Midwest Region and Baylor the South Region.  The margin between the two is more of a 1-A and 1-B approach.

The biggest surprise of the weekend was San Diego State losing at home to UNLV.  For now, the Aztecs hold onto their No. 1 seed in the East.  Maryland could have made a strong case had the Terrapins won at Ohio State on Sunday.  Either way, the door is now open for a Big Ten, Big East, or ACC champion to potentially overtake SDSU. Dayton is squarely in the mix, too.

As for the Bubble, the Providence Friars and UCLA Bruins have both recovered from challenging starts to emerge as serious at-large contenders.

Anyway, here is today’s updated NCAA tournament bracketology. If you’re looking for the NBC Sports Bubble Watch, it can be found here.



The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: February 24, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
MIDWEST REGION Oklahoma vs. USC
SOUTH REGION Providence vs. Wichita State
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW-AM vs. ST. PETERS
MIDWEST REGION ROBERT MORRIS vs. NC A&T

MIDWEST Indianapolis SOUTH – Houston                    
Omaha St. Louis
1) KANSAS 1) Baylor
16) ROB MORRIS / NC A&T 16) PV-AM / ST. PETERS
8) ARIZONA STATE 8) LSU
9) Florida 9) Saint Mary’s
Sacramento Tampa
5) Auburn 5) Colorado
12) NORTHERN IOWA 12) Providence / Wichita St
4) Michigan 4) Penn State
13) AKRON 13) VERMONT
St. Louis Albany
6) BYU 6) Iowa
11) Oklahoma / USC 11) Utah State
3) Creighton 3) SETON HALL
14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST 14) COLGATE
Greensboro Tampa
7) Wisconsin 7) Marquette
10) Rhode Island 10) Rutgers
2) Duke 2) Florida State
15) BELMONT 15) LITTLE ROCK
EAST – New York WEST – Los Angeles
Sacramento Spokane
1) SAN DIEGO ST 1) GONZAGA
16) RADFORD 16) MONTANA
8) Indiana 8) Texas Tech
9) Virginia 9) Houston
Omaha Spokane
5) Ohio State 5) Michigan State
12) LIBERTY 12) S.F. AUSTIN
4) KENTUCKY 4) Oregon
13) YALE 13) NORTH TEXAS
Albany Cleveland
6) West Virginia 6) Butler
11) EAST TENNESSEE ST 11) CINCINNATI
3) Villanova 3) LOUISVILLE
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) NEW MEXICO ST
Cleveland Tampa
7) Illinois 7) Arizona
10) NC State 10) Xavier
2) DAYTON 2) MARYLAND
15) HOFSTRA 15) UC-IRVINE

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Rutgers Providence Stanford Alabama
NC State Wichita State UCLA Mississippi State
Rhode Island Oklahoma Memphis Arkansas
Utah State USC Richmond Georgetown

Top Seed Line

Kansas, Baylor, Gonzaga, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …

Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
Pac 12 (5)
Big 12 (5)
SEC (4)
ACC (4)
West Coast (3)
American (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (2)

OK, how good are you guys at NCAA tournament bracketology?

Not too bad. Our bracketologist, Dave Ommen, is sitting atop the ranks for the bracket matrix, which cobbles together everyone who does this for a living. So yeah, we’re on our game.

When do conference tournaments begin?

Conference tournaments — when teams can earn automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament — begin on Tuesday, March 3. Most of the league tournaments for that week are mid-major and low-major schools (though those can often be the most exciting games to watch).

There is a full schedule for all 32 conference tournaments here, though check back with us later on for previews for all those tournaments, recaps and highlights from the buzzer-beaters and many dunks for the start of March.

When do Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament begin?

Selection Sunday for the 2020 NCAA Tournament is on March 15 (about 4 pm ET), while the games begin a couple days later. The First Four is on March 17 and 18, while the craziness of Round 1 starts on Thursday, March 19.

The Final Four, held in Atlanta this year, starts on Saturday, April 4. The National Title Game is Monday, April 6.

Monday’s Things To Know: Florida State rolls, Texas is back?

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There was some action on Monday night in the college basketball world, and we are here to talk you through all of it.

1. FLORIDA STATE’S SECOND HALF DEMOLITION OF LOUISVILLE IS SCARY

Trent Forrest scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half and the No. 6 Seminoles used a 42-16 tidal wave over the course of the final 15 minutes to turn a 51-40 deficit into an 82-67 win over No. 11 Louisville.

It was everything that you expect a Florida State team to be during that stretch. They forced turnovers, they switched everything defensively, they dared you to try and beat them in isolation, and they did it all while getting the kind of balanced effort that makes it impossible to key in on a single player. Five guys were in double-figures on Monday night, and that doesn’t include the eight points that Leonard Hamilton’s club got from Anthony Polite off the bench.

This program is a machine.

All they do is produce physical, tough, athletic wings that stand somewhere between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-8, guard like their life depends on it and completely by in to what Leonard Hamilton is trying to do.

I would not want to see them in March.

2. TEXAS ISN’T DEAD YET

The Longhorns won their third straight game on Monday night, as they beat No. 20 West Virginia, 67-57, despite playing without Jericho Sims, Gerald Liddell and Jase Febres.

Suddenly, a team that we had all written off is right back in the mix, as the Mountaineers are a top 15 team in the NET and the kind of elite win that Texas was sorely lacking on their resume. As it stands, the Longhorns are sitting at 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the Big 12. They have three Quad 1 wins, Monday night’s win as well as roadies at Purdue and Oklahoma State, and a 5-11 mark against the top two Quads without a bad loss to their name.

Put another way, this team is suddenly very much in the bubble picture.

Now, I still think they have plenty of work to do, and given the fact that neither a road win at Oklahoma or a home win over Oklahoma State is going to change all that much for them, I think Saturday’s trip to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech is going to be the make or break game. It’s not a win-and-you’re-win type deal, but I do think that taking a loss to the Red Raiders would mean that the Longhorns will have to beat one of the Big 12’s top four teams in the conference tournament to have a realistic shot at getting to the dance.

Regardless of what it actually is, the bottom line is pretty simple: Texas needs to keep on winning.

3. KANSAS ROLLS IN FIRST GAME AS NO. 1

The Jayhawks, in their first game as the No. 1 team in the country, did not have any kind of a letdown.

Udoka Azubuike finished with 19 points, 16 boards, three blocks, two assists and hit 7-for-8 from the free throw line in an 83-58 win over Oklahoma State in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

No. 6 Florida State’s steamrolls No. 11 Louisville

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Trent Forrest scored 14 of his 16 points after halftime, and No. 6 Florida State rallied from a double-digit deficit to beat No. 11 Louisville 82-67 on Monday night.

The Seminoles (24-4, 14-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) moved past the Cardinals into first place in the ACC. They lead Louisville and No. 7 Duke by a half-game.

Patrick Williams’ thunderous dunk put an exclamation point to a 15-0 run that put the Seminoles ahead for good. Florida State outscored Louisville 50-27 in the second half and extended its home winning streak to 22 games.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

Devin Vassell and M.J. Walker each scored 12 points for FSU, which set a school record for ACC regular-season wins with three remaining in the 20-game schedule.

Ryan McMahon scored 14 points and Jordan Nwora had 13 points and eight rebounds for Louisville (23-6, 14-4), which went more than seven minutes without a field goal during one second-half stretch.

The Cardinals played short-handed most of the night after junior center Malik Williams injured his left foot minutes into the game. He returned to the bench with a boot on the foot.

BIG PICTURE

Louisville: The Cardinals shot well in the first half, making 52% before cooling off to 32% in the second.

Florida State: The Seminoles shot 50% in each half and overcame nine first-half turnovers to complete a season sweep of Louisville.

UP NEXT

Louisville hosts Virginia Tech on Sunday.

Florida State visits Clemson on Saturday.

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

Ionescu first player to 2,000 points, 1,000 assists, 1,000 rebounds

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STANFORD, Calif. — Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu is the first player, man or woman, to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds.

Ionescu hit the milestone on a defensive rebound with 1:47 remaining in the third quarter for the third-ranked Ducks against No. 3 Stanford on Monday night, only hours after she spoke at the memorial service for Kobe Bryant and daughter, Gianna, in Southern California.

Ionescu got to 1,000 assists in a win at UCLA on Feb. 14. She notched her NCAA-record 25th career triple-double at California on Friday night – also most in the men’s or women’s game. She came into Monday’s game needing nine rebounds for the 1,000 mark.

Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry sat courtside for the second straight game to support Ionescu and women’s basketball.