Bubble Banter: Texas, Syracuse, Baylor land massive wins

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

TEXAS (RPI: 49, KenPom: 44, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Longhorns landed a massive, massive win for their NCAA tournament chances on Saturday afternoon when they went into Norman and picked off Oklahoma. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and put them into a position where a 2-2 finish to Big 12 play keeps them at 8-10 in the league. That’s relevant because no team more than two games below .500 in league play has reached the NCAA tournament since the early 90s. The Longhorns are now 6-7 against Quadrant 1 opponents with some elite wins in that mix — Texas Tech, at Alabama, a sweep of Oklahoma Butler on a neutral — and no losses worse than Quadrant 2. Texas is going to have a very real chance to be an NCAA tournament team with 14 losses this season.

SYRACUSE (RPI: 41, KenPom: 48, NBC seed: First four out): The Orange hold their bubble future in their own hands, and they got started in the right direction on Saturday by going into Coral Gables and picking off Miami. That’s their third Quadrant 1 win — assuming that Buffalo, who is currently 30th in the RPI, remains top 30 — but a Quadrant 3 loss and the lack of a truly marquee victory is a glaring hole in their résumé. The good news? This is the remaining schedule for the Orange: UNC, at Duke, at Boston College, Clemson. Go 2-2 in that stretch and they will enter the ACC tournament in pretty good shape.

BAYLOR (RPI: 58, KenPom: 31, NBC seed: Play-in game): What seemed like a pipe dream a few weeks ago now is within their grasp: The Bears are on their way to playing their way into the tournament now after winning their fifth straight game against Texas Tech on Saturday night. They are now 4-8 against Quadrant 1 with no losses outside the top two Quadrants. But they are 16-10 already with games left against West Virginia, at TCU, Oklahoma and at Kansas State. I think they need a split.

MARQUETTE (RPI: 59, KenPom: 50, NBC seed: Next four out): The Golden Eagles are going to ensure that things are, at the least, interesting for them down the stretch. Entering today, they had lost five of their last six games. Then they dug themselves a 20-point hole against Creighton Then they lost Markus Howard to a hip injury. And then they came back and won on the road. This is big because it is their fourth Quadrant 1 win of the season, but it is bigger because it’s their last Quadrant 1 game of the season. They’ll have a real shot at getting in if they can win out: Saint John’s, at DePaul, at Georgetown, Creighton.

LSU (RPI: 72, KenPom: 64, NBC seed: Next four out): The Tigers picked up another Quadrant 1 win on Saturday, knocking off Missouri at home and ending their five game winning streak. LSU is now 15-11 on the season and 6-8 in the SEC, but they are also 7-5 against Quadrant 1 opponents. Only one of their 11 losses came against a Quadrant 3 opponent. Here’s the kicker: Their last four games are all very winnable: Vanderbilt, at Georgia, at South Carolina, Mississippi State. If they can get to the SEC tournament with a 19-11 record, I think they’ll be in the NCAA tournament.

KANSAS STATE (RPI: 57, KenPom: 47, NBC seed: 10): The Wildcats did what they needed to do on Saturday, dispatching Iowa State in Manhattan and setting themselves up for a critical stretch run. They play the following four games: Texas, at Oklahoma, at TCU, Baylor. Given that Kansas State has a Quadrant 2 loss and that their non-conference SOS is in the 320s, I would think they need two of those wins to feel comfortable. But here’s the catch: if they don’t win either road game, they’ll enter the Big 12 tournament with a 3-9 mark against Quadrant 1 opponents. The Selection Committee told us how much they value quality wins when the bracket was revealed last weekend. Would three Quadrant 1 wins be enough with seven Quadrant 2 wins? It might be, but I don’t think I would want to bet on it.

WASHINGTON (RPI: 52, KenPom: 103, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Huskies snapped a three-game losing streak by blowing out Colorado at home on Saturday, but this team is in a tough spot right now. While every other team on the bubble will have chances to improve their profile, Washington has just one Quadrant 2 game and three Quadrant 3 games left.

ARKANSAS (RPI: 30, KenPom: 44, NBC seed: 9): The Razorbacks landed their fifth Quadrant 1 win of the season. They are now 19-8 on the year and have just one loss outside of Quadrant 1. At this point, Arkansas is going to be moved off of the bubble for us. They’re in if they don’t do anything stupid the rest of the way.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: 59, KenPom: 42, NBC seed: 9): The Hokies beat the breaks off of Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday, meaning they finished their three game road trip at 2-1 with a win at Virginia. Not bad. The rest of VT’s schedule looks like this: Clemson, Louisville, Duke, at Miami. With a Quadrant 3 loss and a non-conference SOS of 325, I still think the Hokies need to win two of these games.

UCLA (RPI: 54, KenPom: 49, NBC seed: Play-in game): UCLA likely kept themselves on the right side of the bubble for now, as they picked off Oregon at home on Senior Night. I still think that if the Bruins want to feel safe on Selection Sunday they are going to need to win out. As it stands, they have just two Quadrant 1 wins and two Quadrant 3 losses. They finish the season like this: at Utah, at Colorado, at USC.

BUTLER (RPI: 40, KenPom: 26, NBC seed: 10): The Bulldogs added another Quadrant 2 win to their profile on Saturday with an impressive win over Providence at home. Butler is 3-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents with three Quadrant 1 games left on their schedule: Creighton, at St. John’s, at Seton Hall. I think they’ll probably be in if they win one of those three games, but I would recommend winning two.

SAINT MARY’S (RPI: 31, KenPom: 19, NBC seed: 9): The Gaels ended their two-game losing streak by beating Portland on the road. They will be in the tournament as long as they don’t lose to anyone not named Gonzaga the rest of the way. The might be OK if it is BYU they lose to in the WCC tournament, but I would not recommend betting on that.

USC (RPI: 45, KenPom: 54, NBC seed: First four out): Simply put: USC could not afford to lost to Oregon State at home. They didn’t. I think they need to win out during the regular season to have a real chance at getting into the NCAA tournament. They only have two Quadrant 1 wins and only play one more Quadrant 1 opponent in the regular season.

N.C. STATE (RPI: 51, KenPom: 60, NBC seed: 11): The Wolfpack did what they needed to do by going into Winston-Salem and knocking off Wake Forest. Kevin Keatts’ club is in a good spot, but they are not a lock. They have some legitimately great wins this season, but they have already lost nine games this season and have a pair of Quadrant 3 losses. They’re in a good spot, but their margin for error is a little bit lower than other bubble teams since they have no more Quadrant 1 opponents on their schedule.

TCU (RPI: 24, KenPom: 20, NBC seed: 10): The Horned Frogs took care of business at home against Oklahoma State on Saturday, which is something that is not as easy as it would seem this season. TCU is 4-7 against Quadrant 1 and 6-9 against the top two Quadrants. Their final four games: at Iowa State, Baylor, Kansas State, at Texas Tech. Win two of those and they should be fine.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (RPI: 26, KenPom: 46, NBC seed: 11): The Blue Raiders did their job. They won at Louisiana Tech. They have home games left against UAB, Western Kentucky and Marshall before the Conference USA tournament. Win those, and as long as they take a loss to Western Kentucky in the league tournament, they might have a shot. They only have one Quadrant 1 win, but they would be 26-6 on the season.

LOSERS

PROVIDENCE (RPI: 34, KenPom: 67, NBC seed: 8): Losing at Butler doesn’t exactly hurt Providence’s profile. Quadrant 1 road losses are what they are. The Friars are interesting because they have five Quadrant 1 wins but two Quadrant 3 losses and a hideous, Quadrant 4 loss to DePaul at home. I think they need two more wins (Seton Hall, at Xavier, at Georgetown, St. John’s) to lock up their at-large bid.

LOUISVILLE (RPI: 43, KenPom: 34, NBC seed: 11): The Cardinals got worked at home by North Carolina on Saturday. The worry for this group is that they just don’t have all that many great wins. Their two Quadrant 1 wins are at Florida State and at Notre Dame, and they have just one other Quadrant 2 win. The good news? Their last four games — at Duke, at Virginia Tech, Virginia, at N.C. State — are all Quadrant 1. They will be able to play their way in.

 

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events

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WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.