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College Basketball Bid Thieves: What teams could steal a spot in the tournament from the bubble?

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What defines a bid thief?

It’s pretty simple, really: A team that has no chance at earning an at-large bid winning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in a conference where there is an at-large team. If, say, neither Gonzaga nor Saint Mary’s wins the WCC tournament’s automatic bid, then that means that the WCC will receive three bids, or two at-large bids and one automatic bid.

That means there is one less spot in the at-large pool for the teams in the middle of the SEC, the Big 12 and the ACC.

Hence the term big thief.

Where are this year’s potential bid thieves coming from? Who should the teams on the bubble be wary of?

PAC-12

The Pac-12 is weird this year. Not only are there only two teams that can be considered a lock for the NCAA tournament at this point in the season, both of those teams — who were, at one point, ranked in the top five nationally this year — have fallen off a cliff. Arizona lost Allonzo Trier to a failed PED test and they may have lost their head coach in Sean Miller. Arizona State, on the other hand, has just lost. They’re 7-9 in Pac-12 play and seem to be headed for the 8-9 game in the Pac-12 tournament. That would mean that they would face-off with Arizona in the quarterfinals, assuming that Arizona can get a split at home against Stanford and Cal this weekend.

Put another way, it’s going to be much easier for a sleeper to make a run in the Pac-12 tournament than it will be in any other major conference tournament.

So who are the potential bid thieves here?

At this point, I think USC is going to be on the right side of the bubble. UCLA and Washington might be able to play their way into a bid without having to win the automatic bid. Leaving them out, I think OREGON and UTAH have both played well of late, while STANFORD has proven they have the ability to get hot and reel off four wins in a row. Frankly, I think you pencil the Pac-12 in for five bids and figure out who those five bids are on Selection Sunday.

AMERICAN

The American has three teams at the top of the league — Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston — that are locks for the Dance. They also don’t really have much in the way of a bubble team, unless you Temple is going to be able to make a run to the tournament.

What they do have, however, is SMU. Prior to Shake Milton suffering a broken hand and Jarrey Foster tearing his ACL, the Mustangs looked like a team that might be able to earn a tournament bid. Two weeks before Milton’s injury, he had 34 points in a win at Wichita State. They have not been the same team since, but Milton is the type of talent that could spark a run in a conference tournament. It’s also probably worth mentioning that TULSA, who looks like they will finish fourth in the league, had won six in a row prior to Sunday’s loss at Cincinnati. They haven’t lost a game that wasn’t a roadie against Wichita State or Cincinnati since Jan. 17th.

ATLANTIC 10

The Atlantic 10 may have just opened up that much more. Rhode Island, who looked like far and away the best team in the league, went out and lost by 30 points to St. Joe’s on Tuesday night at home.

Spoiler alert: St. Joe’s is not all that good this season.

At this point, I really only think that one of three teams can win the Atlantic 10 tournament this season — URI, St. Bonaventure and Davidson have been far and away the best teams in the conference during league play — but both URI and the Bonnies seem like they should be in come Selection Sunday.

That leaves DAVIDSON, who shook off a slow start to the season to really play some good basketball for the last month. The Wildcats have won seven of their last nine games, and those two losses came at URI and at St. Bonaventure in triple-overtime on Tuesday night. They are, as usual, an offensive juggernaut with talents like Peyton Aldridge and Kellan Grady on the roster, but what’s promising is that, in A10 play, they’ve been the league’s fourth-best defensive team; they were the second-best defensive team in league play prior to giving up 117 points to the Bonnies last night.

Bob McKillop’s club could end up making the Atlantic 10 a three-bid conference.

WCC

We know who the two best teams in the WCC are: Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. That isn’t much of a secret at this point. And barring some kind of disastrous loss for the Gaels, both of them are locks for the NCAA tournament. They will also be on opposite sides of the bracket, meaning that there will be some opportunities for opponents to pick them off before the final.

The team to watch out for here is BYU. San Diego would have been a threat before their coach was arrested for domestic violence and San Francisco does have a win over the Gaels, but BYU is the only team in the league that is close to par with the Zags and the Gaels from a talent perspective.

MOUNTAIN WEST

As of now, the only team in the Mountain West that has any chance at an at-large bid is Nevada. BOISE STATE is on the fringes, but they missed their chance to add an elite win when they lost at home to the Wolf Pack, and since they are locked into theNo. 2 seed, they only way they’ll be able to do that in the MWC tournament is in the beat Nevada in the title game … and earn the automatic bid.

And that probably makes the Broncos the ultimate big thief. They’re a borderline top 50 team on KenPom with the best player in the conference — sorry Caleb Martin — on their roster in Chandler Hutchison.

But if you wanted to bet on where the bubble is going to lose a bid, the Mountain West is probably the safest best. The league doesn’t have the profile to actually carry more than one at-large team, but they do have some talent in the conference and teams that are unquestionably good enough to pick on Eric Musselman’s club. Let’s start with UNLV, who has quite a bit of talent — including future first round pick Brandon McCoy — and will be playing home games throughout the league tournament. They also won at Nevada (albeit while Nevada was injured) this month. WYOMING has one of the best one-two punches in the conference with Justin James and Hayden Dalton and they beat a full-strength Nevada team in Laramie earlier this year.

FRESNO STATE has some talent on their roster this year. SAN DIEGO STATE got Malik Pope back after he sat out for one game and they seem to have figured out that Jalen McDaniels might actually be their best player. Even NEW MEXICO has won some games this year.

The MWC tournament is going to be wild this year.

Chandler Hutchison (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

CONFERENCE USA

The big question here is whether or not you believe that Middle Tennessee State is actually an NCAA tournament team. They are 26th in the RPI, they have three Quadrant 1 wins this season while playing in a league that isn’t exactly loaded with talent and their one “bad” loss this season came at home against Belmont, who is 77th in the RPI; the cutoff for that being a Quadrant 2 loss is 75th in the RPI.

So let’s assume that the Blue Raiders are going to be dancing as long as they don’t lose to one of the dumpster fires that currently exist in CUSA. That leaves two legitimate bid thief candidates: OLD DOMINION and WESTERN KENTUCKY. WKU is loaded with high-major cast-offs like Darius Thompson (Virginia), Lamonte Bearden (Buffalo), Moustapha Diagne (Syracuse) and Dwight Coleby (Kansas and Ole Miss), while ODU is more balanced and better defensively. The Monarchs, however, have lost all three games they’ve played against WKU and MTSU this season.

MISSOURI VALLEY

Is Loyola-Chicago is deserving of an at-large bid? According to Bracket Matrix, they are the second highest-rated mid-major program. They also have a win at Florida and a top 35 RPI. But a 3-3 mark against the top two Quadrants and a pair of losses to teams outside the top two Quadrants is not ideal, particularly when you consider that they could end up taking another one if they don’t lose to either ILLINOIS STATE or BRADLEY.

Sunday’s Three Things To Know: Michigan rolls, Gafford shines, Virginia Tech beats Purdue

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Some believe that Sunday is fun day.

Others think of Sunday as a day for football and nothing else. 

But Sundays are also for college hoops, as Michigan, Daniel Gafford and Virginia Tech showed us.

Here are the three things you need to know:

1. NO. 18 MICHIGAN CONTINUED TO DOMINATE

Fresh off of a 27 point blowout win at Villanova, the Wolverines went to the Mohegan Sun casino and rolled over both George Washington and Providence. The win over the Friars came on Sunday, as Iggy Brazdeikis scored 20 points and Jon Teske added 17. Providence shot just 28 percent from the floor in the loss, as a late first half surge from the Wolverines more or less put this one out of reach before the second half started.

I’m not sure what else there is to say about Michigan at this point in time. The Wolverines are already one of college basketball’s elite defensive teams, and given the new look they can run out this year — playing Brazdeikis and Isaiah Livers, both of whom are strong, 6-foot-8 athletic combo-forwards, at the four and the five — makes them all-the-more versatile. There are still kinks to work out on the offensive end, but if there is anyone that I would want to give four months to figure out how to make offense work, it is John Beilein.

2. NO. 16 VIRGINIA TECH LANDED A COME-FROM-BEHIND WIN OVER NO. 23 PURDUE

The best game of the night was Virginia Tech’s win over Purdue in the title game of the Charleston Classic.

Purdue jumped out to a 12-point lead thanks to a hot start from Carsen Edwards and some timely play-making by Evan Boudreaux, but the Hokies came roaring back in the second half. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was terrific while Justin Robinson and Ahmed Hill made big play after big play in the second half.

There is a lot to like about Tech this season, and it looks like Buzz Williams has them lined up for their third straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

3. ARKANSAS CENTER DANIEL GAFFORD WAS DOMINANT

Gafford looked every bit the part of a future lottery pick, as he went for 27 points, 12 boards and three blocks in a win over Indiana in Fayetteville on Sunday evening. This is exactly the kind of performance that Arkansas fans were expecting out of their star center when he announced that he would be returning to school for his sophomore season. It is also the kind of performance that could end up getting Arkansas on the right side of the bubble come Selection Sunday.

There is still so much time left this season, but Indiana has looked good at times this year. This result had quite a bit to do with a young Indiana team missing two starters while playing on the road for the first time this season. That ended up being a great combination for the Hogs, and it earned them a win that is going to look better two or three months from now than it does today.

VIDEO: Purdue’s Carsen Edwards with a Dunk of the Year candidate

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Carsen Edwards entered the season as an all-american and has played like one over the course of the first two weeks of the season.

While No. 23 Purdue did not get a win over No. 16 Virginia Tech on Sunday night, Edwards did find a way to make a highlight that is going to be on every reel this season:

The best part of this dunk?

Purdue was playing 4-on-5 at the time. Evan Boudreaux, their power forward grad transfer from Dartmouth, was at the other end trying to get his shoe put back on.

No. 16 Virginia Tech rallies past No. 23 Purdue

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Justin Robinson saw his Virginia Tech teammate Ahmed Hill coming off the floor after a disappointing first half.

“We’re going to need you to win,” Robinson told him.

Hill certainly listened and was instrumental in the 16th-ranked Hokies’ first in-season tournament title in coach Buzz Williams’ five seasons with an 89-83 victory over No. 23 Purdue at the Charleston Classic on Sunday night.

Hill scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half and had the three-point play that put the Hokies (4-0) ahead for good at 80-77 with 3:50 remaining.

Hill followed with a 3-pointer to extend the margin. The Boilermakers (4-1) could not respond.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker had 25 points to lead Virginia Tech. He was named tournament MVP.

Robinson also had 23 points as the Hokies came from 50-38 down in the second half to win.

The Hokies jumped around in celebration when the horn sounded, giddy about the championship.

“It’s an experience that money can’t buy,” Alexander-Walker said.

Purdue’s dynamic guard Carsen Edwards finished with 26 points, the fifth time this season he’s had 23 or more points in a game.

The 6-foot-1 junior rose high for a left-armed jam and tied things a final time at 77 with his layup after stealing the ball from Robinson.

But he said there were too many late breakdowns that cost the Boilermakers.

“The good thing is that it’s early and we can work on this before we get into (Big Ten) conference play,”

It didn’t look like Purdue would have much to work on early on.

Edwards jumper late in the first half put his team ahead 41-29 while the Hokies struggled to find shots.

But, as Virginia Tech did in earlier Charleston wins over Ball State and Northeastern, the team roared back.

The Hokies held Purdue to 1-of-8 shooting in a six-minute stretch as they went from 12 points behind to 58-56 ahead on Alexander-Walker’s 3-pointer.

Williams said the Hokies began to put pressure on Purdue’s inside players and make sure when Edwards shot, it was not an easy, open attempt.

Edwards was 9 of 21 overall and made only three of his 11 attempts from beyond the three-point line.

The game’s pace the final 12 minutes after Virginia Tech’s rally was frenetic, a high-level display of basketball typically on display in a later postseason tournament in March.

It’s way too early for that kind of talk, Alexander-Walker said.

“We try not to get ahead of ourselves,” he said. But “we’re happy to see our work come to light.”

Williams was happy for his players and staffers Virginia Tech could taste some early success after the word the team had done in the offseason.

“I’m thankful for our kids, I’m thankful for their parents who believed in us and allowed us to have an opportunity like this,” he said.

No. 10 Kentucky survives persistent VMI 92-82

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — These early weeks haven’t been easy for No. 10 Kentucky, but coach John Calipari sees an upside in how his team is working through growing pains to win.

Perimeter defense will no doubt be a focal point for improvement after Bubba Parham nearly shot VMI past the Wildcats.

Quade Green came off the bench to score a season-high 17 points, including five in the final 90 seconds, to help Kentucky hold off the Keydets 92-82 on Sunday night.

Statistically, the Wildcats (3-1) appeared to do a lot right against VMI (3-2). They controlled the boards (43-22), the paint (42-14) and missed just 6 of 35 free throws, numbers that should’ve added up to a solid victory.

Instead, they ended up being just enough to offset VMI and sophomore guard Bubba Parham. He scored a career-high 35 points and made 10 of the team’s 19 3-pointers, the most ever against the Wildcats. Parham also created late-game anxiety for Kentucky.

Leading by 19 midway through the second half, the Wildcats had to work to put away the stubborn Keydets, who made 12 second-half 3-pointers and got within 85-79 with 1:49 remaining.

“They made five, six, seven shots that you’re like, ‘dude, that’s almost at half court,'” Calipari said of VMI and Parham. “But we had hands down, and we’re talking at every huddle, you have to have your hands up on the guy. But hands were down and the kid was feeling it.”

Green answered with a 3-pointer 19 seconds later and Ashton Hagans made a free throw for a 10-point edge.

Tyler Creammer responded with the Keydets’ final 3 to get within 89-82 before Green made two free throws with 33 seconds left. PJ Washington (19 points, career-high 18 rebounds) made a free throw with 17 seconds left to seal Kentucky’s third consecutive win.

“We’ve always got to find a way to win,” Green said. “They came out on fire tonight because we’re Kentucky. However, we came back with some fire as well.”

Reid Travis matched a season high with 22 points for the Wildcats, who won their second game of the Ohio Valley Hardwood Showcase. That total included 10 in the second half while playing with protective glasses after being poked in the eye in the first.

Parham finished 10 of 16 from long range to double his previous high of five 3s last December against Western Carolina. He also surpassed his previous scoring best of 26 points in January at Chattanooga. Garrett Gilkeson and Creammer each added 13 for the Keydets with three 3s.

“It helps that (Parham) kind of went crazy and made a bunch of shots,” VMI coach Dan Earl said. “I thought we really spread the ball and got some open shots in the second half.”

The matchup was the first between the schools since the Keydets upset the Wildcats 111-103 in the 2008-09 season opener.

THE BUBBA SHOW

Parham seemingly couldn’t miss from where he launched deep shots, to the point that even Kentucky players and fans reacted in amazement. Of the 10 he made, one from near the UK insignia at half court and a high, arcing attempt from the right corner seemed to stand out.

“I’ve been shooting like that for a while now,” Parham said. “Some people call it a rainbow shot, but I practice that each and every day, so it’s my form now.”

Parham scored the most points against Kentucky and in Rupp Arena since Texas A&M’s Elston Turner dropped 40 on Jan. 12, 2013.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Kentucky should maintain its spot in the top 10 despite a win that was closer than expected.

BIG PICTURE

VMI: The Keydets entered the contest having made 25 of 51 3-pointers the past two outings and started hot with 6-of-9 shooting from long range. They couldn’t match Kentucky in the paint or on the boards, and sure couldn’t keep the Wildcats off the foul line. And yet, they were within seven in the final minute before missing the final three from behind the arc.

Kentucky: The Wildcats shot 49 percent and converted frequent chances at the line. They also dominated rebounding and paint and bench points, all of which were needed to offset the Keydets’ perimeter game and Parham.

Gafford’s career high lifts Arkansas over Indiana 73-72

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — An overtime loss in the season opener might have proved instrumental for Arkansas in a narrow win against Indiana.

The Razorbacks squandered a late lead in a 73-71 overtime loss to Texas, and the same fate loomed large again Sunday as the Hoosiers erased a double-digit Arkansas lead in the second half.

This time, the Razorbacks (2-1) found a way to hang on as Mason Jones’ free throw with 2.5 seconds left provided Arkansas a 73-72 win in the Hardwood Showcase.

Daniel Gafford scored a career-high 27 points for Arkansas, but it was Mason who delivered the big rebound and free throw that secured the win. It was a little redemption for Mason, who missed the front end of a one-and one with 1:01 left and Arkansas clinging to a 72-69 lead.

“I knew I was going to make that free throw,” Mason said. “I like the pressure.”

In a similar situation against Texas, Mason missed a late shot and Texas rallied to tie and force overtime. Mason said Arkansas coach Mike Anderson told him he’d get another chance, and Sunday it presented itself.

“We learned a lot from that Texas game,” Jones said. “I just knew to be ready when the chance came again and I was ready this time.”

Indiana (3-1) had a chance to take the lead with under 15 seconds left, but two shots under the Hoosiers’ basket would not fall and Jones rebounded the second miss and was fouled by De’Ron Davis with 2.5 seconds left. It was a foul Indiana coach Archie Miller did not totally agree with.

“We had a shot to win the game, had a tap to win the game and had an unfortunate call that put them on the line,” Miller said. “It was a 50-50 play. I don’t know if he fouled him or not, but I know it was a tough call.”

Jones hauled in the key rebound, but Gafford did not let Jones take all the credit in the post-game interviews.

“I tipped that rebound out, by the way,” Gafford laughed.

Jones made the first free throw to give Arkansas a 73-72 lead. Indiana called a time out after Jones’ free throw, and Anderson instructed Jones to deliberately miss the second free throw.

“I have been harping on guys to make free throws, so asking him to miss one, I don’t remember asking a player to miss a free throw in a while,” Anderson said. “It was a perfect miss.”

Indiana only had time for a desperation heave as the buzzer sounded.

Arkansas rode the second half play of Gafford, who also grabbed 11 rebounds. At one stretch in the second half, Gafford scored 10 straight Arkansas points to help the Razorbacks hold on against a furious Indiana rally.

“I wasn’t playing weak like I usually do,” Gafford, who passed up entering the NBA Draft to return to Arkansas for his sophomore season, said. “Today I let the game come to me instead of trying to just go and take it. Letting the game come to you, it comes more smooth.”

Anderson said Gafford was a force at both ends, as his blocked shot just seconds after the opening tip set an early tone.

Miller said his team would benefit from playing against Gafford later in the season.

“He’s a very good player,” Miller said. “He was a really tough handle for us today. He pretty much neutralized the game. He was dominant. That is something that is going to help us moving forward and defending the caliber of big like that.”

Arkansas led 38-35 at halftime on Gabe Osabuohien’s 3-pointer from the right perimeter. Then Isaiah Joe, who finished with 13 points, opened the second half with a 3-pointer for a 41-35 lead. The Razorbacks would stretch the lead to 10 points twice — 45-35 with 17:08 left on Gafford’s dunk, and 51-41.

Indiana rallied with an 11-2 run fueled by freshman Romeo Langford, who finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and eventually took a 58-57 lead on Juwan Morgan’s layup with 8:58 left.

Arkansas recaptured a five-point lead at 63-58 on Gafford’s inside shot, before Indiana surged again to twice tie the game late.

BIG PICTURE

Indiana: The Hoosiers played just eight players as they have battled some early season injuries. Six of the eight logged more than 20 minutes including Langford, who played 38 minutes.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks had all nine players reach the scoring column Sunday, getting contributions off the bench to help the scoring. Jones also delivered a huge performance with 11 points and seven assists without a turnover.

TURNING POINT

Arkansas appeared to be rolling to a big win when Jones completed a three-point play to give the Razorbacks a 10-point lead at 51-41 with 14:16 left. But the Hoosiers rallied by outscoring Arkansas 17-6 over the next five-plus minutes to take a 58-57 lead.

Juwan Morgan and Langford fueled the run, scoring nine of the Hoosiers’ 17 points with Morgan’s inside bucket giving Indiana the lead.

HIGHLIGHT REEL

Langford is projected to be a high lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and he lived up to that lofty status Sunday. Langford a 6-foot-6 guard in just his fourth college basketball game, showed off a variety of skills with slashing drives and long range. His back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half helped Indiana erase a 10-point deficit.

TIP-INS

This was just the third meeting between the two teams, and first since 2008 when Arkansas defeated Indiana in an NCAA Tournament game. . Arkansas is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its 1994 national championship under former coach Nolan Richardson. Anderson was a longtime assistant coach and former player for Richardson.