Bubble Banter: Arizona State and Oklahoma out, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State in?

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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

OKLAHOMA STATE (RPI: 84, KenPom: 41, NBC seed: First four out): The Cowboys got what they needed: A win over Oklahoma that will give them a shot at getting a three-game sweep over Kansas on the season. And should I mention that Udoka Azubuike, who starts at center for Kansas, is out with a sprained MCL? As of today, Oklahoma State has five Quadrant 1 wins and a 10-13 record against the top two Quadrants with no bad losses. The biggest issue on their résumé is that their RPI isn’t pretty. They’ll be in the conversation even with a loss on Thursday, and a win probably gets them in.

NOTRE DAME (RPI: 71, KenPom: 33, NBC seed: Next four out): I don’t know where it came from, but Notre Dame was down by 20 points in the second half against Virginia Tech and came back to win in the second round of the ACC tournament, putting them into a position to seriously challenge for an NCAA tournament bid. At this point, I still think that the Irish are on the outside looking in. But they get Duke tomorrow in the the ACC quarterfinals, and if they win that game — Clemson is a top 15 team in the RPI — then I think they’ll probably get a bid. At the very least, I think that they would have done enough to prove they are a top 30 team in the country with their entire roster healthy, and to me, that’s enough to get in.

TEXAS (RPI: 46, KenPom: 39, NBC seed: 10): Texas got past Iowa State, which is probably what they needed to do to really feel comfortable about their at-large chances. The Longhorns are 8-13 against the top two Quadrants and they don’t have a bad loss to their name. The problem is that their best wins are TCU and Texas Tech at home, Butler on a neutral and Alabama and Oklahoma on the road. I think they’re probably in regardless of what happens on Thursday, but their life will be much less stressful if they can find a way to dispatch Texas Tech.

LOUISVILLE (RPI: 37, KenPom: 34, NBC seed: Next four out): Louisville didn’t earn an NCAA tournament bid on Wednesday afternoon when they beat Florida State, but they did put themselves into a position where they can win and get themselves in on Thursday. They play Virginia in the quarterfinals. If they beat Virginia, they will be in the NCAA tournament. Should I tell Louisville fans that they’d be in right now if they didn’t blow a four-point lead with 0.9 seconds left?

MARQUETTE (RPI: 55, KenPom: 49, NBC seed: Last four in): Marquette did what they needed to do on Wednesday night: They beat DePaul. Now they’ll advance to take on Villanova in the quarterfinals on Thursday. The way that I see it, they have to win that game to get in.

LOSERS

ARIZONA STATE (RPI: 65, KenPom: 38, NBC seed: 10): Arizona State lost in their Pac-12 12 tournament opener, meaning that the Sun Devils have gone from being college basketball’s last remaining unbeaten team to having to sweat out the final week before Selection Sunday. ASU is now 20-11 on the season and 8-11 against Pac-12 opponents after Wednesday’s loss. The Fighting Bobby Hurleys have just three Quadrant 1 wins and an 8-9 record against the top two Quadrants with two Quadrant 3 losses, but they have happen to have the best pair of wins of any team in the country, beating Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse and knocking off Xavier on a neutral court. And it is those two wins that will likely ensure that ASU will be in the tournament when the bracket is released in 96 hours, but the idea that it is anything close to a guarantee — which is what you would expect from a team ranked No. 3 in the country on Dec. 30th — is wrong.

OKLAHOMA (RPI: 46, KenPom: 57, NBC seed: 9): The slide continued into the postseason for the Sooners, as they lost to their in-state rivals in the first round of the Big 12 tournament on Wednesday night. All told, Oklahoma has now lost eight of their last ten and 11 of their last 15 games. They are 18-13 on the season and finished with an 8-11 record against Big 12 foes. And here’s the crazy part: they are probably still in the tournament. They beat Kansas at home. They beat Texas Tech at home. They swept TCU, won at Wichita State and beat USC on a “neutral” court in Los Angeles. Throw in the fact that they don’t have any losses outside the top two Quadrants and I find it very hard to believe this team will be on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday.

SYRACUSE (RPI: 38, KenPom: 51, NBC seed: Last four in): The Orange are in a really bad spot right now. Their résumé currently looks like this: Three Quadrant 1 wins (Clemson, at Miami, at Louisville) and a 6-11 record against the top two Quadrants with a pair of Quadrant 3 losses (at Georgia Tech, at Wake Forest). In a vacuum, that would probably put them right on the cut-line. The problem? All of the teams around them — Baylor, USC, Oklahoma State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Marquette, Alabama, UCLA — still have games to play, and they aren’t all going to lose.

WASHINGTON (RPI: 67, KenPom: 97, NBC seed: First four out): Washington needed to beat Oregon State in their Pac-12 tournament opener. They did not beat Oregon State in their Pac-12 tournament opener. With four Quadrant 1 wins — including Arizona and at Kansas — and a 6-9 record against the top two Quadrants, the Huskies aren’t that far away from some of the other bubble teams. Their issue? This loss to Oregon State is their third Quadrant 3 loss. It’s going to be a long, long four days until Selection Sunday, but it’s hard to see the Huskies getting in at this point.

N.C. STATE (RPI: 64, KenPom: 44, NBC seed: 8): I’ve seen some discussion about N.C. State’s chances as a bubble team, and I don’t quite understand why. The Wolfpack have five Quadrant 1 wins and an 8-9 record against the top two Quadrants, but more importantly they’ve beaten Duke, won at North Carolina, took down Clemson and beat Arizona on a neutral. They should be fine.

FLORIDA STATE (RPI: 52, KenPom: 36, NBC seed: 9): The Seminoles lost their ACC tournament opener to Louisville, but they, like N.C. State, should still be safe. They have six Quadrant 1 wins — including North Carolina and Clemson — and a 7-10 record against the top two quadrants with just a single Quadrant 3 loss. If there is a concern, it’s that their non-conference SOS is a train-wreck, but that shouldn’t keep them out.

Middle Tennessee loses four returnees during the week

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Middle Tennessee has been one of the best mid-major programs in the country over the last few years but now the Blue Raiders will be facing a major rebuild.

With former head coach Kermit Davis taking the Ole Miss job and new head coach Nick McDevitt coming over from UNC Asheville, the program experienced some major roster turnover this week as four returnees left the program.

Earlier in the week, junior guard David Simmons opted to transfer out of Middle Tennessee after he averaged 17.9 minutes per game for the Conference USA regular-season champions last season.

On Friday, the losses continued, as three more players left the team. Rising junior point guard Tyrik Dixon announced his intention to transfer while the program dismissed guard Antwain Johnson and forward Davion Thomas. Dixon was a valuable floor leader for Middle Tennessee the past two seasons while Johnson, a rising senior guard, would have been the team’s returning leading scorer after putting up 10.3 points per game last week.

Since so much of the successful core of the past three seasons is now gone from Middle Tennessee, it will be on McDevitt to bring in new talent to sustain the recent great stretch of play. The Blue Raiders made two Round of 32 appearances in a row before missing the NCAA tournament last season after winning C-USA’s regular season crown.

Now, with Western Kentucky making a power play by bringing in five-star big man Charles Bassey, and the power has shifted very quickly in one of the most competitive mid-major conferences in the country.

Report: One-and-Done rule could be eliminated for 2021 NBA Draft

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The NBA is reportedly exploring the possibility of ending the infamous one-and-done rule that forces many potential professional basketball players to head to college for at least one season.

According to a report from ESPN’s Zach Lowe, citing a league memo sent to NBA teams late this week, the league office is indicating that “eligibility rules” for the NBA draft could change as soon as 2021 or 2022 — but not earlier. The league is currently trying to figure out how the FBI’s investigation into college basketball will play out while also trying to navigate the player development changes that would be needed for high school players to once again potentially enter the NBA. Recently, the NBA has started to allow its teams and front-office personnel to attend elite summer high school events as the Pangos All-American Camp and the NBPA Top 100 Camp both had an NBA presence to watch elite Class of 2019, 2020 and 2021 prospects.

Lowe’s report mentions that the one-and-done rule is not mentioned directly by name, but the NBA is trying to warn its teams before the 2018 NBA Draft. These future changes could be on the horizon and teams need to understand what they are doing with future draft picks in potential trades.

The scenario of a 2021 NBA Draft in which high school players might be eligible is a fascinating subplot for college basketball, and the sport at-large, over these next few years.

As Lowe pointed out in his report, whenever the rule is eventually opened up, it will create one large mega draft in which two elite classes of high school players would be draft-eligible in the same year. With potentially double the lottery-level and first-round talent of a typical NBA draft, it would force a lot of elite college recruits to exam the possibility of reclassifying up in order to get ahead of that mega draft and be in a pool with fewer elite prospects.

It also gives the high school players themselves a unique decision with regard to their potential college futures. If an elite high school prospect is one year away from entering the NBA draft out of school, would some go to college or would they try to go for a postgrad year and follow in the footsteps of players like Thon Maker and Anfernee Simons?

The expanding presence of the NBA’s G-League is also a factor in all of this as salaries for the league are increasing and becoming more respectable — giving high school players a viable professional option in the United States instead of college for one year before moving on to the draft.

There are still way too many moving parts to truly speculate how this will all go down. But at least we know that the NBA appears to be viewing 2021 or 2022 as the potential change to the one-and-done rule. We’ll have to see how elite high school prospects start potentially adjusting to reclassify while colleges also might have to adopt some new and unique recruiting strategies if they rely on one-and-done players to fill out their roster.

Five-star guard Ashton Hagans enrolling at Kentucky after graduating year early

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Kentucky received additional reinforcements for the 2018-19 season on Friday as five-star guard Ashton Hagans graduated high school a year early with the intent to head to Lexington for next season.

The 6-foot-4 Hagans is considered by many recruiting analysts to be a top-ten national prospect in the Class of 2019 as he gives the Wildcats three five-star recruits at lead guard for next season. The Georgia state Player of the Year as a junior this past season, Hagans joins a crowded Kentucky backcourt that includes sophomore Quade Green and fellow incoming freshman and McDonald’s All-American Immanuel Quickley.

While the juggling of minutes is going to be a major storyline for head coach John Calipari this season, the addition of Hagans gives Kentucky even more lineup flexibility than they had before. Because Hagans has good size and defensive ability, he could be used to play alongside the smaller Green, giving the Wildcats a two-guard look that would have more defensive intensity. Playing Quickley and Hagans together would give Kentucky a bigger two-guard lineup that would have a chance to be pretty strong defensively.

And, of course, Calipari could opt to go with some three-guard lineups with other off-guards like Keldon Johnson or Tyler Herro to give Kentucky a tough perimeter attack.

Handling minutes and egos will be something to watch for in Lexington this season, but Calipari has handled this sort of situation with a Final Four appearance before. It’s hard to say if the Wildcats will try to play another platoon type of system like we saw in 2014-15, but if they end up getting graduate transfer forward Reid Travis, they might have the personnel to give it a shot.

Villanova lands late commitment from four-star prospect

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Villanova made a late addition to their 2018 recruiting class on Friday afternoon as they landed a commitment from four-star prospect Saddiq Bey.

Bey was originally committed to N.C. State, but he asked out of his Letter of Intent in mid-May as the Wolfpack ended up over the scholarship limit. The versatile, 6-foot-7 forward is a good fit for the way that Villanova likes to play, as he can guard different positions, plays with the toughness you expect out of a kid from Washington D.C. and is a capable scorer.

Bey is also a product of Sidwell Friends, the same high school that produced former Villanova star Josh Hart.

He will joined a recruiting class that also includes five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, four star prospects Cole Swider and Brandon Slater and Albany grad transfer Joe Cremo.

The news was first reported by 247 Sports.

Marvin Bagley III, a ‘Nike kid’, to sign endorsement deal with Puma

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In a somewhat surprising turn of events, Marvin Bagley III will reportedly sign an endorsement deal with Puma in the NBA.

It’s a five-year deal, according to reports, that will pay Bagley and his family quite a bit of money and will allow them to fund an AAU program for Bagley’s younger brother. That program will be coached by Marvin Bagley Jr., and that gets to the heart of what makes this decision so surprising.

Bagley III has always been considered a “Nike kid”. He played for Nike AAU programs throughout his high school career. The last two years, his father ran the program that he played for, originally called Phoenix Phamily but eventually changed to Nike Phamily. That meant that Nike was able to legally pay Bagley Jr. a significant amount of money to fund that program. Eventually, Bagley would up enrolling at Duke, one of Nike’s flagship college basketball programs.

This is not the way that it is supposed to go for a shoe company like Nike. The reason they spend as much money as they do in the youth ranks is to keep as many kids as possible loyal to the brand. It’s fairly easy to figure out who will end up having a chance at being an NBA player as early as 15 years old, but what’s harder to do is to predict who will actually be able to move product. Did anyone think James Harden or Damian Lillard would be worth a signature shoe? So these shoe companies will spend a relatively small amount of money to fly those kids around the country during their high school years, keep them decked out in their gear and hope that lottery ticket eventually pays off.

What is a couple hundred thousand dollar investment when the payoff is hundreds of millions of dollars in shoe sales? All you need to do is land one Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant to make the math work.

But that isn’t all that the shoe companies are looking for here.

With the amount of money that they have invested in sponsorship deals with these schools, they need to protect that investment. We saw it with Adidas and Louisville. They funneled $100,000 to Brian Bowen, a Nike kid, to get him to an Adidas school not because they thought he would end up being an uber-profitable spokesman but because they needed to protect their investment at the college level.

So while it’s easy to look at this and same that Bagley’s time spent at Duke helped him get a big, fat shoe contract, I think it’s the other way around. He helped Nike — without getting his market value — during his one season at Duke, and what it got him was a shoe contract worth roughly $1 million a year, according to Oregon Live.

Either way, the fact of the matter is that Bagley’s value to these brands is no different now than it was when he was playing for the Blue Devils.

Why is it only now that he’s allowed to cash in on it?