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Bubble Banter: Louisville’s must-win game kicks off a thrilling day of bubble action

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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 Thursday.

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

EVERYONE!: Nevada, who is a lock for the tournament, was trailing UNLV on the road in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament. They came back to win. If they had lost, the MWC would be sending a team without a shot at an at-large to the dance. In other words, someone’s bubble would have burst.

ALABAMA (RPI: 47, KenPom: 52, NBC seed: Next four out): Alabama landed a thrilling win over Texas A&M on Thursday afternoon, picking off Texas A&M on Thursday afternoon on a buzzer-beater layup from Collin Sexton that may be what ends up getting the Crimson Tide a bid to the NCAA tournament. The Crimson Tide have 14 losses, two of which came against Quadrant 3 opponents, but they also now have six Quadrant 1 wins and a 10-12 record against the top two Quadrants. They’ve beaten both SEC co-champions (Auburn and Tennessee), Rhode Island, Texas A&M at home and on a neutral and won at Florida. Whether or not they beat Auburn on Friday, I think that they are in.

PROVIDENCE (RPI: 35, KenPom: 72, NBC seed: 10): Providence landed an enormous win in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament as they outlasted Creighton in overtime. The Friars improved to 20-12 on the season with a 10-8 mark in the Big East. More importantly, the win over Creighton is their fifth against Quadrant 1 opponents and puts them over .500 — 10-9 — against the top two Quadrants. The big issue for the Friars is that they have three terrible losses, but even that got better today; because UMass’ RPI has improved enough that they are no longer a Quadrant 4 loss. The Friars still do have two other Quadrant 4 losses, but I should also note here that they’ve beaten both Xavier and Villanova this season and they’ll get another chance against the Musketeers tomorrow. I think they’ve going to be fine.

USC (RPI: 33, KenPom: 47, NBC seed: First four out): The Trojans are another in a long line of teams on the bubble with weird profiles. They have four Quadrant 1 wins and a 9-9 mark against the top two Quadrants, but they also have a disastrous home loss to Princeton (Quadrant 4, albeit missing a few rotation guys) and their best wins are not great. Middle Tennessee State looks like they’ll miss the NCAA tournament. New Mexico State needs to win their automatic bid to have a chance. Sweeping Utah and Oregon is fine, but neither of those teams are likely to be tournament bound. What about this résumé sets it apart from the rest of the bubble?

UCLA (RPI: 33, KenPom: 49, NBC seed: 11): UCLA knocked off Stanford in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament on Thursday afternoon, a win that should just about get the Bruins into the NCAA tournament field. UCLA is now 8-9 against the top two Quadrants with a trio of pretty impressive wins — Kentucky on a neutral, at Arizona, at USC — and just one bad loss, which came at home against Colorado. A win over Arizona on Friday night might be enough to get the Bruins into the 8-9 game.

BUTLER (RPI: 36, KenPom: 24, NBC seed: 9): Butler was close to a lock before playing Seton Hall today. Then they went out and beat the Pirates. The Bulldogs are in.

KANSAS STATE (RPI: 50, KenPom: 40, NBC seed: 9): I think that Kansas State probably just punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament with a win over TCU in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament. They have four Quadrant 1 wins — TCU at home, TCU on a neutral, at Texas and at Baylor — and a 9-10 record against the top two Quadrants with no losses outside of the top two Quadrants. The mitigating factor here is that the Wildcats are ranked in the 320s in non-conference SOS and we know what the Selection Committee thinks of teams that won’t challenge themselves.

LOSERS

OKLAHOMA STATE (RPI: 86, KenPom: 51, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Cowboys are in some trouble now, and they will be one of the most fascinating cases on Selection Sunday. They are now 19-14 on the season after losing to Kansas in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament, but that was their first loss to the Jayhawks in three games against them this season. Their RPI is an atrocious 86th, but their KenPom numbers are much better. There are no bad losses on their résumé, but there are 14 “good” losses. They have five Quadrant 1 wins — including a sweep of the Jayhawks during the regular season — and nine wins against the top two Quadrants but they also have a non-conference SOS in the 280s. BartTorvik.com gives the Pokes a 34.5 percent chance of getting into the dance, and that sounds about right to me.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (RPI: 31, KenPom: 44, NBC seed: 12): Kermit Davis went out and lost to Southern Miss in the quarterfinals of the CUSA tournament on Thursday night, which is their worst loss of the season and comes on the heels of losing to Marshall in their regular season finale. The Blue Raiders now have two Quadrant 3 losses and a Quadrant 4 loss while their only good wins are at Murray State and at Western Kentucky. They’re in trouble, and likely headed for the NIT.

MARQUETTE (RPI: 57, KenPom: 50, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Golden Eagles could not take down Villanova on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden, meaning that they are now going to have to wait out the next three days to see if their name gets called on Selection Sunday. Their résumé is good — four Quadrant 1 wins, 8-12 against the top two Quadrants and just one Quadrant 3 loss — but they don’t have any great wins. They have not beaten an RPI top 25 team this season, although they have won at Seton Hall, Providence and Creighton. It’ll be tight. They are the cut line.

BAYLOR (RPI: 63, KenPom: 32, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Bears are in big trouble. They are now 17-14 on the season with just four Quadrant 1 wins and a 7-13 record against the top two Quadrants. They also lost at Iowa State, a Quadrant 3 loss. The good news is that they have a win over Kansas. The bad news is that that probably is not going to be enough to get them in. I would have Baylor behind teams like Oklahoma State, Alabama and Arizona State. They are going to be right there on the cutline.

TEXAS (RPI: 49, KenPom: 38, NBC seed: 10): Texas lost to Texas Tech in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament, which means that they are going to be sweating out Selection Sunday with the rest of the nation’s bubble teams. As it stands, the Longhorns have five Quadrant 1 wins and an 8-14 record against the top two Quadrants, but their best wins of the season — TCU and Texas Tech — are at home, and their best wins away from home — Butler on a neutral and at Alabama — aren’t quite as impressive as we thought at the time. I think Texas will be in.

LOUISVILLE (RPI: 39, KenPom: 34, NBC seed: Last four in): Louisville, at this point, looks like they are going to be on the wrong side of the bubble come Selection Sunday. There are a lot of reasons why, and I dove into them all in more depth here.

NOTRE DAME (RPI: 64, KenPom: 28, NBC seed: First four out): The Irish are in a tough, tough spot now. We went over why this Notre Dame team had to beat Duke last night. I think that, at this point, they are out.

UTAH (RPI: 58, KenPom: 65, NBC seed: Out): The Utes were in the conversation, but they needed to at least get to the Pac-12 tournament title game to have a real shot at an at-large. They lost to Oregon in the quarterfinals.

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?