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Pac-12 Conference Reset: Can the league rebound from a bad 2017-18?

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone, and there are a dozen or so truly impactful decisions that are left to be made.

Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season.

The coaching carousel has come to a close.

The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2018-19 season.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Pac-12 over the next six months.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

THE LEAGUE LOOKS TO REBOUND FROM A BAD 2017-18 SEASON: When the 68-team field for the NCAA tournament was announced the Pac-12 received some bad news, with only three teams getting the call. Two of those three teams, UCLA and Arizona State, were sent to Dayton for the First Four while Arizona drew a Buffalo squad that may have been underestimated due to the way in which the Wildcats ran through the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. All three teams lost their openers, giving the conference a total of three NCAA tournament units.

A season that appeared to have promise, as both Arizona and USC were in the national conversation, took a bad turn in late September thanks to the FBI investigation that saw two former Pac-12 assistants arrested (Tony Bland and Book Richardson) and a player in sophomore De’Anthony Melton declared ineligible. While that case didn’t ensnare the entire Pac-12, there’s no escaping the fact that this is a league that can really use a good run through non-conference play in 2018-19.

While there won’t be a lack of teams that could win the Pac-12 next season, are there any teams that can become fixtures in the national title conversation?

OREGON, UCLA AND ARIZONA STATE BRING IN HIGHLY-REGARDED RECRUITING CLASSES: One way in which a conference can rebound from a bad season is to add quality talent, and that’s what the Pac-12 has managed to do with three programs adding Top 10 recruiting classes (per 247Sports.com). Oregon (third), UCLA (sixth) and Arizona State (tenth) are all bringing in good recruiting classes, with the Ducks’ haul including Bol Bol and Louis King, UCLA’s crop being headlined by McDonald’s All-American Moses Brown and Arizona State boasting a group led by former USC commit Taeshon Cherry.

USC and Arizona, programs impacted by the aforementioned FBI scandal, also bring in quality recruiting classes, and Stanford also did well for itself. In the case of Arizona, the Wildcats also hit the graduate transfer market hard with the additions of Justin Coleman and Ryan Luther. The question now: will the infusion of talent help the Pac-12 take a step forward nationally after falling back last season?

THE NBA DRAFT DEADLINE DELIVERS A SURPRISE: It’s rare to see a player withdraw his name from the NBA draft and then make the decision to transfer, but that’s exactly what former Stanford forward and first team all-conference selection Reid Travis decided to do on the day of the NCAA’s withdrawal deadline. As a grad transfer, and a productive one at that, Travis won’t lack for suitors as he looks for a place to play his final season of college basketball. As for Stanford, the loss of Travis is a tough blow to absorb for a team that doesn’t lack for young talent especially on the perimeter and the wing.

Daejon Davis, Kezie Okpala and Oscar Da Silva are among the returnees who will lead the way for Jerod Haase’s team, with an interior rotation that includes Josh Sharma, Trevor Stanback and freshman Lukas Kisunas needing to step forward. With competition for a spot in the top half of the conference expected to be fierce with there not being much to separate many of those teams, how much Stanford’s front court improves in the aftermath of Travis’ departure will have a big impact on whether or not the Cardinal can make a run at an NCAA tournament bid.

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WHO’S GONE?

  • Deandre Ayton, Arizona: Ayton’s departure, along with those of Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins, comes as no surprise at all. The Pac-12 Player of the Year, Ayton led Arizona in both scoring and rebounding and helped led the team to Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. Ayton’s got a very good chance of being the top overall pick in June’s NBA draft, and whether his departure was expected or not “replacing” a player of Ayton’s caliber is a difficult thing to do. The losses of Ayton and Dusan Ristic will put more pressure on Duke transfer Chase Jeter and rising sophomore Ira Lee to produce immediately inside, making for what should be an interesting season in Tucson.
  • Aaron Holiday, UCLA: Had Ayton not been the league player of the year it’s likely that Holiday, who led UCLA in scoring, assists and steals, would have been the choice. After averaging 20.3 points, 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game, Holiday made the decision to forego his final season of eligibility. As is the case with Ayton this move wasn’t a surprise, and it opens the door for rising sophomore Jaylen Hands to run the show for Steve Alford in 2018-19. Holiday is one of two significant personnel losses the Bruins will have to account for if they’re to contend in the Pac-12, with big man Thomas Welsh being the other.
  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC: USC, which just missed out on an NCAA tournament berth last season, will have to account for the loss of three starters as they prepare for the 2018-19 season with one being McLaughlin. The four-year starter at the point was an incredibly important figure in Andy Enfield’s program, running the show as USC transitioned from Pac-12 bottom feeder to a program expected to consistently earn postseason bids. Of course the losses of Chimezie Metu and Elijah Stewart hurt as well, but for all that McLaughlin did in his four seasons at USC this is the beginning of a new era at the Galen Center.
  • Tra Holder, Arizona State: Holder was a key cog in the senior class that led the Sun Devil program to its first NCAA tournament appearance in four years, and he — along with Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice — will be tough to replace. Holder had the look of a Pac-12 POY favorite during a non-conference run in which Arizona State played its way into the Top 5 of the national polls, and he would go on to earn first team all-conference honors at season’s end. With Holder gone a lot of the responsibility at the point falls upon the shoulders of Remy Martin, who as a freshman was Pac-12 Co-Sixth Man of the Year.
  • Reid Travis, Stanford: While the top four players on this list are all off to pay for play, that isn’t the case for Travis. After entering the NBA draft the first team all-conference forward made the decision to transfer, and he won’t lack for choices as he looks for a new home as a grad transfer. Travis averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last season, and without him the Cardinal will need Josh Sharma and Trevor Stanback to take a big step forward if they’re to be an NCAA tournament team in 2019.
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WHO’S BACK?

  • Tres Tinkle, Oregon State: After appearing in just six games during the 2016-17 season due to a broken wrist Tinkle appeared in all 32 games for the Beavers last season, averaging 17.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game as he earned first team all-conference honors. Along with the Thompson brothers (Stevie and Ethan), Tinkle will lead the way for an Oregon State team looking to rebound from a season in which the Beavers finished tenth in the Pac-12.
  • McKinley Wright IV, Colorado: Wright was one of the conference’s best freshmen a season ago, averaging 14.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. He’ll begin the 2018-19 season as one of the best point guards in the Pac-12, and his development will be key for a Colorado team that will look to end the program’s two-year NCAA tournament drought.
  • Matisse Thybulle, Washington: The reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year made the decision early in the offseason that he would be back for his senior year, not even looking to test the NBA draft waters. Thybulle’s defensive abilities are well-known; can he take a step forward offensively on a team that should be a Pac-12 title contender in Mike Hopkins’ second season in charge? If so, Thybulle could find himself in the mix for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
  • Kenny Wooten, Oregon: With Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher both having moved on, the question for the Ducks entering last season was who would serve as the team’s rim protector? Enter Wooten, who as a freshman averaged 2.6 blocks per game despite averaging just under 20 minutes per night. The minutes will increase for Wooten, who will be joined in the front court by fellow returnee Paul White and two highly-regarded freshmen in Bol Bol and Miles Norris. If you’re looking for someone to make a run at the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award currently held by Thybulle, look no further than Wooten.
  • Jaylen Hands, UCLA: Hands was one of three UCLA freshmen to test the NBA draft waters, with he, Kris Wilkes and Cody Riley (who was suspended for all of last season) all deciding to return to Westwood. Hands’ decision is a critical one, as with Aaron Holiday off to the NBA he’ll be the one entrusted with running the show for Steve Alford’s team. UCLA also adds Tyger Campbell to the mix, but Hands’ development will be key if the Bruins are to make a run at the Pac-12 title.

WHO’S COMING?

  • Bol Bol and Louis King, Oregon: Dana Altman and his staff landed the Pac-12’s best recruiting class, with the son of the late Manute Bol being the crown jewel. The 7-foot-2 Bol, who played at Findlay Prep last season, can be an impact addition on both ends of the floor and getting into a college strength and conditioning program will help him as well. As for the 6-foot-8 King, the Hudson Catholic (New Jersey) product is one of the best wings in the 2018 recruiting class and his arrival gives Oregon another versatile perimeter talent.
  • Moses Brown, UCLA: Right there with Oregon for the top recruiting class in the Pac-12 is UCLA, which landed a total of six freshmen. One of those players is the 7-foot-1 Brown, an Archbishop Malloy (Queens, New York) product considered to be one of the top centers in the 2018 class. Also in UCLA’s recruiting class are point guard Tyger Campbell, wings Jules Bernard and David Singleton, power forward Shareef O’Neal (the son of Shaquille O’Neal) and center Kenny Nwaba. This group will have the opportunity to earn significant minutes immediately.
  • Kevin Porter Jr., USC: While USC did lose some key contributors on the perimeter as Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart both graduated, the Trojans will not lack for talent next season. Joining the mix is Seattle native Kevin Porter, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard with the size and skill needed to compete for minutes immediately. He and fellow 6-foot-5 frosh Elijah Weaver join a rotation that includes Derryck Thornton Jr., Shaqquan Aaron and Charles O’Bannon Jr. and this group is one reason why the Trojans should contend.
  • Brandon Williams, Arizona: Williams was one of Arizona’s first commits in the 2018 class, and then he made the decision to reopen his recruitment in the aftermath of the FBI scandal. Williams ultimately decided that Tucson is the best place for him, and in Williams the Wildcats add an impact freshman who ranks among the top incoming freshman point guards in the country. Look for Williams and Samford grad transfer Justin Coleman to be key cogs in Arizona’s perimeter attack.
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL PAC-12 TEAM

Matisse Thybulle, Washington (POY)
McKinley Wright IV, Colorado
Payton Pritchard, Oregon
Tres Tinkle, Oregon State
Noah Dickerson, Washington

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. Oregon: The Ducks did lose three double-figure scorers, but they welcome back last year’s leading scorer in Payton Pritchard, and forwards Paul White and Kenny Wooten are back as well. Add in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, and Oregon has the look of the early favorite to win the Pac-12.

2. Washington: The Huskies have as good an argument as any team for the top spot, as the team’s top seven scorers return from a team that nearly reached the NCAA tournament in Mike Hopkins’ first season. Matisse Thybulle, Noah Dickerson and the rest of the gang is back in Seattle, and the additions of Bryan Penn-Johnson and Nate Roberts will add depth inside.

3. UCLA: Everyone who tested the NBA draft waters made the decision to return, and that combined with a highly regarded recruiting class gives the Bruins a good shot at both contending in the Pac-12 and playing more than just one game in the NCAA tournament. The key: how Jaylen Hands and Tyger Campbell fare in filling the hole left at the point by Aaron Holiday’s departure.

4. USC: The Trojans lost some key pieces but the cupboard is anything but bare. Derryck Thornton Jr., Jordan McLaughlin’s backup last season, moves into the starting point guard spot, and the additions of Kevin Porter Jr. and Elijah Weaver will add depth and talent on the perimeter. The Trojans will need Bennie Boatwright, whose season ended in mid February due to a knee injury, back at full strength if they’re to be a title contender.

5. Colorado: Even with the graduation of George King, the Buffaloes return McKinley Wright IV and Namon Wright on the perimeter, and Tyler Bey and Lucas Siewert are among the contributors in the front court. Also, Colorado added a junior college All-America to the mix in guard Shane Gatling, and 4-star freshman guard Daylen Kountz should be in the mix for minutes as well.

6. Arizona: Arizona lost its entire starting five from a season ago, and while Sean Miller and his staff managed to put together a good recruiting class there are a lot of new pieces that will need time to jell together. Among those additions are two grad transfers in point guard Justin Coleman and power forward Ryan Luther (Pittsburgh), and Duke transfer Chase Jeter is eligible after sitting out last season.

7. Stanford: With Reid Travis’ decision to transfer the Cardinal will have to account for the loss of three of the team’s top five scorers from last season. That being said there’s some good talent on the roster, including guard Daejon Davis and wings Kezie Okpala and Oscar Da Silva. Stanford’s hopes may hinge on the progress made by Josh Sharma and Trevor Stanback in the front court, with both being on the outskirts of the Stanford rotation last season.

8. Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost some very important seniors at the end of last season, but the return of players such as guard Remy Martin and forwards Romello White, Kimani Lawrence and De’Quon Lake will help Bobby Hurley deal with those losses. San Diego State transfer Zylan Cheatham will be available, and ASU also adds a solid recruiting class headlined by forward Taeshon Cherry.

9. Utah: The Runnin’ Utes lost three of the top four scorers from a team that won 23 games and reached the Postseason NIT title game last season. Sedrick Barefield, who tested the NBA draft waters, is back as are forward Donnie Tillman and center Jayce Johnson and a quality recruiting class enters the fold as well. Obviously there are questions to answer for this group, but keep in mind that Larry Krystkowiak has led the program to five straight 20-win seasons.

10. Oregon State: The Beavers had the appearance of a possible sleeper heading into last season but things did not work out that way, as the lack of a clear answer at the point had an impact on their effectiveness. Losing Drew Eubanks in the post hurts, but with Tres Tinkle and the Thompson brothers back there’s talent at the other spots. The question, once again, is the point. Can either incoming freshman, Jordan Campbell or Antoine Vernon, step forward and be the answer? That will be the key for Wayne Tinkle’s squad.

11. Washington State: The good news for Washington State is that leading scorer Robert Franks made the decision to return for his senior season. The bad news: Malachi Flynn transferred to San Diego State. Franks, Viont’e Daniels and Carter Skaggs are the leading returning scorers, with Ernie Kent adding multiple junior college transfers including point guard Jervae Robinson and forward Isaiah Wade.

12. California: While there were no head coaching moves in the Pac-12 this offseason, Wyking Jones’ addition of David Grace to his coaching staff could be a big move for the Golden Bears. Don Coleman’s decision to transfer left the Golden Bears without their leading scorer from a season ago, but in sophomores Justice Sueing and Darius McNeill they’ve got two promising young talents to build around. And keep an eye on freshmen Matt Bradley and Jacobi Gordon.

Bubble Banter: Virginia, Mississippi State the biggest winners of the night

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It was a wild night on the bubble on Tuesday night, as 12 teams with their NCAA tournament hopes still up in the air were in action.

A full bubble watch breakdown can be found here. Here are tonight’s winners and losers:

WINNERS

VIRGINIA (NET: 58, NBC: Off the bubble): It is impossible to overstate just how big a win over Florida State (15) for a Virginia team that entered the night without a top 50 win to their name. They had one Quad 1 win on their resume — at Syracuse (64) — to go along with wins over Virginia Tech (50) at home and Arizona State (56) on a neutral floor. That’s it. When combined with a pair of Quad 3 losses — South Carolina (89) at home and at Boston College (153) — there’s a reason that the Wahoos were completely out of the NCAA tournament picture entering the day.

And to be honest, I’m not sure that a win over a top 20 team at home is really going to change all that much. But with just three more games against the top of the ACC left on their schedule, this was an opportunity that could not slip through their fingers.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 48, NBC: Off the bubble): The Bulldogs added a critical road win on Tuesday night, going into Gainesville and knocking off Florida (37). It’s the second Quad 1 win in six days for Mississippi State, who needs to add some pop to the top of a resume that includes a pair of Quad 3 losses. This will help.

MICHIGAN (NET: 35, NBC: 10): Michigan entered Tuesday night having lost four games in a row and five of their last six and were playing without Isaiah Livers and Zavier Simpson at Nebraska (158). They could not lost this game. They did not.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 47, NBC: First four out): Rhode Island is in a spot where they probably cannot afford to take a loss to anyone other than Dayton (5), who they play twice, the rest of the season. On Tuesday night, the Rams beat George Mason. Next up: VCU (39) on Friday night.

LOSERS

TENNESSEE (NET: 55, NBC: Next four out): The Vols took a loss that they just could not afford to take on Tuesday, falling to a bad Texas A&M (149) at home. It’s their first Quad 3 loss, meaning that now half of their eight losses are outside the Quad 1 level. With just two Quad 1 wins, neither of which came against a top 35 opponent, Tennessee is backing themselves into a corner. The good news? They still play eight Quad 1 games, and that doesn’t include Florida at home. The Vols can survive this if they get hot.

SYRACUSE (NET: 64, NBC: Off the bubble): The Orange saw their five game winning streak come to an end on Tuesday as they fell at Clemson (81). This is not a terrible loss, but for a team that is already trying to make up ground on the field, these are the kind of losses that really hurt.

RICHMOND (NET: 54, NBC: First four out): Tuesday’s visit to the Siegel Center was Richmond’s last shot at getting a Quad 1 win dueing the regular season. They lost to VCU (39) by 17 points. For my money, the Spiders’ at-large hopes are more or less dead.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 67, NBC: 10): The Johnnies lost for the seventh time in their last nine games when Villanova (14) waltzed into MSG and beat the Red Storm by 20. That’s not ideal. St. John’s is still in the mix because of wins over West Virginia (7) and Arizona (10), the latter of which came on a neutral court. But with road games left against Villanova, Seton Hall (12) and Butler (9), Mike Anderson’s club has backed themselves into a corner.

LEFT TO PLAY

PURDUE (NET: 36, NBC: Next four out)

VIRGINIA TECH (NET: 50, NBC: First four out)

GEORGETOWN (NET: 52, NBC: Next four out)

UTAH STATE (NET: 62, NBC: Off the bubble)

Virginia upends No. 5 Florida State, 61-56

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Remember back to the season’s opening night? Nearly three months ago? That was when Virginia embarrassed Syracuse in a 48-34 win. That game foretold a lot of the season up to this point for the Cavaliers. Their title-defending team would have the defense that’s defined Tony Bennett’s program while the offense, well, that would be a bit of a struggle. What it did not predict was more Quad 1 wins, as the Cavaliers, despite a dominating defense, failed to rack up another such victory after that season-opener.

Until Tuesday.

Virginia injected some life into its NCAA tournament hopes with a 61-56 win over fifth-ranked Florida State in Charlottesville to pick up a critical victory in an ACC that offers far fewer marquee opportunities than in years past.

The victory was exactly what Bennett’s team needed to help buoy that resume before the start of February. January was extremely rough on them with a 3-4 mark before the win over the Seminoles put them at .500 for the month. With only four chances left against the ACC’s best of FSU, Duke and Louisville, beating the Seminoles at home may not have been an absolute-must for the Cavs, but it sure makes it a lot easier to chart a path to the tournament now, even if it’s still a rocky road, than if they had dropped the game.

Point guard Kihei Clark scored 11 of his 15 points after halftime, changing the game offensively for the Cavaliers with his dribble penetration into the middle of the Florida State defense. He wasn’t wildly efficient, but his ability to get into the teeth of the defense – creating some buckets and free throws for himself and chances for his teammates – provided just enough lift for the offensively-challenged team. His beautiful reverse layup with a minute left gave Virginia a lead it would not relinquish as it closed the game on an 8-0 run.

Mamadi Diakite had 19 points and nine boards for Virginia while Braxton Key had 13 points and nine rebounds.

The loss stops a 10-game winning streak for the ‘Noles, who led for most of the game but could not ever find any meaningful separation. Devin Vassell had 17 points to lead Florida State, which had two shots to tie the game in the final seconds but missed both 3-point attempts horribly. If Virginia can surge a little in the season’s final month, this win won’t be much more than a missed opportunity for the Seminoles, but if it proves to just be a blip on the radar for Virginia, Florida State may have done some damage to its seed line Tuesday.

No. 8 Villanova pulls away from St. John’s 79-59

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NEW YORK (AP) — Saddiq Bey scored 23 points, Collin Gillespie had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and No. 8 Villanova easily handled St. John’s  on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden to win its seventh-straight game, 79-59.

Justin Moore, starting for injured forward Jermaine Samuels, added 11 points and fellow freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 13 points and 14 rebounds as the balanced Wildcats (17-3, 7-1 Big East) won for the 13th time in 14 games.

Samuels, a 6-foot-7 junior averaging 11.1 points and five rebounds per game, was a game-time decision and sat out with a sprained left foot after getting hurt during Saturday’s victory at Providence. His absence hardly hindered the Wildcats, who quickly recovered from a slow start and opened a 24-point bulge in a second half that was never competitive.

Rasheem Dunn had 24 points for St. John’s (13-9, 2-7), the only Big East team to beat Villanova in each of the past two seasons. Mustapha Heron was held to three on 1-of-7 shooting — he entered averaging 14.3 points per game, including 18.7 in the previous three.

The schools play again Feb. 26 at Villanova.

St. John’s jumped out to a seven-point lead in the first three minutes, but the Wildcats took control with a 13-0 run that gave them a 28-19 advantage. Moore had five points and Bey drained two 3s during the spurt as the Red Storm went scoreless for 4:28.

Villanova closed the first half with seven consecutive points and was ahead 39-26 at the break. The 6-foot-3 Gillespie had nine rebounds and five assists to go with his four points in the first half.

BIG PICTURE

Villanova: Chasing another Big East title, the Wildcats moved within a half-game of first-place Seton Hall in the conference standings. The 10th-ranked Pirates, yet to lose a league game, host last-place DePaul on Wednesday night.

St. John’s: After going 11-2 out of conference with wins over West Virginia and Arizona, the Red Storm’s only two Big East triumphs have come against DePaul — including a victory Saturday that marked their first true road win of the season. But they were unable to follow it up against a top opponent. St. John’s plays three of its next four at home, all against teams currently unranked, and probably needs at least a victory or two to maintain reasonable hopes of a postseason bid in Mike Anderson’s first season as coach.

THINKING OF KOBE

Before the game, a moment of silence was held for Kobe Bryant, his daughter and the seven others killed in a helicopter crash Sunday in California.

UP NEXT

Villanova: After winning two road games in four days, the Wildcats return home to face well-rested Creighton (16-5, 5-3 Big East) on Saturday afternoon. Villanova won 64-59 on Jan. 7 at Creighton, which has won three straight and sits just outside the AP Top 25 this week.

St. John’s: Hosts high-scoring Georgetown on Sunday afternoon as Hoyas coach Patrick Ewing returns again to Madison Square Garden, where he was an NBA star for the New York Knicks. The Red Storm were routed 87-66 at Georgetown on Jan. 8.

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

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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 tracker.

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

N.C. STATE (NET: 60, NBC: Play-in game): The Wolfpack, who looked like they could be as high as a 9 or 10 seed last week, would likely be out of the NCAA tournament if it started today. They are 14-7 overall, which isn’t terrible, but they have just one win against a top 50 opponent — Wisconsin (31) at home — to go along with a pair of Quad 3 losses. They do have two Quad 1 wins, but one of those — UNCG (75) on the road — is the bottom of the cutoff for a Quad 1 win.

VIRGINIA TECH (NET: 50, NBC: First four out): The Hokies may go down as the biggest bubble loser of the weekend. Playing at Boston College (153), Virginia Tech suffered their first Quad 3 loss of the season despite the fact that the Eagles shot just 11-for-27 from the free throw line. That’s just brutal. Bubble teams need to avoid these landmines, and Mike Young’s team couldn’t. The Hokies also have a non-conference SOS that ranks 341st, which eliminates much of their margin for error. The good news? They still have pair of Quad 1 wins — including Michigan State (10) on a neutral — and four of their five Quad 1 and 2 wins came away from home. It’s not all bad.

VIRGINIA (NET: 58, NBC: Off the bubble): The Cavaliers are not in a good spot right now. We’re more than halfway through the season and their only Quad 1 win came at Syracuse (64) on the first day of the season. The best team that they have beaten is Virginia Tech (50). They avoided a landmine by winning at Wake Forest (109) on Sunday, but they really need to beat one of the ACC’s elite. It starts on Tuesday night with Florida State (15) at home.

SYRACUSE (NET: 64, NBC: Off the bubble): The Orange are starting to play like a top five team in the ACC this season. On Saturday, they knocked off Pitt in the Carrier Dome, pushing them to 6-3 in the league and 13-7 overall. They do have a home loss to Notre Dame (71) that could end up being Quad 3 if the Fighting Irish fall out of the top 75, but they’ve won four true road games in league play, two of which are Quad 1 wins. A 5-7 record in Quad 1 and 2 games is enough to keep them in and around the bubble for now, but zero top 50 wins is a problem. Their best chance at a marquee win will likely be Saturday, when they host Duke (6).

NORTH CAROLINA (NET: 93, NBC: Off the bubble): I still very much believe that North Carolina can get to the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels added their third Quad 1 win — Oregon (16) and Alabama (41) on neutrals, at N.C. State (60) — on Monday night and seem to be figuring some things out. Garrison Brooks has been awesome, Brandon Robinson and Leaky Black are getting better and their supporting cast finally seems to be embracing roles. Most importantly, however, the Tar Heels have five sub-Quad 1 losses and all five came without Cole Anthony. If he returns and UNC again becomes the team that beat Oregon, they’ll have four chances to add elite wins. It’s a long shot, but it’s possible.


AMERICAN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Houston (NBC: 8), Wichita State (NBC: 8)

MEMPHIS (NET: 51, NBC: 10): Oh, Memphis. Two days after losing by 40 at Tulsa (65), the Tigers turn around and blow an 11-point lead in the final five minutes at home against SMU (68). They aren’t in real trouble yet, but it is worth noting that they have not beaten a single team in the top 50 in the NET and that their three best wins — Tennessee (55), Cincinnati (57) and N.C. State (60) — are teams that may not make the NCAA tournament. We’re in late-January and Memphis has as many Quad 3 losses as Quad 1 wins.

TULSA (NET: 69, NBC: Off the bubble): I thought Tulsa deserved a mention here given that they are currently tied for first in the American after winning at UConn (97) on Sunday. Their issue is that home wins over Houston (33) and Memphis (51) have both fallen outside of the top 30, which means that the committee will be focusing on the bad things: a Quad 3 loss, a Quad 4 loss and a non-conference SOS of 283rd. Tulsa gets Wichita State (30) at home on Saturday. That’s a must win, as are roadies against Houston and Wichita State.


BIG 12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Baylor (NBC: 1), Kansas (NBC: 1), West Virginia (NBC: 4), Oklahoma (NBC: 9)

TEXAS TECH (NET: 38, NBC: Play-in game):  I’m not sure people realize just how little there is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (79) at home. They won at Kansas State (88). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-225 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) this week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

TEXAS (NET: 72, NBC: Off the bubble): Texas rallied, and ultimately lost, at home against LSU (25) on Saturday, which is a tough blow for the Longhorns. LSU is a Quad 1 opponent, and the Longhorns have some ground they need to make up. They’ve now lost three in a row and five of their last seven games, and a November win at Purdue (36) does not look quite as good now as it did at the time. If they don’t win at TCU (61) and beat Iowa State (70) at home this week, it may be time to take the Longhorns out of the mix.

TCU (NET: 61, NBC: Off the bubble): I have TCU here because I think their resume will be one of the easiest to build up in major conferences hoops. They don’t have any bad losses to their name and they sit at 3-6 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents. Getting a win over Texas Tech (38) last week was massive and they still get Baylor (1) twice, Kansas (4) twice, West Virginia (7) at home and Texas Tech on the road. They need to win at least two, if not three, of those games.


BIG EAST BUBBLE WATCH

Top 9: Seton Hall (NBC: 2), Villanova (NBC: 3), Butler (NBC: 5), Creighton (NBC: 5), Marquette (NBC: 6)

DEPAUL (NET: 66, NBC: 11): Saturday’s home loss to St. John’s (67) is not going to do any favorites for DePaul. They do have three Quad 1 wins, including two Big Ten road wins — Iowa (21) and Minnesota (43) — as well as Butler at home, but a 1-6 start in the Big East combined with a loss to Buffalo (163) at home puts them in a really tough spot. It doesn’t help matters that four of their next five are on the road, starting with a visit to Seton Hall (13) on Wednesday. I think that the next two weeks will determine where they play in March.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 67, NBC: 10): Since beating Arizona in California on Dec. 21st, St. John’s has now lost six of their last eight games. The only team that they have beaten in that stretch is DePaul (66), who they completed a sweep of on Saturday with a road win. That said, this is the third Quad 1 win for this group to go along with West Virginia (7) and Arizona (10), but with eight losses on the season — including a loss at home against Vermont (101) — the Red Storm have work to do. They can start tonight with a win over Villanova (14) in MSG.

XAVIER (NET: 63, NBC: Next four out): The good news for Xavier is that they only have one sub-40 loss to their name, and that was at Wake Forest (109), a Quad 2 loss. the bad news is they have not beaten a top 50 team and their only Quad 1 win came at TCU (61). They’re at Seton Hall (12) on Saturday, host Villanova (14) next month and have two more games against Butler (9). They probably need to win at least one, if not two of those games.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 52, NBC: Next four out): The Hoyas don’t have a terrible resume right now. They beat Creighton (24) at home, won at SMU (59) and have four Quad 1 wins. They’re 6-8 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents and have strong computer and SOS numbers. But they’re just 2-5 in the Big East and only have seven scholarship players. Things seem to be trending in the wrong direction.


BIG TEN BUBBLE WATCH

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

MICHIGAN (NET: 35, NBC: 10): The Wolverines have lost four in a row and five of their last six games, dropping them to 11-8 overall and just 2-6 in the Big Ten. But their “worst” loss came over the weekend, at home against Illinois (32) and they have beaten Gonzaga (3) as well as Iowa (21) and Creighton (24) at home. It’s also worth noting that Isaiah Livers have missed this recent losing skid, and Livers is their best player. There’s enough here for the Wolverines to be pretty comfortable assuming that Livers can eventually get back to 100 percent.

MINNESOTA (NET: 43, NBC: First four out): The Golden Gophers are 11-9 overall, but just one of their losses — DePaul (66) at home — was sub-Quad 1. They’ve swept Ohio State (19) and knocked off Penn State (27) as well. There are going to be plenty of chances for Minnesota to rack up quality wins, and they’ll have a really good shot at earning a bid if they can go 7-4 down the stretch of the regular season.

PURDUE (NET: 36, NBC: Next four out): Purdue’s schizophrenic January continued on Friday with a blowout win over Wisconsin (31) at home. The Boilermakers have lost four of their last six, and the two wins were utterly dominant wins over the Badgers and Michigan State (8). Their 11-9 (4-5) record isn’t pretty, but a pair of Quad 1 wins and just one Quad 3 loss — at Nebraska (165) — is enough to keep them in the mix.


PAC-12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Oregon (NBC: 2), Colorado (NBC: 6), Arizona (NBC: 7), USC (NBC: 8)

STANFORD (NET: 18, NBC: 10): The last three halves of basketball that Stanford has played has put them smack in the middle of the bubble conversation. They blew a 21 point second half lead and lost at USC (40) before going to Cal (155) and blowing another double-digit second half lead in a loss. Now, the Cardinal are sitting at 1-3 against Quad 1 opponents without a single win over a top 40 opponent, just two top 90 wins and an ugly Quad 3 loss. Hold serve against the Oregon schools this week and they’ll be fine.

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 56, NBC: Playin game): The Sun Devils landed just an enormous win on Saturday night, coming back from 22 points down to beat Arizona (10) at home in their last chance to take on the Wildcats during the regular season. Believe it or not, that is the first Quad 1 win for the Sun Devils, and given that they only have one Quad 2 loss — Virginia (58) on a neutral court — this group is not all that far away from getting a bid. They just needed a couple big wins. Knocking off Arizona certainly qualifies.

WASHINGTON (NET: 45, NBC: Off the bubble): The fact that Washington has a neutral court win over Baylor (1) is the only reason they’re still in the conversation here. They’re 12-9 overall and they have just two Quad 1 and 2 wins, which is equal to the number of Quad 3 losses — UCLA (124) at home and at Cal (155) — they’ve suffered. They’re currently in last place in the Pac-12, a game behind Washington State. They badly need to sweep the Arizona schools this weekend.

UTAH (NET: 74, NBC: Off the bubble): Utah is going to be mentioned here because they have beaten Kentucky (22) on a neutral and knocked off BYU (29) at home. They are also 5-5 against the top two quadrants. Now, the key for Larry Krystkowiak is to make up a player that the Utes were missing when they played in Myrtle Beach Invitational so the Selection Committee can overlook losses to Coastal Carolina (196) and Tulane (152).


SEC BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Kentucky (NBC: 4), LSU (NBC: 5), Auburn (NBC: 6), Florida (NBC: 9), Arkansas (NBC: 9)

ALABAMA (NET: 41, NBC: Off the bubble): The biggest problem that Alabama has right now is their losses. They dropped a home game to Penn (165) on the opening night of the season, which is a Quad 4 loss. They lost a game to North Carolina (93) in the Bahamas. They also lost to Iowa State (70) in the Bahamas. Those do not look good right now. The Tide have turned their season around — beating Kansas State (89) on Saturday was their fourth straight win and their seventh win in the last nine games — but they have just one win over a top 50 team. They get LSU (24) on the road on Wednesday and, in February, play at Auburn (18) and LSU again. I think winning two of those three games will be critical.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 48, NBC: Off the bubble): There’s not a lot to like about Mississippi State’s resume right now. They have one win over a top 75 team this season — Arkansas (28) at home — and their only road win came at Coastal Carolina (196). They’s lost to Louisiana Tech (84) at home and New Mexico State (118) on a neutral floor. What am I supposed to be impressed with? Losing at Oklahoma (46) on Saturday didn’t help. Winning at Florida (37) on Tuesday would.

TENNESSEE (NET: 55, NBC: Next four out): Tennessee missed on a great chance to add a marquee win to their resume when they lost at Kansas (4) on Saturday. The Vols had won four of their last five prior to that game, and it looks like they’ve gotten their season turned around. They are 12-7 overall but just 3-7 against the top two quadrants and they have yet to beat a top 35 team. They still play eight Quad 1 games, and that doesn’t include Florida at home. The Vols are in a good spot if they can get hot.


BUBBLE WATCH FOR EVERYONE ELSE

TOP 9: Gonzaga (NBC: 1), San Diego State (NBC: 1), Dayton (NBC: 3), Saint Mary’s (NBC: 9)

BYU (NET: 29, NBC: 11): The Cougars have really good computer numbers, and they do have some quality wins to their name — at Houston (33), Virginia Tech (50) and Utah State (62) on neutrals — but after losing at San Francisco (95) on Saturday, BYU now has a pair of Quad 2 losses and a 4-7 record against the top two Quads. With games remaining against Saint Mary’s (40) and Gonzaga (4) at home, BYU should be OK if they can get one of those and avoid the landmines.

UTAH STATE (NET: 62, NBC: Off the bubble): The Aggies have neutral site wins over LSU (25) and Florida (37), which is enough to keep them in this discussion despite road losses at Boise State (102), UNLV (130) and Air Force (184). They make the trip to Viejas Arena to take on San Diego State (2) on Saturday, and that feels like a must-win for Utah State at this point.

VCU (NET: 39, NBC: Play-in game): The Rams avoided one of the landmines on their schedule as they went into Philly and knocked off La Salle. VCU is now 15-5 overall with a Quad 1 (LSU, 25) and Quad 2 (at Charleston, 134) win. The Rams have a ton of work left to do, but the fact that their worst loss is against Tennessee (55) on a neutral court and that there are a number of potential Quad 1 wins left on their league schedule is a good thing. Tuesday’s date with Richmond (47) in the Siegel Center feels enormous.

RICHMOND (NET: 54, NBC: First four out): The Spiders lost to Dayton (5) on Saturday at home, a critical loss because it’s really the only game-changing opponent that they had left on their schedule. They do play VCU (39) twice, and picking them off in Richmond will be a Quad 1 win, but that’s not going to be enough to get them to leapfrog any high-major teams that play a dozen Quad 1 games in league play. Richmond is in a bad spot.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 47, NBC: First four out): The Rams avoided one of the landmines left on their schedule, winning at St. Bonaventure on Saturday, but they are not in a great spot at the moment. URI is on the wrong side of the bubble right now, and while every team in the power conferences are playing one or two Quad 1 games a week, URI has just two left on their schedule — their two games against Dayton (5). Their win at VCU (39) is nice, but it is counteracted by a loss at Brown (229).

SAINT LOUIS (NET: 68, NBC: Off the bubble): The Billikens are just 2-5 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents, with wins at Richmond (54) and Kansas State (88). They don’t have any bad losses, but a Jalen Crutcher three at the buzzer at Dayton (5) two weeks ago may end up being what keeps them from making a real push to be a bubble team.

NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 49, NBC: 12): Their strong NET and wins at Colorado (17) and over South Carolina (89) on a neutral keep the Panthers in the conversation, but loss at Southern Illinois (166) and Illinois State (214) are killers. UNI cannot lose another game unless it is against Loyola-Chicago (91) in the MVC tournament if they really want a chance at an at-large.

LIBERTY (NET: 73, NBC: 13): The Flames killed their hope of getting an at-large this weekend. They are 0-1 in Quad 1 games, 1-0 in Quad 2 games (Akron (65) on a neutral) and 2-1 in Quad 3 games. They have 14 wins over Quad 4 opponents and just lost to Stetson (309). They’re frauds.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 42, NBC: 12): The Buccaneers are in a decent spot right now thanks to a win at LSU (25) in December. They’re 15-3 overall with a pair of Quad 1 wins, but they do have one bad loss — at North Dakota State (160) — which means that they cannot step on another landmine during league play. Winning out in the regular season is the only option here.

UNCG (NET: 75, NBC: Off the bubble): Wins at Georgetown (52), Furman (80) and Vermont (98) get the Spartans mentioned, particularly with a game at East Tennessee State (42) left on their schedule. But with a loss at Wofford (142) and at home against Montana State (215), UNCG has to win out and lose to ETSU in the SoCon tournament to have any actual shot at an at-large.

YALE (NET: 53, NBC: 12): The Elis are in this conversation because they don’t really have a bad loss to speak of. Their “worst” loss was a road game at San Francisco (95), and if North Carolina (93)gets Cole Anthony back, then that loss is not going to look nearly as bad by Selection Sunday. Their problem is a lack of quality wins. They won at Clemson (81), which is their only Quad 1 or 2 win. That’s not going to change in the Ivy. I think they need to win out and lose to Harvard in the Ivy title game to have a real at-large chance.

Three Things To Know: Iowa comes back, Christian Braun arrives, three-bid ACC?

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It was a very slow night in the college basketball world, but there were three games that are relevant enough to talk about.

So let’s talk about them.

Here are the three things that you need to know about Monday’s college basketball action:

1. THE ACC GOT THAT MUCH CLOSER TO BEING A THREE-BID LEAGUE

On Monday morning, our Dave Ommen published his updated NCAA tournament bracket projection, and he had just four ACC teams in the field. One of those four teams was N.C. State, who was sitting in the play-in game prior to Monday night’s action.

So what did they do on Monday night?

They just lost at home to a North Carolina team that ranks outside the top 100 in the NET. Suddenly, the Wolfpack, who looked like they could be as high as a 9 or 10 seed last week, would likely be out of the NCAA tournament if it started today. They are 14-7 overall, which isn’t terrible, but they have just one win against a top 50 opponent to go along with a pair of Quad 3 losses. They do have three Quad 1 wins, but two of those — Wisconsin (30) at home and UNCG (75) on the road — are the bottom of the cutoff for Quad 1 wins. Put another way, they are the worst possible Quad 1 wins, and that is something that will be discussed by the committee.

Ironically enough, I think this win was a sign that North Carolina might actually be the most likely CC team to give the league a fourth bid. Hear me out. The Tar Heels have ten losses on the season, but seven of those ten — including all of their bad losses — came without Cole Anthony on the roster. If he comes back healthy, that’s something that will be taken into consideration by the selection committee.

But more importantly, it feels like the Tar Heels are starting to play much better. Garrison Brooks has turned into a dominant force on the block, and he and Armando Bacot can do the things that Roy Williams wants his frontline to do. Brandon Robinson is playing much better despite being injured, while Leaky Black, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce and Andrew Platek have all seemed to figure out a role that they can be effective in. It reminds me a bit of what happened to Seton Hall when they were without Myles Powell. The supporting cast had to put on their big boy pants and find a way to win. It took UNC longer than it took Seton Hall, but I think they’re getting there now.

The problem that the Tar Heels faced early in the season was that defenses could throw everything at Cole Anthony because no one else on UNC was really a threat, and Anthony couldn’t give the ball up because, well, no one else was really a threat. If he has a supporting cast now, and he comes back as the player he was before he hurt his knee, then the Tar Heels will have a chance.

2. NO. 18 IOWA LANDS A COME FROM BEHIND WIN TO BEAT WISCONSIN

For 33 minutes, this looked like Wisconsin’s night, like the Badgers were going to go into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and make a statement with a road win against a ranked team in a league where those are few and far between.

That’s not what happened.

Iowa used a 21-2 run late in the second half to turn a 57-45 deficit into a 66-59 lead, holding on for a 68-62 home win that few saw coming. And to me, this is the kind of win that speaks to the change in what we have seen in the Iowa program this season. Fair or not, the reputation the Hawkeyes have had in the past is to start the year out well before collapsing late in the season. This is precisely the kind of game that they would lose in past seasons.

That’s not the way it worked out on Monday night.

With the win, Iowa moves to 15-5 on the season and remains a game out of first place in the Big Ten regular season standings. Luka Garza finished with 21 points, 18 boards and three blocks, continuing what has been a first-team All-American caliber season.

3. WHO SAW CHRISTIAN BRAUN COMING?

Christian Braun scored 16 points, hitting four threes on Monday night, and added nine boards as No. 3 Kansas routed Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Braun was moved into the starting lineup for the first time this season, and it paid off for Bill Self, who was forced to work around a roster that only had seven scholarship players available and lacked any kind of interior presence behind Udoka Azubuike. He’s earned the chance, too. This performance came just six days after he scored a career-high 20 points in a win over Kansas State in the Phog. For a team that has desperately been searching for consistent three-point shooting and a defensive presence on the perimeter, Braun checks a lot of boxes.

Sometimes you just need a guy that can go out and do a job for you, and that’s precisely what Braun has done. What will be interesting is to see where Self goes from here. When David McCormack gets back from his suspension on Saturday, will he return to the starting lineup?

Or did he cost himself his spot in the starting five when he decided to go into the stands during a fight?