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2018-2019 Big Ten Conference Preview: Is this Michigan State’s league again?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big Ten.


Nothing about this season’s Big Ten is certain. With only two preseason NBC Sports top 25 teams, and a number of last season’s tournament teams losing significant pieces, the Big Ten will have a lot of question marks for this season.

When you also factor in the conference’s intriguing recruiting classes, and a new 20-game conference schedule, and the league could see so many different varieties of outcomes this season.

Of course, the Big Ten is still seeking its first national title since 2000 as the league came close with Michigan in last season’s title game. Will any of this season’s teams make a surprise run in March? Or will the league beat itself up without a clear title favorite heading into March?

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Michigan State lost two first-rounders but they have talent and experience to be preseason favorite.

It’s pretty much impossible for Michigan State to match the talent level of last season’s team. Forward Miles Bridges and big man Jaren Jackson Jr. were both first-round picks. This year’s Spartans don’t have many NBA draft prospects currently getting mock draft buzz. But Michigan State does return a solid core of experience.

The junior class of guards Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and big man Nick Ward can all put up points and make plays. Seniors like Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins can fill rotation roles. And Tom Izzo recruited a very solid five-man recruiting class that is composed of all four-star prospects. That group, led by some intriguing athletes in Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown, and a potential backup lead guard in Foster Loyer, might need to step up in order for Michigan State to maximize its potential. It feels weird to say that Michigan State is the league’s favorite when they have so many glaring issues.

Who is the team’s go-to player? Can the juniors turn into all-league players? Does the freshmen class step up? This team isn’t the most talented Izzo has produced, but they have enough experience and intriguing weapons to be win another league title.

(Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

2. Michigan (also) lost plenty from its title-game team. They’re (also) still a major factor.

Coming off of a national title game loss to Villanova, the Wolverine have to replace the shooting and scoring prowess of Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson. At least Charles Matthews is back. The two-way guard has never thrived as a go-to scorer. But Matthews scored a strong ability to get buckets during a very good NCAA tournament run.

A defensive-minded Michigan team needs more help on offense from there. Point guard Zavier Simpson is known more for locking up opponents than his scoring while sophomores like Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole didn’t play extended minutes very often last season. Big man Jon Teske is a solid junior with size, but he’s more known for being a big body in the paint who can rebound and defend. Michigan might need to rely on the talent of an enticing freshman class that includes multiple potential contributors.

Forwards Ignas Brazdeikis and Brandon Johns Jr. are both skilled offensive threats while big man Colin Castleton should provide interior depth as a backup center. Like some other Michigan teams of the past few years, this might be a team that starts more slowly and plays its best ball in March.

3. Indiana vs. Purdue is a rivalry to watch once again (between two likely tournament teams)

Now that Indiana has reeled in a top-ten recruiting class and Purdue is coming off of back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances, this is looking like the year their rivalry ramps up again. And, thankfully, the Big Ten’s new 20-game conference schedule means protected in-state matchups with home-and-home series. Because both of these teams could be fun NCAA tournament groups.

The Hoosiers have plenty of depth in Archie Miller’s second season as forward Juwan Morgan is back and freshman shooting guard Romeo Langford is the state’s most heralded recruit in years. We know Indiana will likely be able to defend. Getting consistent point guard play and consistent scoring help for Morgan and Langford could be key. But Miller’s already flipped most of the roster with long and versatile athletes. This Indiana team could be really good.

Purdue loses a lot of proven seniors. The great news is the return of high-scoring guard Carsen Edwards. The 6-foot-1 Edwards is a walking bucket getter. He can shoot from all over the floor. Edwards might lead college basketball in scoring this season. The Boilermakers’ season will ultimately hinge on how they replace the four other senior starters from last season. Sophomore big man Matt Haarms and guard Nojel Eastern should command larger roles while senior Ryan Cline has to be more than a shooting specialist. And the addition of junior grad transfer Evan Boudreaux was a huge coup on the transfer market.

This should be the first time in a few years that this rivalry felt so fun. Indiana should be right back in the thick of the Big Ten mix while Purdue remains one of the conference’s steadiest programs.

Carsen Edwards (Elsa/Getty Images)

4. Nebraska is talented enough to make the NCAA tournament after just falling short last season.

Last season Nebraska won 22 games and finished tied for fourth in the Big Ten as they still missed the NCAA tournament. The good news is that four of those main pieces all return to form an experienced upperclass core that should be really talented. Seniors James Palmer Jr., Isaac Copeland and Glynn Watson have a ton of experience between them as they are all proven players. Junior Isaiah Roby might be a sleeper breakout player as he showed flashes of bigger things last season.

It’s the rest of the Huskers that have to prove themselves. Atrocious on the defensive glass last season, Nebraska doesn’t have returning size with much game experience and the bench is also pretty unproven. Sophomore Thomas Allen has a chance to be a solid contributor. Overall, Nebraska returns over 75 percent of last season’s scoring and rebounding. But how will this team will in the other parts? That will ultimately dictate if Nebraska is a Big Ten contender, or a team on the outside of the NCAA tournament yet again.

5. The Big Ten moves to a 20-game conference schedule.

The Big Ten gets an interesting wrinkle this season with the addition of two more conference games. The first league to go to 20 conference games in a season, the move could give the Big Ten more chances at quality wins along with a better overall profile of scheduled games. It could also mean the conference becomes a brutal gauntlet where it becomes increasingly difficult to stay atop the college basketball food chain.

With each team in the league adding at least one additional conference road game, it makes for seven head-to-head matchups and six individual matchups. In-state matchups are also protected with home-and-home guarantees, so we won’t see any more seasons where Michigan and Michigan State only play once. Already a difficult league to win, the Big Ten is going to be brutal to win this season, and it’ll be fascinating to see how the 20-game conference schedule plays out before the conference tournament even begins.

Ethan Happ (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

PRESEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue

Already an All-American on some lists last season, Edwards could be a sleeper Player of the Year candidate now that he lost four senior starters around him. One of the most fun-to-watch players in the country, the 6-foot-1 Edwards is fearless with the ball in his hands. Capable of taking over a game offensively, Edwards has also improved his efficiency and his ability to get others involved. He’ll need to make teammates better this season if Purdue is to attempt to make a third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.

THE REST OF THE BIG TEN FIRST TEAM

  • ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin: A three-year starter and All-American candidate who quietly put up 17.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game last year, Happ is one of the most productive and experienced returning players in the country.
  • CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan: Outstanding during the tournament, the junior wing is a dynamic two-way wing. Can he be turned to as more of a go-to scorer? If Matthews is more consistent on offense he could be an All-American.
  • NICK WARD, Michigan State: The Big Ten’s leader in field goal percentage last season (64.8 percent), Ward put up big numbers despite only playing 18.9 minutes per game. With increased conditioning, Ward could put up huge numbers.
  • JORDAN MURPHY, Minnesota: The national leader in double-doubles last season with 24, Murphy was the bright spot of a bad Minnesota season. If Murphy improves his 31 percent three-point shooting then he could be a lethal scorer.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana
  • JAMES PALMER JR, Nebraska
  • CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State
  • ANTHONY COWAN JR., Maryland
  • JUWAN MORGAN, Indiana

BREAKOUT STAR

Penn State junior forward Lamar Stevens has taken a backseat to Tony Carr since the two were teammates in high school. With Carr leaving the Nittany Lions for the pros, the 6-foot-8 Stevens could be in line for a huge season. As a sophomore, Stevens already put up solid numbers of 15.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting 46 percent from the field. Stevens has never been the go-to guy with Carr playing alongside him.

But Stevens also showed flashes of bigger things at the end of last season. Winning Most Outstanding Player honors during Penn State’s NIT title run, Stevens had games of 30 points against Marquette and 28 points in the title game against Utah during the tournament. If he can handle the season-long pressure of being the featured player, Stevens could have a huge year.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE

It has been an up-and-down few seasons for Minnesota and head coach Richard Pitino. The Golden Gophers made a surprising NCAA tournament appearance in 2017, which was followed by last season’s dud of a 4-14 record in Big Ten play. Despite producing an underrated amount of in-state talent, Minnesota only has five NCAA tournament appearance during Pitino’s five seasons as he’s only 31-59 in Big Ten play.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

The Big Ten has a deep profile of teams who are in the Field of 68, but it’s tough to tell if any of them are major contenders. The league’s expanded schedule made for a tougher season, and more losses. But Big Ten teams that get hot in the conference tournament have also exceeded expectations in recent years. Don’t sleep on a team from the Big Ten getting hot.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

Seeing what happens during Archie Miller’s second season at Indiana. The addition of Romeo Langford adds a ton of excitement to the Hoosiers since he’s the type of talent who can take over a game while making it look easy. Miller usually gets the most out of his teams, and this year, Indiana has the talent and depth to be a team that is really fun to watch.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • Nov. 6, Michigan State vs. Kansas (Champions Classic, Indianapolis)
  • Nov. 14, Michigan at Villanova (Gavitt Games)
  • Nov. 22, Michigan State vs. UCLA (in Las Vegas)
  • Nov. 28, Purdue at Florida State (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
  • Nov. 28, North Carolina at Michigan (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
Tim Miles (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. MICHIGAN STATE: With a stable of three solid core juniors, senior role players, and an athletic and talented five-man freshman class, the Spartans have all of the necessary pieces to win another Big Ten title. Point guard Cassius Winston and shooting guard Joshua Langford are much better than many of the league’s backcourts while big man Nick Ward could put up huge numbers with an increase in minutes. Depth on this team shouldn’t be too much of a concern as long as the freshmen can help. The Spartans don’t have the look of a national title contender, but they’re also dangerous enough where it would be dumb to count them out of making a run in March. It all depends on who steps up and is ready to take big shots this season after two seasons of exits in the Round of 32.

2. MICHIGAN: Michigan has transformed into a defensive team these past two seasons as they’ll need to get stops and manufacture points at times this season. While many of John Beilein’s teams have been very good with perimeter shooting, this Wolverines team might struggle. Many of the returning players were sub-35 percent and inconsistent. Others, like freshmen Ignas Brazdeikis and Brandon Johns are unproven at the college level. If Charles Matthews, Zavier Simpson, Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole can all even shoot a little bit better than Michigan’s offense should have enough to carry their potentially dangerous defense.

3. INDIANA: Archie Miller’s second season should have a ton of intrigue as the Hoosiers have huge expectations. Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford might be the league’s best one-two punch. Indiana also has the benefit of a top-ten recruiting class filled with length, versatility and athleticism. As long as the point guard play of Devonte Green, Al Durham and Robert Phinisee can be consistent, then the Hoosiers should be fine. Interior play could be another thing to watch as that group has to remain healthy. The biggest takeaway is that Indiana’s defense has the potential to be very good, as Miller has many different weapons at his disposal to throw at opponents. All of the pieces are in place for Indiana to make its first NCAA tournament appearance in three seasons.

4. PURDUE: Better athleticism could make for an interesting subplot for this season. Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern both have the chance to be plus defenders, while Evan Boudreaux is at least skilled enough and quick enough to run in the open floor. Consistent shooting around Carsen Edwards will be the key for Purdue’s offense. Ryan Cline needs to make shots while Eastern has to improve his inconsistent form. Some of the freshmen like Eric Hunter, and Boudreaux at forward, should also help a bit but they have to prove themselves as being consistent. Making a third straight Sweet 16 might prove to be a bit too tough. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see Purdue have another run to the NCAA tournament.

5. NEBRASKA: The Huskers might be forced to play a lot of small-ball this season and hope that they can rebound better while defending the rim. Isaiah Roby has shown an ability to block shots while Isaac Copeland and James Palmer also have good size. Freshmen like center Brady Heiman and guard Amir Harris could also be asked to play early in the season. But as long as the team’s core four players performs then there is no reason Nebraska shouldn’t be in the NCAA tournament. Palmer is one of the nation’s more underrated scorers while Copeland is experienced and capable. Senior point guard Glynn Watson is a polished floor leader. This team has big aspirations for this season.

6. MARYLAND: Hit hard by players leaving early for the pros, most notably Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson, the Terps are facing tons of questions. But junior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. is back and the sophomore group of big man Bruno Fernando and guard Darryl Morsell is very solid. The freshmen class has a five-star forward in Jalen “Stix” Smith and guards Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala. If Maryland gets steady production from a few of its freshmen, then they should have the talent to stay with anyone in the league.

7. OHIO STATE: Chris Holtmann worked wonders during his first season with the Buckeyes, taking an undermanned roster and guiding them into the Round of 32. Losing Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate will be tough. The Buckeyes do regroup a bit thanks to some solid freshmen. Senior guard C.J. Jackson and sophomore big man Kaleb Wesson are proven double-figure guys. Grad transfer Keyshawn Woods has gotten ACC buckets. And a freshmen group with Jaedon LeDee, Luther Muhammad and Justin Ahrens provides depth and athleticism. As long as consistent rotation players step up, Ohio State will be an intriguing team.

Romeo Langford (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

8. WISCONSIN: Question marks linger for a Wisconsin team that doesn’t lose anyone from last season. Senior Ethan Happ is one of the nation’s most complete and productive players, while sophomore guard Brad Davison closed the season strong with some eye-opening scoring performances. If the rest of this team can stay healthy then the Badgers could get more pop. D’Mitrik Trice, Kobe King and Brevin Pritzl are all candidates to make a leap while transfer Trevor Anderson adds another rotation guard. If the Badgers can score, they could be competitive for the NCAA tournament.

9. IOWA: The Hawkeyes look like a solid team on paper with four returning double-figure scorers. They also featured the worst defense in the Big Ten and one of the worst in high-major college basketball last season. Big men Tyler Cook and Luka Garza can both put up numbers, but they have to improve as defenders. Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss are capable scorers on the perimeter while top-50 in-state recruit Joe Wieskamp, and Fran McCaffery’s son, Connor McCaffery, should help on the perimeter.

10. MINNESOTA: After freefalling to a 4-14 mark in the Big Ten last season, head coach Richard Pitino could be on the hot seat. Senior forward Jordan Murphy is a double-double machine and a proven player and the Golden Gophers should be healthier this season. Sophomore point guard Isaiah Washington’s ability to replace Nate Mason could be the key to Minnesota’s season. A healthy Amir Coffey could also do wonders for Minnesota’s offense.

11. PENN STATE: Just as the Nittany Lions looked like they were on the verge of a big run, Tony Carr opted to turn pro. Junior forward Lamar Stevens and junior center Mike Watkins return to form one of the more capable and experienced frontcourts in the league. Replacing the backcourt of Carr and senior Shep Garner will be a different story. Senior Josh Reaves is a returning double-figure guy on the perimeter. Outside of him, the defending NIT champs don’t have many proven options.

12. NORTHWESTERN: After a disappointing campaign last season, the Wildcats need to find a new identity following the loss of four-year point guard Bryant McIntosh and shooting guard Scottie Lindsey. Frontcourt experience and length and versatility on the perimeter could be the key for Northwestern’s success. Seniors Derek Pardon and Vic Law return as the duo could be among the conference’s best frontcourt groups. Grad transfer guard Ryan Taylor was a big-time scorer at Evansville last season and Boston College transfer A.J. Turner is an intriguing 6-foot-7 wing. Point guard stability will be key, as reclassified freshmen Ryan Greer might have a lot on his shoulders.

13. ILLINOIS: Only making the tournament in three of the last 11 years, the Fighting Illini figure to be in for another long season. Very young across the board, head coach Brad Underwood has hope. Sophomore Trent Frazier and freshman Ayo Dosunmu form one of the league’s most talented backcourts, but they aren’t battle-tested. The frontcourt is also unproven with 6-foot-6 Kipper Nichols being the most consistent returner there. Developing freshmen and hoping for some unexpected gems are the keys for Illinois this season.

14. RUTGERS: Since joining the Big Ten four seasons ago, Rutgers has never won more than three league games in a season — finishing last in all four years. After losing three of their four top scorers from last season, this season will again be tough. But the sophomore backcourt of Geo Baker and Quinnipiac transfer Peter Kiss has a chance to shine while the Scarlet Knights have an intriguing amount of size and depth in the frontcourt. The talent level is up, but Rutgers is still trying to find its way.

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

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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 watch.

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

VIRGINIA (NET: 50, NBC: 9): Virginia won for the fourth straight time on Saturday, knocking off Pitt (100) on the road. They only have three Quad 1 wins and a 9-6 mark against the top two Quads with home dates left against Duke (6) and Louisville (8). They can’t afford slip-ups, and could really use three or four more wins before Selection Sunday. But Virginia is starting to play much better, and as of today they are in a pretty good spot to get to the tournament.

N.C. STATE (NET: 52, NBC: 10): The Wolfpack missed out on a chance to land another elite win on Saturday, blowing a halftime lead and losing at home to Florida State (12). The big news was picking up the win over Duke (6) on Wednesday night. It was the fifth Quad 1 win for Kevin Keatts — they’ve also beaten Wisconsin (30) at home and three sub-50 teams on the road — to go along with a 9-7 record against the top two Quads. The biggest problem here is that they have three Quad 3 losses, two of which came at home. Before beating Duke, the Wolfpack lost at Boston College (143). It’s worth noting that Markell Johnson, N.C. State’s best player, did not play in one of the three Quad 3 losses — Georgia Tech (79) — so like Arkansas, this will certainly be something the committee takes into account.


AMERICAN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Houston (NBC: 9)

WICHITA STATE (NET: 43, NBC: Play-in game): Wichita State saw their three-game winning streak snapped on Sunday afternoon, losing by three at Cincinnati (53). They have beaten VCU (57) and Oklahoma (54) at home, and they don’t have any truly terrible losses, but with just one potential Quad 1 games left on their schedule — all of which are on the road — and without a top 50 win on the season, I think the Shockers are going to have an uncomfortable Selection Sunday. The fact that they are 8-7 against the top two Quads without a bad loss is something of a saving grace at this point.

MEMPHIS (NET: 61, NBC: First four out): Memphis is hanging on by a thread right now, but they are still alive after landed a critical win over Houston (25) at home. Memphis now has a pair of Quad 1 wins, and finally have a win over a team ranked in the top 50. The Tigers have also won at Tennessee (65), beaten Cincinnati at home (53) and beat N.C. State (52) on a neutral. The program? Those three Quad 2 home losses, and the fact that they are playing without D.J. Jeffries, their best perimeter weapon. With three of their last four on the road and a home date with Wichita State (43), Memphis has chances to improve their resume.

CINCINNATI (NET: 53, NBC: 11): The Bearcats shot themselves in the foot on Wednesday, losing at home to UCF (125). They bounced back and beat Wichita State (43) at home on Saturday, which gives Cincinnati an eighth win over Quad 1 and 2 opponents. As of this very moment, Cincinnati has just two Quad 1 wins and four Quad 3 losses, all of which came to teams sitting outside the top 100. They’re in a bad spot right now, and with just one more potential Quad 1 win on their resume, I’m not sure just how much they’ll be able to do to fix it. Beating Houston (25) on the road next Sunday has become a must-win.


ATLANTIC 10 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Dayton (NBC: 2)

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 36, NBC: 10): The Rams did not help themselves by losing at Davidson (76) on Saturday, which isn’t a killer but is a Quad 2 loss. They’re now 19-7 overall with just one Quad 1 win, but they are 6-6 against the top two Quads. The loss to Brown (218) is ugly, but as long as URI avoids the landmines on their schedule, I think they can get an at-large even with a loss to Dayton (5) at home in March.

RICHMOND (NET: 48, NBC: First four out): Richmond had their five-game winning streak snapped on the road against St. Bonaventure, which is not a bad loss in real life but is a bad loss on an NCAA tournament resume. The Spiders only have one truly terrible loss to their name — Radford (162) got them on a neutral court — but they only have two Quad 1 wins and a 4-6 record against the top two Quads. Their margin for error is completely gone.


BIG 12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Baylor (NBC: 1), Kansas (NBC: 1), West Virginia (NBC: 6), Texas Tech (NBC: 8)

OKLAHOMA (NET: 54, NBC: Play-in game): Oklahoma lost again on Saturday, this time at Oklahoma State (67), and I’m having trouble figuring out why they are considered in the tournament safely as a 10 seed. They’ve now lost three in a row and five of their last eight games. They are 16-11 on the season and are sitting with just two Quad 1 wins and a 2-9 record against the top Quad. They do have six Quad 2 wins, but outside of a win over West Virginia (10) at home earlier this month, there really is nothing about this profile that is overly impressive. They certainly belong in the mix, but I think they are in a far tougher spot than the consensus.

TEXAS (NET: 66, NBC: Off the bubble): The Longhorns won their third straight game on Monday night, as they beat No. 20 West Virginia (17) despite playing without Jericho Sims, Gerald Liddell and Jase Febres. Suddenly, a team that we had all written off is right back in the mix, as the Mountaineers are a top 20 team in the NET and the kind of elite win that Texas was sorely lacking on their resume. As it stands, the Longhorns are sitting at 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the Big 12. They have three Quad 1 wins, Monday night’s win as well as roadies at Purdue (36) and Oklahoma State (69), and a 5-11 mark against the top two Quads without a bad loss to their name. Saturday’s trip to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech (15) is going to be the make or break game. It’s not a win-and-you’re-win type deal, but I do think that taking a loss to the Red Raiders would mean that the Longhorns will have to beat one of the Big 12’s top four teams in the conference tournament to have a realistic shot at getting to the dance.


BIG EAST BUBBLE WATCH

Top 9: Seton Hall (NBC: 3), Villanova (NBC: 3), Creighton (NBC: 3), Butler (NBC: 6), Marquette (NBC: 7)

XAVIER (NET: 44, NBC: 10): The best thing about this Xavier team’s resume is that they really have not taken all that many bad losses. Their worst loss of the season came at Wake Forest (108), which is a Quad 2 loss. It’s the only team ranked outside of the top 35 in the NET that Xavier has lost to. They only have three Quad 1 wins — and two of them are at St. John’s (69) and at DePaul (72) — but they do have a win over Seton Hall (17) in Newark, which helps quite a bit. I personally think that Xavier has to do more work that it looks like. They are just 3-9 against Quad 1 opponents, and that could drop to 1-9 if St. John’s and DePaul fall outside the top 75. With games at Georgetown (59), at Providence (48) and Butler (23), they’ll have three more chances to land Quad 1 wins. I think Xavier probably should win two of those to really feel comfortable.

PROVIDENCE (NET: 46, NBC: Play-in game): The Friars are now the official owners of the strangest resume in college basketball. On Friday, Marquette (26) paid a visit to The Dunk and lost. Providence has now won three straight games and have now won five of their last seven. All five of those wins are Quad 1 wins, and they include a road win over Butler (20), home wins against Creighton (11) and Seton Hall (17), and Saturday’s win against Marquette. The Friars now have seven Quad 1 wins. If you only look at wins, Providence is like a five seed.

The problem is the losses. There are 12 of them, and some of them are really, really bad. Providence lost to Charleston (142) and Long Beach State (288) on neutral courts, at Northwestern (164) and to Penn (154) at home. That’s three Quad 3 losses and a Quad 4 loss. It’s wild that the Friars are even in the conversation with all of that garbage on their resume, but they very much are.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 55, NBC: Next four out): This is why Georgetown can’t have nice things. After beating Butler (20) on the road to play themselves onto the right side of the bubble, the Hoyas went out this week and lost to Providence (46) at home and at DePaul (72) on Saturday. They still get Marquette (26) and Creighton (11) on the road, and Villanova (10) at home, so they’re not dead. But they are in a bad spot.


BIG TEN BUBBLE WATCH

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

RUTGERS (NET: 33, NBC: 10): The Scarlet Knights have one of the weirder resumes on the bubble right now after losing at Wisconsin (30) on Sunday. They’re 17-10 overall and they are 9-8 in a Big Ten that is as deep as any league I can remember. They have three Quad 1 wins, just one Quad 3 loss and a 7-9 mark against the top two Quads. Eight of their ten losses are to Quad 1 opponents. They played a tough non-conference schedule, and they have some really impressive home wins. The problem? They’ve only won a single game outside of the RAC this year, and that came at Nebraska (183), who is more or less the worst team in the Big Ten. Their season finishes like this: at Penn State (24), Maryland (7), at Purdue (37). Rutgers has some work left to do, and I really think winning one of those two road games will be the most important part.

PURDUE (NET: 37, NBC: Off the bubble): After the Boilermakers lost to Michigan (23) at home on Saturday, they are sitting at 14-14 overall and just 7-10 in the Big Ten. They do actually have a pretty strong resume in regards to the number of good wins that they have, but the biggest issue currently facing Purdue is the number of losses, including a Quad 3 loss. The most losses an at-large team has ever had is 15. For context, Indiana last season was 17-15 with six Quad 1 wins and nine Quad 1 and 2 wins and they were left out. Purdue is 5-10 against Quad 1 opponents — three of those five wins vacillate between Quad 1 and Quad 2 — and 7-12 against the top two Quads with a 3-8 record on the road. Their best road win is at Indiana (58). They’re in a tough spot right now.


PAC-12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Oregon (NBC: 4), Colorado (NBC: 5), Arizona (NBC: 7), Arizona State (NBC: 8)

UCLA (NET: 76, NBC: First four out): The Bruins are making a push to get into the NCAA tournament. On Saturday, they completed a sweet of the mountain schools — the toughest road trip in all of college basketball — and have now won five in a row and nine of their last 11 games. They own a sweep of Colorado (18), they won at Arizona (9) and while they do have a Quad 3 loss — Hofstra (114) — and a Quad 4 loss — Fullerton (261) — the Bruins are now sitting on five Quad 1 wins, three of which came against top 15 teams, two on the road. The metrics don’t love the Bruins, but today’s win will help and if the metrics love Arizona and Colorado this much, it should mean quite a bit that UCLA was able to beat them. Their resume isn’t quite as weird as Providence’s, but both of these teams are going to give the Selection Committee a headache on Selection Sunday.

With games left against Arizona, Arizona State and USC, the Bruins will have the chances to play their way in. It’s wild to think that we’re here after the way the season started, but we are.

USC (NET: 47, NBC: Play-in game): After sweeping the Washington schools in LA two weeks ago, the Trojans turned around and lost at Colorado (18) and Utah (81) last week. Suddenly, they’re in a bit of a bad spot. They only have two Quad 1 wins and are now 8-8 against the top two Quads with an 8-7 mark away from the Galen Center, including five road wins. The home loss to Temple (111) is not ideal, but it is survivable. The biggest issue may be how tough their remaining schedule is. The Trojans still get Arizona (8), Arizona State (41) and UCLA (76), who is a game out of first place in the Pac-12, at home. I think they’re still in a pretty good spot, but it’s not going to be comfortable if they don’t win at least two more games before Selection Sunday.

STANFORD (NET: 31, NBC: First four out): The Cardinal finally snapped their losing streak by going into Seattle and knocking off Washington (65) to pick up their third Quad 1 win of the season. They followed that up by winning at Washington State (121), which is tougher than it has been in the past. They are just 2-5 against Quad 1 opponents, 6-8 against the top two Quads and have a Quad 3 loss — at Cal (142) — to their name. They still get Colorado (12) at home and Oregon (19) on the road, so there will be chances to improve their resume, but the Cardinal will need to capitalize on those to feel good on Selection Sunday.


SEC BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Kentucky (NBC: 4), Auburn (NBC: 5), LSU (NBC: 8), Florida (NBC: 9)

ARKANSAS (NET: 45, NBC: Next four out): The Razorbacks snapped a five-game losing streak on Saturday by beating Missouri (87) at home. They have a pair of Quad 1 wins and a 4-10 mark against the top two Quads, but the more important record is this: They are 16-5 on the season with a healthy Isaiah Joe, who returned to action and scored 21 points on Saturday. It will be very interesting to see how the selection committee handles Arkansas.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 56, NBC: Next four out): Mississippi State significantly dinged their at-large chances by losing at Texas A&M (117) on Saturday. That’s the third bad loss on their resume, and with a win at Florida (34) and a sweep of Arkansas (45) the only notable accomplishments to date, the Bulldogs find themselves in a tough spot. What’s worse is that they only get one more Quad 1 opportunity in the regular season, and that’s a game at South Carolina (62).

ALABAMA (NET: 40, NBC: Next four out): The Crimson Tide did what they could on Saturday, blowing out Ole Miss (94) on the road. It’s the fourth road win for Alabama, which is relevant for a team that doesn’t have all that much else going for it. They’re 15-12 overall. They have just two Quad 1 wins compared to a pair of Quad 3 losses. They have no margin of error left.

SOUTH CAROLINA (NET: 63, NBC: Off the bubble): The Gamecocks had a chance to play themselves into a really good spot on Saturday, but they lost to LSU (29) at home. At 16-11 overall with a Quad 3 and a Quad 4 loss, the Gamecocks have plenty of work left to do and not all that many great chances left for wins. They’re in trouble.


BUBBLE WATCH FOR EVERYONE ELSE

TOP 9: Gonzaga (NBC: 1), San Diego State (NBC: 1), BYU (NBC: 6), Saint Mary’s (NBC: 9)

UTAH STATE (NET: 39, NBC: 11): After beating Wyoming (301), the Aggies have won five in a row and eight of their last nine games, ensuring they are still in the NCAA tournament mix and fully turning around a season that looked like it was lost as recently as four weeks ago. Wins over LSU (30) and Florida (33) are nice, but with three road losses to sub-85 teams and no more chances to land marquee wins, how are they going to make up for those losses? They don’t play another top 100 team the rest of the season. I don’t see how they can get in without beating San Diego State (1) in the MWC tournament.

NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 46, NBC: 12): Northern Iowa snapped a two-game losing streak on Sunday, beating Southern Illinois (139) and maintaining a hold on first place in the Missouri Valley. UNI has a win at Colorado (18) and they beat South Carolina (63) on a neutral court, but they are 5-3 against the top two Quads with a pair of Quad 3 losses. I want to see them get an at-large — every one of their non-Quad 1 losses is a road game in league play — but I’m not sure they have done enough to beat out some of these power conference teams.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 38, NBC: 11): After beating Furman (76) on Wednesday night, the Buccaneers have gotten through the toughest part of their schedule. They have a win at UNCG (62) and a win at LSU (30). With a 22-4 record and a loss to Mercer (197) at home, the Buccaneers have to win out and lose to only UNCG or Furman in the SoCon tournament to have a chance, and even that might be a bit of a longshot.

Bracketology: Kansas grabs No. 1 overall seed

NCAA tournament bracketology
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Here is today’s updated NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Following its win at Baylor, Kansas grabs the No. 1 overall seed in today’s bracket update.  That said, it’s basically semantics. Kansas continues to lead the Midwest Region and Baylor the South Region.  The margin between the two is more of a 1-A and 1-B approach.

The biggest surprise of the weekend was San Diego State losing at home to UNLV.  For now, the Aztecs hold onto their No. 1 seed in the East.  Maryland could have made a strong case had the Terrapins won at Ohio State on Sunday.  Either way, the door is now open for a Big Ten, Big East, or ACC champion to potentially overtake SDSU. Dayton is squarely in the mix, too.

As for the Bubble, the Providence Friars and UCLA Bruins have both recovered from challenging starts to emerge as serious at-large contenders.

Anyway, here is today’s updated NCAA tournament bracketology. If you’re looking for the NBC Sports Bubble Watch, it can be found here.



The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: February 24, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
MIDWEST REGION Oklahoma vs. USC
SOUTH REGION Providence vs. Wichita State
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW-AM vs. ST. PETERS
MIDWEST REGION ROBERT MORRIS vs. NC A&T

MIDWEST Indianapolis SOUTH – Houston                    
Omaha St. Louis
1) KANSAS 1) Baylor
16) ROB MORRIS / NC A&T 16) PV-AM / ST. PETERS
8) ARIZONA STATE 8) LSU
9) Florida 9) Saint Mary’s
Sacramento Tampa
5) Auburn 5) Colorado
12) NORTHERN IOWA 12) Providence / Wichita St
4) Michigan 4) Penn State
13) AKRON 13) VERMONT
St. Louis Albany
6) BYU 6) Iowa
11) Oklahoma / USC 11) Utah State
3) Creighton 3) SETON HALL
14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST 14) COLGATE
Greensboro Tampa
7) Wisconsin 7) Marquette
10) Rhode Island 10) Rutgers
2) Duke 2) Florida State
15) BELMONT 15) LITTLE ROCK
EAST – New York WEST – Los Angeles
Sacramento Spokane
1) SAN DIEGO ST 1) GONZAGA
16) RADFORD 16) MONTANA
8) Indiana 8) Texas Tech
9) Virginia 9) Houston
Omaha Spokane
5) Ohio State 5) Michigan State
12) LIBERTY 12) S.F. AUSTIN
4) KENTUCKY 4) Oregon
13) YALE 13) NORTH TEXAS
Albany Cleveland
6) West Virginia 6) Butler
11) EAST TENNESSEE ST 11) CINCINNATI
3) Villanova 3) LOUISVILLE
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) NEW MEXICO ST
Cleveland Tampa
7) Illinois 7) Arizona
10) NC State 10) Xavier
2) DAYTON 2) MARYLAND
15) HOFSTRA 15) UC-IRVINE

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Rutgers Providence Stanford Alabama
NC State Wichita State UCLA Mississippi State
Rhode Island Oklahoma Memphis Arkansas
Utah State USC Richmond Georgetown

Top Seed Line

Kansas, Baylor, Gonzaga, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …

Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
Pac 12 (5)
Big 12 (5)
SEC (4)
ACC (4)
West Coast (3)
American (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (2)

OK, how good are you guys at NCAA tournament bracketology?

Not too bad. Our bracketologist, Dave Ommen, is sitting atop the ranks for the bracket matrix, which cobbles together everyone who does this for a living. So yeah, we’re on our game.

When do conference tournaments begin?

Conference tournaments — when teams can earn automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament — begin on Tuesday, March 3. Most of the league tournaments for that week are mid-major and low-major schools (though those can often be the most exciting games to watch).

There is a full schedule for all 32 conference tournaments here, though check back with us later on for previews for all those tournaments, recaps and highlights from the buzzer-beaters and many dunks for the start of March.

When do Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament begin?

Selection Sunday for the 2020 NCAA Tournament is on March 15 (about 4 pm ET), while the games begin a couple days later. The First Four is on March 17 and 18, while the craziness of Round 1 starts on Thursday, March 19.

The Final Four, held in Atlanta this year, starts on Saturday, April 4. The National Title Game is Monday, April 6.

Monday’s Things To Know: Florida State rolls, Texas is back?

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There was some action on Monday night in the college basketball world, and we are here to talk you through all of it.

1. FLORIDA STATE’S SECOND HALF DEMOLITION OF LOUISVILLE IS SCARY

Trent Forrest scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half and the No. 6 Seminoles used a 42-16 tidal wave over the course of the final 15 minutes to turn a 51-40 deficit into an 82-67 win over No. 11 Louisville.

It was everything that you expect a Florida State team to be during that stretch. They forced turnovers, they switched everything defensively, they dared you to try and beat them in isolation, and they did it all while getting the kind of balanced effort that makes it impossible to key in on a single player. Five guys were in double-figures on Monday night, and that doesn’t include the eight points that Leonard Hamilton’s club got from Anthony Polite off the bench.

This program is a machine.

All they do is produce physical, tough, athletic wings that stand somewhere between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-8, guard like their life depends on it and completely by in to what Leonard Hamilton is trying to do.

I would not want to see them in March.

2. TEXAS ISN’T DEAD YET

The Longhorns won their third straight game on Monday night, as they beat No. 20 West Virginia, 67-57, despite playing without Jericho Sims, Gerald Liddell and Jase Febres.

Suddenly, a team that we had all written off is right back in the mix, as the Mountaineers are a top 15 team in the NET and the kind of elite win that Texas was sorely lacking on their resume. As it stands, the Longhorns are sitting at 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the Big 12. They have three Quad 1 wins, Monday night’s win as well as roadies at Purdue and Oklahoma State, and a 5-11 mark against the top two Quads without a bad loss to their name.

Put another way, this team is suddenly very much in the bubble picture.

Now, I still think they have plenty of work to do, and given the fact that neither a road win at Oklahoma or a home win over Oklahoma State is going to change all that much for them, I think Saturday’s trip to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech is going to be the make or break game. It’s not a win-and-you’re-win type deal, but I do think that taking a loss to the Red Raiders would mean that the Longhorns will have to beat one of the Big 12’s top four teams in the conference tournament to have a realistic shot at getting to the dance.

Regardless of what it actually is, the bottom line is pretty simple: Texas needs to keep on winning.

3. KANSAS ROLLS IN FIRST GAME AS NO. 1

The Jayhawks, in their first game as the No. 1 team in the country, did not have any kind of a letdown.

Udoka Azubuike finished with 19 points, 16 boards, three blocks, two assists and hit 7-for-8 from the free throw line in an 83-58 win over Oklahoma State in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

No. 6 Florida State’s steamrolls No. 11 Louisville

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Trent Forrest scored 14 of his 16 points after halftime, and No. 6 Florida State rallied from a double-digit deficit to beat No. 11 Louisville 82-67 on Monday night.

The Seminoles (24-4, 14-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) moved past the Cardinals into first place in the ACC. They lead Louisville and No. 7 Duke by a half-game.

Patrick Williams’ thunderous dunk put an exclamation point to a 15-0 run that put the Seminoles ahead for good. Florida State outscored Louisville 50-27 in the second half and extended its home winning streak to 22 games.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

Devin Vassell and M.J. Walker each scored 12 points for FSU, which set a school record for ACC regular-season wins with three remaining in the 20-game schedule.

Ryan McMahon scored 14 points and Jordan Nwora had 13 points and eight rebounds for Louisville (23-6, 14-4), which went more than seven minutes without a field goal during one second-half stretch.

The Cardinals played short-handed most of the night after junior center Malik Williams injured his left foot minutes into the game. He returned to the bench with a boot on the foot.

BIG PICTURE

Louisville: The Cardinals shot well in the first half, making 52% before cooling off to 32% in the second.

Florida State: The Seminoles shot 50% in each half and overcame nine first-half turnovers to complete a season sweep of Louisville.

UP NEXT

Louisville hosts Virginia Tech on Sunday.

Florida State visits Clemson on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Ionescu first player to 2,000 points, 1,000 assists, 1,000 rebounds

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STANFORD, Calif. — Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu is the first player, man or woman, to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds.

Ionescu hit the milestone on a defensive rebound with 1:47 remaining in the third quarter for the third-ranked Ducks against No. 3 Stanford on Monday night, only hours after she spoke at the memorial service for Kobe Bryant and daughter, Gianna, in Southern California.

Ionescu got to 1,000 assists in a win at UCLA on Feb. 14. She notched her NCAA-record 25th career triple-double at California on Friday night – also most in the men’s or women’s game. She came into Monday’s game needing nine rebounds for the 1,000 mark.

Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry sat courtside for the second straight game to support Ionescu and women’s basketball.