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Four takeaways from No. 1 Duke’s win over No. 4 Virginia

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R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson combined to score 57 points as No. 1 Duke survived an off-night from Cam Reddish to take down No. 4 Virginia, the last remaining unbeaten in college basketball, 72-70.

De’Andre Hunter led Virginia with 18 points while Ty Jerome finished with 14 points, four assists and four boards, the majority of his damage being done in the second half. Duke led 37-32 heading into halftime, cut the lead to 40-39 by the first TV timeout. From that point until the Blue Devils used a 6-0 run to push their lead out to 67-60, the game was a thrilling, one possession battle between two of the best teams in the country.

For me, that was the most important factor on display.

These could very well be the two best teams in college basketball. On a different day — one where Kyle Guy or Braxton Key makes one or two of the handful of wide open threes they had in the second half — Virginia wins this game. At the same time, we can say that if Tre Jones is healthy for the return leg, Duke could go into John Paul Jones Arena and get a win and no one would be surprised.

Speaking of Jones, much was made of the importance of his absence in the buildup to this game, but Duke still managed to find a way to win.

Here are four things to takeaway from the result:

1. ZION WILLIAMSON IS SPECIAL

Breaking news!

The likely No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and the probably National Player of the Year is a great basketball player.

Shocking, right?

But in all seriousness, he was absolutely unstoppable on Saturday night in Cameron. There is no team in the country that is better than Virginia when it comes to stopping dribble penetration — that is the entire point of the Pack-Line — and Zion was able to get to the rim more or less at will. Virginia tried everything to slow him down, from using future top ten pick De’Andre Hunter, to Mamadi Diakite, to Braxton Key. By the end of the second half, Tony Bennett put Jack Salt on Zion, hoping that it would be more effective using the burly, 7-foot New Zealander to keep Zion from bullying his way to the basket while helping as much as possible.

(I know this is probably a different conversation for a different space, but in all seriousness, Virginia’s entire premise defensively is to force drivers to play with as little space as possible, and Zion got wherever he wanted. In the NBA — with the longer three-point line, shooters all over the floor and more space than anyone knows what to do with — how do you keep him out of the lane?)

With the loss to Syracuse on Monday night, Duke is going to fall out of the top spot in the AP Poll. That’s justified.

But it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that a team with Zion Williamson as the second-option offensively is not the best team in college basketball.

2. THE CHESS MATCH BETWEEN THESE TWO COACHES WAS AMAZING, BUT COACH K WON THIS ROUND

It was fascinating to watch these two coaching geniuses trade haymakers for 40 minutes on Saturday night.

Coach K landed the first blow. Virginia runs the blocker-mover offense, which is more-or-less a continuity offense where three guards (movers) are constantly running off of screens from the two bigs (blockers), and he was able to completely take UVA out of their offense by switching all exchanges, 1-through-5. Tony Bennett said at halftime that no one had done that against them before. Switching off-ball screening actions minimizes their effectiveness, especially when the bigs aren’t good enough to overpower the guards that are switched onto them:

This through Virginia for a loop early on, but they adjusted. This is when Bennett gets on the scorecard for the first time, because he totally scrapped his offense and started doing exactly what Duke does: He ran screen after screen after screen until he got the matchup he wanted — usually, Marques Bolden on Ty Jerome or De’Andre Hunter. Then he would lift the defense, send the big out to set a ball-screen and let the dribbler attack the space in the paint since Duke wasn’t leaving shooters:

Duke’s response?

They switched to a 2-3 zone for a number of possessions late in the second half, and it got Duke the win, but I do think that it’s important to note than Virginia entered this game as the nation’s seventh-best three-point shooting team and they missed three or four really good looks from three against that Duke zone. If those threes — the shots that Virginia wanted to get, mind you — go down, maybe I’m writing something different here.

They didn’t.

And Duke was able to land themselves the two-point win.

(One point that I think is important to add here: One of the things that people love to cite when they say that Tony Bennett will never be able to coach in the NBA is the offense that he runs. Well, in the second half, Virginia essentially ran the same offense that was run for the entirety of the 2018 Western Conference Finals. He simply moved players into screens to force switches into advantageous matchups, then he let his stars go and make a play. Oh, and should I mention that the Portland Trailblazers run the blocker-mover offense? Because they do.)

Anyway, the more important point about the Wahoos is that …

3. … DE’ANDRE HUNTER AND TY JEROME ARE DIFFERENCE-MAKERS

After watching that game and rewatching much of the second half, I am more sold on the idea that this Virginia team is the team that can finally get to the Final Four.

No one is going to defend Virginia this season as well as Duke did on Saturday night. The Blue Devils schemed UVA out of everything they wanted to do offensively, and Virginia still gave Duke a fight in Cameron.

The point here isn’t to celebrate a moral victory — remember, Virginia won in Cameron last year and lost in the first round to UMBC. The point is that Hunter and Jerome are as good as any 1-2 punch in college hoops this side of Duke. They can create outside of the confines of Virginia’s system. They can take games over, as Hunter did for a stretch in the first half and as Jerome did for much of the second half. They are NBA players that are hidden by the slowest pace in the sport.

The point is that the concern people have about Virginia winning in March is that they are susceptible to losing to teams that can take them out of what they want to do. Duke did that, and Virginia came a couple of missed threes away from picking them off in Cameron.

Maybe Virginia is more matchup-proof than we realized.

4. DUKE DEFINITELY MISSED TRE JONES

It’s easy to hide flaws in a roster when the top two picks in the draft are able to put up  combined 57 points on 21-for-35 shooting against one of the best defenses in college basketball, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t chinks in the armor.

Part of the reason that Duke had to switch as much as they did on Saturday night, and part of the reason they were eventually forced to go to zone, is that Tre Jones’ defense wasn’t on the floor. Part of the reason that Duke had to play Marques Bolden for 33 minutes despite the fact that he was the guy that Virginia targeted every time they switched was because Tre Jones was on the bench. Part of the reason that Cam Reddish struggled to get things going was because there was no true point guard on the floor to initiate offense.

Duke is better with Tre Jones.

I don’t even think there is a question.

But when you have two dudes that are as good as Zion and RJ are, there are going to be a lot of games where it just doesn’t matter.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Villanova gears up for big stretch, Auburn wins ugly in 2OT and Rutgers keeps rolling

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The headliner of Tuesday night was Virginia regaining an NCAA tournament pulse with a win over No. 5 Florida State, but there were plenty of other developments on the bubble across the country.  Here’s what else you need to know:

1. Villanova runs streak to seven ahead of grueling stretch

Jay Wright’s team had little trouble winning its seventh-straight Tuesday with a 79-59 victory at Madison Square Garden over St. John’s. Saddiq Bey was brilliant, scoring 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting, including 5 of 9 from deep. Collin Gillespie was equally great, going for 17 points, 13 boards and six assists while Jeremiah Robinson-Early had 13 points and 14 rebounds. Cole Swider and Justin Moore both had 11 to put all five Wildcat starters in double-figures to help offset the absence of the injured Jermaine Samuels.

The victory, while unremarkable given St. John’s mediocrity, keeps momentum for Villanova heading into a huge stretch that very well could decide the Big East. They’ve got Creighton at home Saturday before a trip to No. 16 Butler and then back-to-back home games against No. 10 Seton Hall and Marquette, which handed the ‘Cats their lone conference loss this season.

How Villanova emerges from this four-game stretch – and subsequently what the Big East landscape looks like – will likely be determined by a couple of things. If the ‘Cats are going to make it through in the conference driver’s seat, it’ll probably because Villanova’s defense proves for real. The Cats’ defense this season on the whole has been fine, ranking 60th nationally on KenPom, but it’s been the best in the Big East during conference play. They’ve been stingier both inside and outside the arc while improving on the glass. They’ve kept opponents from launching a lot of 3s and have mostly kept them off the line.

Wright’s team is going to be fine offensively, even if they haven’t been elite in Big East play yet. If the defense holds up, the ‘Cats are going to be sitting pretty come March.

2. No. 17 Auburn comes from behind to win in 2OT

Things were looking pretty dire for Auburn. The Tigers narrowly avoided a third loss in four games over the weekend when they blew a big lead to a sub-.500 Iowa State team, and then they fell behind by 19 in the second half Tuesday at Ole Miss.

It turned out to be nothing to be worried about, unless you were on your couch hoping to watch good overtime basketball.

The Tigers narrowly escaped, 83-82, against the Rebels, overcoming a huge deficit and mistakes of their own making that could have negated their comeback but instead will be footnotes.

Auburn shot 56 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range in the second half to mount its comeback while Ole Miss shot just 33 percent. They nearly gave the game away, though, after taking a two-point lead in the final seconds of overtime. The Tigers missed a jumper that would have put them up four with 25 seconds left, but the shot missed and they inexplicably fouled on the rebound to allow Ole Miss to tie the game with 22 seconds left on free throws. After a missed 3 in a tie game by Danjel Purifoy, Ole Miss gave Auburn a gift it just wouldn’t accept. Devontae Shuler’s inbounds pass under the basket with 2 seconds left went astray and was headed out of bounds, which would have resulted in no time coming off the clock and Auburn getting the ball on the baseline, but Isaac Okoro, for some reason, grabbed the ball, waited a second and called timeout. Samir Doughty’s forthcoming 3 out of the huddle as time expired miss to send things to 2OT.

Ole Miss led by as many as four in overtime, but Auburn took the lead with 1:41 left. The two teams traded missed opportunities for the remainder of the game, leaving the Tigers with a win.

College basketball: Not always pretty, but rarely boring.

3. Rutgers continues to build its case

It’s been 29 years since Rutgers last made the NCAA tournament. It’s been 13 since the Scarlet Knights even finished above .500 in a season. Both those streaks seem incredibly likely to fall in just a handful of weeks.

Rutgers ran its overall record to 16-5 and its Big Ten mark to 7-3 with a 70-63 victory Tuesday at home against Purdue.

Steve Pikiell’s team is building a bulletproof resume after losses to St. Bonaventure and Pittsburgh in the first month of the season made it seem as the status quo would be very much in place in Piscataway this winter. Since then, the only three losses Rutgers have taken have all been on the road to high-quality opponents, with Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa the only teams able to get the best of them.

Rutgers is doing it o the strength of a top-10 defense that overcomes an offense that can be clunky at times, especially at the 3-point line. Defense as stout as the Scarlet Knights are playing, though, makes up for a lot of deficiencies on the other end.

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.