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Bubble Banter: Biggest winners and losers

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January has come to a close, which means that it is officially time for Bubble Banter to make its glorious return. 

Some quick housekeeping before we dive into it:

  • This page will be updated throughout the weekend, so be sure to check back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the games get played. 
  • I’ll update them best that I can, but the NET rankings will be accurate through Friday morning. 
  • If you see something I missed, if you have an issue with a team I left out or if you want to congratulate me on a job well done, drop a comment below or hit me up here: @RobDauster.
  • The cut-off we will be using this year for teams that are “on the bubble” is the No. 9 seed line. If your favorite team is seeded as a No. 9 or better in our most recent bracket, they will not be discussed below.
  • On Thursday, our Dave Ommen released an updated bracket, and these eight teams were placed in an 8-9 game: Buffalo, Baylor, Minnesota, Ole Miss, Alabama, Arizona State, Ohio State, St. John’s.

Onto the weekend’s action.

WINNERS

TCU (NET: 40, SOS: 31): TCU is the biggest bubble winner of the day, as they went into Hilton Coliseum and landed their first Q1 win of the season, knocking off Iowa State (13), 92-83. With the win, TCU is now 17-6 on the season and 5-5 in Big 12 play, but until this win, there really wasn’t much of note on their resume. They were 0-5 against Q1 opponents. That’s why they were in one of the play-in games entering the day. That will change with this win.

CLEMSON (NET: 43, SOS: 33): If it’s not TCU, then the Tigers are probably the biggest bubble winners of the weekend, as they landed a home win over Virginia Tech (10), their first Q1 win of the season. Everything else on their resume looks good. They don’t have any bad losses and their computer numbers look good, but entering today they were 0-6 against Q1 opponents and 3-2 in Q2 games. They needed quality wins. They got one on Saturday.

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 78, SOS: 85): Good luck trying to explain Arizona State. After losing by 20 points to Washington State on Thursday night, the Sun Devils turned around and handed Washington their first loss in conference play on Saturday. Arizona State now has a Q3 loss and two Q4 losses, but they also have four Q1 wins — Kansas (18), Washington (25), Mississippi State (27) and Utah State (33). They’re certainly a tournament team right now, but where they fit in the bracket is tough to figure out.

VCU (NET: 48, SOS: 24): The Rams are probably the only hope for the Atlantic 10 to get two bids to the NCAA tournament at this point, and they certainly didn’t hurt their chances on Saturday. St. Bonaventure is down this year but Olean is always a tough place to play … and VCU bulldozed the Bonnies. A win at Texas and the win over Temple on a neutral are the two wins that are really bolstering this resume.

N.C. STATE (NET: 34, SOS: 237): The Wolfpack picked up a win at Pittsburgh on Saturday, which is notable if only because it’s a game that they probably couldn’t afford to lose. Their profile is marginal based on wins — they are 1-6 in Q1 games with a Q3 loss at Wake Forest — and the fact that they played a non-conference schedule that ranks 352nd is going to be a deal-breaker.

SYRACUSE (NET: 49, SOS: 27): Syracuse got a win over Boston College at home on Saturday, which helps them because a loss would have really hurt. The Orange do have a bit of a weird profile, but the truth is this: Their bad losses don’t look as bad as they did at the time, and their win at Duke might end up being the best win in college basketball come Selection Sunday.

TEXAS (NET: 38, SOS: 3): Texas improved to 6-5 in the Big 12 with a win at West Virginia on Saturday. They are now 14-10 on the season, a solid record against one of the best schedules in the country. They do have a couple of bad Q3 home losses, but they’ve beaten North Carolina (8) on a neutral, Purdue (11) and Kansas (18) at home and Kansas State (30) on the road. They’re in a good spot, and with their next four games all winnable — Kansas State (30), Oklahoma State (76), at Oklahoma (36), at Baylor (32) — they can keep improving on that resume.

SETON HALL (NET: 66, SOS: 28): The Pirates found a way to beat Creighton (55) at home on Saturday, but they are not in a great spot. They are 2-5 against Q1 and 6-2 against Q2 with two Q3 losses. That’s about par for the course for bubble teams. The differentiator is their neutral court win over Kentucky (5).

UCF (NET: 46, SOS: 91): The Knights won at SMU on Sunday, adding another Q1 win to their profile. They are now 4-2 against Q2 opponents, but they still have not beaten a Q2 team in two tries. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — this is the profile of a mid-major program right now. With two games left against Cincinnati and a trip to Houston, UCF will have three shots are an elite Q1 in, and I think they probably want to get two to really feel good about their chances on the bubble.

BELMONT (NET: 62, SOS: 145): The Bruins won their seventh straight on Saturday, beating Morehead State on the road. With a sweep of Lipscomb, a win at UCLA and a win at Murray State, Belmont has an interesting profile, but with three Q3 road losses already this season, I don’t think they can take another loss that isn’t in the OVC tournament and have a real shot at an at-large.

LIPSCOMB (NET: 31, SOS: 206): Lipscomb took care of business at home against Jacksonville, setting up what should be their toughest test between now and an Atlantic Sun regular season title: a home date with Liberty (58). This will be their last chance in the regular season to add to their Q2 win total. As it stands, they are 4-4 against Q1 and Q2 opponents, with a win at TCU and a win at SMU.

WOFFORD (NET: 29, SOS: 126): Wofford smoked Western Carolina. If they win out during the regular season, they should be an at-large team.

BUTLER (NET: 57, SOS: 26): The Bulldogs kept themselves in the bubble conversation as they landed their second Q1 win of the season at Georgetown (72). This is hardly a difference-maker, as the Hoyas are one losing streak away from falling outside the top 75 and off the Q1 line, but this does had some depth to Butler’s profile. Their at-large bid will be determined by games at St. John’s, at Villanova and at Marquette in the last month of the season.

LOSERS

DAVIDSON (NET: 59, SOS: 108): The Wildcats can just about put their at-large hopes on ice after they went into Amherst and lost to a bad UMass team (224) that was playing without Luwane Pipkins, who is their best player and one of the most dangerous scorers in the Atlantic 10. Davidson does not have a Q1 win, they will not play another Q1 game the rest of the regular season and they now have two Q3 losses and a Q4 loss to their name.

INDIANA (NET: 47, SOS: 35): The Hoosiers have now lost back-to-back home games since they went into East Lansing and beat Michigan State, and I think we’ve finally reached the point where we have to stop overlooking Indiana’s good wins. On Sunday, they lost at home to Ohio State, dropping to 13-11 overall and 4-9 in the Big Ten. They do have four Q1 wins — including at Michigan State (8), Louisville (15) and Marquette (21) — but they are now 4-8 against Q1 with three more Q2 losses. This is precisely the kind of resume that should be overlooked in order to get a mid-major team like Wofford or Lipscomb in to the tournament.

ARIZONA (NET: 70, SOS: 57): The Wildcats seemed to be well on the wrong side of the bubble entering Saturday, and that was before they took on a 14-point home loss to Washington State (197). The Wildcats now are just 1-4 against Q2 and 2-5 against Q2 with a 14 point Q4 loss. They play four of their last seven games on the road, they have just one more potential Q1 win on their schedule — at Oregon (71). Arizona is auto-bid or bust.

OKLAHOMA (NET: 35, SOS: 12): The Sooners have seen their season go off the rails. After entering league play with an 11-1 record, the Sooners have now lost four in a row to drop to 3-8 in the Big 12. At this point, the Sooners are not a tournament team.

CREIGHTON (NET: 55, SOS: 8): For the seventh time in their last ten games, the Bluejays took a loss, this time coming at Seton Hall. They are now 12-11 on the season, 4-7 in the Big East and 2-9 against Q1 opponents. Those two Q1 wins are Clemson (43) on a neutral and at Georgetown (72).

UTAH STATE (NET: 33, SOS: 122): Utah State’s seven-game winning streak came to an end in San Diego on Saturday night, as the Aggies lost to San Diego State. This is their second Q3 loss on the season, and combined with just a 3-4 record against Q1 and Q2 opponents and no wins better Saint Mary’s (45) on a neutral floor, it’s going to be a big ask to get an at-large if they don’t beat Nevada on March 2nd. Even with a win in that game, they might not have enough.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 40, SOS: 47): I wasn’t going to write about the Johnnies here because they entered the day as a No. 9 seed, but getting whipped at home by a bad Providence team earns a mention. St. John’s has a weird profile. They have five Q1 wins — including a sweep of Marquette — but with home losses to Georgetown, DePaul and now Providence, nothing is given. And it is worth noting that the DePaul loss came without Shamorie Ponds while today’s loss came with Mustapha Heron out of the lineup.

NEBRASKA (NET: 36, SOS: 99): The Cornhuskers lost their seventh straight on Saturday night, falling at Purdue. Maybe I’m late on this, but it’s time to take them out of consideration until something changes.

FLORIDA (NET: 42, SOS: 47): After the Gators knocked off Ole Miss ten days ago, we said that their NCAA tournament bid can be earned during a three-game stretch where they played Kentucky, at Auburn and at Tennessee. After getting blown out in Knoxville, the Gators went 0-3 in that stretch and 12-11 overall and 1-9 in Q1 games. That’s not ideal.

ARKANSAS (NET: 60, SOS: 36): The Razorbacks fell at South Carolina on Saturday, which certainly isn’t a killer for them, but when you are firmly on the bubble — as Arkansas is — any chance to land a Q2 win is going to help. The Razorbacks have just a single Q1 win, at LSU last Saturday.

TEMPLE (NET: 50, SOS: 42): The Owls lost at Tulsa on Saturday by 18 points, a result that sounds worse than it looks on a resume — the Golden Hurricane are a top 100 team, so this is a Q2 loss. Temple has just one Q1 win (Houston at home) but they are 6-6 against Q1 and Q2 opponents. They’ve also lost to Penn (88) at home. The biggest issue for the Owls at this point is the lack of quality opponents left on their schedule.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.