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Bubble Banter: We need to talk about N.C. State, Auburn and UCF

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The most recent NBC Sports bracket projection can be found here

For my money, the three toughest resumes to figure out — at least when discussing teams in, on and around the bubble — are N.C. State (NET: 37, SOS: 262)UCF (NET: 45, SOS: 101) and AUBURN (NET: 20, SOS: 30).

All three played on Wednesday night.

Only one of the three lost, so we’ll start with Auburn, who have great computer numbers — they’re not only top 20 in the NET, they’re 17th in KenPom — and just one loss to a team outside the top 40, but there is a total and complete lack of quality wins to their name. They are 0-6 against Q1 opponents this season. Their best win came against Washington (31) at home on the fourth day of the season. Since then, the only two teams they’ve beaten with a puncher’s chance at getting an at-large are 13-11 Florida and 15-9 Alabama. They are just 1-5 on the road, and the one win came against a bad Texas A&M (82) team.

They’re not on the bubble right now because their computer numbers are too good to ignore, but how high can you seed a team without a Q1 win?

It’s the same question that we have to ask about UCF, who, as of Valentine’s Day, has played just two Q1 games and lost them both. One of those two losses was by 20 points to a thoroughly mediocre Memphis team. The Knights have actually won a few road games — UConn (79), SMU (110), Tulane (293) — but they do have an ugly home loss to FAU (164) on their resume as well. Their win over South Florida on Wednesday night is their fifth Q2 win of the year.

Our Dave Ommen is the best in the business when it comes to bracketing, and he has UCF in the tournament as of today. If he says it, then I’ll believe it, but more than anything, it’s evidence of just how bad the bubble is this year.

Which brings us to N.C. State.

The Wolfpack’s profile isn’t all that different from UCF or Auburn, with the one exception being that they have one Q1 win … which came at home against Auburn. They are 18-7 on the season, and just one of those seven losses — at Wake Forest (194), without Markell Johnson — is not a Q1 loss, but the issue for N.C. State is that they, quite literally, have the worst non-conference SOS in the country, according to the NET.

The committee has proven, over and over again, that is something they will punish you for.

We just don’t know how much.

WINNERS

N.C. STATE (NET: 37, SOS: 262): See above.

UCF (NET: 45, SOS: 101): See above.

SETON HALL (NET: 69, SOS: 47): The Pirates picked up their seventh Q2 win of the season when they beat Georgetown at home on Wednesday. With a neutral court win over Kentucky and a win at Maryland, the Pirates do have two really good wins, which are off-set by a pair of Q3 home losses. Their bid is going to come down to whether or not they get wins against Marquette and Villanova at home in the last week of the regular season.

UTAH STATE (NET: 38, SOS: 114): The Aggies bounced back from their loss at San Diego State by knocking off Wyoming at home on Wednesday. I think they need to win out — including Nevada at home — to have a real chance at an at-large.

FLORIDA (NET: 42, SOS: 39): Florida won! They beat Vanderbilt, snapping a three-game losing streak and getting them to within a game of .500 in league play. They have good computer numbers, just one bad loss — South Carolina (100) at home — and four more Q1 games left on the schedule, which should help offset their current 1-9 mark against Q1 opponents.

VCU (NET: 43, SOS: 34): VCU smoked city rival Richmond on Wednesday night, continuing to do what they need to do to keep themselves on the right side of the bubble — don’t lose to bad teams. And based on the way their schedule shakes out, VCU probably would not be able to sleep comfortably if they lose to anyone other than Dayton on the road before the A-10 tournament starts.

TEMPLE (NET: 55, SOS: 58): Temple is right there with UCF when it comes to their profile, but I think they’re in slightly better shape right now for two reasons — 1. They have a win over Houston (5), and 2. their bad loss is a Q3 loss to Penn (92). That said, Temple’s only chances to land Q1 wins come at South Florida, at Memphis and at UConn. None of those teams are in the top 65 of the NET.

LOSERS

AUBURN (NET: 20, SOS: 30): See above.

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 72, SOS: 69): The Sun Devils picked the wrong time to make the toughest road trip in the Pac-12. Firmly on the cutline, they had lost two of their last four games — including a 21 point loss to Washington State (176) last Thursday — before going into Colorado (80) and losing to the Buffaloes. All in all, it’s not a terrible loss, but with a Q3 loss and two Q4 losses to their name, they need all the help they can get.

CLEMSON (NET: 39, SOS: 25): Clemson went down to Coral Gables and took a loss to a Miami team that is now 11-13 overall and just 3-9 in the ACC. This loss does not look as bad on a resume as it does in real life — the Hurricanes are 90th in the NET, so it’s just a Q2 loss — but the Tigers are not in a great spot as of today. They need to keep building on a profile that doesn’t include a bad loss but that only has one Q1 win on it — Virginia Tech (13) — and features a 4-9 record against Q1 and Q2 opponents. This isn’t a killer, but this is another step in the wrong direction.

MINNESOTA (NET: 58, SOS: 62): The Gophers are in a good spot because of the strength of the league that they play in. There are no bad losses in the Big Ten right now, but it’s time for Minnesota to turn this thing around. They lost their fourth straight on Wednesday at Nebraska, but as bad as the Huskers have been, that is comfortably a Q1 loss. As it stands, Minnesota is 3-7 against Q1 and 4-2 against Q2, and their worst loss is at Boston College (128). They’ve won at Wisconsin and beat Washington on a neutral.

LIPSCOMB (NET: 30, SOS: 226): The Bisons lost at home on Wednesday night, which typically would be a killer to their at-large profile except that this loss came to Liberty, who is now 20-5 on the year, tied for first in the Atlantic Sun with Lipscomb and — most importantly — 61st in the NET. This hurts because this was the last time Lipscomb had a chance to land a Q2 win during the regular season.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 78, SOS: 79): The Hoyas lost at Seton Hall by 15 points on Wednesday, dropping them to 3-4 against Q1 opponents. They’re also 4-4 against Q2 and they have a pair of Q3 losses. They’re firmly in the bubble conversation, but they need to start winning. They have a week off until they get Villanova at home. That’s as close to a must-win as it can get in mid-February.

CREIGHTON (NET: 57, SOS: 10): Creighton lost their third straight on Wednesday, falling in overtime at Xavier. They are now 12-12 on the year and 4-8 in the Big East. They probably need to win out to get an at-large at this point.

PROVIDENCE (NET: 74, SOS: 65): The Friars lost at Villanova (21) on Saturday in a game that was brutal for their at-large chances. It’s not because losing at Villanova is a bad loss, it’s because Providence is on the bubble of being on the bubble. They have quite a bit of ground to make up, and this was their best chance to do that. They whiffed.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)