AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Bubble Banter: It’s the final weekend of the regular season

Leave a comment

There is now just under a month left in conference play, so it is time for us to go all-in on the “who’s-in-who’s-out” discussion. Bubble Banter has never been more important!

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. 
  • We’ll update them best that we can, but the NET rankings will be accurate through Friday morning. 
  • If you see something we missed, if you have an issue with a team we left out or if you want to congratulate us on a job well done, drop a comment below or hit us up here: @RobDauster and @phillipshoops.
  • 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. This does not mean that those teams are locks, but it means they need to do something dumb before they are in danger of missing out on the tournament. 
  • On Thursday, our Dave Ommen released an updated bracket, and these eight teams were placed in an 8-9 game: Wofford, Baylor, St. John’s, Ole Miss, Syracuse, Ohio State, Auburn and N.C. State.

Onto the weekend’s action.

WINNERS

MURRAY STATE (NET: 52, SOS: 215): The Racers don’t have to worry about the bubble anymore after clinching an autobid over Belmont in the OVC title game. Ja Morant and Murray State are back into the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year. Learn all about this dangerous double-digit seed here.

SETON HALL (NET: 61, SOS: 27): No bubble team in the country had a better week than Seton Hall. After Saturday’s Big East win at home over Villanova (25), the Pirates have now knocked off the Big East’s two best teams in back-to-back games with their backs against the wall. Following the win over Marquette earlier this week, Seton Hall should feel comfortable about likely getting in. Now standing a very solid 6-6 in Q1 games, Seton Hall is all but assured an at-large entry on Selection Sunday. It’ll be fascinating to see how the Pirates perform in the Big East Tournament because they’ve been one of the most inconsistent teams in the country. A three-game winning streak turned into a three-game losing streak and now Seton Hall just took down the league’s two top teams. Who knows what we’ll see in the postseason?

TCU (NET: 53, SOS: 34): Massive Q1 road win for TCU over another bubble team in Texas (34) on Saturday as both were in an uncomfortable position. The Horned Frogs can feel a little bit safer knowing they earned potentially the biggest bubble win of the day with this Q1 road victory. Although TCU has been shaky in the Big 12 (7-11) with just average Q1 (3-8) and Q2 (5-4) results, this could be the win that gives them a little bit of breathing room heading into the Big 12 tournament. Beating Texas stopped a three-game slide and also hurts another bubble team in the process. It would certainly help the Horned Frogs to get another win or two in the Big 12 tournament, but this win on Saturday was a home run for now.

TEMPLE (NET: 55, SOS: 80): The Owls might have just solidified an at-large bid thanks to a Q1 home win over UCF (26) on Saturday. Winners of six of their last seven games, Temple has been teetering on the bubble because of a soft recent conference schedule. Knocking off the Knights pushes the Owls to a 3-6 record against Q1 teams coupled with a solid 5-1 record in Q2 scenarios. Even more important for Temple, the UCF win provides Q1 insurance, as Missouri (75) is right on the edge of becoming a Q2 win. With high-quality wins over Houston (6) and UCF, that could be enough to get the Owls into the Field of 68 in Fran Dunphy’s final season.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 80, SOS: 81): A bizarre trip to the Midwest for the Hoyas this week as they followed up a blowout loss to DePaul (98) with a shocking road win over Marquette (29) on Saturday. The Hoyas still have very shaky computer metrics thanks to a very underwhelming non-conference schedule. They’ve also knocked off the two best teams in the Big East as they’ve proven themselves to be a dangerous opponent in conference play. Even with this Q1 road win (to move the Hoyas to 4-6 in that mark), they likely need to pick off a few teams at Madison Square Garden next week to get in. Marquette is doing everything they can to keep the Big East bubble teams afloat these last few games, and Georgetown will thankfully take its extended bubble life for another week.

INDIANA (NET: 55, SOS: 48): Suddenly-surging Indiana has won four straight games to get themselves firmly back in the at-large picture. Sunday saw the Hoosiers take down Rutgers (97) at home for a Q3 victory. While knocking off the Scarlet Knights isn’t going to give Indiana a significant jump, at this point in the season, any win helps. It also gives Indiana a matchup in the Big Ten tournament against another bubble team in Ohio State in the 8/9 game next week. Depending on what the Buckeyes do later on Sunday, that game could be a win-and-get-in/loser-goes-home scenario that could make for a must-see matchup.

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 71, SOS: 67): Helping its cause with a road win over in-state rival Arizona (89), the Sun Devils continued their solid play down the stretch. Beating the Wildcats means Arizona State has won five of their last six games — including two straight on the road. This Q2 win pushes the Sun Devils to a solid 8-2 record against that group while they remain a decent 3-3 against Q1 teams. If Arizona State avoids a bad loss in the Pac-12 tournament (and there are plenty of opportunities for pitfalls) then they should be able to be the second Pac-12 team to make the Big Dance.

CLEMSON (NET: 40, SOS: 32): The Tigers did what they needed to do in knocking off Syracuse (42) for a Q2 home win. For a team currently hovering at “First Four Out” status, getting two wins this week just helps keep the Tigers in the at-large picture. Now 6-3 in Q2 games, it’s the 1-9 mark against Q1 opponents that has Clemson concerned at this point in the season. It will likely come down to the ACC tournament in terms of the Tigers getting into the field as they need to continue to win at this point in the season.

CREIGHTON (NET: 54, SOS: 14): Pulling out a home win over DePaul (98), this Q3 victory won’t do too much to enhance Creighton’s credibility. But as a team sitting in “Last Four In” status entering this game, avoiding a loss is just as important. The win for the Bluejays earns them a bye into the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament as they get a dangerous Xaver team in the opening matchup. Creighton will need to take care of the Musketeers if they want to keep its tourney hopes in tact.

N.C. STATE (NET: 35, SOS: 211): Avoiding a bad loss was more important than the win N.C. State earned over Boston College (113) on Saturday. Although the Eagles are an ACC bottomfeeder, the road win still merits a Q2 result — pushing the Pack to a very solid 6-0 in that category. But, as we’ve discussed all season, N.C. State’s dreadful strength of schedule is going to be the fascinating subplot for them the rest of the season. With a comparable SOS to mid-major teams on this list like Belmont and Murray State (see below), how will the committee evaluate a team like N.C. State on Selection Sunday? The 2-8 record in Q1 territory doesn’t help. Continuing to win is really the only recipe to ensure that the Wolfpack get in.

UNC GREENSBORO (NET: 57, SOS: 116): Advancing to the SoCon tournament finals with a win over another bubble team in Furman (41), UNC Greensboro continues to help its cause. Knocking out the Paladins not only helps the Spartans with a Q1 win — it also hurts one of the teams UNC Greensboro is directly competing with for an at-large bid. The Spartans are now 2-5 in Q1 games with Sunday’s result. Facing another Q1 opponent in Wofford in the SoCon finals will also help UNC Greensboro — regardless of outcome. The win would obviously take the Spartans off the bubble and into the Field of 68 with the autobid. But even a loss to a Q1 team like Wofford is going to continue to elevate UNC Greensboro’s rapidly-rising SOS — which is continuing to look even better when compared to other mid-major bubble teams like Belmont, Lipscomb and Furman.

VCU (NET: 31, SOS: 49): Knocking off Saint Joseph’s (171) for a home win won’t do much to help VCU’s at-large cause. Beating the Hawks at home is only good enough for a Q4 win at this point in the season. Avoiding the disastrous Q4 loss is the most important thing about Friday’s win for the Rams. Winning the A-10 regular season by two full games, VCU should continue to win in order to feel safe next weekend.

LOSERS

BELMONT (NET: 45, SOS: 192): It’s going to be a long week for the Bruins. Falling to Murray State (52) in the OVC title game, Belmont is hoping other bubble teams continue to lose while bid poachers don’t knock off teams like Buffalo or Wofford. On the bright side, if Belmont was going to lose to anyone in this OVC title game, falling to a Q1 opponent like Murray State is as good as they could have hoped for. With a 2-1 record against Q1 teams and a 3-2 mark against Q2 opponents, Belmont’s profile has a lot to like. But the mediocre strength of schedule, coupled with a mediocre 3-2 mark against Q3 opponents, could hurt the Bruins on Selection Sunday. Ultimately, Belmont, Furman and Lipscomb will be the major test cases for the committee as they weigh the merits of picking a quality mid-major program or a barely-.500 power conference team with better computer numbers.

FURMAN (NET: 41, SOS: 182): Furman might be in bubble trouble after falling to UNC Greensboro (57) in the SoCon semifinals. The Paladins drop a Q2 game with the loss, but it came to one of their main bubble competitors while eliminating a chance to get a crack at Wofford. Sitting at 1-5 against Q1 teams and 3-1 versus Q2 teams, Furman might not have enough to get into the field after a full week of other bubble teams earning wins. Adding to the glut of mid-major bubble teams with no more games like Belmont and Lipscomb, it’s going to be fascinating to see how this week unfolds and where that group stands by the end of it.

LIPSCOMB (NET: 42, SOS: 210): It might be an even longer week for Lipscomb after the Bisons lost at home to Liberty in the Atlantic Sun conference tournament title game. The Q2 loss drops Lipscomb to 1-3 against that group while they’re 2-3 against Q1 teams. On the positive side, the Bisons only have one Q3 loss (3-1 overall) and no Q4 losses as they’ve beaten most of the teams they’re supposed to take care of. But now that both Belmont and Lipscomb are vying for an at-large bid, the Bisons could be in dangerous territory. Belmont has a slightly better NET, SOS and a winning record against both Q1 and Q2 opponents. Much like the Bruins, Lipscomb likely needs a lot of things to go its way this week if they want to get in the field.

OHIO STATE (NET: 52, SOS: 59): Sunday’s loss to Wisconsin (15) has to really sting for the Buckeyes. With a chance to earn a Q1 win that would give Ohio State some much-needed breathing room heading into the Big Ten tournament, the Buckeyes instead collapsed in overtime after rallying from 23 points down in the second half. Sitting at “Last Four Byes” status before a long weekend of bubble wins for other teams, the Buckeyes might be right on the edge of the cut line going into a very important all-bubble matchup against Indiana. Thursday’s No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed showdown against the Hoosiers in the Big Ten tournament could very well decide an NCAA tournament bid with the loser of that one being left out in the cold. We’ll have to see how brackets look after this weekend, but it could come down to that simple result on Thursday.

TEXAS (NET: 34, SOS: 7): The perplexing bubble case of Texas just got even more confusing with a home loss to TCU (53). The Q2 loss means the Longhorns are now 4-4 in that group (meh…) but they still have a solid (for a bubble team) 5-9 mark against Q1 teams. Just how long can the goodwill of wins over North Carolina, Purdue and Kansas last? Texas is now 16-15 overall and many brackets have them right on the cusp of making it. And that was before this Saturday defeat. Now that they’ve lost to TCU, Texas likely needs at least one or two wins in the Big 12 tournament to have a shot at getting in. The Longhorns might be the biggest indicator of how the committee feels about strength of schedule and NET rating on Selection Sunday.

FLORIDA (NET: 34, SOS: 39): Just when Florida was trending in a great direction on a five-game winning streak a few weeks ago, the Gators have now lost three straight games entering the postseason. Saturday’s loss at Kentucky (5) isn’t a backbreaker — but the Gators also would have potentially punched their ticket with a Q1 win of that magnitude. The SEC tournament now becomes the focus for Florida. At only 3-11 against Q1 teams, if Florida can enhance that mark while earning some more wins, they might just be able to sneak into this field. For now, it feels like Mike White’s team is doing everything they can to play in the NIT.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 62, SOS: 69): Falling to Xavier (73) on the road, St. John’s continues to make its bubble life more difficult. Losing four of their last five games, the Red Storm are struggling entering a Big East tournament in which they now need to play a Wednesday play-in game to even make the quarterfinals as a No. 7 seed. Now 5-5 against Q1 teams, and 5-3 against Q2 teams, St. John’s desperately needs to win its opening game on Wednesday to avoid disaster. As long as St. John’s wins the opener, they should be okay but they certainly aren’t making things easy on the committee.

ALABAMA (NET: 57, SOS: 25): Dropping a third consecutive game, Alabama is in real trouble entering the SEC tournament. Falling to Arkansas (65) on the road, the Crimson Tide are now an underwhelming 3-9 in Q1 settings with a 6-3 record in the Q2 sector. Sitting at “First Four In” status in our latest bracket entering this game, this loss could push Alabama into risky territory as they’ll need to win a few games next week to get in. Given the way Alabama is limping into the postseason, that doesn’t seem very likely.

BUTLER (NET: 59, SOS: 20): It’s probably time to take Butler off the bubble after its latest loss to Providence (76). Losers of four of their last five games, the Bulldogs haven’t helped themselves at all over the last several weeks — even as other Big East bubble teams like Creighton, Georgetown and Seton Hall improve their chances. Now standing 16-15 overall with a suspect 1-10 record against Q1 opponents, a Q2 loss (now 8-3 there) is especially damaging for Butler. The Bulldogs need to likely win the Big East tournament to be dancing.

MINNESOTA (NET: 55, SOS: 40): Squandering a valuable opportunity for a Q1 road win at Maryland (28), the Golden Gophers probably didn’t hurt themselves too badly in defeat. After beating Purdue (12) earlier this week at home, Minnesota gave themselves a little bit of a bubble cushion. But this Maryland game is the kind of win that would have all but guaranteed Minnesota’s at-large hopes had they won. As it stands, the Gophers are now 3-9 in Q1 scenarios and 7-3 against Q2. Richard Pitino’s bunch doesn’t have any bad losses and their strength of schedule is solid. As long as they don’t bow out in the first Big Ten Tournament game, it feels like they should be safe.

No. 13 Memphis lands rivalry road win against No. 19 Tennessee

AP Photo/Wade Payne
Leave a comment

Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax came off the bench to combine for 19 points, 12 boards and three assists, providing a major spark as No. 13 Memphis overcame a dreadful start to land a come-from-behind, 51-47 win over No. 19 Tennessee.

Memphis scored five points in the first 11 minutes. They were down by as many as 12 points in the first half after missing 13 of their first 14 shots. To be quite frank, they opened this game playing like a team that was starting five freshmen in a rivalry game.

Tennessee finished the afternoon shooting just 25 percent from the floor and 4-for-26 (16 percent) from three. They scored just 0.723 points-per-possession, the worst performance since an 82-55 drubbing Tennessee took at South Carolina in February of 2017.

Here are the three things we can take away from this game:

1. THIS WAS VERY, VERY IMPRESSIVE FROM MEMPHIS

I don’t think that I can say that enough.

There was so much that did not go the Tigers’ way in this game, and so many built in excuses for the loss.

It was played in Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, the first time a Memphis team starting four freshmen was playing a true road game against a top 25 team. It was the first time those freshmen were playing in a rivalry game, and they spent the first 12 minutes or so looking like a team that was overwhelmed by the moment.

And they were doing it while their best player and the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft missed his seventh game due to a suspension. Should I mention that their best shooter, Lester Quinones, was also out as he continues to recover from a broken hand?

Oh, and the game was played at Tennessee’s pace. The Tigers want games to be frenetic. They want to be able to get out and run in transition. They want to force turnovers, get more possessions and have a chance to let their athletes avoid having to attack set defenses by playing on the break. None of that happened. This game had 65 possessions, which will go down as the fewest possessions in a game for this team this season.

And they still won.

I can fully admit that I did not think that Memphis had a win like this in them.

2. ALEX LOMAX AND TYLER HARRIS WERE THE DIFFERENCE-MAKERS

The Memphis freshmen are the guys that get all the hype and attention, but the two guys that changed this game on Saturday were Harris and Lomax. Harris provided the offensive spark in the first half, hitting a pair of threes and scoring eight of his 11 points in the final nine minutes to wake up a team that looked like they were still working their way through the itis.

Lomax was involved, too. He forced a couple of first half turnovers and he settled the team in the second half, making a couple plays in the halfcourt when it looked like Tennessee was on the verge of getting a critical stop.

Credit does have to be given elsewhere. Precious Achiuewa had 13 rebounds and two blocks and played with four fouls for the final five minutes of the game. D.J. Jeffries had a couple important drives down the stretch, including one where he found Damian Baugh for a three to give Memphis the lead back. Boogie Ellis was trapped in the corner in the backcourt with the Tigers up by two, less than 15 seconds on the clock and no timeouts left and found a way to get the ball out without committing a turnover.

This was very much a team effort, and an impressive one at that, but the catalysts were the two little guards that were relegated to Penny’s bench when he brought in a vaunted recruiting class.

3. TENNESSEE HAD SOME SERIOUS ISSUES ON THE OFFENSIVE END

The Vols shot 25 percent from the floor on Saturday. They were 4-for-26 from three. Josiah-Jordan James got off to a hot start to the game, but beyond that, their best offense ended up being post touches for Yves Pons and John Fulkerson.

The question that needs to be asked is whether this is just an off-night or if this is a sign of a larger issue for a program that is still working through how to replace Grant Williams, Jordan Bone and Admiral Schofield.

Lamonte Turner was 1-for-11 from the floor on Saturday and did not make his first shot until there were four minutes left. Jordan Bowden was 2-for-10 from the floor. That is not normal, and they missed a number of good, open looks. They are Rick Barnes’ two-leading scorers, so I tend to think that this is the kind of thing where you just chalk it up as one of those nights shots didn’t go down.

The larger concern might be that the last time Tennessee played a tough, athletic and defensive-minded team, Turner and Bowden combined to shooting 7-for-24 from the floor and 3-for-11 in a loss. If anything, I think the answer is that the Vols need to find a way to score on the nights where two are off.

Balanced effort leads No. 16 Michigan State past Oakland

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

DETROIT — Michigan State and Oakland have one of the most lopsided rivalries in college basketball. It also is one of the friendliest.

With Saturday’s 72-49 victory at Little Caesars Arena, Tom Izzo and the No. 16 Spartans (7-3) are now 18-0 against Greg Kampe’s Golden Grizzlies, with all 18 games coming in the last 21 years.

“I love this game, but there’s nothing I love about beating a team 18 straight times, especially when it means beating a good friend,” Izzo said. “It’s just so good to come down here, because we get a great crowd of Spartans who don’t usually get to see us play.

“And it is great to see what is happening in this city.”

For Kampe, who started his Oakland (5-6) career when the then-Pioneers were still in Division II, a victory over Michigan State remains one unchecked box on his coaching bucket list.

“I’m not trying to beat Tom — that’s not what these games are all about,” he said. “This is about Oakland trying to beat Michigan State — one of the best programs in the country.”

The game was a defensive struggle, with both teams having offensive troubles. Oakland’s size forced Michigan State into 33 3-point attempts, while the Golden Grizzlies tried and failed to score in the paint.

“Taking 33 3s is a joke, but most of those were because of the way Greg guarded us,” Izzo said. “It was a good idea, because Cassius (Winston) went 1-for-9 and Gabe (Brown) went 0-for-5. We’re not used to that.”

Aaron Henry put up 10 points and six assists but was the only Spartan to reach double figures. Xavier Tillman added nine points and 13 rebounds.

“I never thought I’d lead us with 10 points, but that’s just how it was today,” Henry said. “We couldn’t hit any shots.”

Xavier Hill-Mais led Oakland with 10 points. The Golden Grizzlies, who have come close to upsetting their in-state rivals in past years with a high-speed, 3-point-heavy offense, shot just 26%, including 31% (7-22) on 3-pointers.

“We expected to have two of the top shooters in the country coming back this year, but they didn’t, and they left when it was too late to replace them,” Kampe said. “We’re not a good shooting team and we’re going to have to find a way to win without threes.”

Michigan State took control early, using an 18-3 run to take a 24-9 lead with eight minutes left in the first half. The Spartans led 34-19 at halftime, holding the Golden Grizzlies to 23% shooting, including 1 of 6 on 3-pointers.

The Spartans made only 21% (3 of 14) of their 3s in the first half but hit a pair on their first two possessions of the second half to go up by 21.

Kampe picked up a technical foul with his team down 52-30 midway through the second half, and his team struggled to keep the game from getting out of hand down the stretch.

Izzo put son Steven into the game for the final moments, and he delighted the crowd with three rebounds.

“Those rebounds didn’t mean much in the context of the game, but it meant a lot to see how the fans reacted to them,” Izzo said. “Memories last a lifetime and those memories will last two lifetimes.”

BIG PICTURE

Spartans: Although Michigan State was cheered by most of the 18,145 fans, it was officially a road game for the Spartans. MSU will play Oakland for the next six seasons, with the game alternating between the Breslin Center in Lansing and Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

Golden Grizzlies: The first Michigan State-Oakland game opened the “O”-rena in Rochester in 1998, but the Spartans have never been back. All of Oakland’s subsequent “home” games have been hosted at the Palace of Auburn Hills or Little Caesars Arena.

A LOT OF COACHING EXPERIENCE

Kampe (36 seasons) and Izzo (25 seasons) have combined for 1,263 wins and 61 seasons in the only head coaching jobs they’ve ever held. Izzo, though, wasn’t thrilled when asked about the duo being at their schools for “70 years.”

“I shouldn’t even answer that question, because you made me absolutely terrible when you said I’d been here for 75 years,” he said. “We’ve extended the series contract for six more years, so I guess you’ll say we’ve been here for 90 years by then.”

KAMPE GRUDGINGLY PRAISES OFFICIALS

Oakland’s three post players — Hill-Mais, Daniel Oladapo and Brad Brechting — were a combined 8 of 34 from the floor. Kampe felt it was all due to the good officiating.

“The officials called a good, consistent game, which is what you want,” he said. “But they called a physical game, and we can’t beat that team in a physical game.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

A comfortable win on national television won’t hurt Michigan State’s No. 16 ranking, but Oakland isn’t a high-caliber opponent. The Spartans will be tested more on Wednesday when they face Northwestern on the road.

UP NEXT

Spartans: At Northwestern on Wednesday.

Golden Grizzlies: At Syracuse on Wednesday.

No. 1 Louisville bounces back 99-67 rout of Eastern Kentucky

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville rebounded from a lackluster defeat that will end its stay at No. 1 with the offensive patience and accuracy that fueled its rise to the top.

Jordan Nwora scored 26 points, Steven Enoch had a career-high 23 and the Cardinals shot 63% in both halves to blow out Eastern Kentucky 99-67 on Saturday.

After taking their first loss Tuesday against Texas Tech in the Jimmy V Classic behind 34% shooting, the Cardinals (10-1) responded with baskets from all over the floor. They made 17 of 27 from the field before and after halftime, including 9 of 19 from long range, to pull away from their in-state opponent.

That wasn’t easy against an EKU defense that consistently pressed the Cardinals.

“We wanted to make sure we didn’t just settle for the first shot or the quickest shot we could get,” Cardinals coach Chris Mack said. “We weren’t perfect, but thought we made some really good decisions.

Nwora had the hot hand throughout, making 6 of his first 8 to finish 10 of 14 and 3 of 5 from behind the arc. The junior forward certainly sought improvement after a 4-of-16 performance epitomized the Cardinals’ night against the Red Raiders in New York.

“My mindset was just being efficient, getting back in the gym and just continuing to get better,” said Nwora, who also had seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. “Games like that happen. You just have to move on to the next one.”

Enoch, meanwhile, made his first seven attempts to finish 9 of 10 and surpass his previous career best by a point. He was also 5 of 6 from the line, with his miss the only one by Louisville in 23 attempts.

Enoch also grabbed six rebounds as Louisville controlled the Colonels (3-7) 35-24 on the boards and 42-18 in the paint. Malik Williams made a pair of 3s for 11 points with six rebounds.

EKU began 7 of 13 from the field to stay close before several cold spells created a 20-point hole before halftime that steadily grew in the second half. The Ohio Valley Conference school shot just 37% — including 33% in the second half in losing their fifth straight.

Ty Taylor had 13 points, Tre King 12 and Jacquess Hobbs and Jomaru Brown nine each for EKU.

“They made shots and we didn’t shoot the ball well like we should have,” Hobbs said.

MILESTONE

Louisville senior forward Dwayne Sutton had 11 points to surpass 1,000 in his career between the Cardinals and UNC Asheville.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Though Louisville will fall from No. 1 come Monday, this win should minimize its drop in the Top 10.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels made nine 3-pointers, but those 18 misses along with struggles inside the arc led to Louisville scoring opportunities. Their trapping defense contributed to 16 turnovers, but their 14 miscues also led to 34 Cardinals points.

“We couldn’t capitalize off some turnovers we forced,” second-year coach A.W. Hamilton said. “We missed some shots we can make. They are hard because there is not a lot of room for error with them. If you make a couple of mistakes, they can go on a 10-0 run on you in a second.”

Louisville: After three games of 36% shooting or worse, the Cardinals got healthy against the Colonels. They worked the ball around for 22 assists, displayed better shot selection and went deep in their bench. They sometimes struggled against the trap, but figured it out often enough to get the ball in the hands of their top two scorers. Allowing 16 offensive rebounds concerned Mack, but his team handled the defensive boards 23-8.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: Visits Marshall on Thursday to complete a four-game road swing.

Louisville: Hosts Miami (Ohio) on Wednesday in its final game before Christmas and will have 10 days off before visiting rival No. 8 Kentucky.

No. 10 Oregon knocks off No. 5 Michigan in a thriller in Ann Arbor

Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Payton Pritchard scored 15 of the final 17 points for Oregon and Michigan missed two shots at the rim on the final possession of the game as the No. 10 Ducks held on to beat the No. 5 Wolverines in overtime, 71-70.

Pritchard shook off a slow start to the game before taking over down the stretch. He finished with 23 points, four assists and three steals on 11-for-19 shooting despite being defended by Zavier Simpson, one of the best in the country. One of the few times that Simpson was actually able to get a stop came on the final possession of regulation, when he knocked the ball loose before it ended up with Anthony Mathis. Mathis, who had 19 points and hit six threes on the night, buried a 30-footer, but after a review the officials determined the shot game just after the buzzer.

Franz Wagner led the way for Michigan with 21 points while Isaiah Livers scored all 13 of his points in the second half. Michigan was down by as many as 16 points in the first half and trailed 31-23 at the break.

Here are three things that we can take away from this game:

1. YOU CANNOT HAVE A PLAYER OF THE YEAR CONVERSATION WITHOUT PAYTON PRITCHARD

Pritchard did not put up monster numbers on Saturday. He finished with 23 points, four assists, three boards and three steals, which is really good but not the kind of performance that typically makes you get up out of your seat and start screaming “THAT IS YOUR NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR!”

But let’s put this into context.

Michigan’s Zavier Simpson is one of the best on-ball defenders in college basketball. There may not be anyone in the sport that is better at disrupting an offense at the point of attack that he is. And Pritchard just torched him over the final five minutes of regulation and in overtime.

Oregon’s offense down the stretch was, essentially, giving the ball to their star and getting out of the way, and it worked. Pritchard scored the final nine points in regulation for the Ducks, and if Anthony Mathis is able to get a buzzer-beating three off just a split-second earlier, than it would have been enough to give the Ducks a win. In the extra frame – playing in front of a raucous home environment as a short-handed team that just blew a 16 point lead – the Ducks probably weren’t considered the favorite.

But Pritchard scored six of Oregon’s eight points, and that was enough to get the win.

Entering Saturday, Pritchard was averaging 18.8 points, 6.1 assists and 4.2 boards for a team that now has wins over Memphis, Seton Hall, Houston and at Michigan. This is not the first time that he’s made big plays late to win a game (Memphis) or to get his team to overtime (Gonzaga). He’s going to be the guy that carries this Oregon team as far as they go, and given what he’s proven that he can do, I think that’ll be pretty far.

I’m not sure who the Player of the Year favorite would be as of today, but I know for a fact that there is no way to talk about who it should be without including Pritchard in that conversation.

2. FRANZ WAGNER AND BRANDON JOHNS SHOW UP FOR MICHIGAN

On a night where Zavier Simpson struggled, Jon Teske forgot to show up and Isaiah Livers was non-existent outside of a six-minute heater at the start of the second half, the Wolverines got massive production from a couple of guys that haven’t shown the ability to do it just yet.

Wagner was Michigan’s leading scorer on Saturday. He finished with 21 points, he hit four threes and he made a number of plays down the stretch that kept Michigan from getting run. This was the guy that the Wolverines thought they were getting when Wagner committed. He was terrific.

Johns’ numbers are not as impressive, but his impact was just as important. He finished with eight points, nine boards, two assists and two blocks – solid production from a five coming off the bench – but it was the fact that he allowed Michigan to play small without losing any of their defensive mettle. Johns is a former top 50 recruit, a burly, 6-foot-8 forward with tantalizing athleticism, but he has struggled finding the confidence to allow him to tap into that potential.

We’ve seen it in flashes. This was more than that.

If Wagner and Johns continue to play like this, then maybe Michigan won’t be so worried about No. 3 …

3. MICHIGAN WILL LIVE BY THE THREE AND DIE BY THE THREE ALL SEASON LONG

Heading into Saturday afternoon’s showdown with the Ducks, the Wolverines were shooting 42.3 percent from three in their eight wins and 6-for-37 from three in their two losses.

In the first half against Oregon, Michigan shot 2-for-12 from three, trailed by as many as 16 points and entered the second half with a 31-23 deficit at home. In the second half, the Wolverines were 7-for-9 from beyond the arc, came roaring back and, if they had been able to stop Pritchard in the final five minutes of regulation, would have won this game.

That’s more or less how this team is built.

Since so much of their offense is based on the ability of Zavier Simpson to make something happen out of ball-screens, when the guys on the perimeter are forcing defenses to pay attention to them – and punishing them when they don’t – the Wolverines are going to be that much better.

Rocket science, this is not.

USC receives notice of allegations from NCAA in federal corruption case

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
1 Comment

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California’s basketball program has received a notice of allegations from the NCAA following a federal investigation into corruption and bribery in the sport.

The school said in a statement Friday night it has “cooperated with the NCAA since it first became aware of the issues” raised in the notice, and it “looks forward to an expeditious resolution of this matter.”

The notice had been expected, but the NCAA’s timeline for ruling on USC’s case is uncertain. The NCAA opened similar cases against North Carolina State, Kansas, and Oklahoma State this year.

The university statement referred to a “former coach in the men’s basketball program,” which presumably is former assistant Tony Bland. He was fired by USC in January 2018. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery last January. As part of his plea, Bland acknowledged accepting a $4,100 bribe and received two years’ probation.

Bland said in court he received payments for directing USC players to retain the services of certain financial advisers and business managers.

Bland and nine others were arrested and faced charges of fraud and bribery following the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. USC and several other schools were caught up in the inquiry.