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Best Bets: Previewing Friday’s conference tournament action

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OHIO STATE vs. No. 6 MICHIGAN STATE, 12:30 p.m. BTN

  • LINE: Michigan State (-11)
  • TOTAL: 135
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 73, Ohio State 62
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 74, Ohio State 63

Michigan State swept Ohio State in two games this season, winning by an average of 13.5 points, including an 86-77 win in Columbus. This game comes at a time when Michigan State is getting healthier — Kyle Aherns is still playing, Nick Ward is expected back on a limited basis — and when Ohio State lost six of their last eight regular season games. I’m not exactly sure what to make of the fact that the Buckeyes beat Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, but I’m not convinced that this means OSU is back to being the team that started the season 12-1 and climbed into the top 20 of the polls.

PICKS: I don’t have a great feel on this game and will probably stay away personally, but if I’m going to bet it’s going to be on Michigan State’s side. I just think this is a tough matchup for the Buckeyes given that Sparty has a pair of big guys that they can throw at Kaleb Wesson, and we all saw what happens to OSU when Wesson isn’t there. And don’t forget, Ohio State played yesterday at noon. Michigan State has not played since Saturday.

FLORIDA vs. No. 9 LSU, 1:00 p.m. ESPN

  • LINE: LSU (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 135.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: LSU 69, Florida State 66.5
  • KENPOM: LSU 70, Florida 67

The big issue with this game is that the status of some key people will be up in the air. Will Wade will likely not be coaching the team due to the reports that have come out regarding his ties to the FBI investigation into college basketball. Naz Reid seems like he is going to be good to go after missing the Vanderbilt game. Javonte Smart is the question mark. There’s a chance that LSU does decide to hold him out. There’s a chance they decide to let him play. If he does play, this is the same guy that put 29 points, five boards and five assists on Tennessee. He can play.

Regardless of his status, however, I like Florida (+2.5) here, and the reasoning is pretty simple: These two teams played twice during the regular season, splitting after Florida took the SEC regular season champs to overtime in both games. I also think that it is important to note that the Tigers will be playing without their coach in a fairly meaningless tournament having just come off the celebration of their league title. Florida, on the other hand, is playing for a bid to the tournament.

PICKS: I think you have to be on the Florida side here.

MEMPHIS vs. UCF, 2:00 p.m. ESPN2

  • LINE: UCF (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 147.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: UCF 75, Memphis 72.5
  • KENPOM: UCF 74, Memphis 73

It’s difficult, once we reach the point in the season where it becomes tournament time, to find spot plays. This, however, feels like a spot play. UCF is going to be in the NCAA tournament when the committee releases the bracket on Selection Sunday. They’re playing for seeding, and while I don’t know if it’s actually better to be a No. 8 seed than a No. 10 seed, that’s about the range that we are looking at for the Knights barring a massive run in Memphis.

The Tigers, however, are playing for their tournament lives. If they don’t win the automatic bid, they will not be dancing, which brings me to the next point — this tournament is in Memphis. The Tigers are 15-2 at home this season. One of those 15 home wins came against UCF, and it wasn’t close — the final score was 77-57. The Tigers also played the Knights tough in Orlando.

Should I mention that Memphis has won seven of their last night games?

PICKS: I will be on the Memphis moneyline here, especially if the odds keep creeping up. The line opened at UCF (-2) and moved to UCF (-2.5).

NEBRASKA vs. No. 19 WISCONSIN, 2:55 p.m. BTN

  • LINE: Wisconsin (-7.5)
  • TOTAL: 127
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Wisconsin 67.25, Nebraska 59.75
  • KENPOM: Wisconsin 66, Nebraska 60

All the signs here point to betting Wisconsin, right? Nebraska fell off a cliff at the end of the season, losing four of their last five, 11 of their last 14 and, during 10 week stretch, 13 out of 17. They have played two games in the last two days and advance to take on a Wisconsin team that beat they by 11 points in Lincoln earlier this year. The Badgers enter the Big Ten tournament having won three in a row, five of their last six and 11 of their last 14 games.

These two teams could not have been heading in more opposite directions heading to Chicago.

And then Nebraska turned into the team of destiny.

They beat Rutgers. They beat Maryland. They are a No. 13 seed in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, and if they happen to find a way to get a win over Wisconsin of Friday, they will not be that far out of the bubble picture. They have everything to play for and they’re doing it for a coach that could end up getting fired by the time the season is said and done.

PICKS: I think I’d probably take Nebraska here simply because I don’t have a lot of faith in Wisconsin’s ability to run someone off the floor. They are methodical, they are defensive-minded and their best player can’t make free throws.

And, when you think about it, if the Huskers are going to win the Big Ten tournament, they probably will have to cover to do it. Back on that Tim Miles bandwagon!

XAVIER vs. No. 25 VILLANOVA, 6:30 p.m. FS1

  • LINE: Villanova (-6.5)
  • TOTAL: 137.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Villanova 72, Xavier 65.5
  • KENPOM: Villanova 71, Xavier 65

Villanova won the Big East regular season title in the least memorable fashion. They lost five of their last eight games — all on the road — and took home the title because A) One of their three wins came against Marquette at home, and B) that Marquette win was the second in a four-game losing streak for the Golden Eagles.

Villanova is not the Villanova of the last five years. They are much younger, they are not as talented as they have been and they have not shot the ball well enough from three to justify just how many they have been taking. They were also beaten pretty soundly by Xavier on Feb. 24th, losing by 12 in a game where they couldn’t find a way to make anything down the stretch.

PICKS: I think I like the Xavier side here. The Musketeers have won seven of their last eight games. They have the versatility and the athleticism to be able to matchup with Villanova when they spread the floor. I know that it is blasphemy to pick Xavier when they play Villanova, but given how well Xavier has been playing and the fact that Villanova and Xavier both rank outside the top 300 in tempo, I have a feeling this one will be close.

No. 12 FLORIDA STATE vs. No. 2 VIRGINIA, 7:00 p.m. ESPN

  • LINE: Virginia (-9)
  • TOTAL: 125.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia 67.25, Florida State 58.25
  • KENPOM: Virginia 68, Florida State 59

This is one of my favorite games of the slate on Thursday.

For starters, I love Virginia (-9). The Cavaliers play Pack-Line, a defense built entirely around the idea that you take away access to the paint. No dribble penetration. No post touches. Nothing on the offensive glass. Virginia is going to make you beat them with jumpers over the top of their defense or by running offense that gets their defense moving. Florida State is not a great three-point shooting team, instead relying on getting offense from dribble penetration, post touches and the offensive glass. They don’t run complicated offense.

Simply put, this is a terrible matchup for the Seminoles. The first time they played, UVA led 65-36 with 2:30 left on the clock and the walk-ons checking into the game.

I’m also tempted by the over here. Virginia’s ruthless and unforgiving efficiency on the offensive end of the floor cannot be overstated. They’ve playing just as slow as they usually do, yet in the last five games, they’ve scored at least 73 points in all five while notching more than 60 possessions in just one.

The reason why I’m somewhat hesitant on the over is that I think Florida State — a top 15 defense in their own right — has the roster makeup to be able to matchup with Virginia’s versatility. I don’t think they’re going to stop Virginia, but I can see them holding the Wahoos to the low-to-mid 60s. If that’s the case, there’s no way they can cover the nine points and hit the over.

PICKS: Bet Virginia (-9). If you really need the action, bet the over, too, but I haven’t decided whether or not I will be betting it.

ALABAMA vs. No. 4 KENTUCKY, 7:00 p.m. SECN

  • LINE: Kentucky (-11.5)
  • TOTAL: 136.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kentucky 74, Alabama 62.5
  • KENPOM: Kentucky 74, Alabama 64

The line keeps climbing here. It opened at Kentucky (-10) and is already up to (-12) in some places, and I don’t love that. I think that the Crimson Tide actually match up fairly well with Kentucky, and there is more talent on that Alabama roster than you may realize.

That said, when Alabama beat Kentucky earlier this year, it came when the Wildcats still weren’t playing their best and on a night where Tevin Mack made six first half threes and P.J. Washington and Tyler Herro combined for 8-for-22 shooting. Plus, Kentucky will be getting Reid Travis back on Friday.

PICKS: I’m probably going to stay away from this game myself, but I do think that letting the spread continue to climb and then grabbing Alabama (+12.5) or so right at the tip is the play.

IOWA STATE vs. No. 15 KANSAS STATE, 7:00 p.m. ESPN2

  • LINE: Iowa State (-1.5)
  • TOTAL: 131
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Iowa State 66.25, Kansas State 64.75
  • KENPOM: Iowa State 66, Kansas State 65

Just how much do you trust Iowa State?

Because when it comes down to it, the Cyclones are the most talented team in the Big 12, but they lost three in a row, five of their last six and six of their last eight in the regular season because all of that talent struggled to figure out how they have to play in order to play together. There were some fights, there were some shoving matches during games, and then there was an 83-66 win over a good Baylor team in the quarterfinals.

Kansas State won a share of the Big 12 regular season title, but they are not the same team without Dean Wade, who is resting his bad foot for the NCAA tournament. They are still really good defensively, and the return of Cartier Diarra certainly does help mitigate some of the loss of Wade offensively.

PICKS: So do you trust Iowa State? If you do, I think this is a great spot for them against a team that they beat by 14 points on the road less than a month ago. Personally, if I take Kansas State, I’ll be taking the moneyline, but I think the side you want to be on here is Iowa State’s

No. 5 DUKE vs. No. 3 NORTH CAROLINA, 9:30 p.m. ESPN

  • LINE: Duke (-3)
  • TOTAL: 164
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Duke 83.5, North Carolina 80.5
  • KENPOM: Duke 83, UNC 81

Remember all of the anticipation and buildup that there was for Duke-North Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium a month ago?

Remember how excited we all were to see that game happen?

Zion Williamson eventually blew out his shoe and the Tar Heels ended up smacking around Duke in Cameron. Well, tonight, we finally get the matchup we have been waiting all season to see: A full strength Duke going up against a full strength North Carolina.

For my money, the easiest bet to make today is the over in this game — it’s still available at 162 in some spots. The process is pretty simple:

  • North Carolina plays at the fourth-fastest pace nationally. Their average length of possession is fifth-lowest in the country. They’re the No. 7 offense in America, according to KenPom.
  • Duke plays at the 15th-fastest pace nationally. Their average length of possession is 12th-lowest. They are the No. 6 offensive in America, according to KenPom, and all of those numbers took a dip in the six games that Zion Williamson was absent.
  • The first time they played, there were 87 possessions in a game where Duke’s game-plan included Williamson. The second time they played, there were 77 possessions in a game where UNC pulled away at the end and Duke did not have their best player.

I know the last two games both went under, and I’m actually happy about that. I think it kept the total lower.

PICKS: Other than the over, if you’re making me pick a side, I’d lean Duke. I’ve said all along that I think the Blue Devils are the best team in the country when they are at full strength, and I’m not about to back off that now.

MISSISSIPPI STATE vs. No. 8 TENNESSEE, 9:30 p.m. SECN

  • LINE: Tennessee (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 146.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Tennessee 76, Mississippi State 70.5
  • KENPOM: Tennessee 78, Mississippi State 73

This is another really simple read for me: Tennessee (-5.5). I just do not have all that much trust in Mississippi State as a basketball team, and despite the loss at Auburn last Saturday, I still think the Vols are one of the very best teams in the country. It’s worth noting here that the one time these two teams did play this season, Mississippi State lost 71-54 in Knoxville.

PICKS: Go Vols.

WEST VIRGINIA vs. No. 17 KANSAS, 9:30 p.m. ESPN2

  • LINE: Kansas (-10.5)
  • TOTAL: 147
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 78.75, West Virginia 68.25
  • KENPOM: Kansas 80, West Virginia 69

If we’re betting on Nebraska because they are the team of destiny, then we have to bet on West Virginia, too.

The Mountaineers have won two straight games to open Big 12 tournament play, becoming the first No. 10 seed to get to the semifinals in the history of the event. Bob Huggins has this group playing like Press Virginia again, and should I mention that they already own a win over the Jayhawks this season?

PICKS: The Team Of Destiny bet may not end up paying off, but when it comes down to it, I’m willing to wager on a pressing team playing against a backcourt of nothing but freshmen.

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.

Three Things To Know: Iowa comes back, Christian Braun arrives, three-bid ACC?

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It was a very slow night in the college basketball world, but there were three games that are relevant enough to talk about.

So let’s talk about them.

Here are the three things that you need to know about Monday’s college basketball action:

1. THE ACC GOT THAT MUCH CLOSER TO BEING A THREE-BID LEAGUE

On Monday morning, our Dave Ommen published his updated NCAA tournament bracket projection, and he had just four ACC teams in the field. One of those four teams was N.C. State, who was sitting in the play-in game prior to Monday night’s action.

So what did they do on Monday night?

They just lost at home to a North Carolina team that ranks outside the top 100 in the NET. Suddenly, 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 to go along with a pair of Quad 3 losses. They do have three Quad 1 wins, but two of those — Wisconsin (30) at home and UNCG (75) on the road — are the bottom of the cutoff for Quad 1 wins. Put another way, they are the worst possible Quad 1 wins, and that is something that will be discussed by the committee.

Ironically enough, I think this win was a sign that North Carolina might actually be the most likely CC team to give the league a fourth bid. Hear me out. The Tar Heels have ten losses on the season, but seven of those ten — including all of their bad losses — came without Cole Anthony on the roster. If he comes back healthy, that’s something that will be taken into consideration by the selection committee.

But more importantly, it feels like the Tar Heels are starting to play much better. Garrison Brooks has turned into a dominant force on the block, and he and Armando Bacot can do the things that Roy Williams wants his frontline to do. Brandon Robinson is playing much better despite being injured, while Leaky Black, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce and Andrew Platek have all seemed to figure out a role that they can be effective in. It reminds me a bit of what happened to Seton Hall when they were without Myles Powell. The supporting cast had to put on their big boy pants and find a way to win. It took UNC longer than it took Seton Hall, but I think they’re getting there now.

The problem that the Tar Heels faced early in the season was that defenses could throw everything at Cole Anthony because no one else on UNC was really a threat, and Anthony couldn’t give the ball up because, well, no one else was really a threat. If he has a supporting cast now, and he comes back as the player he was before he hurt his knee, then the Tar Heels will have a chance.

2. NO. 18 IOWA LANDS A COME FROM BEHIND WIN TO BEAT WISCONSIN

For 33 minutes, this looked like Wisconsin’s night, like the Badgers were going to go into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and make a statement with a road win against a ranked team in a league where those are few and far between.

That’s not what happened.

Iowa used a 21-2 run late in the second half to turn a 57-45 deficit into a 66-59 lead, holding on for a 68-62 home win that few saw coming. And to me, this is the kind of win that speaks to the change in what we have seen in the Iowa program this season. Fair or not, the reputation the Hawkeyes have had in the past is to start the year out well before collapsing late in the season. This is precisely the kind of game that they would lose in past seasons.

That’s not the way it worked out on Monday night.

With the win, Iowa moves to 15-5 on the season and remains a game out of first place in the Big Ten regular season standings. Luka Garza finished with 21 points, 18 boards and three blocks, continuing what has been a first-team All-American caliber season.

3. WHO SAW CHRISTIAN BRAUN COMING?

Christian Braun scored 16 points, hitting four threes on Monday night, and added nine boards as No. 3 Kansas routed Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Braun was moved into the starting lineup for the first time this season, and it paid off for Bill Self, who was forced to work around a roster that only had seven scholarship players available and lacked any kind of interior presence behind Udoka Azubuike. He’s earned the chance, too. This performance came just six days after he scored a career-high 20 points in a win over Kansas State in the Phog. For a team that has desperately been searching for consistent three-point shooting and a defensive presence on the perimeter, Braun checks a lot of boxes.

Sometimes you just need a guy that can go out and do a job for you, and that’s precisely what Braun has done. What will be interesting is to see where Self goes from here. When David McCormack gets back from his suspension on Saturday, will he return to the starting lineup?

Or did he cost himself his spot in the starting five when he decided to go into the stands during a fight?

UConn honors GiGi Bryant with jersey at Team USA scrimmage

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GiGi Bryant, the daughter of Kobe Bryant, already dreamed of playing for the UConn women’s basketball team.

She tragically passed away on Sunday, dying alongside her father in a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of nine people in Southern California.

On Monday night, the UConn women scrimmaged Team USA, and to honor GiGi, the team left a jersey for her on their bench:

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)