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Bubble Banter: Providence, Texas land massive wins

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There is plenty of action happening on the bracketology bubble watch despite it being a relatively slow night for college hoops.

Dave Ommen’s latest bracketology can be found here. Rob Dauster’s Bubble Watch can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

Here is everything you need to know to.

THE BUBBLE WATCH WINNERS

PROVIDENCE (NET: 50, NBC: Play-in game): The Friars landed their fifth win over a ranked team in the month of February on Saturday as they went into the Wells Fargo Center and knocked off Villanova (12). This comes on the heels of beating Marquette (24) at home, Georgetown (58) on the road, Seton Hall (13) at home, Creighton (8) at home and Butler (21) on the road. Those are six Quad 1 wins. The Friars have three Quad 3 losses and a Quad 4 loss, but they now have a total of eight Quad 1 wins and six wins over top 30 teams. A 17-12 record is not ideal, and they could very well end up with 13 or 14 losses on Selection Sunday, but I think that Providence has to be in the tournament at this point. What a month for Ed Cooley.

TEXAS (NET: 64, NBC: Next four out): The Longhorns may have just played their way into the NCAA tournament. On Saturday, Shaka Smart took down the man that everyone is trying to fire him for as he led the Longhorns into Lubbock to take down Texas Tech (20). Five days ago, Texas took down West Virginia (17) at home. Those are the two best wins that the Longhorns have landed this season. As it stands, the Longhorns are sitting at 18-11 overall and 8-8 in the Big 12. They have four Quad 1 wins and a 6-11 mark against the top two Quads without a bad loss to their name. If they can get two more wins this season — they have at Oklahoma (49), Oklahoma State (70) and the Big 12 tournament left — I think they will be dancing. What a turnaround.

UCLA (NET: 76, NBC: Play-in game): UCLA picked up another enormous win on Saturday, as they beat Arizona (12) at home to move them into — get this — sole possession of first place in the Pac-12. Yes, UCLA has lost 11 games and yes, the Bruins have lost to Hofstra (122) and Cal St. Fullerton (267) at home. But they have now won seven straight games. They’ve won 11 of their last 13 games. They have swept Arizona and Colorado (22). They have six Quad 1 wins and a 9-9 record against the top two Quads. With a trip to USC (45) to close out the regular season, I think all the Bruins need to do is win one more game before Selection Sunday and they will be dancing. Incredible turnaround.

OKLAHOMA (NET: 49, NBC: 10): The Sooners are a step closer to punching their ticket to the NCAA tournament after winning at West Virginia (17) on Saturday. They now have five Quad 1 wins and a 10-11 record against the top two Quads. They’ve swept the Mountaineers and beaten Texas Tech (20) at home, and they don’t have anything below a Quad 2 loss. More importantly, this is the third road win on the year for Oklahoma. With two very winnable games left — Texas (94) and at TCU (96) — Oklahoma is right where they need to be.

N.C. STATE (NET: 57, NBC: First four out): The Wolfpack avoided disaster on Saturday, as they overcame a slow start and took down Pitt (112) at home. That would have been a Quad 3 loss for a team that is already sitting with three Quad 3 losses as well as four more losses to sub-70 teams on the road. That’s not good. But they beat Duke (6) by 22 points in Raleigh, which is just one of their five Quad 1 wins. They are 8-8 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents on the season. It’s worth noting that Markell Johnson, N.C. State’s best player, did not play in one of the three Quad 3 losses — Georgia Tech (78) — so that will be something to monitor for the Selection Committee.

USC (NET: 44, NBC: 10): The Trojans bounced back from a bad weekend in the mountains to knock off both Arizona (11) and Arizona State (44) this weekend. USC is now 21-9 on the year with a visit from UCLA (76) coming up next Saturday to close out the regular season. With four Quad 1 wins and a 10-8 mark against the top two Quads, USC is in a really good spot right now. I do think that they still have some work to do, however. They already have a Quad 3 loss this season, and given where UCLA (76) is currently sitting in the NET, losing to the Bruins at home would go down as a bad loss. Combine that with something silly in the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament, and USC could find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble. That said, I think all it will take is one more win to get the job done.

MEMPHIS (NET: 62, NBC: Next four out): Memphis needed OT to get it done, but the Tigers knocked off Tulane (174) in New Orleans to get to 20 wins on the season. The Tigers still have just two Quad 1 wins compared to three Quad 3 losses, and they are still playing without D.J. Jeffries, but they have a chance because they end their season like this: Wichita State (48), at Houston (23). If they can win those two games and avoid taking a bad loss in the AAC tournament, then Memphis very well might hear their names called on Selection Sunday.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 39, NBC: 11): The Buccaneers survived Western Carolina (143) on Saturday and will now head into the SoCon tournament as regular season champs with a 24-4 record. They have a win at UNCG (73) and a win at LSU (33), but they do have an ugly Quad 4 loss to Mercer (197) at home. That is the killer. The Buccaneers can only lose to UNCG or Furman (66) in the SoCon tournament to have a chance, and even that might be a bit of a longshot.

NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 43, NBC: 11): Northern Iowa took care of business at Drake (164), winning the Missouri Valley regular season title. UNI has a win at Colorado (22) and they beat South Carolina (64) on a neutral court, but they are 5-3 against the top two Quads with a pair of Quad 3 losses. I want to see them get an at-large — every one of their non-Quad 1 losses is a road game in league play — but I’m not sure they have done enough to beat out some of these power conference teams. My advice: win the auto-bid and make it easy on yourself.

RICHMOND (NET: 51, NBC: First four out): The Spiders avoided disaster by blowing out UMass (141) on Saturday. The Spiders only have one truly terrible loss to their name — Radford (162) got them on a neutral court — but with only three Quad 1 wins and a 4-6 record against the top two Quads, their margin for error is completely gone. I don’t think they can afford a loss to either Davidson (74) at home or at Duquesne (91).

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 54, NBC: First four out): The Bulldogs picked up a win at Missouri (88) on Saturday, which is not inconsequential. That’s a Quad 2 win, the fifth that Mississippi State has earned this season. They have a pair of Quad 1 wins and a 7-8 mark against the top two Quads, but with a pair of Quad 3 losses and exactly zero wins against top 30 opponents, the Bulldogs still have some work to do. The biggest issue right now is that Mississippi State doesn’t have a top 60 opponent left on their schedule during the regular season. They’re likely going to have some work to do in the SEC tournament.

… AND LOSERS

ARKANSAS (NET: 41, NBC: Next four out): The Razorbacks’ NCAA tournament hopes took a significant blow on Saturday, as they fell at Georgia (90). Arkansas is now 18-11 on the season with just a 6-10 record in the SEC. They have a pair of Quad 1 wins and a 5-10 mark against the top two Quads, but the more important record is this: They are now 17-5 on the season with a healthy Isaiah Joe. It will be very interesting to see how the selection committee handles Arkansas.

SOUTH CAROLINA (NET: 64, NBC: Next four out): This might be the end for South Carolina. The Gamecocks lost at Alabama (39) on Saturday, and while that is hardly a bad loss, it is the last Quad 1 opportunity on the schedule. Beating Mississippi State (54) at home or Vanderbilt (156) on the road isn’t going to change much. The Gamecocks are in trouble.

UTAH STATE (NET: 38, NBC: 11): Utah State took a loss that they could not afford to close out the regular season on Saturday night. They lost at New Mexico (158), their second Quad 3 loss of the season. That, in and of itself, is not a killer, but the fact that the Aggies have not beaten a top 30 team this season and only have two top 85 wins — Florida (32) and LSU (33) on neutral courts — is a bigger issue. At this point, I think that Utah State probably wants to win the Mountain West tournament if they want to feel good about where they are sitting on Selection Sunday.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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

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

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

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

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

Butler is the key.

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

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

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He needs security.

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

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

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

I don’t get it.

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

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

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