Bubble Watch: Who is still in danger of missing the NCAA tournament?

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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 watch.

The way that I see it, there are 37 teams that can now be considered locks to be an at-large bid. They are listed as ‘IN’ in the conference by conference breakdowns below. Those 37 teams come from eight conferences, which means that, at most, eight of those 37 teams will be automatic bids.

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Do the match, and that means that with the way things currently stand, there are 29 at-large locks, meaning that there are six available at-large bids to be earned and, by my count, 10 teams with a realistic shot of getting in. Then there are six more —  so 16 teams in total — that can either lock up or earn their at-large bid this week.

That’s how tight things are at the moment.

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

IN: Florida State, Duke, Louisville, Virginia

N.C. STATE (NET: 54, NBC: Play-in game): The Wolfpack picked up the win that they needed by beating Pitt (107) in the second round of the ACC tournament, setting them up for a date with Duke (6) and a chance to just about lock up their at-large bid. They have just four Quad 1 wins, and their 8-10 record against the top two Quads is nothing special. The good news is that Georgia Tech (72) is now a Quad 2 loss, meaning that the Wolfpack now have just the two Quad 3 losses. Their saving grace right now is that 22 point win over Duke in Raleigh, but the truth is that N.C. State is right on the cut-line. They are going to want to win a game in the ACC tournament, and potentially more, if they don’t want to sweat out Selection Sunday.


AMERICAN BUBBLE WATCH

IN: Houston

WICHITA STATE (NET: 41, NBC: First four out): The Shockers closed out the regular season with a win, picking off Tulsa (76) at home by 22 points. Wichita State is now 23-8 on the season, but they only have a pair of low-end Quad 1 road wins, Quad 2 wins over VCU (68) and Oklahoma (46) at home. They don’t have any truly terrible losses, but with just a single top 50 win on the season, I think the Shockers are going to have an uncomfortable Selection Sunday. The fact that they are 9-8 against the top two Quads without a bad loss — depending how you few Temple (116) on the road — is something of a saving grace at this point. I think they need to win a couple of games in the AAC tournament, but I do not see a way that they can get to Selection Sunday feeling comfortable because they cannot get a win against Houston until the title game. They will, however, get Cincinnati in the semifinals, which would likely be a play-in game.

CINCINNATI (NET: 51, NBC: 12): The Bearcats erased a big second half deficit and won on a tip-in at the buzzer at home against Temple (116) on Saturday, a bucket that saved their chances of actually getting into the NCAA tournament. Cincinnati has a pair of Quad 1 wins — Houston (20) at home and Wichita State (41) on the road — and a 9-6 record against the top two Quads. But they have also lost four Quad 3 games. Of note: They are listed as the American champions in Dave’s projection because he assumes the No. 1 seed is the champ until they get knocked out of their league tournament, but I think it is important to note here that both Cincinnati and Wichita State are right on the bubble cut-line. If things play out according to seed, they would get the Shockers in the semifinals. That would likely turn into a play-in game.

MEMPHIS (NET: 58, NBC: Next four out): Memphis lost at Houston (20) to close out the regular season, which means that the Tigers are going to have a lot of work to do in the AAC tournament if they want to be on the right side of the bubble on Selection Sunday. I think Memphis needs to win at least two games to really fell confident about a bid. They have three Quad 3 losses compared to just two Quad 1 wins. It’s doable, but they need to root for all the bubble teams ahead of them to lose.


ATLANTIC 10 BUBBLE WATCH

IN: Dayton

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 57, NBC: Next four out): The Rams avoided disaster when they beat UMass (136) by one on the road on Saturday. At this point, I do not see how the Rams can get an at-large bid without beating Dayton at some point during the Atlantic 10 tournament, but that won’t happen unless they play in the title game. On the other hand, it makes it more likely that they will not need to beat the Flyers in order to get it done.  They only have one Quad 1 win — at VCU (68) — and they also have a Quad 4 loss at Brown (224), and now that their NET is in the high-50s, they no longer have that to hang their hat on, either.

RICHMOND (NET: 38, NBC: First four out): The Spiders closed out their regular season with wins over Davidson (75) at home and at Duquesne (94). They are 3-4 against Quad 1 opponents With just a 6-6 record against the top two Quads. (It’s worth noting here that, as of this posting, Davidson is 75 in the NET. Richmond swept Davidson. The cut-off for Quad 1 road wins and Quad 2 home wins is 75. This is the problem with the sorting tools and relying only on the Quad 1 number. Davidson being ranked 75th and 76th is irrelevant in terms of how good they are, but it changes everything with Richmond’s profile.) They also have a Quad 3 loss, Richmond does not have any margin for error, not with so many teams on the bubble playing their win in over the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately for Richmond, they won’t play Dayton until the Atlantic 10 tournament title game, which eliminates their chance to land that elite win unless it earns them the automatic bid. On the other hand, it makes it more likely that they will not need to beat the Flyers in order to get it done.

SAINT LOUIS (NET: 49, NBC: Next four out): The Billikens are not that far away from the bubble after they won their last five games of the regular season. They are 2-5 against Quad 1 teams, 4-7 against the top two Quads and 15-8 against Quads 1-3. For comparison’s sake, Texas Tech is 10-13 against the top three Quads. Now, the difference is that Tech has some elite wins. Saint Louis won at Richmond (38) and at Rhode Island (57), but their wins over VCU (65) at home and at Kansas State (99) don’t look great. Throw in a Quad 3 loss to Duquesne (94) at home, and Saint Louis has some work to do. I think they need to beat Dayton in the semifinals to get in.


BIG 12 BUBBLE WATCH

IN: Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma

Texas Tech and Texas play each other in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament on Thursday, which essentially means that will be a play-in game.

TEXAS TECH (NET: 22, NBC: Play-in game): The Red Raiders could not find a way to get a win over Kansas (1) at home on Saturday afternoon, and that means that they are almost assuredly going to have a stressful Selection Sunday. Texas Tech is now 18-13 on the season, but they have just three Quad 1 wins. The win over Louisville (8) is going to hold up really well, and they did pick up a win over West Virginia (17) at home, but with just a 7-13 mark against the top two Quads, I think the Red Raiders are going to want to win at least one Big 12 tournament game. They are 10-13 against Quads 1-3, which is even more worrisome. It would be awfully surprising to see this group end up missing the NCAA tournament, but that might be where we are right now.

TEXAS (NET: 69, NBC: First four out): The Longhorns did all that work, winning five straight games to get themselves right into the middle of the bubble conversation, only to turnaround and get absolutely hammered by Oklahoma State (61) at home. It’s not the end of the world — it’s only a Quad 2 loss, after all — but Texas only has seven total Quad 1 and 2 wins. They do have five Quad 1 wins — including at Texas Tech (22) and Purdue (32) — but that probably won’t be enough. I think they need to win two games in the Big 12 tournament to really feel comfortable on Selection Sunday. One might get the job done, especially since they get Texas Tech in their opener.


BIG EAST BUBBLE WATCH

IN: Seton Hall, Villanova, Creighton, Butler, Providence, Marquette

XAVIER (NET: 45, NBC: Play-in game): The Musketeers lost the game that they couldn’t afford to lose, falling to DePaul in the first round of the Big East tournament, and suddenly this team looks like they are in some real trouble. Xavier has a weird resume. They are now 19-13 overall and 8-10 in the Big East, but they have just three Quad 1 wins and only one win over a top 35 team — at Seton Hall (15). They are 3-11 against Quad 1 opponents, but they make up for that with a 7-2 mark against Quad 2 teams, no bad losses and strong metrics. Their only loss to a sub-40 opponent came at Wake Forest (111). They are not in a comfortable spot.


BIG TEN BUBBLE WATCH

IN: Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Rutgers

Dave has Indiana as a No. 9 seed and Rutgers as the most comfortable No. 10 seed. For all intents and purposes, he is saying they are a lock. He is the best in the business at this, so I am going to listen to him. They are both in.


PAC-12 BUBBLE WATCH

IN: Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, USC, Arizona State

UCLA (NET: 76, NBC: 11): The Bruins are going to head into the Pac-12 tournament in something of a weird spot after losing at USC (43) at the buzzer on Saturday evening. The Bruins are now sitting at 18-12 on the season with a 12-6 record in the Pac-12 after a rough non-conference season. They have a brutal Quad 4 loss to Cal St. Fullerton (262) and a Quad 3 loss to Hofstra (118), but they also have six Quad 1 wins, including a sweep of Arizona (10) and Colorado (23), and a 9-10 record against the top two Quads. They should be in a good spot, but they are going to be one of the teams that will enter next week needing to win a game or two if they really want to feel good about their at-large chances. They’ll get the winner of Stanford and Cal in the quarterfinals.

STANFORD (NET: 30, NBC: Play-in game): The Cardinal missed on a massive opportunity to land a marquee win at Oregon (12) on Saturday, meaning they are heading into the Pac-12 tournament needing to add something to their resume. They are now 4-7 against Quad 1 opponents, 7-10 against the top two Quads. They also have a Quad 3 loss — at Cal (148) — to their name. It could be worse for Stanford, but I do believe they need to win at least one, and probably two, games in Las Vegas to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the bubble.


SEC BUBBLE WATCH

IN: Kentucky, Auburn, LSU, Florida

ARKANSAS (NET: 47, NBC: Off the bubble): Arkansas kept the dream alive with a win over Vanderbilt in the opening round of the SEC tournament. They have four Quad 1 wins, and while they don’t have any Quad 3 or 4 losses, they do have six Quad 2 losses. With just a 6-12 mark against the top two Quads, I can’t see Arkansas getting into the tournament without a pretty significant run in the SEC tournament. They get South Carolina today.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 50, NBC: Next four out): The Bulldogs kept the dream alive with a win over Ole Miss (86) in the last game of the regular season. They are currently sitting at 7-9 against the top two Quads with just two Quad 1 wins to go along with a pair of Quad 3 losses. The only team that they have beaten that is currently projected for the NCAA tournament is Florida (33).

TENNESSEE (NET: 63, NBC: Off the bubble): The Vols had some ground to make up heading into this game, and a chance to beat Auburn (35) at home was exactly what they needed to start doing that. But it didn’t work out that way. They lost by 22 points, and at this point I think Tennessee likely needs to either win the automatic bid from the SEC or make a deep run in the SEC tournament.


BUBBLE WATCH FOR EVERYONE ELSE

IN: San Diego State, BYU, Saint Mary’s

NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 36, NBC: First four out): Northern Iowa is in serious trouble now. The Panthers lost to Drake (167) by 21 points, and I’m not sure they did enough this season to be able to survive that loss. UNI has just one Quad 1 win — at Colorado (20) — and they beat South Carolina (63) on a neutral court, but they are 5-3 against the top two Quads. Now, after this loss, they have three Quad 3 losses. I want to see them get an at-large — every one of their non-Quad 1 losses is league game — but there isn’t much else here beyond simply having a 23-6 record. I want to see the Panthers get a shot in the tournament because I’ll always err on the side of the mid-major, but I think that’s a long shot.

The biggest issue is that they are going to be sitting around for a week, watching as the rest of the teams on the bubble go and take their shots at Quad 1 and 2 wins while avoiding the kind of bad loss that they took in their league tournament. We can argue about whether or not that is fair, but it is pointless at the end of the day. UNI probably has not done enough to get in.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.