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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.

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.