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Big East Season Preview: Power Rankings, Preseason Awards and the year of the gunner

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2019-20 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big East Conference.


This will be the last season of the Big East in its reconstituted form since its basketball-focused members broke away in 2013 with Connecticut set to (re-)enter the conference next season. That should make the league stronger and deeper while adding to the east-coast membership that made the league great to begin with.

That’s all for next year, though.

This season, Villanova looks formidable once again, but not the heavy favorite it has been previously with Seton Hall and Xavier looking like real competitors while Marquette, Georgetown, Providence and Creighton all lurking threats.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Villanova isn’t going anywhere

The losses of Phil Booth and Eric Paschall are significant, but, when looking at recent Villanova history, it isn’t exactly the most daunting reloading task Jay Wright has faced and conquered, right? The Wildcats have the benefit of a solid core returning with point guard Collin Gillispie flanked by Saddiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree all back after helping Wright to another Big East title.

That group will be joined by a top-five recruiting class that may help create the separation Villanova will be looking for with a league trying once again to knock them off. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is a top-15 prospect in 2019, and the 6-foot-8 forward is already creating buzz around Philadelphia. Bryan Antoine is another five-star prospect, but the timing of his availability is in question. Justin Moore and Eric Dixon, a pair of four-stars, round out the class. Don’t forget about Brandon Slater, either. He’s a former top-50 prospect who didn’t see much time last year, but could see a bigger role this season.

The Wildcats may be more reliant on youth than Wright would like, but a legitimate experienced foundation should help augment that green talent.

2. Marquette went from national title contender to something else

Marquette is probably going to be fine this year. The Golden Eagles might even be pretty good. They won’t be, however, the top-five, national-title contending squad we all thought they’d be for the better part of a whole weekend back in April after Markus Howard announced he’d return to Milwaukee on a Friday and before Sam and Joey Hauser announced they were hightailing it out of there on Monday.

So Marquette isn’t going to be as good as we thought they might have a chance at being. Coach Steve Wojciechowski, though, does have a damn interesting group. Markus Howard already took a bazillion shots – making a nice percentage of them – so what happens without the Hausers? Utah State transfer Koby McEwen is a nice addition who should help offensively while Theo John and Sacar Anim are proven Big East contributors. Symir Torrence was a top-50 recruit in 2020 before reclassifying to join Marquette for this season.

Any team with Howard is going to be interesting – he’s incredibly fun to watch – and competitive, and Marquette certainly has more than just the 5-foot-11 dynamo. Wojo’s team doesn’t have the ceiling they had for those fleeting April hours, but they’re going to be a great overcoming adversity story.

Or a disappointing what-if.

(Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

3. Seton Hall brings everybody back

So there are two ways to look at Seton Hall.

The optimistic version goes like this: Coach Kevin Willard returns essentially his entire roster, including All-American candidate Myles Powell, from a 20-game winner that was a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament, and with the talent and cohesiveness that continuity brings, the Pirates should make a considerable jump, maybe to even something like a top-10 team.

The pessimistic version: Willard returns essentially his entire roster, including All-American candidate Myles Powell, from a 20-game winner that was a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament, and given most of those players are now upperclassmen, they’re already pretty close to their ceiling. They’ll be improved, sure, but expectations that they’ll take a giant leap are overly rosey.

The verdict: Powell is awesome, Willard can coach and the supporting cast is strong. Seton Hall will be legit.

4. Xavier looking to build on strong finish

Travis Steele’s tenure as Xavier’s coach began with a 3-8 Big East record. That first season finished with six wins in the last seven regular season games plus one win in each the Big East tourney and the NIT. The momentum continued into the offseason when Naji Marshall, Quentin Goodin, Tyrique Jones and Paul Scruggs all went through the predraft process only to ultimately decide to return to the Queen City and Steele’s program.

That gives Xavier the look of a true threat to the rest of the Big East. Adding Ohio transfer Jason Carter also allows for Marshall, who averaged 15 & 7 last year, to slide from power forward to the three, which is more his natural position. The Musketeers also added Western Michigan’s Bryce Moore for some backcourt depth.

5. The bottom could lag far behind the rest

Mustapha Heron and LJ. Figueroa are nice pieces for Mike Anderson as he takes over St. John’s after Chris Mullin’s misfire tenure in Queens, but they’re surrounded by mostly newcomers on the rest of the roster. DePaul lost its three leading scorers, but Charlie Moore is immediately eligible after stops at Cal and Kansas and Dave Leitao is bringing in a solid recruiting class. Still, it doesn’t look like a roster capable of inflicting a lot of fear in the conference. The Red Storm and Blue Demons looks destined for the last two spots in the standings by a significant margin.

The question will be does Butler join them or elevate into the world of NCAA tourney-hopefuls? Kamar Baldwin’s continued presence in Indianapolis weighs heavy in the Bulldogs’ favor, but how good is the supporting cast? There are some interesting options in Jordan Tucker, Aaron Thompson, Derrik Smits, Sean McDermott and Bryce Nze, but when you look around the rest of the league, does that measure up?

(Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Markus Howard, Marquette

This was an agonizing decision between two dynamic guards in Howard and Seton Hall’s Myles Powell. Both are, obviously, great college players who can absolutely fill it up. I was tempted to go with co-players of the year, but ties are boring and we all gotta pick a side, right? Howard gets the nod here with the slightest of edges. Both are extremely high-usage (Howard moreso) and pure shooters (Howard is great from 3; Powell nearer the basket), but Howard is a significantly more proficient distributor, with an assist rate of 27.2 last year compared to 18.4 for Powell.

Howard has an interesting season ahead of him with, crazy as it may be for a guy who took 38 percent of his team’s shots while he was on the floor in Big East play, perhaps an even bigger offensive burden with the transfer of the Hausers. How he navigates that will be the biggest determinant of where Marquette’s season goes.

THE REST OF THE BIG EAST FIRST TEAM

  • MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall: The best player on what may prove to be the Big East’s best team and maybe the best player in the league.
  • ALPHA DIALLO, Providence: A potential All-American candidate, Diallo is a major matchup problem.
  • NAJI MARSHALL, Xavier: The 6-foot-7 junior averaged 15 points and seven rebounds last year.
  • TY-SHON ALEXANDER, Creighton`: After averaging 15 points as a sophomore, Alexander is in line for a huge junior campaign.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • KAMAR BALDWIN, Butler
  • OMER YURTSEVEN, Georgetown
  • JAMES AKINJO, Georgetown
  • MUSTAPHA HERON, St. John’s
  • JEREMIAH ROBINSON-EARL, Villanova

BREAKOUT STAR: Saddiq Bey, Villanova

Jay Wright a top-10 recruiting class in 2018 with a five-star prospect, two four-stars and a three-star. That lowest-rated recruit, Saddiq Bey, turned in a wildly productive and important freshman season for the Wildcats as a 29-game starter. With Booth and Paschall vacating the lineup, Bey looks to step into a much larger role as a sophomore.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Is there one?

You would think DePaul would be seriously reconsidering its reunion with Dave Leitao, who has gone 48-72 overall and 16-56 in the Big East in his second stint in Chicago, but the Blue Demons are reportedly spending this fall in negotiations to extend him a few more years. So, apparently, DePaul is cool how Leitao is guiding the program, which has gone to two NCAA tourneys in the last 27 years. Get excited, Chicago.

The more interesting name to consider is Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski, who has gone to two NCAA tournaments in five seasons, but has yet to win a game there and saw last year’s team implode down the stretch before watching Sam and Joey Hauser, his second- and third-best players, walk in April. Marquette, though, seemingly decided to halt this discussion before it started with an extension through 2024 that looks to send a signal that they’re content with the trajectory on which Wojo has has the Golden Eagles pointed.

While obviously under no pressure for their job security, Butler’s LaVall Jordan and Xavier’s Travis Steele share a certain kind of pressure as the perception of both of their tenures will be heavily weighted by this season. Both took over for hugely successful coaches in programs both used to winning and producing some of the coaching profession’s elite practitioners, and neither did much to reinforce the legacy last year. Jordan and Steele are both well-regarded by their peers and have the pieces to have interesting teams this season.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

At least half of the conference makes the NCAA tournament cut, with maybe even a sixth and aspirationally a seventh also in the fold.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

Seeing Markus Howard shoot every shot. Then seeing Myles Powell try to match it. http://gty.im/1180316962

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • Dec. 21, Villanova vs. Kansas
  • Nov. 14, Seton Hall vs. Michigan State
  • Dec. 14, Georgetown vs. Syracuse
  • Dec. 17, Providence vs. Florida
  • Dec. 7, Xavier vs. Cincinnati
CINCINNATI, OH – FEBRUARY 13: Ty-Shon Alexander #5 of the Creighton Bluejays brings the ball up court during the game against the Xavier Musketeers at Cintas Center on February 13, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. VILLANOVA: The Wildcats have clear question marks, but it seems silly, especially after last season (or maybe the two national titles), to think Jay Wright can’t answer them well enough to get the most of his talent and the best of the league. Villanova will face real threats to the crown, but it’s experience, influx of talent and the man on the bench should be enough to finish on top.

2. SETON HALL: Myles Powell is going to start the season on some All-American lists, and the talent around him make the Pirates a preseason top-15 squad. They’ll likely have to at least live up to that billing if they’re going to have a shot at dethroning Villanova.

3. MARQUETTE: This might be too high for the Golden Eagles given the turmoil of the offseason, but there’s a lot more here than just Markus Howard after the Hauser brothers’ departures. Assuming Howard is as unassailable a scorer as he was last year – and maybe more so – Wojo might just have enough additional firepower to keep Marquette near the top of the league, if not the national polls.

4. CREIGHTON: Ty-Shon Alexander had a quietly fantastic sophomore season, and could be in line for a major breakout as a junior in Greg McDermott’s offense, which has been consistently really good even after his National Player of the Year son Doug’s departure from Omaha. If the defense can keep pace, the Bluejays could be in for quite a year.

5. XAVIER: The Musketeers looked primed to continue the trend line they started with strong finish to last season. Naji Marshall leads the group, and there’s more than enough around him to think that Xavier is back in the Big Dance after a one-year hiatus for a program not accustomed to spending March without an invite.

6. GEORGETOWN: Patrick Ewing appears to have his alma mater on the cusp of returning to, if not its former glory, the NCAA tournament. James Akinjo and Mac McClung were one of the more fun backcourts in the conference last year, and now their challenge is to go from entertaining to productive at a high level. The loss of Jessie Govan stings, but N.C. State transfer Omer Yurtseven could be an overall upgrade at center. The Hoyas also get Josh LeBlanc back after a solid freshman season.

Ewing has upgraded the roster in a hurry, and he’s finally upgraded the schedule as well, with a non-conference slate that will not only test his still-young Hoyas, but, if they can pull out a few of them, provide a serious tournament resume boost that could get them over the hump.

7. PROVIDENCE: We all know how good Alpha Diallo is and will be this year, but the Friars’ fortunes could hinge on Luwane Pipkins’ transition into the program after transferring from UMass. The 5-foot-11 grad transfer was high-scoring with a high assist rate for the Minutemen, which makes him a potentially huge asset for a team that struggled to score and take care of the ball last season. Providence might go only as far as Pipkins can take them – or at least as far as he can make everyone better.

8. BUTLER: Kamar Butler is one of the league’s best players, but against a deep and experienced league, that’s probably not going to be enough to get the Bulldogs far out of the cellar of the league. They’ll need someone to step into the void to make a serious play up the standings and into the NCAA tournament.

9. ST. JOHN’S: Mike Anderson is a fine coach. He had measurable success at Arkansas, but still got shown the door from a gig that should have been the perfect fit. So to expect instant – or medium- or long-term? – success with a fit that’s awkward or unorthodox seems ill-advised. Maybe he’ll get things moving there in a way that Chris Mullin couldn’t, but it’ll take some time. Inheriting Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa should at least help with the transition and keep the Red Storm out of the 10th spot.

10. DEPAUL: The Blue Demons have only avoided a last-place Big East finish once in Dave Leitao’s second go-round in Chicago, his first season of 2015-16, and are now under three years of NCAA probation (with Leitao getting a three-game suspension) for recruiting violations. So it’s not exactly going great for DePaul, though the Blue Demons have upgraded the talent level. We’ll see if it’s enough to lift them out of the cellar.

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

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

Some quick housekeeping before we dive into it:

  • This page will be updated throughout the weekend, so be sure to check back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the games get played. 
  • We’ll update them best that we can, but the NET rankings will be accurate through Friday morning. 
  • If you see something we missed, if you have an issue with a team we left out or if you want to congratulate us on a job well done, drop a comment below or hit us up here: @RobDauster and @phillipshoops.
  • The cut-off we will be using this year for teams that are “on the bubble” is the No. 9 seed line. If your favorite team is seeded as a No. 9 or better in our most recent bracket, they will not be discussed below. This does not mean that those teams are locks, but it means they need to do something dumb before they are in danger of missing out on the tournament. 
  • On Thursday, our Dave Ommen released an updated bracket, and these eight teams were placed in an 8-9 game: Wofford, Baylor, St. John’s, Ole Miss, Syracuse, Ohio State, Auburn and N.C. State.

Onto the weekend’s action.

WINNERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOSERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creighton, TCU place assistant coaches on leave for roles in college basketball corruption scandal

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Two more high-profile college basketball assistant coaches have been placed on administrative leave for their alleged involvement in the ongoing FBI college basketball corruption scandal.

On Friday, TCU announced it was placing assistant coach Corey Barker on administrative leave, while Creighton announced a similar move for assistant coach Preston Murphy.

Both men are accused of accepting a $6,000 bribe during meetings with Christian Dawkins, a former runner and aspiring sports agent, according to a new federal indictment filed on Thursday. No new charges were filed in the 31-page document, but the allegations are against NCAA rules.

The two coaches are accused of having separate meetings with Dawkins in July 2017 to help steer players to a new sports agency that Dawkins was hoping to start. An undercover law enforcement agent was responsible for the payment to both coaches.

Barker and Dawkins allegedly spoke over the phone and arranged a meeting between a TCU player likely to be drafted and Dawkins in the summer of 2017. Attempting to steer that unidentified TCU player in the direction of Dawkins for representation, Barker allegedly told Dawkins that signing the TCU player as a future client would be a “layup.”

Creighton and Murphy have been linked in the past during the recruitment of former McDonald’s All-American Brian Bowen Jr. — a player that Dawkins was connected to behind the scenes. In federal court in October, Brian Bowen Sr. testified that Dawkins helped broker an offer through Murphy where the Bowen family would receive $100,000 and two jobs if Bowen played at Creighton. Officials from Creighton have denied that claim.

Both Barker and Murphy have coached all season until being placed on leave on Friday.

Dawkins and former Adidas executive Merl Code were convicted of fraud charges during that initial October trial as they helped persuade Bowen to sign with Louisville. The two men also face bribery charges in a new federal trial set for April 22.

It’s unlikely that Barker and Murphy coach again this season, as both TCU and Creighton are fighting to get into the 2019 NCAA tournament. While losing an assistant coach isn’t usually seen as a detrimental loss to on-court performance, the looming case could be a major distraction for both programs.

Bubble Banter: Seton Hall’s huge win, devastating losses for N.C. State, Florida, Ohio State

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The latest NBC Sports bracket projection can be found here

WINNERS

SETON HALL (NET: 63, SOS: 38): The Pirates landed their fifth Q1 win of the season on Wednesday night, scoring the final 18 points as they found a way to beat Marquette (26) 73-64 at home. The win snaps a three-game losing streak for Seton Hall and puts them in a position where they can probably feel pretty good about their tournament chances regardless of what happens on Saturday against Villanova (25). Those losses to DePaul (105) and Saint Louis (110) at home are not pretty, but with a neutral court win over Kentucky (5) and a win at Maryland (28) to go along with the Marquette win, Kevin Willard probably needs to win just one more game to lock up a second straight tournament bid. How many teams with top five wins and double-digit victories against the top two quadrants are going to be left out of the field?

CREIGHTON (NET: 48, SOS: 15): The Big East’s bubble teams are just disgusting this season, and the Bluejays are hardly impressive. That said, they don’t have a bad loss this season, they are 3-10 against Q1 opponents — including a win at Marquette (26) — and their SOS is 13th while their non-conference SOS ranks 28th. Throw in a top 50 rating in the NET, and I think they are probably closer to the bubble than the likes of Providence, Georgetown, Butler and Xavier ever were.

CLEMSON (NET: 40, SOS: 33): Clemson survived at Notre Dame (104) on Wednesday, which keeps them in the NCAA tournament picture but will not be a difference-making win. The Tigers really needed to beat UNC (7) on Saturday. Or win one of the other half-dozen games that they have lost by one possession. As it stands, they have just a single Q1 win, which is not going to work with a 17-12 record overall. Beating Syracuse (42) this Saturday won’t do much to help. The Tigers are going to need to pick off one of the big boys in the ACC tournament to have a real chance to dance.

LOSERS

FLORIDA (NET: 34, SOS: 47): The Gators missed a golden opportunity to land a second win over LSU (13) this season, falling by one in overtime. Florida is now 17-14 on the season with a pair of Q3 losses — South Carolina (81) and Georgia (102) at home — and they still have to play at Kentucky (5) on Saturday. That is a massive, massive opportunity, one that could change where they play their postseason basketball, but how often is Florida going into Rupp Arena and winning?

OHIO STATE (NET: 43, SOS: 47): The Buckeyes are starting to crumble. They lost their second straight game on Wednesday night — this one at Northwestern (95) by 18 points — which is their fifth loss in the last seven games. The Buckeyes are now sitting at 18-12 on the season and 8-11 in the Big Ten with Wisconsin (15) coming to town on Sunday. In the two games since Kaleb Wesson was suspended, OSU has lost by a total of 53 points. With just four Q1 wins — the best being at Cincinnati (22) — and an 8-11 mark against the top two quadrants, OSU is getting themselves into a bad situation. I think they’re probably still on the right side of the bubble, but they need to turn this thing around.

N.C. STATE (NET: 31, SOS: 140): The Wolfpack took just a dreadful loss at home on Wednesday night, falling to Georgia Tech (130) at home. It’s the second Q3 loss for this team, which is the same number as their Q1 wins. The biggest issue here is that Kevin Keatts put together the second-worst non-conference schedule in the country. They played five home games against teams that rank outside the top 335 in the NET. They played nine home games against sub-200 competition. The committee has never looked kindly upon teams that are afraid to schedule, and without the quality wins, N.C. State is going to have some real work to do in the ACC tournament to make up the ground they need to dance.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 72, SOS: 239): The Hoyas had worked their way onto the bubble and then turned around and lost at DePaul (105) by 40. The Hoyas did beat Villanova (25) at home, and that is a good win, but it’s their only top 50 win to go along with a pair of Q3 losses and a non-conference SOS that ranks in the 230s.

PROVIDENCE (NET: 77, SOS: 50): The Friars are probably dead at this point. They are 4-8 against Q1 opponents with just one top 50 win — at Texas (35) — and a 16-14 record that includes a home loss to UMass (224). If we’re to the point where Providence is dancing, then it’s time to start letting the likes of Belmont in.

Monday’s Overreactions: P.J. Washington is Jordan Bone, Matt Painter Coach of the Year, Coby White’s week

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Coby White, North Carolina

He’s not the most consistent and he may not even be the best, but it’s becoming increasingly evident that the most dangerous player on the North Carolina roster is freshman point guard Coby White.

The 6-foot-5 White put together his best week of the season in UNC’s wins over Syracuse and at Clemson, as he averaged 31.0 points, 5.0 boards and 4.0 assists while shooting 60 percent from the floor and 12-for-22 (54.5%) from three. Included in there was a career-high 34 points in the win over the Orange.

What makes this notable is that White had struggled in UNC’s previous three games, totaling 29 points and 11 turnovers while shooting just 29.7 percent from the floor and 18.8 percent from three, but the Tar Heels went 3-0 in that stretch. They beat Duke by 16 points in Cameron Indoor Stadium on a night where White had one of his worst games in Chapel Hill. They beat Florida State by 18 when he struggled. They were able to do those things because Luke Maye, Cam Johnson and Nassir Little all played great at one point or another.

On the nights they struggled, White carried the load.

That’s a long-winded way of stating the obvious: North Carolina has a half-dozen ways they can win on any given night, and considering that their best player — a streaky, shoot-first, tough-shot making freshman lead guard — is inherently inconsistent, knowing they can win on the nights where White doesn’t show up really raises the floor of what this group can be.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: UCF Knights

UCF landed what may go down as a top five win on the season on Saturday when they went into Houston and knocked off the Cougars.

Houston, as of this very moment, is ranked 6th in the NET. Kentucky, Tennessee, Duke, Virginia and Gonzaga are ranked ahead of them. Combined, those teams have lost four home games. Throw in Duke’s 34 point win over Kentucky on a neutral floor, and those are the only wins that are going to look better to the selection committee on team sheets on Selection Sunday.

As we wrote on Saturday evening, that is the win that UCF needed to put themselves in the NCAA tournament.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

1. P.J. WASHINGTON IS TO KENTUCKY AS JORDAN BONE IS TO TENNESSEE

On Saturday, Tennessee smacked around Kentucky in Knoxville, getting revenge on the Wildcats for the beatdown they suffered in Rupp Arena just two weeks prior.

And while I know that this space is typically meant to be used as a place to house wild overreactions, I am finding it hard to say anything about this beyond the obvious: Kentucky is a really good basketball team that got whipped on the road by another really good basketball team, which is exactly the way that I feel about Tennessee.

If anything, the takeaway here should be that Tennessee needs Jordan Bone to be great if they are going to hit their ceiling, which is something I wrote about after that game ended.

But along those same lines, Kentucky needs P.J. Washington to be great if they are going to be great. The Wildcats leapt into the national consciousness as a top five team and a potential No. 1 seed right around the time that Washington’s 10-game stretch of utter dominance started, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that in the last two games — where Washington has averaged 11.0 points while shooting 4-13 from the floor — Kentucky has struggled.

Here’s to hoping we get a rubber match between these two teams in Nashville next week.

2. IF PURDUE WINS THE BIG TEN, MATT PAINTER SHOULD BE COACH OF THE YEAR

There are a number of guys out there that deserve to be in the mix for National Coach of the Year based on the way that their have performed this season. The job that Kelvin Sampson has done turning Houston into a top ten team is remarkable. Scott Drew has done a masterful job getting Baylor into the NCAA tournament picture despite the fact that he team has been decimated by injuries, and he might not even be the Big 12 Coach of the Year — Chris Beard and Bruce Weber would have a strong case if they end up snapping the Kansas streak for Big 12 titles. John Calipari has completely turned around this season for Kentucky. John Beilein should be in the mix, as should Nate Oats of Buffalo and Mike Young of Wofford. There is no shortage of nominees.

But for my money, if Matt Painter ends up winning the outright Big Ten title this season, then he will be my National Coach of the Year.

As it stands, Purdue sits all alone in first place in the Big Ten, the toughest conference in college basketball, according to KenPom, and a league where everyone has to play 20 league games. If Purdue wins at Minnesota and Northwestern this week, they’ll be outright champions despite the fact that there are two top ten teams in the conference, they lost four senior starters off of last year’s roster and that their supporting cast around Carsen Edwards is not all that impressive.

Ryan Cline is a shotmaker that can’t do all that much else. Nojel Eastern is a defender that can’t really make shots. Matt Haarms is fine. Grady Eifert is a good role player. Trevion Williams has emerged as a solid freshman, same with Aaron Wheeler, but we’re not exactly talking about Romeo Langford here. Evan Boudreaux is a transfer from Dartmouth.

And Purdue is now 14-2 in Big Ten games played in 2019.

That deserves all the recognition in the world.

For me, that would include National Coach of the Year.

3. BUT LET’S NOT FORGET LSU’S WILL WADE

The job that Will Wade has done this season is absolutely remarkable.

He has kept a team together that had a player murdered on the evening before the first practice of the season. He has managed to keep winning games despite the fact that he has a cloud hanging over him from the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball; he was subpoenaed to testify in court in April at the final trial for the people charged in this case.

And through all of that, LSU is currently two wins away from taking home at least a share of the SEC regular season title despite sharing a conference with a pair of top ten teams in Kentucky and Tennessee. Should I mention that they beat both of those teams in league play this year?

What that team has accomplished is amazing considering what those young men have gone through in the last five months.

Wade should get plenty of credit for that.

4. WHAT’S LESS LIKELY: A PAC-12 TEAM WINNING A TOURNAMENT GAME OR A BIG EAST TEAM GETTING OUT OF THE FIRST WEEKEND?

Washington, who was supposed to be the one team from the Pac-12 that might have a chance to make something happen in the NCAA tournament this season, lost at Cal on Thursday night.

Gross.

Marquette, who was supposed to be the one team from the Big East that had a chance to make a run to the Final Four in March, lost twice this week, blowing leads at Villanova and at home against Creighton.

Gross.

5. THERE WILL BE AT LEAST ONE BUBBLE TEAM SETTING A RECORD FOR FUTILITY

It’s baffling just how many mediocre to bad teams are still in the mix when it comes to the NCAA tournament.

Indiana is 15-14 this season, but as we detailed on Saturday, this is a program that very much has a resume that is strong enough to get into the NCAA tournament mix if they can finish the season strong. Creighton is 15-13 against Division I competition, and they are still in the bubble picture after beating Marquette on the road on Sunday evening. Arizona State has two Q3 and two Q4 losses. Texas has lost 13 games and they’re comfortably in the tournament right now. Florida and Alabama have lost 12 games apiece, and they’re likely going to be dancing. N.C. State played the second-worst non-conference schedule in the country, and they aren’t even in a play-in game in our most recent bracket update.

What we desperately need to happen is for all hell to break loose in certain one-bid leagues. Gonzaga has to get picked off by someone in the WCC tournament. Nevada and Utah State need to get beaten in the Mountain West tournament. Wofford needs to lose in the SoCon tournament. Buffalo needs to get upset in the MAC tournament. Murray State needs to pick off Belmont in the OVC tournament title game. And, as weird as this sounds, we need someone other than Washington and Arizona State to win the Pac-12 tournament.

If all of those things happen, we’re looking at six at-larges bids going up in smoke.

So let’s raise a glass to all those big thieves out there.

This is your year to shine.

Get it done and save us from a 15-loss at-large bid.

Bracketology: Race is on for No. 1 Seeds

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We’re just under two weeks away from this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Show, and the race is on for the coveted spots along the No. 1 seed line.

Gonzaga seems like a lock to lead the West Region.  At this point, a loss in the West Coast Conference tournament will do little to change the Zags’ overall profile.  What it would do, however, is send ripples along the bubble, because as we stand now, the WCC appears to be a one-bid league.

Tennessee earns the final No. 1 seed today.  Kentucky and North Carolina are equally strong contenders.  And let’s not sleep on Michigan if the Wolverines win their rematch against Michigan State and surge to a Big 10 tournament title.  We also have another matchup between Duke and UNC as we await news about the availability of Zion Williamson.

NBC Sports Top 25 | Bubble Watch

On a housekeeping note … with conference tournaments beginning this week, we’ve eliminated the CAPS referring to automatic bids; those will be reserved now as teams officially punch their tickets (exceptions made for teams traditionally known by their acronym – such as VCU).

UPDATED: March 4, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Temple vs. Seton Hall
WEST REGION Minnesota vs. Arizona State
EAST REGION Iona vs. Norfolk State
WEST REGION Prairie View vs. St. Francis (PA)

EAST Washington, DC   WEST – Anaheim        
Columbia Salt Lake City
1) Virginia 1) Gonzaga
16) Iona / Norfolk St 16) Prairie View / St. Francis
8) Auburn 8) Syracuse
9) St. John’s 9) VCU
San Jose Hartford
5) Mississippi State 5) Kansas State
12) Temple / Seton Hall 12) Minnesota / Arizona St
4) Kansas 4) Florida State
13) UC-Irvine 13) Vermont
Jacksonville Tulsa
6) Villanova 6) Nevada
11) Texas 11) Florida
3) LSU 3) Texas Tech
14) Yale 14) Texas State
Des Moines Des Moines
7) Buffalo 7) Louisville
10) Utah State 10) TCU
2) Michigan State 2) Michigan
15) Loyola-Chicago 15) Montana
MIDWEST – Kansas City SOUTH – Louisville
Columbus Columbia
1) Tennessee 1) Duke
16) Campbell 16) Sam Houston St
8) Washington 8) Baylor
9) Oklahoma 9) Ole Miss
San Jose Hartford
5) Virginia Tech 5) Maryland
12) Lipscomb 12) Belmont
4) Wisconsin 4) Marquette
13) New Mexico St 13) Old Dominion
Salt Lake City Tulsa
6) Iowa State 6) Cincinnati
11) Alabama 11) NC State
3) Houston 3) Purdue
14) South Dakota St 14) Hofstra
Jacksonville Columbus
7) Wofford 7) Iowa
10) Ohio State 10) UCF
2) North Carolina 2) Kentucky
15) Colgate 15) Wright State

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Florida Minnesota Georgetown Providence
Texas Arizona State Clemson Memphis
NC State Temple Furman UNC-Greensboro
Alabama Seton Hall Xavier Creighton

TOP SEED LINE: Virginia is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Gonzaga, Duke, and Tennessee

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (8): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Syracuse, NC State

Big 10 (8): PURDUE, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota

BIG 12 (8): TEXAS TECH, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas

SEC (8): TENNESSEE, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida, Alabama

Big East (4): MARQUETTE, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall

American (4): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple

Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State

Mountain West (2): NEVADA, Utah State

Southern (1): WOFFORD

Atlantic 10 (1): VCU

Mid American (1): BUFFALO

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Iona (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), Sam Houston State (SLND), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Campbell (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Colgate (PAT), St. Francis (PA) (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

Bracketing principles: read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com.