The West Region has an intriguing draw with Gonzaga gaining the top seed and Michigan, a Final Four team from last season, getting the No. 2 seed. This region has some potential darkhorse Final Four team and some trendy potential upsets to keep an eye on during the first weekend.
The No. 1 seed is Gonzaga. Despite a loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC title game, the Bulldogs still earned a No. 1 seed out west as they face the play-in winner between No. 16 seeds Fairleigh Dickinson and Prairie View A&M.
It should be a matchup of a lot of length and athleticism when No. 8 seed Syracuse and No. 9 seed Baylor collide. The health of Orange star guard Tyus Battle (hip) and Bears senior guard Makai Mason (toe) could very well decide who advances in that one.
The best lead-guard matchup of the first round goes down in Hartford with No. 5 seed Marquette and All-American Markus Howard battling OVC champion and No. 12 seed Murray State and Ja Morant. The Golden Eagles struggled down the stretch in Big East play as they went from Final Four darkhorse into a potentially-popular first-round matchup.
A dangerousNo. 4 seed could be Florida State as the Seminoles just knocked off Virginia in the ACC tournament over the weekend. Coming off of an Elite Eight appearance last season, the Seminoles could be a sleeper Final Four team out of this region. The Seminoles collide with No. 13 seed Vermont, a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The America East champions had a beatdown of UMBC in the conference tournament title game.
After an impressive season in the MAC in which they became a consistent top-25 team, Buffalo gets a No. 6 seed. The Bulls could get a fascinating first-round matchup as they await the winner of the play-in game between No. 11 seeds Arizona State and St. John’s. If the Sun Devils advance past Dayton, it’ll be a matchup of Bobby Hurley-coached programs as he left Buffalo for Arizona State a few years ago.
TexasTech earned the No. 3 seed out of the Big 12 following an impressive regular-season title. Although the Red Raiders made the Elite Eight last season, the roster is almost entirely different from last season. But the Red Raiders have a star in Jarrett Culver and the nation’s best defense. Northern Kentucky, the No. 14 seed, draws Texas Tech after winning the Horizon League title.
Following a disappointing regular season, Nevada is a No. 7 seed facing No. 10 seed Florida. The Wolf Pack had preseason top-10 hype but failed to deliver results in the regular season behind a loaded roster that is mostly in-tact from last season’s Sweet 16 team. The Gators needed some late wins this season to get in — most notably over LSU in the SEC tournament. Florida is dangerous but extremely inconsistent.
Rounding out the West is No. 2 seed Michigan as the Wolverines attempt to return to the Final Four. Guard Charles Matthews recently returned from injury as Michigan appears to be near full-strength heading into the Big Dance. The Wolverines face No. 15 seed Montana to open things up as the Grizzlies represent the Big Sky.
Bubble Banter: It’s the final weekend of the regular season
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.
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.
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.
No. 6 Kentucky pulls away from Florida 66-57 in SEC finale
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Free throws seemed destined to be the saving grace for No. 6 Kentucky before it finally strung baskets together.
Tyler Herro made his share of both, and that combination was important in putting away Florida.
Herro scored 16 points and led a big second-half run that helped the Wildcats overcome the Gators 66-57 on Saturday.
The Wildcats (26-5, 15-3 Southeastern Conference) went back and forth with the Gators (17-14, 9-9) early in the second half and trailed 40-39 with 13:46 remaining.
Herro had six points during a 15-2 spree, hitting a couple of shots in the lane and adding two free throws, to give Kentucky a 54-42 advantage. The Wildcats capped the seven-minute burst by scoring 10 straight points.
“I saw some lanes going to the basket,” said Herro, who made 6 of 11 from the field.
Herro hit all four free throws as Kentucky made 26 of 32 from the line. Florida finished 6 for 11 on free throws.
“Me and PJ (Washington) ran a little two-man game when they went man to man. We had to take whatever they gave us, but once they went man I felt like I had some lanes to drive,” Herro said.
Added coach John Calipari, “Tyler made some unbelievable plays. We made some shots and again, we’re a good free throw shooting team.”
Washington added 15 points as Kentucky handed Florida its third consecutive loss. The Wildcats clinched the No. 2 seed for the SEC Tournament by virtue of its sweep of Auburn, which topped Tennessee earlier Saturday. It was regular-season wrapup for the Wildcats and Gators going into the SEC Tournament.
Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson each added 14 points, and Washington’s nine rebounds helped the Wildcats dominate the boards 39-23.
Kevarrius Hayes had 19 points and Jalen Hudson 13 for Florida, which overcame a nine-point first half deficit to lead 31-30 at the break. A 5:12 drought in the second half did in the Gators, who also made just 3 of 18 from long range.
“We just really struggled from the 3 and convert at the foul line,” Florida coach Mike White said.
Reid Travis missed his fifth consecutive game with a sprained right knee but was honored before his home finale with reserve guard Jonny David, who started and played the first couple of minutes.
Though Calipari wouldn’t speculate about Travis’ availability for the SEC Tournament, he didn’t sound worried.
“Here’s what good, it’s not an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament),” the coach said. “He sprained his knee. He’s going to be fine.”
Kentucky took a step toward getting back in the Top 5 with the win that took more work than expected.
Florida: The Gators held their own for a while in the second of consecutive games against Top 10 schools but couldn’t finish with a win. They committed just six turnovers, outscored Kentucky 32-22 in the paint and appeared to make the Wildcats play at their pace for a good stretch. They then went cold and weren’t able to recover in shooting 44 percent.
Kentucky: The Wildcats got through the home stretch 4-1 without Travis. But it required a wakeup call they survived by getting hot midway through the second half. They shot just 41 percent, but those made shots were huge in clinching the game and second place.
“We knew we had to pick up the intensity and make a statement coming into the second half,” Johnson said. “We need to get some separation.”
Florida will play Wednesday in the second round of the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
Kentucky plays in next Friday’s quarterfinal at the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
Here is everything you need to know when betting the biggest games this weekend.
As always, this is coming out before the Vegas lines for Saturday’s games, so we are using projections from KenPom, Torvik and Haslametrics to walk through how the game will play out.
No. 4 DUKE at No. 3 NORTH CAROLINA, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM PROJECTION: North Carolina 84, Duke 83
TORVIK PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Duke 85
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Duke 85
This game is going to be one that is difficult to project because we don’t have an absolute answer on Zion Williamson’s status as of this writing. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski hinted at the idea that he would not be playing after their 71-70 miracle win over Wake Forest in Cameron on Tuesday night, so I would guess that he will likely be out.
I also have no feel for what the line or the total is going to end up being because there is no way that Vegas is going to rely on the projections for this one. Put another way, if the line opens at North Carolina (-2), I will bet everything I own including the dog on the Tar Heels.
Remember, this is a North Carolina team that went into Cameron and beat the Blue Devils by 16 points when Zion Williamson wasn’t playing. This time, they will be playing at home with a chance to land a sweep over their archrivals with a share of the ACC title — or, if Virginia loses to Louisville earlier in the day, the outright ACC title — on the line.
PICKS: We have talked plenty about just how much Williamson’s absence affects Duke, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. Without him, they lose rim protection. They lose their best rebounder. They lose the guy that forces live-ball turnovers and pick-six layups. They lose the guy that they can put on Luke Maye and know that they’ll have him neutralized.
But beyond that, they lose a guy that can score in transition and a guy that can get them easy buckets on the offensive glass. North Carolina isn’t exactly known for being a defensive powerhouse, but they are 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency this season and Duke, as we know, can struggle to score when they are forced into the halfcourt and their shots aren’t falling.
Put another way, there is no chance that I am going to be on the Duke side of this bet. The question is just how high the line needs to be before I think the Tar Heels lose value, and for me, it’s probably right around (-9). I also want no part of betting the under here, but I would probably only consider the over if the total opens around the mid-150s.
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan State 70, Michigan 64
A rivalry game between two top ten teams with a Big Ten regular season title on the line. That sounds like a great way to end the final Saturday of the college hoops regular season.
The first time these two teams got together, Michigan State was playing just their second game after Nick Ward fractured a bone in his hand. We don’t have a definitive answer on Ward either way, and there was some speculation earlier this week that he might be ready to go, but for now I am going to operate with the mindset that he is not playing. The same can be said about Charles Matthews.
When these two teams squared off just 13 days ago, Michigan State changed the way that the defend ball-screens to tailor their defense to Michigan’s personnel: They went way under every ball-screen that Zavier Simpson was involved and, when it was Jon Teske setting those screens, they switch 1-to-5. The Wolverines haven’t played since Sunday, meaning that John Beilein will have had a full week to figure out a way to attack that defense.
I also think that it’s important to note that Zavier Simpson is as competitive as anyone in the country, and that he is not going to be happy about just how badly Cassius Winston cooked him when they played. Winston had 27 points and eight assists, and of the 57 possessions that Michigan State had before the Wolverines started fouling, 36 were a result of Winston ball-screens and another nine were run through Winston. He shoulders a massive load offensively, and Simpson is going to be the guy tasked with stopping him.
PICKS: This will likely be a stay-away from me, depending on what the lines opens at. I don’t want to bet on Michigan on the road, but I also don’t want to bet on Michigan State sweeping their archrival without three of their top seven or eight players. I fully expect this game to be close, so if the line gets to, say, Michigan (+5.5), I’ll buy the Wolverines.
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas Tech 72, Iowa State 67
These are two teams trending in very, very different directions.
Texas Tech has won eight in a row and ten of their last 11. They are currently tied for first in the Big 12 title race with Kansas State, and a win on Saturday afternoon would guarantee at least a share of — and possibly the outright — Big 12 regular season title. Iowa State, on the other hand, has lost two in a row and five of their last seven. They were blown out at Texas and at West Virginia in the last six days and they have lost three games in Hilton Coliseum this season.
The Red Raiders lost at home against the Cyclones earlier this year, but that was a different time and place for both of these teams. Texas Tech has been the best shooting team in the country over the course of the last six weeks, vaulting themselves from outside the top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency into the top 40. Iowa State, on the other hand, may or may not have had a fight in practice that may or may not have resulted in Marial Shayok possibly breaking a toe by kicking a door. He did not play against WVU. On Wednesday night, Talen Horton-Tucker and Michael Jacobson had a bit of a shoving match on the court in the second half.
It’s a mess in Ames right now.
PICKS: I’m going to be very interested to see where this line opens. up. The average of the projections is about Texas Tech (-2.5), and while this game is going to be played in Ames, I think that number will climb. Considering that the Red Raiders have won three straight road games by an average of 15 points and that they will be playing with the Big 12 title on the line, I’d probably take Tech up to about (-8). There’s only one side that I want to be on in this game.
OKLAHOMA at No. 18 KANSAS STATE, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas State 65, Oklahoma 59
TORVIK PROJECTION: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma 60
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma 61
The first thing to note here is that Kansas State is going to know what they are playing for. If Texas Tech wins, they will be playing for a share of the Big 12 title. If Texas Tech loses, they get to be the first team not named Kansas to win an outright Big 12 title since Oklahoma State in 2004. Either way, there is a ton of motivation here for K-State.
I also think it is worth noting that Oklahoma more or less punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament with a win over Kansas on Tuesday night. Now they are turning around and playing on the road against a team that beat them by 13 points in Norman.
PICKS: Oklahoma has finished the season strong after losing five straight in the middle of Big 12 play. They’ve won four of their last five games, and while their defense has regressed to the mean a little bit, they are still better on that end of the floor than they are offensively. I think they can make it interesting, and I think that brings the over into play.
But the best bet here is, I think, Kansas State (-5.5) or so. I’ll be a little bit worried if the line climbs past (-7.5) because, like I said, I can see Oklahoma hanging with the Wildcats.
That said, this game will be played on Senior Night in Bramlage Coliseum, which has been known as the Octagon of Doom. They will be playing for the right to either be co-Big 12 champs or outright Big 12 champs in the first year that Kansas has not one the league in 14 years. To get a sense of what that rivalry means to Kansas State, the Wildcat fans stormed the floor after beating Kansas earlier this year despite the fact that they were in first place in the Big 12 at the time.
That building will be rocking on Saturday.
No. 5 TENNESSEE at AUBURN, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 76, Auburn 75
TORVIK PROJECTION: Tennessee 77, Auburn 76
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 77, Auburn 75
Do you trust Tennessee’s defense? In the last two games, the Vols have put together their best two defensive performances of the season. They held Kentucky to 52 points and Mississippi State to 54 points. They’ve forced 17 turnovers in each of the last two games and held them to a combined 31 percent shooting from the floor and 25.7 percent shooting from three. Auburn, as we know, shoots a ton of threes, and the two biggest weaknesses the Vols have had defensively this season have been the defensive glass and running opponents off of the three-point line.
And that brings me to a larger point: The status of Austin Wiley. Wiley is a guy that might be able to play the role that Reid Travis did for Kentucky the first time the Vols and the Wildcats played, someone that can keep Tennessee from sealing in the paint and force Grant Williams out of the lane. He’s missed the last three games and has say eight of the last 14 in SEC play. There are only two high-major programs — Arkansas and Washington — that are worse on the defensive glass that Auburn, and Tennessee does have some guys that can create second chance points.
PICKS: Auburn is going to have a lot to play for here — they really don’t have many great wins — but I have a hard time seeing Tennessee losing. The Vols will be playing for an SEC title, and while LSU plays after them, the Tigers are playing Vanderbilt (0-17 in the SEC) at home. The Vols have to win, and rolling the way they are rolling, I can’t see them losing.
And the more I think about it, the more I like the under … despite the fact that I said the opposite on the podcast. (Whoops.) Tennessee’s defense is playing much better and so much of what Auburn does offensively comes off of their ability to force turnovers. They lead the nation in defensive turnover rate. Tennessee is 23rd nationally in offensive turnover rate.
No. 23 VILLANOVA at SETON HALL, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68
TORVIK PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68
Seton Hall more or less punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament on Wednesday night with a come-from-behind win over Marquette, and while they’ll still have something to play for — better seeding in the NCAA and Big East tournaments, senior night, etc. — Villanova will have a lot more on the line. The Wildcats are playing for the outright Big East regular season title. Win and they get it.
PICKS: I am probably staying away from this game. I have no interest in betting against Villanova to win a championship of any sort. I also have no interest in betting on Villanova to win on the road when they have lost their last four games on the road.
Houston picked off SMU on Thursday night, but Cincinnati could not fulfill their side of the bargain. The Bearcats lost at UCF, which means that the Cougars now hold a one game lead on Cincinnati. Instead of a game that is being played for the outright AAC regular season title, Cincinnati is hoping to earn a share of the crown.
PICKS: When it comes down to it, in a game like that, I tend to lean towards the home team. Unless Houston is getting three or four points, I’ll probably end up on Cincinnati.
FLORIDA at No. 6 KENTUCKY, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (CBS)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Kentucky 68, Florida 58
TORVIK PROJECTION: Kentucky 67, Florida 59
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kentucky 68, Florida 56
The is a must-win game for Florida, who has found a way to lose close quite a bit this season. They are 17-13, but thanks to the fact that they haven’t lost a game by more than 14 since Nov. 6th, they are still 30th in KenPom and 32nd in the NET.
PICKS: That is more or less where I am at with this game. Kentucky has struggled in the last weeks. Florida has lost two in a row, both at home, but they almost always play teams close.
Bubble Banter: Seton Hall’s huge win, devastating losses for N.C. State, Florida, Ohio State
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.
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.
Wednesday’s Things to Know: Seton Hall stuns Marquette; LSU beats Florida; Bubble brutality
Wednesday night was all about the bubble in college hoops as teams with shaky profiles were featured in most of the day’s important games. While one Big East team pulled off a win that could ultimately get them in on Selection Sunday, things weren’t so kind for most of the other teams on the bubble.
Seton Hall rallies to stun No. 16 Marquette
Wednesday’s most important win undoubtedly went to Seton Hall as the Pirates stormed back to stun No. 16 Marquette for a Big East home win. Closing the game on an 18-0 run while holding the Golden Eagles scoreless for the final 4:40, this is a massive bubble win for the Pirates — as they currently sit at “First Four In” status in our latest Bracketology. Myles Powell (34 points) went on a personal 10-0 run during that span, as the junior guard’s hot shooting helped propel Seton Hall to the victory.
The win was vital for Seton Hall’s at-large chances, but the major storyline here is that Marquette’s season is continuing to crumble before the postseason begins. In the driver’s seat for the Big East title less than two weeks ago, the Golden Eagles have now dropped three consecutive games — all in sloppy fashion — as they’ve been thoroughly outplayed in the final minutes against bubble teams in back-to-back games. Sam Hauser (25 points) was impressive during most of this one, but he didn’t get much consistent help. Markus Howard (six points), Sacar Amin (eight points) and Joey Hauser (four points) combined to go a forgettable 7-for-32 from the field as Marquette had 18 turnovers. Villanova now holds a one-game lead over Marquette entering the final game of Big East conference season this weekend.
No. 10 LSU outlasts Florida for OT road win
For the second time in as many meetings this season, LSU and Florida needed extra time as the Tigers prevailed this time in Gainesville with a 79-78 OT win. Maintaining its shared lead in the SEC with Tennessee, LSU stayed hot behind 19 points and a clutch game-tying bucket at the end of regulation by sophomore point guard Tremont Waters. The Tigers now have the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the upcoming SEC Tournament thanks to a head-to-head win over the Vols a few weeks back. As long as the Tigers take care of business at home against SEC bottom-feeder Vanderbilt they will gain at least a share of the league title.
Florida looked to be in solid NCAA tournament shape a week ago but back-to-back SEC losses could really hurt them come Selection Sunday. The Gators had a monster night from Jalen Hudson (33 points), but on the game’s final possession, the senior slipped and Florida didn’t get a shot off on a broken possession. Luckily for the Gators, they get another crack at a top-ten team this weekend when they head to Lexington to face Kentucky. Florida might need to win that game to feel comfortable heading into the NCAA tournament.
A brutal night for most of the bubble
Besides for Seton Hall’s big win over Marquette, Creighton and Clemson were the only two other bubble teams to earn wins on Wednesday night as both of them escaped with tight wins.
Things weren’t so kind for the rest of the teams on the bubble.
The Big East saw Providence fall to the Bluejays in OT, while Georgetown got absolutely smoked by a suddenly-dangerous DePaul squad. Across town from the Hoyas getting obliterated, Ohio State also suffered a blowout loss to a Northwestern team that has barely showed a pulse in months.
And the night’s worst bubble loss went to N.C. State as the Wolfpack allowed a game-winning dunk with 1.4 seconds left to fall to Georgia Tech at home. It’s been stressed here, and elsewhere, plenty of times before, but this is an atrocious year for the bubble.