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Big East Offseason Reset: Will Villanova’s supremacy be challenged again?

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The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking Big East.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

HOW REAL IS THE COMPETITION AT THE TOP?: Villanova has won all but one regular season championship since the Big East went to 10 teams and the Wildcats will be favored again this year, but there does appear to be some serious challengers to their crown. The Wildcats have established themselves as one of the country’s premier programs with national titles in 2016 and 2018, and they’ve shown themselves more than capable of reloading when key players from hugely successful teams move on. Last year wasn’t a NCAA championship season, but it was still a winner and Jay Wright has to replace Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. He seems well positioned to do that with a number of returners and a top-tier recruiting class.

Still, Wright and the Wildcats aren’t going to waltz to a Big East title. Seton Hall looks to be extremely formidable with a strong group of returners, headlined by Myles Powell, with talent and experience. Xavier should be improved in Year 2 under Travis Steele while Creighton is an intriguing team. Villanova is the favorite, but its lead on the rest of the pack isn’t extensive.

Joey and Sam Hauser (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

HOW WILL MARQUETTE ABSORB THE LOSS OF THE HAUSER BROTHERS?: We had the Golden Eagles ranked fourth in our preseason rankings after Markus Howard returned to school, but when the shocking decision came from Sam and Joey Hauser to transfer out of Milwaukee, Steve Wojciechowski’s program slid all the way out of our top-25. In one fell swoop, Marquette went from legitimate title contender to perhaps a bubble team. It was, simply, a crushing blow.

The good news for the Golden Eagles is that Markus Howard eschewed the opportunity to go pro in order to return for his senior season, and he’ll be all over preseason All-American lists as one of the country’s best scorers. His presence alone makes Marquette both entertaining and interesting heading into next season, but will there be enough around him avoid a missed NCAA tournament for the fourth time in six years under Wojo?

WHAT WILL THE EVENTUAL ADDITION OF UCONN MEAN?: In a league where there’s been plenty of jockeying for position behind Villanova, the addition of Connecticut to the league – whenever it comes – is going to throw a lot of that into flux. The Huskies have taken a major hit since that 2014 title – their first year in the AAC – and a return to a more natural fit of a conference which emphasizes basketball under the leadership of Dan Hurley might be the catalyst needed to return the program to the heights it enjoyed over the previous two decades when national championships were the goal.

If that’s the case, the pecking order of the league is going to be an even tougher competition than it already is. If UConn is a winner in this move – and it’s hard to see how the Huskies aren’t – it wouldn’t be surprising to see there be a loser in the Big East. Does UConn coming back stifle Georgetown’s rebuild? Do things get tougher for Seton Hall or Providence? Honestly, Villanova might be the only program who isn’t, to some degree, threatened by the Huskies’ move back. Of course, UConn’s return to glory isn’t guaranteed by their return to the Big East, but how things all unwind will be fascinating to watch.

DOES PATRICK EWING’S GEORGETOWN RENAISSANCE CONTINUE?: The Hoyas got over the .500 hump in Patrick Ewing’s second season back at his alma mater in D.C., and they were sneakily one of the more entertaining teams (Non-Contender Category). James Akinjo and Mac McClung are a ton of fun as a freshman backcourt with energy and highlight-reel plays to spare. Still, the Hoyas took a step in the right direction with senior center Jessie Govan in the middle, and his departure will be a bigger burden on that young backcourt. There are reinforcements coming, however, with 7-footer Omer Yurtseven eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from NC State. There are some intriguing pieces here, and the Hoyas’ trajectory will be something to keep an eye on in Year 3 on the Ewing Era.

WHICH WAS DOES DEPAUL GO?: The first three years of Dave Leitao’s second stint with the Blue Demons were pretty devoid of success, with the program going 29-65 overall and 9-45 in the Big East, but there was progress last year as DePaul posted a 19-17 record with a mark of 7-11 in the conference. The question is, with a senior-heavy roster, was that the turning point or the pinnacle? If the Blue Demons can’t sustain that moderate level of success, Leitao may be leaving Chicago for the second time but without the promotion on this go-round.

IS XAVIER POISED FOR A JUMP?: A six-game losing streak last winter put the Musketeers at 3-8 in the Big East, leaving first-year coach Travis Steele in a tough spot as he tried to continue the success of now-Louisville coach Chris Mack. Xavier and Steele righted the ship, winning six of seven to finish the regular season and then advancing to the second round of the NIT where they lost in overtime in Austin to Texas. Ryan Welage and Zach Hankins are now gone, but but the core of Quentin Goodin, Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs  and Tyrique Jones welcoming a top-25 recruiting class, Xavier looks to be on solid footing.

Naji Marshall (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE

  • SAM and JOEY HAUSER, Marquette: It was one of the most surprising moves of the offseason, with the Wisconsin natives bolting to Virginia and Michigan State, respectively, and leaving the Golden Eagles behind. The Golden Eagles looked like title contenders with the brothers, but without them, the ceiling lowered considerably in Milwaukee.
  • ERIC PASCHALL, PHIL BOOTH and JAHVON QUINERLY, Villanova: The Wildcats lost a pair of mainstays in Paschall and Booth to graduation while the unremarkable Villanova career of Quinerly ended after one season with a transfer to Alabama.
  • MICHAEL NZEI, Seton Hall: The Pirates have a loaded squad this season, though it doesn’t include the forward who was a four-year stalwart.
  • RYAN WELAGE and ZACH HANKINS, Xavier: The Musketeers return quite a bit in 2019-20, but these two seniors will leave a void that will need to be filled.
  • SAM FROLING, MARTIN KRAMPELJ and KALEB JOSEPH, Creighton: A trio that didn’t provide a lot of punch in 2018-19 for the Blue Jays.
  • JESSIE GOVAN, Georgetown: Patrick Ewing has a promising young roster, but it was Govan that provided the most production last season that will have to be replaced with his eligibility exhausted.
  • SHAMORIE PONDS and CHRIS MULLIN, St. John’s: Ponds was one of the more electric players in the conference last year, and his absence will be felt considerably. The bigger departure, though, was Mullin’s abrupt resignation after St. John’s saying he would return for a fifth season at his alma mater after four years in which mediocrity was the highwater mark. Mike Anderson takes over in NYC to try to succeed where Mullin failed.
  • MAX STRUS, DePaul: The Blue Demons had their best season in Dave Leitao’s return to Chicago, but building on it will require keeping momentum without their best player, who was lost to graduation.
  • JOEY BRUNK, Butler: Brunk shot 62 percent from the floor as a sophomore, but the 6-foot-11 center decided to leave the Bulldogs program this offseason, making an intrastate move to Indiana and  the Big Ten.

WHO’S BACK

  • COLLIN GILLISPIE, SADDIQ BEY and JERMAINE SAMUELS, Villanova: A talented and experienced group, but one that will have to excel in expanded roles for the Wildcats.
  • MYLES POWELL, QUINCY MCKNIGHT, MYLES CALE, SANDRO MAMUKELASHVII and IKEY OBIAGU, Seton Hall: Kevin Willard’s program’s hopes of unseating Villanova will rest squarely on the shoulders of his returners.
  • QUENTIN GOODIN, PAUL SCRUGGS, NAJI MARSHALL and TYRIQUE JONES, Xavier: The Musketeers have a strong 2019 recruiting class that will help this season, but the strength of the team is here.
  • DAVION MINTZ, TY-SHON ALEXANDER, MITCHELL BALLOCK and JACOB EPPERSON, Creighton: Greg McDermott’s group might not have a ton of star power, but it is a talented and experienced group that should make some noise.
  • KAMAR BALDWIN, Buter: The Bulldog doesn’t get the same recognition as Howard or Powell, but he’s a dynamic scorer who will be one of the league’s best offensive players.
  • ALPHA DIALLO, Providence: The 6-foot-7 guard averaged 16 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last year, and he’ll be a conference player of the year contender this season.

WHO’S COMING

  • JEREMIAH ROBINSON-EARL, JUSTIN MOORE, ERIC DIXON and BRYAN ANTOINE, Villanova: Jay Wright welcomes a top-five recruiting class to Philly, and the Wildcat machine looks to keep on moving despite another year of significant losses.
  • ROMEO WEEMS, DePaul: A 6-foot-7 top-65 recreuit, Weems picked DePaul over a number of heavy-hitters, giving some hope to a Chicago revival.
  • LUWANE PIPKINS and GREG GANTT, Providence: Pipkins led UMass in scoring last season before grad-transferring while Gantt is a four-star recruit.
  • JAYCE JOHNSON and SYMIR TORRENCE, Marquette: Johnson, a 7-footer, put up 7 points and 7 rebounds while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field for Utah last year. Torrence, a four-star recruit, picked the Golden Eagles over the likes of Butler and Cincinnati.
  • JASON CARTER, Xavier: The Ohio transfer has two years of eligibility after averaging 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds for the Bobcats.
  • OMER YURTSEVEN and TERRELL ALLEN, Georgetown: Yurtseven is one of the country’s most high-profile transfers while Allen is a grad-transfer from UCF who averaged 6.7 points last year.
  • DERRIK SMITS, Butler: The son of former NBA star Rik, Smits comes to Butler from Valpo after picking the Bulldogs over NC State and Arizona State.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-BIG EAST TEAM

MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette (Preseason Player of the Year)
MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall
KAMAR BALDWIN, Butler
ALPHA DIALLO, Providence
NAJI MARSHALL, Xavier

Markus Howard and Myles Powell (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. Villanova: It would be silly to bet against Jay Wright’s program at this point, but the Wildcats have more than a name and pedigree this season. They’re loaded with talent and experience with a great recruiting class. They’re not in the top-tier of national title contenders this preseason, but they’re not far behind, either.

2. Seton Hall: The distance between Villanova and the Pirates is relatively narrow, with Seton Hall returning a ton of talent from last year’s NCAA tournament 10-seed. Myles Powell is a difference-maker on both ends, and it’s far from a one-man squad. This group will have to improve, but it’s got the profile of a team that’s capable of making a significant leap.

3. Xavier: The Musketeers aren’t all that different than Seton Hall, with talented returners from a good team needing who fit the bill of a team on the rise. It’s easier said than done, and they’ll have to deal with increased expectations, but this team has the chops to be the best in the conference if things break their way.

4. Creighton: This is a team that will be knocking on the door of preseason top-25s on the strength of a solid-though-not-remarkable returning core. Ty-Shon Alexander is a serious breakout candidate, if such a distinction fits for a player who averaged nearly 16 points per game last season.

5. Providence: Alpha Diallo is one of the conference’s best and most productive players, but the Friars have to improve offensively if they’re going to get back to the NCAA tournament after a five-year streak was snapped last season.

6. Marquette: The Golden Eagles may have been the favorites to win the conference had the Hauser brothers not elected to transfer, but their departures throws this season into question for Marquette. The cupboard is obviously not bare even beyond Markus Howard, who might just power the program to near the top of the league on his own, but it’s certainly a harder team to peg.

7. Georgetown: The Hoyas were really fun to watch last season, but the trick for them is going to be making the transition from entertaining young squad to a still-green-but-successful team. The easiest path to that would be improved shooting as the youthful Hoyas struggled to connect from distance consistently.

8. Butler: The Bulldogs are probably the best candidate to outperform these rankings, on the strength of Kamar Baldwin’s talent alone, but they just haven’t proven enough beyond Baldwin to slide them further up the list.

9. DePaul: The Blue Demons got over .500 last season, but it came on a diet of non-conference cupcakes and then four wins in the CBI. Without Max Strus, here’s betting DePaul takes a step back this season.

10. St. John’s: Mike Anderson has his work cut out for him after Chris Mullin was only able to get a First Four appearance in four years with the Red Storm. St. John’s has only been in the NCAA tournament proper twice since 2005.

Myles Powell returning to Seton Hall

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Myles Powell is going back to Seton Hall for his senior season.

The high-scoring guard with withdraw from the NBA draft to return to the Pirates, he announced Wednesday, the deadline for players to announce their stay-or-go intentions.

“Going back to finish what I started & most importantly be the first one in my family to have a college degree,” Powell tweeted. “LET’S GO WIN A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP”

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 23.1 points and shot 44.7 percent from the field (36.3 from deep) while also putting up 4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2 steals per game. His return solidifies the Pirates as a preseason top-15 team.

Kevin Willard will remain at Seton Hall after turning down Virginia Tech

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Kevin Willard will stay the head coach at Seton Hall after listening to an offer from Virginia Tech.

After being linked to the Hokies after former head coach Buzz Williams took the job at Texas A&M, Willard will instead stay with the Pirates as Seton Hall is expected to give Willard a new contract with a raise. With Seton Hall potentially bringing back most of its roster from an NCAA tournament season, hopes are high for the Pirates in 2019-20 — particularly if guard Myles Powell returns after testing the NBA Draft waters.

“Didn’t want to leave my team,” Willard said to Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press. “I really enjoy this group. That was the reason.”

While Virginia Tech attempted to lure Willard away with more money and the draw of playing in the loaded ACC, the Hokies also haven’t had a lot of sustained basketball success until Williams turned the program around. Leaving the comfort of a good thing at Seton Hall would have been a risk for Willard as he’s guided the Pirates to four straight NCAA tournament appearances.

Now that Virginia Tech’s top target has said no, it’ll be interesting to see where they turn to next as they remain one of the better jobs still available in the 2019 coaching carousel.

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.

Saturday’s Things to Know: Conference titles get decided; Murray State and Ja Morant earn an autobid

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Ja Morant, Murray State

Many consider the sophomore point guard to be among the nation’s best players, but Morant hasn’t received the type of national attention that he got on Saturday night. And the future lottery pick delivered in a big way.

Helping Murray State to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, Morant pick put up 36 points to go with seven rebounds and three assists as the Racers took down Belmont to earn the autobid in the Ohio Valley Conference.

With some fans tuning in to see Morant play for the first time, he didn’t disappoint, as he displayed the breathtaking playmaking ability and jaw-dropping athleticism that scouts have been raving about. One night after producing the go-ahead three-point play in the OVC semifinals, Morant again put his team on his back and got them back into the Big Dance.

March Madness just got soooo much better knowing that we get at least one more national showcase for Morant.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Michigan State Spartans

On Senior Day at the Breslin Center, if you’re going to kiss the Spartan logo at center court, then you better have the win in-hand before checking out for the final time. Especially when the Big Ten title is on the line and it’s a battle against bitter in-state rival Michigan when both teams are ranked in the top 10.

Michigan State rallied in impressive fashion in the second half to claim a share of the Big Ten title while also preventing the Wolverines from achieving the same with a 75-63 win. Trailing by eight points in the second half after a sluggish first 20 minutes, Michigan State started firing on all cylinders as junior point guard Cassius Winston’s hot stretch ignited a 25-4 Spartans run. After an ice-cold 1-for-8 start to the evening, Winston buried five straight shots to end the game with a team-high 23 points and seven assists.

This Big Ten title is especially impressive for Michigan State because the Spartans did it without Joshua Langford and Nick Ward playing for large stretches of time during the season. Missing two of their top players, and still earning a Big Ten title, speaks to the depth of the Spartans while Hall of Fame head coach Tom Izzo accomplished one of his most impressive feats.

Now the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, Michigan State is hoping to ease Ward back into the lineup so he can contribute during the NCAA tournament. The phrase “Izzo in March” is usually reserved for the NCAA tournament. But it feels okay to use it here given the extraordinary late-season circumstances.

SATURDAY’S WINNERS

Co-ACC Champions North Carolina and Virginia: The Tar Heels swept the regular-season series with the Blue Devils to claim their share ACC glory as Roy Williams continues to own Coach K in the regular-season ACC title department since taking over the Tar Heels in 2004. Even though North Carolina had some question marks entering this season, most notably at lead guard, they’ve put themselves in position to potentially earn a No. 1 seed with their play this season.

Virginia shook off the historic NCAA tournament loss to No. 16 seed UMBC to earn another ACC title with a win over Louisville as Tony Bennett continue to have the league’s number. Looking stronger, deeper and more dangerous than last season, Virginia is the rare No. 1 seed with a legitimate chip on their shoulder entering the postseason.

Buckle up for a fun ACC tournament next week, as Duke, North Carolina and Virginia all have solid cases to potentially earn No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

LSU: Playing without head coach Will Wade and freshman starting guard Javonte Smart, the Tigers still took care of business in a big home win over Vanderbilt. The victory gave the Tigers the outright title in the SEC — something few could have predicted entering the 2018-19 season given the strength of Kentucky and Tennessee. The recent Wade/Smart scandal has dominated the headlines and cast a black cloud over young LSU’s surprising season. It’s also easy to forget that the Tigers had to deal with the loss of teammate Wayde Sims in late September as he was tragically killed in a shooting. There’s a very real potential that this SEC championship will eventually get erased from the record books. But for now, LSU deserves to celebrate a special season in which they’ve overcome some incredibly difficult circumstances to become one of the best teams in the country.

Purdue: Splitting the Big Ten regular-season title with Michigan State after a road win at Northwestern, nobody expected head coach Matt Painter and his Boilermakers to have this type of season. With only one returning starter in Carsen Edwards, and with a mostly-new supporting cast, Purdue has been one of the nation’s pleasant surprises this season as Painter deserves National Coach of the Year chatter. In a brutally-tough Big Ten, Purdue seemed to only get better as the season wore along as they proved to be more than just Edwards and his scoring punch.

Co-Big 12 Champions Texas Tech and Kansas State: Who could have predicted these two winning the Big 12 championship? While Kansas State was a preseason top-10 team in the eyes of some following last season’s Elite Eight appearance, Texas Tech is another included on the list of most surprising teams in the country. The Red Raiders overcame the loss of six of their top eight scorers as head coach Chris Beard basically put an entirely new rotation on the floor from his own Elite Eight appearance last season. The national focus has drifted mostly towards Kansas losing its 14-year Big 12 regular-season title streak. Not enough credit has been given to Kansas State and Texas Tech both overcoming slow conference starts to bring home a league title.

Seton Hall: The Pirates had the best week of any bubble team in the country, and frankly, there doesn’t feel like a close second place. Earning back-to-back Q1 wins over Marquette and Villanova, the top two teams in the Big East, Seton Hall essentially punched its ticket into the NCAA tournament by grabbing two more monster wins during the final week of the regular season. Myles Powell is playing with a ton of confidence right now and the Pirates will be a fascinating team to follow at Madison Square Garden during the Big East tournament.

Temple: A home win over UCF could be the final ingredient in getting the Owls into the NCAA tournament. In head coach Fran Dunphy’s final season on the sidelines, Temple is hoping to be the fourth team from the American to make it into the Big Dance. During a season where many bubble teams are hovering near .500, while drawing the ire of college hoops diehards, it’s hard not to root for a story where a respected veteran coach leads his team into the field.

Villanova (even in a loss): Suffering a disappointing road loss at Seton Hall, the Wildcats still got lucky enough to win the Big East title, outright, thanks to Marquette’s shocking home loss to Georgetown. Even though Villanova struggled down the stretch this season — losing five of their last eight games — they still captured a conference title during an up-and-down season. Earning a No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament was an added bonus as Villanova tries to figure things out before the NCAA tournament.

SATURDAY’S LOSERS

Marquette: This recent stretch will haunt Marquette fans for years to come. Losing four straight games to close out the regular season, the Golden Eagles blew a shot at the Big East regular-season title on numerous occasions. As noted above, Villanova lost five of its final eight games. That allowed Marquette every opportunity to stay in the race. None of those chances were more apparent than Saturday. After the Wildcats fell to Seton Hall to begin the afternoon slate of games, Marquette took the floor at home against Georgetown knowing that they could win and earn a share of the Big East championship. And just like the previous three games, Marquette faltered in the final minutes to blow another winnable game. The Golden Eagles have been pitiful late in games over the last two weeks as they’re suddenly in a freefall heading into MSG for the Big East tournament. On the bright side, Marquette has single-handedly kept the Big East’s bubble teams afloat by gifting recent wins to Creighton, Seton Hall and now Georgetown.

Tennessee: Entering Saturday, the Vols were given a chance to be co-SEC champions with LSU. Tennessee squandered those circumstances with a road loss at Auburn to start the afternoon. Although it’s never easy to win at Auburn now that Bruce Pearl and the Tigers have that place rocking, Tennessee has to be kicking themselves knowing that they could have won the league in back-to-back seasons.

Loyola: We won’t be seeing Loyola and Sister Jean in the 2019 NCAA tournament following last season’s memorable Final Four run. The top-seeded Ramblers were upset by Bradley in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament on Saturday as Loyola’s two Conference Players of the Year, Clayton Custer and Marques Townes, were held to only 17 points combined on 7-for-27 shooting.

South Dakota State and Mike Daum: One of college basketball’s all-time greats will not be playing in the 2019 NCAA tournament as No. 1 seed South Dakota State shockingly fell to No. 8 seed Western Illinois in the Summit League tournament quarterfinals. Making an NCAA tournament appearance the past three seasons, it will feel bizarre not to have Daum and the Jackrabbits in the Big Dance during his final college season. Daum finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds in the loss as he only attempted 10 field goals on the night (making five).

FINAL THOUGHT

In looking over the power conference champions decided on Saturday, it’s crazy to think about how quickly things changed in college basketball throughout the course of this regular season. Let’s do a brief rundown in a bullet format to make things easier.

  • A few weeks into the season, Duke going undefeated was a legitimate storyline that people were discussing. Flash forward a few months later and North Carolina and Virginia split the ACC crown.
  • Listed as the preseason No. 1 team and national title favorite by many pundits, Kansas faltered and saw its dominant 14-year reign in the Big 12 come to an end. Kansas State started the Big 12 season 0-2 and Texas Tech was 4-3. Both of those teams pulled it together and shared the league title.
  • Within the last month, two top-10 tilts between Kentucky and Tennessee dominated the SEC headlines. LSU snuck in the back door to claim the SEC title over both of them. Outright.
  • Villanova was left for dead during nonconference play with losses to Furman and Penn. St. John’s and Marquette became trendy picks to win the Big East as conference play started. The Wildcats prevailed and still ended up gaining the Big East title.
  • And the Big Ten focused on Michigan’s early-season dominance only to see the Wolverines relinquish the league crown to rival Michigan State and Purdue. The Spartans lost arguably two of their top three players for most of conference season and still won while Purdue replaced four starters and became one of the nation’s biggest overachievers.

I guess the main point in all of this is that college basketball’s 2018-19 season has been absolutely insane — and that’s only touching on five major conferences to get to my point. That doesn’t even include the Pac-12’s historically awful season, Houston emerging as a legitimate top-10 team, and a point guard from Murray State being called the second best prospect in the upcoming NBA Draft only behind a dude who has been compared to LeBron.

Good luck predicting what’s going to happen over the final month of this zany season. All of the drama and surprises will be a ton of fun to watch.

Seton Hall scores second big upset, stuns No. 23 Villanova

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NEWARK, N.J. — Seton Hall may have punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a pair of stunning upsets in the final week of the regular season in the Big East Conference.

Myles Powell scored 20 points, Myles Cale added 19 and Seton Hall upset No. 23 Villanova 79-75 Saturday, just three days after knocking off No. 16 Marquette to revive its chances of going to college basketball’s biggest tournament.

“We just beat two ranked teams. We beat Kentucky. We beat Maryland,” said Powell, who added seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in more than 36 minutes. “The list goes on. We can play with anybody in the country when we are playing our basketball.”

Seton Hall (18-12, 9-9), picked to finish eighth in the 10-team conference in the preseason poll, has exceeded all expectations playing with lone senior Michael Nzei.

Villanova (22-9, 13-5) will win at least a share of its sixth straight regular-season conference title. They will share the crown with Marquette, if the Golden Eagles beat Georgetown later Saturday. The Wildcats will win it outright if the Hoyas win.

“Seton Hall played really well right from the start, very locked in, very ready to play,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “For whatever reason, a number of little reasons, we just didn’t have our guys ready to play at the start. They just jumped us early and it took us until the second half to really get going, which is disappointing.

“But that’s what happened, and I was proud of our guys. We actually started competing in the second half and it just wasn’t enough.”

Jared Rhoden had a career-high 15 points, Sandro Mamukelashvili had 12 and a career-best 18 rebounds for Seton Hall. Nzei added 10 in his final home game.

“Our main focus right now is to win the Big East championship,” said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, whose team will have a first-round bye.

Collin Gillespie had 22 points and Phil Booth came on late to add 16 for Villanova. Eric Paschall had 14, Saddiq Bey added 13 and Jermaine Samuels 10. The Wildcats, who have won of the last three national titles, didn’t get a point from their bench.

“They were playing with great confidence coming off the Marquette game,” Wright said of Seton Hall. “They looked really dialed in, just really efficient and we were not. You play a good team like that, you can’t play 25 minutes.”

This was almost like a tournament game with the Wildcats looking to clinch the regular-season crown and Seton Hall fighting to stay in the hunt for an NCAA berth.

Villanova rallied from a 16-point deficit early in the second half to draw within 66-65 on two free throws by Gillespie with 3:57 to go.

That would be as close as they got as Nzei scored inside and Mamukelashvili hit a follow for a 70-65 lead.

The Wildcats never got closer than three points the rest of the way.

“This feels really good, knowing we accomplished a lot,” Cale said of this week. “But we know its unfinished business. We have to do more in the Big East Tournament. We are looking to go to the NCAA Tournament and see what we can do there.”

The Pirates led most of the game and it ballooned from a 39-28 halftime lead to 16 points in the opening minutes of the second half. Powell hit two free throws and Cale, who was in a bit of a slump recently, hit a 3-pointer.

Villanova didn’t wait long to start its comeback, scoring the next 13 points to draw within 44-41 on two free throws by Paschall.

It was Seton Hall’s turn after that. Cale hit a 3-pointer to ignite a 12-4 run that put the Pirates ahead 56-45 with 11:38 to go.

Over the next eight minutes, the Wildcats whittled to lead down to a point, but that was it.

BIG PICTURE:

Villanova: Play in the Big East Tournament and then go to NCAA Tournament.

Seton Hall: Try to win the Big East and earn automatic berth.

UP NEXT

Villanova: A first-round bye in the Big East Tournament. Play in quarterfinals on Thursday as the top or second seed.

Seton Hall: Will be the No. 3 or No. 4 seed in tournament at Madison Square Garden.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25