AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

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

Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Best Bets: Previewing Duke-North Carolina, Michigan-Michigan State, Saturday’s slate

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

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 KenPomTorvik 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.

No. 7 MICHIGAN at No. 9 MICHIGAN STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 69, Michigan 65
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan State 68, Michigan 66
  • 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.

(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

No. 8 TEXAS TECH at IOWA STATE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPNNews)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 69, Iowa State 68
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Texas Tech 70, Iowa State 68
  • 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.

No. 12 HOUSTON at No. 20 CINCINNATI, Sun. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Cincinnati 63, Houston 62
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Cincinnati 64, Houston 63
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Cincinnati 65, Houston 64

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

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

Wednesday’s Things to Know: Seton Hall stuns Marquette; LSU beats Florida; Bubble brutality

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

CBT’s Rob Dauster goes deeper into Wednesday’s bubble picture here.