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Bubble Banter: Xavier, Alabama, Utah State with critical games

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The latest NBC Sports bracket projection can be found here.

WINNERS

MINNESOTA (NET: 56, SOS: 55): The Golden Gophers landed a massive, massive win on Tuesday night, as they picked off Purdue (11) in Minneapolis. It’s the third Q1 win for Richard Pitino’s and their second elite win in league play — they also beat Wisconsin (17) on the road. The Gophers are just 2-8 this season on the road, but they are sitting here on March 6th with a 19-11 record, 10 wins against Q1 and Q2 opponents and just one loss outside the top 100 — at Boston College (111), which is still a Q2 game. Minnesota entered the day sitting right around the play-in game on most projections, and this should be enough to get them on the right side of the bubble. They’re in a really good spot.

OKLAHOMA (NET: 41, SOS: 23): As hard as it may be to believe, Oklahoma entered the day sitting as a No. 9 seed in our latest bracket projection at NBC Sports despite the fact that they were 18-11 overall and 6-10 in the Big 12. That’s what happens when you have a pair Q1 wins, an 8-11 mark against Q1 and Q2, no bad losses and exactly zero games played against Q4 competition. Now add to that Tuesday night’s win — by 13 points over Kansas (16) at home. The Sooners play at Kansas State (27) on Saturday, and at this point, I think they are just about a lock to dance.

VCU (NET: 36, SOS: 42): The Rams did what they needed to do on Tuesday, absolutely drilling George Mason in Fairfax and heading back to Richmond needing nothing more than a win over Saint Joseph’s to just about lock up their bid. The Rams are 6-4 in Q1 and Q2 games, highlighted by a win at Texas (33), but they also have a pair of Q3 losses. I don’t know if they can withstand two more ugly losses, which is what just about every loss to an Atlantic 10 opponent is this season, but I do think they can get a bid with one.

LOSERS

ALABAMA (NET: 53, SOS: 21): The Crimson Tide whiffed on a major chance to land their third Q1 win of the season when they blew a double-digit lead at home against Auburn (20). They are now sitting at 17-13 overall with two Q1 wins and a 9-12 mark against Q1 and Q2. The loss to Georgia State (135) at home is bad, but the win over Kentucky (5) is good. They’re probably sitting in one of the play-in games at the moment, so there is definitely work left to do.

UTAH STATE (NET: 30, SOS: 100): The Aggies dodged a massive bullet on Tuesday night, going into Fort Collins with a share of the MWC title on the line and getting taken to overtime by Colorado State (185). But they got the win, and at this point, with Saturday’s win over Nevada (23) in the books and their regular season over, I think they’re dancing as long as they can avoid taking a bad loss in the MWC tournament.

XAVIER (NET: 70, SOS: 46): Xavier played its way back into the bubble picture thanks to a surprising five-game Big East winning streak. Momentum ran out for the Musketeers during a Tuesday road loss at Butler (59). Squandering a valuable Q1 opportunity against the Bulldogs, Xavier finds itself at 3-9 against Q1 teams and a solid 6-2 with Q2 opponents. Saturday’s home game against St. John’s (61) is now a must-win scenario for the Musketeers if they want to maintain any sort of bubble credibility — but that will likely only be a Q2 opportunity.

OLE MISS (NET: 37, SOS: 85): The Rebels missed on a chance to beat Kentucky (5) at home on Tuesday, but they still are in a good spot. They are 19-11 overall, but 10 of their 11 losses are against Q1 opponents, they swept Auburn (20) and they have a total of seven Q1 and Q2 wins. I would not recommend losing at Missouri (86) and in the first round of the SEC tournament, but I do think that all it would take is one more win to get the job done.

Bracketology: Race is on for No. 1 Seeds

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

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

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

NBC Sports Top 25 | Bubble Watch

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

UPDATED: March 4, 2019

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

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

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

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

Breakdown by Conference …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State

Mountain West (2): NEVADA, Utah State

Southern (1): WOFFORD

Atlantic 10 (1): VCU

Mid American (1): BUFFALO

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

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

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

Bubble Banter: Indiana is back on the bubble

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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.
  • 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

UCF (NET: 34, SOS: 73): We wrote all about the Knights’ win here.

INDIANA (NET: 58, SOS: 179): Look, I get it. Indiana is 15-14 on the season. They are 6-12 in the Big Ten. They have been a massive disappointment based off of what the expectations were for this team back in November. But after knocking off No. 6 Michigan State in Bloomington on how many teams in all of college basketball can match these five wins: A sweep of Michigan State (6), Wisconsin (15), Marquette (21), Louisville (25). They also won at Penn State (50) and beat Butler (55) on a neutral.

Overall, Indiana is 6-9 in Q1 games. All 14 of their losses have come against Q1 and Q2 competition. And in a year where we are talking about teams without anything even remotely close to a quality win on their resume, Indiana, at the very least, is in the thick of the conversation.

CREIGHTON (NET: 57, SOS: 27): Creighton landed an enormous win on Sunday, as they went into Milwaukee and picked off Marquette (19), landing by far their best win of the season. The Bluejays are just 15-13 on the season against Division I competition, but if we’re considering Texas and Indiana for at-large bids, then we have to put Creighton into the mix as well. Why? Because they now have a marquee win to add to a profile that is not nearly as bad as you might think. They now have three Q1 wins — Clemson (40) on a neutral and at Georgetown (72) — and currently sit at 9-13 against Q1 and Q2 competition. Their worst loss of the season came at Xavier (70) and they played the No. 11 schedule in all of college basketball.

The Bluejays finish out the season with DePaul and Providence at home. They need to win both of those and probably win at least a game or two in the Big East tournament to really feel comfortable. They have some ground to make up, but in a year where the bubble is this weak, they’re very much in the mix.

TEXAS (NET: 37, SOS: 9): The Longhorns absolutely blitzed a short-handed Iowa State (14) on Saturday to snap a three-game losing streak in Big 12 play. Texas, like Indiana, is now sitting in a spot where their ugly record (15-13 overall, 8-8 in Big 12 play) is overshadowed by the number of good wins that they have landed. The Longhorns beat North Carolina (8) on a neutral. They beat Purdue (12), Iowa State (14) and Kansas (17) in Austin. They won at Kansas State (28) by 20. Add those wins to a 5-8 mark against Q1, a 9-11 record against Q1 and Q2 combined and two bad losses — Providence (77) and Radford (130) at home — and you’re looking at a mediocre team with a resume that is top heavy.

UTAH STATE (NET: 33, SOS: 116): This was the win that Utah State needed. Playing at home against the best that the MWC has to offer — No. 12 Nevada (19) — the Aggies landed the marquee win that their resume was missing. The Aggies are now 2-2 against Q1 opponents with a neutral court win over Saint Mary’s (39), and while they do have a couple of losses that bring the resume down — at San Diego State (128) and Fresno State (88) at home — this is a win that should put the Aggies on the right side of the bubble heading into Monday. If they can pick off Colorado State in Fort Collins next Tuesday, they’ll win a share of the MWC regular season title and they should be dancing.

FURMAN (NET: 47, SOS: 200): Furman’s SoCon regular season came to an end on Saturday with a win at Chattanooga, meaning that the Palladins will head into the conference tournament with an outside chance of getting an at-large bid. And frankly, when it comes down to it, the decision that the committee is likely going to be put to is whether or not they like the profile of a team like Furman — or UNC Greensboro, or Lipscomb, or Belmont, or anyone that didn’t stockpile games against Q1 opponents — or a team like the two you see above, Texas and Indiana.

Furman has a marquee win at Villanova. They also have a Q4 loss at home against Samford. Other than that, they’ve lost five Q1 games of which four were league opponents. They finished 21-6 on the season against Division I opponents. They have a non-conference SOS that ranks 281st. It’s hardly a perfect resume, which begs the question — are you more impressed by teams that take advantage of the one or two chances they get to play power conference teams, or by the teams that stockpile good-to-great wins a third of the time they get to play them?

There are no good answers, so my vote would be for the mid-majors.

UNC GREENSBORO (NET: 61, SOS: 118): The Spartans are in basically the same spot as Furman after beating Mercer on Saturday. They don’t have the elite win — their Q1 win is at East Tennessee State (65) — but they also don’t have a bad loss.

VCU (NET: 36, SOS: 39): It wasn’t easy, but VCU got the job done at Richmond, winning a rivalry game, 69-66, and avoiding what would have been their third Q3 loss of the year. The Rams are in pretty good shape at this point, but with every game left on their schedule a potential bad loss, they really want to win out.

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 63, SOS: 84): The Sun Devils got a big boost this weekend. Not only did they beat Oregon State (83) on the road to add their seventh Q2 win to their resume, but Utah State (30) beat Nevada, helping boost their NET ranking; ASU beat Utah State on a neutral. The Sun Devils are 3-3 against Q1, but they also have two Q3 losses and two Q4 losses.

TEMPLE (NET: 56, SOS: 67): The Owls did what they needed to do to keep themselves in contention for an at-large bid — they knocked off a bad Tulane team. At this point, I don’t think that they can afford another loss and stay on the right side of the bubble.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 74, SOS: 89): Georgetown moved to 18-11 on the season on Saturday, picking up a double-overtime win over Seton Hall (64) in D.C. The Hoyas profile is not great, but it might be better than you think. They have three Q1 wins and a 9-9 record against Q1 and Q2 opponents, but they also have a pair of Q3 losses — SMU (106) at home and Loyola-Marymount (148) on a neutral court. The more damaging part of their profile might be their non-conference schedule, which ranks 248th. The committee has shown in the past that they punish teams who don’t schedule tough.

OKLAHOMA (NET: 41, SOS: 12): The Sooners smoked West Virginia, which means basically nothing beyond avoiding a bad loss on their resume. Because as it stands, that’s the best thing about Oklahoma’s resume right now. They are 3-9 against Q1 opponents — Wofford (18), Florida on a neutral (29), at TCU (43) — with seven Q2 wins and no bad losses. I think they need a split in their last two games — Kansas (17) and at Kansas State (28).

BELMONT (NET: 50, SOS: 222): The Bruins smacked around SEMO on Saturday night. They finished the regular season with a 24-4 record and a 16-2 mark in the OVC. They swept Lipscomb (46), they won at Murray State (52) and they beat UCLA (108) in Pauley Pavilion. They’re 5-1 against Q1 and Q2 opponents, but they also have three Q3 losses. The only way they can get an at-large bid is if they lose to Murray State in the OVC tournament.

MURRAY STATE (NET: 54, SOS: 286): Murray State is in a similar spot to Belmont in that they ended the regular season with a gaudy record in a mediocre league. They also only have a chance of getting an at-large if they lose to Belmont in the OVC tournament. The difference is that I think they are in a much more difficult position. The Racers lost both of the Q1 games they’ve played and their best win is a sweep of Austin Peay (129).

LIPSCOMB (NET: 46, SOS: 206): It’s a longshot for Lipscomb, but there is still a chance thanks to a pair of Q1 wins — at TCU (43) and at Liberty (62). The only way they can get an at-large bid is if they lose to Liberty in the Atlantic Sun title game, but even that might not be enough.

LOSERS

CLEMSON (NET: 43, SOS: 38): Clemson lost another heartbreaker on Saturday, this time falling by two points at home against a North Carolina team that would have been the marquee win that this team is sorely missing. The Tigers are 17-12 overal. They have one top 45 win — Virginia Tech (11) at home without Justin Robinson — and while they don’t have any bad losses, they are 5-12 against Q1 and Q2. That’s not good enough, and with at Notre Dame (102) and Syracuse (44) left on their schedule, this was their last chance in the regular season to land a resume-changing win.

FLORIDA (NET: 31, SOS: 49): Just when we thought that the Gators had finally figured things out, they go and they lose to Georgia (109) at home. Florida had won five straight games prior to Saturday night, but none of those wins were all that impressive. They have just one top 35 win — at LSU (13) — and while they sit at 3-9 against Q1 opponents, two of those three Q1 wins are at Alabama (49) and at Arkansas (74). They also have a pair of Q3 losses — tonight’s loss to Georgia and a loss at home to South Carolina (86).

And here’s the craziest part — Florida was a No. 10 seed in the most recent NBC Sports bracket projection entering the weekend.

ALABAMA (NET: 49, SOS: 32): If you want an idea of why Indiana has a really, really good chance of getting into the NCAA tournament, all you need to know is that entering today, most brackets had Alabama on the right side of the bubble. They were a No. 11 seed in our most recent bracket projection. After a loss to No. 13 LSU at home, the Tide are now 17-12 on the season and 8-8 in the SEC. They are 2-9 against Q1 — Kentucky (5) and Mississippi State (20) at home — with a home loss to Georgia State (133) in the mix as well. If that resume isn’t even in a play-in game, is Indiana’s really that much worse?

TCU (NET: 42, SOS: 42): The Horned Frogs got whipped up on by Texas Tech at home on Saturday, dropping them to 18-11 overall and 6-10 in the Big 12. They have a sweep of Iowa State (14) on their resume, and they also beat Florida (29) at home. With no bad losses to their name, that’s enough to keep them on the right side of the bubble fairly comfortably. That said, they’ve now lost five of six and seven of ten and they still get Kansas State (28) and at Texas (36) before the season is over. Can they get a bid at 6-12 in league play?

SETON HALL (NET: 64, SOS: 51): The Pirates lost their third straight game on Saturday, falling in double-overtime at Georgetown (71). As it stands, Seton Hall’s resume is very borderline. They have wins over Kentucky (5) on a neutral and at Maryland (26), and a 4-7 record against Q1 opponents is good. But they also lost at home to DePaul (111) and Saint Louis (121), both Q3 losses. Here’s the best news: the Pirates close the regular season by hosting both Villanova (27) and Marquette (21). They’ll have two more shots to land top 30 Q1 wins.

SAINT MARY’S (NET: 39, SOS: 46): The Gaels missed their chance to land a win that would have gotten them on the right side of the bubble, losing at home to No. 1 Gonzaga. Saint Mary’s has no top 50 wins. They have one Q1 win — at New Mexico State (51) — and are sitting at just 3-8 against Q1 and Q2 opponents with three Q3 losses. Smarter people than me have Saint Mary’s firmly in the bubble mix, and at this point it has me questioning whether or not those people are actually smarter than me.

BUTLER (NET: 52, SOS: 20): The Bulldogs dropped to 15-14 on the season with a 21 point loss at Villanova (27). With games left against Xavier (70) and at Providence (77), they won’t be able to add to their resume in any meaningful way. I think they’re done.

MEMPHIS (NET: 53, SOS: 44): The Tigers had a shot if they had been able to win at Cincinnati (22) on Saturday night, but they were not able to get it done. The Tigers have as many Q1 wins — UCF (30) at home — as they do Q3 losses — Charleston (114) on a neutral — and with nothing other than a home game against Tulsa (98) left, they are going to need to make an American tournament run to have a chance.

DAYTON (NET: 68, SOS: 94): The Flyers likely saw their at-large hopes go up in flames on Friday night, as they lost in overtime at home to Rhode Island (141), their second Q3 loss of the season to go along with precisely zero Q1 wins. It was a longshot to get onto the right side of the cut-line, and this ends it.

Saturday’s Things To Know: A recap of all the day’s college hoops action

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Jordan Bone, Tennessee

Bone was the best player on the floor in the biggest game of the day, and I’m not sure that it was really all that close.

Bone finished with 27 points on Saturday. He was 11-for-15 from the field. He had three assists and two steals with no turnovers, and he made all five of his threes.

We wrote all about Bone here.

TEAM OF THE DAY: UCF Knights

Collin Smith scored 21 points, UCF ended the nation’s longest home court winning streak and they might have just punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

We wrote all about the Knights’ win here.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Sam Merrill, Utah State

Onions of the Day today has nothing to do with a big shot that Merrill hit or any of the 29 points that he scored as the Aggies landed a critical win over No. 12 Nevada.

It had everything to do with this charge he took, because Merrill let himself get absolutely posterized in the name of victory. You have to have some cajones to do that:

But can I just say … it’s ridiculous that this is a charge. Caleb Martin threw down what may very well end up being one of the five favorites for Dunk of the Year in college basketball, and it didn’t count because someone decided to stand in front of him and fall over.

I hearby propose the following rule change: If, while in the process of trying to take a charge, you get dunked on, then the charge is nullified. Put another way, you cannot commit an offensive foul on a dunk, because I don’t want to live in a world where we celebrate a charge over a dunk.

I mean, the announcer here literally says, “THE CHARGE WAS BETTER THAN THE DUNK!”

No.

It was not.

Let’s fix this while there’s still time.

SATURDAY’S WINNERS

PURDUE, THANKS TO INDIANA: The Boilermakers currently sit all alone in first place in the Big Ten standings after they blew out Ohio State on Saturday, winning by 35 points as the Buckeyes tried to figure out how to win a game without Kaleb Wesson on the floor. Purdue is a game up on both Michigan and Michigan State, and while their final two games of the regular season are both on the road — at Minnesota and at Northwestern — the Spartans and the Wolverines play on the season’s final day.

Matt Painter deserves serious National Coach of the Year consideration if he finds a way to win the Big Ten after everything Purdue lost this season.

The biggest reason that Purdue is in a position to win the Big Ten title is …

… INDIANA, THANKS TO JUSTIN SMITH: The Hoosiers finished off a sweep of Michigan State on Saturday, beating the Spartans in Bloomington, 63-62, a month after they knocked off Michigan State in overtime in East Lansing. This might be the win that can get them into the NCAA tournament.

Fans of Purdue, Indiana’s archrival, sure were appreciate:

TEXAS: The Longhorns picked up a massive win on Saturday as well, as they blew out Iowa State in Austin. As weird as it sounds, Texas is sitting at 15-13 on the season and not only do they have a resume that is probably strong enough to get into the NCAA tournament, they won’t even have the worst record of at-large teams.

Indiana, if they get in, will.

What a time to be alive.

LSU’S SEC TITLE CHANCES: The Tigers are tied with Tennessee for first place in the SEC title race. The Vols beat Kentucky in Knoxville and LSU survived Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

SATURDAY’S LOSERS

LEAGUE TITLES FOR KANSAS AND KENTUCKY: Kentucky lost at Tennessee on Saturday, which dropped them a game behind the Vols and LSU for first place in the SEC standings with two games left. To win an outright league title, they’ll need both teams to lose out, and that doesn’t seem that likely.

Kansas is in the same boat. They beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater, but it didn’t get them any closer to first place in the Big 12 as Texas Tech (at TCU) and Kansas State (Baylor) both won.

SAINT MARY’S, MEMPHIS AND CLEMSON: The bubble is weak enough where teams that don’t have horrible losses can get into the NCAA tournament if they manage to land one elite win. Saint Mary’s, Memphis and Clemson all had chances to do just that on Saturday and failed. The Gaels lost to No. 1 Gonzaga at home. Memphis had a chance to beat No. 23 Cincinnati on the road and turned the ball over down 71-69 on the final possession. Clemson did the same thing at home against No. 5 North Carolina, losing 81-79 when they turned the ball over in the final seconds.

FRAN MCCAFFERY: No. 22 Iowa got blown out for the second straight game and lost for the third time in four games on Saturday. This time, however, is was against Rutgers at home, and they did it without McCaffery on the sideline. McCaffery was suspended for the game after cursing out officials in the postgame.

FLORIDA: The Gators are in the mix for one of the last spots on the bubble, and they might have cost themselves by losing at home to Georgia on Saturday. That’s one way to snap a five-game winning streak.

FINAL THOUGHT

The issue of court-storming is going to once again take center stage this week after an incident that occurred after Utah State’s win over No. 12 Nevada.

Nevada star Jordan Caroline was captured on video in the bowels of the Spectrum losing his mind. He punched out the glass encasing a fire extinguisher and needed to be held back by coaches and players to avoid going after someone. Then, the Nevada coaching staff can be seen getting into an argument with police officers that were trying to keep them separated. This happened after the Wolf Pack were on the court as Utah State fans rush the floor, and coaches in the video can be heard complaining to security and police officers that fans had their hands on the Nevada players.

Now, we still do not know what exactly caused this.

Video after the does not seem to indicate that there was an altercation on the court involving fans and players, and there are reports that the scuffle was the result of members of two coaching staffs getting into a verbal altercation; due to the fans on the floor, Nevada had to leave the court through an exit that took them past the Utah State locker room.

As I do every time the court storm conversation comes up, I’ll make the simple and obvious point: Eventually, something really, really bad is going to happen during one of these court storms. We’ve already seen a West Virginia player get suspended for punching a Texas Tech fan, a Kansas State court storm that saw a fan go after a Kansas player and Bill Self get pinned against the scorer’s table and a full-fledged brawl between Utah Valley State fans and New Mexico State players. What happens if one of those punches lands cleanly? What happens if a player seriously injures one of the court-storming students? What happens if a group of students gang up on one or two players that are caught in the melee?

It’s going to happen at some point.

And we’re all going to wonder why we thought it was such a great idea to allow drunk fans to sprint onto the floor after the team they love just won an emotional game while the losing team is still there.

Utah State beats No. 12 Nevada to take Mountain West lead

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LOGAN, Utah — Sam Merrill scored 29 points and Utah State beat No. 12 Nevada 81-76 on Saturday night to take over the Mountain West Conference lead.

Diogo Brito added 15 points and eight rebounds, and Neemias Queta had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Aggies (24-6, 14-3). They won their sixth straight game and snapped a five-game losing streak in the series.

Caleb Martin had 23 points and nine rebounds for the Wolf Pack (26-3, 13-3) in their second loss in four games. Tre’Shawn Thurman added 21 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out with 2:47 left, and Cody Martin had 16 points and seven rebounds.

Queta threw down a hammer dunk and Merrill followed with back-to-back 3-pointers to fuel an 8-0 run that gave the Aggies a 19-12 lead. Merrill scored 15 of his 17 first-half points in the first 12 minutes. His final basket in that stretch put Utah State up 23-14.

Nevada closed the gap with five straight baskets. The final one — Caleb Martin’s 3-pointer — cut Utah State’s lead to 28-27. The Wolf Pack weren’t able to overtake the Aggies before halftime. Queta and Brito scored back-to-back baskets to keep Utah State in front and a scoop shot from Dwayne Brown, Jr. pushed the lead to 37-31 heading into the final minute of the half.

The Aggies led 46-36 early in the second half behind back-to-back baskets from Merrill and Brock Miller. Utah State led by as many as 13 points, going up 56-43 on back-to-back baskets from Merrill and Brito.

The Wolfpack used a 10-1 run to cut Utah State’s lead to 65-63. Brito hit a jumper with 4:05 left to keep Nevada from erasing the lead entirely. Nevada could not draw any closer after having several players foul out over the final three minutes. The Aggies hit 7 of 8 free throws and Brito drove for a layup in the final minute.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

A loss to Utah State in a tough road environment will likely drop Nevada only a couple of spots in the AP poll.

THE BIG PICTURE

Utah State came into the game on the NCAA Tournament bubble and may have a bit more breathing room.

Best Bets: Previewing Tennessee-Kentucky, Big 12 title race, Nevada-Utah State

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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 KENTUCKY at No. 7 TENNESSEE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 74, Kentucky 71
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Tennessee 74, Kentucky 71
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 73, Kentucky 72

The biggest game of the weekend could end up acting as the de-facto SEC title game, as two of the three teams currently tied for first in the SEC standings will square off in a rematch of a blowout that happened in Rupp Arena two Saturdays ago.

The final score of that game was 86-69, as P.J. Washington went for 23 points, Keldon Johnson finished with 19 and Kentucky used a 14-0 run to open the second half and blow Tennessee out of the water. That game was won, however, by the job that Reid Travis did on Tennessee’s all-american forward Grant Williams and the strength that Travis has in the paint. His absence — assuming his knee injury keeps him out — may end up being the difference-maker on Saturday afternoon.

Let me explain.

Tennessee’s offense is unique in the sense that they are a hyper-efficient team that relies more on two-pointers than any hyper-efficient offense I can ever remember seeing. In an era of analytics and Morey-ball and the Golden State Warriors, the Vols operate on post-ups and mid-range jumpers. Just 24.3% of their point come from three-pointers, which is 333rd nationally. Villanova, they are not.

So much of that offense is created by the way that they run offense through Williams, running actions that A) get him isolated in the low- and mid-post, and B) use his strength to seal off shot-blockers when Tennessee’s guards drive. Travis is uniquely suited to being able to take that away because of just how strong and physical he is:

By no means does that mean that Kentucky cannot win this game.

For starters, E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards are actually better offensive rebounders than Travis, and that may actually be the most exploitable part of Tennessee’s defense. And if there is a real weakness in Kentucky’s defense, it is their ability to run people off of the three-point line.

And all of that comes before the simple fact that Tennessee’s guards are not going to have it easy trying to break down Kentucky’s perimeter defense. That’s the knock on them. Their backcourt is not a game-changing backcourt, and if there is something Kentucky’s guards do well, it’s guard the ball.

PICKS: It will be interesting to see where this line opens, but at first glance I do think I like Tennessee, assuming it ends up around the Tennessee (-3) that the metrics are projecting. Part of that is because the Vols are playing at home. Part of it is because of the absence of Travis.

But I think that it is also worth mentioning here that after the win in Rupp, Tyler Herro told reporters, “I think they’re scared of him, honestly,” referring to the way Tennessee views P.J. Washington. After Tennessee’s win at Ole Miss on Wednesday night, Admiral Schofield told reporters, when asked about the Kentucky game, “Hopefully we aren’t scared of PJ.” That team is aware of Herro’s quote. They are going to be play in a sold out Thompson-Boling Arena. And the concerning part of that is that during this recent Tennessee slide, one of their issues is that they haven’t been playing with the same level of toughness. This is essentially the same team as last year, but where they were a top ten defense nationally last year, this year they are sitting outside the top 35.

I fully expect Tennessee and their roster full of upperclassmen built like body-builders to be up for a fight against a Kentucky team that will start four freshmen and a sophomore.

No. 9 MICHIGAN at No. 17 MARYLAND, Sun. 3:45 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan 65, Maryland 64
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan 65, Maryland 63
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Maryland 64, Michigan 63

Michigan bounced back from last Sunday’s home loss against Michigan State by absolutely boat-racing a Nebraska team that looks to be dead in the water. Maryland, on the other hand, followed up a week where they won at Iowa and beat Ohio State by losing to Penn State by 17 points.

The x-factor here is going to be the health of Charles Matthews. He did not play on Thursday night after injuring his ankle against the Spartans, but Michigan did push back against a report that said he suffered a serious ankle injury.

I don’t love this matchup for the Terps from a personnel perspective, not when Bruno Fernando is going to have to deal with Jon Teske and Anthony Cowan is going to have Zavier Simpson in his face for 40 minutes. Missing Matthews would be a major loss on the defensive end of the floor, but with Isaiah Livers starting, Michigan should be able to space the floor better.

That said, since the blowout win at Villanova in November, the Wolverines have lost on the road against the three teams ranked highest on KenPom that they’ve played. In total, they’ve dropped three of their last six road games, and Maryland has not lost at home in Big Ten play and has lost just twice in College Park all season long.

PICKS: If I can get Maryland as an underdog at home, I am going to take the Terps and the points. If we get word that Matthews is going to be playing, I like the under as well.

No. 6 MICHIGAN STATE at INDIANA, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 72, Indiana 64
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan State 72, Indiana 65
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan State 75, Indiana 62

Michigan State is coming off of their biggest win of the season — beating Michigan in Ann Arbor — and now get a chance to land a bit of revenge on the Hoosiers for an overtime loss they took at home a month ago that is still, to the day, the single-most head-scratching result of the season.

Before beating Wisconsin in double-overtime on Tuesday night, that win at Michigan State was the only win that Indiana had to their name since January 3rd. They have lost 12 of their last 14 games as their offense has devolved into a stagnant mess.

Sparty has their own issues, however. They are playing without Nick Ward and Josh Langford, which leaves the entire offense on Cassius Winston’s shoulders. He was the initiator on 45 of their 57 possessions in the win over Michigan, and 36 of those 45 possessions involved him using a ball-screen.

Indiana is going to know what’s coming. Can they stop it?

PICKS: This is tough. On the one hand, I think Michigan State has a statement to make, and with a Big Ten title very much within their reach, I expect them to play like it. I think that it is also worth noting here that that game was somewhat fluky. Michigan State shot 8-for-22 from the free throw line and the Hoosiers, who shoot 30.8 percent from three (323rd nationally) made six straight second half threes.

That said, assuming this line ends up around Michigan State (-9) — the average of the metrics — I think I like the Indiana side here. In their last eight games, Indiana has covered that spread seven times.

(Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

No. 5 NORTH CAROLINA at CLEMSON, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: North Carolina 76, Clemson 71
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: North Carolina 75, Clemson 73
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: North Carolina 78, Clemson 71

This feels like a trap.

Because based on the way that the metrics are projecting this game, the line looks like it is going to end up somewhere around North Carolina (-5), and that seems way too low. The Tar Heels are rolling right now. They have won four straight, 11 of their last 12 and 15 of 17 since the loss to Kentucky on Dec. 22nd. In the last 10 days, they’ve won in Cameron Indoor Stadium by 16 points and knocked off both Florida State and Syracuse at home by an average of 13 points. They’ve climbed into the top five of every ranking on the planet, and they are widely considered one of the few teams that can realistically be listed as a national title favorite. Win out, and they are, at the worst, co-ACC regular season champions. Clemson has one win over a tournament team and that came at home against Virginia Tech when the Hokies were without Justin Robinson.

And they’re only giving five?

PICKS: I think I like Clemson here. The Tigers are right on the NCAA tournament cutline — we have them as the first team out — and this will be their last chance at adding a Q1 win to their resume. The last two times that the Tar Heels have played at Littlejohn Coliseum, they struggled. They lost last year and in 2017, the national champion Tar Heels got taken to overtime by a 15-loss Clemson team. I don’t know if Clemson wins, but I do think they keep it close.

No. 11 TEXAS TECH at TCU, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 68, TCU 64
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Texas Tech 69, TCU 65
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas Tech 71, TCU 64

Part I of the Big 12 title race tips off in the afternoon, as the Red Raiders head to Fort Worth to take on a TCU team that really needs another win or two to seal up an at-large bid. The Horned Frogs are just 6-9 in Big 12 play and have lost four of their last five games. Chris Beard’s club has won six in a row, and the first time there two teams got together, Tech was up 16 by halftime and won 84-65.

PICKS: I like Tech to cover, assuming the line opens around (-5), and I also think that this game goes over the total if it’s in the low 130s. The Red Raiders got the dud out of their system when Oklahoma State took them to overtime in Lubbock on Wednesday. Prior to that game, they had been shooting 47 percent from three in their last five games. The last time these team played, TCU let Tech shooting 9-for-21 from beyond the arc.

BAYLOR at No. 16 KANSAS STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas State 64, Baylor 60
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Kansas State 65, Baylor 59
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas State 64, Baylor 59

Somehow, Baylor is still in the Big 12 title picture despite seeing seemingly half their roster get injured and running out a rotation that includes seven newcomers. If they win at Kansas State on Saturday, they will be in a three-way tie for second place in the conference, just a game off the pace set by Texas Tech. They have to win this game to have a chance.

Kansas State, on the other hand, already owns a win over the Bears — which came in Waco — and are playing for the right to say that they ended archrival Kansas’ streak of Big 12 regular season titles. Motivation abounds.

PICKS: For me, the pick here is Kansas State even if the line opens around (-5), and the reasoning is pretty simple: Dean Wade will be playing. He is the best shooter and the best passer on Kansas State, and the Wildcats have been much, much better against zone defenses with him available. It is worth noting that Cartier Diarra likely won’t play for KSU while Makai Mason and King McClure will be back for the Bears, but I still lean towards Bruce Weber’s club here. I’m betting on Bramlage to turn back into the Octagon of Doom and for Kansas State’s defense to win out.

No. 12 NEVADA at UTAH STATE, Sat. 8:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Utah State 72, Nevada 71
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Utah State 73, Nevada 72
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Utah State 74, Nevada 73

There is so much on the line for Utah State in this game. They need this win if they want to have any sense of comfort heading into Selection Sunday with the Mountain West’s automatic bid. They are also still playing for a Mountain West regular season title — they’ll be tied for first place with Nevada if they can get a win.

But here’s the wildest part: This is going to be the first time all season long that the Wolf Pack will play a game that qualifies as a Q1 game, according to the NET. Other than the win in January at home against the Aggies, Nevada has playing just one team — Arizona State (63) — that ranks in the top 75 of the NET. They’ve struggled on the road this season, including a loss at San Diego State the last time they left Reno, and the Spectrum can get rocking for a big game.

PICKS: All that said, I’m going to have a very hard time betting against Nevada to win a conference game if they are getting a point or two, as all of the metrics suggest. I’m not convinced USU has the perimeter defenders to be able to slow down the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline, and I worry about Nevada being able to go small and play Neemias Queta off the floor.

I’m going to hope Nevada opens around (-3) and take the USU money-line.