College Basketball Nation: Oklahoma Sooners

Big 12 team previews

October, 25, 2013
For the past month, Insider has rolled out its college basketball preview, including breakdowns on every Division I team, projected order of finish for every conference and essays from Insider's hoops experts.

Here are previews for each team in the Big 12:

Baylor Bears Insider
Iowa State Cyclones Insider
Kansas Jayhawks Insider
Kansas State Wildcats Insider
Oklahoma Sooners Insider
Oklahoma State Cowboys Insider
TCU Horned Frogs (FREE)
Texas Longhorns Insider
Texas Tech Red Raiders Insider
West Virginia Mountaineers Insider

Nonconference schedule analysis: Big 12

September, 11, 2013
This week, is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation’s top leagues. Next up: the Big 12.


Toughest: vs. Colorado (Nov. 8 in Dallas), Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27), vs. Kentucky (Dec. 6 in Arlington, Texas)
Next-toughest: South Carolina (Nov. 12), Southern (Dec. 22)
The rest: Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 17), Charleston Southern (Nov. 20), Hardin-Simmons (Dec. 1), Northwestern State (Dec. 18), Oral Roberts (Dec. 30), Savannah State (Jan. 3)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Bears will try to beat Kentucky for the second season in a row when they take on the Wildcats at the mammoth AT&T Stadium -- home of the Dallas Cowboys. Catching a freshman-laden Kentucky squad early in the season is ideal for the Bears. Baylor also will have a chance to avenge last season’s loss to Colorado in the Charleston Classic. Scott Drew’s squad meets the Buffaloes as part of a season-opening tripleheader at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Baylor has an excellent shot of getting to the title game in Maui. The Bears open against Chaminade and will likely face a vulnerable Gonzaga squad (the Zags lost Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris) in the semifinals. A victory in that contest could result in a showdown against Syracuse in the championship game.


Toughest: Michigan (Nov. 17), at BYU (Nov. 20), Iowa (Dec. 13)
Next-toughest: vs. Northern Iowa (Dec. 7 in Des Moines), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-23, 25 in Honolulu)
The rest: UNC-Wilmington (Nov. 10), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 12), UMKC (Nov. 25), Auburn (Dec. 2), Northern Illinois (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Cyclones play just one true road game, but it’s a tough one, as BYU touts one of the best home courts in the country. The Cougars should be pretty salty, too, after reaching the semifinals of the NIT last spring. No game on the schedule, though, jumps out quite like Iowa State’s home tilt with NCAA runner-up Michigan, who returns many of the key pieces from last season’s squad. Hilton Magic will have to be in full effect if the Cyclones, who are incorporating a plethora of new faces, are to have a chance against the Wolverines. Iowa State opens the Diamond Head Classic against George Mason and will likely play either Akron or Oregon State in the semifinals. Don’t be surprised if Fred Hoiberg’s squad ends up in the title game against Boise State.


Toughest: vs. Duke (Nov. 12 in Chicago), at Colorado (Dec. 7), at Florida (Dec. 10), New Mexico (Dec. 14), Georgetown (Dec. 21), San Diego State (Jan. 5)
Next-toughest: Iona (Nov. 19), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30 in Nassau, Bahamas)
The rest: Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 8), Towson (Nov. 22), Toledo (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- There may not be a team in America with a slate as difficult as the one staring at Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks. Duke and Florida are both top five-caliber teams, and Kansas faces each of them away from home. Even more daunting is that both games occur extremely early in the season, when a team featuring as many as six freshmen in its rotation will still be trying to find itself. New Mexico, Georgetown and San Diego State will each take a minor step back from last season, but they should all still be excellent teams, especially the Lobos. Kansas opens the Battle 4 Atlantis against Wake Forest and will play either USC or Villanova in the second round. Event organizers are surely hoping for a title game featuring the Jayhawks against either Tennessee or Iowa. Even nonconference opponents such as Iona, Towson and Louisiana-Monroe will be in the mix for an NCAA tournament berth.


Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-22, 24), vs. Gonzaga (Dec. 21 in Wichita, Kan.)
Next-toughest: Long Beach State (Nov. 17), Ole Miss (Dec. 5)
The rest: Northern Colorado (Nov. 8), Oral Roberts (Nov. 13), Central Arkansas (Dec. 1), South Dakota (Dec. 10), Troy (Dec. 15), vs. Tulane (Dec. 28 in Brooklyn, N.Y.), George Washington (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- This is a pretty disappointing slate, especially considering how good the program has been over the past five or six years. Other than a tilt with Gonzaga in Wichita -- which will basically be a K-State home game -- the Wildcats don’t have a single opponent on their nonconference schedule that raises an eyebrow. The one exception would be Ole Miss, but the Rebels lost most of the key players from last season’s NCAA tournament team. The Wildcats open the Puerto Rico Tip-Off against Charlotte and will play either Georgetown or Northeastern the following day. Michigan, VCU and Florida State are on the other side of the bracket, so the potential for a game against another top team exists. Still, the defending regular-season Big 12 co-champs should have scheduled a few more marquee games.


Toughest: vs. Alabama (Nov. 8 in Dallas), Coaches vs. Cancer Tipoff (Nov. 22-23 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Next-toughest: vs. George Mason (Dec. 8 in Washington, D.C.), vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 21 in Houston), Louisiana Tech (Dec. 30)
The rest: North Texas (Nov. 11), Idaho (Nov. 13), Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec 29), Mercer (Dec. 2), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Dec. 5), Tulsa (Dec. 14), Texas-Arlington (Dec. 17)

Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Not a lot of games on this docket that do much for the excite-o-meter. At least not when it comes to nonconference play. That’s probably a good thing for the Sooners, who may be in for a “transition year” following the loss to standouts such as Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, Andrew Fitzgerald and Amath M’Baye. Alabama will be tough to beat, but it’s certainly a game the Sooners could win. Lon Kruger’s squad will also be tested when it travels to Brooklyn for the Coaches vs. Cancer Tipoff. If Oklahoma gets by Seton Hall in the first round, it would likely play Michigan State the following night. Some media outlets have ranked the Spartans No. 1 entering the season.


Toughest: Memphis (Nov. 19), Old Spice Classic (Nov. 28-29, Dec. 1 in Orlando. Fla.), vs. Colorado (Dec. 21 in Las Vegas)
Next-toughest: at South Florida (Nov. 25), South Carolina (Dec. 6), vs. Louisiana Tech (Dec. 14 in Oklahoma City)
The rest: Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 8), Utah Valley (Nov. 12), Arkansas Pine-Bluff (Nov. 15), Delaware State (Dec. 17), Robert Morris (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- This is definitely an improvement from last season, when the Cowboys earned a ranking of “3” in this category. Like Oklahoma State, Memphis is a potential top-10 team with one of the top backcourts in the country. The two squads could actually end up meeting twice, as Memphis is also in the Old Spice Classic. Oklahoma State opens that tournament against Purdue and will face Butler or Washington State in the next round. Beating Colorado on a neutral court also won’t be easy, especially if talented Buffs guard Spencer Dinwiddie can neutralize Marcus Smart. It still would’ve been nice to see a few more high-profile games -- and a few more true road contests -- for a team that features three potential first-round NBA draft picks.


Toughest: vs. SMU (Nov. 8 in Dallas), at Washington State (Nov. 24)
Next-toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 27, 29-30), at Mississippi State (Dec. 5)
The rest: Longwood (Nov. 12), Abilene Christian (Nov. 19), Texas Pan-American (Dec. 15), Grambling State (Dec. 19), Tulsa (Dec. 21), Texas Southern (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- This would be a terrible schedule for a program that was experiencing a moderate amount of success. But considering TCU won just two Big 12 games last season, this is the perfect slate for the Horned Frogs as they try to rebuild. Second-year coach Trent Johnson didn’t schedule the type of Top-25 squads that will shatter his team's confidence. But he also didn't produce a schedule so weak that it wouldn’t challenge his team as it continues to grow. SMU could contend for an NCAA tournament berth and, even though Washington State has struggled in recent seasons, Pullman is a difficult place to play. Tulsa and Texas Southern are both solid teams, and Mississippi State was making huge strides at the end of last season.


Toughest: CBE Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Kansas City), at Temple (Dec. 7), at North Carolina (Dec. 18), Michigan State (Dec. 21)
Next-toughest: Mercer (Nov. 8), Vanderbilt (Dec. 2)
The rest: Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 15), UT-Arlington (Nov. 29), Texas State (Dec. 14), Rice (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Rick Barnes always puts together one of the toughest schedules in the country, and this season is no exception. Michigan State is an NCAA title contender, North Carolina could open the season in the top 10, and Temple is never easy to beat on the road. The Longhorns will also play high-scoring BYU in the CBE Classic, and with a win, would likely be pitted against Final Four participant Wichita State in the title game. But Texas lost its top four scorers from last seasons’s 16-18 squad and didn’t recruit as well as it has in years past. In other words, this is the worst possible season to be playing such a grueling schedule. It’ll be interesting to see if the Longhorns (and Barnes) can survive.


Toughest: at Alabama (Nov. 14), at Arizona (Dec. 3), LSU (Dec. 18), at Arizona State (Dec. 21)
Next-toughest: South Dakota State (Nov. 21), Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
The rest: Houston Baptist (Nov. 8), Northern Arizona (Nov. 11), Texas Southern (Nov. 18), Texas-San Antonio (Nov. 29), Central Arkansas (Dec. 15), Mount St. Mary’s (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- First-year coach Tubby Smith can’t be pleased with the schedule he inherited from former Red Raiders coach Chris Walker. This is way too difficult of a slate for a program that’s in rebuilding mode. It clearly wasn’t thought out well at all. True road games against Alabama, Arizona and Arizona State and a home tilt with a vastly improved LSU squad? That’s a daunting chore, especially considering TTU is in the Legends Classic with quality opponents such as Pittsburgh, Stanford and Houston. Texas Tech returns nearly all of its key pieces from last season and could make some huge strides under Smith. Unfortunately, the Red Raiders’ confidence could take a hit before Big 12 play ever begins.


Toughest: at Missouri (Dec. 5), Gonzaga (Dec. 10), Purdue (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Virginia Tech (Nov. 12), Cancun Challenge (Nov. 26-27), vs. Marshall (Dec. 14 in Charleston, W. Va.)
The rest: Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 8), Duquesne (Nov. 17), Georgia Southern (Nov. 21), Presbyterian (Nov. 23), Loyola (Dec. 2), William & Mary (Dec. 29 in Charleston, W. Va.)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The 2012-13 season was one of the worst of Bob Huggins’ career, but the Mountaineers are hoping a standout recruiting class led by power forwards Devin Williams and Elijah Macon -- as well as the return of leading scorer Eron Harris -- helps change their fortunes. There are certainly some opportunities to build confidence early. Missouri and Gonzaga are both incorporating new pieces and may not be crisp in early December. Purdue should be improved, but West Virginia will have revenge on its mind after last season’s 79-52 embarrassment in West Lafayette, Ind. West Virginia opens the Cancun Challenge against Old Dominion and could play Wisconsin the following day.
1. Kansas coach Bill Self said every newcomer but Andrew Wiggins is on campus and in summer school. He said Wiggins' summer plans are still unresolved. Wiggins may play for the Canadian National team or may not. He is expected on campus soon. Self is already raving about Wayne Selden, one of the six newcomers. This will end up being one of Self's most enjoyable teams. He gets a chance to completely mold this crew in the summer with the comfort of having Wiggins. The Jayhawks won't be dominant, but they will be one of the most intriguing and entertaining teams to watch next season.

2. ACC freshman of the year Olivier Hanlan of Boston College won't go with the Canadian World University Games team to Russia next month. BC coach Steve Donahue said Hanlan was with the Canadian National Team for six days last week, but will spend the rest of the summer working out with the Eagles. Hanlan scored 41 points in an ACC tournament win over Georgia Tech. Hanlan has a chance to get the most out of this summer by working with his national team and better competition, while also spending quality time with his Eagles team that needs to make a move in the ACC and has a real chance to do so with so many returnees.

3. Oklahoma and Wisconsin are taking foreign trips in August, with the Sooners heading to Belgium and France and the Badgers going to Canada. The timing for the trips is crucial for both. Oklahoma is coming off an NCAA tournament season, but is retooling in what should be a Kansas-Oklahoma State-Baylor led Big 12. The Badgers desperately needed prep and games for Josh Gasser as he gets back from an ACL injury. Having this trip will allow Gasser to re-adjust to being the leader on this team. Traevon Jackson was the top playmaker in Gasser's absence. Now the two can attempt to work together. Wisconsin's season ended with a thud, losing to Ole Miss in the NCAA tournament. Playing in Canada in August will be a good precursor to mounting a run back to the NCAAs.

Video: San Diego State's JJ O'Brien

March, 23, 2013

Dana O'Neil speaks with San Diego State's JJ O'Brien after the sophomore forward's 6-point, 4-rebound, 3-assist performance in the Aztecs' 70-55 victory over Oklahoma.
Well, well, well. Apparently, a few teams want to go to the tournament after all.

OK, so of course everyone wants to play in the NCAA tournament. But watching the past week or so of college hoops, you could have been convinced otherwise. Why, it was just last Saturday that basically every SEC bubble team lost a bad game, while Arizona State, St. John's, Iowa State, Indiana State and Akron, just to name a few, suffered the kind of losses that can cost you a bid in the tournament.

The weekdays since haven't been much better. Virginia spent all week undoing the résumé boost earned with its victory over Duke. Kentucky lost at Georgia. Baylor flopped against Texas. It got so bad we had to begin considering the fringiest of the fringe -- Southern Miss, Iowa, Providence, Maryland -- even though it was almost physically painful to imagine most of those teams in the tournament.

And then, finally, mercifully, some of these teams started acting like they wanted to play meaningful basketball in March. Kentucky, Tennessee, Boise State and Baylor all got huge wins at home. Iowa State held on at West Virginia. Even Cincinnati, which had been quietly slipping toward the bubble in recent weeks, avoided a brutal loss to South Florida.

It wasn't all good news. Oklahoma lost at TCU. Arizona State fell flat at Arizona. Xavier, Providence and St. John's all missed chances to get somewhere near reality in this thing. There were, as there always are, a handful of head-scratchers -- how Louisiana Tech goes three months without losing once and then drops back-to-back games in the matter of two days is beyond this humble bubbleologist.

But the end effect is clear: The bubble is just a little more firm than it was at the start of the day, a little tougher to crack. Good things happen when players play like they actually care about making the tournament. Who knew?


Kentucky: The biggest bubble story of the day, and almost certainly the most impactful, Kentucky's win over Florida put the Wildcats back on the right side of the bubble in their final regular-season opportunity. Considering where Kentucky was after its loss at Georgia this week -- all self-recrimination and disbelief -- it was a bit remarkable to stand up at the last possible moment, once and for all.

I won't spend a whole lot of time here, because you can read my reaction from this afternoon here. Long story short: UK is no lock to make the tournament, and it still has to navigate a tangle of prospective bad losses in the SEC tournament, but right now, compared to much of the rest of the bubble, the Wildcats are closer to being in than not.

Baylor: I am not above making a tired and dumb bodysnatchers joke -- see pretty much anything I've tweeted about Keith Appling for the past three weeks -- but rare is the opportunity to do so in regards to a team that plays inexplicably well. Today, Baylor is that team.

I mean, how else do you explain the Bears not just beating Kansas in Waco, Texas, but blowing Kansas out? When in the past seven days we've seen a) Baylor lose at home to K-State on one of the most heartbreaking (and poorly executed) final seconds of the season and b) lose 79-70 at Texas? That team -- a team that was admittedly still playing hard but looking utterly lost in doing so -- turned around and beat the Jayhawks by 23 points in the penultimate game of the regular season. How does that happen?

Complete shock aside, the bad news for the Bears (sorry) is that they're just 2-10 against the RPI top 50, 5-10 against the top 100, and still have a prohibitively high RPI (No. 73 entering Saturday). As nice as Saturday's win was, and for as much as it helped the Bears, the damage they did in recent weeks isn't so easy to overcome in one fell swoop. They still need more -- and a first-round Big 12 tourney shot against Oklahoma State is an awfully good place to start.

Boise State: In case you're not up to speed on the Broncos -- and no, they don't play their home games on blue hardwood -- they established their potential tournament case all the way back on Nov. 28, when they shocked Creighton (then the No. 11 team in the country) on its home floor. (Eight days earlier, they had pushed Michigan State 74-70, and we all wondered what was wrong with the Spartans. Go figure.) Since then, they've trucked along in the Mountain West in almost exactly the fashion you'd expect: They've beaten some of the league's toughest teams (UNLV, Colorado State) at home and fallen to some of the league's lesser squads (Air Force isn't a bad loss; Nevada is) on the road. In other words, today's win over San Diego State wasn't exactly revolutionary; it was a realistic get, and the Broncos got it. The one thing really setting Jeff Elorriaga & Co. apart from the rest of the bubble dregs is their quality wins. Add one more.

Tennessee: What is it with Tennessee and late-season boosts? The Volunteers did this last season, too, when they turned a brutal first two months into a 10-6 SEC performance and a late desperate push to get into the NCAA tournament. It didn't happen then, but after Saturday's home win over Missouri -- a thank-you card addressed to Phil Pressey is currently in the mail - it looks very much like it's happening now.

I'm not saying that a home win over Missouri is this huge bubble landmark. It's at least a degree or four below a win over Florida. Missouri's only true road wins all season came at Mississippi State and South Carolina. Road warriors these Tigers are not, but combined with UT's other work -- eight wins in its past nine games, including a 30-point demolition of Kentucky and its own victory over Florida -- the résumé is now right in the middle of the bubble picture. Like Kentucky, or really any of these SEC teams, anything can happen going away. But for now, the news is good.

Iowa State: Of any of these bubble winners, Iowa State should be in the best shape. For one, the Cyclones are easily the best team in this group; even a cursory glance at their efficiency numbers (especially when contrasted with the rest of these teams) reveals one of the best offenses in the country and a top-35-ish team overall. I also happen to think the committee will go outside its nitty-gritty sheets and delve into Iowa State's two losses to Kansas, both of which came in overtime, the latter of which was ripped from them thanks to some truly diabolical officiating. Anyway, I wouldn't be able to say any of this had Iowa State lost at West Virginia on Saturday. It didn't, and so I can.

Ole Miss: The Rebels won by 14 at LSU. Were they in better position to start the day -- had they not lost to Mississippi State last week, perhaps -- I might have stuck them down in the "Survivors" category. As it is, they remain in the picture, but have a ton of work to do in the SEC tournament. One win won't get it done.


Arizona State: The Sun Devils are basically done. It's not just a loss at Arizona -- that is obviously forgivable, even if the Wildcats aren't nearly as good as we thought they'd be this season -- it's the four losses in a row (to Washington, UCLA and USC, the latter two of which were on the road, before today's loss at Arizona) as well as an RPI in the 90s, the 283rd-hardest schedule, and so on. Credit Herb Sendek and Jahii Carson for getting this program back in the mix in short order, but it's hard to see an at-large here.

La Salle: The Explorers aren't in bad shape, relatively speaking, and you can hardly fault any team for taking one on the chin at Saint Louis, which they did today. But La Salle has been sort of quietly sliding toward the bubble in the past couple of weeks, and losing 78-54 at this point in the season is hardly the best way to impress the committee. Definitely worth keeping an eye on right now.

Oklahoma: Oklahoma has been in great tournament shape for the majority of the past month -- the Sooners have been playing solid hoops, and their RPI and SOS figures are great -- but it nonetheless entered Saturday outside the comfort of lockdom. And then the Sooners lost to TCU. That probably isn't enough to put Oklahoma below a score of the teams you see here, but when you really dig in to its résumé, there's not much about it that screams "lock." A first-round loss to Iowa State next week could have the Sooners wavering by Selection Sunday.

Colorado: This week's Bubble Watch included a little homily on how the Buffaloes' résumé wasn't all that much different from UCLA's, but Colorado was frequently a No. 10 seed while the Bruins were most often placed on the No. 6 line. That was wrong, I wrote. Naturally, Colorado proceeded to lose at home to Oregon State. Like Oklahoma, the Buffaloes are still in better shape than, say, Baylor, but their regular-season finale was enough to introduce some serious questions going forward.

[+] EnlargeKerron Johnson
AP Photo/Wade PayneAfter forcing OT, Kerron Johnson won the OVC title and an NCAA bid for Belmont by hitting this shot.
Louisiana Tech: Before this week, La. Tech's last loss was at McNeese State all the way back on Dec. 12. This week, the Bulldogs lost two in a row, and whatever slim chance they had of getting an at-large look is now officially gone.

Minnesota: How do you follow up a win against Indiana? If you're Minnesota, you lose at Nebraska and Purdue. I don't really understand how that works, but I don't understand anything about this Gophers team. I don't think Tubby Smith does, either. The good news is Minnesota is still in much better shape than almost anyone on this list, thanks to its batch of top-50 wins and some pretty peerless computer numbers (RPI: 20; SOS: 2). But the Gophers did just finish the Big Ten season at 8-10, and what if they fall in the first round of the Big Ten tournament? You have to at least consider them to be on the bubble right now, right?


Alabama: The Crimson Tide scraped out a three-point home win over Georgia on Saturday. That is the definition of bubble survival: A loss probably would have knocked Anthony Grant's team totally out of the conversation. As it is, it's still a bit of a long shot -- the Tide were Joe Lunardi's last team among the first four out Saturday evening -- with absolutely zero good wins on its docket. Just a totally uninspiring résumé.

Southern Miss: Speaking of totally uninspiring résumés: the Golden Eagles, everyone! To be honest, it sort of baffles me that Southern Miss is even in the conversation; its best wins are at Denver and a sweep of East Carolina. But the Golden Eagles are hanging around the very fringes of the bubble, and Saturday's home victory over UCF preserved that ungainly status.

Iowa: If Iowa doesn't make the tournament -- and right now it looks very much like Iowa is not going to make the tournament -- Fran McCaffery will really only have himself to blame. The Hawkeyes' nonconference schedule was that of a team still in rebuilding mode, looking for some forgiving opponents and early-season wins. It didn't help that Northern Iowa wasn't as good as advertised, but still, the overall nonconference schedule rank of 308 looks like it is going to keep this .500 Big Ten team -- which would normally be a worthy distinction -- from serious bubble consideration, barring a big push in Chicago next week.

Cincinnati: What if Cincinnati had lost to South Florida on Saturday? That would have been the Bearcats' seventh loss in their past nine games, would have put them at 8-10 in Big East play and, worst of all, would have been a loss to South Florida, which has been just flat-out bad all season long. Fortunately, Cincinnati didn't lose to South Florida. Mick Cronin's team held on 61-53 and should be in solid shape moving forward.

Belmont: This sort-of-kind-of doesn't count, because Belmont won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in thrilling fashion Saturday, and its Dance status is now of the automatic variety. But had they lost, it's entirely possible the Bruins would have missed the tournament altogether.


Xavier: Two weeks ago, despite the young Musketeers' growing pains, it was impossible to look at Xavier's schedule and not have your saliva glands start working a little overdrive. Chris Mack's kids would get VCU, Memphis, UMass and Saint Louis all at home, and then they'd finish the season with a trip to Butler. The Cintas Center is a difficult place to play; a 4-1 record was entirely believable, and could have been a season-changing stretch. Instead, Xavier went 2-3 -- it lost at Butler on Saturday 67-62 -- and its tournament credentials look about as so-so as they did back in mid-February. Alas.

Providence: An even bigger long shot than better-than-you-think brothers-in-arms Iowa at this point, at least Providence, which would close the season at Connecticut, had the best chance of notching an impressive road victory on the final weekend of the season. Instead, UConn held on 63-59. Keep an eye on the Friars going forward; like McCaffery at Iowa, Ed Cooley has them playing better basketball than anyone expected this early in his tenure. But a tournament bid will have to wait.

St. John's: After suspending D'Angelo Harrison, sitting Sir'Dominic Pointer for a one-game fighting suspension and losing three in a row, St. John's looked totally cooked coming in to the weekend, both on the bubble and on the court. But the Red Storm didn't roll over. Instead, they gave Marquette a genuine test, forcing guard Vander Blue to make a last-second running layup to win and secure Buzz Williams a share of the Big East title. It was an impressive showing by the Red Storm, albeit one that came up just short. No chance this team gets in the tournament now.
In addition to plenty of just-plain-great games -- Louisville's win at Syracuse, Marquette's big home win over Notre Dame, that amazing Duke-Miami thriller at Cameron Indoor Stadium -- Saturday was also filled with bubble action, from the start of the day to its finish.

That's typical, of course; this is the time of year when NCAA tournament at-large selection very rapidly shifts from the theoretical to the concrete. What isn't so typical is the level of carnage wrought on this Saturday, the sheer number of teams with bubble hopes that suffered losses -- some of them devastating.

How do I know Saturday was a bubble massacre? Your Tennessee Volunteers -- a new bubble entity this week after their victory over Florida -- managed to lose at Georgia (RPI: 142), 78-68, and, according to our own Joe Lunardi, moved into the bracket. Yeah. That happened.

That is one of the things worth remembering about the bubble, of course: It's all relative. We need to get to 68 teams somehow. And if everyone falls apart, maybe, in the end, no one does.

Here is your Saturday Bubble Watch update:


Creighton: For months, Creighton had no place in the bubble conversation. It was assumed, and not unfairly so, that the Bluejays and star forward Doug McDermott would rather effortlessly coast through Missouri Valley Conference play, maybe suffer an upset or two, and not have to worry much or at all about locking up an at-large bid in case Arch Madness proves to be exactly that.

And then things came apart. Creighton dropped a game at Drake. McDermott's scoring dried up in a hard fall at Indiana State, which was followed by a close home loss to Illinois State and a 61-54 upset at Northern Iowa. The Bluejays barely got past Evansville -- a fourth straight loss would have started a major panic -- and last Saturday's trip to Moraga, Calif., for a BracketBusters matchup with Saint Mary's didn't go so well, either. All of a sudden, Creighton, a lock in our Bubble Watch since the month-old first edition, was at semi-serious risk of missing the NCAA tournament.

Its fans can breathe easier now. McDermott's 15-of-18 shooting, 41-point masterpiece led the Bluejays to a 91-79 win over Wichita State -- another surefire tournament team in its own right -- Saturday afternoon. If there was any doubt in the selection committee's mind, having your All-American reclaim his status with a Bill Walton-esque shooting performance over the best competition your league has to offer should just about shore everything up. Finally.

Boise State: Boise State will be just as thrilled about the aforementioned Bluejays' big win -- all season, Boise State's best bubble credential has been its surprising late-November win at Creighton. That win looks much better now.

But Boise State should mostly thank itself, and by "itself," I mean Derrick Marks. Marks had a McDermott-like day: 38 points on 13 of 18 from the field with 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Most important is he did it in a 78-65 win over Colorado State, a top-20 RPI team and a very good one to boot. (It's worth making a distinction, as teams ranked in the top 20 in the RPI aren't always actually good, but CSU definitely is.) Marks put his team on his back, to steal a phrase from that awesome Marshawn Lynch YouTube video, and the combination of a win over Colorado State and Creighton's big win will put Boise back into the serious at-large conversation -- the fifth team from the nine-team Mountain West to deserve such talk.

Oklahoma: The Sooners snuck up on us this season. It's OK to admit it: No one really expected much in Lon Kruger's second year in Norman, and if there was any expectation at all, it was to keep getting better and maybe surprise a few people in an otherwise-down Big 12. But Kruger's group of unheralded, workmanlike guys has done much more than that. By now, the Sooners have all but locked up an NCAA tournament bid. Sure, sure: There was that loss at Texas earlier in the week, but Oklahoma's convincing win over bubble-stuck Iowa State on Saturday was huge, and the Sooners' computer numbers -- a No. 29 RPI, a No. 9-ranked SOS, a No. 28 nonconference schedule figure -- and big wins over Kansas and Oklahoma State make them impossible to ignore. They have West Virginia and TCU left. If they handle business, they're in.

Massachusetts: It is worth noting, of course, that even after beating Memphis at home this week, Xavier's RPI is still just No. 87. It is also worth noting that the Minutemen's only top-50 win came at La Salle, which, while a decent team, is nobody's idea of a season-defining power. But even after noting all that, we should also note that UMass won at Xavier on Saturday, something the touted Memphis Tigers were unable to do just a few days prior. That definitely counts for something. With a home game against Butler next on the docket, Derek Kellogg's team still has time to make some noise — or at least reverse the damage of last week's loss at St. Bonaventure.

Arkansas: So, what's a home win over Kentucky worth these days, anyway? It's a good question: The Wildcats beat Missouri in their own building just seven days ago, but that's their only top-50 win of the season, and it's safe to say the selection committee won't hold John Calipari's team in vaunted regard with injured forward Nerlens Noel out. So it's hard to know how much this victory can aid Arkansas' late push toward the bubble finish line. But I do know this: It can't hurt. On a day when so much of the rest of the bubble, particularly the SEC versions, seemed intent on imploding, a win over a fellow bubble team counts as a totally positive development. (A win at Missouri on Tuesday would be even better.)

California: Hey, remember when Cal was kind of bad? It happened this season, I swear it did -- it was just Dec. 29 when a depleted Harvard toppled the Bears in Berkeley, after all. You can be forgiven if you don't quite remember, because it hasn't been the case for weeks. On Saturday, Cal rattled off its seventh consecutive win, a 62-46 destruction of visiting Colorado. This stretch began with a win at Arizona and included a home victory over UCLA and a win at Oregon. With no bad losses weighing them down, I'm not sure how the Bears could miss out on the tournament now.

UCLA: The Bruins completed their season sweep of Arizona Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA wasn't really on the bubble -- not like some of these other poor, desperate souls -- but even so, it's safe to say sweeping the Wildcats makes you a lock. This file is officially closed.


Kentucky, Tennessee, and — gulp — Ole Miss: Does anyone from the SEC actually want to go to the NCAA tournament? Is everybody already thinking about spring football? What on Earth is going on?

We talked about Kentucky in the Arkansas blurb; the Wildcats remain one of the more intriguing at-large cases for the committee to handle, but I'm not sure their status as a just-above-the-bubble squad was totally damaged by a loss at Arkansas. And Tennessee, as we mentioned in the intro, managed to lose at Georgia and still move into the bracket. Wait, what? Huh? How does that happen?

[+] EnlargeAndy Kennedy
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsAndy Kennedy has seen Ole Miss turn a 17-2 start into a 21-8 mark after Saturday's ugly loss.
The answer brings us to Ole Miss.

On Saturday, Ole Miss lost to Mississippi State. It's a little bit difficult to explain how bad this loss is without sounding a little bit mean to the Bulldogs, but I don't live in the South, so I don't have to couch my insults with the written equivalent of "Bless your heart": Mississippi State is horrible. Awful. The Bulldogs were riding a 13-game losing streak, to no real fault of theirs or their coach's, as -- thanks to injuries and being at the start of a rebuilding process -- Rick Ray has just seven scholarship players at his command this season. Mississippi State's RPI is No. 236. It began Saturday ranked No. 277 in the efficiency rankings, just one spot below mighty Samford. Many fans believe this to be not only the worst Mississippi State team, but the worst Southeastern Conference team of all time.

That team beat Ole Miss on March 2.

Not only is it a disaster for the Rebels, who have lost in recent weeks at Texas A&M and South Carolina and have turned a 17-2 start into a 21-8 mess, it's also a disaster for coach Andy Kennedy, who began the season on the proverbial hot seat and needed this Ole Miss team to be the redeemed group that got back to the NCAA tournament. It looks less likely than ever that is going to happen. And why? Mississippi State. It doesn't get much worse than that.

Arizona State: Speaking of stalled redemption songs, it's been hard to not root this season for the Sun Devils, who soaked up freshman point guard Jahii Carson's dynamic skill like a sponge en route to a very legitimate spot in the at-large conversation, a far cry from the depths of the let's-just-pretend-it-never-happened 2012 campaign. But Herb Sendek's team appears to be fading a bit late: It fell at home to Washington last Saturday, missed a close one at UCLA on Thursday, and suffered an absolutely brutal 57-56 loss at USC on Saturday. The Washington loss was easily the worst, but because USC began the season so poorly (before it fired coach Kevin O'Neill), a one-point loss looks worse for bubble purposes than it actually is (as USC has been playing really good basketball for about a month). Just tough breaks here.

St. John's: This week, the Red Storm suspended D'Angelo Harrison, one of its most gifted and frustrating players. Whether that departure can be blamed for Saturday's loss is questionable; what I do know is a loss at Providence for a team with an already very shaky bubble case is not a good thing. You probably know that, too. Failing two wins in its final two regular-season games -- at Notre Dame, versus Marquette, good luck -- Steve Lavin's team may well miss the tournament.

Iowa State: Poor Cyclones. Really. Sure, Saturday's 86-69 loss at Oklahoma was ugly on the score line, but a) Oklahoma's good, and b) can you really blame Iowa State? After what happened in Hilton Coliseum this week? Being on the receiving end of one of the worst calls of the season -- in a sport that feels ever more infected by awful officiating -- hurts. Not beating Kansas when you should following an emotionally intense performance. Seeing Fred Hoiberg's young child crying on the sideline hurts. Of course, no one in that locker room will be throwing a pity party, nor should they: Iowa State still has a very good chance of getting into the Dance. But the Wednesday home game against Oklahoma State looms large.

Indiana State: Ah, Sycamores. You thrilled us with your win over Miami at the Diamond Head Classic; you dazzled us with victories at Wichita State and against Creighton. Unfortunately, you've now lost five of your past six, including Saturday's loss at Evansville (RPI: 100) and defeats to Missouri State (RPI: 212), Bradley (RPI: 171) and Drake (RPI: 131). Failing a deep run in Arch Madness, the dream appears to be over.

Akron: Before Saturday's shocking loss at Buffalo, a 12-17 team with an RPI of 241, Akron's last loss came on Dec. 15. Hopefully the committee takes that into account, because this really is a good team. But the margin for error for mid-majors like Akron is always razor-thin. You can't lose random league games to bad opponents, and when you do, you should probably pick a team that isn't Buffalo. It'll be really interesting to see how this résumé will be viewed going forward.


Temple: Temple had just regained its footing. The Owls had a rough, wild February, wherein they played five consecutive one-point games in conference play, a stretch that included a home loss to Duquesne. But things were looking up: A win at UMass, a home non-one-point-win over La Salle, a double-digit win at Charlotte, and Thursday's solid home victory over Detroit all injected a little life into an at-large profile that included a big win over Syracuse, a nice win over Saint Louis, and not much else. And surely the Owls would take care of things at home against Rhode Island on Saturday, right? Wait … right?

Right. Phew. Temple held on for a 76-70 victory over a Rhode Island team that has played a lot of its Atlantic 10 foes really tight in the past two months; shaking the Rams off is no easy feat. (Just ask Saint Louis, which last lost when Rhody upset the Billikens in Saint Louis. True story.) That Temple was able to do so must have elicited a major sigh of relief from fans, and coach Fran Dunphy, and not necessarily in that order.

Cincinnati: It's hard to say Cincinnati would have been in bubble trouble with a home loss to Connecticut on Saturday, but our eyebrows would have been ever so slightly raised. It would have been Cincinnati's fourth straight loss, after all, albeit to three solid-to-great (UConn, Notre Dame, Georgetown) Big East teams. The Bearcats held on for a five-point win over Kevin Ollie's scrappy guys, and there's little reason to raise eyebrows now.


Alabama: When you're a bubble team in the SEC -- oh god, here we go again -- you don't get many opportunities for marquee wins. Missouri is decent but not great, whether in the RPI or otherwise. Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Ole Miss don't come anywhere close. (Obviously.) Really, your only opportunity to drastically change the perception of your team or the trajectory of your season -- or both -- is to beat Florida. Florida's really good. If you can knock the Gators off, you deserve to be viewed differently. If you can do it at Florida? You should probably get into the NCAA tournament on sheer principle, which is why Alabama's 12-point loss in Gainesville on Saturday, while expected, is still a missed opportunity: Shockingly enough, the Crimson Tide had Florida well within striking distance as late as the final two minutes of regulation. That final score is a mirage; this game was close, and Alabama just couldn't quite get there when it counted.

Baylor: It's been easy to poke fun at Baylor this season. The Bears play a wacky zone defense. They've probably underachieved. Those uniforms. Etc. But I refuse to make fun of Baylor after Saturday's absolutely brutal last-second loss. It would be easier than ever. The Bears did inbound the ball out of bounds over the the full length of the court without touching it with one second left, and then allowed Rodney McGruder to get free and fire a game-winning 3-pointer within that one second on the ensuing baseline out-of-bounds play. That's a borderline-comical way to lose. But it's also incredibly brutal.

That is, of course, in part because Baylor desperately needed a big win to buttress its bubble case; the Bears are directly atop the bubble right now, and the biggest flaw in their résumé is their lack of marquee wins. The visit from Kansas State was a plum opportunity to knock off a really good team with a really good résumé, and Baylor was just that close.

"Ouch" doesn't even begin to describe it.
As is customary this time of year, there was no shortage of bubbly college hoops action on this late-February Saturday. Let's tease out some winners and losers along the NCAA tournament cut line, shall we?


Kentucky: No question about it: The Wildcats got their most important win of the season Saturday night.

The fact that I just wrote that should give you an idea of just how trying this UK season has been, because it's not like Missouri is some untouchable juggernaut. The Tigers toppled Florida this week at home, sure, but for most of their season, they've been inconsistent, particularly on the road. It was entirely fathomable that a hampered Kentucky team could beat Missouri, is what I'm saying. This was not a shock. But that doesn't make it any less important.

[+] EnlargeAlex Poythress
AP Photo/James CrispAlex Poythress went for 21 points in Kentucky's overtime victory against Missouri.
Simply put, Kentucky needed a win to prove it is still at least a viable NCAA tournament entity, a team that wouldn't merely roll over after losing star do-everything defender Nerlens Noel. There is enough time left in the post-Noel-ACL-tear season for the NCAA to essentially throw out what Kentucky looked like for months with Noel and to spend the majority of its time evaluating how the Wildcats look now, without him. Before Saturday, that impression would not have been a positive one. Kentucky lost at Tennessee by 30 and barely beat Vanderbilt at home, 74-70. Missouri offered a perfect opportunity: a potential résumé win against a beatable team. After 40 minutes and one overtime, UK took full advantage of that opportunity.

In the end, though, Missouri is just Kentucky's first top-50 RPI win. The Wildcats' admission into the tournament is far from settled. Their remaining schedule is both promising and a little scary; Kentucky has to go on the road to beat Arkansas and Georgia in the first week of March, and then finishes at home March 9 against Florida. There is another opportunity here -- arguably two, if you want to include Arkansas. But John Calipari and his still-chugging young team have much more work to do.

Villanova: Since its back-to-back late-January wins over Louisville and Syracuse, Villanova has been in something like a bubble limbo. Those wins were enough to put the Wildcats in the conversation for a bid, sure, but were they enough to totally outweigh that Nov. 20 loss to Columbia or a sweep at the hands of Providence or a No. 179 nonconference strength of schedule?

No, Villanova needed more. And in the past seven days, Jay Wright's team got it. Last Saturday, the Wildcats won at Connecticut. On Monday, they fended off Rutgers. This Saturday, they got by far their biggest victory of the three, a 60-56 upset of a very good Marquette team whose RPI (14) makes a win against it one of the more valuable in the Big East. Between that and UConn, Villanova added two top-30 RPI wins to its résumé. If the Wildcats can avoid losing to Seton Hall on Monday night, they might not even need to split their last two games, at Pitt and versus Georgetown. One thing is clear: Villanova is heading in the right direction.

North Carolina: If you looked at just North Carolina's RPI and strength-of-schedule numbers, you might not be able to tell UNC is having a down season, at least according to its own lofty standards. The Tar Heels have the 26th-best RPI in the country and a top-15 SOS; a bare-bones blind résumé test would put them in the tournament over a lot of teams we currently see as "better."

Such are the perils of the RPI, of course, but the larger point about North Carolina is that for as bad as Roy Williams' team has often been this season, things aren't nearly so dire where the tournament is concerned. And while Saturday's win over NC State -- a 76-65 victory in Chapel Hill -- won't suddenly lock up UNC, it did add another top-25 win to a category in which a late-December home win over UNLV (another team arguably overrated by the RPI) was the only previous data point. UNC's next four games -- at Clemson, Florida State, at Maryland, Duke -- will decide this team's fate, but the clouds are already beginning to lift.

Oklahoma: Speaking of quietly impressive NCAA tournament résumés, how about the Oklahoma Sooners? Lon Kruger's team has a top-20 RPI, a top-five SOS and a top-10 nonconference mark. How is this possible? Oklahoma wisely limited the number of truly bad RPI teams it played in November and December, helping put most of its nonconference successes in the top-100 field (even if those teams -- UTEP, West Virginia, Northwestern State, Texas A&M, etc. -- stack up to far less than the sum of their individual RPIs). Anyway, if a second win over Baylor on Saturday (90-76 in Norman) doesn't totally lock the Sooners into the tournament, let's just say it's close. What a job Kruger has done.

Wichita State: There wasn't a ton of suspense surrounding Wichita State's BracketBusters matchup with Detroit on Saturday; it's hard to imagine the Shockers missing the tournament at this point. But with just a home game against Evansville and a road trip to Creighton left, Saturday's LOL -- lack of loss, a completely silly term I like to use every now and then -- shores things up quite nicely.


Creighton: Let's be clear: Losing on the road at Saint Mary's hardly makes you a loser. In a normal context, you take your trip to Moraga, Calif., in stride; you don't start freaking out because Matthew Dellavedova carved you up. He does that to everyone.

But it's time to face facts on Creighton. The Bluejays are not a lock for the NCAA tournament. We've had them as such since the first edition of Bubble Watch, and we've kept the faith since. We don't like to downgrade locks, because locks should be locks, so we delay any possible decision to do so. Then fans ask us how Creighton can be a lock and Wisconsin not, for example, and I have to try to explain, and lately people have responded with ever more confused looks. Rightfully so. Creighton might have looked lock-worthy a month ago, but since then it has lost four of its past six, including Saturday's loss at Saint Mary's and consecutive losses to Indiana State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa. None of those teams is bad, of course, but when you throw those sorts of middling-RPI losses onto a profile with a 48 RPI and a 119 SOS, whose three best wins came against Wisconsin, Akron and Cal -- no, you are not a lock. You're actually a lot more like a 10-seed.

It's time we adjust accordingly.

Alabama: Alabama began Saturday on the thinnest edge of the NCAA tournament bubble. Bracketologist Joe Lunardi listed Alabama as the second-to-last team in his next four out, and the Bracket Project's aggregated list matched that distinction. There was little to no breathing room at LSU. Of course, Alabama lost at LSU, 97-94. It's pretty simple stuff: The Tide are out of the tournament conversation until further notice.

Baylor: On the one hand, it's hard to blame Baylor for its recent three-game losing streak. Playing at Kansas State and Oklahoma is no easy feat -- those are good teams, especially at home -- and Iowa State's spread-out offensive attack can get hot just as quickly away from Hilton Coliseum as inside it. As losses go, those are three pretty OK losses for Baylor. And yet the aggregated effect is bad. The Bears are now just 16-11 with a No. 60 RPI. They're 2-8 against the RPI top 50, with only one of those wins (Oklahoma State) actually looking "good" at this stage of the season. (The other is that Dec. 1 win at Kentucky. Meh.) The good news: Kansas State and Kansas still have to go to Waco. But do you really trust this talented but uneven Baylor team to win either of those games at home? I don't.

Iowa: There are reasons Iowa's NCAA tournament chances were always a long shot. They include the 325th-ranked nonconference strength of schedule, sure, and the road losses to Purdue and Virginia Tech, not to mention that 80ish RPI. But more than any of that, the reason Iowa's route to the NCAA tournament looked so difficult two weeks ago can be summed up in one word: schedule. Down the stretch, Iowa's chances for marquee wins were few and far between -- a home game against Minnesota, a road game at (gulp) Indiana -- but the schedule also was peppered with RPI trip wires: Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska, Purdue. On Saturday, Iowa tripped one of those wires, losing at Nebraska, 64-60. This nearly happened at Penn State last week (Iowa escaped 74-72), and maybe it was inevitable -- it is really hard to go an entire month without losing at least a game or two that you probably should have won. For the Hawks, the upshot is that whatever at-large bid hopes they now have probably rest on a victory at IU, and I'm not sure even that would be enough. I hate to quote John Lennon from his bitter post-Beatles comedown days, but as John Lennon said: The dream is over.

Arizona State: Fascinating bubble case here. At this time last week we were praising the Sun Devils for completing an unlikely sweep of Colorado. Now this Saturday we're trying to figure out how they managed to get swept by a decidedly mediocre Washington team, including tonight's loss at home. With only one decent win to speak of in the nonconference (vs. Arkansas) and nothing that even remotely qualifies as a decent road win outside of Boulder, ASU is in perilous spot now with all three of its remaining regular-season games on the road (at UCLA, at USC, at Arizona). Time to worry in Tempe.


Indiana State: The survivors category is reserved for teams that did just enough to avoid completely destroying their résumés in one fell swoop, and that description certainly applies to the Sycamores. On Saturday, ISU held on to a 65-64 home win over Iona, whose 131 RPI would have ended Indiana State's chances of getting an at-large bid pretty much in their tracks. (This is one of the main criticisms of the now-sunsetting BracketBusters, by the way, that it ended up hurting just as many mid-majors as it helped.) Instead, a win keeps the flicker of hope alive, if only barely.

California: A win at Oregon State isn't going to improve your profile, but the lack-of-loss properties can't be understated. Oregon State's abysmal 179 RPI would have dragged Cal's 50s-ish RPI even farther down and would have punched a hole in one of the best qualities of its résumé -- its lack of bad losses. Cal won, stretched its wins streak (which began at Arizona on Feb. 10) to five and will return to Berkeley for the final three games of the season, all at home. Nice.

Tennessee: Tennessee is still in the picture. That would have been silly to say a few weeks ago, but since then the Volunteers have torn off five consecutive wins, the most recent of which was Saturday's 93-85 victory at Texas A&M. None of those was really impressive -- maybe a 30-point win over Kentucky counts, but maybe it doesn't, given the timing of Noel's injury (your mileage might vary here) -- but the Vols will at least be in the conversation when Florida arrives in Knoxville this week.


Xavier: Of the dozens of teams way out on the bubble fringe, the Musketeers were intriguing if only because of their closing schedule: VCU, Memphis, Massachusetts and Saint Louis, all at home, followed by a season-closing trip to Butler. Enticing, right? It didn't begin well. Xavier lost that first game, 75-71, to VCU, and unless XU can rattle off an unbeaten finish against some of its league's best teams, it has no chance of getting into the tourney.

Stanford: The Cardinal gave Oregon a run in Eugene on Saturday but eventually fell short, 77-66, and the end result is a still-ugly RPI, a 1-8 mark against the RPI top 50 and a 5-11 mark against the top 100. Oh, and that top-50 win came at home against Cal back on Jan. 19. Just not a whole lot here.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

February, 22, 2013
A handful of Kansas' eight straight Big 12 titles have come with relative ease. But if the Jayhawks claim the crown again this season, no one will be able to say that they didn't earn it. Bill Self's squad nearly fell out of the picture by losing three games in a row earlier this month. But now KU is tied for the league lead again after Wednesday's double-overtime victory at Oklahoma State. The championship is hardly in the bag, but history suggests it'd be foolish to doubt the Jayhawks this late in the season. Here are the latest power rankings.

1. Kansas. The Jayhawks defeated Kansas State and Texas by an average of 23.5 points before escaping Stillwater with a 68-67 double-overtime win Wednesday. Backup guard Naadir Tharpe hit the game-winner on a night when Ben McLemore scored only seven points. KU's toughest remaining game is Monday at Iowa State.

2. Kansas State. Forget all the talk about the Wildcats hitting their ceiling. Bruce Weber's squad just keeps getting better. Point guard Angel Rodriguez looked like a first-team All-Big 12 guard in his 22-point, 10-assist effort in Saturday's win over Baylor. If K-State wins out it will claim at least a share of the conference title for the first time since 1977.

3. Oklahoma State. The Cowboys nearly defeated KU Wednesday even though Marcus Smart went just 2 of 14 from the field. Small forward Le'Bryan Nash continues to be an enigma. In his past four games, he's scored 14, 6, 26 and 8 points. Oklahoma State plays at West Virginia Saturday and at TCU Wednesday.

4. Iowa State. Fred Hoiberg's squad finally beat a decent Big 12 team on the road. Wednesday's 87-82 victory over Baylor was impressive on a variety of fronts. The Cyclones shot 54.2 percent from the field and got 15 or more points from four players: Melvin Ejim, Korie Lucious, Tyrus McGee and Georges Niang. Monday's home game against Kansas is obviously huge.

5. Oklahoma. The Sooners have won three of their past four games, with the only setback coming in a road defeat at Oklahoma State. Lon Kruger's squad has a tough upcoming stretch against Baylor, Texas and Iowa State. (The Texas game is on the road). If Oklahoma wins two of those three contests, the Sooners would be a virtual lock to make the NCAA tournament. Wouldn't they?

6. Baylor. If it weren't for West Virginia, the Bears would be the Big 12's biggest disappointment. Scott Drew's squad has lost five of its past seven games, including home setbacks against Iowa State and Oklahoma. Baylor has defeated just one team (Oklahoma State) in the upper half of the league standings. Its other six Big 12 wins have come against Texas, West Virginia, TCU (twice) and Texas Tech (twice).

7. Texas. The Longhorns have gone 2-1 since the return of point guard Myck Kabongo, beating Iowa State at home and TCU on the road and losing at Kansas. Kabongo has been solid, but not spectacular. He's averaging 12.7 points, 4.7 assists and three turnovers while shooting just 38.7 percent from the field. Texas hosts co-league leader Kansas State on Saturday.

8. West Virginia. The Mountaineers are 13-13 overall and 6-7 in league play. They may have the toughest remaining schedule of any Big 12 team, with home games remaining against Oklahoma State, Baylor and Iowa State and road games against Kansas and Oklahoma. West Virginia lost their first meeting with each of those schools.

9. Texas Tech. The Red Raiders almost upset West Virginia in Morgantown on Saturday before falling 66-64. A few days later, they were blown out at home by Oklahoma 86-71. Texas Tech's next two games (against Iowa State and Kansas State) are both on the road. Things could get ugly.

10. TCU. The Horned Frogs threw a scare into Texas Wednesday before wilting down the stretch in a 68-59 loss. First-year coach Trent Johnson shouldn't be judged on his team's 10-16 record. He simply doesn't have the personnel to compete. At least not yet.

Bubble Watch: Saturday's survivors

February, 17, 2013
Saturday wasn't packed with as many high-quality, top-10 games as we've become used to -- we're spoiled, us hoops fans -- but it did feature a plethora of variously shaky NCAA tournament hopefuls looking to add further credentials to their respective résumés. Here's a look at who won and lost, and who survived and missed out, in a jam-packed day of bubble action.


[+] EnlargeMark Turgeon
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyMark Turgeon had plenty to celebrate after he scored his first victory over Duke as Maryland coach.
Maryland: For Maryland fans, there's nothing in the world better than beating Duke, particularly after a three-year drought against their hated rivals. The same can be said for Maryland's place on the bubble. The Blue Devils are hardly the best team in the country (even if this week's coaches poll inexplicably disagreed) but they did enter Saturday with the No. 1 RPI in the country, the product of victories over Minnesota, VCU and Louisville in the November Battle 4 Atlantis (as well as a home win over Ohio State). Maryland entered Saturday planted about as firmly as possible on the tournament bubble, with prohibitive RPI (70) and SOS numbers (SOS: 119; nonconference SOS: 301), and with just one top-50 win, a 51-50 home defeat of NC State, to its name. Duke presented the right combination of a beatable team with a hugely flattering NCAA tournament profile, and the Terps took advantage.

Does that mean they're a lock? Hardly. The Terps would do well to avoid some potential scares on the road (at Boston College, at Georgia Tech, at Wake Forest) and take down North Carolina at home March 6, which is probably their last chance to beat a fellow potential tournament team. And they're still just outside the bracket in Joe Lunardi's latest configuration. But Saturday's win was a huge step forward, no doubt about it.

North Carolina: Speaking of North Carolina, the Tar Heels still have plenty of work to do themselves before they can feel safe about their spot in the NCAA tournament. But this was a good week. Not only did Roy Williams' team get a promising 93-81 win over Virginia on Saturday -- if you can stretch Virginia to that many possessions, let alone 93 points, you are officially in control of the ballgame -- but it played probably its best game of the season in Wednesday night's close loss to Duke. For strict RPI purposes, that Duke loss will go down as nothing more than that -- a loss to a good team on the road. But the committee was surely watching (it happened to be gathered in Indianapolis for meetings and mock selection), and for a committee never shy about applying the "eye test," UNC's week was a winner.

Philly trio: Philadelphia hoops might not be at its vintage best these days, but things are trending upward. Villanova backed up its back-to-back wins over Syracuse and Louisville -- the wins that made it a bubble entity in the first place -- with a solid road victory at Connecticut. Temple, which lost to Duquesne 84-83 this week, saw karma return the favor in an 83-82 win at fellow bubbler Massachusetts. And sneaky-good La Salle just keeps winning, this time in a Big 5 matchup victory over St. Joe's.

Arkansas: For the first two months of the season, the Razorbacks were among the most disappointing teams in the country. After all, why shouldn't this team be good? At the very least, why can't Arkansas play in the tournament? The Razorbacks have an NBA guard in BJ Young and some nice pieces around him, and Mike Anderson's Nolan Richardson-inspired up-tempo system isn't just perfect for Arkansas' basketball climate, it's also effective. But soft defense plagued this group throughout November and December as it embarked on what appeared to be yet another mediocre campaign.

That might still be true -- Arkansas did lose at Vanderbilt 67-49 just seven days ago, somehow -- but it's at least worth noticing the Hogs' big wins. On Feb. 5, they handed Florida its first SEC loss of the season, and Saturday afternoon, Young's two late and-1 plays helped Arkansas notch a win over Anderson's former school, Missouri. There is a long way to go before the Razorbacks will start getting serious tournament looks, but at least they seem interested in the postseason.

UCLA: The Bruins aren't in dire bubble shape but they don't have a ton of room for error, and they had a tough assignment Saturday, playing a surging Stanford team on the road. They got out of Palo Alto with an 88-80 win -- say this much for Ben Howland's team: It can really score -- to remain on the right side of the bubble conversation.

Arizona State: What a wacky week for the Sun Devils. After last week's three-point home loss to Stanford, ASU fell at Utah, which is better than it was last season (by a lot) but still not one of the 100 or even 150 best teams in college basketball. The only way Arizona State could erase the damage of that defeat was with a big, unlikely win at Colorado -- itself coming off a 13-point win over Arizona -- which, of course, is exactly what happened. Given Colorado's top-20 RPI, ASU's victory in Boulder puts a check in all the boxes the committee holds dear and should help the Sun Devils' own No. 76 RPI to boot.


Kentucky: There were plenty of questions to ask in the wake of Nerlens Noel's season-ending ACL injury at Florida, among them what it meant for Noel's professional career, what (if anything) it said about the one-and-done rule in the NCAA and so on. But chief among them was what the injury would mean for Kentucky's season, and how the Wildcats -- already a somewhat shaky bubble proposition -- would respond. The answer, received Saturday, was "not well." In its first post-Noel game, Kentucky was blown out at Tennessee, 88-58. It was a fair bet to assume the loss of Noel would hurt UK's defense; he is, after all, one of the nation's best shot-blockers-slash-turnover-creators. But no one could have assumed Kentucky would suddenly become the type of defense that allows 88 points to the Volunteers, themselves an often-brutal offensive outfit.

This is all bad news. Because the NCAA tournament selection committee appraises teams based on what they'll be when the tournament begins, it doesn't pay much attention to what happens before a key player gets hurt. The first three months of the season are essentially moot; the committee will evaluate Kentucky on what it does from now until Selection Sunday, and if Saturday was any indication, that appraisal will not be favorable.

Indiana State: The Sycamores were one of the feel-good stories of the season, an unheralded bunch that emerged from the tough Missouri Valley in lieu of popular preseason tourney picks such as Northern Iowa and Illinois State. Unfortunately, after Saturday's loss at Bradley (RPI: 175) -- which followed a loss earlier this week at Missouri State (RPI: 207) -- much of the bloom has come off this rose. To wit, Lunardi moved Indiana State out of the field in his late bracket update Saturday. Indiana State has four games left in the regular season and one major bubble opportunity: Tuesday night's home date against Wichita State. If ISU can't manage to take down the Shockers in Terre Haute, its final three games (Iona, Drake, at Evansville) won't do much to help.

Air Force: Between Jan. 19 and Feb. 2, Air Force rattled off five consecutive Mountain West Conference wins, beginning with Boise State and ending with a home victory over San Diego State. The Falcons lost a pair of road games in early February, at New Mexico and Nevada, but came back with another huge home win over UNLV on Feb. 13. All of which made Saturday's home game against Colorado State and its top-15 RPI something like a must-win. Instead, the Falcons fell short, 89-86. I wouldn't count this team out just yet -- it has proved it can play with pretty much anyone in the MWC -- but with its current computer numbers (including an RPI in the 60s and a noncon SOS ranked outside the top 250), Air Force's at-large margin for error is now drastically slim.

The middle portions of the Atlantic 10: Those of you waiting for the Atlantic 10 to start making some sort of sense can keep waiting, but I'm done. It simply isn't going to happen. But with all that chaos governing the league, it seemed possible some of the more middling teams -- Xavier, Charlotte, UMass -- could extend this one-year-only 16-team's NCAA tournament contenders deeper than anyone previously assumed. But all three of those teams lost Saturday: Xavier lost at Dayton, Charlotte was handled at Saint Louis and UMass missed a big opportunity in a one-point loss to Temple. Much like the A-10 in general, there are varying degrees of résumé in that group. But the overwhelming impression of that trio is mediocrity.


NC State: The Wolfpack are in much better bubble shape than most of the teams above, but the fact remains that a home loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday would have called into question just how tourney-built the Wolfpack really are. Since its Jan. 12 home win over Duke, NC State has lost at Maryland, at Wake Forest, at Virginia and in Durham (as well as a one-point home loss to Miami), and last Sunday only barely got by at Clemson (final score: 58-57) in one of its ugliest offensive outings of the season. NC State entered Saturday's game with a 6-5 record in ACC play and a 2-5 record on the road. And things were dicey in Raleigh. NC State needed a five-minute second-half Hokies drought and a 14-point run, plus overtime, to get past Erick Green (who notched 29 points and eight assists) and company. We might not remember it in March, but that might end up being the best -- or at least the most important -- win of NC State's up-and-down season.

Creighton: Two weeks ago, in my first edition of Bubble Watch, I put the Bluejays on the lock line because ... well, because, why not? Of course they were going to make the tournament. Two weeks later, after Creighton lost consecutive games at Indiana State, at home against Illinois State and at Northern Iowa, the Bluejays' profile -- two top-50 wins (over Wisconsin and Akron), an RPI of 50, a SOS of 114 -- suddenly looked like anything but a lock. That made Saturday's trip to Evansville fraught with intrigue, and the Purple Aces were more than happy to play the spoiling role. But thanks to Doug McDermott's 21 points and 10 rebounds and a 9-for-18 night from 3, Creighton held on 71-68, avoiding its fourth loss in a row and -- much more importantly -- avoiding making me break my "I don't unlock locks; that's why they're locks" Bubble Watch rule. At least for now.

Ole Miss: For all the hype Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson has received at various times this season, Ole Miss is not a guaranteed tournament team. The Rebels' only marquee win came at home against Missouri, which hasn't played like a marquee-win type of team in months, and besides, Missouri blitzed Ole Miss in Columbia one month later. The Rebels' is the type of profile that is safe only in so far as it's not as shaky as the Villanovas of the world, but it is just as vulnerable to bad losses in an SEC full of them. In other words, Saturday's rally and eventual 84-74 OT victory over Georgia was crucial, if expected.


Virginia: The Cavaliers were hardly the favorite in Chapel Hill on Saturday, but they could have very much used a road win over an ostensible ACC team, and they bossed the game so handily when UNC visited Charlottesville that it seemed entirely plausible the same could happen in a different venue. It didn't -- UNC hung 93 -- and so the Cavs and their truly bizarre at-large profile remain in precarious position.

Oklahoma: Advanced stats tell us Oklahoma has been playing some very good basketball for the past couple of months, even as the Sooners failed to clinch big results in close games against Kansas State (twice) and at Kansas. When they toppled the reeling Jayhawks in Norman last week, they proved they could break through against a top team, and we shouldn't have been surprised when the Sooners pushed Oklahoma State to the brink in Stillwater on Saturday afternoon. Nor, perhaps, should we have been surprised when Oklahoma State sealed a tight five-point win. But man, would that one have been huge for OU.

Boise State: Unlike fellow MWC bubble-crasher Air Force, we've seen the Broncos coming since Nov. 28, when they upset Creighton in Omaha. Unfortunately, Boise hasn't gained Air Force-esque steam as the season has progressed, its only notable victory a home win over UNLV. On Saturday, the Broncos played New Mexico tight for 37 minutes and trailed by just two points with three minutes left to play. Then the Broncos faded. There's no shame in losing at New Mexico, but when you have the nation's third-ranked RPI squad on the ropes in its own building, it has to hurt when you can't come through.

My Saturday afternoon observations

February, 16, 2013
Just last week, NCAA tournament selection committee chair Mike Bobinski hosted the first of a handful of teleconferences heading toward Selection Sunday. It was just a day after Nerlens Noel tore his anterior cruciate ligament, so naturally Bobinski was asked how the loss of Kentucky’s best player would affect the Wildcats’ chance at an NCAA tourney berth.

Here’s what he said:

“The reality is we have about 4 1/2 weeks of basketball left to be able to watch Kentucky play and see how they perform without him in the lineup now, and that will really tell the story I think of how we ultimately judge and view Kentucky."

Well, here’s what the committee saw:

[+] EnlargeJohn Calipari
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsA rocky road got worse Saturday for John Calipari and defending-champion Kentucky.
Tennessee 88, Kentucky 58. Tied for the fourth-worst loss for UK in the past 80 years. John Calipari's worst loss since Feb. 18, 1989. That was a lifetime ago, in his first season at Massachusetts, when the Minutemen lost to Duquesne by 31. He didn’t have quite as many McDonald's All Americans on that roster.

If this were an audition for the tourney bracket, the director would be yelling, "Next!"

Just barely on the bubble to begin with -- Kentucky has zero top-50 RPI wins now that free-falling Ole Miss has dropped to 51 -- the Wildcats were quickly dumped to the First Four Out by Joe Lunardi on Saturday afternoon (remember, even before Noel got hurt, UK was getting essentially run out of the gym by Florida).

There is no question that losing Noel is a huge blow, but it is not just in terms of X's and O's. That Tennessee loss -- and give the Vols credit for playing a near-flawless game (especially point guard Trae Golden) -- exposed the real crux of the problem for Kentucky sans Noel.

For most of the season, he has been the only one playing with a combination of consistent ferocity and passion. The rest of the team tends to disappear frequently, lollygags on defense often and shows such dispassionate body language at times that you have to wonder whether the players are clock-watching.

In Noel’s absence, his freshman classmates Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin combined for 13 points, 13 fouls and nine turnovers.

A year after coaching one of the best collections of hard-working, unselfish players, Calipari has a group he cannot cajole, bullwhip or beg into cohesion. It has gotten so bad that the coach spent the week before the Florida game talking about his team’s need to find love. Not the Valentine kind, but the bromance of basketball.

Thanks to the cottony soft bubble, Kentucky isn’t dead yet. But the Grim Reaper is standing by. The Wildcats have six regular-season games left -- four that can only hurt them (against Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Georgia) and two that will mean everything (visits from Missouri and Florida).

Noel, of course, won’t be there for any of them, but for Kentucky right now, it’s more about channeling the way he played.

Some other observations from Saturday afternoon:

1. Opportunity knocked ... And North Carolina answered. Oklahoma couldn’t unlock the door. Stanford didn’t hear the doorbell. In what might go down as an ACC bracket-buster game, the Tar Heels topped Virginia, 93-81. That doesn’t officially seal either team’s fate, but certainly it’s a feather for UNC and a glancing blow for the Cavaliers.

Meanwhile, in the Big 12, Oklahoma blew an 11-point lead and lost 84-79 in overtime at Oklahoma State, which has won seven consecutive league games for the first time in nearly a decade. It’s a body blow for the rival Sooners, who have a confusing NCAA résumé -- an RPI of 20 but a 3-5 record against the RPI top 50.

As for Stanford, Bill Walton quite naturally put it best. Somebody, the analyst said, needs to start watering the roots of the Tree. Just two weeks ago, the Cardinal looked like the team that promised to capitalize on its NIT run from last season, winning three games in a row, including one against hot Oregon. Now, Stanford has lost three of four, blowing show-me opportunities against both Arizona and now UCLA.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Smart
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiFreshman Marcus Smart scored 28 in OK State's rivalry win, the Cowboys' seventh in a row.
2. Pay attention to Marcus Smart: The Oklahoma State guard might be the most unheralded player in the country right now. Seriously. The reason might be that on their own, none of his numbers jumps off the stat line -- he averages 14.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.0 steals per game -- but then go back and look at that list collectively.

He’s good at everything. Offense, defense, scoring and sharing, he is the consummate individual player and the consummate teammate. In the victory against the Sooners, he had 28 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Just another day at the office. He's also the reason the Cowboys are poised for their first NCAA tournament bid since 2010. Oklahoma State has won seven in a row. In that stretch, Smart is averaging 19.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.4 steals.

3. What would happen if ... Arkansas and Missouri played on a neutral court? Would the game ever end? Or better yet, would it ever start? Would both teams be turned into pillars of salt, frozen in fear by the unfamiliar, away-from-home surroundings? Give the Hogs credit -- they're now 15-1 at home after squeaking past Mizzou, 73-71. But neither team can win on the road, which is something the selection committee kind of likes to see every once in a while.

4. Can a player win national player of the year and not make the NCAA tournament? It has never happened with a Wooden winner, but Doug McDermott might be on the verge of rewriting history in a decidedly twisted way. McDermott is continuing to put up huge numbers -- he is averaging 23 points per game and just eclipsed the 2,000-point plateau -- but his team isn’t doing much to prove it belongs in the field of 68.

The Bluejays rallied from a double-digit deficit to win 71-68 at Evansville and end their three-game skid. Feel free to celebrate the end of the losing streak, but then realize that Evansville is 14-13 overall and just 7-8 in the league, so skating to a three-point win doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence, does it?

In the latest player-of-the-year straw poll of actual voters, collected by Michael Rothstein, McDermott was second behind Michigan’s Trey Burke. He had 118 points and 21 first-place votes to Burke’s 136 and 30 (the poll is done every two weeks), and the next-closest vote getter, Mason Plumlee, wasn’t even in the neighborhood, with 35 points and only four first-place votes.

Numbers matter in player of the year ballots, but don’t think for a minute winning isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a factor. If Creighton doesn’t right the ship well enough soon, it will be interesting to see whether McDermott is part of the collateral damage.

5. Watch out for Providence: No, I’m not joking. Done in by injuries and down to five scholarship players early, the Friars appeared destined for their annual bottom-third-of-the-Big East finish. Not so fast. Coach Ed Cooley has talent -- Bryce Cotton, Kadeem Batts, Vincent Council and Kris Dunn -- and now he's getting something out of it. Providence has won four consecutive Big East games for the first time since 2004, including wins against Cincinnati and today's 71-54 victory over Notre Dame, which snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Irish.

I’m not sure whether the Friars are good enough to keep that streak going -- they go to Syracuse next -- but after too many lean years to count, Cooley has this team headed in the right direction. In a confusing Big East -- explain Villanova, please? -- Providence is good enough to make things even more confounding.

Video: Oklahoma St. 84, Oklahoma 79 (OT)

February, 16, 2013

Marcus Smart's career-high 28 points help No. 17 Oklahoma State outlast Oklahoma 84-79 in overtime.

Video: Oklahoma-Oklahoma State preview

February, 15, 2013

Jason King previews Saturday's matchup between Oklahoma and No. 17 Oklahoma State.

A week of struggles for top-five teams

February, 9, 2013

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Oklahoma forward Romero Osby (24) reacts at the end of Oklahoma's upset win over No. 5 Kansas.

It’s been a bad week to be a top-five ranked team. Since the men’s Associated Press poll came out Monday, top-five teams have gone 0-5 on the road.

All five losses have come to unranked opponents, with the No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks the latest to fall, losing Saturday in Norman, Okla., to the Oklahoma Sooners.

Tuesday -- Arkansas 80, (2) Florida 69
The Arkansas Razorbacks knocked off the No. 2 Florida Gators, the first victory for the Razorbacks against a top-two team since they beat No. 2 Auburn on Feb. 24, 1999.

In seeing their 10-game win streak snapped, the Gators allowed Arkansas to score 80 points and shoot 49.1 percent from the field, both season worsts for a Florida team that entered perfect in conference play while outscoring opponents by nearly 27 per game.

Wednesday -- TCU 62, (5) Kansas 55
The Jayhawks managed only 13 points in the first half, their fewest in 15 seasons, and shot 29.5 percent from the field, their worst mark in 344 games under Bill Self.

Not only did TCU get its first Big 12 win of the season, it was the program’s first win over a top-five opponent ever.

Kansas entered sixth in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI). The 240-spot difference between that Jayhawks' ranking and TCU's 246 was larger than in any of the 1-versus-16 matchups in last year’s NCAA tournament.

Thursday -- Illinois 74, (1) Indiana 72
Illinois shocked No. 1 Indiana with a buzzer-beating layup from Tyler Griffey to make it five consecutive weeks that the top-ranked team in the country has lost.

Perhaps the biggest shock was that Illinois got the win in comeback fashion -- the Fighting Illini trailed by 12 at the half and closed the game on a 13-2 run. There’s only been one larger comeback from a halftime deficit against a top-ranked team in the past 15 years (Stanford rallied from 13 down against top-ranked Duke to win on Dec. 21, 2000).

Indiana connected on more than half its 3-pointers but went cold down the stretch, making just one basket in the game’s final five minutes.

Saturday -- Wisconsin 65, (3) Michigan 62 (OT)
Today’s mayhem started in Madison, where the Wisconsin Badgers won their 11th consecutive home game over Michigan.

To force overtime, the Badgers needed a game-tying buzzer-beater from Ben Brust from about 40 feet. Since the 1996-97 season, NBA players are just two of 64 (3.1 percent) on potential game-tying shots from that distance with less than two seconds left.

Saturday -- Oklahoma 72, (5) Kansas 66
In Norman, the Sooners got revenge on the Jayhawks, snapping a 10-game losing streak against their Big 12 rival.

The Kansas defense, which had been the best in the nation against the 2-point shot entering the game, allowed Oklahoma to shoot 50 percent from 2-point range.

The Jayhawks have now lost three games in a row to unranked opponents. On the bright side, the last time they did that was in 1988, when they went on to win the national title.

Video: Romero Osby on upset of Kansas

February, 9, 2013

Oklahoma forward Romero Osby discusses the Sooners' 72-66 victory over No. 5 Kansas, the Jayhawks' third consecutive loss.
One man’s predictions for an always unpredictable weekend of college basketball. I'm sure one or two of you might disagree with these:


Michigan at Wisconsin, Noon ET, ESPN: The Wolverines have America’s most efficient offense. The Badgers have the Big Ten’s top scoring defense. Something has to give. Michigan hasn’t been the same team on the road, but it played like a team that recognized the moment when it beat Ohio State in overtime this week. I think the Wolverines are too motivated and too versatile for a Wisconsin squad that could make this a tight game but can’t be counted on to hit free throws down the stretch (58.7 percent from the line in conference games, last in the Big Ten).
Prediction: Michigan 59, Wisconsin 54

Ole Miss at Missouri, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Tigers lost to the Rebels in their first meeting, but they played without Laurence Bowers. Now we’ll see how they perform when they’re healthy. Keion Bell is ready. Bowers is back. They’re in Columbia. Yet they’re coming off a road loss to Texas A&M on Thursday night. And the Rebels have the top scoring offense in SEC play (75.2 ppg). Those numbers, however, are inflated by a few monster performances against the SEC’s underachievers (a large list). The truth is that Ole Miss has not scored more than 64 points in four of its past eight games. Marshall Henderson has been a star as usual, but sidekick Murphy Holloway is 9-for-30 in the team’s two SEC losses. But turnovers will hurt the Tigers again (114th nationally with turnovers on 19.1 percent of their possessions) in another SEC loss.
Prediction: Ole Miss 68, Missouri 67

North Carolina at Miami, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Hurricanes have been one of America’s surprises in 2012-13. Once they reached full strength (see Durand Scott's suspension, Reggie Johnson's thumb injury), they proved that they’re not only a team that can win the ACC but a program that can compete for a national title. And they’re doing it with defense (fourth in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings). But they can’t keep this up, right? Or can they? Saturday is a great opportunity for North Carolina to make a statement and boost its résumé. The Tar Heels have defeated only one ranked team (UNLV was 20th when it lost to UNC in December). That was at home and they needed 79 points to pull it off. Not happening in Miami.
Prediction: Miami 68, UNC 60

Kansas at Oklahoma, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN: Huh? Kansas lost to TCU on Wednesday? In a real game? I still don’t understand exactly what happened the other night, but I know enough to be concerned about a Kansas team that was questioned by Bill Self after a weekend loss to Oklahoma State. On Saturday, the Jayhawks travel to face an Oklahoma squad that is looking for more solid footing in the at-large conversation. A win against a struggling Kansas squad would certainly help. Too bad it won’t happen. The Jayhawks will be ready.
Prediction: Kansas 75, Oklahoma 65

Iowa State at Kansas State, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2: This is a matchup of the Big 12’s top scoring offense (ISU is averaging 73.9 ppg in Big 12 play) and its top scoring defense (KSU is giving up 60.3 ppg in conference play). What I appreciate about this game is that both teams recognize how the Big 12 has changed in the past week. Kansas State (7-2) and Iowa State (6-3) are not only chasing an NCAA tournament slot, but they’re also going after a Big 12 crown that is no longer a given for the Jayhawks. Will Clyburn has been a star for the Cyclones in recent weeks. He scored 28 in a win against Baylor and 24 in a win against Kansas State in their first matchup. The Cyclones are 4-1 when he scores 16 or more in league play. He’ll show up Saturday and lead Iowa State to another win against the Wildcats.
Prediction: Iowa State 69, Kansas State 63

Louisville at Notre Dame, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Louisville has followed its surprising three-game losing skid with wins against Pitt, Marquette and Rutgers. The defensive prowess (second in defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy) that eluded the Cardinals in that slide returned during the current winning streak. Notre Dame has been much tougher at home than it has been on the road, but it’s allowing Big East opponents to shoot 46 percent from the field, 14th in the conference. Nevertheless, the Cardinals’ offense has struggled on the road, and Jack Cooley’s physicality (14.2 ppg, 11.2 rpg in league play) inside could lead to early foul trouble for Louisville’s bigs. "GameDay" is in town, and the crowd will be revved up. I'm going with the Irish.
Prediction: Notre Dame 62, Louisville 58


Indiana at Ohio State, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Buckeyes nearly upset Michigan in Ann Arbor on Tuesday. Any doubts about Ohio State’s standing in the Big Ten and nationally should have been erased by that performance. When it’s not just the Deshaun Thomas Show, and Shannon Scott, LaQuinton Ross, Aaron Craft and others are contributing, the Buckeyes are dangerous. And they’re far more fluid at home than they are on the road. If there’s one question about Indiana, it’s this: Can the Hoosiers beat elite teams outside Assembly Hall? They failed to convince doubters when they lost to Illinois in Champaign on Thursday night. Sunday’s matchup, IU’s first of the year against a ranked team on the road, will be another test for Tom Crean’s program, which is suddenly in a crucial spot in Columbus. It’s a test that I don’t believe the Hoosiers will pass.
Prediction: Ohio State 73, Indiana 70

St. John’s at Syracuse, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Red Storm have quietly authored a stretch that’s elevated them into Big East title contention. St. John’s is 7-4 after winning six of its past seven. That run includes wins against Notre Dame and UConn. Yes, the Johnnies are young, but Steve Lavin’s team has played with more poise in recent weeks (11th in the country with turnovers on 15.9 percent of its possessions). The Red Storm are getting better. They’re maturing. And they have one of the nation’s great defensive stoppers in freshman Chris Obekpa (4.4 blocks per game, second in the nation). Syracuse is not 100 percent. No James Southerland, and DaJuan Coleman is out with a knee injury. But the Orange’s depth has helped them during this stretch. As the team was trying to shake a two-game losing streak, it found Jerami Grant, a freshman who scored 14 points in Monday’s win against Notre Dame. Cuse is still potent, even short-handed.
Prediction: Syracuse 72, St. John’s 65

Illinois at Minnesota, 6 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network: The Gophers are ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll, but they’ve lost five of their past seven. And Illinois has gone from a 12-0 start to a 3-7 mark in Big Ten play. The Illini had the worst scoring defense in the league (69.8 ppg allowed) entering Thursday’s 74-72 come-from-behind victory against No. 1 Indiana, but that win was the Fighting Illini’s fourth of the season against a team that is currently ranked in the top 15 (Butler, Gonzaga, Ohio State and Indiana). The Gophers, to their credit, have played some of the toughest teams in the country/Big Ten thus far. Illinois is a much different foe than Indiana, Michigan or Michigan State. The IU upset doesn’t erase the fact that Illinois’ defense has been a mess all season. Plus, Minnesota is so tough at the Barn, and it’s convinced that it is a squad with the potential to reach the NCAA tournament and win a few games in the Big Dance. Sunday will be another opportunity for the Gophers to prove it.
Prediction: Minnesota 71, Illinois 65

California at Arizona, 7 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network: The Wildcats haven’t exactly looked like a top-10 team lately. Part of that is inconsistency. But the Pac-12’s limited depth hasn’t helped either. You can’t get too excited about a win against a team such as Washington State, which has won three games since Christmas. But the Wildcats will need to avoid another regular-season loss in the Pac-12 to challenge for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. A March 2 road game at UCLA might be the only matchup that could threaten that pursuit. Still, Cal has one of the country’s most underrated point guards in Justin Cobbs (4.3 apg), and the Bears have given up only 65.3 ppg in conference play (third in the Pac-12). The Wildcats could certainly become an upset victim if they’re lazy or soft.
Prediction: Arizona 72, Cal 62