Bubble Watch: Star freshman, LSU could miss tournament


By Dave Skretta - AP Sports Writer



Arkansas' Moses Kingsley, right, defends LSU's Ben Simmons (25) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Fayetteville, Ark. Arkansas won 85-65. (AP Photo/Samantha Baker)


LSU's Ben Simmons watches from the bench with minutes left in an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Fayetteville, Ark. Arkansas won 85-65. (AP Photo/Samantha Baker)


Ben Simmons has made plenty of history at LSU this season, whether it’s his routine double-doubles or the monster offensive nights that have made the freshman the likely No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

He may also make some not-so-pleasant history.

Unless the Tigers win their final three games and make some noise in the SEC Tournament — or win the league tournament outright — Simmons will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. Since the modern draft era began in 1966, only four No. 1 picks have missed out on the Big Dance.

“I like our team,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said this week, before a 20-point loss at Arkansas made it four losses in five games. “We’re hopeful we can take some ownership down the stretch and some good things will happen for us here.”

The stretch isn’t exactly easy for the Tigers (16-11, 9-5). It begins with visits from bubble buddy Florida and cellar-dweller Missouri, and ends with a trip to Rupp Arena to face No. 16 Kentucky.

The late-season swoon isn’t entirely the fault of Simmons, who is still putting up big numbers. But rather a rash of injuries, including a sports hernia that could keep Keith Hornsby out the rest of the year, has coincided with an overall slump that has left the Tigers with plenty of work to do.

“We always talk about bouncing back,” Jones said. “That’s the main thing.”

LSU is hardly the only SEC team bouncing around on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

The Gators (17-11, 8-7) have dropped back-to-back games to South Carolina and Vanderbilt, while the Commodores (16-11, 9-6) have won four of their last five. And Alabama (16-11, 7-8) could need to win out against Auburn, Arkansas and Georgia to feel better about its chances.

“This team’s been giving me all that they have all year, so we’re not going to get into a situation where we undervalue how good of a season this team is having,” Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson said.

Beyond the SEC, the NCAA Tournament picture continues to evolve. Here are some teams on the move:

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ON THE RISE

— Wisconsin. The Badgers (18-10, 10-5 Big Ten) may have risen so high the past few weeks that they’re looking down on the bubble. After their seven-game win streak was stopped by Michigan State, they bounced back to beat Illinois and deal eighth-ranked Iowa its first home defeat.

— St. Bonaventure. Who would have thought the Bonnies (19-7, 11-4) would be here when they started 5-3 in the Atlantic 10? But they’ve won six of their last seven games, knocking off Dayton, and can earn a marquee win over Saint Joseph’s (23-5, 12-3) during their three-game finishing stretch.

— San Diego State. The Aztecs (21-7, 14-1) are the closest thing to a lock in the Mountain West, even though their best win came against Cal in November. But they can’t afford to lose games against Boise State, New Mexico and UNLV and still think an at-large bid is possible.

— BYU, St. Mary’s and Gonzaga. Might as well package the Cougars (22-8, 13-4), Gaels (23-4, 14-3) and the Bulldogs (22-7, 14-3), because one will probably win the West Coast Conference tournament and earn an automatic bid. The other two teams could be left playing musical chairs for one spot.

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FADING HOPES

— Washington. Lorenzo Romar knows the Huskies (16-2, 8-8) are clinging to hope. That’s why the coach was quick to log a protest of Oregon State’s game-winning shot Wednesday night, claiming that replays show the clock didn’t start on time. The Beavers, also on the NCAA Tournament bubble, won 82-81.

— Butler. The Bulldogs (18-9) started the season 11-1, but they’re just 7-8 in the Big East. They play another bubble team, Seton Hall, among their final three games but could need to make a deep run in the conference tournament to feel good about Selection Sunday.

— Creighton. The Big East has as many bubble teams as any other league, and the Blue Jays (17-11, 8-7) are among them. Losses to Butler and Marquette have taken off some of their shine, but a win over No. 5 Xavier in their regular-season finale would go a long way.

— Temple. The Owls (17-10, 11-4) could win the American Athletic regular-season title and still not feel safe on Selection Sunday. Getting blown out at Tulsa this week didn’t help their cause, and regular-season games against Central Florida, Memphis and Tulane won’t help the resume.

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AUTOMATIC BIDS

Yale (18-6, 9-1), Princeton (18-5, 8-1) and Columbia (19-8, 8-2) entered Friday night in the mix for the Ivy League regular-season title and the first guaranteed spot to the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas’ Moses Kingsley, right, defends LSU’s Ben Simmons (25) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Fayetteville, Ark. Arkansas won 85-65. (AP Photo/Samantha Baker)
http://wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/web1_108919805-603915726a6d49d095a099e4dd2ae825.jpgArkansas’ Moses Kingsley, right, defends LSU’s Ben Simmons (25) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Fayetteville, Ark. Arkansas won 85-65. (AP Photo/Samantha Baker)

LSU’s Ben Simmons watches from the bench with minutes left in an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Fayetteville, Ark. Arkansas won 85-65. (AP Photo/Samantha Baker)
http://wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/web1_108919805-9225a408311f4ef8ad70072f6907882a.jpgLSU’s Ben Simmons watches from the bench with minutes left in an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Fayetteville, Ark. Arkansas won 85-65. (AP Photo/Samantha Baker)

By Dave Skretta

AP Sports Writer

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