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A closer look at 6 teams on the NCAA bubble

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A closer look at 6 teams on the NCAA bubble

From Comcast SportsNet
The college basketball season is winding down and it's time for the NCAA tournament selection committee to zoom in on all those RPIs, SOSs and W-Ls. The final decisions, at least for some of the final spots, will likely come from something beyond the numbers: The eyeball test. In other words, do they look like NCAA tournament teams? So, with the regular season starting to wrap up and the conference tournaments starting next week, the teams on the bubble need to make a good impression. A big win at this point in the season could boost them into the 68-team bracket, a bad loss to the NIT or home. There's still a couple dozen teams in position to make a move and we're taking a closer look at six of those. ------ Iowa State: In a conference that includes No. 3 Kansas, No. 7 Missouri and No. 9 Baylor, the Cyclones have quietly made a case for NCAA tournament consideration. With its win over Kansas State on Saturday, Iowa State has beaten the Wildcats twice and beat then-No. 10 Kansas last month. The Cyclones have won 21 games and are 11-5 in the Big 12, tied with Baylor for third in the conference. Iowa State has an RPI of 31 and has three wins over teams in the top 50 of the RPI rankings. The Cyclones probably still have a little work to do and don't have an easy schedule, with a road game against Missouri on Wednesday and Baylor at home on Saturday. Get one of those and have a decent run at next week's Big 12 tournament, Iowa State should have a decent shot. ------ Arizona: Sean Miller-coached teams always seem to get better at the end of the season and this one has been no different. The Wildcats were inconsistent early in the season as they integrated four freshmen -- three after Sidiki Johnson left the team in December -- and the returning players adapted to new roles with Pac-10 player of the year Derrick Williams gone to the NBA. After sweeping the Southern California schools last week, Arizona has won seven of its past eight games, with its lone loss coming on the road to Pac-12 leader Washington. The Wildcats have won 21 games and are 12-5 in conference, with three of those losses by a combined five points. Arizona could be hurt by a down year in the Pac-12, but with a win over struggling rival Arizona State on Saturday and a decent showing in the conference tournament after that, the Wildcats will likely be headed back to the NCAAs. ------ Alabama: The Crimson Tide should have gone into a downward spiral the past few weeks after coach Anthony Grant suspended four players, including Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green, the team's leading scorers and rebounders. Instead, Alabama has won three straight and six of eight, including a big victory over fellow bubbler Mississippi State on Saturday. Mitchell has been suspended for the rest of the season, but Green returned against Mississippi State. The Tide has 19 wins, is fourth in the SEC at 8-6 and has a strong RPI of 25. Alabama has a relatively easy finishing stretch, with games against Auburn and Ole Miss left, so a halfway-decent run in the conference tournament should be enough to punch its ticket. ------ Harvard: The Crimson looked like a lock for the NCAA tournament after going 14-2 in nonconference. After Saturday's 1-point loss to Pennsylvania, their lead in the Ivy League is down to a half game over the Quakers. Harvard missed out on its first NCAA berth since the Truman presidency by losing a one-game playoff to Princeton last season and could face another winner-goes-dancing game if it finishes the regular season tied with Penn. The Crimson do have a decent resume, with wins over Florida State -- on their way to the Battle 4 Atlantis title -- and Saint Joseph's, but a loss to Fordham doesn't look good. Harvard has a good shot at an at-large bid with wins over Columbia and Cornell in the final two games, but another one-game playoff loss could lead to a lot of Rolaids being passed around on selection Sunday. ------ Colorado State: The Rams picked up what appeared to be a huge win over New Mexico last week, but followed it with a loss to No. 21 San Diego State, a game that really could have solidified their resume. It also didn't help Colorado State much that New Mexico got blown out by TCU in its second game last week. The Rams are just 6-6 in the Mountain West and lost to Stanford and Boise State, teams with RPI ratings over 100. The good news for Colorado State is that it's 27th in the RPI and has 17 wins in a schedule ranked fourth-toughest in the nation. The Rams face what could be a huge look-at-us game against No. 17 UNLV on Wednesday before closing out the season against Air Force on Saturday. Without another marquee win or a strong conference tournament, it could get tight for Colorado State. ------ Virginia Commonwealth: The Rams made an unexpected run to the Final Four last season, have 25 wins and finished a game behind Drexel in the Colonial Athletic Association. Even so, VCU could be left on the outside looking in. The Rams have a win over fellow bubble team South Florida and beat likely MAC winner Akron, but there aren't many other eye-popping wins on the schedule. Their RPI also is a so-so 60th and strength of schedule is 213th. VCU does enter the conference tournament on a good note; the Rams won their final three games, including a payback win over George Mason in the season finale. Win a few games in the CAA tournament, the Rams could solidify their chances. If not, maybe they'll get lucky and the selection committee will decide last year's run and another chance to see coach Shaka Smart work his magic in the postseason will be enough to give them a nod.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

Mark Carman, Scott Merkin and Chris Bleck join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester looks to get back on track against the Pirates? Should he still be the Cubs Game 1 starter in the playoffs?  Len Kasper joins Kap to discuss.

 

How much will Mitch Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game? And will Carlos Rodon end up being the White Sox’ best starter?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season.