Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s Bracketology guru, released his latest report today.
Tony Bennett, the head coach of the defending national champions, will be pleased to see Virginia’s name in the Last Four In. The Cavaliers are joined by Xavier, Oklahoma and Mississippi State.
Ben Howland’s team is 7-1 against the spread in its last eight games. The Bulldogs should be favored in seven of their last nine games, including Saturday’s home game vs. Vanderbilt.
The First Four Out include Memphis, VCU, Minnesota and East Tennessee State. The Gophers picked up a solid win Wednesday when they ran Wisconsin out of The Barn, easily covering the number as 3.5-point home favorites.
ETSU also took the cash Wednesday in its 80-64 win at UT-Chattanooga. The Buccaneers want to see LSU stay atop the SEC standings since they went into Pete Maravich Assembly Center and beat the Tigers by double digits back in December.
Steve Forbes’s team is 20-4 straight up and 11-10 against the spread. ETSU is No. 55 at KenPom and has one game remaining against a K-Pom Top-100 foe: vs. No. 73 Furman on Feb. 19. The Paladins beat ETSU 65-56 as 2.5-point home favorites on Jan. 4.
Memphis hosts South Florida on Saturday before back-to-back road assignments at Cincinnati (No. 39 at K-Pom) and at UConn (No. 63). Penny Hardaway’s Tigers will get two shots at Houston (No. 25) and still gets Wichita St. (No. 42) at home.
VCU’s big opportunity to bolster its profile comes on Feb. 18 when it welcomes Dayton (No. 6) to Siegel Center in Richmond. The Rams are nine-point home favorites tonight vs. Davidson on ESPN2 at 7:00 p.m. ET.
The Next Four Out consists of Utah State, North Carolina State, Liberty and Texas. The Aggies have neutral-court victories over LSU, Florida and North Texas on their resume, but they’re going to regret road losses at UNLV (70-53) and at Air Force (79-60) in the first week of January.
The Last Four Byes belong to Rhode Island, Purdue, Indiana and Florida. These teams wouldn’t have to play at the First Four in Dayton (the Last Four In get sent to the Flyers’ home court).
The Boilermakers are 13-10 SU and 10-12-1 ATS, but they’re No. 17 at KenPom. Matt Painter’s team is off a 104-68 home win over Iowa on Wednesday. All eight of Purdue’s remaining games are against teams in KenPom’s Top 40.
The No. 1 seeds from Lunardi are Baylor, Kansas, Gonzaga and undefeated San Diego State. The two line is made up of Dayton, Louisville, West Virginia and Duke.
The 8/9 showdowns are always interesting since the survivor would most likely face a No. 1 seed in the Round of 32. Those games are Texas Tech vs. Wichita State, Saint Mary’s vs. Michigan, Rutgers vs. USC and Wisconsin vs. Arkansas.
The Scarlet Knights are closing in on their first NCAA Tournament invite since 1991.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
–Yale (16-4 SU, 14-4 ATS) plays host to Harvard this afternoon at 5:00 p.m. ET. on ESPNU. The Bulldogs have the nation’s best ATS record and are undefeated in seven home games with a 4-1 spread record. The Crimson’s leading scorer Bryce Aiken (16.7 points per game) is ‘doubtful’ with a foot injury. The Bulldogs are 8-1 ATS in their nine games as single-digit ‘chalk.’ The ‘over’ has hit in four straight for Yale and is 7-2 in its nine games. The ‘over’ has gone 7-1-1 for Harvard in its last nine game that had a total in the 130s. The total for today’s Ivy League showdown is 136.5 or 137 points at most spots.
–The rest of the nation’s best ATS records belong to Northern Iowa (15-5-1), Lafayette (15-5-1), North Florida (17-6), South Dakota State (17-6), California Baptist (14-5-1), Winthrop (16-6), Arkansas Little Rock (16-6-1), Austin Peay (15-6-1) and Rutgers (14-6-2).
–The FADE LIST includes Iona (3-13-1 ATS), Samford (5-16-1), Wagner (5-15), Toledo (6-16), Illinois State (6-16), Kennesaw State (6-16), North Dakota (6-15) and Lehigh (6-16).
–The noon Eastern tips on Saturday include Kansas at TCU (ESPN2), Miami at FSU (ACC Network), LSU at Auburn (ESPN), Michigan State at Michigan (FOX), DePaul at Georgetown (FS1), SMU at Temple (ESPNU) and Rhode Island at George Washington (CBSSN).
–ICYMI earlier this week: Arkansas guard Isaiah Joe had his knee scoped earlier this week and is ‘out for the next 2-4 weeks. Joe, who is one of 10 finalists for the Jerry West Award given to the nation’s premier shooting guard, is averaging 16.0 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. The Razorbacks are on the road Saturday against Missouri at 3:30 p.m. ET. on the SEC Network.
–It’s been nearly 30 years (March 4 of 1990) since Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers collapsed on the court during a WCC Tournament game and was pronounced dead less than an hour later. Even without their star center, Paul Westhead’s Lions beat New Mexico State and Michigan in blowout fashion to advance to the West Region semifinals. Jeff Fryer drained 11-of-15 attempts from 3-point land and scored 41 points in LMU’s 149-115 victory over the Wolverines, who had four starters (Loy Vaught, Terry Mills, Rumeal Robinson and Mike Griffin) and back from their 1989 squad that beat Seton Hall in overtime to win the national title at the old Kingdome in Seattle. Then in the Sweet 16 at what eventually was renamed Oracle Arena, LMU edged Wimp Sanderson’s Alabama team to advance to the Elite Eight to face UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels ended LMU’s dream run and went on to win the national title. On Feb. 29, Loyola Marymount will unveil a statue of Gathers in front of Gersten Pavilion. As a junior during the 1988-89 season, Gathers averaged 32.7 points, 13.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game. As a senior, he averaged 29.0 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.7 SPG.