Three-hundred forty-four schools began play this November with the hope of becoming one of the 68 teams to reach the NCAA tournament and compete for a national championship in men’s basketball. And now we are just a few days away from Selection Sunday. And when Greg Gumbel, Greg Anthony, Seth Davis, Kenny “The Jet” Smith and Sir Charles Barkley appear on CBS to reveal the brackets, there will be many teams who didn’t win an automatic bid through their conference tournaments who will be sweating it out to see if they will be headed to the big dance, or depressingly, to the NIT tournament. These teams are called bubble teams, which is our theme of the week. Oh, and by the way, we will have a Sports Spectrum bracket challenge next week, so look for an update Monday morning.
March Madness Word of the Week
The Bubble (noun)
- 1. A place teams find themselves in when they aren’t sure if they will make the NCAA tournament. It’s a place of agony for any mid-major program who gets upset in their conference tournament or any middling major that couldn’t quite put together the season they were capable of. EX. Since Drexel did not win their conference tournament and the automatic tournament bid, Drexel is on the bubble;, their inclusion into the tournament will be up to the election committee.
- 2. A place usually reserved for Seth Greenburg’s Virginia Tech Hokies (but not this season).
A few teams with real NCAA tournament potential may have blown their chances to make the dance and will be one of the dreaded bubble teams.
BYU will be waiting in Selection Sunday on pins and needles as they failed to make a good impression in the West Coast Conference tournament. Another win against Gonzaga would have looked good on their resume, but instead, BYU lost the game and hopes its 25-8 overall record with wins over Oregon, Nevada and Gonzaga will be enough.
Iona lost in the semifinals of the MAAC tournament and will likely be on the wrong side of the bubble, but don’t tell Iona head coach Tim Cluess that. Cluess told The New York Times, “I think we should definitely be in the discussion. If you’re going to pick eight or nine teams out of the Big East, I think that’s nonsense. Those teams aren’t as good as we are. The top teams, yeah, but not the seventh, eighth or ninth-place team there or any other league. Not this year.”
Cluess and Iona (25-7) will have to hope that they’re strong RPI number of 40 and wins over St. Joseph’s, Richmond, Maryland and Nevada will be enough to earn a spot.
Until Monday night, Drexel had not lost a game since Jan. 2. Their 20-game winning streak came to an end against VCU in the CAA conference tournament final. Their RPI is only 69, and their strength of schedule is in the 200s, so Drexel will have to hope that their long winning streak, regular season dominance of the CAA, and good regular season wins against VCU and George Mason can place them on the right side of the bubble.
During this week’s round of conference tournaments, teams like Xavier, Tennessee, NC State, Oregon, Northwestern, Seton Hall, and UConn all need to have strong showings in their respective tournaments in order to get themselves on the right side of the bubble.
As per usual, the argument will be between top mid-majors who had great seasons but got upset in their conference tournament and middling majors with so-so conference records and a few decent wins. Personally, I always favor the mid-major. A major team has typically been given many opportunities against good teams and lost, while a mid-major team doesn’t usually get those same opportunities so we don’t always know their full potential.
Early in the season I defined March Sadness as: The feeling you get when your favorite team misses the NCAA tournament. Butler fans are are feeling that this week. Butler’s basketball program will not return to it’s third straight NCAA championship game as they lost to Valparaiso in the Horizon League semifinals. Butler is probably not even on the bubble for an NIT bid, so they won’t even need to watch the NCAA selection show Sunday.
I predicted a few teams who would experience this phenomenon, and Butler was one of them, but, I also wrote that Indiana and VCU would miss the tournament, too. Oops. I could still be correct on NC State, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech though. The latter two are an almost certainty to miss the NCAAs.
The week that was
- Though there were some disappointments with top seeds like Iona and Middle Tennessee getting upset in the conference tourneys, teams like Murray State, Belmont, Saint Mary’s, and Davidson managed to win their tournaments get the automatic bid.
- Speaking of Davidson, how wild was the finish to the Southern Conference tournament final? Davidson led by 10 with about a minute left to play against Western Carolina, yet Western Carolina made some threes and managed to tie it up after being fouled behind the line and making three free throws. I was impressed that Davidson was able to maintain their poise and win in double-overtime.
- While that game was going on, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s went in to overtime as well. Saint Mary’s had never won the WCC regular season and conference tournament in the same season, and fans have have junior point guard Matthew Dellavedova to thank for finally pulling it off as he hit the clutch shots to put Gonzaga away in OT.
- When there are two great games coming down to the wire, it really helps to have a second television in your room, which I recently purchased. So, some words of advice for March Madness: multiple screens!
- Back to the Davidson-Western Carolina game, how great was it to see Dikembe Mutombo’s reactions throughout that game, whose nephew, Harouna Mutombo, plays guard for Western Carolina…
- North Carolina dominated the Duke Blue Devils last Saturday, winning 88-70. Duke has really been exposed all season long when playing teams with a good big man. If you see a team in their bracket with a good power forward or center, you might want to think about picking that team over Duke. Duke will be the most vulnerable one or two seed as they rely too heavily on 3-point shooting and struggle to defend the rim.
- One more word about Davidson, if the Wildcats get a really low seed like ESPN’s Joe Lunardi is predicting (No. 14), they might be the most dangerous low seed ever, seeing as they were able to beat a likely No. 1 seed in Kansas earlier this year.
The week that will be
Conference Tournament breakdowns
Big East Tournament (March 6-10)
The Big East Tournament is always wide open, as a nine-seeded UConn team won last year, and likely non-tournament team in Syracuse once won on the back of Gerry McNamara. This year’s Syracuse team has been dominant in Big East play though, only losing to Notre Dame. It will take a great effort to beat them on their second home court, Madison Square Garden.
Contenders: Marquette, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Louisville, UConn (just because they it last year)
Bubble teams that need to make statements: West Virginia, Seton Hall, UConn
Atlantic 10 Tournament (March 6-11)
The A-10 tournament is usually wide open as well. Most years, the teams that win the regular season crown get upset before even getting to the tournament final.
Favorites: Temple, Saint Louis
Contenders: Xavier, Saint Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure, Dayton,
Bubble teams that need to make statements: Saint Louis, Xavier, Saint Joseph’s
Big 12 Tournament (March 7-10)
Everyone is hoping for one last Missouri-Kansas game, which would be in the final of this tournament – well, everyone except for fans of the other teams in the Big 12.
Favorites: Kansas, Missouri
Contenders: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State
Bubble teams that need to make statements: Texas
Conference USA Tournament (March 7-10)
Memphis struggled out of the gate this year, but they put it all together during conference play. They should win this tournament but have strong competition from Southen Miss and UCF, where Michael Jordan’s son, Marcus, plays.
Contenders: Southern Miss, UCF
Bubble teams that need to make statements: Southern Miss
ACC Tournament (March 8-11)
The ACC tournament is usually a fun one, but the champions are almost always North Carolina or Duke. Maybe Florida State can shake things up this year.
Favorites: North Carolina, Duke
Contenders: Florida State, Virginia
Bubble Teams that need to make statements: NC State, Miami
PAC-12 Tournament (March 7-10)
In what might be the worst PAC-12 basketball season ever, the PAC-12 tournament may also have more on the line than ever before. Only Washington and Cal look to be locks for the NCAA tournament and even that seems far fetched. Somehow Oregon has worked their way into the bubble conversation, which would make the PAC-12 a three bid conference – which kind of makes you sick considering the league as a whole won just ONE non-conference top-50 RPI game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the teams win this tournament, except for maybe Utah and USC, both with only six wins on the year.
Favorite: Washington, California
Contenders: Oregon, Arizona
Bubble Teams that need to make statements: Oregon
Mountain West Conference (March 8-10)
The Mountain West Conference was probably the strongest league out west this year. San Diego State had another really good season under Steve Fisher, UNLV beat North Carolina early in the year, and New Mexico beat both UNLV and San Diego State down the stretch. Colorado State has been making a strong statement of late to be included in the NCAAs, and TCU may be capable of winning the conference tournament and stealing a bid.
Favorites: New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Contenders: Colorado State, TCU
Bubble Teams that need to make statements: Colorado State
Big Ten Tournament (March 8-11)
The Big Ten has been the strongest league all year long, and three teams tied for first place in Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. The conference tournament is in Indianapolis, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see IU take the crown.
Favorite: Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan
Contenders: Indiana, Wisconsin
Bubble teams that need to make statements: Purdue, Northwestern
SEC Tournament (March 8-11)
Kentucky did not lose an SEC conference game all season long, and you should’t expect them to lose this weekend either. However, John Calipari did say after the Florida victory Sunday that the SEC tournament wasn’t a big deal for them and could only make them tired.
Contenders: Vanderbilt, Florida
Bubble Teams that need to make statements: Tennessee, Mississippi State, Alabama