The bubble. For sports fans, the bubble is perhaps the used word in the English language for the first half of March. By 7:00 p.m. tonight, that word will disappear from our vernacular for another twelve months. After tonight, no teams will be on bubble watch. Teams will either be in the tournament or not.
The sixty-eight team field for the NCAA tournament is made up of thirty-two automatic qualifiers and thirty-six at-large teams. About thirty of those at-large teams have good reason to feel comfortable about getting an invitation to the dance. That leaves about fifteen teams that are hoping for one of those last six spots.
The good news for bubble teams this year is that most of the conference tournaments held form. Sure, Cal Poly won the Big West as a seven seed, but that league was only going to get one team into the big dance no matter who won the conference tournament. St. Bonaventure made a valiant run in the Atlantic 10 as a nine seed, but the Bonnies were ultimately knocked off in the semi-finals. Hence, no bid theft from them.
Three teams in major conferences did solid work during their conference tournaments to put themselves in a strong position to clinch an at-large bid. Providence is the most obvious of these teams. Providence took the decision out of the hands of the selection committee by winning the Big East tournament’s automatic bid.
Tennessee had the good fortune of getting to play Florida in the semi-finals of the SEC tournament. Tennessee played well on that big stage against the #1 team in the land. Another factor working in the Tennessee’s favor is that it is almost inconceivable that the SEC will not receive at least three invitations to the tournament.
Like Providence, St. Joseph’s has the opportunity to take their fate out of the selection committee’s hands. St. Joe’s plays VCU in the Atlantic 10 tournament final this afternoon. Regardless of the outcome, though, the finals appearance in a conference of this caliber should be good enough to earn an at-large bid for the Hawks.
The great enigma on selection Sunday is Green Bay. At the start of the week, the pundits were all touting the Phoenix as a team capable of making a deep tournament run. Then Green Bay lost in the semifinals of the Horizon league’s tournament. All of a sudden, the experts took the Phoenix off the bubble and removed them from the tournament conversation altogether.
The team with the most to complain about if they are left out of the big dance, is Nebraska. It took the Huskers a while to get organized this season, but they actually finished fourth in the Big Ten. That was ahead of consensus tournament locks Ohio State and Iowa. With a losing record in the conference, Minnesota will likely find themselves on the outside looking in when the field is announced.