College Basketball Bubble Watch

Updated: February 6, 2013, 11:07 AM ET
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com


As Bubble Watch makes its season debut, a few things to keep in mind

Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Tuesday, Feb. 5.

Bubble Watch is back! It's the most wonderful, and confusing, time of the year.

The wonderful part should be self-evident, but why so confusing? I'll tell you why: Because the NCAA tournament selection committee's criteria for picking and seeding the tournament field is different from what yours truly usually uses to rank and analyze college basketball teams. Typically, yours truly uses advanced tempo-free statistics -- like those available at KenPom.com, or on our own analytics team's Basketball Power Index, which tracks teams on a per-possession basis and uses finely tuned metrics to provide a reasonably accurate projection of team quality -- alongside good old-fashioned 24/7 college hoops viewership.

The NCAA tournament selection committee, as you know, ranks and organizes its own information with the outdated and crude Ratings Percentage Index, which doesn't track per-possession performance, often produces wacky outputs and is hugely susceptible to smart coaches who know to, in essence, game the system.

This gap creates two different arguments:

• How good is my team?
• How good is my team's tournament résumé?

That's where the confusion comes in. It is tempting to argue the actual merits of various teams while totally ignoring what the NCAA's RPI says about them, just as it is tempting for some fans (trust me, my email inbox knows) to use RPI and RPI strength of schedule to prove their team is actually better than anyone thinks. Bridging this divide is, needless to say, frustrating.

So let's make it clear from the very first Bubble Watch: This column is about your favorite team's chances of making the NCAA tournament. It is about looking at the NCAA's various selection criteria and using that criteria to accurately predict where each team sits in the tourney picture with (now) less than six weeks left until Selection Sunday. It is a gauge of what a given team needs to do before it can feel safe on said Sunday, based on how the selection committee has historically settled the matter.

In the future, when the NCAA updates its organizing principles and/or I am made His Highness the Grand Potentate of All Basketball, this confusion won't be an issue. In the meantime, let's make sure we're all on the same page.

Deal? Deal.

Without further ado, here's the first edition of the 2013 Bubble Watch: