College Basketball Bubble Watch

Updated: March 7, 2013, 2:41 AM ET
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com


As the tourney draws near, a look at where we stand after a busy night on the bubble

Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Wednesday, March 6. RPI and SOS numbers will update in the morning.

For the past three years, since the NCAA tournament expanded the field to 68 teams, there has been a recurring theme in the Bubble Watch. I bet you already know where this is going.

When the tourney expanded by three extra at-large teams, a weird thing happened: The field not only got more inviting, it did so disproportionately. All of a sudden, teams that seemed like total long shots a year prior possessed enticing profiles; teams that screamed NIT at least had to be considered. Because everything about the bubble is relative, because we need to cull tournament teams from somewhere, we all had to recalibrate our expectations. Our gut feel for what a tournament team is had changed. We lowered the bar.

Three years on, it's become a cliché. "The bubble is soft" is a phrase so obvious it barely needs repeating. It's an accepted fact. Death, taxes, Thin Mints being delicious, soft bubble.

And yet … even with all that said, even acknowledging the fact that we are participating in cliché here, let's just come right out and say it: This bubble is soft. Like, cottony soft. Feathery. Silken. It is Google-synonyms-for-"soft" soft. It is softer than Drake's favorite pajamas.

How do I know? In this week's edition of the Bubble Watch, despite the fact that we are within a week and a half of Selection Sunday and running out of regular-season games by which things could drastically change one way or the other, we actually added a handful of total fringe teams: Iowa, Providence, Xavier, Southern Miss. Southern Miss! If you look at any of those résumés, you are apt to scream. What? How?! No! And yet, there they are, hanging back in the pack, just one or two noteworthy wins away from serious at-large contention.

It's not like the usual suspects are much better. Arizona State, Arkansas, Alabama, Maryland, Baylor, Ole Miss -- I mean, Ole Miss lost to Mississippi State on Saturday. Mississippi State. That loss should disqualify you from the NCAA tournament for, like, three years. That's how bad that loss is. And yet, when you really dig in, the Rebels and their total lack of wins are still very much in the picture. It's crazy, but it's true.

Which is why what Villanova and Iowa State did Wednesday night can't possibly be underestimated. Nova toppled No. 5 Georgetown; Iowa State got a great win over a very good Oklahoma State team. The Wildcats' victory gave them four top-15 RPI victories, a figure that might just guarantee their tournament place, while the Cyclones totally improved their stock as well. Iowa State might not be 100 percent in the tournament, but when you consider the value of a win over Oklahoma State in the charred, Fallout 3-esque hellscape that is the current bubble picture, it's hard to picture the Clones finding a way to miss the tournament.

The bubble is sure to tighten up a bit next week as the conference tournaments hit full stride and we start to see the inevitable smattering of mid-major bid thieves. But until then, this thing is as forgiving as its ever been in the 68-team era. Iowa fans, your dream is alive! Friars faithful, keep thy faith! You never know what could happen in Bubbleland. And that has never been more true than in 2013.

(Note: Bubble Watch will begin more regular updates following this weekend's games and on a daily basis throughout next week's conference tournaments.)