College Basketball Bubble Watch
Conference tournaments create their own mid-major madness
Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Monday, March 11. RPI and SOS numbers will update in the morning.
For as entrenched as the term is, "bubble" is not a particularly good way to picture what happens in the final weeks of the college basketball season. It may be more instructive to picture a medieval village.
Stay with me here.
In the middle of the village, in a gilded tower in the middle of a well-defended castle, sit seeding royalty: Duke, Indiana, Gonzaga, Louisville and the rest of the top, say, 16 teams in the bracket. Whatever competition you get up there is almost imperceptible; mostly those guys sit around splashing goblets and taking oversized bites of some fowl or another. (It is very good to be those guys.) Outside the fancy-schmancy tower is the rest of the tournament locks -- castle-dwellers, lords and ladies -- a group of 16-ish squads that are safe inside the walls, if not born into the purple.
It is outside the walls where the real havoc begins. Closest to entry -- feudal land managers, say, or well-traveled merchants -- are those teams that should get in sooner rather than later, but are still on ground just shaky enough to question whether it will ever actually happen. Beyond them? The peasants. At various times, eight or 10 or even 15 squads toil on their land, taking one step forward and two back, grasping past each other, pleading, wondering if ever the misery will be over.
And outside them? In the densely forested Outlands? There be dragons -- or, for our purposes, bid thieves.
If you've played enough Skyrim -- shout out to Jack Cooley -- you're well aware dragons can strike at any time. They swoop in and knock off an otherwise safe NCAA tournament team in a given conference tournament, and all of a sudden what was once six open tournament spots becomes five. The peasants' odds at getting inside those castle walls for even a brief glorious glimpse of March Madness -- or maybe even a VCU-esque raid up the sport's power structures -- diminish. And all any of them can do is keep toiling the land and keep crossing their fingers.
Considering we are currently flush with mid-major conference tournaments, it is a bit remarkable that we haven't already seen more theft already. We were close this weekend, of course; Belmont's survival against Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference final had every bubble team -- the Bruins included -- breathing a sigh of relief.
Monday night offered a similar paucity of groundbreaking bubble moves. There was really only one possible option: Saint Mary's vs. Gonzaga in the WCC final. The Gaels entered the night in a tricky bubble spot, with really only one good win -- a home BracketBusters victory over Creighton. It was hard to decide whether Randy Bennett's team should be inside or outside the tournament bracket; a sweep over so-so BYU was their next-best credential before Monday night, and after their third loss to No. 1-ranked Gonzaga -- hardly a crime, that -- the Gaels' resume is still somewhat toothless. In other words, it was not inconceivable to think an SMC win could have eventually made them bid thieves. Instead, they remain on the bubble, and the bubble remains open for business.
The only real victims of mid-major madness this weekend were two of the more significant favorites in the non-BCS ranks: Stony Brook and Middle Tennessee. The Seawolves were done in by an utterly ridiculous conference tournament format (and, of course, a loss to Albany), while Middle Tennessee, which went 19-1 in the regular season, fell to Florida International in the Sun Belt semis Sunday night.
Stony Brook is unfortunately out of luck. Middle Tennessee -- with its sterling computer numbers but just two of its 28 wins coming against the RPI top 100 -- is a more interesting case. The Blue Raiders are decidedly on the bubble, and they should be. But how will being out of action for the next week affect their chances at an at-large bid? And why do conference tournaments feel it necessary to punish their best teams by awarding the conference tournament champ the at-large bid? (Down [with the conference tournament])!)
So many questions, so few tournament bids at stake, and less than a week to sort this whole thing out. Without further ado, let's dive in, and remember -- there's only so much room in the castle.
(Note: As is the tradition, Bubble Watch will begin updating on a daily basis -- and sometimes more often than that -- until the bracket is selected and seeded.)