College Basketball Bubble Watch

Updated: March 7, 2014, 10:26 AM ET
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com


Breaking down the soft bubble

Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Thursday, March 6.

Every year since 2010-11 -- and earlier, too, though never as loudly -- we've complained about the NCAA tournament's soft bubble. It's an annual rite of passage: We get into late January and early February, we get our first real sense of the kinds of teams on the bubble, and we squeal. Wait, that team might get in the tournament? Really?! Soft bubble!

At this point, even writing the phrase makes the Watch wince. It's banal, cliché, the kind of thing our high school journalism adviser told us to avoid at all costs. Unfortunately, it's also true. The bubble is soft.

Even worse? Champ Week won't change that fact.

The second-to-last week before Selection Sunday is usually when the bubble starts to shrink. When mid-major teams with quality at-large résumés in seemingly one-bid leagues get upset in their conference tournaments, the at-large pool loses a spot, and teams hoping to back their way into the bracket are forced to sweat even more than they already were. This year, though, there are no real mid-major at-larges. Thanks to a handful of factors -- from conference realignment and upward mid-major drift to sheer coincidence -- there are few leagues in which the favorite doesn't also need to win the automatic bid to get into the NCAA tournament. The Missouri Valley Conference is one, though Wichita State doesn't look likely to lose to anyone in the MVC. The West Coast Conference is another, but odds of a non-Gonzaga and non-BYU final are slim.

Opinion seems split on Green Bay. Some bracket geeks have the Phoenix as an at-large selection over a handful of bubble teams (thanks to a win over Virginia and close loss to Wisconsin); others believe they have to win the Horizon League tournament to get in (because of the 17-2 record against the RPI sub-150). Either way, Green Bay is better off winning the tournament in the league it has dominated all season, because its margin for error is so slim.

This is always true of mid-majors. Because their conference opponents are typically relatively weak, they can't afford stumbles the same way a Big Ten team could. But it's especially true of the long-shot mid-major teams you'll see in this edition of the Watch. There just aren't good résumés in that area of the file this year.

Which means less bubble shrinkage. Which means more spots for bubble at-large bids. Which means the outlook will remain forgiving for mediocre high-major teams. Which means we kind of have to at least occasionally mention between now and Selection Sunday that the bubble is, in fact, soft.

On the bright side, the tournament begins in exactly two weeks. So, you know, there's that.

Note: All RPI data via ESPN RPI is updated through March 6.