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College Basketball - Let the Bubble Watch Begin

By Sean McDonald
Friday, February 7th, 2003
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Every year, it seems more and more time is being spent during college basketball season about who is a bubble team, and how fair or unfair it would be to include them in the tournament. I'm not going to rant about how the great majority of these teams make very little noise in the tourney, but instead, I will get a jump start on the majority of college basketball analysts and look at what teams have the best chance to get off the bubble and advance to the NCCA tournament.

ACC Teams

Bubble teams: Georgia Tech (11-8, 4-4), Virginia (12-7, 3-4)

It has been a different year in the ACC this year as it's the first in memory in which the conference had a clear division of haves and have-nots. They are quite even in terms of quality wins and losses, however, Georgia Tech did win the first matchup against Virginia.

One of these teams is going to need a big win in the second half of the year (Duke or Maryland would be a good place to start), but if the NCAA decides to take five ACC teams, the winner on March 5th will probably be moving on.

Big East Teams

Bubble teams: St. John's (11-7, 4-4) Boston College (11-8, 4-4), Seton Hall (10-9, 5-4), West Virginia (12-7, 3-4)

Ugh. Not exactly a glowing resume among any of these teams. If I had to pick a team, it would be Boston College ... then again, I'm picking a team who lost to Northeastern and Holy Cross (although Holy Cross is having a big year.)

However, Troy Bell has been in high-gear most of the year, and freshman forward Craig Smith (21.7 ppg) is one of the least-hyped, great freshmen this year. St. John's would be my second choice, but again this may be a year where the Big East only gets five teams into the dance.

Big 12 Teams

Bubble teams: Texas Tech (13-5, 3-4), Colorado (13-7, 3-4)

If you want one team that I guarantee you will hear more about than any other come tournament time, it's Colorado. I think Texas Tech will get in due to enough talent to finish .500 in the toughest conference in the country, but it's hard to say the same about Colorado.

Colorado is an uninspiring 2-6 on the road, however, they do own home wins against Kansas and Texas. The key games for the Buffaloes are road contests against Kansas State and Baylor. If they win those, they should finish 8-8 in conference and would guarantee a spot in the tournament. If they split them, then you will hear endless arguments about whether not a conference team with a sub-.500 record should make the tournament.

Big 10 Teams

Bubble teams: Iowa (12-6, 4-3), Indiana (14-7, 4-4), Michigan State (12-8, 4-4), Minnesota (12-7, 4-4)

Iowa has the hardest remaining schedule and have probably been the most over achieving non-Wolverine team in the Big Ten this year. Cross them off the list. The real problem with the Big 10 in general is Michigan. Since they are ineligible for tournament play, if they continue to play well, they throw off the Big 10 standings for the rest of the teams.

I don't know if the committee will think of one of these teams as the sixth-best eligible Big 10 team. If Michigan stays near the top of the Big 10 standings, I would expect Minnesota to be the team that gets bumped. And if Michigan falls, I think all three can make it to the dance.

Pac-10 Teams

Bubble teams: Arizona State (13-7, 5-4) USC (9-9, 5-5)

See Big East for first comment (for those without a scroll mouse ... ugh.) This is another conference that has me wanting more mid-major teams invited to the dance. Obviously, USC's overall record is a killer, but if you finish fifth in a major conference anymore, you are almost guaranteed a spot in the tourney.

If they win at Tempe in a week and can hold serve at home, they would finish 10-8 in the Pac-10. However, I don't see them winning that game, so I will give Arizona State the advantage to finish fifth and most likely will get into the tournament.

SEC Teams

Bubble teams: Tennessee (11-6, 3-3) and the SEC West

Actually, not the entire SEC West, as Auburn and Alabama should get in, with Mississippi State also probably making it in. However, the SEC West could change next week, so don't buy tickets yet.

Ole Miss and Tennessee are probably the teams that are most in trouble, and between the two of them, I would give the upper hand to Tennessee, mostly due to a favorable schedule. They have Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi State at home, with only Kentucky as a ranked team on a road. If they can win the should-win games, and pull off a minor upset at home, they should find themselves dancing in March.

Writing this article has proven one thing to me: please put more mid-majors in the tournament. Seriously. However, I have come to the conclusion that the tournament committee is extremely conservative by nature and will stay that way because its membership is made up of people from the large conferences, and who are they going to protect their past or current interests, or teams who they can dismiss by playing "lesser" competition in their own conference. I think the past has proven what will happen. Hello to the Colorado's of the world and goodbye to Wisconsin-Milwaukee come tournament time.

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