It's Selection Sunday. Today's the big day for bubble teams... and we sure do have a lot of them this year. Every year the media tells us we have the "weakest bubble ever", and obviously that's always hyperbole. Bubble teams are always going to have a lot of losses. Sports is a zero-sum game - for one team to win requires another to lose.
What's different this year is the size of the bubble, and how eclectic it is. There are so many resumes that are just so different from each other in style. How much do you weight schedule strength, or winning percentage, or best wins, or ability to avoid bad losses, or winning a conference outright, or finishing strong? Depending on how you subjectively weigh those different factors, you can end up with a very different set of 68 teams.
In a normal year, we head into the Selection Show with only around four open bubble spots. That's why it's always amusing when ESPN announcers try to argue that Joe Lunardi is a guru because he only gets two teams wrong most years... congrats on the 50% accuracy rate, Joe. The reality is that, in most years, anybody who has paid even slight attention can pick all but four or five teams. This year? That's not the case at all.
We had 12 auto-bids handed out on Saturday. Four of them were handed out to teams that were already locked into the NCAA Tournament: Louisville (Big East), Memphis (Conference USA), Missouri (Big 12) and New Mexico (MWC). Eight of them were handed out to teams that weren't previously Tournament locks: Colorado (Pac-12), Lamar (Southland), Long Beach State (Big West), Mississippi Valley State (SWAC), New Mexico State (WAC), Norfolk State (MEAC), Ohio (MAC) and Vermont (America East).
With 40 teams already locked into the NCAA Tournament coming into Saturday, those 8 teams pushed the number up to 48. On top of that, five teams locked up at-large bids either because they won games or because other results in other conference tournaments worked in their benefit. Those five teams are Iowa State, Kansas State, Purdue, Temple and Vanderbilt.
Add that in and we now have 53 teams locked into the NCAA Tournament. I believe that two other teams, while not "locks", are pretty safe: St. Louis and Alabama. On top of that, the Atlantic Ten will pick up another bid tomorrow. That takes us up to 56 teams. From there I'm able to pull out four more teams that I'm pretty certain will make the NCAA Tournament: BYU, UConn, Southern Miss and Texas.
But even squeezing out as many teams as I can, that still only takes me up to 60 teams. That leaves eight spots that will be available for the bubble on Selection Sunday. For those 8 spots, I see 15 bubble teams (though it will be only 14 if Xavier wins the A-10 tournament). Although I'm sure there are some people who would argue that I could expand the bubble even further by including teams like Iona or Oregon.
But whoever you want to include on the bubble, I really don't think you can shrink it beyond 8 open spots. It's going to be a difficult decision for the Selection Committee, and it's going to be difficult for bracketologists. There's just going to be a whole lot of subjectivity this year.
For now, here is where the bubble stands:
Tournament locks (53 teams):
Vermont, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Temple, Belmont, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Montana, UNC-Asheville, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Long Beach State, VCU, Memphis, Detroit, Harvard, Loyola-Maryland, Ohio, Norfolk State, Creighton, Wichita State, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State, LIU, Murray State, Colorado, Lehigh, Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Davidson, Lamar, Mississippi Valley State, South Dakota State, Western Kentucky, Gonzaga, St. Mary's, New Mexico State
Automatic bids yet to be awarded (4, of which 1 is not projected to be won by a team currently locked into the Tournament):
ACC, A-10, Big Ten, SEC
Teams that look safe (2):
Alabama, St. Louis
Teams definitely in the Tournament... for now (4):
UConn, Texas, Southern Miss, BYU
The Bubble (15 teams for 9 bids):
Miami (Fl), NC State, Virginia, Xavier, Seton Hall, South Florida, West Virginia, Northwestern, Drexel, Colorado State, California, Washington, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee
Best of the rest (6):
Iona, Arizona, Oregon, Ole Miss, Oral Roberts, Nevada
Dayton, St. Joseph's, UMass, Central Florida, Marshall, Akron