By Eamonn Brennan
It’s time to separate the wannabe bubble contenders from the sure things
Editor’s note: This file has been updated to include all games through Monday, March 3.
Think of everything we’ll see in the next 26 days: Two weeks of conference tournaments and their requisite flurry of automatic bids. Selection Sunday insanity. The “first” round in Dayton. The unhinged madness of the NCAA tournament’s first proper weekend. The raw-fingernail rush of the regionals. The narratives of destiny, the temporary darlings, the bad calls and buzzer-beating shots.
Yes, Bubble Watchers, the most glorious month on the Gregorian calendar has arrived. By March’s end — the final day of NCAA tournament regional play is Sunday, March 30 — we will whittle 351 Division I college basketball teams to four.
Which means it’s time, in the immortal words of Bunim/Murray Productions, for the Watch to stop being polite and start being real.
In more precise terms, it’s time to fully sever the actual bubble from the potential bubble.
For most of February, we take things slow. We plan ahead. We allow for contingencies. We don’t lock a team in until we’re absolutely sure they could lose out and still make the tournament. We’re judicious. This creates the “potential” bubble. It’s a larger set of teams. It comprises schools that are likely to get in the tournament but could still miss out with a bad schedule and a late-season collapse, as well as those who genuinely need to improve their lot to earn a call on Selection Sunday.
Now that we’re in March, and there’s just one more regular-season week left on the calendar, we have a better idea of where teams currently stand. But even more helpful is how much less volatility we have to account for. At this point, teams with solid resumes don’t have time to fall apart. The worst-case “what if they lose out?” test looks less drastic when applied to just two or three games.
The inverse is also true, of course. If your team is scraping by on the actual bubble — or still hoping for a late thrust into the conversation — time is running short. At-large bids aren’t made in March; they’re earned in increments all season. It’s harder to collapse out of the tournament field now in early March, and just as hard to play your way into it, too.
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