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Bubbles. They make everything awesome. Got 50 gallons of warm water? Boom, bubble bath. Got a vineyard of Chardonnay grapes and enough time for a secondary fermentation? Boom, champagne. Got some leftover vegetables from a traditional roast dinner and a hankering for English cuisine? Boom, bubble and squeak.
There are times, however, when bubbles are less than awesome. In your IV line, for example. Or chasing you as you try to escape a mysterious seaside village. And you definitely don’t want the word “bubble” anywhere near your favorite college basketball team at the beginning of March.
There are few more precarious places to be than on the bubble. Perhaps on Bobby Knight’s last nerve circa 1985 or on that midnight train to Georgia. But even those pale in comparison to the agony of sitting through Selection Sunday, waiting to see if your bubble is going to burst and send you hurtling toward the NIT.
Being relegated to that second-tier postseason tournament is difficult to accept after spending more than four months striving for a ticket to the Big Dance. And it’s even more difficult to accept when the cameras from those sadists at CBS are trained on a team as it learns its fate.
But there are only so many spots in the NCAA tournament, and that means an eclectic collection of teams will spend the days—or hours—after their league tournaments pacing a hole in the floor while the selection committee constructs the field of 68. Hair will be torn out. Teeth will be gnashed. Desperate prayers will be lofted toward the heavens. In short, it’s a waking nightmare.
So, let’s get it started, shall we?
With a little more than a month before Selection Sunday, we’ve performed our usual ritual of removing all human emotion from a highly debatable issue and compiled the numbers that give us an early look at teams in danger of being left out of the tournament field. Remember, though, that this is more of a guide than a concrete list. In other words, these teams aren’t official residents of Bubbleville, but they are browsing the real-estate listings and checking the school system.
The Don Ho Division (Tiny Bubbles)
These are the little guys. The teams that, more than any other group, are being dragged down by their strength of schedule. If these teams were N Sync, their strength of schedule would be Joey Fatone. And the most conspicuous resident of this group is Murray State.
The only remaining undefeated team in Division I, assuming it retains that title, won’t be anywhere near bubble land come March. But according to our numbers, they’re squarely in the middle of the tenuous tournament invitees due to the worst strength of schedule in the top 60 (274th). Not far behind are fellow plucky underdogs Cleveland State (19-4 overall, 176th SOS), Middle Tennessee State (20-4, 192nd) and Harvard (19-2, 224th).
But there is a flip side to the strength of schedule rating—the mid-majors who wouldn’t even be part of the postseason conversation if not for their intimidating slate of games: St. Joseph’s (15-9, 52nd), Duquesne (13-9, 42nd) and Northern Iowa (15-9, 28th).
Bubble Wrap Division
So-called because it’s comprised of teams the top 50 likes to play with and then throw away, this division is among the potentially passed over because their winning percentages against the best in the country leave much to be desired. Included in this collection of possible castoffs are preseason Big 12 favorite Kansas State (16-6, 33% vs. top 50), ACC title hopeful Virginia (18-4, 33%) and perennial tourney attendee Memphis (16-7, 25%).
But some members of that group have less to worry about when you expand the scope a bit. Virginia’s winning percentage jumps to 62.5% when you include the top 100, while Kansas State remains mired in troubling territory with a success rate of 55.56%, and Memphis’s outlooks gets even more bleak with a winning percentage of 30%.
Bubble Bobble Division
The members of this group would be in better shape with the selection committee if they hadn’t lost their grip against an opponent that shouldn’t have been within shouting distance, let alone actually pulling off the upset.
OK, to be perfectly honest, we just wanted to list some of the most absolutely ridiculous losses of the season thus far because we enjoy reveling in other people’s shame. So take a bow, Notre Dame (61-57 vs. Georgia), Iowa State (74-65 vs. Drake) and Cincinnati (56-54 vs. Presbyterian). Although it’s kind of hard to fault Cincinnati for losing to an entire religion. Even if the team’s nickname is the Blue Hose.
Our Game of the Week
Georgetown (MCBR #14, AP #12) at Syracuse (MCBR #3, AP #2)
6 p.m. (Central time) Wednesday, Feb. 8
Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
There are plenty of obvious choices for our spotlight game, but we refuse to give any more attention to Duke vs. North Carolina because of sheer overkill, or what is commonly known in sports circles as Yankees-Red Sox syndrome. And the top 10 matchup of Kansas vs. Baylor is tempting, but we already gave Baylor the limelight earlier this season, and we hate repeating ourselves.
So, the Big East it is. And unless Georgetown (18-4, 8-3 Big East) can pull off the road win, Syracuse (23-1, 10-1) will have the inside track to the conference’s regular season title. Granted, the Orange have two matchups with Connecticut and Louisville remaining, but the former is in the midst of a down year that currently includes a losing conference record and a coach as immobile as he his grumpy, and the latter has beaten just one ranked team all season.
Actually, it’s pretty tough to imagine Syracuse losing to anyone because outside of one train wreck of a performance at Notre Dame, the Orange simply haven’t lost. That’s usually the case when your offense and defense are ranked inside the top 35.
And if one player has an off shooting night, which doesn’t happen often when you shoot better than 48% from the field, there are plenty of hands to lighten the load. Six players average at least 7.5 points per game, and with 16.8 assists per game, if they shared any more, the government would shut them down like Megaupload.com.
But with the 15th-best scoring defense in the country at 56.8 points per game, Georgetown has a better-than-outside shot at stealing this one. The Hoyas are just as balanced as their league rival, with five players averaging at least 8 points per game, and they’re 4-1 against teams in the top 20.
By the end of Wednesday, however, it’ll be 4-2. Syracuse is simply rolling right now, and that will continue with a 67-61 win over its biggest rival.