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Bubble Me Not

February 19, 2004 Columns No Comments

Bubble Me Not

by Michael Ermitage

Being a fan of a team “on the bubble” sucks. I would wager that a vast majority of college basketball fans are in this situation since most of the schools “on the bubble” are middle of the road power conference teams with huge student populations, and therefore large alumni bases. Every single one of them is figuring out what it’ll take to get invited to the conference tournament. “If we could just get to 20 wins,” they are saying. Or “all we have to do is beat…” They’re ferociously figuring out their RPI and their projected RPI, gloriously heralding their Top 50 wins, and lamenting their sub-100 losses. The weekly bracket reports from several web sites are perused for self-assurance.

Frankly, following a team “on the bubble” is whole lot of work. And for what? Does it really matter if a fourth team comes from the Big Ten or a sixth team from CUSA? Sure, there’s some school pride there to get into the tourney. And I suppose you could argue it helps recruiting. But in the long run, if you’re team is on the bubble, well, it’s because they just aren’t that good.

This year more than any illustrates that. Here’s as complete a list I can compile of bubble teams from major conferences:

ACC – Maryland
Big 12 – Iowa State, Missouri, Oklahoma
Big East – Boston College, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Syracuse, West Virginia
Big Ten – Indiana, Purdue, Michigan
C-USA – DePaul, Marquette, UAB
Pac-10 – California, Oregon
SEC – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt

What a plethora of talented teams gone wrong. Missouri? If the Tigers were to make the NCAA Tournament, which is doubtful, chances are that no one would want to play such a talented team. But, it is also likely that some team that plays better team ball would knock off the Tigers. Florida is going through all sorts of problems right now, struggling in the SEC, and losing guard Christian Drejer to the Spanish League. That has to be a first. Vanderbilt and Purdue started off so nicely, but are mere shadows of themselves at this point.

The only dangerous teams on this list are the hot ones – Notre Dame, Boston College, DePaul and UAB. None of them are quite talented enough to do serious damage in the tournament, but each is worth an upset look. All in all, not an attractive list.

In fact, I am willing to wager that none of these teams makes the Final Four. I’ll go even further and say that none will see the Elite Eight. Why do I point this out? Well, I’m not trying to make some sort of impassioned argument to limit the number of teams invited to the tournament. Nor am I trying to “burst people’s bubbles,” so to speak. No, quite the opposite.

I’m making an argument for the passion of college basketball fans. Every single fan of each of those teams really believes that if they make the tournament, they’re capable of a run to the title. Every group of fans wants their team to make it, not just for school pride, but so they can go to the bar with the rest of the alumni and watch the game. They want them to make the tournament to give them hope of something special. Winning isn’t always the fun part. It’s getting there. It’s defying odds. It’s suffering through the losing and the doubt before you cut down the nets.

So, for every fan out there meticulously poring over stats in hopes of finding some trend that says your team is going to the tournament, I’m with you. Even though it sucks. It sucks because by not making it, you’re not lamenting your lost chance at a championship. You’re lamenting your lost chance at watching more emotionally-invested basketball. And frankly, there’s nothing bigger to lose than that. Because for most of us, that means the season is essentially over. And nothing sucks worse than that.


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