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Life on the Bubble

March 4, 2004 Columns No Comments

Life on the Bubble

by Jim Woods

Most fans of college basketball, like myself, consider March to be the best time of the year. How can you not? Conference tournaments are getting under way and other leagues are winding down the regular season. ESPN likes to refer to this time as Championship Week. ESPN also likes to name other weeks throughout the season to try and draw in viewers. You’ll see them go overboard about once a month with Rivalry Week and Showdown Week. I have a couple of other ideas for them. What about Zero Graduation Rate Week, Violation Week or Renegade Week? (Oh wait, they have that. Its called the Conference USA tournament). Over the course of the next two weeks you will hear the terms bubble, bracketology, pod and at-large berth somewhere in excess of 10,000 times. Every time you hear bubble I want you to think about the pressure that is on the teams that sit firmly on that bubble.

Teams that are considered to be on the bubble at this time of the year are going through a variety of emotions. The first feeling is certainly one of excitement. Obviously every program in the “major” conferences would like to be sitting pretty with 22 wins right now, and knowing their name is popping up on the screen Selection Sunday. But the reality is very few teams are NCAA Tournament “locks” right now, and every coach would rather be on the bubble then out of the picture. You have achieved a certain level of success to this point, but now there is also the pressure to close the deal and get into the dance.

At Georgia, the Bulldogs were not considered by many “experts” to be a team to contend for an NCAA bid this winter. But they have surprised many and now sit firmly on the tournament bubble at 14-11 with remaining games against Florida and Vanderbilt. You would think that talk of the bubble would be rampant in the Georgia locker room and offices this week. How mistaken you would be. “We never discuss the issue of the bubble”, says Georgia Assistant Coach Bert Tucker. “We don’t want to begin to worry about situations that are beyond our control. All you can do is put your full focus on your next opponent and take things on a game-by-game basis.”

Many of you are spending time devouring RPI reports and mock brackets, and we assume the people involved must be doing the same thing. You forget that the coaches still have to put all of their time, energy and effort into preparing the next game plan. Nothing will take you off the bubble quicker than losing your last two games. The team’s job is to present their best “body of work” to the committee to decide. All they can do is play the games.

The position of being in a power conference on the bubble can be even less stressful than being the favorite in a conference where only the tournament champ is getting a bid. The Georgia staff has been in that position before during their time at Western Kentucky. Tucker explained, “We don’t feel the pressure in this situation like we did at Western Kentucky. There we felt like our entire season and chances for a bid came down to one weekend in March. Here we feel like if we take care of our business we will get in.”

Programs such as Manhattan, Boston University, Kent State and others are in that situation right now. They can use the “let’s take the committee out of the picture” motivation with their team. It is a reality that their sensational regular season could result in an NIT bid if they do not win their conference tournament. But again, each of these teams can only control their performance on the court and must focus their attention on the next opponent. They need to leave the wonder and “what if” to their fans and get their teams ready to play. Each of these programs and coaches deal with this situation every year. It is the reality of the mid-major and something they can not afford to worry about this week.

So while we are all discussing who should be in and who should be out, let’s not forget the people involved and what they are going through. Some will be euphoric on March 14th and others distraught, but each will have been on an emotional roller coaster. Good luck to the fans whose teams are in the tournament mix and enjoy the ride through March.

My Field of 65

A lot has changed since last week so let’s jump right into it.

Strictly Automatic

America East
Atlantic Sun
Big Sky
Big South
Big West
Metro Atlantic
Missouri Valley
Ohio Valley
Southern Conference
Sun Belt
West Coast


Out of these above conferences you have the potential for upsets and a second team to go. This applies to the WCC and MVC. Gonzaga (WCC) and Southern Illinois (MVC) are going to get in regardless of winning their league tournament. For the purposes of this article I am assuming these two schools will garner the conference’s automatic bid. Last week I said Western Michigan would get in regardless, but then they went out and lost to Toledo and I think this will put them on the wrong side of the bubble.

That accounts for 21 Automatic Bids

Here is what remains. Each of the below conferences I believe will get multiple teams into the tournament. Again, for the purposes of this article, one of the teams listed I am assuming to win the conference tournament and the automatic bid.

Atlantic Ten: St. Joe’s and Dayton.

ACC: Duke, NC State, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State

Big 12: Oklahoma St., Kansas, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Missouri, Colorado

Big East: Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Providence, Syracuse, Boston College, Seton Hall

Big Ten: Michigan St., Illinois, Wisconsin

Conference USA: Memphis, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Louisville, DePaul, UAB

Mountain West: Air Force, Utah, BYU

Pac 10: Stanford, Arizona

Southeastern Conference: Kentucky, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Florida, Alabama, LSU

WAC: UTEP, Nevada

Thoughts, Changes and Analysis

Purdue comes out of this week’s field and gets replaced by UTEP and Nevada. (The reason two teams replace one is that I have elevated the WAC from being a one bid conference. So I am assuming that one will win the conference tourney and the other will be the at-large selection). Despite their win in the Great Alaska Shootout, I just don’t think Purdue with an RPI of 93 is going to get in. A win by UTEP at Boise State this weekend will give them eleven wins in their last twelve games. Their RPI will be lower then teams such as Rutgers and Richmond, but they will qualify ahead of the seventh best team in the Big East and the fourth best record in the Atlantic Ten because of their strong record in the WAC. Nevada also falls into the same boat. They could still really use a sweep of Hawaii and San Jose State this weekend (both at home) and a win in their first round WAC game to solidify their situation, but I feel good about their chances. Georgia still needs to win one of their remaining regular season games (Florida and Vanderbilt) to strengthen their case, and get themselves in. They are fighting with LSU and Alabama right now. I believe two of the three will get in, but they won’t take all three and therefore eight from the SEC. Alabama’s win at Mississippi State in the last ten days and their strength of schedule rating pushes them to the lead of this group.

More Notes from “The Sideline”

• I am still extremely sore today after taking the court Monday night for open gym. I played with some college aged kids who wore headbands. I can’t stand that, and as my cousin TJ always says, “Guys with headbands never pass.” He was 100% on the money with that rule. Keep that in mind the next time you are choosing up sides for lunch-time basketball.

• Did I read correctly today that pending Department of Defense approval, Michigan State, North Carolina, Air Force and Navy will participate in a doubleheader to take place next season on an aircraft carrier? It sounds like a great patriotic idea, but this can’t possibly work can it? Navy scored 43 points and shot 28% from the field last weekend against Army. THAT GAME WAS INSIDE!!! They may not get to double figures in an outdoor game. Anybody that has every played in a park knows an outside shot is wind aided. Now take the gust off the water on an aircraft carrier. Now I know it will be anchored, but still. I can’t wait to see this.

• Anybody who watched the Virginia game last night against Wake Forest hopefully is now aware of why I think fouling when you are up by three points is a bad idea (see my article on “Crunch Time”). Leading by three with 5.9 seconds remaining, Virginia chose to foul Wake with 2.9 seconds left preventing Wake’s opportunity to get off a three-point attempt. Former Cleveland Cav Brad Daugherty (I can’t refer to him as ESPN announcer) was in favor of fouling in the situation and even went as far as to say after the foul, “Warm up the bus. It’s all over now. There is no way Virginia can lose!” Chris Paul makes the first foul shot and misses the second intentionally. Virginia grabs the rebound and travels. So now there is an under out of bounds for Wake with just under two seconds on the clock. Never once do the announcers mention that now Virginia can lose on a three. Luckily for the Cavs Jamal Levy missed a short jumper that would have sent the game into OT, and UVA hangs on.

• Not to be outdone by his ESPN colleague Daugherty, Len Elmore stated during the St. Joe’s telecast last night that one of the Hawks weaknesses is playing against a zone defense. This is the same team that knocked in, oh let me think, TWENTY THREE POINTERS AGAINST TEMPLE! C’mon now do your research.

• Very quietly Northwestern has put together an excellent season in the Big Ten. Heading into their final two regular season games (Iowa and Michigan both at home), the Wildcats are 7-7 in Big Ten play. If they sweep these two games, Northwestern will finish above .500 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1968. Very quietly things have started to turn around in Evanston. Next year could be an even better season, as transfers Michael Thompson (Duke) and Tim Doyle (St. John’s) will make an immediate impact.

• Oklahoma center Jabarhi Brown was charged with possession of marijuana today and police found a gun in his apartment. After the Baylor situation, I am hoping that Brown is given more than just a slap on the wrist by his coach.

• The issue of steroids in baseball is one I just can’t get myself all excited about. I know that if Giambi goes deep against Pedro in April I am going to be as fired up as I was before Balco was part of my vocabulary. I want to see Bonds hit one 600 feet. And then 10 years from now when they are on “Real Sports” crying about the heart disease and their incredibly shrinking testicles, I hope they remember how arrogant they are being right now.


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