With the Selection Sunday a little over two weeks away one of the biggest buzz words this season has been the “soft bubble” that is to say that teams under consideration for the at-large pool of the NCAA Tournament have done little to differentiate themselves from each other, and not in a good way.
Every time it seems a team has a big game with a chance to get off the bubble they fall short in a game against a better opponent, Northwestern and Minnesota come to mind this week for their losses to Ohio State and Michigan State respectively. Or it goes the other way, a team that finds itself on the bubble loses a game to a lesser opponent or a team they are on the bubble with and finds itself on the outside looking in, like Xavier falling to Massachusetts and Central Florida losing to Rice this week. It seems as though since we turned the calendar to 2012 this song and dance among bubble teams has happened weekly.
As a result after the top 8 or so teams in the country, there is a group of 20-30 teams you could throw on a neutral court and flip a coin as to who could win on any given night. Even among the top teams there are some question marks, which Baylor team will show up? Motivated or not?, Can Duke play enough defense when they need to? What happens to Ohio State and more specifically Jared Sullinger if they get matched up with a physical team?
Its questions like this in addition to the ever growing “soft bubble that leads me to wonder what the tournament will look like after the first weekend.
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded from 48 to 64 (then 65 and 68) teams in 1985, half of the Sweet 16 seeds (#1-#4 in each region) have failed to hold seven times. Three times (’85,’86 and ’00) nine top-four seeds failed to make it out of the first weekend. In 2009 just two Sweet 16 seeds, Wake Forest and Washington (both #4’s) failed to win two games.
With such a “weak” bubble and some pretty strong mid-majors as we witnessed on Bracket Buster Saturday, could the 2012 tournament be historic in terms of the number of top seeds that fail to make it to their regional sites? Like most years, tournament results, at least early on, can be based as much upon the match up as it can the talent on the two teams on the floor.
No matter how weakly perceived the field is come Selection Sunday, brackets will still be filled out and the NCAA tournament will still be the most watched event on the NCAA calendar. If you ask basketball fans what they like most about March Madness, upsets and close finishes are always near the top of the list. The 2012 tournament could see those two things in historic numbers.