March Madness has now 68 teams, and acronyms like “RPI”, “BPI”, and “SOS”, along with phrases such as “eye test” and “current form” become part of the Bubblicious vernacular.
We are three weeks away from the March 13th Selection Sunday date. If you are viewing ESPN these days, and have an interest in the upcoming NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament, then Joe Lunardi has become one of your “new best friends”. As Chief “bracketologist” for the ESPN network, it is Joe’s job to tell us each day “who is in, and who is out”. In short, which teams are “on the bubble”.
With the expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 68 teams, this makes it an even more exciting time of year for “bubble fans”. Acronyms like “RPI”, “BPI”, and “SOS”, along with phrases such as “eye test” and “current form”, all become part of the Bubblicious vernacular in these next three weeks. Many consider it to be an even more exciting time than the NCAA tourney itself. As the teams play through their LHG of the regular season and into the CCT (Conference College Tournaments) where the final decisions are made about which of the 32 teams get the automatic bid from the 32 Conferences of Division I.
That leaves 68 spots to be filled by at large teams. Many of these are filled by the representatives of the upper half of the nation’s most dominant Conferences, such as the Big East, the ACC, the Big 10, the SEC, the Big 12, and the Pac-12. The remaining spots are filled by teams who are “on the bubble”. A .500 Conference mark is used as a loose barometer for qualification by these major schools. The teams who get bids from the other leagues must have strong numbers in the RPI, the BPI, the SOS, and have passed the eye test.
In the chart below, I’m going to list Joe Lunardi’s 16 Bubble teams as of this date. Along with them, we will look at the team’s W/L record for the YTD, as well as their RPI, their BPI, and an SOS (strength of schedule rating) from the respected Sagarin ratings. Before we delve into that chart, let’s take a look at what these measurements actually mean.
50% of a team’s RPI number is that team’s OPPONENT’S DIVISION I W/L RECORD, or THEIR SOS. 25% of the rating comes from a team’s Division I W/L percentage, while the final 25% is a measurement of the team’s OPPONENT’S OPPONENT’S SOS. Thank god for computers!
This is a team rating system which takes into account the final score, the site of the game, pace of play, SOS, and injuries to key players.
This is a team’s strength of schedule, which is measured through a number of iterations as described above, which then spits out a final number that is representative of how tough the opponents are that you have played.
Putting all these numbers together is an NCAA Committee that has been working since the start of the season to determine the final 68 teams in the field. These are mostly administrators in the world of college hoops who have spent the majority of life involved in the game, and have vast experience rating teams. It is often their subjective judgement, or eye test, which is responsible for whether a team makes the field of 64 or not (think LSU with Ben Simmons).
The 16 teams below are a list of Joe Lunardi’s Bubble teams as of this date. They are listed from strongest to weakest, with the 8th team on the list (Alabama) currently being the final team to make the field, with St. Bonaventure being the first team to be left out. We will talk about how this relates to handicapping after presenting the article.
As you can see from this list, it is dominated by the major Conferences. As the CCTs begin to play out, it in effect becomes an elimination tourney. Normally, there may be opportunities for two, or even three, of the lesser leagues to have multiple bids. This year, however, it appears that more than ever the field of 68 will be dominated by the major Conferences.
In using this list for our own handicapping purposes, we can use much of the same criteria that we apply once the NCAA Tournament gets under way. Key factors when looking for teams to win pressure packed games include coaching, senior leadership, veteran guard play, and the ability of teams to perform on the road as well as at home. Often times the handicapper may knee jerk to the “bubble dog”. That is, playing a team in an underdog role, who has “need”. But if the team in question does not have the prerequisites discussed above, it is much less important what their role may be, for as we see continually year after year in sport after sport, it is often true that “with need you bleed”, folding under the pressure to get the victory.
In short, just being a Bubble team does not necessarily guarantee victory. All the usual handicapping methods must be used to isolate a point spread victory, then a team’s ability to perform to its optimum with need under pressure must be factored in.
As you have noted, this is an ever changing list from night to night. Here’s hoping this article has given you some insight about the factors that are involved in the Bubble teams, and how to use them when analyzing the NCAA basketball odds boards and handicapping your NCAA basketball picks.