Bad year for NCAA tournament bubble … or just standard?


Complaining about the NCAA tournament’s “bubble” is a time-honored tradition among bracketologists, hoopheads and anyone else who catches a game with two teams on the fringe of an at-large bid.

Take Sunday’s South Florida-Cincinnati game.

The fish was solid – a freshman sinks two free throws in the final 3.2 seconds – but a 46-45 final score … well, that just turns people off. (If it were the Big Ten, you’d hear nothing but catcalls.) It’s no coincidence that the Bearcats, a 9 seed in our weekend bracket projection, and Bulls, out of the field, represent two bubble teams.

So, two bubble teams, awful game. Bad year for the bubble? Not really, according to the guys at Crashing the Dance. It’s typical. In fact, it’s essentially what the bubble is every season:

These teams are still good teams, mind you; they are the best 50(ish) teams out of about 350 that play in the best of three NCAA divisions. They are just harder to compare to each other because a normal distribution means the difference between the 41st and 51st best teams is much smaller than the difference between the 1st and 11th best. Expanding the at-large field by three teams has slightly worsened the effect, but it is still nothing more than an inherent statistical property.

Cincinnati and South Florida happen to fall in that range on Sagarin’s ratings. Bad game? Yes. But standard stuff for the bubble.

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