NCAA bubble expands with tournament upsets

The bubble is getting bigger by the day, growing with each conference tournament upset. By the time the selections are made Sunday for the 64-team field in this year's NCAA tournament, it won't be a bubble anymore.

By then, it will be a biosphere.


The tremors of the upsets are being felt throughout the country. Among the conferences that could be affected are:

* The Atlantic Coast Conference, where Virginia (15-11) might have to beat Maryland (16-10), and where Georgia Tech (16-10) might need to beat Wake Forest (19-10) in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament Friday in Charlotte, N.C., to get a bid. With Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest all but assured -- and the Terrapins in seemingly good shape -- the ACC still is hoping for six invitations.


"It's quite obviously going to be a very, very big game for our players," Virginia coach Jeff Jones said yesterday about his team's matchup with Maryland, which will come six days after the Terps beat the Cavaliers, 70-68, in College Park. "Everyone associated with our program understands how big it is."

* The Atlantic 10, where George Washington's embarrassing 54-34 loss to Temple in Monday night's tournament semifinals might have put the Colonials (17-11) on the wrong end of the bubble. After receiving a record four bids last year, the A-10 is looking at possibly getting only two this year.

"I think we're one of the 64 best teams in America," said George Washington coach Mike Jarvis, whose team was last year's Cinderella, reaching the Sweet 16 before losing a close game to eventual runner-up Michigan.

* The Big East, where Georgetown's chances diminished significantly with its 73-67 overtime loss at Providence on Monday night. The Hoyas, with 16 wins overall but only 14 against Division I teams, likely will have to win the Big East tournament in New York to avoid the National Invitation Tournament for a second straight year. The Friars, at 17-9 and with five straight wins, are the league's best bubble team.

* The Big Ten, which has five virtual shoo-ins (Michigan, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois) and two clear bubble teams. With no conference tournament, Michigan State and Wisconsin will have to make a strong push during the final week of the season. The Badgers were thought to be in after beating No. 3 Michigan last week, but then lost to Northwestern.

* The Southeastern Conference, which has four definites -- Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida and Alabama -- with Mississippi State and Vanderbilt on the bubble. The Bulldogs (17-9) have lost four of six going into this week's SEC tournament, and the Commodores (16-10) have won three straight, including a win over Florida.

Duke athletic director Tom Butters, chairman of the selection committee, said during a national teleconference yesterday that the number of upsets so far in conference tournaments will make his job a lot more difficult when the committee convenes tomorrow in Kansas City, Mo. The bids will be announced Sunday night at 6:30 on CBS (channels 11, 9).

"We are not going to make everyone happy. I can guarantee that," said Butters.


Butters would not speak specifically on individual teams, but there were not-so-veiled suggestions that strong teams in conferences with weak power ratings, such as Coppin State, might lose out if they don't win their league tournaments. (Also, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's decision to play its championship game Sunday night after the bids come out could be problematic for the Eagles.)

"The fact that you have won 20 in a row may not be enough to compete against a team that has lost four of its last 10 but has competed at another level," said Butters.

Though Butters cannot be in the conference room when Duke is being seeded, the power he wields could be helpful to the ACC. Butters has maintained that he is not against eliminating teams with losing league records within strong conferences.

But a lot might depend on what happens in Charlotte, as well as at tournaments around the country.

"The teams playing well in the tournament will be looked at more favorably to those who lost in the early rounds," said Butters.

In other words, win and get off the bubble.