One incredibly obvious, yet rarely discussed fact about the NCAA Tournament is that the best college basketball teams don't all make it. The 68-team event determines the championship of Division I men's basketball, which is made up of 351 teams in 32 conferences. Each conference sends a champion to the tournament. So teams can still have a chance to make it even if they struggled during the regular season. Here's a brief explanation of the selection process for the spectacle known as March Madness:
The other 36 teams are chosen at-large by a committee, which leans heavily on computer rankings that tend to favor teams from the five or six power conferences. This is how a plucky team from an obscure conference can rise high enough to be ranked in the AP Top 25, only to find itself left out after a loss in its conference tournament.
This season, Murray State won 25 games in a row and rose to No. 25 in the AP college basketball poll. But the Racers (27-5) performed badly against teams outside the minor Ohio Valley Conference and had a weak schedule — 256th toughest in the nation. After losing to Belmont on a 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left in the conference tournament final, Murray State landed on the edge of "the bubble."
Teams that aren't sure of their fate are "on the bubble." ESPN expert Joe Lunardi, who follows this stuff as closely as anyone, says Murray State is likely to be among the best eight teams that won't make the tournament.
ON THE BUBBLE
Bubble teams need to watch this week's conference tournaments closely. They will root for the favored schools, because if better teams get the automatic bids, that increases the odds for bubble teams hoping for at-large bids.
For example, when No. 7 Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference championship over BYU, that was good for most bubble teams. But that loss means that BYU (25-9) could be left out of the tournament. If the Cougars had won the game, they would have been in, and Gonzaga (32-2) would have gotten an at-large bid.
So bubble teams like UCLA will be rooting against fellow bubble resident Miami, and they will be rooting against the likes of Texas and Indiana.
And all will be watching Sunday, as CBS unveils the tournament bracket team by team. Some will celebrate, and others will despair, complain about the process, and prepare for the National Invitation Tournament, a second-chance event that ensures that even teams with burst bubbles can play another game.