NCAA Basketball Debrief: The NCAA Tournament's 'Soft Bubble' Is Hurting The Sport

When the field of 68 is announced in just over three weeks, there's going to be some very mediocre teams participating in March Madness. The "soft bubble" is a growing problem in college basketball, and it's not good for the game.

Interest in NCAA basketball is waning. There are several reasons we could point to, but the bottom line is we're swimming in a more shallow talent pool every year. The glamour and lucrative contracts of the NBA has caught up to college basketball, leaving less identifiable players and teams year-over-year. This, combined with the NCAA Tournament growing even larger, has created the yearly "soft bubble," which essentially allows completely average teams to participate in March Madness.

My interest in this topic really piqued earlier this week when Ken Pomeroy called out SI.com's Andy Glock on twitter. Glock's weekly Bubble Watch moves from suggested reading, to required reading, to post-lunch bathroom reading as the season progresses. It's great stuff, as well as our own Chris Dobbertean's rendition. But Pomeroy said it best when he called out Glock for calling this year's bubble as being "as soft as ever."

Capture2_mediumIs it possible that this is the softest bubble in recent memory? Maybe, but the real storyline here is it's more a continuation of a current trend that college basketball desperately needs to remedy to increase interest for a longer portion of the season and return to prominence.

You can't quite quantifiably compare bubble teams from year-to-year. Statistics remain relatively the same so it's common sense and an eye test that you must employ. This season, the teams that will likely be biting their fingernails most fervently are Clemson, Kansas State, Penn State and Butler.

Just which of those four teams jumps out to you and scream "talented and fun to watch"? Kansas State might be coming back to life following Monday's victory against No. 1 Kansas, but Clemson's best player is Demontez Stitt (he doesn't even have a DraftExpress.com player profile), Penn State is barely staying afloat at .500 in their own conference, and Butler might finish third in the Horizon League.

That's just not cool. You can't possibly convince me these teams are worthy of legitimate post-season play. We're moving towards a egalitarian society where anyone and everyone with a few quality victories can make the field of 68. As the selection committee gathers in Indianapolis next month, I'm sure they'll reward good wins more than penalize for bad losses when selecting the at-large bids.

While he's a huge fan and one of college basketball's most respected voices, Jay Bilas has constantly been poking fun at this great game, all but imploring the NCAA and NBA to work together to address both sport's problems. Ultimately the goal is to keep players committed to improving for a few years as an amateur athlete. This will prevent more players from turning pro simply to cash a paycheck for sitting at the end of the bench, and limiting a diluted product by not allowing below-average teams from contending for the NCAA Tournament.

I imagine, that as college basketball begins to temporarily take center stage here on all mediums, the casual fan will tune in to a random SEC game or perhaps a Pac-10 conference semifinal and look perplexed. They may see a team with one decent scorer and nothing else, or a team that turns the ball over 25-plus times yet finds a way to win. I don't want that as part of my NCAA Tournament, and the lack of talent is a dirty little secret that may be about to get exposed.

Further tournament expansion sounds like the worst idea ever, no?

Now to the week that was...

5 Up

  • Random Dudes - We need more TV producers to purposely-inadvertently key an on-screen talent's alter ego like this, much like you see here from CBS College Sports. That random dude, you probably recognize, is Wally Szczerbiak. Some find that spelling out his last name is just too laborious. (h/t - The Dagger)

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  • John Jenkins - Teammate Jeffrey Taylor was supposed to be the Commodres' stud this season, but sharpshooting Jenkins has grabbed that title, due in large part to a 32-point performance on national network TV in a win over Kentucky. Jenkins has scored in double figures in every game this year, and leads the SEC in scoring and three-pointers made.
  • Road Trippin’ Through the Palmetto State - You can never get enough road trip stories, and The Sporting News' Ryan Fagan penned a nice one last weekend, taking in three games in South Carolina in the span of eight hours. Fagan hit up UNC - Clemson, Georgia - South Carolina, and Coastal Carolina - Winthrop. It's a great read, especially because it's done on a single tank of gas.
  • Saved by the Backboard - Like King, Like Kemba. A night after LeBron used the backboard the bail himself out of picking up his dribble, UConn's Kemba Walker did the same thing against Georgetown. Both naturally drew ooohsss and ahhhhss. Cue the GIFSoup!
  •                                    
  • Norris Cole - What does the Cleveland State guard have in common with NBA ROY-to be Blake Griffin? They're the only college players to record a 40-20 game in the last 15 years.  Oh yes that's right, Cole did work against Youngstown State, putting up what was likely one of the most unreal offensive efficiency numbers ever. Cole was 6-12 from inside the arc, 5-10 from beyond and 14 of 17 at the charity stripe; good for a true shooting percentage of 68.

5 Down

  • Florida State - Bubble burst? The Seminoles lost their star forward to what just might be a season-ending foot injury. Chris Singleton will sit on the sideline recovering from surgery as FSU fights to stay in the top third of the ACC until at least early March. Singleton leads the team in every major statistic except for assists, but he's a 6'9" forward so basically he's the best at everything he's supposed to do really good. Anyway, it could be back to the NIT for this club.
  • Yancy Gates- It's been a polarizing three weeks for the Bearcats big man. After hitting the game winning shot against St. John's under the spotlights of the World's Most Famous Arena, Gates has drawn the ire from head coach Mick Cronin, and has gotten much better at sulking than actually playing basketball. All his numbers are down, he was benched against Pittsburgh last week, and TV cameras caught him throwing a fit over the weekend.
  • No. 1 Ohio State when Badgered in Madison - Would it surprise you that when ranked #1 in the country and heading up to Madison, the odds are stacked against the Buckeyes?

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  • The Overhead View - If you were like me on Tuesday, you had a raging head cold and just wanted to lie motionless for four hours and watch some college basketball. Problem was, it was gimmick week on ESPN, so Kentucky vs. Mississippi state was broadcast primarily with an overhead camera. It was quite the headache inducing, unpleasant experience.

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  • Alex Legion - A ripe addition to Searching for Billy Edelin's "Searching For" cue in 2014, Legion surfaced again this week after he was removed from Florida International's roster by head coach Isiah Thomas. Legion bounced around quite a bit since 2007 - from Kentucky to Illinois to FIU - despite suiting up for just 49 college basketball games. The former high-school all-American continues his nomadic journey, that is apparently documented on occasion via Webshots.

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This Weekend's Games

Thursday

  • Clemson @ NC St (ESPN) 7pm EST
  • Minnesota @ Penn St (ESPN2) 7pm
  • Richmond @ Temple (CBS College Sports) 7pm
  • Washington St @ Arizona (FSN) 8:30

Friday

  • UConn @ Louisville (ESPN) 9pm

Saturday

  • Pittsburgh @ St. John's (ESPN) noon
  • Notre Dame @ West Virginia (CBS) 1pm
  • Georgia @ Tennessee (CBS) 1pm
  • Colorado @ Kansas (ESPN) 2pm
  • Washington @ Arizona (ESPN) 6pm
  • George Mason @ Northern Iowa (ESPN2) 7pm
  • Illinois @ Michigan St (ESPN) 9pm
  • Utah St @ St. Mary's (ESPN2) 9pm

Sunday

  • Ohio St. @ Purdue (CBS) 1pm
  • Florida @ LSU (ESPN) 1pm
  • NC State @ Maryland (FSN) 5:30pm
  • Penn St @ Wisconsin (Big Ten) 6pm
  • Georgia Tech @ Duke (FSN) 7:45pm
  • UCLA @ California (FSN) 10pm

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