College Basketball Bubble Watch

Updated: March 6, 2015, 9:32 AM ET
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com


Where will the bid thieves come from?

In this week's Bubble Watch video, we warned fans of bubble teams everywhere to beware the bid thieves. This is one of those general, evergreen pieces of bubble counsel -- something even we forget, every season, right up to the point that the first wave of conference tournaments reminds us. Oh yeah. The bubble is going to shrink.

The bubble always shrinks. It's not really a question of if. The better question -- especially this season -- is where: Where, exactly, will the bid thieves come from?

What makes the 2014-15 season different? Loyal Bubble Watchers will note that this season's "others" (read: mid-majors) category has been startlingly thin all winter. (Outside of Wichita State and Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley, and Gonzaga -- and BYU -- in the West Coast Conference, naturally.) It's not we haven't tried; every week, we scour the sport's mid-major leagues looking for fresh résumés worthy of consideration. And it's not that there aren't good mid-major teams out there. Sure, conference consolidation has gobbled up many of the perennial "others" favorites (Butler, VCU, Davidson, etc.), but there are plenty of good teams still plying their trades in mid-major leagues. Murray State. Buffalo. Stephen F. Austin. Louisiana Tech. Harvard. Green Bay. We're probably missing a few.

The problem is that none of these teams have worthy NCAA tournament résumés. All of them need to win their conference's automatic bid to get in. A so-so mid-major league with one great team is the would-be bid thief's path of least resistance. This season, those paths don't exist. If Murray State loses in the Ohio Valley final, its conqueror won't steal a bubble team's bid. It will take Murray State's.

This means the bid thieves will have to come from high-major leagues. There, the chances are far more dim. Think about it: If you're, oh, Kansas State, to steal a bid you have to beat at least three of the Big 12's best on consecutive nights. That's insanely hard. It happens, but it's rare.

To pre-cog 2015's bid burglars before they commit their vile deeds, the best bet seems to be the sort-of-but-not-really-high-major conferences -- the tweener leagues. UConn is playing the American tournament in Hartford, Connecticut. There's one suspect. Saint Mary's in the West Coast Conference. Wyoming in the Mountain West. Richmond or Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10. All conceivable. All of which could steal a bid from a team that has been on the bubble since January.

Of course, any such predictions are folly. And not just because college basketball is kind of crazy. Predictability is antithetical to the bid thief's nature. That's how they get to be thieves in the first place. If they seemed tournament-worthy already, they wouldn't be thieves.

So, no, no one really knows how much the bubble will shrink these next few weeks. One bid? Three? Five? We only know that it will -- and, when it does, a tiny mid-major won't be to blame.

Did we miss a team? Include the unworthy? Want to stump for your favored mid-major? Send your feedback, suggestions and hilarious jokes to me on Twitter @eamonnbrennan

Note: All RPI data via ESPN RPI is updated through March 5.