College Basketball Bubble Watch

Updated: February 28, 2014, 11:57 AM ET
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com


Not all bubble teams are created equal

Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Thursday, Feb. 27.

Every team with work to do is equal, but some are more equal than others.

We're closing in on the end of the regular season -- and we're 16 days away from Selection Sunday, if you can believe it -- and with that proximity comes a more tightly wound bubble dynamic. Big wins and losses feel like do-or-die affairs. Narrow résumé differences receive close scrutiny. Nits are more readily picked.

So here's what happens: A loyal reader navigates to the Bubble Watch page to get a feel for the scene. (And the Watch thanks you for your support.) Oh, but what's this? Their favorite team is listed as having "work to do"? But their team would be in the bracket if it was built today! Joe Lunardi says their team is a No. 9 seed! Why are they on equal footing with the "next four out" -- teams barely even on the bubble in the first place?! This is how angry emails are born.

Thing is, there are different types of "work to do" teams, because there are different types of work to be done. Two, to be exact.

The first is maintenance: Teams who would be in the tournament if it were selected and seeded right now, but who have to avoid bad losses in their remaining handful of games to feel safe on Selection Sunday. The second is advancement: Teams who wouldn't be in the tournament, or risk leaving themselves at the subjective whims of the committee, if they don't move the needle in a positive direction before Selection Sunday.

Pittsburgh is a good example of the former. The Panthers have a decent résumé lacking in big wins, with a lot of narrow misses against good teams, games the committee will likely have seen. They'll probably get in the tournament. But if they lost their last three games (at Notre Dame, versus NC State, and at Clemson) and suffered a bad loss in the ACC tournament, they might be in serious trouble.

Arkansas is a good example of the latter. The Razorbacks began Thursday outside our bubble radar, but their huge OT win at Kentucky put their résumé on a par with much of the bubble, leapfrogging a handful of fringe teams in the process. Now they have to maintain that upward trajectory -- and hope for the best.

The key thing to remember -- and hopefully this helps avoid some of the confusion going forward -- is that there is nuance within each Bubble Watch category. Some locks are No. 1 seeds and some are No. 4s (or lower). Some "work to dos" merely need to avoid collapse, and some need to make a move.

The good news is that each task, though different in its particulars, can be boiled down to one simple act: Win.

Note: All RPI data via ESPN RPI is updated through Feb. 27.