Texas is currently on a lunch date in college basketball’s equivalent of the friend zone.
Not to conjure images of MTV’s “Friendzone,” which is every bit as awkward as you imagine, but the Longhorns are not in a comfortable position.
The zone, or “bubble,” is a place where mediocre teams vie for a chance to eventually get knocked out of the NCAA tournament, or every once in a while make an exciting run that also ends in elimination. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but this Texas team isn’t exactly built for a long postseason run. However, a bid does keep head coach Rick Barnes’ streak of 12 straight trips to the Big Dance alive, and as of Thursday “March Madness” is officially underway, so who knows what can happen.
But first, Texas needs to get there.
The bubble usually consists of a group of teams that basically coasted through conference play. These teams will have some questionable losses, maybe a surprise win or two and near .500 conference and overall records. The Longhorns can go ahead and check the boxes for all the above prerequisites. Losses to Oregon State and Oklahoma State look pretty bad for the Longhorns right now, their road record isn’t great and even with a loss at No. 3 Kansas this weekend, they would own a 9-9 conference record.
According to ESPN’s resident bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, the bubble can be broken down into three specific areas: “Last Four In,” “First Four Out” and “Next Four Out.” That puts the collective bubble at around 12 teams, give or take a few depending on the year.
Lunardi has Texas among his Last Four In, along with Miami, Northwestern and Xavier, all teams vying for a proposed No. 12/13 seed. Being among the last four teams in would mean that Texas would have to play one of four play-in games in order to make the 64-team field. Come Selection Sunday on March 11, this could be an entirely different group due to the unpredictability of a bubble team’s success.
Northwestern just lost a close game to Ohio State, Miami was defeated by North Carolina State and Xavier was routed by Saint Louis. All of these results make the Longhorns’ win over rival Oklahoma on Wednesday that much bigger. If the Longhorns can continue to perform better than the other teams vying for seeds in the No. 10-13 range, they could find themselves dancing.
Other teams like South Florida, Colorado State and Connecticut are all starting to play their way into the tournament with big wins down the stretch, and high strength of schedules ranks to boot. Oregon, Dayton, Central Florida and Saint Joesph’s also fall into the bubble area and could all make a case for a bid.
Many of these teams have a final conference game to play before entering their respective conference tournament in hopes of one last shot at improving their resumes. If Texas wins a game in its conference tournament, there’s not much chance the NCAA tournament selection committee leaves them out of the expanded 68-team field. A 20-win Texas team along with Barnes’ record is a lot to pass up, and the Longhorns are always a big draw around the nation.
In the coming weeks, these 12 or so teams will be put to the test to see who can come out with an at-large bid. With conference tournaments gearing up, these teams will either benefit or suffer depending on each individual result. It’s one of the most exciting and painful times of the year for fans of college basketball.