The Notre Dame Fighting Irish found their way into Joe Lunardi's latest bracket projection, which 10 days ago seemed unlikely at best. On Jan. 20, the Irish had just one win over an RPI Top 50 team: a two-point win on the road against a Louisville team in freefall. Now, Notre Dame has four Top 50 victories and is the only team in the country that can claim a win over the RPI's top dog, Syracuse. Still, Lunardi places ND's odds of sticking in the field at only slightly better than 50-50.
The bubble can be like that, though. It's easy to break into it from obscurity with a well-timed string of victories, and just as easy to return to obscurity with a poorly timed string of losses. That's why Bubble Insider tries to keep its readers informed ahead of such movement.
Bubble Insider was first developed during the 2008-09 season to better project how Selection Sunday would shake out based on how bubble teams figured to fare in the games they were yet to play. We monitored them using a variety of metrics that gave us a pretty solid picture of who would make the cut when the dust settled.
Prior to Selection Sunday 2011, the Bubble Insider laws were simple: If a team ranked outside the Top 50 in RPI or lost 13 or more games, it was almost certainly NIT-bound. That was a simpler time, a 64-team time. Now, things are different. The tournament is bigger. And the bubble is a far softer place than ever before.
How much has the bar dropped? Consider this: From 2007-10, only one team -- the 2008 Arizona Wildcats -- lost as many as 14 games and still snuck into the NCAA field. In 2011, four 14-loss teams went dancing, and three of them (Penn State, Michigan State and Marquette) didn't even have to play in the new First Four games. Additionally, five teams outside the RPI Top 50 made the tournament. Marquette and USC broke both rules last March.
So where does that leave Bubble Insider now? It's clear that things have changed and old benchmarks are all but irrelevant. But we can't draw any conclusions from just one season of the new system. So we'll be adapting to the new present-day tournament by looking to the future.
Each week we'll analyze the bubble with comparisons of teams on the bubble, which we define as at-large teams seeded No. 11 and lower in Joe Lunardi's latest brackets, all the way down to the first eight out. Then we'll take it a step further, analyzing the teams' remaining schedules using a variety of power metrics to project whether they have what it takes to build a resume worthy of a seed come Selection Sunday. To get things rolling, let's take a look at how the current bubble projects when we consider the tempo-free efficiency rankings of Ken Pomeroy.