What this is: In the run-up to the 2010 NCAA tournament, as the bubble expands and contracts, every week Mark Schlabach will release his popular Bubble Watch (to go with Joe Lunardi's popular Bracketology). When Bubble Watch comes out, ESPN Insider editor Mike Hume will write Bubble Insider, which will take you deeper inside the situations of teams looking at the Big Dance. Here's edition No. 1 for 2009-10.
For those baffled by the bubble, it probably feels as though Miss Cleo or Maggie the Stanley Cup-predicting monkey is as good at projecting the final teams into the NCAA tournament as anyone else. With all due respect to their, uh, supernatural powers, we beg to differ.
Building off Bubble Watch, last season Insider introduced a little science into NCAA selection speculation with Bubble Insider. The goal is to look for common markers from past NCAA tournament teams and apply them to this season's potential field with a focus on fringe teams.
Our formula consisted of four parts last season: the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) -- teams with an RPI better than 50 almost always make it; team losses -- teams with more than 12 losses typically are denied from the field; strength of schedule (SOS) -- this isn't as good a predictor of inclusion or exclusion, but it can mitigate negatives; and adjusted scoring margin (ASM) -- this helps forecast teams with a good shot at game-by-game success.
This season, we'll incorporate a new element: Joe Lunardi's Tournament Odds. By comparing the profiles of past NCAA tournament teams to those trying to crack this season's field, Lunardi generates the percentage chance this season's squads have at making the Dance. We'll let him explain more on Monday when the odds debut. For now, let's project the future by discussing the past.
The reason we use 12-plus losses as a guideline in addition to an RPI mark of 50 is that historically speaking, teams falling short in both categories have a very tough time earning an at-large bid. In the five tournaments from 2004 to 2008, only five teams qualified for the field with a baker's dozen in the L column. Last season, three teams pulled that trick. And in the seven tournaments from 2002 to 2008, only four teams qualified with an RPI of more than 60. Last season, two did. Take a look at how things stood on Selection Sunday:
According to our formula, there were all kinds of reasons to keep these teams out of the tournament without even considering the virtues of mid-majors such as the San Diego State Aztecs (21-9, RPI 35, SOS 35) that were passed over. So what do we make of bids for this foursome when Michigan and Maryland sported 13 losses, BC flunked our RPI sniff test and Arizona missed both marks? Turns out there was one feature all four shared that we apparently undervalued: the signature win.