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NCAA Basketball Bubble Watch: Method to the (March) Madness

As the season enters the stretch run, what will the Frogs need to get into the NCAA Tournament?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 30 NIT Final - TCU v Georgia Tech Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Editor’s note: Frogs O’ War friends, welcome Anthony North to the family. Anthony will be focusing primarily on the Bubble Watch as we inch closer to March Madness, as well as TCU’s place in it. Enjoy!

After the NIT Championship, this season’s hot start, and a top ten AP ranking, Horned Frog fans had dreams of a deep run in the Big Dance. Then a series of tight losses and a major injury brought the sky falling again on TCU Basketball. Fear not, Frog faithful – this team still sits well on the good side of the bubble and has its first March Madness appearance in 20 years in its sights.

Not being able to turn those close losses into close wins, along with the difficulty of the Big 12 schedule does mean it is time to start considering TCU’s season in comparison to the competition and in context of what it takes to earn a spot in the Tournament. Introducing the Bubble Watch – providing an update on which games are most critical and which teams you should be rooting for (and against) when not cheering on the Frogs.

There is some objectivity in the analysis of the Bubble Watch. College Basketball fans are likely to be familiar with the KenPom Ratings, a comparative analytics measure that rates a team’s performance relative to the strength of its competition. A historical review of KenPom ratings, dating back to 2002, reveals the level of team required to earn one of the 36 at-large bids into the Tournament. Tournament hopefuls must be in the top-50 of the KenPom ratings to have a shot at one of these coveted spots. This of course does not guarantee a team entry into the Tournament, as many of the 32 automatic bids will come from outside of the top-50, so the Bubble Watch has broken the KP50 into tiers to better determine likelihood of hearing your favorite team’s name called on Selection Sunday. All rankings referenced in the Bubble Watch will be via KenPom and not reference Coach or AP Poll unless specifically noted.

Tier One (Top 20): Only one team has missed the Tournament when ending the season top 20 in KenPom. This was 2007 Air Force, with an abysmal end to the season, including a loss at TCU that resulted in perhaps the lamest court storming in history…it may have just been me and Superfrog. If you are in the top 20 you are guaranteed to be dancing unless you are a mid-major and lose late in the season to one of the worst teams in history.

Tier Two (21-30): With only 11 total over 16 season, fewer than one team ranking in the Top 30 will be left out of the Dance per season. This is a safe place to reside, however there is risk of heartbreak if your team hasn’t booked any big-time wins to impress a fickle Committee.

Tier Three (31-40): Prepare for a nerve-wracking Selection Sunday. Solid teams are likely to miss out from this tier every year, averaging just over 2 per year, including Big Brands and Traditional Powers. You are likely standing on firm soil here, as 8 of the 10 teams are likely to make the Tournament…but you could be left looking to host an NIT game on campus

Tier Four (41-50): Be ready with your response when Dickie V screams that “The Committee got it right, baby! The teams left out had fine seasons, but just didn’t have enough razzle dazzle, baby!” Some teams worse than you will get in - whether with an at-large bid you find undeserving or by going on a hot streak through a conference tournament. When you sit here, you are rooting for favorites to dominate through all conference tournaments and not give away your spot to a team outside the Top 50, then sweat out Selection Sunday

Bubble History

As a born Georgetown fan, raised Vanderbilt fan, and TCU graduate, my teams have missed the tournament with Top 50 rankings in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2015, and 2017…so I know this can go awry, even with a successful season, but I am excited for the remainder of this season and expect plenty of drama to come for the Horned Frogs. Let’s take this journey to March together.