By now, even the casual fan is familiar with the term “bubble team,” as teams across the country jockey themselves for entry and positioning in the NCAA tournament. Heading into Friday night, there were five bubble teams I was zeroing in on as conference tournaments progressed. As we speak on Saturday evening, one of those five teams has taken matters into its own hands while reaping the rewards of the other four teams’ failures.
By beating Vanderbilt in the SEC semifinals on Saturday afternoon and subsequently booking their trip to the tournament final against Florida on Sunday, Ole Miss likely punched their ticket to the big dance. Helping the Rebels’ case. meanwhile, is the fact that a group of four other bubble teams suffered disappointing results over the last 24 hours.
Kentucky – It seemed unfathomable to imagine a 2013 NCAA tournament without the Wildcats after last season’s triumph or even at the beginning of this season, but as the losses piled up and star freshman Nerlens Noel limped away, the prospects of Kentucky’s season coming to an end early suddenly seemed possible. Heading into the weekend, I thought coach Calipari’s boys needed to make a run to the SEC final to feel confident about Selection Sunday. Instead, Kentucky was upset – and upset handily – by Vanderbilt in the SEC quarterfinals on Friday night.
Maryland – Considering the fates of some of the other bubble teams, an upset win over UNC in the ACC semifinals on Saturday may have been enough to springboard the Terps into the tournament (so long as they weren’t embarrassed by Miami in the ACC final). Unfortunately, after clawing back in the second half to make it a one possession game in the final seconds, Maryland’s Madness hopes likely came to an end when Logan Aronhalt air-balled the potential game-tying three.
Southern Mississippi – The Golden Eagles entered Saturday’s Conference-USA championship game against Memphis knowing that a win meant a surprising automatic berth, but would a mere good showing in a competitive loss be enough for an at-large bid? Furthermore, is a 12-point loss, but a 12-point loss that came after two overtime periods against the 20th-ranked team in the nation, constitute an impressive loss?
Massachusetts – The Minutemen would have been content with just a minute of fame in the tournament (sorry, I had to), but a loss to VCU in Saturday’s Atlantic-10 semifinals all but spells the end of those hopes.