/Bubble Watch and beyond: These five teams could make runs in the NCAA Tournament if they make the field of 68
Bubble Watch and beyond: These five teams could make runs in the NCAA Tournament if they make the field of 68

Bubble Watch and beyond: These five teams could make runs in the NCAA Tournament if they make the field of 68

The NCAA Tournament bubble undoubtedly carries a negative connotation because it implies a team is narrowly in the projected field of 68, or narrowly out of it, most often because it has not accumulated a resume deemed wholly worthy of March Madness inclusion. Factually, this is true.

As that thought process carries over into the NCAA Tournament, the implication is that a bubble team making the field surely isn’t dangerous enough to do damage once in it. Because remember: these are some of the very last teams in the final field.

Oh, but you’re reading my work right now, so I know for a fact you’re smarter than that! So I’ll level with ya: The bubble is not a sentence to irrelevancy. Syracuse in 2018 is one example to prove this. The Orange played in a First Four game, and advanced to the First Round as an 11 seed before winning again … and again. They fell in the Sweet 16 to Duke, but not before making their mark as one of the most dangerous bubble teams in recent memory.

Tennessee in 2014 was another. The Vols were also a First Four team before advancing to the main bracket and rattling off wins over UMass and Mercer. No. 14 seed Mercer defeating 3 seed Duke in the first round propped the Vols up there, sure, but it’s March — crazy things can happen. Sometimes all you need is a big break (or Duke tripping over its own shoes).

With that in mind, I urge you, my friends, not to write off bubble teams. Sure, they aren’t qualified, bonafide title contenders. But they are certified havoc-wreakers of the worst kind that can destroy your bracket if you look past them.

In that spirit, here are five teams who closely fit that profile this year and who are plenty capable of replicating similar runs.

Jerry Palm’s Bracketology: Last four in

The Rams split the regular-season series with A-10 winning St. Bonaventure. So we know they can hang with tourney teams. (They also face off Sunday for the A-10 title.) But even outside league play they have been plenty good, with wins over Memphis and Utah State on the resume and close losses to West Virginia and Penn State. That’s reason enough to become a believer. But if it’s not, then Nah’Shon Hyland, the team’s leading scorer, should be. He goes by “Bones” Hyland. And “Bones” is a walking bucket and legitimate NBA draft prospect who can hoop.

Jerry Palm’s Bracketology: Last four in

There are only a handful of true wildcard teams heading into Selection Sunday, and I’d categorize Drake among them. Could be NIT-bound or in the tourney and neither outcome would surprise me. But don’t let that thinking fool you — Drake has the goods. They were 19-1 before leading scorer ShanQuan Hemphill went down with injury and hobbled them down the stretch. But Hemphill is expected back soon, and just in time perhaps for the Bulldogs to slip on the Cinderella slipper and make a real run. The selection committee would do right to include this Drake team in the field considering the circumstances. At full strength, this is one of the best and most complete teams in the sport.

Jerry Palm’s Bracketology: Last four in

Timing isn’t Boise State’s forte — the Broncos lost their final three games to close the regular season and forced themselves to effectively win the conference tourney to get in — but this is still a team capable of doing that. At their best, they’ve beat BYU and Utah State (twice) thanks to a veteran squad put together by coach Leon Rice, led by All-MWC First Team standout Derrick Alston. The big question with Boise right now centers around Abu Kigab, who is dealing with a shoulder injury. Hard to believe in this team if it is not at full strength, especially without Kigab, a Second-Team All-MWC performer. Still, the collection of talent and experience gives the Broncos an edge many of their foes may not have.

Jerry Palm’s Bracketology: No. 10 seed

This is no vintage Carolina team, but this Carolina team — which right now appears to be fairly comfortably in the field as a projected 10 seed — sure has plenty of talent to just ignore entirely if it makes the field. There are four five-star recruits on the roster, and they present unique challenges to defend because of how the Tar Heels can play with so much size, skill and strength on the front line. There are few teams adequately equipped to combat the combo of Garrison Brooks, Day’Ron Sharpe, Armando Bacot and Walker Kessler. The team hasn’t been able to consistently perform at a high level but it has a reputation for being up in big spots, with impressive wins over Florida State, Duke and Louisville on the resume.

Jerry Palm’s Bracketology: Last four in

This team was hit hard with COVID interruptions this season — it once went more than a month between games — yet the pieces are in place for this team to be a threat if it sneaks into the field. In Javonte Perkins and Jordan Goodwin the Billikens have two high-major caliber guards who can do big things. They knocked off LSU, NC State and St. Bonaventure (among others) during the season, and if there’s one mid-major team with legit guard talent to make a run it’s Travis Ford’s.