Happy National Bubble Day! No cards or flowers required.
Granted, National Bubble Day might not appear on any official calendars. But on Feb. 1, college basketball hits the final full month of the regular season, and the bubble for the NCAA tournament starts to truly become part of the daily lexicon. Who’s on it? Who’s not?
To commemorate National Bubble Day, let’s gather some of the more intriguing potentials.
Josh Pastner for ACC coach of the year? Josh Pastner for mayor of Atlanta? All seems possible. His first Yellow Jackets team lost its top four scorers from last season and was picked to finish 14th in the ACC. But here Georgia Tech is, 13-8 with wins over North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame in the bag.
It is a beguiling story, between freshman Josh Okogie’s various heroics – witness the Notre Dame buzzer beater — and junior Ben Lammers averaging 14.7 points and 9.7 rebounds, a year after he averaged 3.6 and 4.0. Georgia Tech might be 231st in the nation in shooting, but the 19th rating in field goal percentage defense balances that.
See the Wolverines torching Indiana 90-60 with 63.3 percent shooting. And putting up a 14-for-26 barrage in 3-pointers to chase UCLA 102-84. And averaging the fewest turnovers in the land. See D.J. Wilson, who had 34 rebounds total his first two years, lead the team this season with a 6.2 average. D.J. is short for DeVante Jaylen, by the way, the middle name given him in tribute to old Wolverine Jalen Rose. He's blossomed just in time for the 25th anniversary of the Fab Five arriving in Ann Arbor. See living, breathing Karma.
When the Hoosiers are good, they are very, very good. And when they're bad, they're losing to Fort Wayne. Wins over Kansas and North Carolina would presumably carry Indiana a long way, as would being among the nation’s best in such vital signs as scoring, field goal shooting and rebound margin.
Here are not the problems for the Shockers, who have become NCAA tournament regulars under Gregg Marshall: Neither the 19-4 record, nor the 18.8-point average scoring margin that is third best in the nation, nor the balance that allows a team with nobody averaging more than 12.5 points individually to be scoring 81.7 collectively. Nearly 38 points a game from the bench help.
Just call them the 5.6-seconds Bulldogs. The infamous clock malfunction at Texas A&M, where the clock incorrectly stopped at 5.6 seconds and gave them the wrong impression they had more time to win the game, is not easy to forget. The 63-62 loss is forever part of a 13-9 record. Then again, Georgia was recently walloped by 20 points at home by Alabama, and the clock was working just fine.
The Spartans — with the non-conference schedule that was more like water boarding — aren’t in any danger of their 19-year NCAA tournament streak ending, even with a 13-9 record. Right? Right?
“This is the biggest challenge I’ve had in my life here as a coach,” Izzo said recently. “There’s not many people who are trying to play four freshmen, I’m not doing it very well. I should call Cal and figure out how to do a better job.”
The 14-8 Cowboys won four in a row, lost six in a row, won four more in a row. Geez, they should make up their minds. The recent victory at Oklahoma was almost mystical – two steals in the last 30 seconds and Phil Forte’s 3-pointer for the win. The Cowboys got by, even while missing 13 of their last 15 shots.
Notice the crowd growing for National Bubble Day?
Duke? Relax. The Blue Devils are in no danger of going uninvited to the tournament, but they are trying to survive all their trials and tribulations – including eight different starting lineups as the injuries mounted — and use February to get back to the high seed line that was supposed to be home. Also, Mike Krzyzewski’s seat is still waiting for him. All that deserves inclusion on this list.
“No one has had the stuff we have had . . . we’re disjointed -- team building in January, which is normally what you do in November and December. Hopefully we’re through the storm, and we can start seeing daylight.”
Lots of team hope that. It’s National Bubble Day.