The bubble is everywhere. You can’t escape it. Pick any site that covers college basketball, and one word inevitably appears when you visit it: “bubble.” Blind résumés are all the rage; Joey Brackets has taken over our TV screens; coaches inevitably plead with the Selection Committee in postgame press conferences. The bubble consumes us all. But as we hit the home stretch of the regular season, it’s important to not lose sight of what’s going on outside of those 15-20 teams that comprise the globule of uncertainty. Sure, it’s nice to make the NCAA Tournament, but just getting there only to get blown out doesn’t compare to winning championships. Winning the NCAA Tournament is the ultimate goal for any Division I program. Reaching a Final Four is a close second. The third and most attainable in the hierarchy of goals, though, is to win a regular season conference championship.
Regular season championships have become criminally devalued. Conference tournaments get all the buzz and corresponding attention because it is through those that teams punch their tickets to the Big Dance. But anybody can get hot and make a three- or four-game run next week. True champions are crowned over the course of a couple of months of games. This year we enter the final week of the regular season already with three outright champions among the power leagues: Kentucky has locked up the SEC; Virginia clinched an outright ACC title on Monday night; and Villanova is your Big East champion. Kansas has already clinched at least a tie in the Big 12, and barring something unforeseen, Wisconsin and Arizona are on track to win their respective conferences too. There are a few others, however, that should garner some of your attention.
- AAC. The watered-down AAC has been pretty poor this year but it could end up with as many as four NCAA Tournament teams. Two of that group — Tulsa and SMU — are in contention for an outright conference title. The Golden Hurricane have been the surprise package, sitting atop the standings at 14-2. SMU, the preseason favorite, sits a half-game back at 14-3. Tulsa hosts Cincinnati on Wednesday before the perfect scenario could play out in Dallas on Sunday: Tulsa at SMU. The winner will be the top seed in the AAC Tournament in Hartford, and if Tulsa falls to the Bearcats in the midweek, this weekend’s game will be for an outright title.