I don’t consult bracketology articles until the final week — maybe 10 days — of February. Don’t ask me where an Italian American has Team X on his seed list. Don’t press me for my forecast on where seeds and regions will pair the top teams in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. It’s too early for that. Too many big games are left to be played. Too many paths are uncertain. Too many teams sit on a very, very big bubble, waiting to play themselves off that bubble in directions both good and bad.
Bracketology itself can wait a few more weeks, especially with Selection Sunday coming especially late this year: March 17. (The Final Four ends on April 8 this year.)
However, it is not too early to dive into one of the familiar exercises of February: pointing out the games which really matter in the pursuit of a spot in the field of 68.
There are numerous specimens of bubble games. Some of these specimens emerge when the conference tournaments arrive. Those are obviously a month away. For now, consider two primary iterations of bubble battles: One is the big-boost game, the game against an elite team which, if won, dramatically improves a resume. Oklahoma plays Texas Tech this coming Saturday. If the Sooners win, they will gain a massive boost.
The other game is the kind of game which belongs in a bracketology biology lab. Naturally, it involved Frogs.
It was played Wednesday night in Fort Worth.
J.D. Miller beat the buzzer, scoring with 0.3 seconds left to break a 68-all tie and lift TCU over Oklahoma State, 70-68. This was not a game which would provide a turbo-boost to Jamie Dixon’s team. This was the kind of bubble game a team needs to win not for the qualities it would add to a resume, but for a different yet equally important purpose: avoiding a huge black mark.
In a crowded bubble field, the committee doesn’t want to see a significant blemish on a resume. Recall last season’s USC team, which — at 34 — had the highest RPI of any Power 5 conference team not included in the NCAA Tournament. USC lost at home to a Princeton team which finished its season at 13-16. USC had that loss and a few other stumbles which, if it had avoided them, might have put the Trojans into the field.
TCU might not grab huge bubble-boost wins in the next month, but as long as the Frogs don’t get dissected by the likes of Oklahoma State and West Virginia, they will avoid the NIT knife on Selection Sunday and return to the Big Dance.
Sometimes you win by winning, other times you win by avoiding losing. It might seem all the same in the end, and technically, it is, but there are some games bubble teams can afford to lose.
TCU could not have afforded to lose to Oklahoma State at home.
Winning wasn’t necessarily the accomplishment. Avoiding the loss was the true feat. Now the Frogs can breathe a little easier as they try to further solidify their portfolio.
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