Game Plan is our Monday morning primer designed to give you everything you need to know about games that were and the games that will be in college hoops this week. Send us feedback and submissions via email and Twitter.
Is your favorite team mediocre? Have you spent the past three weeks clutching your seat through otherwise nondescript games against bad conference foes? Do you find yourself comparing nitty-gritty team sheets at 2 a.m. and constantly refreshing Bracketology -- even on nights when your team didn’t play?
You, dear friend, are displaying symptoms of Bubble-itis. It’s an acute seasonal condition that causes sleeplessness, anxiety and a range of otherwise insane behaviors. Consult your doctor if symptoms worsen, but know that until March 16, there is no cure for this fearsome disease.
For now, we can only offer a measure of palliative care: At least you don’t have to worry about Champ Week.
Champ Week is wild as a rule. It’s a one-week flurry of mid-major single-elimination tournaments with two dozen NCAA automatic bids on the line. It’s like a primer for March Madness, a warm-up exercise for the portion of our brains that process awesomeness.
That will be the case this year, too, of course, but something else is going on: Champ Week isn’t really a threat to the bubble. Why? Because there are fewer surefire at-large mid-major teams than at any point in recent memory, and thus fewer chances the bubble will shrink.
Let’s call everything outside the top nine conferences (the Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, ACC, Pac-12, American, SEC, A-10, Mountain West) a mid-major. Wichita State is a lock. (On the court, the 2013-14 MWC is more like a mid-major with two really good teams atop it. But that’s the product of a down year, not a long-term downgrade.) If another MVC team were to shock (ahem) the Shockers at Arch Madness this weekend, that would be a genuine at-large bid theft, and at least one team on the bubble would suffer because of it. Gonzaga and BYU are hardly tournament locks, but they should be fine, and the presence of both eliminates the odds of an upset title run.
So that’s two leagues, and two bids to steal. Are there any others? Green Bay almost certainly has to win the Horizon League tournament to be a sure thing. Southern Miss is a fringe bubble team at best, and a loss between now and the finale of next week’s C-USA tournament would all but eliminate it anyway. Toledo? Stephen F. Austin?
This dovetails with a theme we’ve noticed all along this season: There just aren’t any true mid-major bubble teams out there. Where are the Belmonts, the Murray States, the Middle Tennessees, the Drexels? Blame conference realignment and consolidation, or blame dumb coincidence. Whatever the reason, there is a startling lack of viable at-large résumés in the mid-major ranks, and a pillowy soft bubble is the result.
For as fun as Champ Week will be, it shouldn’t change much about where your favorite team stands. We can’t cure acute seasonal Bubble-itis just yet, but hopefully this provides some relief.
ICYMI: TOP STORIES
Wichita State finishes a perfect 31-0 regular season, from ESPN’s Jake Trotter: “The overflowing crowd of 10,506 could feel perfection coming from the opening tip. And after [Nick] Wiggins’ dunk, they finally declared it, as chants of ‘UN-DE-FEAT-ED’ reverberated throughout Charles Koch Arena. ‘There was a moment before the season I was looking at the schedule, saying, Man, I don’t think we’ll lose any of these games,’ [Fred] VanVleet said. ‘When we’re sitting down someday, we’ll think back to one of the greatest seasons ever played.’"
Marcus Smart’s redemption, from ESPN’s Brandon Chatmon: “Marcus Smart came flying out of nowhere, secured the ball and kicked it back out to a teammate, all in one motion. Smart’s offensive rebound late in the second half of Oklahoma State’s 72-65 win over No. 5 Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Arena on Saturday night sent a message to the Jayhawks and everyone watching: Marcus Smart was going to impose his will during the final four minutes. And that’s exactly what the Cowboys point guard did.”
STAT OF THE WEEK: Smart was 1-of-10 from the field for nine points in the first 30 minutes of OSU’s win over Kansas on Saturday. In the final 10 minutes, he scored 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting. The key difference? In the first 30 minutes, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Smart’s average jumper came 16 feet from the rim. Final 10? Just 9 feet. Get into the lane, Marcus. It’s what you do.
THE GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE
Memphis at Cincinnati, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Say what you want about the bottom-half dregs of the American conference, that top five has made the inaugural regular season a success. Not only have the games between Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, UConn and SMU been hugely entertaining, they’ve usually been close and never predictable.
Iowa at Michigan State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: “My team didn’t look like my team today," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told reporters after Saturday’s 53-46 loss to Illinois. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery can relate to Izzo’s existential quandary; his team hasn’t looked like his team in weeks. Now March is here, and it’s time to figure the whole thing out.
Kentucky at Florida, noon ET, ESPN: The 27-2 Gators have long since bagged and tagged the SEC title. The intrigue here all revolves around Kentucky, which is coming off the kind of loss at South Carolina that has Wildcats fans thinking previously unthinkable things about their coach, John Calipari, still less than two years removed from a national title. Does Kentucky have anything else left?
North Carolina at Duke, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: This game is in need of no further introduction or elucidation. Just a reminder for your Outlook calendar.
New Mexico at San Diego State, 10 p.m. ET, CBS Sports: Assuming the Aztecs get past UNLV on the road Wednesday -- and with Xavier Thames in the midst of an epic three-week slump, that’s not a totally safe assumption -- they’ll get New Mexico back in their own gym in a game that will settle the 2013-14 MWC title. The Show will be there, too. Look out.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK