One incredibly obvious, yet rarely discussed fact about the NCAA Tournament is that the best 68 college basketball teams don't all make it.
The event determines the championship of Division I basketball, which is made up of 351 teams in 32 conferences. Each conference sends a champion to the tournament. So every team that plays in a conference has a chance to make it — even if they struggled during the regular season.
The other 36 teams are chosen by a committee, which leans heavily on computer rankings that tend to favor teams from the power conferences. This is how a plucky team from one of those obscure conferences can rise high enough to be ranked in the AP Top 25, only to find itself left out after a loss in its conference tournament.
This season, Murray State won 25 games in a row and rose to No. 25 in the AP college basketball poll. But the Racers (27-5) performed badly against teams outside of the Ohio Valley Conference and had a weak schedule — 256th toughest in the nation. After losing to Belmont on a 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left in the conference tournament final, Murray State landed on the edge of "the bubble."
Teams that aren't sure of their fate are "on the bubble." ESPN expert Joe Lunardi, who follows this stuff as closely as anyone, says Murray State is likely to be among the best eight teams that won't make the tournament.
Bubble teams need to watch this week's conference tournaments closely. They will root for favorites, because if better teams get the automatic bids, that increases the number of bids that available for at-large teams.
For example, when No. 7 Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference championship over BYU, that was good for most bubble teams. That loss means that BYU (25-9) could be left out of the tournament. If they won the game, they would have been in, and Gonzaga (32-2) would have gotten an at-large bid.
So bubble teams like UCLA will be rooting against fellow bubble resident Miami, who will be rooting against Texas and Indiana.
And all of them will be watching Sunday, as CBS unveils the bracket team by team. Some will celebrate, and others will despair, complain about the process, and prepare for the National Invitation Tournament, a second-chance event that ensures that even teams with burst bubbles can play another game.