(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
“Bubble Team” is a term that gets heavy use starting around mid-February and peaks on Selection Sunday every year, when the NCAA Selection Committee has to decide which of the teams who have no chance of winning a title had a ‘good enough’ season to be included in the Big Dance, a.k.a. the NCAA Tournament.
But the importance of Bubble Teams is negligible, and once the first weekend of the tournament tips off, dubbed ‘March Madness’ primarily because of the massive amount of games and unexpected upsets in the opening days, nobody thinks about “Bubble Teams” any more. At that point, a team is either in or not, and there’s any team left out just has a ‘burst’ bubble.
But there is a phenomenon which occurs annually in the NCAA tournament which gets little coverage but is far more important in the overall basketball scheme of things, and that is the fact that individual players can go from (relative) obscurity to national prominence in a few games. Some have gone from regional stars to NBA first rounders with a stratospheric performance in the tournament. Recent examples include Steph Curry and Kemba Walker, both who were considered to be having solid collegiate seasons but landed themselves on the NBA radar following their highlight reel games.
So, who in this year’s tournament may take themselves from a solid college player to a possible pro career? It’s hard to predict, but consider that a player doesn’t have to land in the NBA to get paid to play, and players who play at the highest levels of foreign leagues make significant salaries as well. Playing well in the annual NCAA Tournament is creating a ‘sizzle reel’ that can be sold to teams overseas pretty easily, especially if the player has the size to compete in the post.
As the games continue through the first weekend, we may start getting some names shaking out that qualify, but guys like Zach Auguste (PF, 6’10”, Junior) for Notre Dame is a player who was barely ranked as a Top 100 player coming out of high school, and yet played toe-to-toe this season against the likes of likely one-and-done and potential #1 pick Jahlil Okafor and took on a deep UNC big man lineup by himself. A deep run for Notre Dame could be just the ticket to set up Auguste for a pro look.
Other players, like Wisconsin’s center Frank Kaminsky is already considered an NBA prospect, but most analysts have him as a mid-to-late first rounder. If Wisconsin makes a deep run, which is likely, scouts and national media will get a better look at Kaminsky’s multiple offensive moves in the post and ability to stroke the deep ball.
I love watching some players come into their own during tournament time; normally, it’s not that the player suddenly arrives at March Madness and turns into a superstar; the fact is generally, those players were already having stellar seasons but weren’t getting national recognition and weren’t playing in front of a national audience. You’d think that playing against Duke and other high majors, and being the son of a former NBA player would have put Steph Curry more on the NBA radar, but leading his Davidson team deep into the tournament with spectacular performances are what suddenly made the pros start paying attention.
I’d love to do follow up pieces on this during the tournament and start seeing who emerges. While it may be someone who college basketball fans already know, it could just as well be someone whose school doesn’t play on national television all season.