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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: Life on the "bubble” for UNC basketball

Senior forward Leaky Black prepares to warm up before a home UNC men's basketball game against Duke in the Dean Smith Center on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. Duke won 87-67.

With March Madness quickly approaching, one of the biggest annual sporting events is getting closer. 

The NCAA basketball tournament is a much-anticipated annual tradition for UNC basketball fans. Currently, the team has qualified for the last ten tournaments — the fourth-longest active streak in the nation.

But that streak is in jeopardy. After not living up to preseason expectations and some recent losses (including a shocking home loss versus a bad Pittsburgh team), the team finds itself on the fringe of the NCAA tournament, better known as the “bubble."

Being on the bubble is uncharted territory for UNC basketball fans. Even with last year's team, which failed to live up to expectations, there was a general consensus that getting in was a safe bet. 

So, what does it mean to be on the bubble? The first requirement is simple: You have to win games. The best way to remove yourself from the bubble is to stack up victories. Most of the teams who find themselves on the bubble are there because of inconsistent play. Putting together a consistent string of victories is the quickest way for UNC to remove itself from this crowd.

Bubble teams and their fans should also begin to monitor the performance of other bubble teams. A loss doesn’t necessarily knock you off tournament contention depending on other bubble teams' performances. Rooting against your bubble foes can form exciting allegiances between fanbases.

In the meantime, there are some terms that fans of bubble teams need to familiarize themselves with as tournament season approaches.

KenPom, NET rankings and RPI

These are all rankings that take into account several factors, like average opponents' winning percentage, game location, efficiency and even luck to further evaluate teams.

Each ranking has a system of evaluation that ranks teams, further aiding the NCAA tournament committee in selecting the best field for the tournament.

Quadrant wins

Quadrant wins effectively measure a team's strength of victory. There are four quadrants, where quad one wins are the best and quad four wins are the worst. The system uses the RPI, or Rating Percentage Index. Quad one wins are those won during home games vs. teams RPI-ranked 1-30, neutral games vs. teams RPI-ranked 1-50 and away games vs. teams RPI-ranked 1–75.

Essentially, the tournament committee can evaluate two similar teams and determine if they are only beating up on weak competition or if they are competing with the best teams.

Quad one wins are the biggest absence from UNC’s tournament resume. The team picked up their first quad one win Saturday at Virginia Tech, pitting them at 1-7 against quad one teams. Their lone chance at victory against a quad one team remains against Duke on March 5.

Last four in, first four out

This is the bubble. The last four teams are the final four teams that just squeaked into the tournament. These teams will play in the two play-in games to join the field of 64 teams in the NCAA tournament.

The first four out are the first four teams that just missed the cut of making it into the NCAA tournament. These teams usually get to go on to play in the National Invitation Tournament, but miss out on the excitement of March Madness.

It is these teams and their fans that nervously await selection Sunday, where they will learn their fates from the tournament committee. It is life on the “bubble.”


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