Eleven months out of the year, this word means a nearly spherical body of gas contained in a liquid. This all changes in mid-February as the word "bubble" floods the airwaves of sports talk radio and ESPN.
By the time the NCAA basketball tournament brackets are revealed on March 15, you will have seen Joe Lunardi more than you've seen some of the most important people in your life the past month.
As routine as the bubble discussion is every year, there seems to be a new tradition that has started in recent years.
What is this new tradition?
Coaches and supporters of teams that were on the wrong side of the bubble take to the airwaves and argue that the NCAA tournament should be expanded.
Their arguments will focus on the fact that the NCAA tournament hasn't been expanded significantly since 1985 and college basketball has changed significantly since then. While this is true, I'd like to offer a counter argument—the 2008-2009 college basketball season
You can make a legitimate argument that there aren't 65 teams—34 at-large—that deserve to make the NCAA tournament this year, much less 96 or 128 as some coaches have suggested. Look no further than games this week to show how weak the bubble is this year.
Georgetown (15-12, 6-10) was still being discussed as a potential bubble team due to their high RPI (40) and high strength of schedule (1). Their task was simple; Win out versus Big East bottom feeders St. John's and DePaul and then win a game or two in the Big East tournament.
The result? A 59-56 overtime loss to St. John's and their 147 RPI, putting the nail in the coffin of the Hoyas.
Cincinnati (18-11, 8-8) was seen as being on the wrong side of the bubble already, but with two more Big East wins against South Florida and Seton Hall, they'd be looking at a 10-6 Big East record which at least gives them a strong argument. Instead they went to South Florida and lost 70-59 to a team that going in was 8-20 and had an RPI south of 150.
Kentucky (19-10, 8-6) was seen as a bubble team that was relatively safe. All they had to do was go out and beat the worst team in the SEC East at home, Georgia. After a stunning 90-85 loss to a Georgia team with an RPI under 200, Kentucky is not only looking at missing the NCAA tournament but their rabid fan base is calling for the head of head coach Billy Gillispie.
Miami (17-10, 6-8) was seen as a bubble team that had a tremendous opportunity due to their high strength of schedule (10) and soft end of season schedule versus Georgia Tech on the road and NC State at home.
With two wins and wins over Boston College (twice), Wake Forest, Florida State, and Kentucky, the Hurricanes would be very difficult to leave out of the field. That was before they suffered a 78-68 loss to Georgia Tech and their RPI of 159.
This is just a small look at bubble teams who lost games to mediocre (at best) opponents. It doesn't even take into account teams like Notre Dame (Villanova at home), Maryland (Wake Forest at home), and Virginia Tech (North Carolina at home) that had golden opportunities to boost their resumes at home and came up short. In their defense they at least lost to strong opponents.
In a society that seems perfectly content with awarding mediocrity, the NCAA should take a stand on this issue and keep the tournament at 65 teams. All of these teams listed above and numerous others all had opportunities to solidify their resume and all found various ways to instead weaken their argument.