At this rate we should contract the NCAA field – not expand it

Watch enough bubble teams play this season, and one question will inevitably keep popping up: How the heck would you fill a field of 96 someday when there aren't 65 teams who deserve to make this year's tournament?

For every Marquette or UTEP playing their way into the NCAA tournament with strong stretch runs, there's three times as many teams leaking oil and dropping engine parts yet staying in contention as a result of the woes of their peers. The trend continued during Tuesday evening's slate of games, with bubble teams from coast to coast squandering opportunities at marquee victories.

Georgia Tech has lost eight of its past nine road games to fall to 7-8 in the middling ACC, yet the Yellowjackets were a No. 7 seed in Joe Lunardi's bracket projection prior to Tuesday night's 11-point loss at Clemson.

Florida's home loss to Vanderbilt was its second in a row and fourth in seven games, yet the Gators are a win away from securing a spot in the field and in no worse position than they were at the start of that slide.

Illinois' commendable effort at Ohio State still resulted in its fourth loss in five games, yet the Illini could all but clinch a bid with a victory in their season finale against Wisconsin.

And Minnesota, dragged kicking and screaming back into the bubble picture the past two weeks because of other teams' struggles, finally may have buried itself for good with Tuesday's mind-numbing 83-55 meltdown at Michigan.

What's keeping the rest of these losses from being catastrophic is that other teams aren't exactly separating themselves either.

There's Virginia Tech, still in most bracket projections despite three straight losses and the nation's 340th toughest non-conference schedule. Or Ole Miss, a marquee victory away from earning an at-large bid despite not having beaten a single SEC NCAA tournament contender. Or even Dayton and Rhode Island, not quite dead yet despite twin late-season Atlantic 10 meltdowns.

It's inevitable that the selection committee takes a few of these teams because the bubble is that soft, but let's hope that they consider how a team finishes more strongly than usual this season.

If the season ended today, take Notre Dame over Georgia Tech, Utah State over Mississippi and Cal over Dayton. Let's reward teams that made the most of their opportunities late in the season instead of ones who wasted them.

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