Bubble teams in trouble early

Notre Dame, Kansas State, UNLV among programs that must make up ground

Updated: December 4, 2013, 1:54 PM ET
By Joe Lunardi | ESPN Insider

Jerian Grant, Wayne Blackshear AP Photo/Joe RaymondJerian Grant and Notre Dame, a top 25 team entering the season, have already lost two games.

For most of the nation, we are at or just beyond the approximate midpoint of the nonconference schedule. It is no longer "too early" to assess the prospective NCAA seeding of elite teams or, more compellingly, the tournament selection odds of the most likely bubble teams.

Today we focus on the latter, and an awfully big name jumps right into the headline of our story: Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish began the season at No. 22 in the ESPN/USA Today coach's poll and remain No. 22 in the rankings of my esteemed colleague Jay Bilas. The problem is neither Jay, nor the coaches, nor yours truly, have a vote when it really matters, and the Irish have some serious work to do to build a legitimate NCAA at-large profile.

At this moment, I have the Fighting Irish at No. 71 ("First Four Out") on the S-Curve through games of Dec. 3. On Tuesday night, they lost an entertaining ACC/Big Ten Challenge game at Iowa in their only tourney-level matchup to date. Throw in a puzzling home loss to good-but-not-great Indiana State, and the Irish are 0-2 against the only part of their schedule that will actually matter to the NCAA Selection Committee.

All of which puts added emphasis on upcoming neutral court dates against Indiana and Ohio State. The first is a 50-50 game, and the Irish will be at least a five-point underdog in the second. What if the Fighting Irish lose both games? They would head into their inaugural ACC season winless against NCAA-level opponents.

Typically, a major conference team would need to be considerably above .500 in league play to overcome such a start. Can the Irish go 11-7 (or even 10-8) in their first trip around the ACC? Not impossible, especially given Mike Brey's considerably underrated record in past Big East play, but it's also not something on which you'd want to bet a mortgage payment.

Me? I'd put the NCAA odds for the Irish on the good side of 60-40. But they are much, much closer to the bubble at this point than any of their preseason rankings.

Let's take a look at some other presumed or prospective NCAA teams that have encountered early "bubble trouble."



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Joe Lunardi | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com