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Bubble economics

Can Utah ride the bubble to the NCAA Tournament?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Utah stayed alive Wednesday night with arguably the biggest win the program has seen since knocking off Oklahoma in the second round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament. Not only did the Utes defeat a legit tournament team, one that seemed like a lock a couple weeks ago, they did it in their gym - picking up only the team's second road win of the season.

With it, Utah's bubble grew and now the team, even if remotely, finds its way into the tournament discussion.

The thing about bubbles is that they almost always burst.

In the 1990s and 00s, the U.S. rode a tech, housing and stock market bubble to immense economic prosperity. It wasn't lasting. In 2008, the bubble went pop, the country plunged into the worst economic recession this side of the Great Depression and, even five and a half years later, the impact lingers.

Bubbles grow and grow and grow until they go pop.

California, the team Utah beat, potentially saw theirs crack. That's the thing with bubbles, they're not sustainable.

So, when it comes to actual success, using that bubble to extend greater fortunes, it is almost entirely about timing. The good teams, those who find their way into the Big Dance, work the bubble to their advantage - they use it as a springboard to solidifying their spot in the NCAA Tournament. They don't ride the bubble because they realize that ride is almost entirely temporary. It's all about pivoting from it to securing more solid ground.

Utah, who has been on and off the bubble this entire season, has won just enough toward the end of the season to potentially make that leap.

The thing is, it's still risky and far from certain. The Utes need a bit of luck, a lot of winning, and some more luck to establish a resume worthy of an at-large bid. That bubble, while it continues to grow, is still in danger of bursting and that'll leave Utah on the outside looking in once again.

But because Utah has peaked at the right time, when most everyone starts paying attention to each and every game, their exposure is only going to grow with wins. A victory over Stanford, which seems less impressive today than maybe it would have a week ago, will only add to it. Moreover, it builds momentum heading into the conference tournament, while also giving the program a potential top-four finish. At that point, the bubble looks every bit as real and legitimate and then, with only a smattering of games left, there is hardly any time left for that bubble to pop.

If that bubble exists, of course.

Unfortunately, there is still much debate about whether Utah is even a real bubble team. They might not be. It's possible their only chance of making the NCAA Tournament is to win the Pac-12 Tournament. If that's the case, the bubble is irrelevant and it's entirely up to some Las Vegas Luck.

Still, you've got to like Utah's chances. Not only could they beat Stanford, but things just may break their way to give the program a historic Pac-12 finish and favorable seeding heading into the conference tournament. That makes it increasingly difficult to skip over a program like Utah, whose history with the tournament has been unmatched by all but two programs in the west - UCLA and Arizona.

So, the bubble grows. Can Utah avoid the collapse?