Every morning for the last two weeks, I've woken up the same way: by flipping open my laptop and trying to figure out the NCAA Tournament bubble.
It's that time of year, when -- promo alert!: starting this Sunday with the NCAA Selection Special (here on KENS 5) -- basketball fans switch their attention to the college game.
It's that time of the year when we conduct an extensive, national debate on whether or not a bunch of teams that the majority of Americans have never seen play -- raise your hand if you can name a starter on bubble-sitting South Florida, San Diego State or Saint Louis -- are worthy of entry into the bracket.
But all this bracketologizing has gotten the Roundup thinking: how do you objectively judge a basketball team, and how do you decide if that team is fit for postseason play?
Let's be fair: compared to the process that takes place every March, the NBA's system for seeding teams is painfully uninteresting. There's no debating a team's RPI or picking apart a team's good wins and bad losses. There's no mention of schedule of strength, and there's certainly no factoring in a team's ability to win on the road.
But if you did consider all those things -- if you created a hypothetical NBA Tournament committee to consider those metrics -- you'd learn quite a bit about the San Antonio Spurs.
THE SEEDING PROCESS
When the NCAA Tournament committee meets in Indianapolis this weekend, they'll start making the bracket by selecting the teams that are "locks" for the postseason. For the sake of this article, let's imagine that the NBA would use an NCAA-style bracket, and that any conference affiliations have been eliminated for the postseason. Teams would be seeded 1 to 16 by the hypothetical NBA Tournament committee, just like the one the NCAA uses.
For the 2010 NBA Tournament, those locks would probably be (in alphabetical order):
Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, LA Lakers, Orlando, Phoenix, Utah
Then there's a second wave of teams, those that would be sitting on the "bubble." Those include teams that have a legitimate shot to make the postseason, including the Spurs.
Why are the Spurs on the bubble? Consider the factors that the NBA Tournament committee would look at:
Record: 36-25 overall, 22-17 in conference
Good wins: vs. LA Lakers, at Denver, at Oklahoma City
Bad losses: at Philadelphia, at Detroit, at Chicago
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Strength of Schedule: They've played the 7th toughest schedule in the NBA to date. That number should rise, as the Spurs play one of the toughest schedules over the final weeks of the season.
RPI: ESPN.com actually measures a team's RPI -- rating's percentage index -- using the same formula as college RPI. (Click here for the wonkish details.) They say the Spurs are 10th in RPI this year.
THE BRACKETOLOGIST'S TAKE
If the playoffs started today, based on the numbers above, the Spurs would be on the right side of the imaginary bubble (though, based on actual NBA models, the Spurs are holding onto the 7th seed in the West as of Wednesday). Their overall record is good enough, and their strength of schedule and RPI are very strong.
What the Spurs lack is a series of big wins. The win at Denver is excellent -- the Nuggets were at full health for the game -- but the win at L.A. is a bit deceiving, as both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were out for the majority of the game.
What the Spurs need, at least to move off the bubble and into a lock for the postseason, is another big win. With the Lakers and the Cavs coming to the AT&T Center this month, they won't have to travel far to get a chance to impress the NBA Tournament committee.
THE PATTY MILLS EFFECT
But there's something else that the NCAA Tournament committee would take into consideration if they were evaluating a team based on merit and not a team's final record.
They'd consider the loss of a key player like Tony Parker.
With the news that Parker is likely out for the remainder of the regular season, the NBA Tournament committee would start asking whether or not Parker would return for the postseason. Even if he could, they still might essentially toss out the rest of the regular season and evaluate the Spurs based only on how they play out these final weeks without Parker.
That sounds unfair, but it's not without precedent. Last season, Saint Mary's had a strong claim to an NCAA bid. They started the year 18-1, including wins over San Diego State, Oregon and Southern Illinois.
But then star point guard Patty Mills sprained his wrist, and the Gaels lost four of their next five. Mills returned for the West Coast Conference tournament, where the Gaels lost -- for the third time that season -- to Gonzaga. On Selection Sunday, Saint Mary's was one of the final teams left out of the NCAA Tournament.
What the tournament committee decided was that until Mills was 100 percent healthy, the Gaels were not postseason-worthy.
So the question for the Spurs is, Is a San Antonio team without Parker more worthy than a Charlotte or a Toronto, even if those other teams' overall record is a bit lower?
I suppose only the hypothetical NBA Tournament committee could know for sure.
The Roundup is expanding! Check back on Sunday for an edition of Spurs Notebook, in which we'll unveil all sorts of linkage and statistics that you never really needed to know anyway.
Dan Oshinsky is a digital media producer at KENS 5. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.