The St. Mary’s Gaels suffered a tough defeat at the San Diego Toreros last night and now find their 2011 NCAA Tournament hopes firmly in the bubble watch. While St. Mary’s was not locked into a spot previously, they were in a comfortable position. Losing to one of the worst teams in the RPI leaves Saint Mary’s with a much smaller margin for error.
The loss to USD dropped St. Mary’s from No. 30 to No. 40 in the RPI. It remains to be seen how the expanded field affects at-large bids from smaller conferences, so one can only enter Selection Sunday assuming the worst. It may change for the better, but with no historical pattern to rely on, St. Mary’s just has to work to win its conference tournament.
The West Coast Conference regular season title was also left in doubt with the loss to USD. The Gaels lead Gonzaga and USF by a single game. The Bulldogs host San Francisco this weekend and travel to St. Mary’s on Feb. 24. That puts Gonzaga in a decent position to grab at least a share of the WCC title. St. Mary’s has a non-conference game with Utah State leading up to that game, which could work to get them back and motivated, or open up some kind of tailspin.
This weekend’s Bracketbuster Saturday game with Utah State now proves enormous for St. Mary’s at-large chances. The Gaels will be favored in the WCC tournament, but if they are upset along the way, a victory over Utah State could give their current resume a strong boost. While fairly simplified, the smartest route for SMC is to simply win out (easier said than done).