The St. Mary's Gaels wrapped up a week of basketball that will not be appearing in their scrapbook anytime soon. As the 2011 NCAA Tournament approaches, the bubble watch gets more and more cramped, and the Gaels recent performances are not doing them any favors. Saint Mary's entered the week 22-4, No. 30 in the RPI, and on the verge of clinching a share of the WCC regular season title. Two games later the Gaels are 22-6, No. 46 in the RPI, and in a position where Gonzaga could snag a share of the WCC title.
After dominating second place San Francisco on the road last weekend, the Gaels went down to last place San Diego looking for their fifth straight win. After a strong start, the Gaels came out as flat as possible in the second half and were blown off the court 74-66. They followed that up on Saturday with a demoralizing loss to the Utah State Aggies in ESPN's annual Bracketbuster Saturday. St. Mary's went into halftime ready to dominate, but the Aggies absolutely blew them off the court in the second half en route to a 75-65 Utah State victory.
These two losses dropped the Gaels 16 spots in the RPI and moved them from reasonably secure to precariously positioned on the bubble. The increase in NCAA tourney teams would be of some benefit, but St. Mary's is quickly approaching a position of needing to win the WCC tournament in a couple weeks. The Gaels will likely be favored to win the tournament, but as their loss to San Diego showed, anything is possible.
As we head into the final week of WCC play, St. Mary's is still getting some help from their prior opponents. The most notable improvement comes courtesy of St. John's. The Gaels beat the Red Storm 76-71 in Moraga in their second game of the season. St. John's struggled with consistency through non-conference play and early in the Big East regular season but has stepped up their game lately. They are currently No. 12 in the RPI thanks to a 6-4 record against Top 25 RPI teams, with four of those wins coming against Top 10 RPI teams. A strong finish by St. John's will be a huge boost for the Gaels.
St. Mary's only other significant win thus far was on the road at Gonzaga, where they won 73-71. The two teams square off again Thursday night on ESPN2. If Gonzaga wins they'll move into a first place tie with St. Mary's, while the Gaels win the conference outright with a win. Additionally a win would give St. Mary's a third Top-100 RPI victory, which would be a nice little late boost to the resume. They'll wrap up the season on Saturday against Portland, looking to avenge their ugly road loss last month.
At this point it's hard to tell what will happen if St. Mary's doesn't win the WCC postseason tournament. A major factor will be what happens in many of the other conference tournaments fast approaching. Then you look at a conference like the CAA where George Mason and Old Dominion are both in the top thirty and could mean we'll see a pair of CAA teams in the tournament.
At the end of the day, St. Mary's can remove the decision-makers from the equation by taking care of business in two weeks down in Las Vegas. Their seeding might take a stumble with their recent losses, but they'll still be dancing. They've got the talent to make some noise but they just need to get everybody back on the same page before this two game losing streak turns into a tailspin.