Bubble Banter: No. 15 Saint Mary’s has worrisome profile after loss to San Francisco

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Thursday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

HOUSTON (RPI: 21, KenPom: 23, NBC seed: 11): After beating Cincinnati on their home floor on Thursday night, the Cougars are pretty close to a lock. They have now won four in a row and six of their last seven, including Wichita State and the Bearcats at home. They are 4-2 against Quadrant 1 opponents with a 20-5 mark on the season, more than enough to get the committee to overlook the fact that they have a loss to Drexel at home and Tulane on the road on their résumé. 

PENN STATE (RPI: 73, KenPom: 28, NBC seed: Out): Suddenly, the Nittany Lions are interesting. Sitting at 18-9 overall and 8-6 in the Big Ten, Penn State has now won four in a row and six of their last seven games, a stretch that is bookended by their only two Quadrant 1 wins of the season — at Ohio State and, on Thursday, a blowout win over Ohio State at home. With two Quadrant 1 games and a Quadrant 2 game left on their schedule, the Nittany Lions are suddenly in the conversation, although a pair of Quadrant 3 losses certainly doesn’t help their case. 

UCLA (RPI: 52, KenPom: 49, NBC seed: Play-in game): There are two things that can break your back in the Pac-12: losing at home to Cal and losing at home to Oregon State. UCLA avoided the latter on Thursday night, knocking off the Beavers in Pauley Pavilion. UCLA’s bid is going to be earned in their last three games, which are all Quadrant 1 opponents: at Utah, at Colorado, at USC. With just two Quadrant 1 wins and a Quadrant 3 loss, I think UCLA needs to go 2-1 in that stretch. 

USC (RPI: 42, KenPom: 50, NBC seed: First four out): The Trojans snapped a three-game losing streak by knocking off Oregon at home. Like UCLA, USC’s tournament hopes are pinned on the trip to the Mountain Schools next weekend. Right now, Andy Enfield’s club has just two Quadrant 1 wins, a 6-8 mark against the top two Quadrants and a Quadrant 4 loss at home to Princeton. It’s not pretty. 

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (RPI: 27, KenPom: 47, NBC seed: 12): The only way I can see Middle Tennessee State getting an at-large bid to the tournament is if they win out and lose to Western Kentucky in the CUSA tournament title game. Otherwise, they’re just another mid-major team with one Quadrant 1 win and more than one Quadrant 3 loss. 

LOSERS

SAINT MARY’S  (RPI: 28, KenPom: 17, NBC seed: 6): Saint Mary’s suddenly has one of the most interesting NCAA tournament profiles in the country. As it stands, the Gaels have played just a sincere Quadrant 1 game: at Gonzaga. They won that game. But they also lost to Gonzaga at home in a blowout to go along with a pair of Quadrant 3 losses — at San Francisco and Washington State on a neutral. The committee taught us something when the top 16 seeds of the bracket was revealed last weekend: They value winning. They prioritize quality wins over just about anything. That’s why Kansas was the No. 6 overall seed. That’s why Oklahoma was a No. 4 seed. It’s why Xavier has come close to lock status for the top seed line. Wins against quality teams are important, and Saint Mary’s has just one of them. They’re just 4-2 against the top two Quadrants. For my money, the Gaels are still a tournament team, but I’m not going to sit here and pretend that their profile is strong enough to take a loss in the WCC tournament — particularly to someone not named Gonzaga — and still be at-large worthy. 

TEMPLE (RPI: 38, KenPom: 82, NBC seed: Next four out): Temple had a chance to give themselves the boost they needed to get onto the right side of the bubble. But they blew a 14-point lead at Wichita State, losing what will go down as a bad loss only because it didn’t have to be a loss. The Owls do have three Quadrant 1 wins, but they also have four Quadrant 3 losses. I think they have to beat Houston at home this weekend to have a real chance. 

WASHINGTON  (RPI: 53, KenPom: 103, NBC seed: 10): The Huskies really did look like they were in line to make a run to the NCAA tournament after beating Arizona and Arizona State at home. But after losing to Utah at home on Thursday night, they’ve now dropped three in a row, none of which were Quadrant 1 games. Those four Quadrant 1 wins are going to help them out, but they need to start winning again, and soon.