Gaels go cold as at-large hopes take hit

You tell me: Is this the profile of an at-large NCAA tournament team?

I'm not asking sarcastically. I promise I'm not trying to be rude. I'm genuinely curious: If you had to seed the field today, would St. Mary's be in your bracket?

The answer may vary, but the answer really isn't the point. The point is that we even have to ask the question.

Unfortunately for the Gaels, though, that's what happens when you lose to San Diego. Yes, for those of you that went to bed early Wednesday night, St. Mary's did indeed lose at San Diego, 74-66. San Diego, for those wondering, entered Wednesday night's game with five wins and 21 losses and a 1-10 mark in the WCC. As of Wednesday night, their RPI was -- try not to cough up your morning coffee here -- No. 315. According to Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency stats, the mighty Toreros are one of the 50-or-so worst teams in the nation. At the risk of piling on, St. Mary's just lost to a very, very bad team.

How does such a thing happen? It's not a mystery: St. Mary's, one of the nation's hottest 3-point shooting teams, went ice cold from beyond the arc. The Gaels were 2-of-15 from 3 Wednesday night, good for 13.3 percent. When your attack is predicated on the shooting efficiency of guards like Matthew Dellavedova, Mickey McConnell, and Rob Jones, and those players go 1-of-13 from 3 -- and your team gets to the charity stripe a mere 12 times in a 63-possession game, and your defense isn't all that stout to begin with -- you're probably not going to win too many conference road games no matter what conference you play in. Heck, you're not going to win many games, period.

It wasn't all bad performance-wise: McConnell actually did have a good game, scoring 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting. And without reserve forward Mitchell Young's efficient performance -- 24 points, nine rebounds, 10-of-14 from the field -- this final score could have been much worse.

But there are no bright spots here, no palatable factoids to mask the taste of this loss. The fact is, St. Mary's -- a tenuous No. 8 seed in Joe Lunardi's most Monday Bracketology -- just lost to a team with a sub-300 RPI. It's the sort of loss can completely change a team's tournament outlook, especially when that team is on the bubble in the first place. St. Mary's may still get an at-large bid. This bubble is awfully soft. But to do so, the Gaels can't afford another low-RPI slip-up -- whether to Portland on Feb. 26 or in the early rounds of the WCC tournament -- and they probably have to beat Utah State and Gonzaga in their next two games, too. Would that be enough?

Maybe, maybe not. Your results may vary. But it's fair to ask the question. Whatever the answer, one thing is clear: The Gaels' tiny margin for error just vanished.