College Basketball Bubble Watch

Updated: February 15, 2010, 2:09 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach |

Mid-majors look to rebound with BracketBusters matchups on tap

Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Sunday, Feb. 14.

Can one defeat spoil a college basketball team's nearly perfect regular season?

It can if that team is from a mid-major conference.

Teams like Cornell, Northern Iowa, Saint Mary's, Siena and Wichita State are a lot more anxious than they were a week ago after losing games in the past few days.

As the NCAA tournament bubble contracts and expands over the last three weeks of the regular season, teams from mid-major conferences have very little margin for error.

Surprisingly, each of the aforementioned teams slipped last week:

• Siena (22-5, 15-1 MAAC) had won 15 games in a row, the longest winning streak in the country at the time, before falling at Niagara 87-74 on Friday night. It was the Saints' first loss of the season in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play and prevented them from becoming the first team since La Salle in 1989-90 to go undefeated in the MAAC. Siena rebounded to beat Canisius 74-57 on the road Sunday, but its loss at Niagara makes Saturday's BracketBusters game at Butler even more important. Like Cornell, the Saints don't have a win over an RPI top-50 foe.

• Saint Mary's (21-5, 8-3 WCC) lost twice last week, seriously damaging its hopes for an NCAA at-large bid. The Gaels lost to Gonzaga for a second time, falling 80-61 on the road Thursday night. A second loss to the Bulldogs might have been forgivable, but Saint Mary's followed that ugly performance with an 80-75 overtime loss at Portland on Saturday night. The Gaels have two victories over RPI top-50 foes, beating San Diego State at home and Utah State on the road. But they probably need to reach the finals of next month's West Coast Conference tournament to have a chance.

• Northern Iowa (22-3, 13-2 MVC) seems to be in great shape, even after losing at Bradley 68-59 on Saturday. The Panthers had won six games in a row before losing and have the best computer profile of the bubble teams from mid-major conferences. But Northern Iowa can breathe easier if it wins its BracketBusters game at home against Old Dominion on Friday night.

• Wichita State (21-6, 10-5 MVC) suffered a defeat bubble teams just can't absorb this late in the season, losing at Evansville 65-62 on Tuesday night. The Purple Aces were 0-13 in Missouri Valley Conference play before shocking the Shockers. Wichita State has two quality victories, beating RPI top-50 foes Northern Iowa and Texas Tech at home. The Shockers can really help themselves by winning at Utah State in a BracketBusters game Saturday.

• Ivy League leader Cornell (21-4, 7-1 Ivy) had its eight-game winning streak end with a 79-64 loss at Pennsylvania on Friday night. The Quakers were 3-15 before upsetting the Big Red. Cornell hadn't lost since a 71-66 defeat at Kansas on Jan. 6 and had won its previous six Ivy League games by an average margin of 25 points.

"There is no time to feel sorry for ourselves," Cornell coach Steve Donahue told The Philadelphia Enquirer after his team's loss to Penn. "We've got to turn the page."

The Big Red did turn the page, winning at Princeton 48-45 on Saturday night. Of course, Cornell can still earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the Ivy League regular-season championship. The Big Red still plays three big Ivy League games: at Harvard on Friday night and home games against Princeton and Penn next week.

Without a single victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, Cornell might have to win the Ivy League title to feel confident on Selection Sunday.

The good news for bubble teams from mid-major conferences? At this point, the bubble seems to be contracting instead of expanding. Traditional heavyweights like Connecticut and North Carolina are falling off the board, and bubble teams such as Notre Dame, Florida, Illinois, Ole Miss and Virginia seem to be stuck in reverse.

Teams such as Cornell and Siena can only hope their 20-win seasons are more impressive to the NCAA selection committee than a .500 record in a watered-down power conference.