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Bracketology: Saint Mary's joins a crowded bubble

On Tuesday night, the Bulldogs extended their consecutive run of NCAA appearances to 18. But the Gael squad that swept the Zags during the regular season now joins several other regular season conference champions in needing one of the 36 available at-large bids to join them.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs solved the Saint Mary's Gaels at the perfect time, and as a result, Mark Few's team earned the place in the field of 68 it likely wouldn't have received otherwise. As for their opponents, the Gaels' profile is yet another fascinating one to add to a pile that already includes those of the Monmouth Hawks, Valparaiso Crusaders and Wichita State Shockers, which I discussed in detail on Tuesday.

Curiously, Saint Mary's perversely benefited from losing in Las Vegas on Tuesday. The Gonzaga win pushed the Bulldogs into the RPI Top 50, to 45th per RPIForecast.com. That's six spots below the 39th-ranked Gaels, who also now have two RPI Top 50 wins. That's not too bad, considering they entered the night 0-1 against that category, thanks to a four-point December loss at California.

Even with Tuesday's loss, the Gaels still rank ahead of Wichita State (48th), Valparaiso (52nd) and Monmouth (54th) in the RPI table. They're also ahead of both the Crusaders and Hawks in the KenPom rankings.

However, Saint Mary's non-conference schedule doesn't help its cause. For starters, the Gaels didn't participate in an exempt tournament this season, potentially depriving them of a couple of extra games to potentially improve their profile. Plus, their loss in Berkeley was the only non-conference game they played away from Moraga. As a result of these factors, their non-conference strength of schedule is the worst of the four possibilities—ranking 156th. Wichita State's is 12th, while Valpo's is just outside of the top 50 and Monmouth's is just inside the top 100.

If the Selection Committee values metrics, Saint Mary's has an excellent shot at playing on. However, if they value November and December, particularly testing yourself away from home during those months, the Gaels are NIT-bound. Considering the Committee has consistently stressed building a quality non-conference schedule in recent history, I have listed the WCC regular season champions as out, for now.

After today's full bracket and rundown, I'll review Tuesday's other championship game results and quickly run through what to watch for on Wednesday.

(1) MIDWEST
Chicago (Fri/Sun)
(2) EAST
Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)
Des Moines (Thu/Sat) Brooklyn (Fri/Sun)
1 Kansas (Big 12) 1 Villanova (Big East)
16 AUSTIN PEAY/FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON 16 FLORIDA GULF COAST/Texas Southern
8 Providence 8 USC
9 Vanderbilt 9 Cincinnati
Denver (Thu/Sat) Spokane (Fri/Sun)
5 Iowa 5 Purdue
12 Little Rock (Sun Belt) 12 NORTHERN IOWA (MVC)
4 Duke 4 Kentucky
13 Akron (MAC) 13 YALE (Ivy)
Des Moines (Thu/Sat) Brooklyn (Fri/Sun)
6 Baylor 6 Arizona
11 Monmouth/St. Bonaventure 11 VCU/Wichita State
3 Indiana (Big Ten) 3 West Virginia
14 Stephen F. Austin (Southland) 14 UAB (C-USA)
St. Louis (Fri/Sun) Raleigh (Thu/Sut)
77 Notre Dame 7 Texas Tech
10 Connecticut 10 Oregon State
2 Xavier 2 North Carolina (ACC)
15 GREEN BAY (Horizon) *15 UNC ASHEVILLE (Big South)
(4) WEST
Anaheim (Thu/Sat)
(3) SOUTH
Louisville (Thu/Sat)
St. Louis (Fri/Sun) Raleigh (Thu/Sat)
1 Michigan State 1 Virginia
16 Lehigh (Patriot) 16 Hampton (MEAC)
8 Colorado 8 South Carolina
9 Butler 9 Saint Joseph's
Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun) Providence (Thu/Sat)
5 Iowa State 5 Texas
12 UNC WILMINGTON (CAA) 12 CHATTANOOGA (SoCon)
4 Texas A&M (SEC) 4 Maryland
13 South Dakota State (Summit) *13 IONA (MAAC)
Providence (Thu/Sat) Denver (Thu/Sat)
6 California 6 Wisconsin
11 Temple (American) 11 San Diego State (MW)
3 Miami 3 Utah
14 Stony Brook (Am East) 14 Hawai'i (Big West)
Spokane (Fri/Sun) Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun)
7 Dayton (A 10) 7 Seton Hall
10 Pittsburgh *10 GONZAGA (WCC)
2 Oregon (Pac-12) 2 Oklahoma
15 Weber State (Big Sky) 15 New Mexico State (WAC)
FIRST FOUR (Dayton)
Tuesday: To Des Moines Tuesday: To Des Moines
16 AUSTIN PEAY (OVC) 11 Monmouth
*16 FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON (NEC) 11 St. Bonaventure
Wednesday: To Brooklyn Wednesday: To Brooklyn
16 FLORIDA GULF COAST (A-Sun) 11 VCU
16 Texas Southern (SWAC) 11 Wichita State

BIDS BY CONFERENCE AVOIDING DAYTON ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
Big 12: 7 Cincinnati (36) Fairleigh Dickinson (NEC) Wagner (NEC)
Pac-12: 7 Oregon State (37) Gonzaga (WCC) Wright State (Horizon)
ACC: 6 Pittsburgh (38) Green Bay (Horizon) Saint Mary's (WCC)
Big Ten: 6 Connecticut (39)

Big East: 5 LAST FOUR IN

Atlantic 10: 4 St. Bonaventure (41)

SEC: 4 VCU (42)

American: 3 Wichita State (43)

MAAC: 2 Monmouth (45)

MVC: 2 FIRST FOUR OUT

One-Bid Conferences: 22 Syracuse

Tulsa


Saint Mary's


Valparaiso


NEXT FOUR OUT


Florida


Michigan


Florida State


George Washington

Also considered (in order): Hofstra, Ohio State, Washington, Princeton, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Creighton, Georgia Tech, BYU, Alabama, LSU, Clemson

The Fairleigh Dickinson Knights clinched their first NCAA bid since 2005 by defeating the Wagner Seahawks, the Northeast Conference's top seed, on their home floor in Staten Island (which Knights fans promptly stormed). The Knights are likely bound for Dayton.

A Horizon League final that featured the third and fourth seeds went to the Green Bay Phoenix, whose last tourney appearance came 20 years ago. The fourth-placed squad took out the Wright State Raiders and are most likely a 14 or 15 seed depending on how the remaining conference tournaments go. Linc Darner, a former Purdue Boilermaker who coached Florida Southern to the Division II national crown last season, coaches the Phoenix.

Last season, the North Dakota State Bison stunned the top-seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits to claim their second straight Summit League tournament title. This year, the Jackrabbits got their revenge and return to the field for the first time since Nate Wolters powered back-to-back bids in 2012 and 2013. The Jackrabbits look to be a 13 or 14 seed, depending on results elsewhere.

On Wednesday, just one bid is up for grabs—the last one that will go out before Saturday. In Bethlehem, Pa., the second-seeded Lehigh Mountain Hawks will look to stop the ninth-seeded Holy Cross Crusaders, who have won three straight games on the road to reach the Patriot League final—after failing to win a conference road game during the regular season. In the event the Crusaders win, they'll be almost assuredly going to Dayton with what would be a 14-19 record.

In the power conference tournaments, each will be underway today, with the exception of the American Athletic, which starts on Thursday in Orlando. However, opening-day action in many of these events shouldn't impact the bubble too much, with the exception of the Pac-12. There the Oregon State Beavers will face an Arizona State Sun Devils team they already lost to in Tempe. A second such loss in Las Vegas would not help the Beavers, especially with their already lackluster record away from home. Earlier in the day, the Colorado Buffaloes must avoid a slip-up against Washington State, and the USC Trojans would be best served by defeating UCLA for a third time.

The Atlantic 10, Big Ten and SEC slates are absolutely meaningless to the bubble picture, and the Big East is virtually so. In the second Big 12 opening-round game, the Texas Tech Red Raiders just need to defeat TCU for a third time.

On the other hand, second day of the ACC Tournament offers up three bubble battles, with the biggest tipping off at noon Eastern. The ninth-seeded Syracuse Orange have already lost to the eighth-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers twice. A third loss would almost assuredly send them to the NIT. The Panthers would still have a bit of hope with a defeat, but they've been sliding of late, so they might not want to risk it. The two night games are definitely elimination games as the winners of Clemson-Georgia Tech and Florida State-Virginia Tech will still have work to do over the remainder of the week in the Nation's Capital. The losers will just have to hope conference tournament top seeds stop losing so there's room left in the NIT.

Expect a bigger update on Thursday morning.