ESPN's annual BracketBuster series is designed, in part, to give supposed "on-the-bubble" teams a chance to make a statement about deserving a berth in national post-season tournament play.
Three of the MAAC's teams still had legitimate post-season aspirations entering the weekend, making their appearances in the BracketBuster games significantly more important than traditional non-league contests.
For conference teams there were good results, bad results and, in one case (if you want to stretch the issue) a little of both.
First the good: Iona's 69-53 victory over William & Mary on Friday night.
William & Mary came to New Rochelle with an RPI hovering around No. 50, so this was a victory over a quality opponent for the Gaels.
It was also Iona's 20th victory over the season (it is now 20-8 overall), which probably gets it into the conversation for an NIT berth should it fail to win the MAAC tournament, particularly since Friday's win should jump its RPI considerably from its mid-90's range prior to the contest.
The Gaels could move up the RPI ladder more in their final two conference games, at Fairfield and at Saint Peter's.
Just a guess here, but a victory in one of those games and, then, an advance to the MAAC championship game before losing in that event should be more than enough for an NIT berth. Probably any combination of results getting the Gaels to 23 victories gets them to the NIT. Finishing with only 22 victories (after MAAC tournament play) probably puts them on the NIT bubble, but still in the conversation.
Now the bad: Fairfield suffered a a 77-67 loss at the hands of Vermont on Saturday.
The Stags entered the week with an RPI of 107, while Vermont's was around the 15o-range, meaning Fairfield will drop some after Saturday's setback.
It just about erases all margin of error for 18-9 Fairfield's NIT hopes. It would likely need to win its last two games (against Iona and Niagara), and get to the MAAC tournament's championship game to reach the 22-victory plateau and get back into the NIT picture.
It doesn't help that Fairfield doesn't have a real quality non-league victory this season, while Iona now has good ones over Providence and William & Mary.
If the NIT is going to take a MAAC team (provided Siena wins the conference's tournament), it wiill likely be Iona unless Fairfield does some late-season work. It would probably take a win over Iona in their upcoming regular-season meeting and, then, a further advance than the Gaels in the MAAC tournament, for the Stags to jump over Iona into NIT consideration.
And, a little of both: Siena's 70-53 loss at Butler on Saturday.
The Bulldogs came in rated as high as No. 13 in one national poll, and extended their longest active winning streak nationally to 17. So, it's no disgrace for Siena to come out on the short end of this one,.
But, Siena had played four higher-profile non-conference games (against Temple, St. John's, Northern Iowa and Georgia Tech) before Saturday, and lost them all.
Its best victory was probably an early season decision over Northeastern. Saturday's game was its last chance for a so-called "signature" win, and the Saints came up short ... as in way short.
Siena, rated in the mid-30's in the RPI before the game, would have established itself as a legitimate at-large berth contender for the NCAA's with a victory Saturday. Instead, it almost assuredly needs now to win the MAAC tournament to advance to the NCAA's.
The loss at Butler won't drop Siena much, if at all, in the RPI.
But the lack of a victory over a top 50 opponent (its best victory is against ortheastern, with an RPI in the low 60's), plus the lopsided nature of Saturday's outcome dooms Siena's at-large hopes, at least in the uneducated opinion of your humble blogger.
This wasn't only a loss, but a definitive setback. After holding a 34-32 edge with 17:34 remaining Siena saw itself outscored by 38-19 margin the rest of the way. Actually, Butler went on a 38-16 surge before the Saints got an inconsequential three-point play in the closing seconds.
So, how can this be spun into something positive?
Your blogger has been opining for a full year (check back to last March's blog postings on the issue) that the only way for Siena to advance past the NCAA's first round is either have a regular season record so impressive that it gets a No. 5 or No. 6 seed in a 16-team bracket, or fall enough to be a No. 12 or No. 13 seed.
Siena needed to be something along the lines of 29-2 after the MAAC tournament for a No. 4 or a No. 6 seed.
We saw what being a No., 9 seed did for Siena a year ago. It gave the Saints a chance for a first-round victory in a match-up with a solid, at best, Ohio State opponent and, then, a big-time uphill battle with a No. 1 seed (Louisville).
History shows us that mid-majors have next to no chance against the better teams nationally. This year, though, it's not out of the realm of possibility for a Siena-type to knock off a No. 4 or a No. 5 seeded team in the NCAA's, particularly on a neutral court.
So, if Siena gets a No. 12 seed, it matches up with a No. 5 in the first round. If it advances, it gets a No. 4 in the second round (and, vice versa ... a No. 4 first, followed by a No. 5 ... if it gets a No. 13 seed).
Clearly, it makes for a more-difficult, but not impossible, first-round game. But, it's truly the only way for the Saints, or any MAAC team in a similar situation, to have any real chance of getting past a second-round game and to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 round.
Right now, Siena's 22-6 record that doesn't include a single real quality victory almost ensures it of a No. 12 or a No. 13 seed in a 16-team bracket, provided it gets to the NCAA event.
And, maybe, that's not such a bad thing.