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Posted: Monday February 2, 2009 12:03PM; Updated: Tuesday February 3, 2009 1:58PM
Andy Glockner Andy Glockner >
BUBBLE WATCH

With Mills out with broken hand, St. Mary's NCAA hopes take hit

Story Highlights

ACC, Big East teams jockey for position as others fight their way in

After a huge win at Michigan State, Penn State enters discussion

The SEC and Pac-10 remain confounding and have no NCAA locks

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patty-mills.jpg
Patty Mills' injury could put the Gaels' tourney chances in jeopardy.
AP

You hear it repeatedly from your parents growing up, but sports often can provide the most impactful reminders: Sometimes, life's not fair.

(CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST SEED REPORT)

One minute, Saint Mary's point guard Patty Mills was torching Gonzaga, and West Coast Conference supremacy appeared to be changing hands. The next, Mills' hand -- and maybe the Gaels' season -- was broken, and Dayton fans slowly shook their heads in injury empathy.

It was the Flyers who last season were 13-1 before losing then freshman star forward Chris Wright with a broken ankle. Dayton went 7-8 the rest of the way, got knocked out in Atlantic 10 quarterfinals, and ended up in the NIT after the NCAA Selection Committee properly evaluated them based on their résumé without Wright.

The same fate now could befall the Gaels, who were 17-1 and up by eight late in the first half in Spokane thanks to Mills' six threes. They were outclassed the rest of the way after Mills went down, and Saturday night, they got blasted at league dark-horse Portland.

Unlike Dayton, which never got Wright back before the NIT, Mills is expected to be out a maximum of four weeks. He'll likely miss the home rematch with Gonzaga and the BracketBusters game -- the Gaels' two biggest regular-season games remaining -- but could return for the final league weekend and the WCC tournament. If the Gaels make the WCC final but lose, there's a very strong possibility they would finish at 21-2 with Mills available. In that scenario, Saint Mary's could be the most hotly debated team come Selection Sunday.

Fans of numerous Big East and SEC teams have to feel very uneasy about their teams' NCAA hopes right now, but major programs get to reload annually. Mid-majors build and peak in a perfect confluence of experience, skill and timing. Now, with one literally bad break, Saint Mary's dream might be over.

(Records listed are Division-I only, per NCAA tournament selection guidelines. All RPI and SOS data are from Sunday's collegerpi.com RPI report.)

ACC

Locks: Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Clemson
Other than wondering what Vegas would have paid on a "beat No. 1 Duke, then lose at 0-6 Georgia Tech" exacta on Wake Forest, this category remains unchanged. Clemson's rally at Virginia Tech helped consolidate the Tigers' position.

Should be in:
Is it possible to lose your only game of the week and help your cause? Florida State (16-5, 3-3; RPI: 25, SOS: 28) might have pulled that off despite getting Ty Lawson'd at the buzzer by Carolina. Just missing is a staple of Leonard Hamilton's Tallahassee tenure, but this team proved it can play at a level that more closely resembles its computer numbers.

In the mix:
It's literally the Hokie Pokey for Virginia Tech (14-7, 4-3; RPI: 41; SOS: 23). Last week, Tech took two steps forward. This week, it was two steps back by losing to Clemson and at BC by a total of five points. Combine that with four losses by a total of eight points and this could be the hardest luck team in the land. Unfortunately, NCAA teams aren't made on near misses, and the résumé, aside from the Wake win, is thin. Thin also described Boston College's (17-6, 5-3; RPI: 51, SOS: 56) chances a couple weeks ago, but the Eagles have taken care of business in a soft spot in the schedule and are starting to have some substance to go with their style (the upset of UNC). Conversely, Miami (13-7, 3-5; RPI: 48, SOS: 18) didn't navigate winnable road games at NC State and Maryland and now faces a hurricane in the form of Wake, at Duke and UNC in its next three. Maryland (14-7, 3-4; RPI: 79, SOS: 88) gets a temporary stay of bubble execution, but that could get overturned Tuesday at North Carolina.

Big 12

Locks: Oklahoma
There will be a lot of talk about the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAAs coming from the Big East and ACC, but the Sooners are 21-1. They should win their next two at home. Solid road tests at Baylor, Texas and Missouri down the stretch likely will make or break their top-seed hopes.

Should be in:
The next three have profiles that are very close. Texas (15-5, 4-2; RPI: 28, SOS: 43) is probably a smidge ahead of the other two, even after K-State's Denis Clemente shredded the Horns for 44 points in an upset after Texas won at Baylor. Non-league wins over UCLA and Villanova look better this week as both teams improved their position. The one over Wisconsin? Not so much. Who's ahead between Kansas (17-4, 6-0; RPI: 23; SOS: 48) or Missouri (17-4, 5-2; RPI: 29; SOS: 71)? Survey says the Jayhawks, who have more in non-league play and saw the Tigers lose at K-State midweek, but the two teams will get a home-and-home soon to help fire up the debate. Kansas remains perfect in league play, but the schedule has been soffffffft. That changes tonight ...

In the mix:
... when the Jayhawks visit Baylor (14-6, 3-4; RPI: 38; SOS: 16). How did the Bears' eight-day "Are we contenders?" test run go? Not good -- lost by 19 at Oklahoma, lost at home to Texas, lost by 17 at Missouri. Texas A&M (16-5, 3-4; RPI: 36, SOS: 59) got virtual must-win games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State and now gets a shot at Oklahoma on Wednesday. Oklahoma State (13-7, 2-4; RPI: 26; SOS: 4) went the other way and is fading, despite its SOS-enhanced computer numbers.

Big East

Locks: Pitt, Connecticut, Louisville, Marquette
The party line this season has been that the top of the ACC is better, but the Big East has more depth. It might be time to question the former (and perhaps even the latter, as several teams fade badly) with the way this quartet is playing at the moment.

Should be in:
Syracuse (17-5, 5-4; RPI: 24, SOS: 37) drops down a level this week after losing four of its last five, but the Orange remain in solid shape. Six of the next eight are at home, and one of the two roadies is at St. John's. 'Cuse took out Florida and Kansas in Kansas City and won at Memphis in non-league play, which more than cancels out Cleveland State's 70-foot shocker. This might be the season that a more comprehensive non-league performance comes in handy. West Virginia (15-6, 4-4; RPI: 16; SOS: 13) got too far down at Louisville and still has games at Syracuse and Pitt coming up. The Mountaineers are a good club, especially with Alex Ruoff healthy, but it might take a couple more weeks, when they hit the soft portion of their schedule, to see a push.

In the mix:
That jab last week about Villanova (17-4, 5-3; RPI: 15, SOS: 25) being the Oklahoma State of this league? No longer applicable after the Wildcats took out Pitt in their final game at Philly's old Spectrum. Routing Cincinnati didn't hurt, either. Georgetown (12-8, 3-6; RPI: 17; SOS: 1) drops another level after two more losses, giving the Hoyas seven defeats in their last nine games. The upcoming schedule (and wins over Memphis and UConn), though, leaves them in much better shape than fellow 3-6 squad Notre Dame (see below).

Providence (14-7, 6-3; RPI: 60; SOS: 42) got a huge win over Syracuse and hung for a half at UConn, but with a very weak non-league slate, it seems likely the Friars will need 11 Big East wins to have legitimate at-large hopes. Going 5-4 could be asking a lot with the remaining schedule. A 5-4 stretch run probably wouldn't be enough for Notre Dame (11-8, 3-6; RPI: 77; SOS: 64), which is not an NCAA tournament team right now and could see things get worse. The next three are road games at feisty Cincinnati and at UCLA before Louisville visits South Bend. The Irish also have road games remaining at West Virginia, Providence and UConn. Being tough at home won't be enough, at least until the NIT. Beating Georgetown was a great start to Cincinnati's (13-7, 4-4, RPI: 58, SOS: 26) four-game gauntlet, but the Bearcats couldn't double up by beating Villanova.

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