Whereas Tuesday night's slate presented a handful of bubble teams with opportunities for resume-building wins, Wednesday night was all about avoiding damaging losses.
Teams like Purdue, Drexel and Dayton did that. Teams like George Mason, Saint Joseph's and Southern Mississippi did not.
Here's a look at the five most damaging losses bubble teams suffered Wednesday night. Not all of them were against inferior competition but all of them were costly.
1. Southern Mississippi: Seemingly well on its way to its first NCAA tournament berth in more than two decades as recently as a week ago, Southern Mississippi has suddenly slipped toward the bubble with its first two-game losing streak of the season. The Golden Eagles lost 73-71 to Houston on Saturday and 76-68 to UTEP in 2OT on Wednesday, falling out of a first-place tie with Memphis in the process. Although solid wins over Memphis, Colorado State, South Florida and Marshall keep Southern Mississippi (22-6, 9-4) in the field as of today, the Golden Eagles' hold on a spot is growing tenuous. They certainly cannot lose to Rice or SMU in their final two home games and they may need to win at Marshall in the regular season finale to feel good about their position entering the Conference USA tournament.
2. Saint Joseph's: Had the Hawks beaten rebuilding Richmond on Wednesday night, they would have been alone in third place in the Atlantic 10 with a home matchup against league-leading Temple up next. Instead they fell from the fringes of the bubble right off it completely, losing 52-49 to a Spiders team that lost all but one starter off last year's Sweet 16 team. There may still be a glimmer of hope for Saint Joseph's with a win over Temple and a run to the A-10 title game, but realistically Wednesday night's loss may have been a death blow for a team likely a year away from contending for the league title. There are simply too many bad losses to be overcome for a modest collection of quality wins against the likes of Drexel, Dayton and Creighton.
3. West Virginia: Although there's no shame in a road loss at streaking Notre Dame, it wasn't a good omen for the Mountaineers that they were outscored by 25 points in the second half en route to a 71-44 throttling. Worse yet, West Virginia (17-11, 7-8) shot only 31.1 percent from the floor and 1 of 11 from behind the arc, falling for the sixth time in the past eight games. Victories against Georgetown, Kansas State, Cincinnati, Miami and Oral Roberts boost the Mountaineers' resume, but their margin for error has vanished. They may need to win two of their final three against Marquette, DePaul and South Florida and avoid an opening-round Big East tourney loss to feel safe on Selection Sunday.
4. George Mason: While George Mason still can win a share of CAA title if it beats VCU in its regular season finale and Drexel falls to Old Dominion, Wednesday night's overtime loss to Northeastern probably ends the Patriots' at-large hopes. An at-large team cannot have losses to Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Duquesne, Delaware and Northeastern no matter how well it fared the bulk of conference play. What hurt George Mason (23-7, 14-3) against Northeastern was a poor shooting night from star Ryan Pearson and way too many turnovers, a problem that cropped up in many of their early-season non-conference losses. The Patriots committed 21 turnovers, six alone by guard Bryon Allen.
5. South Florida: How damaging South Florida's 56-48 loss to Syracuse is depends on whether you take a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full approach. On the one hand, the Bulls wasted a 13-point first-half lead and let an opportunity for a desperately needed signature win slip away. On the other hand, the Bulls challenged the perception that they aren't NCAA tournament-caliber by pushing the nation's second-ranked team until the final minutes on its home floor. Either way, South Florida definitely has more work to do to play its way into the field. Despite a 10-5 Big East record, the Bulls (17-11) probably need to win at least two of their final three regular season games against Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia to boost a profile currently lacking enough quality wins.
- Southern Mississippi
- South Florida