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Matt Norlander

Siena loses to Niagara, but its at-larges chances still exist

The Dagger

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In Niagara, Saints fall.

The nation's longest winning streak — which was 15 games long and strong — ended last night, as the Purple Eagles emphatically dispatched Siena, 87-74. For the second straight season, Niagara took care of business on its home floor and sent the Saints home without a shred of doubt over who the better team was.

You remember the Siena, right? The squad that's won a first-round game in the NCAA tournament two years in a row. Fun bunch, and it's got one of the best point guards in the country.

Its a senior-laden group now, and until last night, it hadn't lost in the MAAC in 2010. The Niagara matchup was a game many around the MAAC thought the Saints would be vulnerable in. The loss didn't come as a surprise.

A few self-proclaimed bracketlogists (hey, I'm one as well) don't think the Saints have any wiggle room left. It's win out or hello, NIT.

But I don't think Siena's at-large hopes are dashed at all.

Now, it doesn't help Siena's case that it allowed Niagara to go on a 24-3 run en route to a humbling defeat, but one conference loss does not an NIT team make.

Niagara-Siena has turned into quite the good rivalry, really. What hurts is that Siena has a strength of schedule that's ranked 123rd overall, even though it has an RPI in the high 30s and is still an impressive 21-5 overall with a 14-1 conference record.

The rub: They haven't won a top-50 RPI game.That's a stain you can't wash off the resume.

Now, the counter-argument: This team has seven road wins. Some clubs that claim to be at-large worthy don't have three, let alone a half-dozen or more. The crucial game is next week's BracketBusters tilt on the road at Hinkle Fieldhouse against Butler. The Bulldogs have just about locked up a tournament berth, so all the pressure lies on Siena in that one. If it loses, then the bubble is certainly popped. Butler is a top-50 RPI team. An opportunity banging on the front door.

A win over Butler, and Siena, which gets the MAAC tournament in its building (Times-Union Center) would probably have to reach the conference finals, at minimum, to be on the better side of the bubble.

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