It was a bad week for potential mid-major at-large teams.
Cornell lost at Penn.
Northern Iowa dropped a game to Bradley.
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Siena went down at Niagara.
That’s three teams that can ill-afford a loss in league play if they want to secure an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. The Big Red didn’t just lose its first Ivy League contest; it went down to a Penn team that had won just three games all season. Now the chances of Cornell getting into the Big Dance are slim if it doesn’t win the Ivy League crown.
Northern Iowa is still in command of the Missouri Valley with a three-game advantage over Wichita State, but now Ben Jacobson’s team will be without standout big man Jordan Egleseder for the next three games and may need to win the league tourney to get into the NCAA tournament.
Siena lost its first MAAC game of the season and should cruise to the regular-season title, but the Saints could ill afford the slip-up at Niagara.
There are plenty of non-BCS teams that will be included in the field whether they win their league tourneys or not: Butler (Horizon) and Gonzaga (WCC) are locks. The Atlantic 10 and Mountain West should be well-represented, but the abundance of true mid-majors may have taken a hit last week.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Richmond — The Spiders won a pair of road games to take sole possession of first place in the A-10. Chris Mooney’s team knocked off Rhode Island and then beat Saint Bonaventure over the weekend to move to 20-6 overall and 9-2 in league play. Richmond has won six straight games and has put itself in quality position for an NCAA tournament bid.
STUD (PLAYER OF WEEK): Cal senior guard Jerome Randle came up big when the Bears needed it. Randle erupted for 33 points in a home victory against Washington and then went for 24 in a win over Washington State. He was 9-of-14 from beyond the arc in the two games.
DUD: UConn — The Huskies had what Jim Calhoun termed an "embarrassing" effort in a home loss to Cincinnati. The shocking part is that UConn showed almost no intensity despite the fact that Calhoun returned after more than three weeks on a medical leave. BIGGEST WIN: Louisville’s road victory against Syracuse — Rick Pitino’s club went into the game without a résumé win and also coming off a bad loss at St. John’s, but now the Cardinals are back in the equation for an NCAA tournament bid after the upset at the Carrier Dome.
WEEK TO FORGET: Rhode Island — The Rams were in quality shape to get into the Big Dance a week ago, but Jim Baron’s team lost at home to Richmond and then dropped a road contest at Temple. URI still has a shot at 19-5 overall and 7-4 in league play, but like we said a week or so ago, there’s no way this team is the 12th-best in the nation (as was the case in the RPI last week).
NON-BCS TEAM OF THE WEEK: Niagara — The Purple Eagles snapped the nation’s longest winning streak when Joe Mihalich’s team knocked off Siena, 87-74. The Saints came into the game with a 15-game winning streak and also a 18-game streak against league foes.
WORST LOSS: Cornell’s road loss at Penn — The Big Red had a shot for an at-large berth, but now a loss at Harvard this weekend would make it difficult to imagine Steve Donahue’s club getting into the Big Dance if it doesn’t win the Ivy League title.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK: UTEP’s Randy Culpepper is one of the most electrifying players in the country, and it’s a shame more people don’t get a chance to see him play. He’s small but can really shoot the ball from deep and is also a big-time athlete. Culpepper was on fire against East Carolina with 45 points in a win. He was 14-for-18 from the field and 9-for-12 from beyond the arc. BAD TO WORSE: North Carolina’s season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. The Tar Heels won a last-place game in the ACC against N.C. State over the weekend shortly after learning that Ed Davis broke his wrist and will likely miss the rest of the season.
STILL SEARCHING: Alcorn State finally got its first win, a 55-54 victory against Mississippi Valley State, which leaves Bryant as the lone Division I team without a win on its résumé. Tim O’Shea’s Bryant team is 0-26 after a loss to Robert Morris.
WEEK’S TOP MATCHUPS:
1. Purdue at Ohio State, Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET: It’s a matchup of two of the hottest teams in the Big Ten and even the country. Evan Turner’s late-game heroics got the Buckeyes the victory in West Lafayette last month. 2. Syracuse at Georgetown, Thursday at 7 p.m. ET: Both teams are coming off losses. The Orange lost at home to Louisville, while the Hoyas came up short on the road to Rutgers.
3. Kentucky at Vanderbilt, Saturday at 6 p.m. ET: The Wildcats took care of Vandy last month in Lexington, but can Kevin Stallings’ team win in Nashville?
4. Siena at Butler, Saturday at 11 a.m. ET: It’s too bad Siena lost to Niagara this past week because this was an intriguing matchup of mid-majors. It’s still a quality game.
5. Kansas at Texas A&M, Monday at 9 p.m. ET: The top-ranked Jayhawks have excelled on the road of late with wins at Kansas State and Texas, but this is another tough test.
6. Georgia Tech at Maryland, Saturday at 2 p.m. ET: These are two teams on the right side of the bubble right now, but both teams could use this one.