When a team loses its best player, a rebuilding season is typically in order. When that player is the program's all-time leader in scoring, assists, games, free throw percentage and three pointers, arguably the greatest player in program history, it should be a devastating blow to the program for years to come. Especially when that program is a mid-major.
Saint Mary's did not get the memo.
Matthew Dellavedova was "that player" for the Gaels. In the few seasons prior to his arrival in Moraga, Saint Mary's was a cute little team that had put up a good fight against Gonzaga. Dellavedova brought sustained success to Saint Mary's.
We know now that he also turned the program into a legitimate mid-major powerhouse. One that is capable of reloading rather than rebuilding.
The preseason WCC Coaches Poll had Saint Mary's in third, behind both BYU and Gonzaga. This season, expectations were that the Gaels would take a step back. Reasonable expectations indeed. Reasonable they were, but they've proven to be wrong.
With tonight's 59-44 win over American, the Gaels are now off to their best start under Randy Bennett. 9-0 is tied for their best start ever.
Not only are they off to their best start, but without their former maestro, their offensive numbers are better than ever.
To make this story even more impressive, the Gaels have played their toughest schedule in recent memory. They started the season with wins against Louisiana Tech, Akron and North Dakota State. Those teams were picked to win their conferences, C-USA, the MAC and the Summit League respectively. Not exactly cupcakes. They even downed a Drake team led by former Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti.
While they have ventured outside of McKeon Pavilion just once so far, their lone road game was an easy victory at Boise State of the Mountain West.
Randy Bennett's team has proven that it is no flash in the pan. It's a program that has staying power.
Up next is a date with 2-4 South Carolina in the Diamond Head Classic. A win in Hawai'i will give this team, that no one outside of Moraga had faith in, a place of its own in the Saint Mary's record books.