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Game preview: Stanford visits Saint Mary's for a Bay Area battle

Tiny McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, California will play host to a Pac-12 program tonight when the Cardinal pay a visit to Saint Mary's.

Saint Mary's head coach Randy Bennett.
Saint Mary's head coach Randy Bennett.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford Cardinal (2-1) vs. Saint Mary's Gaels (2-0)

TV: ESPNU
Time: 8 p.m. Pacific
All-time series: Stanford leads 34-14
Last meeting: Stanford won 76-58 on November 13, 2002

Scouting the Gaels

Granted the Gaels have played just two games, both have come at home and one was against Division-II San Francisco State, but Randy Bennett is already putting together a strong case for WCC Coach of the Year.

Saint Mary's lost all five starters from last year's 21 win team that made the NIT. Aside from Emmett Naar and Boston College transfer Joe Rahon in the backcourt there were question marks up and down the roster. Those questions have been pretty much answered over the first couple of games.

Naar is averaging 21 points and shooting an extremely efficient 72.7% from the field to go along with six assists per game to start the season. Rahon has totaled 18 assists over his first two games and has played lock-down defense on the perimeter.

Stepping into larger roles up front, forward Dane Pineau is averaging a double-double with 10.5 points and 10 rebounds per game while Calvin Hermanson is averaging eight points. Freshmen Kyle Clark (11.0 ppg), Stefan Gonzalez (10 ppg) and Evan Fitzner (8.5 ppg) all seem ready to play at the Division-I level.

What this has added up to is a high-scoring, efficient offense.

The Gaels scored 89 and 80 points in their first two games. They make the most of their few possessions, averaging just 64 per game, by shooting lights out and crashing the offensive glass. Second in the nation with an effective field goal percentage of 67.3% and 14th in the nation grabbing 44% of offensive rebounds.

Scouting the Cardinal

Stanford won the NIT last season, but has lost the top three scorers from that squad.

The top two returners, senior forward Rosco Allen and junior guard Marcus Allen, have gotten off to good starts this season. Rosco Allen is averaging 16 points per game with an offensive rating of 139.8. He's shooting well over 50% both inside and outside the arc.

Marcus Allen has played just once this season, their loss against SMU on Thursday, due to a foot injury. But in that game, during which he came off the bench, he scored a game high 18 points.

On paper the Cardinal look much like the Gaels, but slightly better statistically. KenPom rates Stanford slightly higher than Saint Mary's in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Where they differ is in where the scoring comes from. A somewhat baffling statistical note is that the Cardinal score the sixth highest percentage of points in the nation from the free throw line, but they're a pretty terrible free throw shooting team (63.6%). They can get the job done in the paint and from the mid-range, but not so much from three. So far they're very dependent on getting to the charity stripe.

Prediction

McKeon Pavilion is a really tough place to play. The Gaels' gym is a major factor in their California best winning percentage over the past decade.

On Sunday that home court advantage should also help keep the young Gaels from straying away from their disciplined style of basketball. If that happens, and they stay out of foul trouble, they should have no problem picking up a win that wouldn't quite be an upset.

Either way, these two teams should combine for close to 150 points in an exciting albeit slow-paced game. With both programs regularly challenging for NCAA Tournament bids restarting this regional rivalry would be great for the schools and the sport as a whole.