Saint Mary's Gaels (6-0) vs. California Golden Bears (7-2)
Saturday, Dec. 12 at 12:30 p.m. Pacific
Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Saint Mary's hits the road for the first time this season as one of only ten undefeated teams in America. How are the Gaels this good?
A mere 15 miles by road separate Saint Mary's McKeon Pavilion and the Golden Bears' Haas Pavilion. Each gym is home to a team that came into this season looking a lot different than they did the year prior. California, with over-hyped freshmen Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown, was expected to make a huge jump to the top of the Pac-12 this season. The Gaels, on the other hand, lost all five starters from last year and had to rely on overlooked guys from within the program or from overseas to step up.
As a quick aside: one team is undefeated and the other has some mock draft big board nonsense. College players might just be better for the college game than draft hype.
Anyways, back to the matter at hand. What is going on with the Gaels? Well, in advance of their only real speedbump in their non-conference road let's take a look. For some perspective turn the calendar back to October. Saint Mary's was picked to finish fourth in the WCC preseason coaches poll. I picked them to finish fourth as well, in a tier separate from the top three teams in the conference. Yet here they are, atop the standings with a real chance to enter conference play undefeated.
Good guard play is a requisite part of any good team (hey, Gonzaga). For the Gaels, everything starts in the backcourt. In hindsight, we shouldn't have expected anything less than this out of a Randy Bennett coached team, considering the past two NBA Finals have featured Saint Mary's products on the perimeter.
That said, I don't think anybody saw Joe Rahon and Emmett Naar playing out of their minds like this. Those two point guards are both on the floor nearly all of the time, but their stats make each look like the star floor general in a traditional one-point guard attack.
|PPG||APG||MPG||eFG% (Rank)||Offensive Rating (Rank)|
|Naar||16.5||6.2||35.3||69.3% (21)||135.4 (29)|
|Rahon||11.3||7.7||36.0||60.0% (157)||134.4 (37)|
That's just nuts. And that's only one end of the floor.
Both are stellar defenders, combining to pick the opposition's pocket on 5.6% of possessions. They'll have a field day with this Cal team that just coughed the ball up 19 times against Incarnate Word.
If You Miss, Try Again
It's not just Naar and Rahon shooting lights out in Moraga, everybody is. At 65.3% the Gaels' effective field goal percentage ranks first in the nation (by over two percentage points!).
So, this team doesn't miss shots too often. Individually, Kyle Clark and Stefan Gonzalez off the bench almost never miss.
Clark, a freshman who doesn't start but plays starters minutes, has posted a 76.9% effective field goal percentage so far this year. Among players to play at least 60% of minutes so far, that ranks second nationally per KenPom — a big shout out to Ken Pomeroy for like 99% of the stats in this section. Then there's fellow freshman Stefan Gonzalez. He only plays 33% of available minutes, but he makes the most of that third of the game from three. His effective field goal percentage? 92.5%.
So, again, this team doesn't miss shots too often. When they do, if Dane Pineau is on the floor at least, they'll just get another shot. Good effort on defense, but sorry play another 30 seconds — oh yeah, Saint Mary's is not uptempo at all.
Pineau, a junior starter at forward, has pulled down over a quarter of the available offensive rebounds this season. He's a huge part of why the Gaels pull down a third of their misses.
Pick Your Poison
Take Pineau off the offensive glass, high press and trap on Naar (or Rahon), run Gonzalez off the line, etc.
Those are some of the options you have when defending the Gaels. Try one, shut someone down, it can't hurt. But it won't help a lot either.
Saint Mary's has had five different leading scorers over their six games this season (Naar, Clark, Rahon, Naar, Gonzalez/Jock Landale, Naar). They've had six leading rebounders. They're tenth in the nation in assist rate, with helpers coming on 67.3% of their made field goals.
There might not be a star on this team, yet, but there are always five guys on the floor playing efficient basketball.