Saint Mary's Gaels (14-1, 5-0) at Pepperdine Waves (9-6, 2-2)
When: Saturday, January 9 at 1 p.m. Pacific
Where: Firestone Fieldhouse, Malibu, Calif.
Watch: Time Warner Cable SportsNet, CSN California, ROOT Sports Northwest and ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain. Streaming live, out-of-market, on TheW.tv.
First place Saint Mary's brings its absurdly efficient offense south to Malibu for a day time date with one of the West's best defenses. An experienced, as in all five starters from last season are back, but underachieving Pepperdine squad will see it's opposite in a Gaels group that returned no starters from last year and is well exceeding expectations.
Saint Mary's is among the best three point shooting teams in the country while Pepperdine was, last season, one of the very best at defending against the three. The Waves will need to find that lost defensive magic if they want a shot in this one.
Scouting the Gaels
Saint Mary's may just have the best offense in the country. The Gaels lead the nation in field goal percentage (53.9%), assist to turnover ratio (2.1 to 1) and effective field goal percentage (63.2%) and points per possession (1.25). I say they may because it's hard to tell if those absurd numbers are due to a very easy, home-game-heavy schedule to this point.
Pepperdine is just the Gaels fourth road game of the season (they still haven't left the state of California) and the fifth best team, per KenPom's rankings, that Saint Mary's has faced. By Saturday afternoon we will have a much better grasp on the true nature of the Gaels' offense.
With Emmett Naar (13.6 ppg, 6.5 apg) and Joe Rahon (10.1 ppg, 6.8 apg) on the floor together nearly all the time, Saint Mary's runs a two-point guard offense. Their slow pace and multiple ball handlers allow the Gaels to consistently find great shots on every trip up the floor.
They don't need to find those great shots, either, which makes this team so dangerous. With a squad full of shooters a second chance opportunity is a disaster for an opposing defense. Unfortunately, the Gaels are really good at pulling down their own misses. Junior forward Dane Pineau grabs about one fifth of available offensive rebounds, a mark that puts him in the top-five nationally.
Scouting the Waves
All five starters returned from last season but the chemistry that would be expected did not accompany them. What was supposed to be their best shot at an NCAA Tournament berth in over a decade has turned into a 9-6, .500 in conference play disappointment.
Pepperdine even struggled with a lowly Pacific squad on Thursday before finally pulling away late. Fortunately for fans at Firestone Fieldhouse, this Waves team has, at least historically, played to the level of their competition. Pepperdine won the last meeting against Saint Mary's, up in Moraga, 67-62.
Senior forward Stacy Davis (14 ppg, 8.7 rpg) has been the big man on campus since he arrived. This season though, Lamond Murray Jr. (15.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg) is starting to take that role. While Davis is coming off back-to-back double-doubles, Murray is coming off a career night (31 points, 10 rebounds vs. Pacific). The junior forward has seen his productivity and efficiency increase not just this season but over the course of it as well.
Pepperdine is 6-0 at home this season.