G’day mate! Let’s get to know the Gaels!
In his 16 years as head coach, Randy Bennett has turned Saint Mary’s into a perfect mid-major for March. Year in and year out the Gaels load up on Australian talent — from Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova to the seven Aussies on the squad this season — and set out to lay waste to the West Coast Conference. And almost always Gonzaga gets in the way, leaving the team to sweat it out on Selection Sunday.
They’ve got the story of a Cinderella but the talent of a top team.
This year was a little different, though. Saint Mary’s spent every single week, from the preseason through the postseason poll, ranked in the AP Top 25.
Saint Mary’s is slow, like Virginia slow. Like, only-Virginia-is-slower slow. And while the Gaels are an elite defensive team (26th in KenPom), it’s on the offensive end where it really shines (15th in KenPom).
"They're diabolical with their reads on the ball screens,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said of the Gaels.
With two point guards, Emmett Naar (9.5 ppg, 5.8 apg) and Joe Rahon (8.1 ppg, 5.7 apg), on the floor together at nearly all times, the Gaels run a mesmerizing offense. Jock Landale (16.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg), who was named to the USBWA All-District IX team, anchors the interior. Collapse on the big junior and Calvin Hermanson (13 ppg, 43.7 percent 3FG) will make you pay.
Saint Mary’s best wins this season are over Nevada, at Dayton and a three game sweep of BYU.
Were it not for an aberration at home against UT Arlington in early December, the Gaels would have just three losses. And those three would all be to Gonzaga.
How can the Gaels go far?
By avoiding Gonzaga, which the committee has ensured will happen for the first three games.
In seriousness though, the better question is how far can the Gaels go? And the answer to that is the second weekend. This is a disciplined, veteran-laden team that imposes its will on the opposition. In three games against BYU this season — the Cougars average over 75 possessions per game — the Gaels averaged 62 possessions.
They move the ball as well as anybody, assisting on 64 percent of their shots, and get wide open looks as a result. Their effective field goal percentage of 57.9 percent ranks fifth in the nation.
And they hold teams to just 45.2 percent from the field, the 14th best mark in the nation. Saint Mary’s is a ruthlessly efficient team on both sides of the ball.
How can they get knocked out?
By running into Gonzaga in the elite eight.
Before that can happen though there are a few ways. When Landale gets in foul trouble the Gaels are a radically different team. He’s had four or more fouls in each of the Gaels losses this season. Take him off the floor and defenses can key in on the guards.
Speaking of the guards, Saint Mary’s starters are 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-2. And while both Naar and Rahon are excellent decision makers and solid athletes, they could struggle with a defensive-minded team with more length at those spots. Like Gonzaga, or West Virginia, or Louisville. Wow, those are some pretty good teams. And so is Saint Mary’s.