Saint Mary’s has caught fire at exactly the right time. The reigning West Coast Conference champs are justifiably living on a high after beating No. 1 Gonzaga by 13 in the conference title game. This win came on the heels of 14- and 48-point (48!) losses to the Bulldogs in their two meetings earlier this year. The Gaels (22-11) have now won seven of their last eight games heading into the tournament.
We’re seeing a different Saint Mary’s team than the squad that won tournament games in 2010, 2013 and 2017, because this team is more guard-dominant than usual. But there’s no doubt that this team will be a hard out for any contenders. Two players from the 2017 squad, Tanner Krebs and Jordan Hunter, have experience playing in the Big Dance, and will look to anchor the troops this year, against a Villanova team that had its own highs and lows this year.
Saint Mary’s is defensive-minded and gritty, and this shows in that no player averages more than 1.6 turnovers per game. We just saw the Gaels hold Gonzaga, one of the best offensive teams in the country, to 47 points. On the other end, multiple Gaels can shoot the ball from three, but overall, the name to know is junior guard Jordan Ford, who leads the team with 21.3 points per game and shoots 42 percent from beyond the arc.
Where is Saint Mary’s?
Contrary to popular belief, Saint Mary’s is not in the heart of San Francisco or in downtown Oakland, but 24 minutes from Steph Curry’s home court in Moraga, California. The Gaels have established themselves as a powerhouse for international basketball talent, with NBA alumni like Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova.
Who is their coach?
Randy Bennett is in his 10th year as head coach at Saint Mary’s and it’s his sixth year taking the Gaels to the NCAA Tournament. He brought the Gaels to the Sweet 16 in 2010, so he is no stranger to the big stage. Say what you will about his peculiar scheduling or tendency to leave players in with several fouls, but he’s responsible for making Saint Mary’s a household name. Just look what Hawaii coach Eran Ganot had to say about him:
Who should I know?
With the game on the line, the Gaels are giving the ball to Jordan Ford. He’s scored in double figures in 29 games this season and is deadly from three. His shooting will be needed this March and also will likely dictate the fortune of the Gaels as his off-nights are generally the nights that Saint Mary’s loses. Ford certainly has the killer instinct and ball-handling skills to become the next hero in One Shining Moment. Malik Fitts has shown tremendous skill and the potential to blossom into pro material from all levels of the court. The 6’8 sophomore is averaging 15.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, and can also stroke it from three. An x-factor will certainly be Jordan Hunter’s play on the interior. He managed a double-double against Gonzaga, but is consistently in foul trouble.