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Saint Mary’s vs. Indiana Preview: Gaels are the five seed you can trust

With its highest seed ever, No. 5 Saint Mary’s takes on No. 12 Indiana

NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs Saint Mary’s
Tommy Kuhse is Saint Mary’s all-time career assists leader.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

How to Watch:

East Region, first round

Tipoff time: Thursday 7:20 p.m. ET

Location: Moda Center, Portland, Ore.

TV: TBS

DraftKings Line: Saint Mary’s -3, O/U 126.5

Indiana coasted to a First Four over Wyoming to set a matchup against Saint Mary’s in the Portland regional of the NCAA Tournament. Hoosiers first-year Mike Woodson brought Indiana back to the NCAA Tournament, but the Hoosiers have a tough test against the Saint Mary Gaels. Randy Bennett’s program is a well-oiled machine. This season Saint Mary’s ranks 17th overall in Ken Pom thanks t their top-10 defensive efficiency rating. The Gaels handed Gonzaga its first conference loss in two seasons and won 12 of their last 15 games to end the season with two of those losses came against Gonzaga and the other was a five-point road defeat to Santa Clara.

Bennett has done his thing at Saint Mary’s for over 20 seasons at Saint Mary’s. Since taking over the program after a two-win season in 2001, Bennett has taken the Gaels to eight NCAA tournaments. This year is Saint Mary’s highest NCAA Tournament seed in program history.

The Gaels play with a slow and methodical offense that features motion, off-the-ball baseline cuts, post-ups and 3-point shooting. They defend without fouling and don’t turn the ball over. This Gaels team lives up to the best of Gael’s identity. Because it is an experience-laden roster, all six of Saint Mary’s top contributors are upper-classmen, and four are seniors.

It all starts with point general Tommy Kuhse. He averages 12 points per game shoots 46% from three and is seventh on the all-time career assists list for the Gaels at 465. Kuhse runs the offense, has good vision and can knock down tough shots. While Kuhse is more cerebral, his backcourt mate Logan Johnson is more aggressive. Johnson is a slasher that can drive into the lane and can defend the nation’s best guards without help.

The big man in middle is Matthias Tass, who anchors the Gaels’ defense. The Gaels rank sixth nationally in near proximity field goal percentage at 48.75%. Tass influences every shot at the rim. Indiana makes a majority of their points in the paint. so the Gaels defense here will be important. Tass gets the task of guarding All-American forward Trayce Jackson Davis, who is averaging 26.25 PPG and 8.5 RPG. since the start of the BIG Ten Tournament.

The Gaels have a bunch of other guys who contribute in spurts. Dan Fotu had a 22 points against Norte Dame and 16 points against Oregon in the Maui Invitational. Alex Ducas is a capable 3-point shooter.

Prediction:

Teams typically try to fade the No. 5 seed in this matchup, but the Gaels are a team you can trust. They have a significant rest advantage and they have the experience you want in the NCAA Tournament. This matchup is really rough for Indiana. Saint Mary’s is exceptional rebounding the ball and defending the rim. Points will be at a premium in this one. With Saint Mary’s pace and Indiana coming off a long travel day we will take the first half under in Portland at 59. Both teams are very physical and points will be hard to come by early. After a close first half, I expect Saint Mary’s shooting to be the difference in the second half as it pulls away with a win.

Saint Mary’s 63, Indiana 58