Saint Mary’s Deserves an NCAA Tournament Bid
The Australian-stacked Saint Mary’s Gaels were able to defeat West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga twice throughout the regular season - a 70-67 decision at home and then a 63-58 victory inside the McCarthey Athletic Center, to complete the school’s first season sweep of the Bulldogs since 1995.
Unfortunately for the Gaels, third time was the charm for Mark Few’s men, as the Bulldogs finally took down Saint Mary’s when it mattered most, earning an 85-75 win in the WCC Championship game.
The win punched Gonzaga’s ticket to the NCAA tournament for the 18th consecutive season, which is third best among active teams (Kansas, 26 and Duke, 20) and fourth all-time (North Carolina, 27).
''All is well in Zagville!” Few said to the screaming Gonzaga fans after the game via John Marshall of CBS Sports, before proclaiming that ‘‘the streak is alive!''
As the Bulldogs and their fans barked into the night celebrating yet another tourney bid, the Gaels were left to ponder what went wrong and now face a nervous wait until Selection Sunday to see if they earn their first tournament bid since 2013. If the Selection Committee knows what makes a tournament team and has an idea of who deserves to go dancing, Saint Mary’s should be awarded an at-large bid into the tourney.
"They know how to play, and they bring it," Few said via Jeff Faraudo of the San Jose Mercury News, as the Zags coach gave the Gaels a public endorsement after defeating them. "I don't care about numbers or anything else -- that is a tournament team."
Randy Bennett, head coach of the Gaels, also affirmed his belief that his team deserves a tournament bid, via Faraudo.
"I feel pretty good about [Saint Mary’s chances to earn an NCAA bid]. We have one of the top five records in the country. The only thing we didn't do was beat Gonzaga three times. We beat them twice."
The Gaels resume for making the tournament shapes up nicely when compared to the other school’s who are ‘on the bubble’, as Saint Mary’s has the numbers, rankings and wins which entitles a tournament team.
With a steady RPI ranking of 38, the Gaels actually sit above Gonzaga (51) and a slew of other teams fighting for at-large bids including VCU (39), Butler (43), San Diego State (44), South Carolina (46) and Vanderbilt (47).
The RPI is the one of the main indicators used by the Selection Committee, but Saint Mary’s case to make the tourney doesn’t just consist of a strong Ratings Percentage Index. A strong regular season record, a pair of potent Aussies and an explosive offensive attack are three elements the committee simply cannot ignore when investigating each teams prospects of making the tourney.
To put it in simple terms - the Gaels played 32 games this season and were victorious in 27 of them. No matter how you spin it, whether it be strength of schedule, the two losses to lowly Pepperdine, quality of victory, or whatever asterisk you want to place on the Gaels record, there is no debate surrounding that Saint Mary’s 27-5 record is one that jumps off the paper.
The Gaels had two separate eight game winning streaks, which validates the consistency the ball club played with throughout the entire season. Aussies Emmett Naar and Dane Pineau were a duo that embodies this stability Saint Mary’s played with throughout the season.
Both players, much like the entire Gaels team, considerably upped their performance this season compared to last.
Naar was able to increase his scoring output to a team-best 14.3 points per game, after contributing just 6.3 in his freshman season, leading to his selection to the All-WCC First Team. A shooting percentage of 49.8% was a huge upgrade over his 39.4% clip he shot the ball at last season and Naar’s sparkling shooting efficiency was the 11th highest field goal percentage in the WCC and the second best rate among guards in the conference. Naar was also able to improve his assists per game (6.3 compared to 3.9) and rebounds per game (3.6 compared to 2.0) from last season.
"If it was up to us, I'm sure we'd all put us in," Naar said about his teams tourney chances, via Faraudo. "Unfortunately, it's not up to us, so we have to hope the committee goes that way."
If you want to find a player who prides himself on efficiency, look no further than Pineau. The Melbourne native ranked highly in a number of telling categories this season. Most notably, Pineau ranked first in the WCC for field goal percentage (65.6%) and 19th in the entire nation in Player Efficiency Rating, posting a PER of 29.2. With greater opportunity came greater production from Pineau, as he averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game this season, career highs throughout his three seasons with the Gaels.
Saint Mary’s were the most proficient shooting team in the nation this season, as their 50.9% field goal percentage led the entire NCAA, a result of Bennett’s high-paced and poised offensive system. The Gaels also ranked fifth in the nation in scoring margin (13.9), seventh in three-point field goal percentage (41.3%) and 17th in assists per game (16.8). This economical offence that Saint Mary’s ran this season is unmatched by the other school’s who are fighting for an at-large big, so it gives the Gaels another edge in the Selection Committees mind.
While they couldn’t automatically advance to the tournament with a WCC Championship win, the Gaels shouldn’t lose any sleep over whether they will make the tourney or not, as their impressive season and body of work shouldn’t be forgotten after their loss to Gonzaga in the final.