What more do the Gaels have to do?
That was my general reaction as I perused the various NCAA Tournament bracket projections Tuesday, projections that generally had 24-5 Saint Mary’s barely making the Big Dance.
Sure, the Gaels’ RPI of 43 doesn’t scare anybody, and they’ve played only the 116th-toughest schedule in the country. They had some bad losses early in the season, to Pacific and Georgia Tech.
But having witnessed senior point guard Matthew Dellavedova and company dismantle BYU and then a better-than-average Creighton team last week, I’m thinking Saint Mary’s should be a lock for the tournament.
In his latest bracketology projections, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Gaels as a No. 10 seed, playing UCLA in a second-round game.
Andy Glockner of Sports Illustrated, in his “Bubble Watch” feature on SI.com, says Gonzaga is the only lock from the West Coast Conference and asks whether SMC’s BracketBusters win over Creighton was enough. He leaves the Gaels out of the “Should Be In” category.
In separate “Bracket Watch” predictions, Glockner has Saint Mary’s among the “Last Four In” and playing Virginia in one of the dreaded first-round games in Dayton. That’s where BYU went last year.
It’s a shame the Gaels aren’t a shoo-in yet, but that’s probably based as much on a lack of respect for the WCC as for coach Randy Bennett’s well-rounded team. Trust me on this: Saint Mary’s is going to do some damage in March. Saint Mary’s broke into the USA Today coaches poll at No. 23 this week, but is still unranked in the AP Top 25 media poll.
Gonzaga, No. 2 in both polls, is the WCC team getting boatloads of national publicity these days — and deservedly so. The Zags will be a No. 1 seed if they win out, beginning Thursday at BYU.
But watch out for Saint Mary’s, which has the uncanny ability to win when it doesn’t play especially well, like last Thursday against coach Dave Rose’s inconsistent BYU team.
“This is a good team,” Rose said of Saint Mary’s after the 64-57 loss at McKeon Pavilion. “It is a team that is confident. They believe they are going to win. They make [clutch] plays.”
The Gaels shot 36 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range, one of their worst shooting nights of the season, but still managed to pull off the season sweep of BYU thanks to a 33-26 rebounding advantage (13-5 in offensive rebounds) and four fewer turnovers.
Barring upsets, the Cougars (20-9) should get another shot at Saint Mary’s in the WCC semifinals a week from Friday at Orleans Arena, and a couple of BYU players even suggested after the loss last week that the result might be a little different on a neutral floor. Good luck with that.
I’m not picking against Dellavedova, one of 12 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, and the type of player who can control a game when he’s not scoring dozens of points.
Delly might be the only Gael to make the All-WCC team when the selections are announced Tuesday, but SMC is clearly not a one-man team. Brad Waldow, Mitchell Young, Beau Levesque, Jorden Page and Stephen Holt are excellent role players, with Waldow seemingly ticketed for stardom if he can stay out of foul trouble and play more consistently.
Saint Mary’s NCAA Tournament résumé
Record • 24-5
RPI • 43
Good wins • BYU (twice), Creighton, at Santa Clara
Bad losses • Georgia Tech, Pacific