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St. Mary's: Are The Gaels For Real?
by Matt Fargo - 02/22/2008
We knew coming in that St. Maryâ€™s was going to be a good team and possibly challenge Gonzaga for the West Coast Championship. We just werenâ€™t sure how good. The Gaels finished 17-15 last season but they came into this year with four returning starters including six of their top seven scorers, 75 percent of their scoring offense and 80 percent of their rebounds from a year ago. The big concern was filling the void at point guard but that has not been an issue.
Freshman Patrick Mills won the starting job as floor general and he not only leads the team in assists but is also the Gaels leading scorer at 15.2 ppg. His presence keeps defenses on their toes as it is the frontcourt that is the real strength of this team. WCC Player of the Year Candidate Diamon Simpson is second in scoring with 12.3 ppg and the leading rebounder with 9.3 per game. The next two top scorers are also down low as Omar Samhan and Ian Oâ€™Leary average a combined 19.9 ppg and 12.3 rpg.
St. Maryâ€™s is off to its best start since 1988-89 when it went 22-3 through its first 25 games. The Gaels have been able to dominate on their home court, going a perfect 14-0 and they have won 16 straight games at McKeon Pavilion dating back to last season. There have been some impressive wins along with including a rout of then 12th ranked Oregon as well as a six-point win over Drake and we know what the Bulldogs have accomplished this season. The biggest however was an overtime victory over Gonzaga.
Taking care of the home floor is one thing but winning the big games on the road is what makes teams great. St. Maryâ€™s is 5-3 in true road games but it has not defeated anyone of real significance. A victory at Fresno St. was nice but blowout losses at Southern Illinois and Texas brings up some question about whether the Gaels can win the â€œbig oneâ€쳌 on the road. St. Maryâ€™s is 4-1 on the road in the WCC but the conference is extremely weak and the lone challenge came against San Diego, the lone conference loss.
It seems as though when the Gaels enter the top 25 polls, they end up losing. St. Maryâ€™s slipped into the top 25 way back on December 10th, entering for the first time at No. 24. The next night was the night the Gaels lost to Southern Illinois and it took them close to two months to re-enter the polls and it was that same night it lost to San Diego. St. Maryâ€™s did not drop out that time however and it currently is 23rd in the nation with three huge games on tap.
Four games remain on the schedule but it is the first three that are worth noting. The first comes this Saturday as the Gaels host Kent St. in one of the numerous Bracket Buster games taking place. It is big considering a win would be the 7th top 60 RPI victory on the season and that goes a long way come tournament seeding time. Following that is the final home game of the season in a revenge game against San Diego on Monday. The conference championship will then come down to the next game on Saturday at Gonzaga.
The game against the Bulldogs is huge not just for the regular season title. It would add yet another quality win to the column. Consider just how weak the West Coast Conference really is. St. Maryâ€™s was ranked 20th in the RPI prior to its game at Loyola-Marymount last Saturday. Despite winning that game by 31 points, the Gales dropped to 27th in the RPI which happened to be its lowest ranking of the season. After the 36-point win over Pepperdine on Monday, St. Maryâ€™s stayed at 27th.
A victory at Gonzaga, who is currently ranked 39th in the RPI, will move St. Maryâ€™s up again. It will also give the Gaels their first real quality road victory of the season and prove that they can get it done on the road. St. Maryâ€™s is 14-8-1 ATS on the season which is good for a top 20 ranking. This includes a 6-5-1 ATS mark in road and neutral court games. After starting 5-5-1 ATS, the Gaels have gone 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games and look to keep that momentum rolling.
The Gaels are ranked 29th in scoring offense and 46th in scoring defense so they have gotten it done on both ends of the floor which is a main ingredient for good tournament teams. One big issue against them is that they are hitting 66.7 percent from the free throw line which is 246th in the nation. That will need to improve come tournament time. St. Maryâ€™s has what it takes to make some noise and the Gonzaga game will tell us a lot in how far it might be able to go.