Part of the fun of March Madness is when you get teams who otherwise wouldn’t be in the Big Dance winning their conference tournaments and punching their tickets to the Tournament. That’s exactly what happened to this St. Mary’s team. The Gaels were 20-11 going into the WCC Tournament, and while they were in the top 40 overall on KenPom and likely would have played their way off a weak bubble, they left nothing to chance by dominating Gonzaga in the WCC final to grab the conference’s auto-bid as an 11-seed.
They’re also a familiar NCAA Tournament foe to the Villanova Wildcats, as Randy Bennett and the Gaels beat Jay Wright and the Wildcats in the second round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament in Providence. The Gaels were a double-digit seed that year as well. Yikes. The parallels.
I’m sure it’s fine!
Let’s dive in.
|Records||22-11 (11-5 WCC; Finished 2nd); Won WCC Tournament|
|Leading Scorers||Jordan Ford (21.3 PPG), Malik Fitts (15.3 PPG)|
|Leading Assist Man||Tommy Kuhse (2.9 APG)|
|Leading Rebounder||Malik Fitts (7.6 RPG)|
|Adj. Efficiencies||114.7 (Off.) | 97.1 (Def.)|
|Team eFG%||54.0% (Off.) | 48.6% (Def.)|
|Team 2PT%||52.5% (Off.) | 49.1% (Def.)|
|Team 3PT%||37.8% (Off.) | 31.8% (Def.)|
For starters, it’s pretty amazing that St. Mary’s has managed to get to this stage in the first place, even if they did likely need to win their conference tournament to do it. The Gaels lost their two leading scorers from 2017-18 in Jock Landale (21.4 PPG, also 10.3 RPG) and Calvin Hermanson (11.3 PPG), and took their lumps earlier in the season, going 3-4 in their first seven games and just 9-6 overall in nonconference play.
Led by First Team All-WCC guard Jordan Ford’s 21.3 points per game (best in the WCC), the Gaels managed to make the most of a season that many thought would be transitional, finishing the year at 20-11 before pulling off the upset of Gonzaga to earn their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
If Ford was able to make up for Landale’s departure in the scoring department, Malik Fitts did a serviceable job making up the productivity on the glass. Fitts, a transfer from South Florida, led the Gaels with 7.3 rebounds per game this season and was second on the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game. Ford and Fitts vs. Phil Booth and Eric Paschall will likely be a matchup to watch on both ends of the court in Hartford.
With how inconsistent Villanova has looked at times this year, an experienced team with an experienced coach is a bit of a daunting matchup for the Wildcats. St. Mary’s having to travel farther than any team in the Tournament this week at 2,994 miles from their campus to the XL Center could be an advantage for Villanova, who will likely take a bus to Hartford.
At the end of the day, if the Wildcats are able to play like they did in the Big East Tournament and Phil Booth can consistently find good shots, they’ll be in good shape against the upset-minded Gaels.