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Know Thy Mid-Major: Saint Mary’s Gaels

Gonzaga is the powerhouse in the West Coast Conference, but Saint Mary’s has a strong case that they can make a run in March as well.

Jordan Ford and Tommy Kuhse of the Saint Mary’s Gaels walk off the court after being defeated by the Villanova Wildcats during the first round of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at XL Center on March 21, 2019 in Hartford, Connecticut. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

With January wrapping up and the end of the NFL season just days away, we begin our series dedicated to the teams you’ll need to know when filling out your bracket come March.

You know their West Coast Conference mate Gonzaga, but the Saint Mary’s Gaels are senior-led, extremely well-coached, and are poised to make some noise up to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Check out everything you need to know about SMC!

Note: Gonzaga isn’t a mid-major anymore. We’re counting them as the national champion chalk they are.

Why Saint Mary’s

18-4, 5-2 WCC
NET: 34 RPI: 32
Best wins: vs. Wisconsin (NET #30) @ Arizona State (#57), vs. Utah State (#62), vs. BYU (#29)
Bad losses: @ Winthrop (#131), @ Pacific (#126)
Jerry Palm Projection: #10 seed

The Players

All the tropes about experienced guard play being important in March are actually true, and senior shooter Jordan Ford is that guy. A pure scorer, he’s averaging 21.2 ppg on 52.7% from the floor, and 41.7% on 2.5 three-pointers made per contest. He can get buckets against talented teams (34 vs. Arizona State, 26 vs. Wisconsin), and doesn’t turn it over (just 35 this season).

Malik Fitts is a transfer from the tire fire that was South Florida basketball, and has found a home on the west coast. He’s getting 15.9 ppg, and leads all Gaels at 7.8 rebounds per outing. He’s a junior that was a part of the four-point loss to open the NCAA Tournament against the defending champion Villanova in 2019, and will be looking to create a longer run in 2020.

The Coach

Randy Bennett is considered one of the best coaches in college basketball by his peers, and it shows in his record despite having Big Brother up the road in Spokane. With three regular season and three conference tournament championships in 19 years with the Gaels, his over 430 wins in a tough place to recruit has been elite. He’ll have his team prepared, with 11 games played in the NCAA’s during his time in Moraga.

Where To From Here

Though there’s plenty of triple-digits at the bottom of the WCC, being in a league with both Gonzaga and BYU gives the Gaels a chance to add a few more quality wins before Selection Sunday. They’ve yet to take on the ‘Zags, and will try and sweep the Cougars this Saturday in Provo. There’s also a conference tournament with at least one quality opponent likely.

Come bracket time, they’ll want a matchup with a team that doesn’t defend particularly well on the perimeter. Saint Mary’s can get shots, but will struggle to stop people on the post. A team that plays a lot like them will be who they seek, because they likely play three-out/dribble-drive basketball better than most teams they’d face.