Gonzaga And Saint Mary’s: Excitement and Disappointment

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2016

In one way, it was the most predictable thing ever: Gonzaga appeared in its 19th consecutive West Coast Conference Tournament championship game and came away with a win to seal its 18th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. But in another way, it was very different. For the first time since 2007, the Bulldogs’ flimsy resume meant that they absolutely needed to win the league’s automatic bid in order to ensure a trip back to the Big Dance (they ended up as a #11 seed that year and would have probably dropped to the NIT had they lost).

Domantas Sabonis Has The Zags Swinging Into Their 18th-Straight NCAA Tournament (Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

Domantas Sabonis Has The Zags Swinging Into Their 18th-Straight NCAA Tournament (Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

The 2007 team went on to get run out of the NCAA Tournament against Indiana. But in a season without a bevy of elite teams, this year’s squad has great potential as a nightmare matchup for a higher seed. The veteran Zags frontcourt combination of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis is as talented a duo inside as any other in the country, while backcourt players Eric McClellan and Josh Perkins are playing the best basketball of their careers. The Bulldogs aren’t a deep team but they’re strong offensively, well-coached, and have significant postseason experience.

On the other side of the court, Saint Mary’s now faces a long wait until Selection Sunday. That 27-5 record is sparkling. A KenPom ranking of #34 is strong. An RPI in the 40s is reasonable. But a deeper dive reveals some trouble. The Gaels’ RPI strength of schedule ranks 159th and KenPom ranks their non-conference schedule 317th. Their two best wins are the pair over a Gonzaga team that was probably on the outside of the bubble looking in prior to this week. Beyond that, there are home wins over Stanford, UC Irvine and BYU. Their sixth-best win is probably over Grand Canyon in Moraga. Their second-best road win (aside from the Zags) is over your choice of teams ranked in the 200s. Randy Bennett’s team probably is one of the 40 best teams in the nation, meaning it should theoretically have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. But there is precious little meat on those resume bones.

Randy Bennett's Continued Inability To Schedule Up Could Cost The Gaels Again (Getty)

Randy Bennett’s Continued Inability To Schedule Up Could Cost The Gaels Again (Getty)

This is also in danger of becoming a trend. Bennett has never really been known for particularly adventurous scheduling, but as recently as a decade ago Saint Mary’s non-conference schedules ranked as high as 61st (2006-07) down to the mid-100s (2010-11). But in the last five seasons, their strongest non-conference schedule was rated just 193rd. The 2012-13 season serves as a great example. The Gaels won a robust 28 games against just seven losses. A tough-luck Thanksgiving weekend tournament in Anaheim gave them only a win over Drexel to show for their troubles. Their other big non-conference tests that season were a road trip to Northern Iowa (a loss) and a visit from Harvard (a win), but they were also lucky enough to get a visit from Creighton as part of BracketBusters (a win). Gonzaga swept them three times in WCC action. And despite having a KenPom rating of #23 that season, Saint Mary’s was rightfully shipped to the First Four in Dayton. That team had a better resume than this year’s Gaels and they still snuck in by the slimmest of margins. In other words, it appears that Gaels fans would do well to prepare themselves for some disappointment.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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