Conference: West Coast Conference (At Large)
Record: 28-4 (16-2)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 7 (West)
How they got to the Big Dance
St. Mary’s was considered a major tournament snub in 2016 after going 27-5 and losing in the West Coast Conference Final to Gonzaga. This year, the Gaels lost to Gonzaga in the WCC Final again but improved their record to 28-4 and find themselves in the tournament as a ? seed.
There is nothing flashy about the Gaels—slow-paced offense, lack of star power and they play in the WCC—but they are efficient and get the job done. Center Jock Landale leads the Gaels on both ends of the floor. He anchors a defense that allowed the second fewest points in the country (56.5 points per game) and leads the team in scoring with 16.8 points per game. Calvin Hermanson and Emmett Naar provide the secondary scoring and a lot of it comes from beyond the arc — both players average 43 percent from three-point range.
Randy Bennett’s Gaels are often overlooked because they play weak competition in the WCC, but they have the tools to turn some heads in the tournament.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
The Gaels will go as far as the defense takes them. They allowed 60 points or more in only 10 of 28 games this season and ranked behind only Virginia in points allowed per game. Landale controls the paint with that 6-foot-11 frame, and 6-foot-9 forward Dane Pineau is able to defend the rim as well. Both average over one block per game.
If Landale and Pineau can help hold the opposition to under 70 points, the Gaels will have a chance to make a name for themselves in the tournament.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
Defensive prowess can propel the Gaels to a couple of tournament wins, but offensive struggles can lead to an early exit. St. Mary’s 72 points per game ranked tied for 207th in the nation.
Being able to adjust to the higher level of competition could also present a challenge to the Gaels. They only played three games against ranked teams — all were against Gonzaga — and all were losses. The fact that 29 of St. Mary’s games have come against weak, unranked opponents makes the 56.5 points against per game less impressive and the 72 points per game more concerning.
The true downfall for the Gaels will be the lack of a pure scorer. The teams that enjoy the most success in March have a go-to scorer. Landale is capable of putting up 20 points and 10 rebounds on any given night, but there is no ball handling scorer capable of taking a game over.
Player to watch: Center Jock Landale
The only Gael that should worry opposing coaches is Landale. The 2017 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award Finalist has been a force in the paint for St. Mary’s all season. He averages 16.8 points per game, 9.3 rebounds per game and 1.2 blocks per game.
Landale is a 73.4 percent free throw shooter which makes him valuable late in games. Some teams are forced to sit their big men late in games because they are liabilities from the charity stripe, but Coach Bennett is able to keep Landale on the court and get the most out of him.
Since the Gaels lack a pure scorer, they will force the ball to Landale down low throughout the game. If he gets into a rhythm, he is capable of taking complete control of the paint — he will score, grab a lot of boards and prevent the opposition from getting easy buckets at the rim.