Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 10/13/11

After four straight seasons with at least 25 wins, the next team on the Non-BCS Watch List is out to prove there is more to the West Coast Conference than Gonzaga and newcomer BYU.

Saint Mary’s Gaels

Looking Back

The Gaels finished 25-9 overall and 11-3 in the conference but wound up in the NIT after falling to Gonzaga in the WCC Finals.  They finished just 8-7 over their final 15 games after a 17-2 start, with a stunning loss to San Diego the biggest blow to their NCAA hopes.

In all, Saint Mary’s finished 50th in the year-end Pomeroy Ratings.  Their offense ranked 15th and was bolstered by the nation’s fifth-best effective field goal percentage and the 13th-ranked turnover percentage.  Their free throw rate was among the worst, but they made up for that by canning 39.4 percent from deep and 53.6 percent inside the arc.  Defensively, they were effective at limiting opponents’ offensive rebounds but were in the middle of the pack in the other three key factors Pomeroy highlights.

WCC Player of the Year Mickey McConnell is the team’s only loss from last season’s squad.  He led the team in points (16.4 ppg) and assists (6.1 apg) and hit better than 45 percent from beyond the arc, leaving some pretty big shoes to fill.

This Year’s Gaels

Even with McConnell gone, the cupboard is far from bare for the Gaels, starting with the duo of Rob Jones and Matthew Dellavedova.  Jones was second on the team in scoring with 13.8 points per game and led the Gaels in rebounding with 7.7 boards per contest.  The 6-foot-6 Jones was particularly effective on the defensive glass, ranking 73rd nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.  He connected on 56.5 percent of his two-pointers but just 33.1 percent from deep.  Jones would be well served to get to the line more often, but he has a terrific offensive rating and should earn a spot on the All-WCC First Team.

Dellavedova played upwards of 35 minutes per game and did a little bit of everything for the Gaels.  He finished second on the team in assists (5.3 apg) and steals (1.2 spg) and third in scoring (13.4 ppg) while grabbing 3.6 boards and hitting 37.6 percent from deep.  His passing and play-making ability is the biggest reason the Gaels should be able to overcome the loss of McConnell.  Dellavedova’s 117.0 offensive rating was good for 122nd in the country, and the best is yet to come for this talented junior.

Forward Mitchell Young was the team’s fourth double figure scorer with 10.2 points per game.  He finished second in rebounding at 5.1 per contest and made just under 60 percent from the field.  Oh by the way, he did all that in just 21.2 minutes per game, which to some extent can be attributed to his 5.1 fouls committed per 40 minutes.  Young was effective on both the offensive and defensive glass and showed some decent shot-blocking promise.  He also did a nice job of drawing fouls, but unfortunately his field goal percentage is better than his free throw percentage.  Look for continued improvement as he enters his junior year.

Four other returning players averaged at least six points per game last season, led by forward Clint Steindl.  He hit 42.3 percent from beyond the arc and was one of six Gaels to post an offensive rating of at least 112.  Kenton Walker II also returns up front after starting 26 games last season.  In just under 16 minutes per game, he contributed 6.0 points and 3.6 boards while hitting 53.2 percent from the field.  His rebounding and block percentages were all impressive, but he has to stay out of foul trouble (6.2 fouls per 40 minutes) to be a more consistent contributor.  The same goes for 6-foot-9 forward Tim Williams, who did a great job on the offensive and defensive glass while playing around 10 minutes per game.

Guard Jorden Page played in just seven games last season due to a knee injury, but he gives the Gaels another sharpshooter after hitting 56.3 percent from beyond the arc over those seven contests.  Stephen Holt also returns to the backcourt after leading the team in steals last season and finishing 19th nationally in steal percentage.  He scored 31 points in SMC’s first two WCC Tournament games last season, which should give him positive momentum heading into his sophomore year.

With the exception of redshirt freshman Brad Waldow, the newcomers have all come to the team via transfer.  Guard Paul McCoy averaged 13.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.6 steals as a freshman at SMU in 2008-09.  He suffered a knee injury as a sophomore and sat out last year as a transfer, but the addition of McCoy gives Coach Randy Bennett another reliable option in the backcourt.

The other two transfers are both big men.  Seven-footer Kyle Rowley played his first two seasons at Northwestern, but he never showed much, potentially due to their offensive system.  He provides another big body to help out on the glass.  Matt Hodgson should also contribute with rebounds and blocked shots after starting his college career at Southern Utah.

2011-12 Outlook

It’s easy to overlook the Gaels given the loss of McConnell, but Bennett has done a nice job of building a program that can compete for tournament bids year in and year out.  Jones and Dellavedova give the team a solid one-two punch, and there are a number of options to use around them.

Without many marquee matchups on the non-conference schedule, Saint Mary’s doesn’t have much margin for error.  They face a talented Baylor team in the IBN Las Vegas Classic, but the remainder of the non-conference slate doesn’t provide many challenges.  The official site doesn’t have the full schedule yet, so it’s possible additional games are in the works.

The WCC has gotten much deeper in recent years, and the addition of BYU only enhances the overall talent level.  The Gaels have two legit first-team all-conference performers and some intriguing options to go with them like Holt, Page, and McCoy in the backcourt and Young, Steindl, Walker, and Williams up front.  It’s no fluke that the team has nearly 110 wins over the last four seasons, and while I see Gonzaga as the clear favorite in the WCC, there’s no reason the Gaels can’t challenge for a tournament bid once again.

**********

Follow me on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops, and check out the latest edition of the Bottoms Line podcast.

* – Matthew Delladova photo credit: Bleacher Report

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