NIT: Washington State and St. Mary's See Things Differently

Lew WrightSenior Writer IMarch 16, 2009

What a contrast in outlooks between a pair of coaches with the last name of Bennett.

St. Mary's head coach, Coach Randy Bennett is smarting from the NCAA committee snubbing the 26 wins his team fought for this season.

"Are you kidding me?", was the most often repeated phrase surrounding the campus of St. Mary's yesterday afternoon.

Few would question that the WCC, the conference St. Mary's plays in, is a mid-major. Perhaps the WCC isn't as strong as the Pac-10, which is sending Arizona dancing again this year, but, "Come on!"

Translation for the fans of St. Marys.

Conferences like the Big East and Pac-10 are richer in roster talent. That's inferred from the Gaels being left out of the collection of 65 teams playing in the the NCAA.

That said, it’s understandable that St. Marys Coach Bennett and his team are pained by being left out of the Big Dance.

While reeling from being overlooked for the field of 65 for the NCAA Tournament, St. Mary's was dealt yet another snub of sorts.

As one of the top two or three teams left out of the March Madness party that is the NCAA Tournament, the Gaels 26 wins wasn’t even considered strong enough for a No. 1 seed in the NIT mix.


The other Coach Bennett, Tony, is at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to attitude.

Coach Bennett of Washington State is, “…excited to have the chance to play (in the NIT).” He seems to care less about the seeding of his team.

Then again, there was no doubt that WSU wasn’t going to do dancing this season. The Cougs were one of the hottest teams in the nation going down the stretch. It’s common knowledge that post season invitations are meted out based on the entire season, not just the last few weeks.

Even if St. Marys Coach Bennett is ready to move on and focus on their NIT opening round opponent, Washington State, media and fans seem stuck in the past.  In the immortal lyrics of Chad and Jeremy, “…that was yesterday and yesterday’s gone.”

WSU’s Coach Bennett is traveling with his team Monday to meet the Gaels about 10 miles east of Oakland, CA.

The seven Cougar true freshmen have their eyes on the prize. Truth be known, the mix of seniors and freshmen on the WSU team are going into their game Tuesday night with eyes wide open. They aren't embittered. The Cougs are excited.

There’s a strong similarity between the size of Pullman, WA and Moraga, CA. Both towns boast a population in the area of 20,000. The Cougs should feel right at home in the cozy college town.  

Though the university is small compared with Washington State, a Gaels student body of about 4,000, Coach Tony Bennett and his staff will assure that his team remains concerned with the handful of St. Mary's students who play Division I basketball.

From a stat perspective, there are some strong similarities shared by St. Mary's and WSU:

  • Both teams convert about 44 percent of their shot attempts
  • Both teams convert about one-third of their three-point attempts 
  • The big men for both teams shoot nearly 60 percent from the floor
  • Both teams are excellent at blocking their opponents shots

One of the key areas to watch for in the game tomorrow night is on defense.

The Gaels play aggressive defense that produces more than seven steals per game. Naturally steals make transition baskets the reward for effort expended. WSU has had problems at times over this season protecting the ball when pressured full court.

Washington State pressures their opponents at half court, forcing opposition to beat them with outside shooting. The Cougs don’t gamble a lot on defense because their physical play wears teams down. They are rock solid, switching and changing up coverages.

When WSU is playing their version of Bennett Ball, their defense is well described with just one word.


With only 100 tickets made available to Washington State, it’s obvious just about everyone is either going to watch this game on ESPN2 Tuesday at 8 p.m. PDT or listen along the Cougar radio network.

Make no mistake, St. Mary's and Washington State are two very good basketball teams. That should be the perfect mix for a great game.



 Article originally published on

For more info:
Follow Lew Wright on Twitter: cougarlew