Maybe it's the sting from just missing the NCAA Tournament last season. Maybe it's the desire to prove themselves against the best competition Division I has to offer. But Randy Bennett can't be accused of playing a schedule next season that will be snubbed by the RPI folks. In 2009-10, the Gaels will take on USC, UNLV, Vanderbilt, Oregon, Utah, and Utah State.
It would be nice if they take those foes on with a guy who was considered an All-American at the start of last season. Patty Mills missed several games last season and it probably kept the Gaels out of the Dance, particularly when he was not in midseason shape against Gonzaga in the WCC Finals. Mills has thrown his hat into the NBA draft ring but has a rope at the ready to bring it back (i.e., he has not hired an agent).
The Gaels aren't totally shaky. Center Omar Samhan and guard Mickey McConnell, who did yeoman's work in taking over the point from Mills last season, come back, as does promising sophomore Clint Steindl. Aussie guard Matthew Dellavedova (86 rating by Scouts Inc.) and fellow countryman forward Mitchell Young (85 rating) ensure that Bennett's recruiting pipeline to Down Under should continue to be fertile for years to come.
But let's say Mills changes his mind and comes back. A starting lineup of Mills, McConnell, Steindl or Wayne Hunter, Young or Ben Allen, and Samhan is a strong enough lineup to nail down second place in the West Coast Conference. It's also strong enough to challenge for a return to the Dance.