With Saturday’s 81-76 win over the University of Oregon, Saint Mary’s quietly remains atop the West Coast Conference in overall standings.
Before the season started, nobody was expecting much out of Saint Mary’s College. They lost their star Aussie Patty Mills to the NBA Draft, and the school’s all-time leader in rebounds, blocks, steals, and free throws in Diamon Simpson to graduation. It was said by many that not only would they finish behind WCC powerhouse Gonzaga, but they might also finish behind the University of San Diego and Portland.
Well, don’t look now, but coach Randy Bennett and Saint Mary’s (7-1) could well be on their way to yet another top 25 ranking and a third consecutive season playing past the regular season (last year in the NIT, the year before that in the NCAA tournament). Maybe C Omar Samham was right when he told the San Francisco Chronicle this was not a rebuilding year, but just a remodeling year.
While they, like every mid-major, have a hard time creating a competitive schedule, they are 2 points away from being undefeated, as they lost to Vanderbilt 72-70. Their other wins have been over New Mexico State, San Diego State, Cal Poly, Cal Maritime, San Jose State, and Utah State.
In the Utah State game, which they won 68-63, they stopped the Aggies’ home winning streak at 37, and the nation barely seemed to notice.
And while Simpson and Mills are of course missed, their loss has been cushioned due to the emergence of a different Aussie in freshmen Matthew Dellavedova (13.9 ppg), who has been compared to the likes of Steve Nash.
Omar Samham is their senior leader as well as their leader in points, averaging 19.6 a game, and rebounds where he averages 12.4 a game. F Ben Allen , whom many had written off due to his erratic play last year, seems to have stepped up and is playing respectably in his senior year.
Furthermore, while Mickey McConnell is no Patty Mills, he certainly knows how to play the point well enough, and is leading the team with 6.3 apg and 1.4 stl/g.
Saint Mary’s will most likely go into conference play with only two losses, unless they find the will to win the Diamondhead Classic in Hawaii, which features: Hawaii, Southern California, SMU, UNLV, College of Charleston, Western Michigan, and Northeastern.
Come March, we may very well see Saint Mary’s in the tournament, or at least gain another NIT bid, with Samham saying “I told you so.”