Friday, March 19, 2010

Comprehensive Villanova / St. Mary's Preview, Part 1 - #2 seed vs. #10 seed - 1:05 PM, CBS, Saturday

To the Wildcat faithful-

This is Part 1 of a comprehensive, detailed preview of the second-seeded Wildcats' upcoming game with the #10 seed, Saint Mary's, who  with surprising ease - solidly defeated #7 Richmond, in the second half of yesterday's first-round doubleheader in Providence, Rhode Island. 

You can read Part 2 of the Villanova / Saint Mary's Preview by clicking here.

The Viewpoint on the Saint Mary's Gaels - 2009-10 Season Analysis

Saint Mary's finished with a record of 11-3 in the West Coast Conference (WCC), and entered the NCAA tournament with a record of 26-5, to which they have now added a first-round victory over Richmond.

For a school from the mid-major WCC, Saint Mary's RPI and strength-of-schedule are tremendous: a 35 ranking, with a 120 SOS.  In games against NCAA tournament qualifiers, they went 4-3: they lost two out of three against Gonzaga, wins over New Mexico State, San Diego State, and Utah State, and a loss to Vanderbilt.

Saint Mary's opened the season with the pair of aforementioned wins over New Mexico State and San Diego State, as well as the aforementioned loss toVanderbilt, by just two points.  The Gaels then ripped off seven consecutive wins: Cal Poly/San Luis Obispo, the non-Division I California Maritime, @ San Jose State, @ Utah State, @ Pac-10 member Oregon, Portland State, and Pacific.

So Saint Mary's entered the Diamond Head Classic Christmastime holiday tournament in Honolulu, with a 9-1 record, with the only loss being to Vanderbilt.  They extended the streak to nine, with a victory over Northeastern.  The streak was snapped in the semifinals, against Pac-10 member USC, but the Gaels captured third place by defeating the host, Hawaii.  Saint Mary's was now 11-2.

The Gaels then hosted their own holiday tournament, on their home floor in Moraga, CA - the Shamrock Office Solutions Classic; the hosts won by defeating Binghamton and Howard by lopsided margins.  Accordingly, Saint Mary's ended calendar 2009 with a bang: a 13-2 record, with the only losses coming against major-conference competition in Vanderbilt and USC.

Saint Mary's West Coast Conference Schedule

The Gaels tipped off 2010 with a pair of road WCC wins, @ Santa Clara and @ San Francisco.  Saint Mary's hosted the perennial powerhouse Gonzaga, ranked #14 at the time, but lost, 89-82.  The Gaels rebounded from the loss, with another half-dozen wins: Portland, San Diego, @ Pepperdine, @ Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara, and San Francisco.

Heading into the rematch with then-#11 Gonzaga, this time in Spokane, the Gaels were sporting a 21-3 mark overall, 8-1 WCC.  But this time, it wasn't as close: the Zags humbled the Gaels by 19 points on February 11.  Two days later, Saint Mary's then stumbled @ Portland, falling in overtime; it was the only time this season they endured back-to-back losses, dropping them to 21-5 overall, 8-3 WCC.

But after that Friday the 13th loss @ Portland, Saint Mary's has gone undefeated.  They swept their three remaining WCC opponents: @ San Diego, Pepperdine, and Loyola Marymount, finishing the regular season 24-5 overall, 11-3 WCC.  It was good enough for second place in the eight-team WCC; Gonzaga won the regular season title, with a 12-2 mark.  

This second-place finish was important, as in 2003, the WCC changed its format to give the top two seeds a double bye, #3 and #4 a single bye, and have #5 play #8 and #6 play #7 in the first round.  As a result, Saint Mary's needed only two wins on the neutral court in Las Vegas, to capture the WCC automatic bid. 

The Gaels faced #3 Portland for the third time, and won the rubber match easily, 69-55.  And in another showdown with top-seeded Gonzaga, the proverbial third time was in fact the charm: the Gaels pummeled then-#14 Gonzaga, 81-62.

It is probable that given its tournament profile, Saint Mary's would have received an at-large bid, even without the 19-point victory over Gonzaga in the WCC title contest.  But no mid-major feels safe on Selection Sunday without one, and the Gaels undoubtedly celebrated in style.  The strong performance against the mighty Zags, likely influenced the Selection Committee in giving the Gaels a #10 seed.

In Part 2, I'll break down the Gaels and speculate as to what we might expect:

Go Wildcats!

E-mail: villanova.viewpoint-at-yahoo-dot-com

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