Defense Is Saint Mary’s Calling Card
Don’t be blinded by the way Saint Mary’s lost to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference title game. This will not be an easy team to deal with in the NCAA tournament.
Saint Mary’s dropped from eighth to 10th in the NCAA NET rankings. However, the 2-3 record in Quad 1 games could result in a lower seeding when the March Madness bracket is released and lower Las Vegas March Madness odds.
Saint Mary’s is ranked 16th in both the Associated Press and coaches’ polls.
The Gaels are showing up on projected brackets as a No. 6 seed and this is not a team a No. 3 seed wants in their bracket in the NCAA tournament.
Two of the seven losses by Saint Mary’s came against Gonzaga and another (by just five points) to top-ranked Houston. The non-conference schedule did have some iffy results at times, but this is still a team worth keeping an eye on.
The odds to win March Madness has Arizona (+1400) as the sixth-best odds to win the national title.
As the March Madness predictions begin to heat up, it is time to look at why Saint Mary’s is a contender despite losing in the first round of the NIT in 2021 and falling in the second round of the March Madness bracket last season.
When making March Madness picks, it should be noted that the Gaels lead the WCC with a 19-13 record against the spread.
Time to Get Defensive
Defense usually wins when it comes to March Madness and Saint Mary’s is fifth nationally in scoring defense.
The Gaels aren’t going to come up with as many steals and blocked shots as other top defensive teams, but they have the ability to force teams into tough shots.
For teams with little time to prepare for their style, in either the second round or the regional final, it won’t be a fun experience trying to match the Gaels’ physicality and that could come into play when it comes time to make March Madness predictions.
Two of the top three scorers are seniors and that could be huge come tournament time.
Logan Johnson is a fifth-year senior who after playing at Cincinnati as a freshman averaged just 1.4 points in his first season for the Gaels. Now he leads Saint Mary’s with 14.7 points per game. He had back-to-back 30-point games and has at least 20 points in six of his last eight games.
Alex Ducas started 20 of 47 games in his first two seasons. Over the last two years, he has started all 67 games and has been a double-digit scorer both as a junior and senior.
2:41 1st | Gaels 19, Gonzaga 31
Alex Ducas is closing in on 1,000 career points as a Gael after he knocks down his first three of the night. He is just 12 points away from the milestone.#GaelsRise | #WCChoops
— Saint Mary’s Hoops (@saintmaryshoops) March 8, 2023
Ducas has scored in double figures in all three games against Gonzaga and he will be a key part of the offense when the March Madness bracket begins.
After playing less than 10 minutes per game in his first two seasons, the 6-foot-10 Mitchell Saxen has started every game and is putting up 11.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game to give the Gaels another veteran scorer.
Senior Kyle Bowen won’t put up gaudy offensive numbers. However, he had a three-game stretch with 43 rebounds. He pulled down 10 rebounds in the win against Gonzaga during the regular season.
Making an Immediate Impact
Not many people heard much about freshman Aidan Mahaney before he dropped 18 points in an overtime win over Gonzaga. He had 20 points in a win over nationally ranked San Diego State and 14 more against top-ranked Houston.
Gonzaga struggled in the regular-season finale against Gonzaga, missing 7 of his 10 shots. He followed that up by going 2 of 8 in the WCC final. He will need to be connecting when the NCAA tournament gets underway.
The good news is he has shown the ability to rise to the challenge. Saint Mary’s has four double-digit scorers. However, they don’t often get much production from the bench so as the competition level increases, the Gaels can’t afford to have Mahaney off his game.
Sophomore Augustas Marciulionis comes from good stock as his father is Hall of Famer Sarunas Marciulionis. With four field goals in his last five games, the younger Marciulionis is struggling offensively. If he can break out, watch out for the Gaels.
Ready to Bounce Back
Saint Mary’s wouldn’t be the first team to head into the NCAA tournament with a forgettable effort in the last game. There will be those who undervalue the Gaels when it comes to March Madness odds.
It is highly unlikely that another team will approach what Gonzaga did in the WCC championship game when the Bulldogs shot 58% from the field and 57% from 3-point range.
The West Coast Conference is better than people might realize so the Gaels did have some tough tests over the course of the season and that could come into play when it is winning time in the tournament as the nation will learn that Gonzaga is not the only talented team in the WCC.
Keep an eye on this team because if the offense comes around, the Gaels can make a run in the March Madness bracket.