Gaels Seeking Back-to-Back Titles
We’re only a couple of months away until the beginning of the 2012-2013 NCAA College Basketball season, a season in which Saint Mary’s College, a program closely followed by many Australian due to its high volume of Australian-based recruits, hopes to follow on from it’s previous seasons form as the outright champions of the West Coast Conference with a 27-5 record. This was the Gaels first outright conference championship since 1989 and their third NCAA Tournament invite in five years, losing out to 10th seeded Purdue in the second round. And in a conference usually dominated by one team – the mighty Gonzaga Bulldogs, the last few years have seen the power and focus shift to the small Moragan college, where only 4,000 students attend.
Ask any avid follower of the Saint Mary’s program and they will tell you that the beginning of this new era of Saint Mary’s basketball started in 2001 when coach Randy Bennet began scouting our shores for talent. It began with ex-Canberra Cannons star David Patrick and has since included NBA and Olympic Star Patty Mills, Gaels all-time leading scorer Daniel Kickert and, entering his fourth and final year as a Gael, Mill’s Olympic counterpart Matthew Dellavedova. Since Bennet began scouting down under, the Gaels have made the NCAA Tournament four times, including a brilliant run to the Sweet 16 in 2010. Pre the Australian connection however, the Gaels had only made the Tournament three times, with the first being in 1959.
Although losing Mackay resident Clint Steindl and leading rebounder from last season Rob Jones (American, not Australian born), the Gaels return the likes of Australians Jordan Page and Mitchell Young, as well as Matt Hodgson who was red shirted last year after transferring from Southern Utah. Junior guards Stephen Holt and James Walker also return, as well as Sophomore sensation Brad Waldow. Along with these names, the Gaels welcome PF Chris Reyes from La Verne, CA.
The biggest problem for the Gaels going into the season will be it’s lack of established big men. The Gaels had to rely on the 6 foot 6 inch Californian native Rob Jones to take the 5 spot for the majority of the season. Even after the stellar season performance from the big man, if it wasn’t for the Gaels tremendous three-point shooting abilities (34% for the entire team), as well as its accuracy from the field in general (47%), the lack of height may have been more of a problem than it was. As of this season, the reigns for the 5 spot falls on 6 foot 9 inch Sophomore Brad Waldow. He must embrace the focus and pressure that Bennet will no doubt put on him if the Gaels are to succeed.
This weakness will not only be where Gonzaga are aiming to expose the Gaels, with Senior forward Elias Harris looking to step up to yet another level following the departure of the Bulldogs key big man Robert Sacre to the NBA, but it’s where other conference wild-cards in Brigham Young, who have All-WCC forward Brandon Davies returning, and Loyola Marymount will be looking to expose them too. Along with solid bigs, these teams have very worthy point guards who could prove just as dangerous, with the Bulldogs Sophomore Kevin Pangos eagre to continue on with his fine freshman season form with 13.6 PPG, LMU Junior Anthony Ireland looking to back up his 16.1 PPG and Cougar Matt Carlino looking to improve his 12.2 PPG in his second season.
Randy Bennet and the Gaels are used to being the underdogs and it’s a position they’re more than comfortable to be in. If Dellavedova can continue on with his electric form and Junior Stephen Holt can take his game to another level after a significant improvement in his second year, the Gaels will have every chance of going back to back.
Continuing on with the Aussie theme, many other Australians are playing Division 1 NCAA Basketball, including Valparaiso Senior Ryan Broekhoff who played alongside Matthew Dellavedova as a Boomer in a number of lead-up games to the Olympics. Broekhoff has been doing to the Horizon League what Matthew Dellavedova has been doing to the WCC, with the forward taking out the 2011-2012 Horizon League Player of the Year on the back of his 14.8 PPG. With a chance to do the same this upcoming season, Broekhoff is definitely someone to keep an eye on. As for Washington State Senior Brock Motum however, who averaged 18.1 PPG and 6.5 PPG, he will look at taking the Cougars to the next step after a somewhat average 19-18 record last season.
Boise State Sophomore duo Anthony Drmic and Igor Hadziomerovic will look to improve on their freshmen seasons with the two averaging 12.0 PPG and 4.9 PPG respectively. New Mexican sophomores Hugh Greenwood and Cameron Bairstow will look to increase their 2011-2012 playing minutes. So will Junior Big 12 player at the University of Colorado Shane Harris-Tunks and Pac-12 players Angus Brandt (Snr, Oregon State University), Jordan Vandenberg (Snr, North Carolina State Univeristy), Rhys Murphy (Jr, Oregon State Univeristy) and Dexter Kernich-Drew (So, Washington State University).
Other Australians include Jordan Hickert (Snr, Eastern Washington University), Dejan Kostur (Snr, Idaho State University), Jackson Aldridge (So, Butler University), Shola Diop (Jr, Winthrop University) as well as a host of others.