St Mary’s On The Bubble
The College Basketball team known affectionately down under as the Aussie Gaels have one hell of a fight on their hands for the remainder of the 2013 NCAA season. With a record of 22-5, good enough for second in the West Coast Conference, St Mary’s have four more games left on their schedule to make a solid claim to the selectors that they have a strong enough outfit to join the elite at the Big Dance.
With a WCC Championship seeming less and less likely (more on that later), the Gaels are going to have to rely on their regular season win/loss ratio and strength of schedule to sway the selectors in their favour. At the moment, the Gaels are on the proverbial selection bubble; meaning that they are a team that have just as much of a chance at getting their ticket stamped as not.
With key losses to Pacific, Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa, St Mary’s cant afford to drop any more games. This includes the crunch games against WCC rival BYU; the team that Aussie PG Matthew Dellavedova beat of the buzzer during their last meet, and the “Bracket Buster” game against highly rated Creighton. (Bracket Buster because the result will have a great influence on the post-season “Bracket” tip-chart that has become commonplace in modern American culture).The upside for St Mary’s is that both of these meets are at their home court of McKeon Pavillion. Pepperdine are the only team for the rest of the regular season to take on the Gaels on their home court.
The game against Creighton is sure to be a big one. Win; and the Gaels put themselves in the perfect position for a post-season appearance. Lose however, and they can essentially kiss their season goodbye. The bad news for the Gaels is that in the “bracket buster” game last season, they faced undefeated Murray State and never seemed really in the game.
The concern for St Mary’s is that Creighton have shown, particularly early on in the season, that they are capable of some solid basketball. Led by Senior Doug McDermott with 22.5PPG, good enough for fourth in the nation, the Bluejays are certainly more than capable to find the basket when he’s on song. How McDermott goes will essentially depend on how the team goes. If he’s cold, there’s no one else on that roster who has proven they can step up.
One of the keys to the game will be how each side defends. Both of these sides sit in the Top 25 in the nation for scoring (St Mary’s 19th, Creighton 23rd), so the game will essentially come down to stops. If one of the Gaels’ stronger defensive players like Aussie Mitchell Young can bring his game and perform a solid shut-down job on McDermott, or whether Coach Randy Bennett will opt for the smaller (by four inches) but defensively stronger Steven Holt, St Mary’s will be giving themselves a very good chance at taking away the W.
For those who have followed the Gaels closely for the last few years, you may remember that even though they lost that game against Murray State last season, they still made the Tournament. However, that came as an automatic bid off the Gaels’ WCC Regular Season Title as well as the WCC Tournament Title.
This season, however, third-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs; the team that have been battling St Mary’s for WCC supremacy throughout the past five seasons, have really stepped it up a notch and gone to a level that hasn’t been seen by a WCC team in some time. Sitting at 26-2 and led by Junior Kelly Olynyk, who’s 17.9PPG, 6.9RPG and 65FG% puts him in serious contention for Player of the Year honours, the Zags really don’t look like dropping many games at all, especially against any of their WCC rivals.
One thing that will be adding to the pressure of a St Mary’s post-season appearance would be to give Dellavedova the greatest possible chance to break the St Mary’s All-Time Scoring record, which he would almost certainly do with an appearance in the Tournament. Currently, Dellavedova sits on 1,807PTS. That’s 67PTS behind fellow Australian Daniel Kickert, which means that without a post-season appearance, Dellavedova must average greater than 11.0PPG in the last six games (four regular season games, two WCC post-season games). That seems realistic seeing as in the last six games, Dellavedova is averaging 14.1PPG, but at this stage of the season, you never know.
Along with this, if Dellavedova does perform well in the Tournament against the major basketball schools; it will give him the exposure that at this stage of the year is integral to boost his draft stocks; which have probably plummeted in the past month or so with sub-par shooting performances.
So essentially, it’s down to one game. Will Dellavedova lead his team to an inspiring win or will it be a case of so close yet so far for the Gaels? We’ll know on Sunday.