The St. Mary's Gaels finally broke through last season, ending Gonzaga's 11-year reign as West Coast Conference regular season champs by sitting atop the throne all by themselves. While the Gaels did receive some negative publicity in September when reports began to leak that the program was under investigation by the NCAA for undisclosed reasons, they return enough talent to make a repeat a real possibility.
Guard play will pace the Matthew Dellavedova-led St. Mary's team. Dellavedova spent the summer representing Australia at the 2012 Summer Olympics. The four-year starter has been an integral part of the Gaels' success with his ability to lead the offense but also light it up from deep. Jordan Paige bounced back from a season-ending knee injury to be a solid backcourt complement to Dellavedova, while Stephen Holt is a versatile wing capable of contributing in a variety of ways.
Randy Bennett also gets backcourt boost from Paul McCoy, who hasn't played in two seasons. He sat out the 2010-11 after transferring in from SMU and then missed all of last year due to a knee injury. McCoy can also run the point, if needed, which would allow Dellavedova to play off the ball and utilize his sharpshooting ability. JUCO transfer James Walker joins the program after spending his freshman year at Utah State to provide more depth at guard.
The frontcourt loses double-double machine Rob Jones and stretch four Clint Steindel. Brad Waldow will be relied upon to replace Jones' physicality down low, while Mitchell Young should see a more prominent role as well. Seven-footer Kyle Rowley and Tim Williams were seldom used a year ago, but should see larger roles off the bench. Matt Hodgson sat out last season after transferring in from Southern Utah and offers more size and strength inside. Beau Leauvesque, Eividas Petrulis, and Chris Reyes are each capable of playing either forward position, but might be hard pressed to earn minutes this season.
Bennett has St. Mary's on a rather impressive run of winning at least 25 games in each of the last five seasons. I still think Gonzaga is the team to beat in the WCC, and BYU will be in the conversation as well while Loyola Marymount could be a sleeper. Still, the 25-win plateau and return trip to the NCAA Tournament are both attainable goals.
Player to Watch: Matthew Dellavedova, PG
Barring injury, the Aussie is going to shatter the St. Mary's record books. He already owns the program record for career assists and will soon break the three-point mark as well. Becoming the Gaels' all-time leading scorer is well in reach as well. On top of that, Dellavedova already owns college basketball's goofiest mouthguard. (I kid.)
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/15 at Utah State
11/22 vs. Drexel (Anaheim Classic)
11/23 vs. Xavier/Pacific (Anaheim Classic)
11/24 vs. Cal/Drake/Georgia Tech/Rice (Anaheim Classic)