As the days until March Madness fly by, it’s time to take a look at some of the Cinderella teams that have a great chance at making a run in the big dance. One of these teams is right here in California – the Saint Mary’s Gaels.
While the Gaels ended the season ranked No. 17, they’re often overlooked. Even though they don’t have the flashy name recognition like UCLA or USC, Saint Mary’s is right up there in terms of skill level – and may actually have a great chance at making a run in this year’s tournament.
While California residents won’t be able to bet on Saint Marys this year, they will have a chance to change that come election season. There will be a proposal on the ballot this coming November that would legalize sportsbooks, roulette, and dice games.
Here are five things you need to know about this Gael’s squad before March Madness kicks off.
#1: Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships
Throughout the 2021-22 season, the Gaels have had one of the best defenses in the nation. Their 60.5 points allowed per game puts them 10th nationally.
You really wouldn’t be able to tell how imposing they are on defense by just looking at the roster. They possess no dominating height in their frontcourt, and they’re not incredibly adept at rebounding the ball, either.
However, the amount of pressure they apply on defense is truly their trademark.
The Gaels were able to hold their opponent to under 60 points in 16 of their 32 games, and were even able to hold No. 1 ranked Gonzaga to 57 points earlier this season. While their success on the defensive side of the ball does not necessarily translate to offense, it’ll be interesting to see how it fares on the world’s biggest stage.
#2: There’s no place like home
For the first time in program history, the Saint Mary’s Gaels finished the season undefeated at home. The milestone couldn’t have come with a better finish, either, as the game to seal off the record was a win over the No. 1 team in the nation, Gonzaga.
While this does not do much for their March Madness chances, it could be an interesting prospect to keep an eye on–especially since there are games scheduled to be played in their home state of California. Sure, Saint Mary’s is located in Moraga, and the games are scheduled eight hours away in San Diego–but who doesn’t love a mid-March trip down the coast?
The Gaels would have to be extremely lucky a receive a draw that allows them to play in San Diego in the first place. However, if there was ever an environment to make a ‘home away from home,’ that might be the spot.
#3: Good luck getting to the line
One of the factors I look at when picking a March Madness game is a team’s efficiency and effectiveness from the free–throw line. The amount of time a team goes to the line is oftentimes the difference between winning and losing the game.
Unfortunately for opponents of the Gaels, those “free points” will have to be hard-earned. The Gaels only send their opponent to the line around 13 times a game. That’s the 18th-lowest amount in the country, so if you want to score against this Gaels team, you’ll probably have to do it the hard way.
#4: Protect Matthias Tass at all costs
Matthias Tass, the senior forward from Estonia, has his fingerprints all over this Saint Mary’s season. He’s among the top three on the team in all significant statistical categories:
- First in points per game (12.6)
- First in rebounds per game (6.0)
- Third in assists per game (2.0)
Lots of the offense seems to flow through him. If he goes down with an injury or illness things might not be so easy for the Gael’s going forward.
Although they lost the game, Tass was integral in Saint Mary’s WCC Tournament Final game against the Bulldogs, where he held Freshman phenom, Chet Holmgren, to only 8 points on 33.3% shooting.
#5: The Gaels are historically unsuccessful at the Big Dance
Saint Mary’s has made 10 tournament appearances, and have a combined record of just 5-10 through those games. Their most recent showing was in 2019, where they lost in the first round to No. 6 seed Villanova, 61-57.
The furthest they’ve made it in recent history was the Sweet Sixteen in 2010. As a No. 10 seed, the Gaels were able to upsetRichmond and Villanova on their way to the Sweet Sixteen. A loss to #3 Baylor would eventually end the Cinderella run for the Gaels.
One difference for this year’s Gaels teams is that they will most likely be receiving their highest-ever seed in program history. This means they could play easier games earlier in the tournament. This could give them a chance to establish themselves before they have to play tougher competition.