Jan. 13, 2005
By Matt Doherty
Special to CollegeSports.com
You'd have to look hard to find a more compelling story in college basketball than the resurgence of Saint Mary's.
After all, it wasn't long ago -- four seasons, to be exact -- that the Gaels were among the worst teams in the country, stumbling to a 2-27 record. A 71-63 victory over Cal Santa Barbara was the small Catholic school's only win against a Division I opponent.
But over the past half-decade, Saint Mary's has seen its RPI steadily climb from 314, to 257, to 140, to 106, to -- this year so far -- 47. They won 19 games last season to tie for second in the West Coast Conference standings, and played Gonzaga close in the conference tournament quarters. Their absence from the NIT was among the most notable postseason snubs of last March.
This year, they've returned seven of their top nine players and have sprinted out to a 15-4 record. Victories over then-No. 11 Gonzaga, UNLV and Air Force have created quite a buzz on the tiny
SMC head coach Randy Bennett -- who got his start under current
Kickert and Oakland-born Paul Marigney -- both all-WCC last year -- form one of the league's most potent one-two combos. E.J. Rowland, another
Under Bennett, the Gaels play a hard-nosed brand of basketball -- half-court sets and tight man-to-man defense have become the rule. SMC leads the conference in scoring defense (surrendering 59.2 points per game) and field goal percentage defense (.409). Their 3.89 blocked shots per game is also a conference-best.
What's more, Saint Mary's ascendance has seemed to mirror the steady improvement of the eight-team West Coast Conference. The WCC is currently ranked seventh in Conference RPI -- tops among teams outside the Big Six -- ahead of Conference
Following a Jan. 15 date with
Matt's Last Column: Five For '05
Matt Doherty is an analyst for men's college basketball on CSTV and contributes to CollegeSports.com on a weekly basis. Doherty was previously the head coach at the
SMC's Brett Collins