For many Gaels fans, this surely feels like a dream.
A year removed from getting snubbed from an at-large berth, Randy Bennett's team is getting all of its frustration out. Omar Samhan and Saint Mary's, the tiny Catholic school in California, kicked Villanova to the curb two days after Robert Morris nearly did it, winning 75-68 today in Providence.
SMC won thanks to a number of factors: Samhan's domination (32 points in 32 minutes on 13-of-16 shooting); Gaels guards Mickey McConnell (15 points) and Matthew Dellavedova (14) hitting clutch, difficult 3-pointers; and a poor final effort from once-clutch Villanova senior guard Scottie Reynolds, who went 2 for 11 and scored just eight points.
There was some magic with Mary's, and we've already got a great story to latch onto (before the weekend's even over! Plenty of double-digit seeds still remain!) for the next four days before the regionals begin. Samhan's got a big personality to match his game and stature, and he's quickly being joined by McConnell and Dellavedova as Saturday-night dinner topics.
This is a fun team with a lot of personality. Throw a double-digit number next to their name and you've got instant attraction and buzz that surrounds them.
Now people are asking: Is Saint Mary's a Cinderella? Hardly. The reasons are very clear why.
First of all knowing this, it's not so surprising that SMC got the job done. Seems 10-seeds are well-equipped to knock off their second-seeded foes in on Saturdays and Sundays. If you're too busy to click the link above, it shows that 10s have a 13-10 record against 2s since 1997.
Also, consider the fact Saint Mary's has effectively built a pipeline to Australia to bring recruits to California and build a team. There are five Aussies on the roster this season and there would be six had Patty Mills not left early for the NBA. Bennett is getting quality players that have played against talent that's often better than what a lot of homegrown players in the United States have gone against, and that's a huge advantage, especially playing in a smaller conference like the West Coast.
A third reason: The Gaels made the tournament two years ago and aren't unfamiliar to the scene. Even though the school may not have even made this year's field if it hadn't defeated Gonzaga in the WCC title game two weeks ago, that doesn't mean it's not tournament-quality. Bennett is guiding this program to be on the level of Gonzaga. He may be only one Elite Eight appearance away from garnering that perspective.
And a fourth: Going up against — and sometimes beating — Gonzaga shows the Gaels are no pushover. Gonzaga has been a legitimate program for a decade now. The Gaels' play against the Bulldogs proves Saint Mary's is a Cinderella only in name, not in DNA.
- Randy Bennett