Team of the Week: St. Mary’s Gaels
As I wrote back on Saturday night, St. Mary’s has now ended Gonzaga’s run at the top of the WCC. For the first time since Pepperdine won the outright regular season title in 2000, Gonzaga will not be claiming a share of the WCC championship this season. That credit falls squarely on the shoulders of St. Mary’s, who went into Portland and won by 27 points and followed that up with a win at San Francisco on Saturday, something that Gonzaga wasn’t able to do this year.
But the reason that St. Mary’s is the Team of the Week this week has is more than the simple fact that they won the WCC. The Gaels look like they have fully turned their season back around. This is a program that has developed a bit of a reputation of choking down the stretch. It happened the year they lost Patty Mills to a hand injury and it happened last season, as St. Mary’s gave away the regular season title, lost in the WCC tournament and went to the NIT. With two losses in three games in WCC play and a 14 point drubbing at Murray State in WCC play, it looked like that was the way this season was heading as well. The Gaels did well to quell those thoughts with two road wins this week.
Teams deserving a shoutout:
St. John’s: The Johnnies are playing this season with a roster that goes about six deep. They’ve two players leave the team in the middle of the season. Their entire roster is freshmen with the exception of God’sGift Achiuwa. Their head coach has been battling cancer. And despite all of it, this is a team that is not only competing with the top of the Big East, they are beating them. Ask Notre Dame, who went into the Garden, shot 4-31 from three and lost. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better duo of freshmen that D’angelo Harrison and Moe Harkless. I don’t know how long they are going to last at the collegiate level, but if they hang around for another year or (hopefully) two, St. John’s will have a bright future.
Iowa State: Heading into their game against Kansas State on Saturday, the Cyclones weren’t exactly in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. But with games against both Baylor and Missouri to close out the regular season, there was a very real chance that ISU could be headed into the postseason on a three-game losing streak. Lose a fourth in a row in the first round of the Big 12 tournament and, well, that’s how teams play their way out of the dance. But thanks to 29 points from Scott Christopherson, ISU was able to beat the Wildcats in the Octagon of Doom and all-but lock up a bid to the big dance. Royce White was terrific in the two games — Iowa State also beat Texas Tech — as usual. He averaged 11.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg and 7.5 rpg.
Memphis: Last Saturday, Memphis lost at home to UTEP after blowing a 13 point lead. It was ugly. So Josh Pastner took his player’s names off of the back of their uniforms, and he got exactly the response he was looking for. After a 70-47 beat down of East Carolina, Memphis went into Huntington, WV, and beat Marshall — a team that still had some hope of making the NCAA Tournament — by 20. I have to give some love to Will Barton here. In two games last week, he averaged 24.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 4.0 apg and 3.0 spg. He’s one of the most underrated players in the country and probably deserving of heavy all-american consideration.
Penn: The Quakers finally did it. They erased a late, nine-point deficit against Ivy favorite Harvard, knocking off the Crimson and moving into a tie for first place in the Ivy standings. Assuming both teams win out — as they should — we will once again have a playoff for the Ivy’s automatic bid. Last year’s game was sensational, but it also cost Harvard a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Will the same happen this year?
Alabama: I gotta be honest: I did not expect to have to be concerned about Alabama this late in the season. When your best player gets kicked off the team, your second-best player is suspended for a lengthy period of time and two more starters are sent home from a road-trip, its not exactly like things are going well. But the Crimson Tide have bounced back. With JaMychal Green back in the lineup on Saturday, Anthony Grant’s club steamrolled Mississippi State just three days after going into Fayetteville and knocking off Arkansas. Alabama has now won three in a row and six of their last eight. I think its safe to say the Tide is back.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.