We’re barely two weeks into the college basketball season and No. 21 Saint Mary’s has all-but assured that they are going to need to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to get to the NCAA tournament.
On Friday, the Gaels were upset by Washington State, a team that has been a surprise in the early going of this season but that was picked to finish at the bottom of the Pac-12. On Sunday, Saint Mary’s lost in overtime to a Georgia team that will be lucky if they end up sniffing the NCAA tournament this year.
Generally speaking, losses like that are rarely the death knell of a team that gets picked in the preseason top 25, but Saint Mary’s is not a typical top 25 team.
The Gaels not only play in the WCC – where quality wins in league play only come from one other place, Gonzaga – but they routinely put together a non-conference schedule that is no where near what the selection committee wants to see. There’s a real argument to make that the two best teams left on Saint Mary’s’ non-conference schedule is a Dayton team that is reloading under Anthony Grant and has already lost Hofstra and Old Dominion. They play at Cal, who is horrid this year and lost to UC Riverside in their opener before getting smacked around by Division II Chaminade. UNC Asheville and UC Irvine are the only two teams with a real shot of getting to the NCAA tournament, and both of them are going to need to win their mid-major automatic bid.
It’s not impossible, mind you.
If the Gaels run the table, pick up at least one win against Gonzaga and don’t lose to any other non-Gonzaga opponents, they’ll have an argument. But in a day and age where the selection committee values the quality of wins over a win-loss record and puts a great deal of stock into non-conference scheduling, that still seems like a longshot.