The Saint Mary's Gaels and Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders are set to duke it out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at UD Arena with a second-round date with the Memphis Tigers on the line in Midwest Regional action.
Saint Mary's is the only other West Coast Conference school other than Gonzaga in this year's field. The Gaels lost in the conference tournament championship game to the Zags to mark their third loss to the Bulldogs on the season, but they did manage to win all 15 of their other WCC games. Coach Randy Bennett's squad managed to take down NCAA Tournament qualifying programs Creighton, Harvard and Pacific during the regular season. The Gaels are led by senior point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who was the WCC Player of the Year a season ago.
SMC may be a man down after junior guard Jorden Page left the WCC title game with a knee injury. Dellavedova, who is the school's all-time leader in scoring, assists, 3-pointers and games played, still has plenty of help. Gathering in their share of dishes from Dellavedova are Stephen Holt (11.8 ppg) and Beau Levesque (10.7 ppg), the latter being a huge spark off the bench who has knocked down 47.6 percent of his 3-point tries. In the paint, the Gaels lean heavily on Brad Waldow (10.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Mitchell Young (7.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg), who are very good at demanding attention to free up the lane for the team's star point guard.
This will be the first meeting in history between these schools on the hardwood.
Middle Tennessee is not going to be an easy matchup for SMC. The Blue Raiders didn't lose two games in a row all season, a mark of consistency. They won 21 out of 22 games during one stretch, the only defeat coming in overtime at Arkansas State. Their tally of 11 road wins was the second most in the country.
Middle Tennessee was the Sun Belt Conference's best team in the standings this season but in the statistical battle as well, as the squad ranks first in the league in countless categories, including scoring offense (71.2 ppg), field goal percentage (.463), scoring defense (57.8 ppg), field goal percentage defense (.394) and rebounding margin (+6.0). Although the Blue Raiders have just one player who averages in double figures (Marcos Knight, 12.5 ppg), they rely on a true team effort game in and game out, as seven players net at least 6.3 ppg, and 11 pour in 2.5 ppg or more.