Best of the West: Saint Mary’s tracking for (another) NCAA bid after early stumbles

Best of the West: Saint Mary’s tracking for (another) NCAA bid after early stumbles

The Best of the West rankings examine the top teams across the Mountain and Pacific Times Zones. They will be published in this space each Wednesday through the conclusion of the regular season.

Saint Mary’s is not the best team in the west, but the Gaels just might possess the most unusual resume in the Western Hemisphere.


— Their non-conference results include losses to Weber State and Missouri State, which are struggling in the Big Sky and Missouri Valley conferences, respectively.

— They dropped three consecutive games in November, failing to score 60 points each time.

— On Dec. 1, after a home loss to Boise State, the Gaels were 3-5 and headed to the worst season since the early years of longtime coach Randy Bennett’s wildly successful tenure.

But after all those early stumbles, the Gaels found their footing.

They have won 13 of their past 14 games and are alone atop the West Coast Conference with a 7-0 mark in league play and a showdown at Gonzaga looming Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN).

Also, the Gaels have climbed the NET rankings — all the way to No. 22.

The lofty position doesn’t make complete sense. The Gaels are, for instance, the only team ranked in the top 40 that owns two Quadrant III losses.

But in the Pomeroy efficiency ratings, the Gaels are 30th.

In CBS Sports’ latest NCAA Tournament projections, they are deemed a No. 9 seed.

In the ESPN version, they project as a No. 10.

Their recovery from that ghastly November is two-thirds unexpected, three-quarters circuitous and 100 percent based on an airtight defense that ranks 12th nationally in the Pomeroy efficiency metrics.

Here they are, back on familiar ground — tracking for the 10th NCAA appearance of Bennett’s tenure with a showdown in Spokane awaiting.

To the Best of the West …

Also considered: Eastern Washington, Grand Canyon, San Francisco, Santa Clara, UC Irvine and Utah

1. Arizona (15-5/6-3 Pac-12)

Last week: 1
Results: lost at Oregon State 83-80, won at Oregon 87-78
NET ranking: No. 3
Next up: vs. Cal (Thursday)
Comment: Based on the current NET, the Wildcats have just two more chances to collect Quadrant I victories (the trips to Colorado and Utah next week) prior to the Pac-12 tournament. Win both, and they would be 7-3 in Quad 1 matchups. Good enough for a No. 1 seed? It’s close.

2. Brigham Young (15-5/3-4 Big 12)

Last week: 3
Results: beat Texas 84-72
NET ranking: No. 6
Next up: at West Virginia (Saturday)
Comment: The Cougars are currently tied for ninth in the Big 12 with two other newcomers (UCF and Cincinnati). If they hold that position through the regular season, we’d consider Year 1 a success regardless of their fate in the conference tournament and NCAAs

3. Colorado State (16-5/4-4 MW)

Last week: 2
Results: lost at Nevada 77-64 and Wyoming 79-76, beat San Diego State 79-71
NET ranking: No. 32
Next up: at Fresno State (Saturday)
Comment: If the Rams reach the middle of February in range of first place, they just might grab the No. 1 seed in the MW tournament. The schedule eases considerably down the stretch.

4. New Mexico (18-3/6-2 MW)

Last week: 5
Results: won at San Jose State 95-75, beat Nevada 89-55
NET ranking: No. 16
Next up: vs. Boise State (Wednesday)
Comment: That’s five consecutive victories as the Lobos won the road games (Air Force and San Jose State) they were supposed to win. Which will mean more later than it does now.

5. San Diego State (16-5/5-3 MW)

Last week: 4
Results: lost at Colorado State 79-71
NET ranking: No. 23
Next up: vs. Utah State (Saturday)
Comment: The Aztecs were sharper from 3-point range in Fort Collins than in either of their two previous MW road losses (New Mexico and Boise State), but their defense was missing in action as CSU shot 54 percent from the field.

6. Utah State (19-2/7-1)

Last week: 10
Results: won at Boise State 90-84, beat San Jose State 82-61
NET ranking: No. 20
Next up: at San Diego State (Saturday)
Comment: Our initial doubts, fueled by the Aggies’ soft non-conference schedule, have been completely erased. They are a top-tier MW title contender alongside the Aztecs, Broncos and Lobos.

7. Oregon (14-6/6-3 Pac-12)

Last week: 7
Results: beat ASU 80-61, lost to Arizona 87-78
NET ranking: No. 55
Next up: at USC (Thursday)
Comment: Guard Keeshawn Barthelemy hasn’t been definitively ruled out for the remainder of the season, but the situation is trending that way after the gruesome lower leg injury suffered Saturday against Arizona.

8. Gonzaga (16-5/7-1 WCC)

Last week: 8
Results: beat San Francisco 77-72, won at Pacific 82-73, beat LMU 92-58
NET ranking: No. 26
Next up: vs. Saint Mary’s (Saturday)
Comment: If you’re curious: The Zags have won nine of the past 11 duels with SMC; and their last home loss to the Gaels was in the 2017-18 season.

Related Articles

College Sports |

College football 2024: Winners and losers from a wild spin of the coaching carousel

College Sports |

Breaking down the 2024 Big 12 football schedule: Catch Utah or else

College Sports |

Pac-12 WBB roundup: Oregon State’s sweep, Brink’s return highlight weekend action

College Sports |

Pac-12 MBB power ratings: Arizona on top as road teams struggle

College Sports |

Pac-12 MBB rewind: Pope leads OSU, WSU sweeps and Love shines

9. Colorado (15-6/6-4 Pac-12)

Last week: 9
Results: won at Washington 98-81, lost at WSU 78-69
NET ranking: No. 31
Next up: at Utah (Saturday)
Comment: CU’s position in the NCAA at-large pool feels more tenuous than its NET ranking suggests due to a 3-6 record away from home and a 1-3 mark in Quad I games.

10. Saint Mary’s (16-6/7-0 WCC)

Last week: 12
Results: beat Pacific 76-28 and LMU 70-65
NET ranking: No. 22
Next up: at Gonzaga (Saturday)
Comment: We should mention a key component to SMC’s lofty NET ranking: An undefeated (5-0) record on the road, which includes wins at Colorado State and San Francisco.

11. Boise State (14-6/5-2 MW)

Last week: 11
Results: lost to Utah State 90-84
NET ranking: No. 55
Next up: at New Mexico (Wednesday)
Comment: As if the trip to Albuquerque wasn’t tough enough, the Broncos are back on the road next week with trips to CSU and Utah State. Win one of the three, and the grueling stretch feels like a victory.

12. Washington State (15-6/6-4 Pac-12)

Last week: Not ranked
Results: beat Utah 79-57 and Colorado 78-69
NET ranking: No. 42
Next up: at Washington (Saturday)
Comment: For all their recent success in Pac-12 play, the Cougars cannot outrun a non-conference schedule that ranks 320th in the Pomeroy metrics (out of 362 teams) — and is unlikely to change materially between now and Selection Sunday.

*** Send suggestions, comments and tips (confidentiality guaranteed) to [email protected] or call 408-920-5716

*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline

*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.