St. Mary’s at Gonzaga, 9:00 PM Eastern (ESPN2)
As we head into the New Year and regular season conference play is starting to get under way in most leagues, we also welcome the Gonzaga Bulldogs back to the SCGD. The Zags have become a national power with 15 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and a perennial Top 25 ranking. This had been more than enough for them to no longer qualify as a small conference/mid-major team. However, the 2013-14 season has been far from typical for Gonzaga and therefore the SCGD will be featuring them in their first of two rivalry games against Saint Mary’s tonight.
Gonzaga enters tonight’s game at 12-2 overall with a top 25 KenPom and RPI rating. Looking closer at their resume, however, shows a complete lack of quality non-conference wins. The Zags beat Arkansas in Hawai’i, won at West Virginia and beat New Mexico State at home. Those are not Top 25 and may not even be top 50 wins — the types of wins needed by a team that wants a high seed and the security of not needing to win its conference tournament to get into the NCAA field. The Zags just lost one of their key players, Gary Bell, to injury as well. They struggled in their conference opener to beat Santa Clara, though they dominated San Francisco in their second WCC game of the year.
St. Mary’s started the season 9-0 and was on our radar here as potentially the best team in the West Coast Conference and an at-large bid contender. Then came the Diamond Head Classic in Hawai’i..an event they lost all 3 games in to destroy all good will they had built before then. They did bounce back Monday night to knock off a pretty good Pacific team on the road, so hopefully the Gaels can maintain their momentum from that win as they head into the Kennel tonight. Tonight is also the second game the Gaels will be playing without head coach Randy Bennett who is serving a suspension for his team’s first five league games this season.