Randy Bennett has been the head coach for the Saint Mary’s Gaels for the last 22 seasons. And, likely, he’s never had a team as good as he has right now. The Gaels, at 25-6, have beaten their hated rivals from Gonzaga (losing in the rematch) and took the Houston Cougars right to the brink, successful in imposing their slow pace.
Some BetOnline customers think they might be ready to make a move in the NCAA Tournament. Bennett has gotten SMC as far as the Sweet 16 only once, but that could change. There is no doubt that Saint Mary’s will be at least an at-large team, which is a departure from previous seasons, when they had to sweat things out because the West Coast Conference was rather lightly-regarded.
On Monday night, the Gaels will face off against the BYU Cougars, who are desperate to make their own mark. BYU (19-14) is in a position where it will have to win the WCC tourney to force itself into the Big Dance, but they have come close to beating the conference leaders, losing one-point decisions to both Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. And they will try to make a case for themselves at the Orleans Arena, just off the Las Vegas Strip, in a 9 PM ET start.
BYU’s signature win this season is a victory over nationally-ranked Creighton, but having double-digit losses to Pepperdine and Utah Valley is a red flag of sorts. They have had to play their way through to this point in the conference tournament, with wins over Portland and Loyola Marymount.
Saint Mary’s drew a bye into the semis, but they are coming off a 77-68 loss to Gonzaga on Saturday. They aim to test BYU’s patience, force poor shots, and then shut down the glass.
In the West Coast Conference basketball odds on this semifinal game, Saint Mary’s is the favorite:
Saint Mary’s Gaels -6.5
BYU Cougars +6.5
Over 131 Points -110
Under 131 Points -110
BYU is sloppy with the ball, ranking 312th in turnover percentage, and that’s something that has to be better. But Saint Mary’s isn’t necessarily the team that will kill them with fast breaks. Out of the 363 teams in Division I ball, they are 359th when it comes to Adjusted Tempo. In other words, they want to operate very slowly and deliberately.
When they met up with Houston, now the #1 team in the nation, earlier in the season, they found a team that played at a pace much to their linking, and they were able to contain the Cougars to the point where they lost just a 53-48 decision. They have beaten San Diego State, a west coast power, along the way, and they also have a win over Gonzaga.
Saint Mary’s defends. They have surrendered just 44.8% from the two-point range, which means something here because the Cougars don’t go wild with triples. And since they are second-best in the nation in defensive rebounding, they do not allow second-chance opportunities very often. So finding ways to score won’t be the easiest thing for BYU.
On January 28, Saint Mary’s had five players in double figures in a 57-56 win. Dallin Hall, BYU’s freshman guard, had a season-high of 23 points, but he has scored in single digits in each of his last six games.
Interestingly, BYU hasn’t lost touch with many teams, even in defeat. They defend well too. We think this adds up to an under in this semifinal game which will keep the bettors at basketball betting sites hitched on their seats.
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