In the Saint Mary’s men’s locker room there is a sign. The sign lists all of their goals for the upcoming year. The main one: win all home games.
Win. All. Home. Games.
The last two years, Saint Mary’s has come close to achieving that goal. In 2011-2012, the Gaels defeated Northern Iowa, Weber State, BYU, and Gonzaga en route to losing their very last home game to LMU – the game which Steven Holt injured his knee and Matthew Dellavedova missed significant time that allowed the Lions to take over the game.
Last year, Saint Mary’s lost to #3 ranked Gonzaga on Valentines, blowing a one point half time advantage.
This year? Well. This could be the year. The Gaels have one of the most athletic teams they can ever remember, and they believe that they can improve on their season last year. Winning all the home games will certainly go a long way to achieving that. What follows is a list of home games, with my comments and a grade of difficulty (1 being the lowest, 5 being the toughest).
The First Four:
- Louisiana Tech – The Bulldogs return 11 players (4 starters) from last years team, that infamously imploded at the end of the year. Picked to finish first in Conference USA, LA Tech could easily be an NCAA Tournament team. However, with this game being the first game for Saint Mary’s and being played on Friday night, McKeon Pavillion will be rocking as this is one of the best-attended games on the schedule. Degree of difficulty: 4
- Akron – Another potential NCAA tournament team. If the 2011 ESPN Tip-Off game vs. Northern Iowa is an indication, Akron could have trouble adjusting to the late start. However, I don’t expect much of the alumni to show up, so the student section will have to be extra loud. Degree of difficulty: 3
- North Dakota State – Yet another potential NCAA tournament team. The Bison returns 97% of its scoring back from last years squad and feature three of the best players in the Summit League. Degree of difficulty: 3.
- Drake – With a new coach and one of its best players transferring (Joey King to Minessota), this will be a tough game for Drake to win on the road. Degree of difficulty: 2
The Warm Up:
I only call this the Warm Up because following the Dec. 19 tilt vs. American Univeristy, the Gaels play six straight games in four different states.
- Alcorn State – Picked to finish 9/10 in SWAC. Degree of difficulty: 1.
- Murray State – Despite losing Isaiah Canaan, Murray State should win the Western division of Ohio Valley conference. However, not returning its top three scorers will hurt the Racers. Degree of difficulty: 2.
- Eastern Washington – Degree of difficulty: 1
- American University – Degree of difficulty: 1
Following 3 road games to start the WCC slate, the Gaels have five consecutive home games – all during Jan Term.
- Santa Clara – The Broncos have played Saint Mary’s well of late, and I never underestimate them. Despite USA Today picking them to finish dead last this year in conference play, I think this will still be a tough game. Degree of difficulty: 3.
- San Francisco – Cody Doolin & Cole Dickerson vs. Jordan Guisti & Beau Levesque. Something tells me that this will be a frustrating game for the two of them. Bigger question: what are the odds Rex Walters gets a stupid technical? Degree of difficulty: 3.
- Pacific – First visit by the Tigers to McKeon Pavillion as members of the WCC. Interesting to see what team we will see: the one that upset the Gaels in Anaheim, or the one that got run out of Moraga a few weeks later? Degree of difficulty: 2.
- Pepperdine – With Lorne Jackson graduating and Jordan Baker tranferring, Marty Wilson will come to Moraga without his top two scorers from last year. Degree of difficulty: 1.
- Loyola Marymount – Like Pacific, which team will we see: the WCC Tournament cinderellas or the 1-15 WCC Regular Season bottom-feeders? No matter what, Anthony Ireland vs Jordan Guisti is a must watch. Degree of difficulty: 3.
- San Diego – The Toreros put up a fight against the Gaels in the WCC Tournament semi-finals, yet got blown out 81-48 in Moraga last year (and it wasn’t even that close, SMC led 42-19 at the half). However, Johnee Dee and Christopher Anderson are never a tough out. Degree of difficulty: 3.
- BYU – Saint Mary’s will have already visited Provo by the time this game rolls around, and we won’t be able to tell who would need this win more. If the Gaels can win in Provo for the third year in a row, then a win at home will surely put them square in contention for the crown with the Zags. Will be interesting to see how top recruit Eric Mika replaces Brandon Davies, who was loved by the McKeon crowd for his Hollywood worthy flops. Degree of difficulty: 4.
- Portland – This game is only tough because the Pilots come into town two days before Senior Night against Gonzaga. I can’t see Randy Bennett letting his team sleep on Portland. Degree of difficulty: 2.
- Gonzaga – Senior night. National television. Saturday night. Possibly for all the marbles. Degree of difficulty: 5.
If the Gaels were to get a perfect home slate, they could potentially have beaten five NCAA Tournament Teams and won a total of 17 games. By holding serve at home, Saint Mary’s could afford road losses at Boise State, Gonzaga, and BYU and still be NCAA tournament worthy. McKeon faithful will show up in numbers for every game this year. It’s time for the Gaels to win all those games.