” If you lose the last game of the season, nobody gives a sh*t,” Billy Beane, Moneyball.
For the Saint Mary’s Gaels, the NIT could be a footnote in a crummy season. A loss at home to Utah would be just another tick in the loss column. The book would be closed. A win and then a loss against (most-likely) Minnesota, and then it would be a 23-12 season where the decorated Senior Class managed to win the last home game they would ever play at McKeon Pavillion. A run to Madison Square Garden, similar to BYU’s last year? Well, that could provide for a great distraction during March Madness and would keep the Gaels streak of 25 wins a year alive for another year. A win in the NIT Tournament would show to the Nation that even in a down year, the Saint Mary’s Gaels are still no pushover.
The Opposition: Utah Utes (21-11,9-9).
Utah has been a force at home, beating tournament teams such as UCLA, BYU, Colorado, and Arizona State. They lost to Arizona by four at home, and they only lost by one to tournament bound Stanford. The reason they missed out on the tournament? Only two of their 21 wins came on the road. Losses to Boise State, Washington, and Washington State hurt them early in the season. Three straight losses to Arizona State, Arizona, and Colorado put them in a hole that they couldn’t recover from. Their only two road wins came at USC and at Cal. Due to a poor OOC schedule and a poor road record, the Utes find themselves coming to Moraga. They are led by All-Pac 12 PG Delon Wright and feature a deep bench. They aren’t a threat from the outside, but do have the bigs to dominate the Gaels. If Waldow and Hodgson can stay out of foul trouble, the Gaels could hold off Utah on defense.
Key Matchup: Stephen Holt vs. Delon Wright.
Will the real Stephen Holt please stand up? After going off against Santa Clara, Stephen Holt was held in check by Gonzaga as the Gaels were unable to defeat their rivals on Senior Night and in Las Vegas. If the Gaels have any chance of reaching Madison Square Garden, they will need Stephen Holt to hit shots and hit many. When plays need to be made, he should be able to stray away from the offense, and make something happen.
Prediction: Saint Mary’s holds off Utah, 75-63. Carter has 15 points.