The Status of Saint Mary’s

Looking ahead to the 2015-16 season, there is unequivocally no team in the West Coast Conference taking a bigger blow to the gut than the Saint Mary’s Gaels. Previously boasting a roster (and starting five) that was stockpiled with seniors, head coach Randy Bennett currently finds himself with a mere seven players composing this SMC squad.

As was reported earlier, the Gaels recently completed their additions to the coaching staff with the hiring of David Carter and Danny Yoshikawa. With that out of the way, all of the attention now turns to the composition of a larger and more competitive group of players. Randy Bennett’s success during this offseason will be absolutely vital  for the Gaels’ upcoming season, as the rest of the WCC certainly isn’t getting any weaker.

Regardless, the first name that stands out on Saint Mary’s current abbreviated roster is sophomore guard Emmett Naar. Bennett better be counting his blessings that Naar is only in his second year of eligibility, as he’s one of the few consistent contributors from the ’14-15 squad. The six-foot-one guard from Sydney, Australia averaged 6.3 points and 3.9 assists per game after a redshirt freshman year and appeared for the Gaels in 30 of their 31 contests. He ranked fourth in the WCC in three point percentage, made the WCC All-Freshman team and had a number of standout performances against the likes of Pepperdine, San Diego, and BYU.

With both Aaron Bright and Kerry Carter having played their final games in a Saint Mary’s uniform, the light will now shine on Naar as he looks to etch his name into a long list of Aussies that have found success in Moraga. Fortunately for Emmett, he’ll have some reinforcements behind the arc. Next season, Saint Mary’s adds Boston College transfer, Joe Rahon. This is exactly the kind of addition Randy Bennett was looking for, as Rahon averaged 9.6 points and 3.5 assists per game as a point guard with the Eagles and will make bountiful contributions for a Gaels team in need of scoring and depth. Even more, during his two years with Boston College, Rahon led the team in assists and is regarded as a nice distributor with an impressive assist/turnover ratio.

Feb 16, 2014; Chestnut Hill, MA, USA; Boston College Eagles guard Joe Rahon (25) shoots a free throw during the second half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Silvio O. Conte Forum. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Working alongside Naar and Rahon is sophomore forward Calvin Hermanson, who averaged 2.5 points and 8.3 minutes for the Gaels in 2014-15. Like Naar, Hermanson started out his career at Saint Mary’s as a redshirt freshman, eventually becoming a solid contributor for SMC in his first full year of action. He played crucial roles for the Gaels in numerous games throughout the season and holds a key ingredient for Saint Mary’s in his ability to stretch the floor and knock down a triple.

Completing the Gaels’ roster is sophomore center Jock Landale (2.1 PPG, had an impressive outing against Gonzaga), junior forward Dane Pineau (3.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG), freshman center Evan Fitzner (redshirt in ’14-15), and junior guard Jack Biebel (junior college transfer who did not record a point last season).

And, well… there you go. This is where Saint Mary’s roster currently stands. There are some strong pieces in Naar, Rahon, Hermanson, and even Landale, but I think it’s fair to say that SMC’s coaching staff has their work cut out for them this offseason. They’re going to require quite a presence on the transfer market and in the recruitment of talented youngsters to compose the future of this program if they want to compete in ’15-16.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Remember those sanctions that Saint Mary’s was hit with back in 2013 for disregarding the NCAA’s rules for recruiting international players? Right, well as it turns out, those probations are still in effect and will be rather detrimental for the Gaels’ rebuilding plans.

As it was last year, the Gaels’ number of available basketball scholarships has been reduced from 13 to 11, which is particularly painful for a team that has lost so many key players to graduation and, in Andy Katz’s words, doesn’t have an overwhelming stockpile of talent heading into next year.

More so, Randy Bennett cannot go on a foreign tour until 2017-18.

But, looking at a silver lining here, many of the sanctions handed to Saint Mary’s have passed, including their omission from multi-team events as well as Bennett’s ability to recruit off campus. So are these prohibitions going to send Saint Mary’s into a spiraling downfall of mediocrity and disappointment? No. But are they going to cap the Gaels’ depth and chances at landing high-profile recruits? You bet.

And this is especially frustrating for SMC given the high caliber of fellow West Coast Conference foes in 2015-16. Gonzaga boasts possibly the best front court in all of college basketball with the return of Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis. BYU loses Tyler Haws but brings back Mr. Triple Double in Kyle Collinsworth, sharp-shooting Chase Fischer, freshman Nick Emery (watch out for this kid), and Nate Austin returns from injury to bolster the front court.

And then there’s Pepperdine. The WCC underdog that will teach a valuable lesson to any team that dares to overlook them next year. Stacy Davis, Jett Raines, Jeremy Major and co. all return to a Waves squad that consistently hung out with the big boys of the West Coast Conference last year. And unlike everyone else, Pepperdine returns every player from their ’14-15 team. The Waves are going to be making quite a splash (ha!) in the WCC next year.

And this is why this offseason will be so crucial for Randy Bennett. Saint Mary’s is going to have to lock up some strong additions to compete in the West Coast Conference, which will be especially difficult given their restrictions in scholarships.

However, we’ve seen Bennett in positions similar to this before, and the guy certainly knows how to come up big in a difficult situation. Though this small, but promising, group of athletes composes the Gaels’ current makeup, there will be changes aplenty before college basketball season is here. All eyes are on Bennett and his staff, as their decisions and additions will shape the future of Saint Mary’s basketball.