Smiling St. Mary’s Set to Shine

Last Updated: March 25th, 2010 by Adam Markowitz (Bankroll Sports Columnist)

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You just have to love a guy who tells a reporter that he was a McDonald’s All-American, when in fact, he wasn’t a high school all star of any type.

But C Omar Samhan wasn’t lying to the reporter though. He promptly laughed and referred to the fact that he ate so much junk food that he was probably a few Big Macs shy of tipping the scale.

What we’ve learned in this tournament about the St. Mary’s Gaels is that this team is just fun to watch play basketball. Samhan is always smiling. It’s almost contagious. The team doesn’t seem to care about playing defense (but does it much better than we expect) and just wants to come back down the court and run some set offenses that either set up three point plays for one of the lethal sharpshooters or an easy post play for Samhan.

Forget about the fact that this team is out of the West Coast Conference or that it has a #10 attached to its name. St. Mary’s is no Cinderella. Just ask Samhan, who told the student body this week that the Gaels are going to come back to the West Coast with a National Championship in tote.

Unlikely? Probably. Impossible? Not nearly.

After all, take a look at just how strong this team really is. Offensively, the accolades could go on and on. St. Mary’s averages 79.4 points per game, shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from three point range. The Gaels rebound the basketball well at 34.2 boards per game and a +5.6 rebounding advantage on an average night. They shoot free throws well (76.2 percent as a team) and don’t turn the ball over all that much (11.3 times per game).

Don’t rest on this defense either. Yes, this was a team that played a West Coast Conference schedule, thus should have better numbers than the Dukes, Kansases, and Kentuckys of this world, but averaging 5.2 blocks and 5.1 steals per game is fantastic. So is the fact that teams only connect on 29.5 percent of their three point baskets against the Gaels.

So far in this tournament, we’ve seen the surreal and the sublime all at one time from this team. Many expected the WCC champs to bow out against #7 Richmond in Round 1 of the dance. Not only didn’t they go away, but they dominated as well. Don’t look at that 80-71 score line and think that this game was ever really in doubt, especially in the second half. If not for the fact that Samhan was in foul trouble most of the game, it probably would’ve been even uglier. The lead stretch out to almost 20 at times in the second stanza, and the big man finished with 29 points and 12 boards.

Yes, #2 Villanova looked awful against #15 Robert Morris to the point where it nearly got upset on the opening day of March Madness, but there was no way that the Wildcats were going to get bounced by these upstarts from St. Mary’s, right?


Samhan delivered 32 more points, and G Matthew Dellavedova delivered one of the most remarkable plays of the tourney when he banked in a three pointer as the shot clock was expiring to help issue the dagger to the Big East behemoths.

Now, there’s a new challenge. The Toyota Center awaits the Gaels on Friday night, as they take on the Big XII’s #3 Baylor Bears. The Bears are largely accepted as one of the most talented teams in the nation, and they provide a totally different type of test than either Richmond or Villanova presented. Baylor is going to run up and down the court with the Gaels, a style that they aren’t afraid to play as well. F Ekpe Udoh is going to be the first true big man that Samhan has to run up against.

So once again, the small school boys from St. Mary’s… this bunch of Aussies and fellow international players that have come together to make some mish mosh of athletes… has its chance to shine. Imagine if G Paddy Mills hadn’t left school early to jump to the NBA just how frightening this team would be…

One thing is for certain about the Gaels, win or lose. No one is going to take away their charisma. If there’s an award in this tournament for having the biggest heart and the most passion for the game, the WCC champions would win it.

Instead, don’t be surprised if they take another step towards the Final Four on Friday night.

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Posted in NCAA Basketball - Last Updated on Thursday, March 25th, 2010 @ 7:01 am (EST)
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