MORAGA — Randy Bennett isn’t going to apologize for winning 88 combined games in the past three seasons and only earning bids to two of the last three NCAA Tournaments.
Saint Mary’s failed to earn an at-large bid last year and in 2016, when it beat Gonzaga twice during the regular season and won a share of the WCC regular season title. The Bulldogs then beat the Gaels in the WCC Tournament title game and wound up losing in the Sweet 16 to Syracuse.
“Those were great seasons,” Bennett said Thursday after a team workout on Thursday in Moraga in reference to the 2016 and 2018 campaigns. “We won the league in 2016 and last year we won at Gonzaga. They were great seasons.”
But they didn’t end in the NCAA Tournament.
Saint Mary’s won a game in the field of 68 against VCU in 2017 and gave Arizona all it wanted in the Round of 32 before losing by nine.
How do the Gaels put themselves in a better position to get there moving forward?
It starts with a more aggressive non-conference schedule, something Bennett says he’ll try to moving forward, but hasn’t necessarily worked out recently in certain situations.
“We now measure every single decision when it comes to scheduling,” Bennett said. “We’re measuring the unknown because we don’t know how good teams are truly going to be. We started a series with Dayton when Archie Miller was there and wound up winning there two years ago and beat them at home last season. We scheduled Cal and won there last year — that was always a quality RPI opponent when Mike Montgomery was there and we started to work on the series. How do we get better games? I think a big part of it is some of the teams we scheduled were traditionally very good opponents and they weren’t last year. A big part of it too is our conference RPI wasn’t strong last year.”
Saint Mary’s will be more aggressive than it’s been in 18-19 prior to WCC play.
The Gaels will host Cal, Harvard, Bucknell, and UC Irvine while playing road games at Conference-USA favorite Western Kentucky and defending WAC champion New Mexico State. There’s also neutral site games against LSU — a preseason Top 25 team — in Las Vegas and another one against New Mexico at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Gaels will also open the MGM Grand Main Event Tournament against Utah State and then play either Arizona State or Mississippi State in the next round.
“We study all of this hard,” Bennett said in regards to putting together a challenging non-conference schedule. “A lot of it is out of your control and you learn that by going through what we’ve gone through the past few years. I think our RPI over the past three seasons is 19th in the country — that says something.”
With so much talk about scheduling, many don’t focus on what Saint Mary’s is replacing.
The Gaels lose All-American big man Jock Landale, steady point guard Emmett Naar, and versatile forward Calvin Hermanson. Returning guards Jordan Ford and Tanner Krebs are back and figure to anchor things in all areas.
No other returning player in Saint Mary’s program averaged double-figure minutes, but Bennett is hopeful that guys like Jock Perry, Elijah Thomas, Jordan Hunter, and South Florida transfer Malik Fitts can help fill the gaps. Seattle grad transfer Aaron Menzies also figures to have a role along with Latvian guard Kristers Zoriks.
“Ford showed last year what he can do,” Bennett said of the 6-1 guard, who averaged 11.1 points in 17-18. “And Krebs will go back to his normal position on the wing next season. After that though, we’ve got to figure it out.”
Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FRS Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.
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