GAME NOTES: The Saint Mary's Gaels hope to keep their national championship hopes alive as they tangle with the sixth-seeded Memphis Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
This will be just the second meeting in history between these schools. Memphis won the first meeting in 2004 to build a slight series edge. The winner will advance to take on the victor of the Michigan State/Valparaiso tilt in the Midwest Region's next round.
Saint Mary's advanced to the round of 64 as it coasted to a 67-54 decision over Middle Tennessee in the first round in Dayton on Tuesday. SMC is the only other West Coast Conference school other than Gonzaga in this year's field. The Gaels lost in the conference tournament championship game to the Zags to mark their third loss to the Bulldogs of the season, but they did manage to win all 15 of their other WCC games. Coach Randy Bennett's squad managed to take down NCAA Tournament qualifying programs Creighton, Harvard and Pacific during the regular season. The Gaels are led by senior point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who was the WCC Player of the Year a season ago and scored 22 points versus the Blue Raiders.
SMC may be a man down after junior guard Jorden Page left the WCC Championship game with a knee injury and missed the NCAA opener versus Middle Tennessee. Dellavedova, who is the school's all-time leader in scoring, assists, 3-pointers and games played, still has plenty of help. Gathering in their share of dishes from Dellavedova are Stephen Holt (11.8 ppg) and Beau Levesque (10.7 ppg), the latter being a huge spark off the bench who has knocked down 47.6 percent of his 3-point tries. In the paint, the Gaels lean heavily on Brad Waldow (10.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Mitchell Young (7.6 ppg 5.5 rpg), who are very good at demanding attention to free up the lane for the team's star point guard.
Chris Crawford showed he can be a difference-maker for the Tigers in the C-USA Tournament as he poured in 53 total points in the final two games to help the team clinch the league tourney title. Crawford drilled 13 3-pointers over the past two games to help the Tigers clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament field. Memphis was able to survive its overtime thriller against USM in the title game as Adonis Thomas tallied 19 points and Joe Jackson filled it up with 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Memphis has only lost one game since Dec. 15, and that setback came at the Cintas Center to a tough Xavier Musketeers unit. Joe Jackson (13.8 ppg, 4.9 apg) is clearly the leader of the Tigers this season , but Memphis has plenty of scoring options down the line. Thomas (11.9 ppg) was once projected to be an NBA lottery pick. Although his numbers aren't overwhelming, he is definitely returning to favor with scouts due to his athleticism and scoring ability. Thomas is not the only capable forward for the Tigers, as Tarik Black, Goodwin and D.J. Stephens are all solid role players. The Tigers are forcing their foes to turn the ball over 15.6 times per contest. Memphis was expected to make a run last season before it was bounced in the second round by Saint Louis.
The Gaels are a smart and well-crafted team, but Memphis is a very explosive squad due to its deep array of scorers. SMC will need to sustain a Tigers' run or two to keep their goal of advancing alive.