Team Profile: 2008 BracketBuster Preview: Kent State vs St Mary’s
Perhaps one of the most telling statements about how impressive the 2007-08 season has been for Saint Mary’s is that Saturday’s BracketBuster tilt with Kent State (9pm PT, ESPN2) is only the fourth-biggest game that tiny McKeon Pavilion has hosted this year.
Randy Bennett’s team has knocked off Drake, Oregon, and Gonzaga in Moraga (along with Seton Hall), and have beaten San Diego State and Ohio on neutral courts as part of a 7-2 record against the RPI Top 100. That impressive resume, along with a T-1st standing in the WCC, has the Gaels well-positioned for a top-half seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament.
Kent State, meanwhile, comes into BracketBuster weekend with only a slightly less impressive resume. Most importantly, the Golden Flashes are now 11-2 in an underrated Mid-American Conference, with a two-game lead on East Divisional rival Akron. KSU also has a neutral-court victory over Illinois State, and home wins against George Mason and Cleveland State to brag about.
The game certainly means more to Kent State from the perspective of its at-large chances, but has important seeding implications for Saint Mary’s, as both Denver and Anaheim are still in play as a four, five, or six seed.
Key Matchup: St Mary’s Patty Mills vs. Kent State’s Al Fisher
Although Kent returned all five starters from a year ago, Fisher, a first-year JuCo player (and former Siena Saint) from Redlands CC in Oklahoma, has provided much-needed scoring punch for Jim Christian this year. The 6’1″ guard leads his team with 13.9 ppg and 4.4 apg, and has led the Flashes individually in nine of the last 11 games.
Patty Mills, as a three-time WCC Player of the Week, is looking like the favorite for WCC Player of the Year. He burst on the national scene with a 37-point outburst against the Ducks earlier this season. Most high school players are happy to win their state’s “Mr. Basketball” award, but the 6’0″ Mills can claim that distinction for his entire content–the native Aborigine won Australia’s most prestigious award in 2006. Many observers compare his game to Tony Parker’s.
The battle between Kent’s 6’8″ Haminn Quaintance and SMC’s 6’11″ Omar Samhan inside should be fun to watch as well.
Key Stat: Three-point shooting
Both the Gaels and Flashes shoot at about a 37% clip, so there shouldn’t be much advantage either way here…except that the Gaels defend the perimeter much better, holding opponents to under 30%, while Kent allows opponents to shoot at nearly 34%.
Todd Golden has been particularly hot for Saint Mary’s in recent games, going an astonishing 19-for-35 since January 28th. He torched Gonzaga for 18 points from behind the arc on 6-for-6 shooting earlier this month at McKeon Pavilion. Kent will need to defend the Gaels’ big men outside as well, as 6’7″ Ian O’Leary and 6’8″ Diamon Simpson both shoot at nearly a 40% clip.
Saint Mary’s is a perfect 13-0 in Moraga this season, and while Kent is an admirable 7-5 in road/neutral games, the Gaels feed off the energy of their boisterous student section like few teams on the West Coast (including those in the Pac-10). The Gaels are clearly a Tournament-caliber team, and are an Sweet-16-caliber team at home. Kent will be best served to slow the game down in order to control the crowd factor, and I expect the game to be played in the 70′s rather than 80′s. In the end, the Gaels have too much outside firepower.
Saint Mary’s 78, Kent State 68