Denver, riding high off its 3-0 start, hosts mid-major powerhouse St. Mary’s College tonight at Magness Arena at 5:00 PM. The Gaels (2-0), ranked #9 in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 and #18 in the nation overall by Ken Pomeroy, are 7-point favorites. For the Pioneers, ranked #40 and #150 in those rankings, this is an opportunity to make a major splash, avenge the Moraga Massacre, and possibly join the College Insider Top 25 themselves. For what it’s worth, Pomeroy gives Denver a 24% of winning.
The DU-SMC tilt is actually the opening game of a men’s-women’s hoops doubleheader at Magness tonight. The women, ranked #22 in the women’s Mid-Major Top 25, host regional rival and above-the-Red Line (or Rouge Line?) foe Colorado State at 7:00 PM.
Barring a need to rush home after work due to Becky health issues (she was feeling a bit flu-ish this morning), I’ll be there for both games, liveblogging, and hoping for some #gaeltears, as La Rev would say. (More on the DU-SMC matchup after the liveblog window below.)
St. Mary’s has only played one game of note this season, crushing Northern Iowa 57-41 in a game during ESPN’s 24-hour tip-off marathon on November 14. The Gaels have been idle since then.
Here’s some of what College Basketball Prospectus had to say about St. Mary’s before the season:
[One] team getting far too little press this offseason is Saint Mary’s. … SMC returns all but one contributor (Mickey McConnell) from last year’s squad that didn’t have an obvious go-to guy on one of the best offenses in the country. … I wouldn’t call you crazy for giving them top 25 consideration …
While [McConnell’s] absence will undoubtedly hurt SMC, there is plenty of offensive talent still left in Moraga. Running the show will be 6-4 junior Matthew Dellavedova, who shares McConnell’s distribution skills (26 percent assist rate) and isn’t a bad shooter himself (38 percent from three).
Dellavedova — who sports the highest offensive rating (117) of any returning WCC starter — has a trio of efficient and sure handed 6-9 interior targets in juniors Mitchell Young (60 percent from two) and Tim Williams (56 percent), and senior Kenton Walker (54 percent).
Slightly shorter but more versatile, 6-6 senior Rob Jones shoots 57 percent from two and 33 percent from three, and earned the most playing time of any front line player last season. All four big men are great on the boards at both ends, with the average between them being a ten percent offensive rebounding percentage and a 21 percent defensive rate.
Senior Clint Steindl (42 percent from three) and sophomore Stephen Holt (34 percent) provide the perimeter outlets for Dellavedova, and Holt also contributes a WCC-best five percent steal rate on defense.
Most seasons, the Gaels’ biggest strength on that less-heralded end of the court is their perimeter pressure. For eight years running, Randy Bennett’s SMC teams have ranked in the top ten nationally in fewest assists per opponent field goal and fewest three-point attempts per field goal attempt. Last year they allowed foes to shoot an uncharacteristically high 37 percent on those attempts from deep, a far cry from the 30 percent of 2010. If that number drops back to normal Saint Mary’s levels, expect the team’s defense to improve enough to make up for any offensive decline that McConnell’s absence may cause.
That’s exactly what happened in the Gaels’ win over Northern Iowa last week, according to this analysis:
[A]t times their offense looked out of sync and confused. However, they made up for their offensive struggles with a superb defensive showing. The Gaels held Northern Iowa to a 21.4 field goal percentage before the half.
Not only did Northern Iowa rarely get off an uncontested shot, there were points when they couldn’t even get off an uncontested pass.
It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how Denver handles the SMC defense. Last year, the Pioneers were completely overwhelmed against the Gaels, leading to the aforementioned 77-47 “massacre.” But that game was in Moraga, and the Pioneers routinely struggle on the road. At Magness Arena, they should hopefully at least be competitive. Can they pull the upset, and really put themselves on the mid-major map? We shall see.
Incidentally, this is one of two games the Denver men will play against the “Gaels” in the next two weeks. On December 7, they’ll host another mid-major power by that name — the Iona Gaels, ranked #7 in the Mid-Major Top 25.