Can St. Mary’s Do What Gonzaga hasn’t Been Able to?

St. Mary’s has always been the main rival to powerhouse Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference but they have nearly always been second fiddle. However, the Gaels recently beat the Bulldogs and may have the team that can win the NCAA Tournament, which the Zags have never done. Still, all US-licensed sportsbooks have Gonzaga with better betting odds to win the Big Dance. Speaking of those books it won’t be long until most of them offer a great March Madness bonus

Owning the West Coast Conference

Gonzaga has won 25 WCC titles and 20 conference tournaments as opposed to seven times and four times, respectively, for St. Mary’s. In the last 10 seasons, the Bulldogs have won or shared the conference title every time and the only time they didn’t win it outright was during sharing it with the Gaels in 2016. Still, the Zags have never won the Big Dance, being runner-up in 2017 and 2021 and advancing to the Elite Eight five times. On the other side of the coin, St. Mary’s best showing in the NCAA Tournament was an Elite Eight appearance way back in 1959. 

Sure, St. Mary’s is still a long shot to win it all but they are heading in the right direction with March and the madness that ensures less than three weeks away. 

The Freshman is Leading the Way

Star freshman Aidan Mahaney had offers coming out since high school from some big-name programs but shunned them to stay close to home and play for St. Mary’s. He may not win the WCC player of the year with Drew Timme almost locked in with the stats he puts up, but Mahaney is averaging 15 ppg on 45.7% shooting and 41.7% from three-point land. He’s already a legend in the Gonzaga – St Mary’s rivalry, as in the recent 78-70 OT win over the Zags he came up huge, going for 16 points to go with three assists in the last 6:25 of the game and overtime. 

More than Mahaney

Mahaney and 6’10” center Mitchell Saxen (12.6 ppg 8.4 rpg) give the Gaels a great inside-outside punch and the guard duo of Alex Ducas and Logan Johnson are each averaging over 12 ppg. Saxen doesn’t have to do all the work on the glass with senior forward Kyle Bowen, who had 10 rebounds in the win over Gonzaga, averaging nearly eight rebounds per game. 

Balance and Defense

The Gaels have a balanced team and also have one of the best defenses in the nation. The team ranks fourth in the nation only giving up an average of 57.7 ppg. They play at a very slow pace but have size, a great defense, and they can knock down the three. St. Mary’s has the recipe for success but can they get it done down the stretch? 

The Gaels still have to face Gonzaga on the road and there’s a good chance they will face them in the finals of the WCC tournament. Still, the team is loaded and the small school with less than 3,800 students from tiny Moraga, California is one that no team in the Big Dance wants to face. 

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