The Commodores achieved these unprecedented results with their notably longer-armed players. In the South, that's the norm; to West Coast teams, it presents problems offenses aren't used to. Vanderbilt, a team easily among the best 20 or 25 in America, had a hand in every passing lane and contested nearly every shot. "Length is all over our league," says Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. "When you step out of your league and play in a league like ours, it can be bothersome. St. Mary's is a much better team than we saw today." The question now is, how much better?
St. Mary's followed its loss to Vanderbilt with an impressive win at Gonzaga (the first of two games the teams played against each other the season). But having lost the last three games to the University of San Diego, Utah State, and its round two with Gonzaga, the Gaels once again have something to prove. They came into this season with pundits saying they'd struggle to replace last year's star big man Omar Samhan, but Dellavedova and McConnell's play silenced that early negativity. Now they will be playing for their tournament lives with the conference tournament looming and, if all goes well, the NCAA tournament after that.
It is in those tournament formats that the Gaels have succeeded most in the past. Teams are left to scramble to prepare for their unique offense, often with much quicker turnarounds between games than in the regular season. But given the way Dellavedova and McConnell shoot coming off a ball screen, it would be unwise to rule out the possibility of the Gaels getting back to the Sweet Sixteen.
If they do make it back, their coach, Randy Bennett, will look like a genius in the eyes of the national writers for scheduling a tough non-conference road game in late January, against convention. Just don't expect the Psycho Caveman to get too bothered by any regular season loss. He says the memory of last year's tournament run will make his team respond as they continue their fight for a tournament berth. "They played pretty good defense today," Dellavedova says. "And hopefully that helps us later in the season."
BAY AREA COLLEGE MEN'S BASKETBALL ROUNDUP
UC Berkeley: The Golden Bears have a good shot at the NIT. They played one of the country's most difficult schedules this season, but their conference and overall records are hovering just above .500.
Stanford: The Cardinal is in a similar position to Cal. But with the team's softer non-conference schedule, it really needs to make a big splash in the Pac-10 tournament to turn any heads.
San Jose State: The Spartans will not get into the NCAA tournament unless they win their conference tourney. But since they are near the bottom of their standings, there is little reason to expect it this season. Even so, the team still has a shot to finish with a winning record.
University of San Francisco: The Dons have proven they can beat every team except St. Mary's. To earn a trip to the big dance, they will either have to beat the Gaels or hope someone else does.
Santa Clara: Like the Dons, the Broncos have lost twice to St. Mary's. They will end up with a winning record this season, but to take the next step they will need to get past the Gaels.