- Saint Mary's was overshadowed by fellow West Coast Conference team Gonzaga in 2016-17, but the Gaels' stellar campaign shouldn't be overlooked. They're poised for another strong season in 2017-18.
The college basketball off-season is long and largely lacking in major news developments. Programs are still finalizing their 2017 recruiting classes and sorting out which of their players will return for another season or jump to the professional ranks. We’ve got a long way to go until Midnight Madness. To help pass the time, SI.com is asking and answering three key questions about each of the teams in our Way-Too-Early Top 25. Here’s No. 20, Saint Mary's.
1. Which international newcomer emerges as the next foreign superstar?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Saint Mary’s signed a couple of guards for the upcoming season, and neither of them are from the United States. The Gaels added Kristers Zoriks of Dobele, Latvia, and Angus Glover of New South Wales, Australia.
Zoriks is a member of the Latvian youth national program and helped lead the U16 team to a silver medal at the FIBA European Championships, where he was named to the all-tournament team. (He most recently played on the U18 national team.) Zoriks should push for immediate playing time. Glover should also fit in nicely, in part because he’s very familiar with the Gaels’ roster. He played on the U19 Australian team with current Saint Mary’s players Kyle Clark, Jordan Hunter and Tanner Krebs at the 2015 FIBA World Championships.
2. Can Jock Landale follow up 2016-17 with an even better 2017-18?
It’ll be tough for the 6’11, 255-pound Landale to perform better than he did in 2016-17. Landale average 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds and shot 61.1% from the field in a cool 28.3 minutes per game and finished second in KenPom.com’s player of the year rankings. Landale dominated at times—like when he went 11-13 from the field for 26 points in a Jan. 5 win over BYU, or when Saint Mary’s beat VCU in the first round of the NCAAs and Landale went 6-for-8 from the field for 18 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked two shots.
Landale was the focal point of opponents' game plans in 2016-17. That will continue in 2017-18. But with Gonzaga set to lose key pieces from its frontcourt after reaching the title game in April, Landale should be able to dominate inside in WCC play during his senior season.
3. Could this be the year Saint Mary’s takes the WCC crown from Gonzaga?
Probably not, considering Gonzaga’s consistency under coach Mark Few. But the Gaels similarly have excelled throughout coach Randy Bennett’s time in Moraga, Calif., and he’ll have one of his best teams in 2017-18.
In 2016-17, Bennett guided the Gaels to their 10th 20-win season. That's crazy. Percentage wise, Bennett and the Gaels win at a clip unlike most other programs in college hoops; think along the lines of Duke and Kansas, but without the national titles. And SMC’s conference deserves far more credit than it typically receives. The bottom line is that Bennett’s teams know how to win, and that will continue this season. Whether or not the Gaels will be able to finish ahead of the Zags is unclear.