Heading into selection weekend, the NCAA tournament bubble is probably more crowded that at any time in the last few years. With so many teams jockeying for position, how do you stand out in the eyes of the committee, especially if you melt down spectacularly in your conference tournament?
Well, if you’re Saint Mary’s, you schedule an extra game that just happens to fall two days before selection Sunday. In an unusual, but completely legal move, the Gaels have added one more home game this Friday against Big Sky doormat Eastern Washington. Coach Randy Bennett says it has nothing to do with showcasing his team to the committee with star Patty Mills in the lineup, who missed the weeks leading up to the WCC tourney with an injury. Right.
Strangely, Bennett scheduled the game last week, before the Gaels’ appearance in the conference tournament in Las Vegas. Both teams involved played only 29 regular season games, one fewer than the maximum number allowable.
Thus, it would have been an even weirder game if Saint Mary’s had actually won the WCC title and locked up an NCAA bid. What motivation would they have for the game? And why would Bennett risk injuries to his team when they need to be ready for postseason play?
Here’s his rationale, according to ESPN’s Andy Katz:
Bennett said he isn’t playing the game to convince the NCAA tournament selection committee the Gaels should be an at-large team if they don’t win the WCC tournament. Instead, he said he wants Saint Mary’s to play “well in the postseason,” and playing another game with Mills gives the Gaels that opportunity.
“This will make it seem more normal to have a game in the middle,” Bennett said. “Otherwise we’re going nine or 10 days without playing a game.”
You mean, like every other mid-major team that qualifies for the tournament early in championship week? Actually, Bennett has a bit of a point. The big conferences (and even a few of the small ones) are all playing games into the weekend preceding the big dance, while teams like Gonzaga, Northern Iowa, and VCU will have a week-and-a-half off before playing again.
So why not give your team one more chance to impress the committee? Of course, you figure that the likelihood of this game being on television is about zero, so all anybody’s going to see is a box score. And if Mills’ line is anything like it was the last two days, nobody’s going to be impressed (he was 5-for-28 in two games, but in his defense hadn’t been able to shoot a basketball for a several weeks).
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see what good this game does for the Gaels in terms of building an at-large case. BLEACHER REPORT says that there’s not much positive that can come out of playing the 234th-ranked team at this point (I’m pretty sure the Gaels’ RPI will go down even with a win):
This game will do nothing for St. Mary’s. If anything, it could actually hurt them.
A big win will be expected. If St. Mary’s does anything less than win big, this will hurt them.
Assuming they beat Gonzaga tonight, a sloppy win will hurt their seed.
If they lose to Gonzaga, a sloppy win will hurt their at-large chances. A loss would be catastrophic. A loss to a team with an RPI of 234, a team that didn’t even qualify for their tournament, would all but ruin St. Mary’s hopes.
Hopefully, Saint Mary’s won’t find a way to get behind on the scoreboard before the game tips off, like they did last night.