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2019 NCAA tournament preview: Saint Mary's

Saint Mary's Gaels: 22-11, 11-5 in the West Coast Conference

Head coach: Randy Bennett (18th season)

Players to watch: Jordan Ford (21.3 PPG, 42.3 3PT%); Malik Fitts (15.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG); Jordan Hunter (7.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG)

Season recap: The Gaels appeared to be on the outside looking in at the end of the regular season. Although Saint Mary's has made the NCAA tournament as an at-large before, this team lacked a signature win. The 2018-19 edition of the Gaels lost four straight in late November and then dropped a neutral site matchup with LSU. And in WCC play, Saint Mary's lost both of its matchups with mighty Gonzaga, including 94-46 blowout back in early February in Spokane, Wash.

But the Gaels were determined to play their way into the postseason. Saint Mary's earned a double-bye, meaning they advanced right to the semifinals, where they eked out a win against San Diego. That set up a rematch with the Bulldogs—their second meeting in 10 days. After being handed two losses by Gonzaga already, the Gaels turned up the defensive heat in Las Vegas, controlling the pace and limiting the Zags to just 47 points, securing a WCC tournament title for Saint Mary's.

The Gaels don't have overwhelming talent but will enter the NCAA tournament with momentum, and they just may have stolen a bid from a potential at-large who was hoping to sneak in from the bubble.

How they make a run: Saint Mary's leans on the experience of its WCC tournament stunner, controlling the pace to pull at least one upset and potentially sneak into the second weekend.

How they falter: The Gaels struggle against a power-conference opponent, just as they did in the regular season, and their postseason magic quickly comes to an end.


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