Gaels now a legit mid-major team

Gaels now a legit mid-major team
March 6, 2012, 5:48 pm
Share This Post

An odd thing happened as Mondays Saint Marys-Gonzaga was parrying itself back and forth before a captivated national audience, a thing Randy Bennett has wished for since he came to Moraga.The Gaels started to look, sound and be perceived as one of those mid-majors. You know, like the team they were playing, and Xavier, and Dayton, and Butler. The kind that gets the benefit of the doubt when the conversation turns to who seems NCAA Tournament-worthy as opposed to who does not.Not this team, mind you. This Gaels team was in unless it was blown out by the Zags and caused committee members to review their late-season stumbles. This team had played its way off the bubble, and only a horrific performance could move them back on it.RELATED: Gaels dancing after 78-74 OT win over Zags in WCC championship
And in past years, that would have been enough to send them packing to the NIT. It has happened to the Gaels before, with better teams than this one.But the Gaels and Zags put on a grand performance Monday, showing themselves to be each others equals in talent, heart and smarts in a 7874 overtime win by Saint Marys, and suddenly Bennetts dream, the one that had hit him square in the beezer on at least two other occasions because he and his program werent in enough, seemed to be realized.You see, while NCAA committees are lectured again and again about taking each year as its own entity, it does not. It cannot. Each year brings with it its own assumptions, and its own presumptions, and until this game, there were doubts about Saint Marys worthiness to be included not among this seasons 68, but among the four or five mid-majors who have to play their way out, rather than into, the tournament each year.And though it seems daft to put that kind of load on a game in which both teams really had little to lose tournament-wise, the Gaels had stumbled down the stretch, losing at Gonzaga (always a hard hand to make), at home to Loyola Marymount, and then handled in a Bracket Buster game at Murray State that lots of people across the country watched.Those were three of the Gaels five losses, but because they came in a tightly-packed bunch in February when people who dont typically stay up until 2 a.m. wanted to see their collective mettle tested, the good works of the first two-and-a-half months seemed in jeopardy. One more presumptuous mid-major that couldnt bring the mount home.Instead, they won their last three games, and then faced off with their doppelgangers for what seemed like the 35th time in five years, and in a game that did both schools credit, endured.So theyll probably be a six-seed, maybe even a five. The SI.com projection of them as a seven playing Cal in Omaha in the first round seems far-fetched now. The Gaels are safe and dry, and hoping for the committees next favor, a matchup that will enhance their strengths and wont expose their weaknesses.But more importantly, after eight years of building from soot and taking more than a few shots in the nethers on Selection Sunday, Bennett finally has the program where he always dreamed it could go the elite mid-major level Gonzaga helped trailblaze.This revelation will doubtless make him more expensive for athletic director Mark Orr to keep, and more attractive to schools who havent figured out their own basketball legacies and are perfectly happy to buy one instead. Bennett has more than met his burden of loyalty in Moraga, and nobody would begrudge his leaving.But if he does, the Gaels lose the national traction he helped gain for them, and they are back needing, rather than owning, that benefit of the doubt. He paid for that prize over the years, dearly. Now the question becomes whether he prizes it so much that he is loath to let it go for a career move he has actually deserved for several years now.After all, Monday was a pretty heady night for the program he built, and he can now enter the next phase of his career. Deciding whether to enjoy what hes done after all the years of seeing it dangle beyond his reach, or try and do it all over again somewhere else.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

More Team Talk