Everyone seems to agree that Saint Marys is an NCAA Tournament team whether they beat Gonzaga tonight in the WCC tournament final tonight or not.
Thats the kind of unanimity that makes me nervous.
Saint Marys is, in fact, the perpetual bubble team, and Randy Bennetts soul has the scarring to prove it. The Gaels have been an easy team for the committee to shunt off to the NIT over the past several years, and having WCC Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich in the room isnt necessarily the window in, either. After all, he has to cool his heels outside while the Gaels get the Now what conference are they in again? examination from the other committee members.
St. Marys, though, has one big thing going for them that trumps the late season losses.
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Cal, seemingly a lock a week ago, is suddenly on the edge of out by most reputable (read: traditionally reliable) mock brackets. Jerry Palm has them in one of the 12-seed games either Tuesday or Wednesday in Dayton, though presumably a moderate deep run in the conference tournament would take care of that.
But the only other Pac-12 team that seems like a sure-esque thing is Washington, and its hard to envision the conference getting a third when they typically are good for four.
In other words, two spots have opened up, and in the absence of a lot of other great teams out there (the Big 10 is up, the SEC is down, and the ACC and Big East are the ACC and Big East), this may be a big year for properly resumed mid-majors.
Or for a sea of mediocre big conference teams, heaven forbid.
A year ago, the Bay Area got shut out completely, a true rarity over the past quarter-century. The closest it got was Oakland (Michigan), which lost to Texas in the first round.
This wont be that year. Saint Marys looks OK (most folks project them as a seven-seed), while Cal should navigate the lower rungs of the conference tournament to escape even the Dayton round.
But its close, closer than two teams with 49 wins between them ought to be, and part of the problem is that the Pac-12 has gained two teams but lost much stature in the last few years. Not just because UCLA tanked, either.
This is a conference-wide problem, as more coaches have slowed down the game and suffered in recruiting wars because of it. Mike Montgomery, who was always falsely portrayed as an old-school offensive fud, still rolls up points, but he is also working with less incandescent talent than is typical for him.
Bennett, though, has always found something for casual fans (like committee members) to watch, typically from Australia though with the occasional Samhan-ian thrown in for amusement. This is not St. Marys best team, but it is good enough.
That is, unless the Gaels get boatraced in Las Vegas tonight, and end up having to bum money for cab fare home. They are pretty much in, but as Bennett will tell you, pretty much isnt the same as safe.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.