Hey guys, being that our Gonzaga blog, The Slipper Still Fits, has a monopoly over SBNation's coverage of the West Coast Conference, I thought I would stop by and give you guys a taste of what to expect in your opening round match up against the Gaels.
Listening to all the pundits (Dickie V) complain about St. Mary's not getting into the tournament really makes it clear to me that West Coast basketball is still relatively unwatched. I have had the distinct pleasure of watching Patty Mills and the rest of the Gaels this season and while they have an argument to be in the tournament, they better watch out for the first round of the NIT or else they'll have plenty of time to piss and moan from their couches.
Every serious college basketball fan knows who Patty Mills is. The kid is definitely a cool story as he is the only collegiate player that made a big splash in the Summer Olympics as he dazzled Coach K and the rest of the USA squad. Patty Mills in college basketball can be described as one word: streaky. If you look at his stats this season, you'll notice that he has games where he lights it up and he has had just as many games where he goes 5-20 or 4-19 and really hurts his team. The problem with Mills is that he can get hot, and Gonzaga saw it first-hand in the two team's first match up of the season. He was running circles around the Gonzaga defense and making every shot in sight before getting hurt. Is he 100% healthy for the NIT? No clue, but I do trust in the Cougar defense to be in his face for 40 minutes and really take him out of his element.
The rest of the backcourt for St. Mary's is pretty average. Carlin Hughes can make some big shots and Mickey McConnell has been improving but they are not the type of players that can go out and dominate a Pac-10 squad. Their guards, like the rest of their team, are very shallow and do not have a lot of depth. Aside from their big three of Mills, Samhan, and Simpson, there is not a whole lot going on.
The front court for the Gaels is impressive. Omar Samhan is a very serviceable center with a mean streak. He's had games where he has stolen the show from Patty Mills but he can counter that with being nearly invisible on the court. The guy to watch out for and my pick (like it matters) for WCC Player of the Year is Diamon Simpson. This guy is not going to wow you with his measurables. He's not that tall and not that bulky for a power forward but he has one of the largest motors in the nation. Simpson is tremendous around the hoops as well. He has got a great ability to absorb contact and create and-one situations. He has consistently torched the Zags because Austin Daye could just not match his intensity and will to win. For WSU, I like the idea of having Casto on him. Casto has got quite a bit of bulk and offers five fouls that will be necessary because Simpson is awful from the foul line. The Baynes/Samhan match up will probably be a wash.
The game will probably come down to the play of guys like Carlin Hughes and Ian O'Leary for the Gaels and the supporting cast for the Cougs. The key is to keep a hand in Mills face often if you can and try not to let guys like Hughes get off and score 10-15. If that happens, I don't like the outcome for you all. It will be interesting, I haven't seen St. Mary's beat a good, not mediocre, team this season (not counting Utah St. because they are not a good team). It'll be a fun game to sit back and watch as the teams run contrasting styles. I pick the Cougs in a tight one, but most of the reason for that is that I can't stand St. Mary's.
Good Luck! The NIT should be a great tourney to watch!