Fullerton, Calif., November 21, 2017 – For a team that played 34 games last season and lost to only three different teams, the 2017-2018 Saint Mary’s Gaels have their own tough act to follow.
As they enter the 2017 Wooden Legacy in Titan Gym at Cal State Fullerton, the Gaels aren’t trying to top last season. They’re out to see how far this season’s version can stack up its own set of achievements.
“It would be very difficult to be better,” Coach Randy Bennett said on the eve of the season. “Lose four games instead of five? I don’t want to tell our guys ‘Hey, just try to be as good as last year.’ We’re just going to try to be as good as we can be. This year’s team is a whole new story.”
Saint Mary’s, the preseason pick to capture the West Coast Conference title – ahead of even NCAA runnerup Gonzaga, which beat the Gaels three times in 2016-17 – are off to a 4-0 start heading into their first-round matchup with Ivy League favorite Harvard on Thursday at 1 p.m. PST.
The Gaels (29-5 last season) have started efficiently. They’re shooting 51.2 percent from the field and are averaging only 6.8 turnovers per contest. It helps to have three seniors leading the way.
Senior forward Calvin Hermanson is the hottest shooter of the bunch, averaging 19 points per game. He’s made 25 of 35 shots (71.4 percent) and is 12-for-20 from 3-point range. Senior center Jock Landale, the 6-foot-11 Australian, is averaging 17.5 points and 8 rebounds and senior guard Emmett Naar is averaging 12.8 points and 9.5 assists with a mere five turnovers in 145 minutes of action.
The first test is a tough one from Harvard (2-2), which edged rival Yale as the top pick in the Ivy’s preseason poll.
The Crimson are led by a pair of sophomores, guard Bryce Aiken (16.8 points per game) and forward Seth Towns (16.5 points and team-leading 6.3 rebounds).
St. Joseph’s vs. Washington State, 3:30 p.m. PST – St. Joe’s has five starters returning from an 11-20 squad but has been infused by 6-9 freshman forward Taylor Funk, who is averaging 20.3 points and 5.3 rebounds and already has been named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week. He’s added to a mix that includes senior forward James Demery (18.0 points in 51.3 percent shooting) and Senior guard Shavar Newkirk (16.0). The Cougars (3-0) of the Pac-12 are shooting their way to forgetting a 13-18 finish to last season. Junior forward Robert Franks is averaging 18.3 points and 8.7 rebounds but the story has become sophomore Carter Skaggs, who scored all 26 of his points (with seven 3-pointers) in the second half of a win over Seattle. He scored 17 consecutive points for WSU in one stretch. Speaking of the second halves, the Cougs are averaging 48.3 points after halftime and have forced 49 turnovers. They’re on pace to hit 434 3-pointers; the school record is 240.
Georgia vs. Cal State Fullerton, 7:30 p.m. – The Titans (1-2) hope their home court helps them rebound from a slow offensive start. Though they’ve picked to finish third in the Big West, they’re making only 35.8 percent of their shots and are 12-of-60 (20 percent) on 3-pointers. They’re also struggling from the foul line, hitting only 49.2 percent of their free throws. And in their 76-57 loss to Saint Mary’s on Nov. 16, they committed 21 turnovers leading the 31 Gaels points. Georgia is off to a 3-0 start and it’s no surprise that senior Yante Maten is leading them. The 6-8 forward is averaging 20.7 points and 13 rebounds in three games, better than his averages of 18.2 and 6.8 last season. He’s the preseason pick to be the SEC’s Player of the Year. The Bulldogs have been given a lift by freshman forward Raysha Hammonds, who is averaging 15 points and 5.2 rebounds in the same front court as Maten.
San Diego State vs. Sacramento State, 10 p.m. – The Aztecs (3-1) of the Mountain West have turned the program over to Brian Dutcher, who has been by the side of retired Coach Steve Fisher for 18 years. SDSU, which went 19-14 last season), has three starters back plus the addition of transfer Devin Watson from USF. Watson, a junior guard, is averaging 11.5 points and 5.4 assists, while senior forward Malik Pope is averaging 16.8 points and 8.5 rebounds. The Aztecs are allowing opponents to shoot just 25.2 from 3-point range. The Sacramento State Hornets (1-2) of the Big Sky, who have won 28 conference games over the past three seasons, are led by senior forward Justin Strings (16.3 points, 7.7 rebounds) and junior guard Jordan Tolbert (14 points per game).
Thursday, November 23
Game 1 – Saint Mary’s vs. Harvard, 1 p.m. PT (4 p.m. ET), ESPNEWS
Game 2 – Saint Joseph’s vs. Washington State, 3 p.m. PT (6 p.m. ET), ESPN3
Game 3 – Georgia vs. Cal State Fullerton, 7:30 p.m. PT (10:30 p.m. ET), ESPNEWS
Game 4 – San Diego State vs. Sacramento State, 10 p.m. PT (1 a.m. ET, next day), ESPNU
Friday, November 24
Game 5 – Saint Mary’s/Harvard winner vs. Saint Joseph’s/Washington State winner, 10:30 a.m. PT (1:30 p.m. ET), ESPNEWS
Game 6 – Saint Mary’s/Harvard loser vs. Saint Joseph’s/Washington State loser, 12:30 p.m. PT (3:30 p.m. ET), ESPN3
Game 7 – Georgia/Cal State Fullerton winner vs. San Diego State/Sacramento State winner, 4 p.m. PT (7 p.m. ET), ESPN2
Game 8 – Georgia/Cal State Fullerton loser vs. San Diego State/Sacramento State losers, 6:p.m. PT (9 p.m. ET), ESPN3
Sunday, November 26
Game 9 – Game 6 and Game 8 losers, 11:30 a.m. PT (2:30 p.m. ET), ESPN3
Game 10 – Game 5 and Game 7 losers, 2 p.m. PT (5 p.m. ET), ESPNU
Game 11 – Game 6 and Game 8 winners, 6:30 p.m. PT (9:30 p.m. ET), ESPN3
Game 12, Championship – Game 5 and Game 7 winners, 9 p.m. PT (12 a.m. ET, next day), ESPN2