Saturday, December 11, 2021

UCSB vs. SMC Game Preview, by Gaucho Freg

UCSB (3-2)* @ St. Mary’s College (8-2)
Saturday, December 11, 2021, 3 pm
*D1 games only
Quick Bite:  The Gauchos hit the road for the first time in nearly a month to take on the St. Mary’s Gaels in the first matchup between the two teams in 18 years.  The Gaels are ranked 38 in KenPom and 46 in NET and will be the second (and last) of two Quad One games on the Gaucho OOC schedule.
St. Mary’s-UCSB History
UCSB and St. Mary’s have played 33 times with the Gauchos holding a commanding 21-12 edge in the series.  The teams first played in 1947 with the Gauchos claiming victory in Santa Barbara.  The Gaels  won the last game played, defeating SB 62-48 in the Thunderdome in 2003.  At St. Mary’s the Gauchos are 6-9, including 2-4 in the current arena. The Gaels have a 4 game home win streak over SB with the last Gaucho road win coming in 1992.

The Arena
University Credit Union Arena, still popularly known as McKeon, was built in 1978 and seats just 3,500.  Behind one basket is a large wall, nearly all the seats are along the two sidelines.  There’s an intent, but no specific plan or budget, to expand the arena by knocking down the two ends and adding seats behind the baskets.  There may be little motivation to expand as the Gael’s have dominated at home, typically losing no more than 2 games a year over the past decade.  They are 5-0 at home this season.
Gaels Head Coach
Randy Bennett has been with the Gaels for 21 years and has made St. Mary’s one of the most successful mid majors in the country. During his tenure, Bennett has become the school's men's basketball all-time wins leader (462 -194), guiding SMC to 14 postseason appearances (7 NCAA and 7 NIT) including 13 straight (excluding the 2019-20 season lost to COVID-19) and has had a player drafted (Patrick Mills, 2009) into the NBA for the first time since 1984. He has earned three WCC Coach of the Year honors.

Gaels Overview
After a down year last season by Bennett era standards, the Gaels return literally everyone and are off to an excellent start including wins over Oregon, Notre Dame, UCR and Utah State.  Unlike many of their past seasons, the Gaels have played a challenging schedule and are already battle tested. They have a tremendous defense, ranking 10th in KenPom and holding their opponents to under 60 per game.  Their only losses are to #22 Wisconsin and undefeated Colorado State which was their last game played, a 16 point whupping so they’ll be motivated to get back on track.  In November, they blew out UCSB’s conference mate UC Riverside by 17 but didn’t pull away until the second half.
Probable Starting 5
Point Guard Tommy Khuse, #12, 6’2”, 185 lb, Graduate  10.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.5 apg  52% from deep, 53% overall.
A tremendous shooter, leading the team in three point shooting in addition to assists, Kuhse is playing his fifth year for the Gaels.  He reminds me a bit of JRoc, savvy with the ball and has a knack of getting his body between the basket and the defender creating 5 on 4 options.
From BracketBuster (BB): “Kuhse is the Rudy of college basketball, if Rudy was, ya know, good. Kuhse relies on veteran maneuvers of ballhandling in the lane to get himself looks and to set up teammates. He shines by knocking down floaters and forcing defenses into tough positions. Kuhse is exceptional at controlling the pace of play at both ends of the court, bothering the opposing point guard, and forcing tough half-court sets
Guard Logan Johnson#0, 6’2”, 170 lb Senior 9.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.4 apg  30 mpg. Just 12-26 from the ft line. Leads team in steals with 18, team’s leading scorer last season.  I’ve watched him play and think he’s the best athlete on the Gaels.
BB: “As an upperclassman, he’s learned a great deal in terms of operating Bennet’s heavy screen offense that operates almost as a plotting soccer club looking for the right moment to strike. The system often relies on him getting a solid look in the midrange and driving, or off of screens or helping push the ball in towards the big men spotted in an ideal angle on the roll.”
Wing Alex Ducas#44  6’6”, 215 lb. Junior, 9.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 31 mpg
Two thirds of his FG attempts are from beyond the arc, making 32%.  Aussie
Forward Kyle Bowen#14  6’8”, 225 lb. Junior  4.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 29 mpg
Team’s leading rebounder.  Aussie
Forward/Center Mathias Tass#11, 6'10", 245 lb, Senior, 10.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 26 mpg
Leads team in getting to the line but is just 57% from the stripe. Great passer for a big with 2.3 apg.
From Estonia.
BB: “After coming back from an ACL tear, it still feels like there’s more for Tass to unlock with his game. Tass at his best opens up the offense by having defenders collapse to him, and he serves as an above-average defender on the other end. After a healthy season, these numbers should continue to grow and Tass could become the fulcrum in making Saint Mary’s post-game function as it has in the past.”
Key Reserves
Forward Dan Fotu#42  6’7”, 225 lb. Soph 12.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 21 mpg.  47% from deep
Team’s leading scorer despite coming off the bench.  From New Zealand.
Guard Augustas Marciulionis, #3, 6’4”, 195 lb, Freshman  4.2 ppg, 2.2 apg, 17 mpg
Son of NBA Hall of Famer Sarunas Marciulionis, from Lithuania. 
Guard Jabe Mullins, #5, 6’5”, 190 lb, Sophomore  2.4 ppg, 10 mpg.

Match-up & prediction:
College basketball is strange, unpredictable and consistently makes fools out of people trying to predict outcomes.  UCSB experienced this losing to then winless UT Arlington and #20 Florida experienced it losing by 15 to previously winless Texas Southern out of the SWAC.   It is a big reason why we love it and why, personally, I am still making the trip to Moraga to watch this game.  With that out of the way…   …St. Mary’s is probably going to win this game by about 15.  The experienced guard tandem of Khuse and Johnson will be the best the Gauchos face this year and SB will be chasing.  Bennet’s defensive schemes are working really well this year, he’ll have a good game plan to limit Amadou and a good defender in Tass to execute it. 
Keys to the game for UCSB (how they can pull the upset)
·        Best defensive effort of the year. JPL, Ajay, Sanni & Wishart, all step up.  Defensively, St. Mary’s is a problem as Johnson is the most athletic but Ducas has a height advantage at the wing and they have their top scorer in Fotu coming off the bench.  We may see more of Toure this game for his defense.
·        Sanni & Norris find their stroke.  I think these two have struggled a bit because they’ve tried to take on different roles from last year.  Norris has a bit of a height advantage over Kyle Bowen and getting him some open looks, with a green light to catch & shoot, on the perimeter would both provide some points and open up some space for Sow underneath.  He’ll have his hands full when Fotu is in and will need to be effective working through screens to defend on the perimeter. With Sanni, I believe its just a matter of time and if that time is just after 3pm on Saturday, that would be great timing.
·        Ajay being confident in the starting role.  He’s had a couple games in that role now, this is an opportunity to challenge himself against one of the best in Khuse.
·        Sow continues to be Sow.  Experience is paying dividends for Amadou this year, he is being patient, figuring out defenses, and finishing games strong.  Huge task taking on Tass & Bowen, will be a great match-up.  Idehen also key as better matches up with Tass size wise. 

Prediction: St. Mary’s 77 UCSB 64
Official Site
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How to Watch
St. Mary’s Season Preview and Game Preview Links: ... ank-no-68/ ... eakdown-2/ ... season/13/ ... -season/7/
Fun facts about St. Mary’s
The school was founded in 1863 in San Francisco, moving to Oakland in 1889 then to its current location in Moraga in 1928 after a fire destroyed much of the Oakland campus.
It is a private catholic college with just 2,700 undergraduates and is the 7th oldest university/college in California.  SMC did not open up to women until 1970, now 62% of the students are female.
In athletics, men’s hoops is far & away the most successful program though their men’s soccer team made it to the Elite 8 in 2011.  Early in the school history, the Gaels fielded a football team and were one of the better teams in the 30s & 40s, winning the 1939 Cotton Bowl over Texas Tech.
Prior to Randy Bennet taking over in 2001, there were few bright moments for men’s hoops though they did win a game in the 1959 NCAA tournament which was enough to propel them to the Elite 8 in the small tournament size at that time.

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