The Arizona Wildcats have made it into the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament after beating the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in a high-scoring affair 100-82 in the First Round.
Next up for No. 2-seeded Arizona (31-4) in Salt Lake City is a matchup with the No. 7-seeded Saint Mary’s Gaels of the West Coast Conference.
Saint Mary’s (29-4), which finished second in the WCC to the Gonzaga Bulldogs, is coming off a first-round win over the 10th-seeded VCU Rams.
Here’s what you need to know about the Gaels, who hail from Moraga, Calif,:
Saint Mary’s slooooooows things down
If Arizona’s game against North Dakota was a showdown, consider its game versus Saint Mary’s to be a slowdown.
The Fighting Hawks entered Thursday’s contest playing at the 34th-fastest tempo in college basketball, and that led to a game in which UA and UND combined for 182 points.
However, Saint Mary’s enters Saturday’s game playing at the second-slowest tempo in college basketball, only ahead of the Virginia Cavaliers.
The Gaels are averaging 61.2 possessions per 40 minutes, using an average of 20.6 seconds on offense per possession while forcing teams to use an average of 18.8 seconds on defense.
As a result, Saint Mary’s is 202nd in the nation in scoring offense (72.0) and second in the country in scoring defense (56.5).
The Gaels are perfectly content with playing low-scoring games, and frankly, so are the Wildcats, who play at the 270th pace in the country.
Low-scoring does not mean ineffective
Don’t let the Gaels’ point-per-game totals fool you. Because if you do, you would be unimpressed by their offense, even though their low-scoring outputs are due to the pace they play at, not their effectiveness.
Truth be told, Saint Mary’s has one of the best offenses in the country.
The Gaels are third in the nation in offensive rating, scoring 118.3 points per 100 possessions.
According to KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency stat, which adjusts a team’s numbers based on the quality of their opponents, they are 14th in the country in offensive efficiency.
The Gaels shoot roughly 40 percent from 3 and 57 percent from inside the arc. In total, Saint Mary’s is eighth in the nation in field goal percentage.
All hail Landale
The Gaels are led by Jock Landale who is one of the best players in college basketball, ranking second in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings. The 7-footer is averaging 16.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game while shooting 61 percent from the field.
The junior is not athletic by any means — he actually looks pretty awkward moving around the court — but he is plenty skilled and knows how to use his 255-pound frame.
And the Gaels toss him the ball on the low block a lot.
When Landale is on the court, 30 percent of the Gaels’ possessions end with him taking a shot and evidently that has proven to be a good thing for Saint Mary’s given its overall efficiency.
Landale is also 17th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage (27.4) and 22nd in offensive rebounding percentage (14.9).
He is surprisingly durable, too, as he is playing roughly 28 minutes per game and he even played the entire game in the Gaels’ first-round win over VCU.
All in all, Landale is the player the Wildcats have to key in on, but that is easier said than done, plus Arizona has had difficulty defending strong low-post players this season, like Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski and Washington State’s Conor Clifford.
Of course, when you’re as efficient as Saint Mary’s is on offense, you have to have more than one scoring option.
No. 2 on the totem pole is Calvin Hermanson, a 6-foot-6 forward. The junior is second on the team in scoring (13.1 PPG), shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 44.1 percent from 3 at a high volume.
Hermanson drained three 3s and scored 16 points in the Gaels’ win over VCU.
Saint Mary’s has two other steady shooters in guards Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon, who shoot 43 percent and 37 percent from 3, respectively.
Both average over five assists per game, and Rahon has an assist-to-turnover ratio over 3 to 1.
As a whole, Saint Mary’s will run patient, methodical offense, and usually its efficiency is stellar, though Arizona will obviously have a say in that on Saturday.
One thing notable is the Gaels had adjusted offensive efficiencies of 95.6, 98.1, and 81.9 in their three losses to Gonzaga, which were well below their season average (119.2).
While Gonzaga does have the No. 1 defense in the country, that does have to make you somewhat optimistic as an Arizona fan, knowing that the Gaels couldn’t execute against a stingy defense.
Best on the boards
No team in college basketball rebounds its opponents’ misses at a higher percentage than Saint Mary’s.
The Gaels track down 88.4 percent of the misses they force, the highest defensive rebounding percentage in the country.
Landale is obviously important here, but so is starting power forward Dane Pineau, who averages 6.2 rebounds per game.
On the offensive glass, St. Mary’s isn’t quite as dominant. The Gaels rank 56th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. But part of that is because they focus on limiting their opponents’ chances in transition, opting to get back on defense instead of crashing the boards.
For what it’s worth, Gonzaga outrebounded Saint Mary’s in all three matchups (though it was by a fairly slim margin).
The Gaels’ offense and defensive rebounding are their strong points, but their defense isn’t quite as good.
Make no mistake, it’s solid — Saint Mary’s ranks 26th in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is better than Arizona — but Gonzaga had its way with it this season.
The Gaels’ adjusted defensive efficiency currently sits at 94.8, but the Zags’ offensive efficiency against them was 134.8 (whoa), 113.5, and 108.2 in three games.
You have to take into account how potent Gonzaga’s offense is, but it’s fair to suggest Saint Mary’s struggles against high-level offensive talent, which the Wildcats certainly have.
One problem Saint Mary’s has is it doesn’t force many turnovers, ranking 332nd in the country in opponent turnover percentage.
However, the Gaels do defend the 3-ball well, holding teams under 30 percent from that range and, as mentioned earlier, they are better than everybody at defensive rebounding, so don’t expect Arizona to generate many second shots.
Saint Mary’s is listed as a “mostly man” defensive team, but it has played zone several times this season, which is probably what Arizona is going to see Saturday.
This is a tough matchup for Arizona, as Saint Mary’s appears to be an under-seeded team.
KenPom actually ranks Saint Mary’s (14th) ahead of Arizona (19th) and also gives the Gaels a 54 percent chance of advancing to the Sweet 16.
Considering Arizona is a 2-seed and Saint Mary’s is a 7-seed, that still seems a bit extreme.
I mentioned Gonzaga frequently in this breakdown because I think Arizona is the most comparable team to them, at least when you look at who else Saint Mary’s has played this season (its second-best opponent was Dayton, which it beat 61-57 in Ohio).
Gonzaga is better than Arizona in nearly every aspect of the game, but if the Zags were able to beat the Gaels handily three times in three different locations, it doesn’t seem farfetched to think the Wildcats can do similar things.
The one major advantage Arizona has over the Gaels is an edge in athleticism. The Wildcats play at a slow pace themselves, but do push the tempo at times, and getting opportunities in transition and not letting the Gaels dictate the tempo appears to be the key in this game.
Of course, preventing a Sam Dekker-like shooting day would help Arizona, too, and the Gaels are certainly capable of shooting lights out like that.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire