Mar 15 2037: Made the national tournament field.
Dec 13 2036: 4-star prospect Nelson Cooke committed.
Nov 08 2036: Fred Foster was hired as the new assistant coach.
Nov 08 2036: Assistant coach Jay Fisher was let go.
Nov 08 2036: 3-star prospect Ed Sample committed.
Oct 14 2036: Zachary Bittner was inducted into the team Hall of Fame.
Jun 24 2036: Zachary Bittner was drafted round #1, pick #25 by Oklahoma City.
Mar 09 2036: Made the national tournament field.
Mar 01 2036: 2-star prospect Harley Chitwood committed.
Jan 19 2036: 3-star prospect Josh Harris committed.
Pts Ave: 77.0 - 70.3 Pts Diff: +6.7 Team Power Index: 150.6
Mar 19 2037: 2037 Season Review (II.1) - by naph on March 3rd, 2024
The Gaels went 1-2 in the D1RT a record that seems to be happening a lot. The opener was a heart-breaking, overtime loss to Wisconsin-Parkside. Florida Atlantic were way too good. Then some face was saved with a small win over Illinois Wesleyan. A 102-82 win over long-time rival Cal State Dominguez Hills was bittersweet as it will be the last year in the series for the foreseeable future. A scheduling quirk saw a "no-starters" game played against conference foe Northwest Missouri State, which resulted in a big win for the home Gaels. The big outlier was a shock 82-85 home loss to Massachussetts College of Liberal Arts, whou would go on to demote back to LL5 at the end of the year.
The Gaels dropped some games they probably shouldn't have this year which ultimately cost them a chance to contend for promotion. A 5 point loss at Florida State (#16). A 7 point loss at Pittsburgh-Johnston (#11). A 22 point loss to bot Misericordia, after winning by 23 at home.
But there were certainly some high points. An 11 point win over conference winner St. Bonaventure. Two OT wins over Sioux Falls. Splitting the series with New Orleans as well gave the Gaels a 4-2 record against the promoting trio during the regular season. Northwest Missouri State may well have promoted if they didn't drop both games to the Gaels. Central Arkansas also was a season split, with the Bearcats and Bears only finishing above the Gaels on point differential, all locked on 19 wins.
The conference tourney saw a narrow win over Pittsburgh-Johnstown. A 20 point win over ranked New Orleans. It was a third great game this year against Sioux Falls in the CT semi-final, with the Cougars finishing over the top.
The late-season surge at home and decent showing in the CT final proved just enough to get the Gaels into the National Tournament. With a third consecutive 15-seed, Gaels fans are certainly used to sweating it out on selection sunday. This year they drew the prestigious Penguins of Dominican University of California in the opening round. The Legends stalwarts got the jump on the Gaels early and raced to a 38-21 half-time lead. Whilst the second half was better, the Gaels could never seriously challenge, eventually going down 48-59 in a turnover plagued, defensive grind.
The first five star Gael not to redshirt. A natural 4, his defensive versatility let him slide to the 3 or 5, which the Gaels utilized extensively, particularly in the 3 years he played with Z-Bit. Played as a combo-forward off the bench as a freshmen, then started 124 of 129 games from his sophomore season. He was a decent secondary scoring, graduating with a passable face-up game to go with his good post game. Was a force on the glass averaging a 14.5/10.6 as a senior from PF.
A natural SG, he was asked to play PG as a senior, but despite giving it all, it clearly wasn't his position. Started for three seasons. Had an unorthodox stroke, but he could launch it from distance and he was certainly a beneficiary of his team-mates. With Z-Bit, Throat and The Greg all demanding plenty of attention in the paint, he was the one shooting the long-ball and punishing teams that collapsed too much in the paint. Used his smarts and quicks to become one of the most prolific thieves in Gaels history.
Was given his unusual nickname on a team trip to New Zealand, where the concierge in the team hotel seemed to be calling him Lozenge. It stuck. Not the most talented player, particularly in the weight room, but he maximized his game becoming a solid post player at both ends of the floor. Started 82 games, 77 as an upperclassman.
Ed Sample (3* 6' SF PG SG 108/12) has been on the Gaels radar for years and he wasted little time committing early in November. He's a classic 3-&-D guard that is unlikely to create much for others. Already has pretty solid finishing at the rim which should keep teams honest if they over-play him on the perimeter.
Before Christmas the Gaels were done with the commitment of Jamaican big man Nelson Cooke (4* 6' 9½" C 106/13). Nelson projects as a great rim-protector and all-around defender, should be solid on the boards and has a wet jumper. He averaged 15.4p 10.9r with a steal and block in 25 games as a HS senior, slashing .567/.452/.700 in the process. He's surprisingly mobile for his 230lbs and his 39" vert is gravity defying.
The Gaels almost never graduate four players at once. This year they do. Four of them were starters. There's no way to sugar-coat it, next year's roster is under-manned by Saint Mary's standards and it is going to be a struggle to stay up in LL2.
That said, opportunity knocks as there will be more minutes for younger players than usual. Dent will be given the keys to the offense and whilst he doesn't have the offense of Skelly, he's already a better all-around floor general. Coombs will likle start at SG, but will have solid competition from former JuCo Chitwood, who has a similar game. Clark won the battle for SG this year but will move to SF next.
The trio of Cleveland, Haskell and Benavides will get the lion's share of the minutes at the 4 & 5 next year. All three were reliable contributors off the bench this year. Tipsy is particularly high on Haskell who is already filling out nicely and growing into a good 2-way threat.
Josh Harris (bPG) and Ken Brewer (bSF) round out the bench after completing their redshirt seasons. Both are still a little raw, but they should both see regular minutes in any case.
LL2 always has plenty of stars, and its arguable that the Gaels will have none. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, steps up to change that in 2038.
Mar 29 2036: 2036 Season Review (II.1) - by naph on January 11th, 2024
The Gaels largely feasted on a home-heavy OOC schedule going 8-2. The most notable wins were in the D1RT over West Georgia and Drury, as well as the rivalry game win over CSDH. The losses were to D1RT rival Illinois Wesleyan and the Gaels were also stunned by LL5 New Mexico the game after.
A hot 5-1 start to conference play including an OT road-win over Clark and an OT home win over Maryland had fans hopeful early. But the Gaels would drop 3 of their next 4, all home losses, starting with a heartbreaking 1-point loss to Central Arkansas. The Gaels would then go 6-3 on a protracted homestand.
Any hope of challenging for promotion was largely snuffed with a 1 point road-loss to bogey team Maryland. A 4 game winning streak was followed with a 1-4 swoon. The road win in the All-Gaels battle against Iona gave the team some much needed momentum heading into the conference tournament.
A tight 64-62 win over Washington State came at a high cost as both C Zeng and bC Cleveland picked up injuries that would see them out until the 2nd weekend of the national tournament. The Gaels did however benefit from an already-tournament-secure Clark resting their starters after they also picked up some injuries in the opening round. That set up a 3rd game against Yale, who scored the last 13 points of the game to win the CT semi-final by 5 points and leave the Gaels sweating on the bubble on selection Sunday.
After nervously waiting through the other regions Saint Mary's finally heard its name called in the Western region where they were given a 15-seed, playing against Legends stalwart Alabama.
Almost everything went right in the opening round as the Gaels had 15 steals and 10 blocks, completely shutting down the paint and running away in the second half to win 75-57. Z-Bit (23p 10r 4b) and Skelly (21p 3a 4s) doing most of the damage.
The second round game was a rematch against West Georgia who were also missing their starting C. Despite a big game from Brody Willis, the Gaels would again prevail with Skelly (24p 7a), Z-Bit (20p 10r 2s 3b) and The Greg (18p 12r) all scoring freely in the 83-70 win.
Zeng was back for 3rd round, and so was a familiar opponent. Conference Rival Yale had swept the Gaels by 18, 5 & 5 on the year. It was a spirited game with the Gaels rallying from a 10-point half-time defecit to grab the lead twice, before finally succumbing 71-75. Nathan Fitzpatrick (26p 13r 3b) dominated Zeng and the Gaels bench shot just 3/11 from the field.
The run to the Sweet Sixteen did give Z-Bit just enough games to become just the second Gael to pass 3000 career points (finishing with 3008 after scoring 14 in the S16 game). A fitting milestone for a Gael who will surely see his number elevated to McKeown's rafters sometime soon.
All told, a 30-win season, 18-12 and 7th placed finish in II.1 and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen for the 2036 Gaels.
bPF: Alan "Vic" Goodwin (RS JR 6' 7" 225lbs PF sf 138 - 15 IQ, 12 Reb/ID/Sta)
35gms 0gs 7.1mins 1.5p (.451/.125/.750 eFG%:.461) 1.8r 0.2a 0.4s 0.3b 0.4to 0.4pf POTG:1
Zachary "Z-Bit" Bittner (6' 9" 210lbs PF C 180/13)
A post prodigy who hard arguably the greatest array of post moves and best finishing in the country by the end of his sophomore season. Just the 2nd Gael to surpass 3000 points. His career numbers stack up against any of the Gaels' greats in any era. A fantastic post presence at both ends of the floor. Was the 2nd option on a national tournament runner-up team as a freshman and was then the #1 option his last 3 years. Could play either PF or C, but was probably at his best at PF.
FR: All Tournament, III.2 FOTY
SO: III.2 All Conference
JR: III.2 All Conference Centre, Promotion
SR: All-Discord PF
Leonard "Hassle" Hoffman (6' 7½" 210lbs PG pf c 154/12)
Probably would have made a better SF, but that's not how what squad-building around him would allow. Came off the bench for three years, before finally starting as a senior. Picked his spots on offense, somewhat surprisingly hitting on .345 from deep for his career. Was able to use his size and length to good effect at the top of the key. Not a great player, but he'll still be missed next season as the cupboard is quite bare in the playmaking department.
Theo Gregory (151 -> 171 = +20)
Steve Clark (119 -> 135 = +16)
Gordon Dent (113 -> 126 = +13)
Leonard Hoffman (142 -> 154 = +12)
Kelly Steeter (155 -> 166 = +11)
Rodger Haskell (109 -> 120 = +11)
Armando Benavides (108 -> 119 = +11)
Lucas Coombs (128 -> 138 = +10)
Eddie Cleveland (106 -> 116 = +10)
No changes in the coaching box this year for the Gaels. Head coach Darren Scales runs the defense, game-day tactics and development. Sam Flaherty is the recruiter and motivator. Jay Fisher remains the offensive coordinator.
Theo Hudson continues to develop into a rounded coach of the future, though his more reserved nature sees him to defer to the other coaches on game day. At his most recent performance appraisal he was found to be above average or better in 4 coaching areas. Combined with his youth he has secured a long-term contract.
Whilst it was disappointing to see Australian big man Edward Young decide to go to Queens College, the eventual early January signing of Ken Brewer (3* 6' 5" PF pg sf c 100/13), who chose the Gaels over Azusa Pacific helped to salve that loss. He projects as a 2-way wing with lightning quicks and plenty of upside.
Shortly after, long-time lead Josh Harris (3* 6' 2" pg sg sf pf 105/12) also inked his letter of intent. He brings a rounded offensive game, though probably not out to the 3-point line, and should be versatile enough to play 1-3. Given the state of PG stocks in Moraga, don't be surprised if he mostly plays point. How quickly can his defense come around? That's the big question mark.
Late in the season the coach's attention was drawn to JuCo SG Harley Chitwood (2* 6' 1" PG SG SF pg 124/11) who signed on the first day of march. He has a game very similar to Lucas Coombs, primarily basing his game around quicks and range, though he perhaps has a slightly more refined jumper. The coaches are also high on his potential as a secondary playmaker as passing has become something of an issue on the current roster.
One simply does not replace a talent like Z-Bit and even if PG was not his most natural position Hassle was streets ahead of any other PG on the roster. The departures of those 2 starters will certainly be felt next season.
Skelly, The Greg and Throat all return. Zeng will reprise his role as the starting C. Almost certainly being backed up by Cleveland. But those could be the last positions that are locked in.
Rumour has it that Skelly may be asked to try his hand as a scoring PG. Coombs was a real weapon off the bench this year at bSG and will be keen to see Skelly succeed. If Skelly can't handle the position then Dent could be thrown into the fire at PG a year ahead of schedule instead.
It should be The Greg's turn at PF, but that may depend on who wins the job at the other forward position. Steve Clark (SF) and Alan Goodwin (PF/SF?) will duel it out and it could well come down to who has the better off-season.
Dent or Coombs will be coming off the bench. Even if Dent starts it seems likely Skelly will be bPG, so Coombs should play plenty. If Coombs starts then 2036 redshirt Benavides might be an unlikely bSG. The other redshirt Haskell should be the bPF, which leaves the loser of Clark/Goodwin at bSF.
The Gaels have plenty of targets with The Greg, Zeng and perhaps Haskell operating in the paint and Skelly/Coombs/Clark spacing the floor. The problem is likely to be getting the ball to those targets with ball movement and ball security looking likely to be issues. Defensively they should be okay, particularly on the interior.
Realistically it looks like a squad that should battle for mid-table, will hopefully be safe from demotion, but is unlikely to threaten the frontrunners in II.1 next season.
Mar 22 2035: 2035 Season Review (II.1) - by naph on November 14th, 2023
A very up and down year.
The Gaels had their first undefeated OOC in as long as anyone can remember, winning their first 12 games of the season and peaking at #5 in the rankings. The team looked set for a high seed and the talk around office water coolers was about whether they could go as far as the 2033 team or maybe even one better?
II.1 had other plans however as SMC would lose 6 of its next 10 games. After a 3 game winning streak they then lost 7 of 10, and instead of questions around "what seed?", the questions turned to whether demotion was a possibility and whether they would make the post-season at all. Late in the season a 4-game winning streak including wins over Huntington U and UPRRP had them hovering around the bubble. 2 more wins in the conference tourney proved enough to earn them a 15-seed.
The Gaels looked good in the first half against the III.1 champion Bucknell Bison, but it was the LL3 team that made the better adjustments at half time, turning the Gaels over repeatedly and ultimately bouncing them out in the first round.
bC/bPF: "Throat" Les Zeng (RS SO 6' 10½" 215lbs C pf 138 - 14 IS/Reb/ID, 13 Hnd, 12 IQ/Drv)
41gms 5gs 18.7mins 7.6p(.680/.---/.569 eFG%:.568) 4.9r 0.6a 0.5s 0.6b 0.9to 1.6pf
bPG: Leonard "Hassle" Hoffman (RS JR 6' 7½" 210lbs PG pf c 142 - 14 Pass, 12 Fin/Reb/ID/Hnd)
42gms 3gs 15.7mins 3.5p (.431/.373/.769 eFG%:.520) 1.2r 1.9a 0.8s 0.1b 2.0to 1.2pf
"Tup" Ira Mott (6' 2" 175lbs PG SG pf 166/11)
A talented shooter who could get wherever he wanted on the floor. Became a better playmaker and distributor as an upperclassmen which eventually saw him take over PG duties as a senior after playing almost exclusively at SG his first 3 seasons. Became a competent defender over time. A better finisher inside than he got to show at Saint Mary's as the Gaels needed him to space the floor more than drive the lane.
Cliff "Cha Cha" Chavis (6' 9½" 240lbs PF c 153/11)
After two years of backing up the four, Cliff found a starting role at SF for his final 2 seasons. Not a big offensive threat, but he was generally good for 1 timely three per game and the off put-back. Very good defender and an especially good rebounder for his position. Was certainly a physical presence on the wing and we'll no doubt miss his hard-nosed style.
Dion "Dingo" Goss (6' 5" 220lbs SF sg 148/12)
He was simply a little underwhelming. Enough so that his minutes dwindled as a junior, behind both Chavis and Gregory in the depth chart at SF. He was a decent secondary creator, but didn't really do enough of anything else to earn regular minutes.
Theo Gregory (135 -> 151 = +16)
Kelly Steeter (140 -> 155 = +15)
Dion Goss (138 -> 149 = +11)
Alan Goodwin (118 -> 130 = +12)
Steve Clark (107 -> 119 = +12)
Harvey Payton (107 -> 118 = +11)
Eddie Cleveland (95 -> 106 = +11)
Darren Scales remains the head coach the 46yo is highly regarded for his defensive schemes, player development and in-game tactical adjustments.
Sam Flaherty remains the primary motivator/recruiter and was called upon for his offensive accumen as well this season.
Bud McNamara was moved on at the start of the year making way for an offensive guru in the form of Jay Fisher. At 46yo he is the same age as both Scales and Flaherty, which could make for an interesting off season in a few years. Whilst Fisher isn't a huge positive in any other area, Scales needs an offensive coordinator and Fisher should provide a solid pairing for at least a few years.
30yo Theo Hudson is considered better than average at offense, defense, development and recruiting, and seems likely to remain on staff for some time.
In early December, a brief courting process was completed when Rodger Haskell (3* 6' 8" C PF 109/12) was the Gaels first signing. He should get another inch and should be a scoring 4/5 that can also provide some rim protection and already shows a good baseline of strength for a HS player. His work on the glass might take a little longer to come good.
Early in the new year, long-time target Armando Benavides (3* 6' 7" C sg pf 108/12) made his commitment. Benavides was considering Pepperdine, but after a head coaching change the Gaels became the clear favourite. He projects as a great all-around defender and already has some offensive polish, particularly in the post. Also expected to finish up around 6' 9" he could possibly play some 3 as well as 4/5.
Its somewhat unusual for the Gaels to double up with 2 bigs a 2-man class. It will be interesting to see how the roster shapes around this pair.
Various misses in recruiting on floor generals saw Mott move to PG this year, and next year the options are worse again. Journeyman Leonard Hoffman looks likely the best option, but he'd more naturally play as a role-playing SF than the guy with the keys to the offense.
Steeter will return as a skilled junior with a year of starts already under his belt. Whilst his game is still primarily built around speed, smarts and stamina, his shooting and defense are also becoming more respectable.
The Greg most likely moves to SF where he split time as a freshman. How effective can he be with a clear weakness in handling and driving? Time will tell. An improved shooting stroke should help.
Z-Bit likely moves back to PF after a year at C. He appears to have reached his peak, but fortunately that peak is pretty good. He remains arguably the premier post scorer in the nation, and is now adept at driving to diversify his scoring options. He is also a high level rebounder.
Despite his affliction with a rare muscle-wasting disease, Zeng looks likely to move to the starting 5 position next season. He's a skilled post-scorer/defender and rebounder, who can also take it to the rack off the bounce. All good positives until he starts getting pushed around by the opposition.
The bench will be as raw as it has been in quite some time. Dent, Coombs, Clark, Goodwin, Cleveland make up the 2nd unit. 3 redshirt freshmen, a barely played RS SO, and a barely played RS JR. None of them top 130 SI as yet, so things could be quite the adventure when fouls or injuries strike.
The goal is likely to be trying to stave off relegation. But maybe the star duo of Z-Bit and The Greg will have grander plans in their last season together?
Apr 01 2034: 2033 Season Review (III.2) - by naph on September 21st, 2023
It was always going to be hard to back up 2033, but the 2034 Gaels did so admirably. A 7-3 OOC record wasn't as good as it sounds as the only real win of note was a surprising, blow out win over Lipscomb. Toledo and Central Arkansas accounted for 2 of the losses, both in the D1RT, and Cal State Dominguez Hills provided the final loss a 20-point drubbing on the road.
A 3-3 start to conference play caused some grumbling from the Gael faithful, but it proved short lived as SMC peeled off a 16 game winning streak that would see them climb into the top 25 polls, where they would remain for most of the year, finishing >>>#19<<<. Back-to-back losses then made the conference race interesting with Columbia snapping at their heels and Huntington taking the lead, but the Gaels closed out conference play with another 6-game winning streak to secure the III.2 regular season title.
Dreams of the conference double were dashed with a semi-final defeat at the hands of New Orleans.
The mid-season heroics and conference triumph was enough for last year's runner-ups to receive a 4-seed. Any thoughts of another long tournament run were quickly ended in the form of 13-seed Grand View. The Gaels shot better than 60% from the floor, but were left to rue 19 turnovers and 11 missed FT's as well as JoFo's buzzer beater rimming out in a 2-point, opening round defeat. Z-Bit went down with an MCL tear and Dingo also sprained a thumb in the loss, so it seems unlikely the Gaels would have advanced much further in any event.
Despite those disappointments it was a successful year resulting in the Gaels second ever division one conference title, and first in LL3.
Jonathan "JoFo" Fontaine (6' 1" 195lbs PG sg sf 176/12)
A solid, defensive, distributing point guard that improved his offense enough to open up the floor for his passing game. After seasoning for 2 years he started as an upperclassman, averaging north of 12ppg 6apg and reduced his turnovers under 3topg as a senior. He will best be remembered for the run to the national tournament finals his junior year, where he performed well enough to be named to the All Tournament Team.
Clayton "Horse" Pollock (6' 11½" 240lbs C 138/10)
A mobile big who played great positional defense and even became respectable guarding the perimeter. Horse was a surprisingly efficient bench scorer for his first 3 seasons, largely operating as a rim-runner. He was solid, if unspectacular starting as a senior. Not the most naturally talented player, but he worked well with what he had.
Theo Gregory (119 -> 135 = +16)
Kelly Steeter (126 -> 140 = +14)
Zachary Bittner (159 -> 171 = +12)
Dion Goss (127 -> 138 = +11)
Les Zeng (122 -> 133 = +11)
Leonard Hoffman (123 -> 133 = +10)
Lucas Coombs (109 -> 119 = +10)
As predicted, long-time assistant Darren Scales took over the head coaching position. The 45yo is highly regarded for his defensive schemes, player development and in-game tactical adjustments.
Sam Flaherty remains the primary motivator/recruiter and was called upon for his offensive accumen as well this season.
Ned Dalton lasted just the one year and 2 new, young faces joined the coach's bench. 29yo Theo Hudson is developing strengths in a number of areas, whilst little is known about 25yo, local Bud McNamara.
With the change of head coach it was unsurprising that it was a somewhat slow start to the recruiting year. In late November Gordon Dent (3* 5' 11" PG SG sf 103/11) was the first commitment for coach Scales. The Modesto, Californian projects to finish around 6' 3-4" and primarily as a distributor.
Mid January saw Eddie Cleveland (2* 6' 8½" C 95/10) from San Diego join the Gaels. He still probably has 2-3" to grow and should develop into an elite rim-protector (7' 6+" wingspan already!) and a decent rebounder with a sweet jumper.
Rounding out the class in mid-February was Steve Clark (3* 6' 2" PF SF c 107/11) out of Sacramento. He projects as a small forward with a varied offensive game, built around the 3-ball. His quicks and length should make him a decent perimeter defender in time.
The Gaels return plenty, but its hard to see them being as good next season. JoFo was a very good point guard and Pollock was a solid pivot. With all 3 incoming recruits likely to redshirt it will only be this year's redshirt, SG Coombs to come into the rotation and he's still a fairly raw prospect for a guard, though his quicks should help him compete.
The team is already Bittner's team, but that will be even more of the case next season. He's played exclusively PF so far, but may be asked to transition to C depending on who else wins a starting position. The most likely candidates are returninng defensive, glue-guy Chavis (RS JR SF/PF). Boom, 5-star recruit Gregory(FR SF?/PF), or Zeng (RS FR C). Regardless of who starts it seems likely Bittner will have to play at least some C next year, and the 4 of them will get the lion's share of the minutes at SF/PF/C.
Mott will play one of the guard positions, but its not obvious whether he will be joined by Hoffman(RS SO PG/SF?) or Steeter(RS FR SG).
Goss (RS JR SF) will also duel with Hoffman for minutes at bSF. Goodwin (RS FR PF) and Coombs (FR SG) are likely to be fringe contributors.
Will that be enough to compete in LL2? The conference looks to be stacked with experienced managers next season so it should be tough competition every night.
Apr 04 2033: 2032 Season Review (III.2) - by naph on July 27th, 2023
It should be noted that this team had an improbably healthy season. All 5 starters played all 49 games.
The Gaels had a fairly successful OOC going 8-2. Both losses were in the D1RT (Redlands & Central Arkansas), but there were some decent wins as well against Roanoke, Columbia and Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Conference play started with a suprise win over preseason favourites (and eventual III.2 winners) SUNY Brockport. But a pair of 2-point road losses either side of a home win dulled their momentum. Saint Mary's won 9 of their next 11 and looked to be a promotion contender. A 56-93 drubbing at the hand of SUNY Brockport seemed to require some soul searching as the Gaels then lost 4 of the next 6 after that loss. 3 of the next 4 were home wins, but a 23 point road loss to New Orleans and a 3 point home loss to UPR Rio Piedras cemented their position mid-table, even though they would win their final 3 conference games. 7th place in a very competitive III.2
Wins over Iona and BYU set up a 3rd encounter with UPRRP, but it was a 3 point loss for the 3rd time in the same season that sent the Gaels to sweat on the bubble.
Eventually the Gaels heard their name called as the #13 seed in the Midwest. III.2 would send an impressive 7 teams (SUNY Brockport, North Carolina Central, UPR Rio Piedras, Columbia, Prairie View A&M, Azusa Pacific and Saint Mary's) to the tournament.
And what a tournament it was!
W 95 - 82 #20 Texas Christian
W 87 - 91 SUNY Canton
W 100 - 83 Ohio
W 85 - 94 #11 Methodist University
W 83 - 78 #8 Prairie View A&M
L 95 - 99 (ot) #1 Seton Hall
Head coach Billy Ray Finch announced his retirement prior to the Elite Eight.
Wen Xu went on an absolute tear - 27.2p (.560/.510/.962) 5.5r 1.5a 1.2s, He was well supported by Z-Bit - 17.8p (.609) 8.2r 2.3b and JoFo - 13.4p 9.5a. Mott averaged 13.0p (.492/.452/.857) to keep things ticking over even when Xu Sat. An incredible run against great teams.
The Gaels were up double digits in the final. It was a back-and-forth tussle at the end of the second half. Xu found Grove in the corner for the tying three that sent the game to OT, but the Pirates made the crucial baskets and stops late in OT to pull out the win.
Ultimately defeat, but an epic finish to the greatest tournament run in the college's history.
The Gaels' first international prospect in some time showed some flashes in his red-shirt year, but could only manage a minor role as the bSG (7mins/g) as a freshman. In his sophomore year he split the starting role with Grove as the starting SF, averaging 12.6ppg in 25.6 mins/g. It was already apparent that he was developing into a scoring threat and his ability to jump passing lanes made up for some of his defensive deficiencies. He was a full time starter as a junior switching back and forth between SG and SF for match up purposes. His 20.1p 4.5r 1.5a 1.5s was good enough for an All Conference reserve selection. As a senior he took his game to another level averaging 22.7p 3.9r 2.4a 1.5s mostly from SG. He had a well-rounded offensive game, and by his senior year was a .401 shooter from behind the arc. Ferocious on the glass, especially for a SG and possessed a very solid handle. Initially a liability, he worked hard at becoming a better defender and his strength and quicks helped him become a decent defender by the time of his graduation. Leaned into his surname and used Cristiano Ronaldo's Siuu celebration extensively. The Gael Force will miss the "Zooo!" chants in McKeown next year.
Wen finishes 4th on the Gaels all time scoring list (2707) and set the single season points record his senior season(1126), the first Gael to eclipse 1000 points in a season. 2nd in FT%, 5th in FTM & 3PM, 6th in 3P%, 10th in Steals. He also finishes 2nd in career POTG awards (38) after setting the Gaels single season record (22).
A true glue guy. He was a solid defender from early in his career, with a decent passing game. His offense took a little bit longer to come along, but he was a decent scorer working his way up to 10.8ppg as a senior. His skill set complemented Xu's well and he would often switch positions on the wing to get the tougher defensive assignment. By his senior year his post game was more polished and it became clear that SF was his best position. It was a luxury to have a player with his talents be the 4th option on offense. He had four 20+ games as a senior. He kept the locker room loose, sacrificed for others on and off the court, a true Gael.
Grove finished with 1380 points, 418 rebounds, 319 assists, 186 steals.
His rebounding, defense and mobility saw him playing 15 minutes as a freshman, almost 24 as a sophomore even before he was a regular starter. Whilst his finishing eventually became adequate his post-game and jump shot remained an adventure. Set a great screen, but spent his whole career huffing and puffing, never enjoying playing at the tempo that Xu wanted to run. Will graduate 4th in rebounds(1569), 3rd in blocks(234), added 184 steals and, impressively for a non-scorer, 7th in +/-.
Zachary Bittner (137 -> 159 = +22)
Jonathan Fontaine (154 -> 172 = +18)
Ira Mott (145 -> 161 = +16)
Alan Goodwin (97 -> 110 = +13)
Kelly Steeter (114 -> 126 = +12)
Leonard Hoffman (112 -> 123 = +11)
Wen Xu (171 -> 181 = +10)
Cliff Chavis (125 -> 135 = +10)
Actually a change! Brian Jorgensen moved on and became an assistant at Georgia State where he has a decent shot to be a head coach some day. Fare well Brian! His replacement was 26yo Ned Dalton, who's yet to really show much. There are rumours are that he's not enjoyed the travel part of the job, especially relating to recruiting.
Billy Ray Finch used the Elite Eight press conference to announce his retirement. The 61 year old wanted to go out on top. Whilst the Gaels didn't promote this year it was certainly a memorable season. The Gaels had only ever made 2 Elite Eights and 1 Final Four. They fell just short but it was a run for the ages all the same.
Flaherty remains the primary motivator/recruiter. Scales is widely tipped to be the front-runner for the head coach position as he continues to run the defense, is the lead tactician and head of development.
Despite most eyes being elsehwere, in late November Lucas Coombs (2* 6' PF PG SF sg 109/10) was the first commit for the season. Whilst he has logged minutes at all 5 positions in HS, he is projected to ply his lightning quicks, already impressive range and developing perimeter defense exclusively at SG in college. His handle and drive are developing, which will diversify his game, but it will mostly be about opening up the 3-ball.
All eyes were on the next prospect however, especially once he was re-rated up to 5-star and the late attentions of and returned interest in Humboldt State. For the Gaels faithful it was eventually worth the wait though as in late February they celebrated the commitment of Theo Gregory (5* 6' 8" C PF 119/13). He already has some post game and rebounds well. He projects as a great defender. There are some question marks over how he'll fit in with Z-Bit as they're potentially both natural PF's, but the talent is undeniable and the fans in Moraga can't wait to see how he develops.
III.2 was an absolute meat grinder this year, but its unlikely to get much easier next season. The Gaels lose 3 starters (SG/SF/C), but the 2 they are returning PG JoFo and PF Z-Bit are both very good. Ira Mott looks more than ready to step in at SG.
After that things get a bit more interesting.
Does 5-star Theo Gregory start from day one?
Pollock will be a senior next year and seems a likely candidate to start at C. He's a mobile, rim-protector who has scored efficiently off the bench his whole career.
Dion Goss the presumptive SF-in-waiting has not yet developed as hoped.
Does Z-Bit more from PF?
Versatile defender and rebounder Cliff Chavis could perhaps learn to play on the wing?
Regardless of who starts the Gaels should once again be competitive. How competitive? That probably depends on how often JoFo can get Z-Bit the ball in the paint.