Robbie Hummel’s final season in West Lafayette surely did not go as well as he had hoped, but the Purdue Boilermakers (21-12) find themselves back in the NCAA Tournament with an at-large 10-seed. Waiting for them in the first round (Omaha, Nebraska) are the Saint Mary’s Gaels (27-5), the WCC regular season and tournament champions. The game is Friday night at 7:27pm/6:27cst on TruTV.
Who are they?
Despite their conference affiliation, Saint Mary’s has made the case in the past few seasons that they are more than just a mid-major program. The Gaels held a pretty consistent spot in the Top 25 rankings this season and have emerged as a legitimate contender to Gonzaga’s WCC dominance. The Gaels, who split the regular season series with the Zags, took down their rival in a great overtime conference championship game back on March 5th. They missed the tournament last year, but were a Sweet 16 team back in 2010 as a 10-seed. This will be the Gaels fourth trip to the Dance in the last seven seasons.
What about their coach?
Randy Bennett has been the head coach at Saint Mary’s since 2001 and in that time he has taken the Gaels from a 9-20 dud to a conference season/tournament champion and consistent NCAA Tournament participant. Bennett has (by far) the most NCAA tournament appearances than any other Saint Mary’s coach, as the program had only been invited three times in its history before his arrival. Before this job, Bennett had a long career as a top flight assistant coach, including stops at St. Louis and Pepperdine under Lorenzo Romar. Once this season is over, his name will surely be linked to any number of open high-major jobs. While no Pac-12 jobs have opened up thus far, Mississippi State, Illinois, Nebraska and South Carolina have already released their head coaches this offseason.