The Saint Mary's Gaels were expected to do well in the 2011-12 NCAA basketball season, but were considered a third-place contender in the West Coast Conference behind perennial powerhouses the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the BYU Cougars. They lost the WCC Player of the Year in point guard Mickey McConnell after last season, so they appeared set to be looking up at Gonzaga yet again in the final standings.
The Gaels outperformed expectations right from the start, however. They went on a tear early, winning 11 of 13 games prior to conference play. One of their two early losses came against the No. 7 Baylor Bears. They rolled through the early stretch of the WCC season, sitting at 11-0 in conference play in early February, and were looking like a candidate for as high as a five seed. However, the Gaels stumbled a bit down the stretch losing three of their next four to Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount and Murray State.
They managed to regroup to close the regular season with wins over Portland and San Francisco. The victories ensured them an outright regular season conference title. For the first time in a decade, Gonzaga did not claim at least a share of the regular-season WCC title.
St. Mary's entered the 2012 WCC Tournament as the No. 1 seed, which ensured a bye into the semifinals. They outlasted San Francisco before meeting up with Gonzaga one last time. The Gaels blew a late lead, but hung on in overtime for a 78-74 victory. The win gave them a 27-5 record for the season and a clean sweep of the conference with the accompanying automatic berth into the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
The Gaels will face Purdue in the first round of the tournament. Here's a look at the schedule of their 2012 NCAA Tournament Midwest region bracket:
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Lamar/Vermont, Friday
No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 9 Alabama, Friday
No. 5 Temple vs. No. 12 California/South Florida, Friday
No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 13 Ohio, Friday
No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 Detroit, Friday
No. 7 Saint Mary's vs. No. 10 Purdue, Friday
No. 3 Georgetown vs. No. 14 Belmont, Friday
No. 6 San Diego State vs. No. 11 NC State, Friday
Brackets on the brain? Us too! Play Yahoo! Tourney Pick'em and be a part of the craziest month of college basketball. It is fun, easy, and free. For more coverage of St. Mary's in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, visit the SB Nation Bay Area NCAA Tournament Storystream. Click here for a link to our 2012 NCAA Bracket. And of course, make sure and get your printable bracket!