You will hear Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s hyped up as one of the best rivalries on the west coast, or the game no one out east is watching but should be watching. People, for the most part, are correct to a certain degree on that analysis.
But at the same time, there is a bit of luster that has been lost in the series. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Saint Mary’s doesn’t have any figures like Omar Samhain or Mathew Dellevlellelvleodova who not only relished the role of villain in Spokane, but encouraged it. The last person to carry a vestige of that would be Brad Waldow and that was mostly because of his stupid vampire fang mouthguard. It gave the Gaels the audacity to roll into Spokane and do things like this:
The current vestige of Saint Mary’s doesn’t have any characters like that. The personalities of the Gaels aren’t as big (or at least one or two personalities). They do their thing calmly on the court, and for big drama television, that just doesn’t translate.
But the real reason it is feeling less and less like the rivalry of old is because of the results. The Gaels and the Zags used to trade games at home and occasionally sneak one on the road, with the real bragging rights coming in the WCC Tournament Final. That isn’t the case anymore. From 2008-2012, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s played five games decided by four or less points. They played three overtime games. The Gaels picked up five wins during that time.
Since the 2012-13 season, the Zags are 12-2 against the Gaels, with the two wins for Saint Mary’s coming in the same season. In those 12 wins, the Zags average margin of victory is 15.8 points.
Now, to be fair, this little cherry-picking run is also culminating with the highest level of play we have seen from the Gonzaga Bulldogs in school history. Since the 2012-13 season, the Zags have been ranked No. 1 in two separate seasons, made the Elite Eight, and made the national title.
At the same time, the expectations on Saint Mary’s have grown as well. Say what you will about Randy Bennett (in the comments section please), but credit given where it is due: he has built a strong program in Moraga. How strong remains to be seen. The Gaels made the NCAA Tournament three out of the first four years of this decade, but have only sniffed March once in the last four years.
All of this progress should be coming to a culmination this year. The Gaels are returning a whole lot of their team, including Jock Landale, who by all rights should be in any and all national player of the year conversation. They were picked for the first time since the dawn of the human race to win the West Coast Conference. For the second-straight year, Saint Mary’s opened up ranked in the AP poll, the second time in school history that has happened.
Of course, the Gaels didn’t ask for that preseason ranking. They are rolling in to Spokane with the third-highest ranked offense in the nation and are currently riding a 12-game winning streak. It is time for this squad to put its money where its mouth is. The Gaels wanted to be sitting at the big kids’ table. Now they are here, and it is up to them to take the next step to show they belong.