Randy Bennett isn’t happy the Saint Mary’s men’s basketball team didn’t get an invite to the NCAA Tournament. But he could’ve taken steps to avoid that fate before the season began. (Tod Fierner/ Saint Mary's Athletics)

Saint Mary’s can only blame itself for tourney snub

Saint Mary’s is stuck in the NIT with a 28-5 record. And the Gaels have nobody to blame but themselves for missing out on the Big Dance.

The Gaels took out their anger on Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday night, trouncing the Lions 89-45 in the first round of the NIT in Moraga.

Plenty of folks, especially here in the Bay Area, are screaming bloody murder for their exclusion from the NCAA Tournament, but the truth is when you play in a mediocre conference with a soft non-league slate, a team like Saint Mary’s will get shafted every single time.

As it should.

Gaels head coach Randy Bennett has been snubbed before, and he can point to his RPI being in the top 40, which is usually good for an at-large bid.

But Saint Mary’s beat one (1) tournament-team all season: an impressive victory at Gonzaga on Jan. 18. At the time, it seemed like the Gaels cleared a big mental hurdle and were on their way to a no-brainer bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Nope. Despite being ranked in the AP Top 25, Saint Mary’s can thank their weak schedule for missing out on a chance to flex their muscle among the nation’s best.

Multiple sources have reported the Gaels refused to play Creighton, Rhode Island, Nevada and Middle Tennessee State. And that is all they need if they’re looking to assign blame.

Playing in the West Coast Conference, knowing that Gonzaga is the only team in the league who’s worth a damn, why would the Gaels decline a chance to play against some of the top mid-majors in the country?

Not only that, they lost to Washington State and Georgia in non-conference play. WSU finished 12-19 with only four wins in Pac-12 play while Georgia was a mediocre 18-15.

“You don’t get to just pick, ‘Hey, we’ll play you, you and you — and we want you at home and we’ll play you away.’ It’s not like that,” said Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett told Steve Kroner of the Chronicle. “There are a lot of basketball economics involved in this thing.”

The Gaels haven’t been the same since Gonzaga came to the East Bay hills and dominated in their house. And it must’ve been a shaking loss, because they followed it by looking uninspired and overmatched against USF on the Hilltop.

In the quarterfinals of the WCC tournament, Saint Mary’s escaped against Pepperdine with a three-point win before succumbing to BYU by 13 in the semis.

There’s a slim margin for error for a team that doesn’t get a chance to play many nationally televised games. Playing in the WCC is an inherent disadvantage. That’s why Gonzaga is taking a serious look at leaving for the Mountain West.

But, the Gaels didn’t leave the state of California during their non-conference schedule, and by not winning their conference tournament — or at least making the championship game — it leaves them with nothing to be sour about.

Many will point to Syracuse and Oklahoma as not being deserving, and I get it, but at least they have the argument of playing in stronger conferences.

Saint Mary’s doesn’t. Combine that with the Gaels’ shoddy performance this season despite taking the path of least resistance, and there’s no reason for the NCAA committee to give them the benefit of the doubt.

They only have themselves to blame.

Bonta Hill of 95.7 The Game can be heard from 12-3 on the Greg Papa Show. Born and bred in San Francisco, he is a sports junkie who loves to sit in the lab (home), eats breakfast food for dinner, and has a newfound love for tequila. Follow at your own risk on Twitter @BontaHill.

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