WCC

Saint Mary’s Basketball: Jock Landale and the Gaels’ WCC hopes

LAS VEGAS, NV – MARCH 04: Jock Landale (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Jock Landale will enter this season as the favorite to win the WCC Player of the Year award, but should Saint Mary’s basketball be the conference favorite too?

Last season, the Saint Mary’s Gaels had another great season, going 29-5 (16-2 WCC) and finishing second in the West Coast Conference. Despite not winning the automatic bid through the WCC Tournament, Saint Mary’s resume was impressive enough to warrant an NCAA Tournament bid. After receiving a seven seed by the committee, the Gaels took care of VCU before falling to two-seed Arizona in the second round.

Throughout the year, they were led by big man Jock Landale. Landale averaged 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds while shooting 61.1% from the field. For his efforts, the junior center was named to the First-Team All-WCC as well as being awarded an honorable mention All-American by AP.

With his senior season approaching, there are plenty of expectations for Saint Mary’s. Gonzaga has won the previous five WCC regular season titles (and 16 of the last 17) and conference tournaments, but maybe this is the year that the trend changes. It is never safe to bet against ‘Zaga, but the Bulldogs lose WCC Player of the Year Nigel Williams-Goss along with Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews, Zach Collins, and others.

As Saint Mary’s brings back Landale, Calvin Hermanson, and Emmett Naar, the Gaels’ odds to win the WCC are likely on par with Gonzaga at the start of this season. In addition to the returners, transfer Cullen Neal will be stepping up to the plate for head coach Randy Bennett this season.

The rivalry between Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s is one of the best in all of college basketball, and is certainly the most hyped “mid-major” game of the entire season. This season, it will be renewed with even more ferocity given how close the two teams relatively seem in terms of talent. Both the Bulldogs and the Gaels will start in the preseason top-25 and it seems likely that they will both stay there throughout the season and receive an NCAA Tournament bid at the end of the season.

Without Collins or Karnowski to protect the paint against Landale, this could be the year that Landale explodes against Gonzaga to take home a victory or two. Gonzaga has won the past four meetings between the two schools, each by double digits. In the three games that the schools played last season, Landale averaged 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on 17-for-34 (50.0%) from the field. These are by no means poor numbers, but they were down from his season averages.

Landale is the type of player who could end up averaging a double-double of 20+ points and 10+ rebounds per game next season as a potential National Player of the Year candidate. This is not the kind of player to sleep on, as he is ready to have a sensational senior season. The expectations might be high for Saint Mary’s this season, but they are also achievable. Gonzaga was the National Runner-Up last season, maybe this is the year for the Gaels to make their big run in the Big Dance?