WCC coaches picked Saint Mary’s basketball — not Gonzaga — to win the league in 2023-24. can Aidan Mahaney help the Gaels reach their potential?

In nine of the last 12 campaigns, Saint Mary’s has finished in the KenPom top 40, reaching the NCAA Tournament six times in that span. And how many Sweet 16 appearances have come from those trips? Zero.

Yes, the Gaels have been remarkably successful of late — until it comes to performing in the Big Dance. They haven’t made the second weekend since 2010 and haven’t reached the Elite Eight since 1959 when the NCAA Tournament consisted of only 23 teams.

Their struggles under the big lights extend beyond March, though. The Gaels’ towering overall record from the past 12 seasons (302-98, .755) is primarily built on beating lower-rated opponents. Saint Mary’s is just 9-33 (.214) against AP Top 25 opponents over that span, and 15-48 (.238) against teams who finished with a higher KenPom rating than the Gaels.

So what has been missing? Quite frankly, balance. Saint Mary’s has finished in the top 25 in either adjusted offense or adjusted defense in each of the last eight seasons. But the school has never finished in the top 25 for both. As one end of the floor trends forward, the other slips backward.

Of late, it has been the Gaels’ defense on the rise. Saint Mary’s has three straight KenPom top-15 defenses. Even without Logan Johnson and Kyle Bowen this season, head coach Randy Bennett’s squad should thrive on that end. Back-to-back No. 5 seeds are great, to be sure, but Saint Mary’s is now set for a deeper run.

To make such a run, the Gaels need more offense. That is where sophomore Aidan Mahaney could take a giant leap that would help SMC realize its potential. He already averaged 13.9 points as a freshman, but he can unlock even more in Year 2 with a season under his belt.


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