Saint Mary's makes case for best in West

February, 9, 2012
2/09/12
3:26
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With the Pac-12 in a major rebuilding year, the title of "Best Team in the West" is as up for grabs as it will ever be for mid-majors. Saint Mary's is currently 22-2 and ranked 13th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. They head to Spokane on Thursday night for a huge WCC matchup with Gonzaga (ESPN2, 11 ET).

What gives Saint Mary's a claim as the best college basketball team out west?

REBOUND PERCENTAGE
Saint Mary's is among the country's elite in rebound percentage, the percentage of both teams' missed shots that a team rebounds. Unlike the other teams on top of the list, Saint Mary's has turned this advantage into success on the scoreboard. North Carolina, often mentioned as the best rebounding team in the country, is tied for ninth in rebound percentage.

IMPROVING PLAYERS
Sophomore guard Stephen Holt shot just 19 percent (6-32) from 3-point range in non-conference play, but has bumped that to 56 percent (20-36) since WCC play began. That’s tied for the seventh-best 3-point field goal percentage in the country in conference games.

He’s increased both his points per game (+6.3) and his field goal percentage (+16.3) significantly across that same split.

QUALITY WINS
There are currently nine teams that are undefeated in conference play, and five of those teams are in the RPI top 50. Though teams can do little about the level of competition in conference play, it's pretty clear that Saint Mary's has not just been mopping up weak WCC teams, but also handling its business against formidable opponents.

Those five teams have combined for just six conference wins against RPI top-100 teams and Saint Mary’s has three of them -- all three against teams in the RPI top 50. The only other team on that list to defeat a top-50 RPI team in conference play is No. 1 Kentucky.

CONSISTENCY
To top it off, Saint Mary's has the fourth-longest active win streak in the country. What makes this particularly interesting is that the Gaels will face Murray State on Feb. 18 in BracketBusters, and if both teams continue winning up until then, each team will be riding a win streak of at least 15 games when they face off.

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