Last year, on Selection Sunday, I said that St. Mary's belonged in the big dance. This year, the Gaels were considered a bubble team by many at the start of March. The team ended any speculation by winning the WCC tournament, blowing out a quality Gonzaga team in the final.
Randy Bennett's team not only proved it belonged, it sent a message about so-called mid-majors loud and clear by stunning No. 2 seed Villanova on Saturday.
My friends, this team is for real. Beating Richmond (80-71) and Villanova (75-68) is impressive. The Gaels now sit at 28-5 and are a dangerous club in the Sweet 16.
America, remember the names Omar Samhan and Mickey McConnell. The 6-11 Samhan has been one of the PTPers of the tournament so far. In the two wins, he has totaled 61 points, hit 24-of-32 from the field while grabbing 19 boards.
Then there was the shot heard 'round St. Mary's as McConnell hit the key trifecta that gave the Gaels the lead in the final two minutes. He hit eight 3-pointers in the two wins.
St. Mary's goes into the Sweet 16 riding a seven-game win streak.
For Villanova, it was a disappointing end to a season that showed a lot of promise early. The Wildcats were a contender for a one-seed before a late-season collapse. Jay Wright's team lost three of its final four games, and Scottie Reynolds had an NCAA tourney to forget, shooting four-for-26 from the field in the two games.
I love the passion and emotion displayed during March Madness. St. Mary's and Samhan have played with that fire and it has been a factor in surviving and advancing.