Top 68 Team Previews: #2 Kentucky Wildcats

Top 68 Team Previews: #2 Kentucky Wildcats

Terrence Jones passed on the NBA Draft to return to Lexington. (Icon SMI)

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By Keith Levinsky

Monday, November 7, 2011

St. Mary's Gaels
Last Season: 25-8 (11-3)
Key Losses: Mickey McConnell
Head Coach: Randy Bennett

Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Matthew Dellavedova 6-4 Jr.
SG: Stephen Holt 6-4 So.
SF: Rob Jones 6-6 Sr.
PF: Mitchell Young 6-9 Jr.
C: Kyle Rowley 7-0 Jr.
Key Reserves: Clint Steindl 6-7 Sr. SF, Kenton Walker II 6-9 Sr. PF, Paul McCoy 5-11 Jr. PG, Jorden Page 6-1 So. PG, Tim Williams 6-9 Jr. PF, Brad Waldow 6-9 Fr. PF

A 25-8 record and a West Coast Conference Championship were not enough to get St. Mary's into last season's NCAA tournament. Some would say that the Gaels were snubbed. Others would say that Randy Bennett's squad did not play a difficult enough schedule to garner serious tournament consideration.

Whichever the case, the 2011-12 version will come back loaded with talent and experience.

Preseason awards contenders Matthew Dellavedova and Rob Jones are this year's headliners. Dellavedova returns from his sophomore campaign, in which he averaged 13.4 points, 5.3 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. With the departure of Mickey McConnell, the junior Aussie will be relied on to be an even greater playmaker for the Gaels. He finished last season with a respectable 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio but shot only 42 percent from the field. A more efficient Dellavedova would be a tremendous boon for St. Mary's.

Coming in as a transfer last season, Jones made an immediate impact for St. Mary's. The former San Diego Torero was a First-Team All-WCC selection after he finished in the top 10 in the conference in scoring (13. 8 points, 8th) and rebounding (7.7, 2nd). Though he is undersized for his position, Jones is not afraid to bang in the paint, as evidenced by his numbers. Now, Jones enters his second year in the Gaels' offensive system, and it would not be a stretch for him to have an even better season.

With Stephen Holt, Paul McCoy and Jorden Page, St. Mary's has three more capable guards to use in a supporting role. McCoy, a transfer from Southern Methodist University, is the wild card. He is hoping to return to form after suffering a knee injury during his sophomore season at SMU. McCoy was named to the C-USA All-Freshman Team after leading SMU with 13.4 points, four rebounds, three assists and 1.6 steals per game. If the Gaels get anything even close to that type of production, St. Mary's will be even more dangerous.

Mitchell Young will also have to take another step in his development. The 6-foot-9 Australian led the conference in field goal percentage (56) and averaged 10 points and five rebounds per game in his sophomore season, a big improvement on his freshman numbers (3.9 points and 2.8 rebounds). Young has the skill set and potential to be an all-conference player. Young's continued maturation and development will provide the top offense in the West Coast Conference with more ammunition.

An intriguing player to watch will be Kyle Rowley. The 7-footer originally from Trinidad will take the floor this year after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. The former Northwestern center will provide the Gaels with much greater size and bulk to help clog the lane. Clint Steindl will be another offensive weapon for St. Mary's. The 6-foot-7 senior from Australia connected on nearly 43 percent of his 3-point tries last season, good for fifth in the conference. Steindl's presence on the court will force opposing defenses to spread out, opening room for guard penetration.

The Gaels will have plenty of depth down low. Along with Rowley, Steindl and Jones, they also have Tim Williams, who started 26 games last season and could once again crack the starting lineup, and redshirt freshman Brad Waldow. Size and frontcourt depth will not be an issue this season for the Gaels.

The road to the tournament may be a little tougher this year with the inclusion of BYU in the WCC, and St. Mary's gets a chance to prove its mettle with games against BYU and Baylor before the New Year. The Gaels will be more than capable enough to put up points. The Gaels finished sixth in the nation in field goal percentage (48.7), 14th in points per game (79.2) and 12th in assists per game (16.5) in 2010-11. With this much returning talent, St. Mary's should not have to worry about being "snubbed" this time around.

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