Bay Area residents generally don’t think of St. Mary’s College in Moraga as being a basketball powerhouse, but the Gaels basketball team is on the verge of making the NCAA Championship Tournament for the fifth time in eight seasons if they can make a good showing this week in the West Coast Conference tournament.
Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett must serve a five-game suspension and won’t be allowed to recruit off campus this season as the NCAA has upheld penalties against the successful mid-major program for recruiting violations.
Saint Mary’s has already spent plenty of time traveling. The Moraga school opened the tournament in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday, then made a quick trip north to Auburn Hills.
The NCAA has placed Saint Mary’s on four years of probation for a “failure to monitor its men’s basketball program,” reducing scholarships and placing other penalties on the team after it said the perennial mid-major power committed several recruiting violations.
As the banners were unveiled celebrating Saint Mary’s double conference title to kick off a Selection Sunday celebration, there were more fans on hand at McKeon Pavilion than the Gaels drew for games in coach Randy Bennett’s first season at the school.
Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett received a new 10-year contract Friday, keeping him at the successful mid-major school through 2021.