Team preview: Saint Mary's

Blue Ribbon Illustrated previews the 2004-05 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.

Updated: October 20, 2004, 5:26 PM ET
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Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett looks upon the 2004-2005 season with enthusiasm, and with good reason. His team returns five of its top seven players from a year ago, including an inside-outside duo that earned all-conference honors.

"Overall, we have a lot coming back," Bennett said. "And we only lost two of our top nine. That's a lot we have intact. And the thing is, I think our guys improved."

Coming off a 19-victory season that saw his Gaels tie for second in the regular season, then push Gonzaga in the second round of the WCC Tournament, Bennett realizes this season could be the one where the Gaels finally break through to reach the ever-elusive postseason.

This is the season that many conference coaches believe Gonzaga – while still the favorite to capture the WCC title – is as vulnerable as it has been since its ascension from mid-major power to one of the nation's top programs.

The Gaels, along with Pepperdine, could prove to be some serious obstacles for the Bulldogs to overcome.

"Gonzaga is beatable, but they're not going to roll over for you," Bennett said. "We know what we're in for. We're prepared. We know we have to beat Gonzaga to [go to the NCAA Tournament.]"

Bennett thought the Gaels had a shot at an NIT bid last season, but an 84-71 loss to the Bulldogs in the conference tournament did them in.

"I thought we had a chance at the NIT," Bennett said.

"But we learned that we could only control what we could control ourselves. The NIT selection was out of control. Still, I really thought we had a chance to get in."