The oak dotted hills east of Oakland, California is about the least likely place of any to house what has become a consistent hoops power. Tiny Saint Mary's College had a 2-27 record before Randy Bennett took over in 2001. Now they've won at least 25 games in six straight seasons. That six year run has been fueled by talented point guards – from Patty Mills to Mickey McConnell to Matthew Dellavedova. Mills (San Antonio) and Delly (Cleveland) are in the NBA, while McConnell (who was also drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers) is in the D-League. After each of them left St. Mary's, the Gaels were supposed to take a step back. Instead they've finished 1st or 2nd every year in the West Coast Conference, won the conference tournament twice, and made four NCAA tournaments.
But now Delly is gone. He's the all-time leader in points, assists, 3-pointers, and several other categories. And he averaged 90% of the team's minutes for his entire career.
At his position they've turned to senior Stephen Holt (as the other option – Jorden Page – destroyed his knee in last year's WCC tourney and may never play again). Holt was recruited as a point guard, but has played off the ball for three years. In their opening game Holt had 18 points, 8 rebounds, and six assists against a Louisiana Tech team that is expected to compete for the Conference USA title. In last night's midnight tip vs the defending MAC champion Akron Zips, Holt had 14 points, 7 assists, and zero turnovers.
Bennett has continued with his high ball screen offense, and so far Holt appears to be running it well. He's been especially adept at splitting the defenders on the ball screen, which creates a brief 4-on-3 mismatch and can quickly overwhelm a defense. Here he is last night:
Most importantly, the St. Mary's offense isn't missing a beat without Delly. The Gaels have had a top-25 offense in each of the past four seasons (offensive efficiency). Versus La Tech the Gaels scored 83 points in 65 possessions, or 1.27 per possession. For reference, the national leader each year is usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.20. Then they scored 85 in 69 possessions last night (1.23 per possession).
Junior Brad Waldow has averaged 22 points in the first two games, largely by making 68% of his 2s. James Walker III (12.0 per game) and Beau Levesque (10.0) also join Holt and Waldow in double figures.
In short, this offense – at least in the early going – once again appears to be elite, even without Dellavedova. And at this point, no one should be surprised.