Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett gives his backcourt of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova the “Brett Favre Treatment,” and it has nothing to do with the drama of quitting and returning to the team.
Bennett, believe it or not, allows the two guards to call their own plays.
All the time.
"I can’t come up with better plays for them,” Bennett half-jokes. "They call all of them and decide what we’re going to run.”
"They run their own deal. We just tell them what the plays are – and they pick it. They see everything and have a great feel.”
Amazing in a day and age where so many college coaches – and rightfully so – don’t trust their players to make quality decisions on the court and micromanage their every move.
But McConnell and Dellavedova allow Bennett to be different.
"He gives us the freedom,” McConnell said. "It really helps us to be able to do it on the fly.”
"They’re just so smart and have such high basketball IQs,” Bennett added. "I never worry about them.”
Thus far it’s worked to the tune of a 17-2 record despite what most predicted would be a rebuilding year of sorts after the Gaels lost productive and gregarious big man Omar Samhan.
"I think we may be better than last year,” McConnell said.
That’s a strong statement considering Saint Mary’s went 28-6 a year ago and knocked off Richmond and Villanova en route to a Sweet 16 appearance.
It’s also not a knock on Samhan, who averaged 21.3 points and 10.9 rebounds last season.
McConnell has been sensational, averaging 15 points and 6.4 assists with an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.8-to-1. He’s also shooting 49 percent from beyond the arc and 91 percent from the charity stripe.
"If there’s a better pure point guard in the country right now, that guy is really, really good,” said Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating, who watched McConnell go for 18 points and 13 assists last weekend. "His feel is off the charts and the No. 1 reason that is a Sweet 16 team again right now. He developed the right way, and the program is still at the level Omar left it at.”
Dellavedova, the latest Aussie star to grace the program, is averaging 12.8 points and 5.9 assists and is making 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
According to KenPom.com, the Gaels rank No. 1 in the nation in effective field goal percentage – a measuring stick that takes 3-pointers into account.
These guys are so efficient they will change a play without Bennett’s knowledge.
"Sometimes they let me in on it, and sometimes they don’t,” Bennett said. "I’m 100 percent fine with it.”
"They aren’t plays for them, they’re plays for us,” he added. "They don’t care if they score. They care if we score.”
McConnell said it’s taken some time to adjust to LWO – Life Without Omar – but the three interior guys (Mitch Young, Kenton Walker and Tim Williams) have combined to account for the production lost when Samhan left.
Young, Walker and Williams are averaging more than 24 points and 13 boards a game while splitting time between power forward and center.
The biggest difference from a year ago has been the locker room.
"It’s a lot quieter,” McConnell laughed.
The Gaels finally cracked the AP Top 25 this past week at No. 22, and while they remain a mystery to some because of their lack of resume wins, the only two losses have come against a pair of Top 10 teams: San Diego State and BYU.
"The ranking is more for our fans than anything,” McConnell said. "As a team, we’re not going to change. Whether we’re ranked or not, we still think we can play with anyone in the country.”
They’ll find out soon as they play at Vanderbilt on Saturday and then go to Spokane next week to play Gonzaga.
"We’ll see how good we are,” Bennett said. "But I like this team and trust them.”