AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The way coach Randy Bennett and the Saint Mary's College men's basketball team see it, having to play an extra game to reach the NCAA tournament's round of 64 could give them an edge going forward.
The 11th-seeded Gaels feel like they've already shaken off the rust and eliminated the jitters as they prepare to face No. 6 Memphis on Thursday. Tipoff is approximately 11:45 a.m. at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
While just about every other team, including the Tigers (30-4), will play their tournament openers over the next two days, the Gaels (28-6) got a warm-up for the big stage when they beat Middle Tennessee State 67-54 in a "First Four" play-in game Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
Saint Mary's draw of Middle Tennessee State in the "First Four" game could pay off in another way -- the Tigers and Blue Raiders share a similar playing style.
Both teams thrive on creating turnovers, then getting out in transition. Saint Mary's also notes Memphis' athleticism and physicality.
"They're a little like Middle Tennessee but bigger," Bennett said. "A little bigger, a little deeper and they have really good guards. You have to take care of the ball against their pressure."
Junior guard Joe Jackson, the Conference USA Player of the Year, averages a
Saint Mary's will need another superb game from senior guard Matthew Dellavedova, their floor general and emotional leader who also broke out of a shooting slump against Middle Tennessee.
"His experience, leadership and basketball IQ are about as high as you're going to get in college basketball," Bennett said.
The Aussie Olympian's advanced game also has the attention of Memphis coach Josh Pastner and the Tigers.
"He's a pro basketball player that's playing college," Pastner said.
Said Jackson: "He's the master of the hockey assist ... He's not the fastest guy, but he's one of the smarter guys in the country."
Dellavedova briefly left Tuesday's game to have his knee tended to, but Bennett said he was just experiencing cramps. Dellavedova didn't look limited when he returned to the game or in practice Wednesday.
The Gaels will again be without injured starting guard Jorden Page, but his replacement -- redshirt freshman Jordan Giusti -- didn't show any nerves Tuesday in his first career start.
The San Ramon Valley High graduate barely registered on the stat sheet (zero points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal in 37 minutes), but made few mistakes and provided tough defense.
"It's hard for me to take him off the court because of how good a defender he is," Bennett said.
The Gaels will be facing a Memphis team with a little extra pressure to win its tournament opener. After four straight years of reaching at least the Sweet 16, the Tigers have yet to win an NCAA tournament game under Pastner, who is in his fourth year.
Saint Mary's (28-6) vs. Memphis, (30-4), 11:45 a.m., CBS