MORAGA, Calif. -- The adjectives used to describe McKeon Pavilion over the years have all echoed a similar sentiment. Words like intimate and compact have often represented what people usually think when they walk in the door.
But what if that's not a bad thing? What if that size has actually helped to create a fervor that contributes to one of the most striking home-court advantages in all of college basketball?
That theory has become fact, and now the words being used by opposing teams sound more like variations on tough, loud and just plain difficult to deal with.
The numbers don't lie when it comes to the standard Saint Mary's has set in its own gym, and it's a benchmark that the Gaels will try to keep going and expand on when the 2013-14 season begins Nov. 8 against Louisiana Tech. Saint Mary's has finished 16-1 at home in each of the last two seasons and won at least 15 home games five times in the last 10 years.
"One, we've had good teams, but one of the biggest reasons we've been tough at home would be our fans and our atmosphere. Not many programs in the West have an atmosphere like ours," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "It's developed here. Our community supports us. Our student body is awesome. It's related to the size of the school. Our players are very close to the student body. They live with them in dorms or on campus, they spend a lot of time with them. Those are their friends, so they come to the games."
Saint Mary's enters the 2013-14 season on a 17-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents. The last loss came against Kent State in the 2011 NIT. The last regular season loss against a non-conference foe happened all the way back on Feb. 19, 2011 against Utah State.
And, playing in McKeon has become a badge of honor for a Gaels team hungry to keep up those winning ways.
"It intimidates people, because as soon as we go on a 2, 4, 6, 8-point scoring run, people are shaken because the crowd's into it," forward Beau Levesque said. "Now they're a little bit more nervous on their shot, they want to get the crowd out of it. And, it's not like we haven't brought good teams in here, but we bring good teams in here and beat them and our fans have a lot to do with it."
Saint Mary's fans will have plenty of opportunities to help their team with those statistics this season. The Gaels will host nine non-conference games this season, including seven before the team even takes its first road trip.
"Our scheduling, philosophy-wise, keeps changing a little bit because our league has expanded twice. Now it's a 10-team league and you have 18 conference games instead of 14 and that's happened over the last three or four years," Bennett said. "We've tried to play more home games, bottom line. I think it's our best non-conference schedule yet as far as our home games. The RPIs of the teams coming in here are very good. It's always challenging to get those games. Eran Ganot has done a great job on scheduling, as good as we could've done."
It's a quality slate, too, with plenty of early challenges to prepare the team for good competition at the Diamond Head Classic and a West Coast Conference schedule that is sure to be another grinder. While the names might not jump off the page immediately, the numbers say that if the Gaels do well in the non-conference portion of the season, they'll be properly positioned to make their move in conference play.
"Louisiana Tech is a tough opener. They return a lot of guys from a 27-win team last year. That'll be a tough game," Bennett said. "Right behind it is Akron, who was in the NCAA Tournament last year. North Dakota State, people don't know that was a very good team with a top-75 RPI. Drake's right behind it, we go to Boise, Murray State's coming in and they put it on us pretty good two years ago.
Those are great opportunity games and they'll be tough games but that's what we need to see early. If you're able to win those, you've got some good RPI wins. Throw in the Diamond Head Classic and you're going to play some teams that are good in that, starting with South Carolina. I think our strength of schedule for non-conference is right on point. We'll have to get ready and see if we can play well in those games."
Through it all, the Gaels will turn to the one constant they've relied on in recent seasons -- a fan base eager to show that a night spent in McKeon Pavilion is never a comfortable one.
"We have great support in the community as far as boosters, faculty, staff and obviously the students who show up at games," guard Stephen Holt said. "It makes it that much tougher for opponents to come in knowing we sell out pretty much every game. Knowing that we have that support every game makes us do our duty of going out there playing hard and representing Saint Mary's the way it should be."