They won one game last year; let that sink in, ONE GAME. With a thrilling 72-71 victory over Drexel on Saturday night, Towson University won its 16th game of the season and 11th in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). With a record of 16-13 and two games left in the season, the Tigers have clinched a winning record for the first time since the 1995-96 season, when the team finished 16-12. With a win in either of its final two games, the Tigers would have the most wins in a season since they won 21 games in the 1993-94 campaign.
After Towson got off to a 3-2 start, I haven’t written too much or focused too much on them exceeding the win total of last year. It was obvious early on this season that Towson was much better, and the talent level on the two teams wasn’t even close to comparable. However, before the 2011-12 season is completely put in the rearview mirror, there is another statistical oddity the bears mentioning.
When Towson lost to VCU on Jan 25, 2012, it set an NCAA record for 41 consecutive losses. A victory in the next outing at home against UNCW ended the streak. If Towson wins its final two games—tonight at George Mason and Saturday at home against Hofstra—it will set another NCAA record. This time it would be a record on the opposite end of the spectrum. A final record of 18-13 would signify a 17.5 game improvement over last year. The current record for biggest improvement in one year is 17 games, accomplished by Mercer in the 2002-03 season, and UTEP in the 2003-04 season. However, one thing should be pointed out about those teams. They both were “good enough” to win six games in the season before their turnarounds. Neither Mercer or UTEP, were considered among the worst teams in Division I during those seasons. Towson’s talent level last year arguably was not near as good as either of those teams, and as a result suffered several large defeats, despite playing with a hard effort every night. They just did not have the talent level as most other teams in the CAA.
This year’s Bryant University squad is currently at a 17 game improvement over last year. There is a notable fact on Bryant as well. It is a recent reclassification into Division I, and played last season with many players that were recruited when the school was Division II, but played against a largely Division I schedule.
Tiger head coach Pat Skerry, has been asked often this year about the difference between this year’s team and last year’s squad. He has answered it the same way every time by saying “we’ve got better players.” Earlier in the year, he wouldn’t put too much attention on how much better this year’s team was or how much more it could accomplish than last years. However, for the first time after Saturday’s victory over Drexel, he allowed a bit of reflection on how much this year’s team has accomplished. “I do every day—think about it—with the staff, but I probably don’t say it to these guys—players—as I want them to focus on the process. I know what we can really become a year from now. I told the kids before the game. We’ve only got a week left, and the NCAA and CAA can take away our post season. But nobody can take away the next 40 minutes, nobody can take away our game Tuesday against George Mason. I’ve said it all year, and it’s not just coach speak, I’ve got great respect and appreciation for these kids. They’ve done a great job all year.”
Junior transfer and leading scorer Jerrelle Benimon sat out last year during the 1-31 season, but practiced with the team every day, even though many of those players are no longer here. Even though he is aware of the great turnaround, he thinks it could have been even better. “We’re obviously having a great season. But honestly it could have been better, we lost some games we probably shouldn’t have. We’re in second right now—in the CAA—so I don’t think you could ask for too much more” was his reply when asked his thoughts on the season. He is correct, the Tigers could already have locked up the largest turnaround, if they had beaten UMBC and Coppin State. Combined both of those teams have a record of 12-43 on the season. Towson’s losses to those teams were in mid December when Benimon was the only consistent scoring threat for the Tigers.
Since the beginning of CAA play, Towson has five players averaging in double figures. They have become a much harder team to defend with that balance.
Benimon referenced the second place standing in CAA play. Towson’s 11 wins in the CAA are the most conference wins it has had since joining the CAA in the 2000-01 season. Towson has beaten every team in the CAA this year except first place Northeastern University and George Mason. The Tigers will have a chance to remove the Patriots from that list later tonight.
As mentioned earlier, and has been much discussed this year, Towson will not be able to play in the CAA tournament. Because they are ineligible for the NCAA tournament, due to a low APR during the years before Skerry’s arrival, the CAA has declared them ineligible to play in the CAA tournament in two weeks in Richmond. The CAA does not want to take a chance on having a team that is NCAA ineligible win the conference tournament and in the process cost the league its only bid to the tournament.
With Towson being picked 10th out of 11 teams in the CAA Pre-Season poll, winning the conference tournament may have seemed like a long shot chance. Towson would be a very tough out in the tournament and would have as good of chance to win it as any team in the conference. When asked about how tough Towson would have been to beat in the tournament, a few of the CAA coaches said are only concerned about the teams that will be there.
However, whether they admit it or not, you can bet the fact that Towson is not making the bus ride down to Richmond has many coaches breathing a sigh of relief regardless of the teams that are there.