Towson Basketball: Inside the Dramatic Turnaround and Continued Frustration
Usually when conference tournament season begins, we begin to hear about the great stories from the smaller conferences, about players and teams who have overcame adversity.
One team, whose story may be the best of them all, will not be told during the conference tournament season because they will not be in attendance for their own tournament.
After finishing 1-31 last season, head coach Pat Skerry guided his Towson Tigers to the largest single-season turnaround in NCAA history.
Instead of being the subject of mockery for their horrendous play, like they have been over the past two seasons, the Tigers have risen from the ashes to give everyone a new-found sense of pride in their men's basketball program.
The Tigers flew under the radar, like most teams in the Colonial Athletic Association do, during the beginning stages of nonconference play.
By the time their ninth game of the season came around, the Tigers already had four victories, and their tides were starting to turn in a positive manner.
In that ninth game of the season, the Tigers made the relatively short journey to the Verizon Center to face the powerhouse of the Washington, D.C., metro area, the Georgetown Hoyas.
During any normal season for the Tigers, they would have gone into the District of Columbia and laid down easily to a dominant Hoyas team.
But that was not the case on December 8, as Towson challenged the Hoyas for most of the game.
While it was not the prettiest of first halves, the Tigers held Georgetown to just 17 points and gained a sense of belief that an upset was possible.
Helped by the futile shooting of the Hoyas, Towson went into halftime down by just two points, a deficit that was expected to grow mightily in the second half.
Towson was in contention for the upset of their Beltway rivals for most of the second half. Although the Tigers lost 46-40 to Georgetown, they made a statement to the nation that their horrendous last two seasons, where they totaled just five victories, was buried in the past.
In the Georgetown game, the nation was also introduced to Jerrelle Benimon, who recorded a double-double against the program he left at the end of the 2010-11 season.
The loss to Georgetown sparked a four-game losing streak that the Tigers took into Corvallis, Oregon, on December 29 when they faced Oregon State of the Pac-12.
Once again, Benimon stepped up his play against a team from one of the power six conferences, by scoring 20 points and pulling down 21 rebounds.
This time around the result was different for the Tigers, as they took Oregon State into overtime and then shocked their hosts on a game-winning shot by Marcus Damas.
The win over Oregon State came in the final nonconference game of the season for the Tigers, and it propelled the team into the start of CAA play.
To start CAA play, Towson went on the road and defeated UNC-Wilmington and Drexel before they opened their home conference schedule with a 99-86 win over William and Mary in double overtime.
Going into their clash with Northeastern on January 12 at home, the Tigers were undefeated in the CAA, and they had a chance to take down the preseason favorites to claim a spot at the top of the conference that belonged to them and them only.
Taking first place in the CAA would prove to be a more difficult task than the Tigers first thought, as they fell to Northeastern, and they were left chasing the Huskies for the rest of the season.
Towson attempted to hunt down Northeastern all season, but they were unable to accomplish the task of finishing first in the conference.
Normally, a team who finishes 13-5 in conference play, and 18-13 overall, has a strong chance of making it to the conference tournament final and earn a chance to avenge their loss to the top team in the conference.
That would have been the ideal situation for Towson, but it will not happen this season, as they are ineligible for postseason play.
During the summer, the NCAA announced that Towson, along with 10 other schools, were ineligible for postseason play because of an unsatisfactory Academic Progress Rate score.
The ruling was made because of the failure of the past regime at Towson, which was led by former head coach Pat Kennedy, to keep up the school's academic standards.
The APR suspensions can be seen as unfair by the current players and coaches, because they are punishing the current players for what was done in the past.
In Towson's case, Skerry and most of the players were not involved in the program when the violations occurred.
Towson athletic director Mike Waddell made this fact very clear when the suspension was announced this summer.
Waddell is quoted by the Baltimore Sun by saying this.
"While this penalty is coming for the 2012-13 season it is critical that all realize that
the student-athletes and coaches who are serving this postseason ban had no part
in the actions which led to the punishment"
-Mike Waddell via the Baltimore Sun, June 20, 2012
Instead of looking forward to playing in the conference tournament and challenging for the CAA's automatic bid to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament this week, the Towson Tigers are sitting at home watching all of the action.
The Tigers would have had a great shot of winning the CAA Tournament, after they won eight of their final nine games, including a win at home in their final game of the season against Hofstra.
So, while you sit down and enjoy every story about a player who overcame adversity or hear about a team who was not supposed to win their conference tournament but did and made the final 68, take time to think about how much America would have absorbed the story of the Towson Tigers if they had won the CAA Tournament and made the final 68.
Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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