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Friday, October 18, 2013
You Gotta See This: CAA

By Eamonn Brennan

Jerrelle Benimon
Towson will bring back Jerrelle Benimon as it looks for a run to the NCAA tournament.
It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season — from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: Towson, the little rocket ship that could.

Two seasons ago, I wrote a column called Bottom 10. It was a weekly file firmly dedicated to poking light, polite fun at college hoops' most bemusedly bad teams (or performances, or games, or whatever). There was never a shortage of material, as you can imagine, but there were a few teams so historically bad they became weekly fixtures.

There was no avoiding it: In 2011-12, the Towson Tigers were one of the worst teams in college basketball. They finished 1-31, which is kind of as deep as you need to go, analysis-wise. It wasn't long before sarcastic jabs at the Tigers felt downright mean. Frankly, I was cheering for them. Most basketball people get sick at the idea of ending a meaningless pickup run without a win; the thought of winning one of 32 Division I contests was, like, incomprehensible. How could you not empathize?

And then, in 2012-13, something equally incomprehensible happened: Towson started winning.

The Tigers got everyone's attention in late December with an upset win over Oregon State, but anyone who looked closer noticed the Tigers had (a) already won a handful of games to that point and (b) improved statistically in just about every way.

By the time Towson put a bow on its 13-win, second-place CAA campaign, and crowned double-double machine Jerrelle Benimon the Colonial Player of the Year, coach Pat Skerry had engineered the widest turnaround -- a full 17-game swing -- in the history of college basketball.

Hard as it is to believe, here's where Towson now stands: Benimon is returning alongside three fellow starters. South Florida graduate transfer Mike Burwell will bring additional presence on the perimeter. Meanwhile, Skerry is adding one of the better transfers at any level, former Vermont and America East ROY Four McGlynn. McGlynn's all-around shooting brilliance is surpassed only by his enthusiasm for facial hair. He's as viable a CAA MVP candidate as Benimon or anyone else. Most Colonial observers seem to agree: Towson is the team to beat in the CAA.

Some of that has to do with the CAA itself. The Colonial ranks alongside the WAC, C-USA and American as outfits most decimated by the past two years of conference shifts. In 2010-11, the Colonial sent three teams to the NCAA tournament. In 2006 and 2011, it was represented at the Final Four. Now George Mason, Old Dominion and VCU are all gone, and the league's top-to-bottom quality has suffered accordingly.

But crediting a softer CAA would do Towson a deep disservice. It doesn't matter what league you're in: When you go from 1 win to 18 wins in the matter of 12 months, you deserve every single shred of praise that comes your way.

Nor is Towson likely to go away. With a perfectly realistic shot at a CAA title and NCAA tournament bid on deck, plus investment in refurbished facilities at his back, Skerry is building the Tigers into a lasting, viable mid-major entity.

Towson's story could end this season and still be worth a "30 for 30," but Skerry and his team aren't interested in being a heartwarming turnaround tale. The comedy genre is out of the question, too. No one is laughing at the Tigers now.