When Pat Skerry took his new job this summer, he knew the challenge would be daunting. The team he inherited, the Towson Tigers, went 4-26 in 2010-11, a campaign that ended with 19 straight losses, including all 18 Colonial Athletic Association conference tests. That winless performance marked the first time in league history a team managed to lose every single CAA game. What's worse, Towson experienced loads of turnover this offseason, with only four players -- two who played minutes of any sort in 2011 -- returning for Skerry's first season.
It's hard to have illusions about this kind of rebuilding project. Still, you wonder: Did Skerry know it would be this bad?
How bad is it, exactly? Towson is 0-11 to start the season. It ranks No. 343 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings, merely a Chicago State and a Grambling away from being the worst per-possession team in the country. The Tigers are scoring .87 and yielding 1.13 points per possession. I append no editorial comment, because none is needed. (And I don't want to be mean.)
Unfortunately, after Tuesday night's 81-62 home loss to Manhattan, Towson is set to attach two ignominious milestones to this stretch of brutal basketball, as our stats and information guru Jeremy Lundblad wrote yesterday:
If the Tigers don't beat Vermont at home Thursday night, they'll have gone a full calendar year without a victory.
If the Tigers don't beat Virginia in Charlottesville on Dec. 30, they'll started and finished all of 2011 without a win.
The Tigers have a long-standing culture of losing; they've gone 15 years without a winning season. But this season has been worse than most. Under Kennedy, the Tigers won more than 10 games in each season from 2006-2010, even flirting with .500 in 2007, Kennedy's third year at the school. But Kennedy was never quite able to get over the hump, and last year's four-win campaign, including that record-setting conference malaise, necessitated some change at the program.
That change was made by new Towson associate athletic director Mike Harris and athletic director Mike Waddell, who hired Skerry -- a longtime assistant who spent a season under Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon in 2010-11 -- in an attempt to revitalize this program with new energy. Harris also drew some offseason headlines for his decision to remake the Towson home court by adding stripes and a unique design to the floor. The idea was based on the Oregon model: Do something different, stand out a bit, and the talent will follow. (Harris's quote from the announcement: "Just like Oregon did last year at the Matthew Knight Arena with their new look, we feel that our new court is a plus for recruiting because kids like things that are unique and cutting edge in design.") Of course, this is easier to implement at Oregon, which has a blank check from Nike co-founder and chairman Phil Knight, than at a place like Towson.
Still, the ideas are there. Harris isn't sitting on his hands. He certainly isn't satisfied with the current state of affairs. There's reason to believe his efforts, along with Skerry's transparent enthusiasm, will get Towson pointed in the right direction sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, though, the Tigers are bound to struggle. Unfortunately, if Towson loses tonight, they'll have set up one of the least happy milestones in recent college hoops history, and they'll be on deck for another in a week's time. This is the Platonic ideal of a rebuilding project.
The good news? There's nowhere to go but up.