Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Every two weeks, RTC contributor Joshua Lars Weill (@AgonicaBoss|Email) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the forgotten greatness of La Salle’s Lionel Simmons.
We all want to be remembered. We slog through our days hoping we can create something lasting, something that will point back to our time here and show we were worthy, that we made something of ourselves. Competitive athletes have even more impetus to do so, as it’s a big stitch in the very fabric of what they do. You win to be acknowledged. You win to gain affection. You win, quite honestly, to be remembered.
But what does it take to be remembered? It isn’t enough just to accomplish great things. It’s something more than that. Lots of players reach the pinnacle of the sport but remain afterthoughts once the bright lights are turned off. Too many times, players are remembered solely for the one big thing they did, right or wrong. Maybe it’s the game-winner at the buzzer, or the brain freeze that cost the team at the wrong time. Whole careers of effort are forgotten in lieu of the one big thing.
The 1989-90 NCAA basketball season was chock full of big things, stars and teams who made that season one that elicits a whoosh of nostalgia and basketball awe: powerful UNLV with Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Tark “The Shark”; Georgia Tech’s “Lethal Weapon Three” of Kenny Anderson, Brian Oliver and Dennis Scott; Arkansas’ “40 Minutes of Hell” powered by Todd Day and Lee Mayberry; Duke’s choir boys Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley and the boss choir boy himself, Coach K; LSU’s Chris Jackson and Shaq; and many more.
What most people recall about 1990 is the “Loyola Marymount” story. And indeed it was that season’s NCAA Tournament that immediately followed All-American Hank Gathers’ collapse and death, the event rendering Gathers’ All-American year almost a tragic footnote. Each spring you’ll see at least one clip of Gathers’ childhood friend from Philadelphia and college teammate Bo Kimble bravely playing on, shooting free throws left-handed to honor his fallen comrade. Read the rest of this entry »
WYN2K. The Metro Atlantic, or the MAAC in local parlance, is a league that usually has a handful of good teams that can consistently compete with the mid-majors and beat the low-majors, but just doesn’t have the horses to run with the high majors. As a case in point, the league went 1-19 against BCS teams last year (Marist 63, Minnesota 56), but still managed to have one of the best low-major records against nonconference opponents over the last three years (122-174, .412). This is also exhibited by the league’s average seeding (#13.8) in the NCAA Tournament over the last decade – only two times has the MAAC received a #16 seed (2001 – Siena; 2007 – Niagara), and both times it won the PiG as a result. As such, the league is typically competitive at the top, and this year is no different as we can foresee as many as five teams making a run at the title.
Predicted Champion.Loyola (MD) (#15 seed NCAA). We’re a bit of a sucker for a great turnaround story, and none this year could possibly be better than Loyola. In 2004 the Greyhounds endured a 1-27 season, tied for the fewest victories in D1. Enter Jim Patsos, a smooth-talking optimist who guided Loyola to 6 wins, then 15 wins, then 18 wins last season as he has re-energized the program. Now in his fourth year, the Greyhounds are poised to win the MAAC and earn an NCAA bid, led by former transfers such as Gerald Brown (22.2 ppg – #8 nationally) from Providence, Hassan Fofana (a 6’10 bruiser) from Maryland and Joe Miles (an instant-offense guy) from Marshall. With four returning starters from a 12-6 conference record last year, we think that Loyola is the team to beat in the MAAC this year.
Others Considered. Siena is another school that returns a slew of talent from a 12-6 team, including Kenny Hasbrouck, the 2006 MAAC ROY and an all-league selection last year. The Saints won nine of their last ten games last year before losing to Niagara in the MAAC title game, but we feel that the loss of big man Michael Haddix gives Loyola the edge here. It will be a close race in any case. Last year’s regular season champ Marist returns a good amount of experience and adds some key transfers (including former Syracuse guard Louis McCroskey), but the loss of second-round NBA draft pick point guard Jared Jordan, who led the nation in assists for two years in a row, will be tough to replace. We also expect Manhattan to make some noise this year, as the Jaspers return seven sophomores from a team that surprised the MAAC by going 10-8 last season. Niagara also should be mentioned even though it lost four starters from its NCAA team; after all, the Purple Eagles have won two of the last three NCAA bids, and the one starter returning is all-MAAC forward Charron Fisher, who will be assisted by the MAAC conference tourney MVP Tyrone Lewis. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention Rider, if for no other reason than they have an NBA prospect named Jason Thompson on the team, the only returning 20/10 player in all of D1 this season.
Games to Watch. We’re still in the low-majors, so only one game matters.
MAAC Championship Game (03.10.08). ESPN2.
RPI Booster Games. The MAAC doesn’t play many BCS games in a typical season, and this year is no different with 21 on the slate. As always, there are a few opportunities to grab a handful of wins against some BCS bottom-feeders in addition to improving the overall profile of the league simply by showing up and taking your medicine.
Siena @ Syracuse (11.12.07)
Marist @ Miami (FL) (11.15.07)
Stanford @ Siena (11.17.07)
Loyola (MD) @ Seton Hall (11.20.07)
NC State @ Rider (11.22.07)
Fairfield @ Georgetown (12.01.07)
Niagara @ St. John’s (12.15.07)
Loyola (MD) @ Illinois (12.28.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Once again, for the record, zero.
Neat-o Stat. Former Pitino assistant Kevin Willard takes over for Jeff Ruland at Iona after the Gaels’ horrendous 2-28 performance last season. How do you lose that many games? Well, first, you turn the ball over on more than a quarter (26.1%, 329th nationally) of your possessions; and second, when you manage to hang onto the ball long enough to get to the foul line, you convert at only a 57.7% rate (334th nationally). Iona lost six conference games by <5 points or in overtime – you think extra possessions and making foul shots might have helped?
64/65-Team Era. The MAAC is 5-24 (.172) over this era, which actually accounts for the second-best record among the traditional low-majors (only the Mid-Continent is better), but this is a little misleading because two of those wins were from PiGs. As we stated above, the league tends to receive a favorable seed (among low-majors), averaging a #13.0 over the entire period. Still, only three teams have managed to win a true first round game, and one of those was as a surprising #4 seed (1990 – LaSalle and Lionel “L-Train” Simmons over #13 Southern Miss 79-63 – believe it or not, we found a clip of the L-Train in action in 1988 below). The other two upset victories for the MAAC were in 1995 (#13 Manhattan over #4 Oklahoma 77-67) and 2004 (#12 Manhattan over #5 Florida 75-60). Seems as if only the Jaspers can pull off the upset from this conference.
Note: video cannot be embedded, so double-click on the YouTube logo above to get it to play.
Final Thought. The MAAC as a whole has seen better days, but really it’s the bottom half of the league that’s keeping it down. It’s an exaggeration, but it seems as if every year the worst team in America (as judged solely by records and media coverage) comes from the MAAC. Several years ago it was Loyola, and last year it was Iona. Part of this probably derives from increased media attention due to its location of schools centered in and around New York. Nevertheless, the perception of this league is worse than its actual performance. Still, it has been slipping a smidge over the past couple of years and it needs to put together a strong season this year to earn back some of that respect.