The question posed was "Why are they more than their previously maligned parts?", but the first thing that pops into my head when I watch Bryant this season is, "What happened last year?"
The Bulldogs suffered through the pains of restricting to Division I and pulled a coup when they grabbed Tim O'Shea to coach their team from Ohio. I talked about many of their growing pains when I traveled to Smithfield
, R.I. to the Chace Athletic Center, their humble home.
Going 1-29 in their first full season in the Northeast Conference (2009-10) was a setback (particularly after beating some of the same teams the year before as in independent), but Bryant rebounded the next season by going 7-11 in the NEC, and seemed to be on its way to contending (although they wouldn't be eligible for an automatic NCAA bid until this season).
But somehow, Bryant went 2-28 last season, 1-17 in the NEC. A closer look shows a lot of those games were close
, even at the end, 15 of the 28 defeats were by 13 points or less.
Luck explains some of it, however with Bryant now at a remarkable 17-8 and fighting for the regular season NEC crown at 10-4 after beating up on Central Connecticut Thursday night, it can't explain what will likely be about an 18-game jump in one season.
So let's assess how Bryant - picked 10th in the NEC preseason poll - has gotten to where they are:·
Dyami Starks - The transfer from Columbia has given the Bulldogs a much needed perimeter option, leading Bryant at 17.8 points per game, shooting just about 40 percent from three-point range. That has allowed Alex Francis to have a little breathing room underneath.
· Joe O'Shea - The coach's nephew couldn't get off the bench for Holy Cross, but at Bryant, has been a solid sixth man, playing his role well on both ends of the floor, and contributing nine points per game.
· A healthy Corey Maynard - The Australian was banged up all last season, and is a steadying presence and makes very few mistakes.
· Health in general - Tim O'Shea's rotation of six and a half has missed a total of one game this season, and when point guard Frankie Dobbs didn't play
against Navy, they lost.
· Veteran leadership - Dobbs and Vlad Kondratyev are the only two seniors that play significant time, but Maynard and Francis are juniors that have certainly seen enough struggles to know how to avoid it. In the overtime win over Mt. St. Mary's I was in attendance for, Dobbs had a miserable offensive night in regulation, but stayed composed in overtime to score some big points and help his team to victory.
· A small rotation - As I alluded to, O'Shea seems to agree
with my perception that depth in modern college basketball can be overrated. The six players that are on the floor most of the time clearly know each other's tendencies and clearly get along very well, at least on the court, so I guess you could include...
· Team chemistry - Winning begets winning as they say.
· A struggling NEC - The NEC normally doesn't drift too far from the bottom of the conference power rankings, and it's been particularly balanced this season. The Bulldogs have lost only twice at home this season, and have three of their final four regular season games in Smithfield. The NEC awards home court to the higher seed, so the road to the NCAA Tournament may go through Bryant.
· And a little bit of luck - The Bulldogs easily could have lost the game I saw against Mt. St. Mary's, and have been fantastic for the most part down the stretch of close games, even out of conference, where they knocked off Boston College for the first Red Line upset in school history.
But will their success in close games, after struggling so much in similar situations last season, run out in the next few weeks? I guess we'll have to find out together.Regardless of how things finish up for Bryant, going from 2-28 to wherever the final ledger says this season is nothing short of remarkable.
I just wish I could pinpoint the reasons for the turnaround even further so maybe I could put together a DVD or something. "Turnaround Your Program" Mid-majority infomercials at 4 a.m.?