They’re back

It wasn’t too long ago that come February, sports fans in Baltimore had spring training previews to ponder and little else.

We always had Maryland basketball, but right here in Charm City, it was kind of bleak. Scratch that. Completely bleak.

Morgan State has collected one winning season since 1980. The Bears went 15-14 in 1989. That’s it since the Division II glory days of the 70’s.

Loyola set all kinds of records for futility during the Greyhounds 1-27 campaign in the 2003-2004 season. In the two seasons prior to the arrival of Jimmy Patsos, Loyola combined for six victories.

UMBC has never made it to the NCAA Tourney and never won more than seven games in the America East Conference (okay, that one sounds worse than reality.. the Retrievers have only been in the AEC for five years.. still it ain’t much)

Now five paragraphs in you might think I’m starting to pile on, treating our local teams with all the charm of a Bill Belichick post game press conference. Not the case at all.

Running through the misery of recent history makes this season all the more special.

All three have a chance to make the NCAA Tourney, collecting wins in bunches like we haven’t seen in years.

Morgan State sits in first place of the MEAC with an 8-1 conference record. Todd Bozeman may have some baggage, but the guy can flat out coach. Eight games left in the regular season and the Bears are five games over .500.

We figured something was up when MSU nearly knocked off Connecticut to open the season. No doubt several factors can point the way towards the resurgence, but one stands out. Todd Bozeman demands defense first, and he gets it. Proof of that comes from Boubacar Coly. Not only has the 6’9″ senior earned defensive player of the week honors six times. He’s done it six times in a row.

The Greyhounds have the toughest road to March Madness, sitting in a tie for 3rd place in the MAAC at 8-4 in conference. But Loyola gets five of the last seven games at Reitz Arena after a stretch that saw the ‘Hounds play eight of ten on the road. And by the way, they won seven of those ten games.

Not long ago, Jimmy Patsos had to encourage students to attend games with tee shirts and personal dorm visits. Now the seats are packed with an atmosphere worthy of being called special.

All this success with admission standards at the highest of levels. It’s so tough, for a recent student athlete, most of his credits wouldn’t transfer from Duke.

Randy Monroe has the lowest profile of the three coaches, but biding his time first as an assistant, and now the head coach in Catonsville has paid off. He demands pride in wearing the Retrievers uniform. He demands the kids care about each other and their school.

The pride shows.

His players don’t feel like they’re part of a satellite campus. This program is no longer Division I in name only. The RAC routinely fills up as the Retrievers pile up points and wins. UMBC enjoys a one game lead over Vermont in America East which really is a two game lead as the Retrievers swept the Catamounts this season (the same Catatamounts that three years ago knocked off Syracuse in the NCAA’s).

Combine all this potential with the Maryland Terrapins resurgence from a lousy pre-conference schedule and we could have four teams to cover in March Madness.

We used to wonder if we’d cover anyone in the Big Dance. Now we might have to answer the question, how do we cover them all?


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