The World Is Flat. My two main points were these:
1. After watching tons of Gannon games this year plus several Atlantic
Region NCAA tournament contests and many minutes of the Elite 8, I can
say that the distance between teams like our Golden Knights and best in
Division II is slim. Very slim.
2. Not only do I think my claim passes the eyeball test but I think the
stats also back up my assertion. I know comparative scores can be
misleading, but when you stack [the following] data points together, there's a
trend that's hard to deny.
Here we are 360-something days later and those words still ring true. IUP, whom Gannon beat fair-and-square twice this season, advanced to the NCAA DII finals. National champion Florida Southern, who won the title, featured two former Knights (Stephen Battle and Bubby Johnson) in its starting lineup. And as far as style of play, Indiana and Gannon were basically mirror images of each other. So John Reilly's defense-first, ask-questions-late...let's-get-back-to-talking-defense approach can play on the national scene.
As I wrote last year, "I'm not saying Gannon is the best team in the country, but they are less than a full step behind the elite." Heck, this year they were two spots ahead of IUP in the final PSAC West standings. The biggest difference between this off-season and last is the experience and production that goes away with seniors Adam Blazek (who was named an All-American today), Girbran Smith, Raphell Thomas-Edwards, A'Darius Porter, and Rich Austin. A year ago, Gannon was maybe one player away. Next year we'll have more question marks than answers.
Last year I said after West Liberty lost in the DII finals, "If you're among the best in the Atlantic Region, you're among the best in the nation." That's still true, but I can narrow it down even further. If you finish in the top three of the PSAC West, you're among the best in the country.
A couple other notes before we head into the long offseason:
* In the photo accompanying this post, Florida Southern is holding a banner with their school name and the year "2015," which must have been stitched together before the game. That means there's a "national championship" banner that says "INDIANA PA 2015" on it. I wonder how I could get a hold of that -- unless Joe Lombardi already ordered it burned.
* Bubby Johnson may have a national championship ring, but he's also a member of the college basketball hall of shame. Why? Johnson lags behind me on the all-time Gannon scoring list with just 9 points compared with my 14. Granted he played like only 4 games and I played 4 years, but those are extraneous details, right?
* My guess at Gannon's starting lineup for next year -- keep in mind I don't know any recruits yet -- is soph. Adam Holm-Weber at the point and jr. Matthew Dogan at the two with a frontline of sr. Jean Yves Toupane, soph. Daniel Kaigler, and soph. Isaiah Eisendorf. Marcus Jones fell out of favor late in the season, but if he gets back on track, he could be an all-league guy. I'm also curious to see how highly touted redshirt junior Jon Dogbo fits into John Reilly's system. Super quick Tony Boykins will also be back, so while GU will rebuild, it's not like the cupboard is completely bare. And maybe most importantly, those returnees saw firsthand from the graduating seniors what it takes to be a champion.