Ever since the NCAA implemented its ominously named "Life In The Balance" package in 2012 for Division II sports, I've had a blue Christmas. The Porreco Cup regularly attracted top small college talent from around the country and it provided a local sports respite from all the snow shoveling and gift returns. But I'm down this holiday for an altogether different reason.
After this past week's pair of wild losses -- 105-102 in double overtime at Edinboro Wednesday followed by a 60-56 home defeat vs. Pitt-Johnstown
Saturday -- Gannon owns the PSAC West basement at 1-7 and is tied
for the worst overall record in the conference at 2-9. When you consider
the exhibition blowouts at Pitt and George Washington, this team has
taken the floor 13 times this season and lost 11. The
statistically-based Performance Indicators,
which listed the Knights in the top five of the Atlantic Region most of
last year, currently rank Gannon in the bottom 10. You might be
thinking, "Well, at least we're not the worst team," but the crummy part
is that Millersville is dead last ... and we lost to them earlier this season. At home!
But that's looking in the rear view mirror. What's making my stomach feel like I just drank two gallons of rancid eggnog
is that when I analyze Gannon's remaining schedule and compare scores
of common opponents, I think the Knights will be favored in maybe three
of those games. I know that's not exactly how things will work out, but
it is a possibility that we're staring down the barrel of a 5-21 season.
Eight games of the 2016 slate are on the road where GU has yet to win
this season (0-4), so those will be a challenge. And remember the days
when you looked at the Gannon schedule and figured they'd lose maybe two
or three at the Audi? Well, we're already 2-5 at home and will have to
improve upon that pace over the final seven home games to avoid matching
the school record of 10 home losses (1956-57 and 1995-96).
How did we go from nice to naughty so quickly? A year ago I was writing about a 31-point road victory
by the Knights and celebrating a 6-0 December. Now I'm shaking my head
because Gannon was an astonishing 0-6 this month with the margins for
the first four games being 8 points or more.
I guess I
should feel better that the Knights were competitive this week against
Edinboro and UPJ, the current leaders of the West. But that's like
saying to an 8-year-old boy, "I know you didn't like the rabid rat you
got for Christmas last year, but your present this year is better!"
While visions of video games and Star Wars figures dance in his head,
you hand him a shoe box containing another dirty ol' rat. "This one's not rabid,
Timmy. Much better, huh?" As Jerry Slocum said to me one time when I
tried to console him during a radio postgame interview, "This is Gannon
University. We set high expectations. There are no moral victories."
though I've complained for 500 words now, I haven't given up on this
year's team. John Reilly will make sure they play hard and fight for
every rebound no matter what the standings say. Also, part of me thinks
when freshman C.J. Byrd, who looked super in the exhibition games but
has been sidelined by injury since, returns to the floor, the Knights
will be much improved and more competitive. The other part of me thinks
don't try to salvage a .500 season; Gannon should redshirt Byrd so we
can see him lighting up the scoreboard four years from now. Byrd was out
of his walking boot and wearing sneakers during this week's games, so
the option of him returning this season appears realistic.
don't quite know how to end this post because I feel like the Ebenezer
Scrooge of the local sports scene. This month alone I've used the words loser, dark, low, and blue in my headlines. So let me conclude
with this: Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good Knight!