p. I’ve read and re-read this following sentence a number of times now, making sure of its accuracy, because I know that it may come as a shock to many who read it.
p. The Tribe is one win away from making the NCAA Tournament.
p. It’s been an improbable run to say the least, considering the Tribe’s less-than-stellar basketball history. And through the first 35 minutes or so of the team’s first round game against Georgia State, the Tribe was playing the way so many of its detractors over the years would expect: not making big shots, allowing its opponents to dominate in the paint and certainly not proving itself worthy of its no. 5 seed. But it appears that with his crucial buckets down the stretch and subsequent game-winning three-pointer, sophomore guard David Schneider shook off decades’ worth of the losing streaks, bad bounces and basketball demons that have dogged the Tribe men’s basketball program for years.
p. In the two games since the opening round, the Tribe has played outstanding basketball. They picked off an Old Dominion squad that was talented enough and deep enough to run the table, and backed up that performance with a grind-it-out upset win over regular-season CAA champs VCU, a team that upset Duke in last year’s NCAA Tourney and has a good shot at earning an at-large berth this year.
p. And in all three tournament games, the finishes couldn’t have been more exciting. All three have come down to game-winning shots within the final 10 seconds of the game. All three have required critical defensive stops in the games’ final moments, as well as key made baskets down the stretch.
p. “I think [the Tribe is] a talented enough team to win a championship,” VCU Head Coach Anthony Grant said. Grant knows a thing or two about CAA championship teams, having coached the Rams to a tournament title last year.
p. One of the Tribe’s players who has been most impressive is senior forward Laimis Kisielius. After putting out a sub-par offensive performance against Georgia State, he carried the Tribe down the stretch against ODU, hitting big shot after big shot before classmate Nathan Mann made the game-winning trey. He followed that up by pouring in a game-high 23 points against VCU, including the game winner.
p. Sophomore forward Danny Sumner (who, in my opinion, is the Tribe’s tourney MVP through three games) has been the team’s most consistent offensive presence, averaging 17.3 points per game and regularly keeping the College in the game by hitting big shots.
p. The finals tonight against George Mason may be the Tribe’s biggest challenge yet, as they’ll be going up a team led by seniors Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas, who gained valuable postseason experience during the team’s Cinderella run to the 2006 Final Four. The Tribe will also have to deal with the fatigue of playing its fourth game in as many days, with the first three going right down to the very last second.
p. However, anyone who’s witnessed the Tribe these past three games knows that it’d be foolish to count the team out of any game at this point. The way they play defense and the way they are capable of shooting gives them a shot against any team. And certainly any team that can overtake the conference’s best team in its home town in front of a raucous crowd can take on anyone.
p. “We’re confident – no question about that,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said. “What [the team has] accomplished in the last three days is amazing to me as a coach of this club. We feel when we get to this point that we can win it all. I told the team in the locker room and they need to know: enjoy this moment. But we need to know that we’re good enough to win tomorrow.”
p. It’s about time we all started believing in that.
__E-mail Jeff Dooley at email@example.com.__