Wednesday, March 21, 2012

St. Bona's Success Out Of The Marist Blueprint

After struggling for many years, this mid-major women's program hired a coach from a lower level and, after putting him in charge, made quick and drastic improvement.

The program has had six straight winning years, including a perfect league record this season. And, now, the team in question has moved to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 round.

It sounds a little like the path that the Marist women's program has taken, one that included a Sweet 16-round appearance in 2007.

Instead, though, it's the mid-major level program that, in recent years, Marist just hasn't been able to beat.

It's the St. Bonaventure women's team that defeated Marist, 66-63, Tuesday night in the NCAA Tournament's second round.

This year's trip to the NCAA's was the seventh straight for Marist and this year's regular-season MAAC championship was the ninth in a row for the Red Foxes.

There's no diminishing what Marist has done over the past nine seasons. A very select few programs at any level can match the Red Foxes' record over that time, and, maybe, no mid-major level team anywhere can claim to match the program's success beyond it's own level (five NCAA tournament victories in the past seven years).

But, St. Bonaventure is the one program Marist hasn't been able to successfully contend with in recent years.

The Bonnies don't yet quite have that consistent long-term success that Marist enjoys, but it's getting close.

Start with a 16-15 record in the 2006-07 season that was preceded by eight consecutive sub-.500 years.

Since then, under head coach Jim Crowley (who started his career at Keuka College, a Division III-level program located in New York's Finger Lakes region), the Bonnies followed with overall records of 18-12, 23-11, 23-10, 21-12 and, now, are currently 31-3 after a perfect ledger (14-0) in Atlantic 10 Conference play this season.

This year, St. Bona's has out-Maristed Marist.

But, that's nothing new of late. In head-to-head meetings over the last three years St. Bonaventure is the one team Marist hasn't been able to beat.

In addition to Tuesday's outcome, the Bonnies also beat Marist, 67-56, in a December meeting this season. St. Bona's also beat Marist, 45-40, in the 2010-11 season and 61-43 in the 2009-10 season.

Tuesday marked the fourth straight time St. Bona's has beaten Marist, and no other program can claim that record of success against the Red Foxes in the Brian Giorgis era at the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., school.

The Bonnies did it, at least in this view, with a style and personnel very similar to Marist's. Bona's doesn't have a singular standout, someone who can drop 20+ points on an opponent on a given night. It wins with execution and hustle. On Tuesday it just executed a little better than Marist, and seemed to get to more loose balls, especially to secure offensive rebounds, than the Red Foxes.

"That game was won by St. Bonaventure," Marist coach Brian Giorgis told the Buffalo News, after Tuesday's contest. "They hit tough shot after tough shot. The more we had a hand in their face the more they hit the tough shot. You have to tip your hat to them. They made tough shots. They made free throws when they needed to.

"They went to the offensive boards with reckless abandon. This game was lost because we gave up too many second-chance opportunities and they hit a ton of tough shots and we didn't execute."

Sounds like what most opposing coaches have to say after playing Marist.

But, right now, there's more than one terrific mid-major level program in New York State.

And, in recent years, the one from Western New York, St. Bonaventure, has consistently gotten the better of Marist in head-to-head meetings.

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