Any student support that Mercer had was completely destroyed with the stunning upset that Florida Gulf Coast pulled off in the Atlantic Sun semifinals. It’s one thing to have a small band of students, no Hooligans, that are at every game and cheering on their guys in orange and black. That small spark can help drive a team late in the game. However, it is another level entirely when the arena is packed out and is cheering on that team. This kind of atmosphere can do wonders to the emotions and playing ability of the opponents.
Obviously, some teams are road-tested and can withstand the best shots of athletic ability and a raucous crowd. We learned that the hard way with the heart-wrenching loss to Belmont and completely devastating upset by FGCU. Despite this, postseason play is important. It might be unexpected. It might be unnecessary to a season. However, there is no question in any athlete’s, coach’s, or fan’s mind that playing the highest quality opponents better improves play with the experience.
After several years of scheduling tough non-conference opponents, the Mercer Bears’ men’s basketball team has been playing better and better inside the conference. This year, the Bears have set a school record in wins. Making the Atlantic Sun tournament and all has greatly increased the quality of play, leading to this historic season. Naysayers will say that this doesn’t matter. This tournament, the Collegeinsider.com Invitational Tournament (CIT), might be newer and not have the prestige that many want. However, would you rather see your Bears sitting around and doing nothing for the offseason? We all, even those of you who came to one or two games all year, understand that the target is on the Bears’ back next season in Atlantic Sun play.
The Bears are obviously the most talented, most experienced and most dangerous team going into the 2012-2013 season. Expectations are high. However, the gloom of that loss could have translated into next season. With the CIT, the Bears are getting high level opponents in every match for three weeks. At this point, Coach Hoffman and the guys have won four straight. They are on a tear, after wins against Georgia State and Tennessee State at home and then Old Dominion and Fairfield on the road. As a Hooligan, it has been incredible to see the run continue. If that 27th win occurs, the Bears are going to be THE mid-major to look out for next year even more. No one will want to take on the Bears, who will finish the season with winning records both home and away, a stat that puts the Bears in an upper echelon of teams this year like Kentucky.
I feel that every tournament and every game is vital to the development and progress of the team. This goes for all teams. Fairfield also had some serious experience for their younger members. Georgia State, the one team that has traveled best to the University Center lately, has their team’s younger members get ready for a road environment next year when they venture back against VCU and Drexel. Postseason tournaments get these teams the chance to continue to develop and gain national exposure.
As the undisputed frontrunner in the Atlantic Sun next year, the Bears are going to need all the road-testing possible to make it through unscathed. We will miss you Justin Cecil, but most of the team is gaining lots of steam and experience for one hell of a run next year. You might be ready for Mercer’s one big sport to quit, but the guys aren’t, and neither are the Hooligans. It has been one great ride, especially after trailing by 12 at Old Dominion in the second half. If you want to see Mercer win the tourney on their home floor next year, then support and cheer on the Bears. Monty Brown said it best after the Georgia State win: “When you all get crazy, loud, and spirited, it sparks us to play better!” Do your classmates a favor, cheer them on. By the time you read this, it will probably be the day after the championship game, where the Bears will be one of just eight teams still playing. Support them when they come home, win or lose. Next year, all this play will be great for Mercer and all of the other teams who made significant runs in the postseason with younger teams.