In a little over two hours St. Bonaventure will have tipped it off against Dayton for the championship of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
The final, held at Hagan Arena, on the St. Joseph's campus holds more significance than just the title game in one of the better conferences in America.
There is a big interest here as St. Bonaventure is my alma mater.
The journalistic part says, 'Stay objective do not be a fan' but with the group coach Jim Crowley has assembled and what he has done, it's extremely difficult.
Crowley's early struggles at the small Franciscan school have been well documented. His ability to change his coaching style and philosophy have also been recounted. Reading ‘Moneyball' and being inspired by the book and its philosophy allowed Crowley to take a different approach to recruiting. Rather than look at a player and see what she can't do, Crowley takes care in noticing what they can do.
Jessica Jenkins couldn't play the point said the bigger schools and recruiting gurus. Crowley saw that but also noticed a sharpshooter with range and a quick release. Jenkins, one of the A-10's best talents, a Naismith Player of the Year finalist, is one of the deadliest shooters in the land today.
Megan Van Tatenhove, they said was no ‘five'. What Crowley saw was a player who could play the four spot. After teaching her a few additional moves Crowley had an all-conference player in his lineup. The stories and examples go on.
Crowley's system is virtually a throwback. The Bonnies will shoot the three but do carefully value the ball and extend possessions, forcing teams to work on defense. On their defensive end, the Bonnies want to contest shots and keep the offense in front of them, not getting beat by transition. Sounds so simple but it works. The Bonnies enter the championship game with a 29-2 record and the conference regular season title.
Before heading to cover Fordham-Temple men at Rose Hill the past Saturday, yours truly watched the Bonaventure quarterfinal win over LaSalle. The ‘fan' took over with an occasional outburst of ‘bury it Jess' or ‘way to hit the boards Megan' and ‘great hustle ladies, keep it going'...The journalistic part got back in noting how LaSalle competed and truly gave a strong effort in defeat.
Dayton poses a problem. The Bonnies barely edged them in regular season. They have size, a marquee player in Justine Raterman, can bury threes in transition and are also very well coached. Covered them in the St. Peter's Tournament in December and was very impressed. Interestingly Dayton coach Jim Jabir called Crowley the "best coach in the Atlantic Ten." Jabir also refers to Crowley as a good friend.
In a profession where coaches look at colleagues on a winning track with criticism or other ‘off the record' comments, Crowley has none of those detractors. He is highly thought of as a class individual, an excellent coach running a program to match.
As an alum there is a rooting interest. No surprise. Win or lose today, the season will continue. Beyond that is the great pride and admiration in knowing, how well this group excels on the floor, they are just as proficient in the classroom and as representatives of their university. They have captivated the local area, fellow students, alumni and fan base. Winners in many areas as noted and wonderful ambassadors of St. Bonaventure.
A week ago, again at Fordham, A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade was seated courtside next to yours truly.
"So you are a Bonaventure graduate," McGlade said, "how about some ‘love' for that women's team."
No problem at all. This is a team anyone enjoying women's basketball, would love.
A team that had the love of yours truly a lot longer than before this weekend.