Isle of Dons: A Tragedy in Two Acts

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Does this make Lucy a god of basketball? PHOTO COMPILATION FROM @SNOOPY/TWITTER, DONS ATHLETICS/FLICKR.

All good things must come to an end eventually. Icarus, by nature, will always get too close to the sun. Cinderella may dazzle at the ball but midnight always comes.

It seems the Dons men’s basketball season may be nearing a similar fate. Expectations this season started modest, then suddenly soared following a strong start to the season. The Dons won twelve of their first thirteen games, their only loss coming against a Buffalo team nationally ranked No. 17 at the time.

But something was rotten in the state of Don-mark.

On Christmas morning, the Dons found themselves at No. 25 in the country. It looked like Coach Kyle Smith’s team had finally found their momentum. The Dons had a Dec. 29 road trip to sunny Santa Barbara, ahead of them, where temperatures in the 60s and the then-161st-ranked University of California, Santa Barbara Gauchos awaited them. They were eager to comfortably beat their last non-West Coast Conference (WCC) opponent of the year and sail into conference play with a 13-1 record.

With eight minutes left in the first half, the Dons found themselves leading the Gauchos by 10 points. Just as the Dons were settling in, the Ghost of Christmas Future paid our team a visit. Whatever the old spirit showed them, it had a clear effect on the Dons. Less than four minutes later, the Dons led by only two points. With one minute remaining in the first half, the Gauchos would take their first lead of the game. The Dons managed to regain a one-point lead before halftime, but the threat of Santa Barbara remained looming over their shoulders. Coming out of the break, the Dons seemed to reclaim their cool, but the damage was already done. The Gauchos would keep pushing and eventually upset the Dons 73-71.

From then on, something seemed … off. The Dons bounced back, beating the St. Mary’s Gaels and the Pepperdine Waves on Jan. 3 and Jan. 5, respectively. We collectively started to feel better, maybe that whole “Santa Barbara” thing was just an anomaly. A little too much turkey with Christmas dinner and perhaps a lapse in focus. The Dons were on a new two-game win streak and hoping to build that momentum with another win against their next opponent…

Oh, No. 6 Gonzaga… right.

Final: Gonzaga 96, San Francisco 83

That’s okay. Gonzaga is a great team, they’re a tough in-conference opponent and they’ll definitely be one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament this year. USF showed they could hold their own against a tough team. Things could be better, but they could also be a lot worse. The loss against Gonzaga did not come at a great time though.

Still, like going to a party but forgetting you have an essay due tomorrow, something did not feel right.

The Dons won a close game 53-52 against the Pacific Tigers on Jan. 17. The numbers would say the Dons should have won by more, but a win is a win. From there, the Dons seemed to regain their cool. They dominated the BYU Cougars by 19 points on Jan. 19, no doubt boosted by that night’s promotion, “Mangia Mangia: Taste of North Beach Night.”

Five days later, without the help of the official Italian food sponsor of Dons Athletics, the Dons seemed to right the ship with a 22-point over the Portland Pilots. Win in hand and sports writing puns accounted for, surely this new three-game win streak was an arbiter of greater glory to come. There’s no way the Dons, ranked No. 42 in the country, would lose to the No. 147-ranked Toreros of the University of San Diego, right?

Final: San Diego 67, San Francisco 63.

That’s okay, on to the next game: a Feb. 2 visit to the No. 51 St. Mary’s Gaels. The Dons had defeated them once already this season. All they had to do was do it again.

Final: St. Mary’s 86, San Francisco 80.

Ouch. Okay. Time to regroup. The Dons needed a bounce-back win. Who was next on the schedule?

Oh, No. 2-ranked Gonzaga … on the road this time … right.

Final: Gonzaga 92, San Francisco 62.

An astute reader like yourself may notice that this makes up a three-game losing streak. The NCAA noticed that too. On Feb. 8, 45 days after the Christmas miracle in which the Dons found themselves at No. 25 in the nation, the Dons were ranked No. 52. Not great.

With their backs against the wall and riding a three-game losing streak, the Dons prepared to host the rival Broncos of Santa Clara University, ranked No. 202 in the nation, on Feb. 9. Surely the Dons would not lose this one too, right?

Right. The Dons won. (Santa Clara is really bad.)

With a fresh win in their systems, the Dons built momentum, reaching a four-game winning streak by adding wins against Pepperdine, Portland and BYU from Feb. 14 to Feb. 21. With three games left in the regular season the Dons, now ranked No. 48, once again found themselves prepared to face off against the Santa Clara Broncos on Feb. 23. The same Broncos who are truly, really bad. The same Broncos who had since dropped from No. 202 in the country to No. 205. There’s no way the Dons lose this one, right? Business as usual?

Final: Santa Clara 68, San Francisco 65.

That loss hurt San Francisco in the rankings again, dropping them to No. 52. The NCAA Tournament is a bracket of 68 teams. From the outside, the Dons might be safe, but it’s too close for comfort. What the Dons really needed was a couple of good wins to boost morale before the WCC Tournament. Who better for the Dons to face off against than the No. 115 ranked University of San Diego Toreros, followed by the No. 148 ranked Lions of Loyola Marymount University.

This time I’m gonna kick that football clear to the moon!” — Charlie Brown.

Final: San Diego 91, San Francisco 90

Final: Loyola Marymount 74, San Francisco 69

At the time of publication, the Dons sit at No. 65 in the country. Once again, March Madness consists of 68 teams. Prior to that, the Dons still have the WCC tournament in Las Vegas, starting with a game on March 9 against either Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine or Pacific. If the Dons win that game, they set up a March 11 date with Gonzaga, now ranked No. 1 in the nation.

To secure a spot in March Madness, the Dons either have to win the WCC tournament or pray that the NCAA selection committee selects them for one of the 36 at-large bids.

Of course, not all hope is lost. The Dons may yet dance, but the clock is nearing midnight.

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