• 63°

TSU only three games

away from dream chance

By STEVEN G. WATSON

Sports Editor

There is one fact in the Trans American Athletic Conference right now, starting Thursday, the next team in the conference to win three games will have a lot more to cheer about than a winning streak.

With the TAAC Tournament starting tomorrow with two games and the other six league teams receiving byes, three is the magic number. Whichever team can put together three in a row will receive the biggest gift possible for a Division I-A college basketball team before a championship trophy – a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

That lucky team that can run the table and defeat it’s foes one at a time will be put into the field of 64 and play for the right to be called college basketball champions.

TSU head coach Don Maestri and his squad of Trojans have already received the honor of being named co-TAAC champions (along with Georgia State) and will represent the No. 1 seed in the 10-team conference tourney. That gives them the easiest route to the coveted automatic berth, supposedly, but there is still a lot of work to be done. But this year, unlike maybe last year, there seems to be more at stake.

"I think we have a different purpose this year going into the tournament," Maestri said. "We’ve thought about it because we have a realistic chance. When you have a good season it makes you think that way. Our team has a realistic chance so you do sit down and think about the meaning of it all."

For all the TAAC teams, this is the only chance. No at-large bids are likely to be handed out to a team in the conference so the pot of gold at the end of the tournament bracket is even bigger for teams like Troy State when compared to maybe an SEC, ACC or even Conference USA school.

"There’s no escaping the value of our conference tournament," Maestri said. "That’s the only way to get to the big dance for the teams in our conference. It’s something that our players and our people are well aware of.

"Our guys know the meaning of the tournament, but they also know the importance of going in there and having success the first night," he continued. "You’ve got to have success that first night. We’ll have more time to think about all that stuff after Saturday if we are lucky enough to win it all."

Right now words like focus and execution go hand-in-hand with those tired old phrases like "take it one game at a time," for TSU and the other TAAC teams. Still, in many instances it seems like those cliches have never rung more true. Maybe that’s why players and coaches continue to say them over and over.

It’s usually a simple formula, but most of the time quite hard to follow. How a player deals with the thoughts that inevitably worm their way into their heads this time of year is what it’s really all about. For Troy State and the rest of the TAAC the goal is win three and you’re in.

"For us we’ve worked hard all year trying not to look down the road," Maestri said. "Obviously we know what it would mean to the city, the school and to us personally to pull something like this off. It would be a dream come true, but at the same time, for us to win three in a row we’ve got to win the first one. If you don’t win the first one you’re not going to win anything. It’s a foolish thing to get wrapped up in the meaning of it and talk about it a lot, when if you don’t win that first game all you are is a disappointed group."