For the second year in a row, Baltimore is hosting the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) men's basketball tournament. Running March 6-9 at Royal Farms Arena, the Division I tourney will pit the league's 10-member teams against one another with the winner earning a seed in "the big dance"—the NCAA's March Madness tournament.
In advance of that, we sat down to talk to Towson University's head coach, Pat Skerry. Here's what he had to say about the league, the Tigers, and his future at Towson.
How long has Towson been in the Colonial Athletic Association?
That's a good question. I think it has probably been close to 20 years now.
A lot of teams from the CAA have then gone on to the NCAA. Is that common? Is it seen as a feeder league?
There's usually at least one from this conference that goes on to the dance. There have even been a few instances where we've had multiple teams go. That's always the goal. That certainly depends on how well your non-conference [games] go, normally. But what happens now is whoever wins the conference tournament gets the automatic bid. That's the true definition of why they call it March Madness. And what I think it really neat about the tournament. Last year was the first year it was in Baltimore—and I thought it was pretty good turnout. We've got to have some patience as the tournament grows—and we all know Baltimore is a great sports town. There are over 100,000 alums from all the CAA member institutions in the greater Baltimore area.
Right. The teams are William & Mary, Elon, College of Charleston, Hofstra, Delaware, James Madison, etc.—there are tons of people from all of those schools in Baltimore, and many bars that have allegiances to them. How was attendance last year?
There's the quarterfinals, two games in the afternoon, two games at night. The semis are the next day, there's two games, then the finals. I think they averaged about 5,000 people each session, which I thought is a pretty good start. I would anticipate that will grow. But I think that everyone involved in the tournament needs to be both mindful and have some appreciate for—it takes a little bit of time to build something, too.
Right. The CAA tournament is coming back to Baltimore again next year, right?
Yes. They initially signed a three-year deal, so my personal opinion and that of most of my coaching brethren in the conference is that they want to stay in Baltimore for a long time. Hopefully, Baltimore is willing to do that.
Well, it's certainly very convenient for you guys at Towson. Do you get home-court advantage?
You know, it is, obviously, from a travel standpoint. It's funny though because I don't know if it's any advantage. We don't get to the tournament as early as the other teams.
Oh really, why?
Well, I don't want them missing class. We're right here, you know.
Well, but you must be able to attract more fans than the other teams.
Well, I hope. We're still growing. We had good turnouts last year. Our last couple seasons here have been really good. We've got a young group right now, but certainly we think that our potential is pretty high over the next couple months and next couple years. I think our fanbase and everything at Towson has undergone so many good changes in athletics and academics that that will continue to improve. But we don't get to play any games down in Baltimore, so it's not like we have a big advantage where it's the court or the floor that we play on all the time.
Your current record is 12-19. But a lot of those losses have been in really close games.
That falls on me. We've got to do a better job in close games. That's something the last couple of years we've done a really good job of winning close games, and we've gotta get better with that. But I do like the group. We're young. There's roughly 350 teams in the country, and there's an advance stats site called kenpom.com, and we were rated the 307th most experienced team in the country, so we're very young. That's not necessarily a good thing. We've got a lot of freshman and sophomores.
What are you doing to help that?
So we're trying to put a pretty good emphasis on defense and rebounding. I think that gives you a chance every night out. And on offense, we want to try to get good players and help them get better and give them a lot of confident.
What's the recruiting picture at Towson?
Pretty good. We also have a very, very good player sitting out who will be playing next year, a transfer from Wake Forest. He's a Cameroonian kid. His name is [Arnaud William Adala] Moto. He's a forward, 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, very athletic, skilled. He's going to be really, really good. So we'll have our whole team back, so I think our upside is really high.
Has Towson sent people to the NBA before?
You know, it's funny you say that. A couple have played before, mostly recently—he's still in there—Gary Neal. We had a special player my last two years I was here by the name of Jerrelle Benimon. He was played of the year in the conference the last two years. He is right on the cusp. He's in the D-league, the NBA Development League right now. But he might be signing something. He's close, he's really close. He's playing great. So not that often, but if Jerrelle can make it we'd actually have two guys from Towson in the NBA. That'd be pretty cool.
What made you want to come down to Towson in the first place?
I worked as a Division I assistant [coach] in a lot of places. I got a big break going to Pittsburgh a few years ago. We had a really good year. I thought I'd be there a while. We were the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and this opportunity came up here. And everyone who was kind of a mentor close to me told me not to do it. We'd had, like, the nation's third-longest losing streak as far as consecutive under-.500 seasons and all that good stuff.
But I just looked at the situation: great academics, a beautiful area to live, we had a new arena coming. In my mind, I thought the opposite: Why can't we get good here? And I'm one of those guys who likes to kind of build something. I guess I'm a glutton for punishment. I mean that in a good way! I'm on my fourth year here and hopefully I'm fortunate to get to coach here for a long time.
How long is your original contract?
My original was for six. I think I'm signed right now to 2020, 2021, something like that. I've got a good marriage at home and a good marriage here with Towson.
So going back to the tournament. What's it like to be in it? Is it a whirlwind?
Oh, no question. We could be playing three or four games in a weekend. You're in the bunker. It's quick turnover. You just survive and advance, pretty much. That's what makes it cool for people to come to the games. It's literally guys playing for their life, their dream to get to the big dance.