In the 1987 Rob Reiner film The Princess Bride, Billy Crystal plays Miracle Max, a “miracle man” who has one scene in which he helps heroes Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and Fezzik (Andre the Giant) revive a “mostly dead” protagonist Westley (Cary Elwes). The three other men head off towards the castle to save the damsel in distress. Max and his wife (Carol Kane) stand outside the demure hut they live in and wave at the heroes leaving.
“Bye bye boys!” Max’s wife said.
“Have fun storming the castle!” Max adds.
“Do you think it will work?” his wife asks.
“It would take a miracle,” Max replies. Then both of them repeat the “Bye!” chorus.
Let’s be honest here. Elon men’s basketball will need a “miracle pill” (with chocolate coating to make it go down faster) to sit in a position on Selection Sunday watching ESPN to see who they are slated to play in the first (or second) round of the NCAA Tournament with a guaranteed bid.
While the team is stocked with talented players, the team has been a picture of inconsistency. They have show-cased that talent in stretches like three straight home wins in the first six days of February and the 7-2 start to the season back in 2011. But they have also show-cased the ability to let that talent slip away, suffering two five-game losing streaks, one starting right after that February win streak, all losses to Southern Conference teams.
But, somehow, the Phoenix came out with a number two seed in the SoCon Tournament, finishing second in the North Division, one game behind division champion UNC-Greensboro. If Elon had won just one of those games in the February five-game losing streak, they’d find themselves with a new banner in Alumni Gym.
But all those “ifs” are for those people who write sports blogs and ramble on ESPN. And while I count myself as one of them, “ifs” still matter little.
The Southern Conference is wild. It has probably some of the best parity in the world of sports. Teams you think have an edge get blown out. Teams you think will get stomped turn around and pull off a big win.
Elon faced both of those this year. Against Appalachian State Feb. 6, the Phoenix redeemed itself of a Jan. 28 81-66 rout at the hands of the Mountaineers by whooping the black and gold 82-59. I thought App State was going to kill Elon a second time, but hot shooting and tight defense prevented a Mountaineers’ sweep. Against Western Carolina Feb. 18, the Phoenix couldn’t conjure up enough to defeat the Catamounts and lost 78-76 in overtime. Elon had beaten Western Carolina 71-63 Jan. 26.
Preconceived notions mean nothing in the Southern Conference. South Division champion Davidson College defeated then-No. 12 Kansas University in Kansas 80-74 Dec. 19, 2011, but lost to South Division fourth-place finisher College of Charleston by eight Feb. 11. UNCG started their season 2-14, but won ten of their last 14 games (all in conference), including a seven-game winning streak, to clinch the North Division.
I’m not going to sit here and write that Elon will win the Southern Conference Tournament. That road will probably have to go through Davidson, who crushed the Phoenix 66-45 Feb. 23, and a couple other teams that the Phoenix struggled against this season.
If I have to be completely honest though, it is clear anything can happen in the SoCon.
We’ll have a preview of the second round game once Georgia Southern University and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga face-off Friday night. Elon is 1-2 overall against those teams this season, the only victory coming by one point against the Mocs.
But again, anything can happen.