For most of the college basketball season, Mercer looked like the best Division I team in the state.
Sure, the Bears lost to Georgia early in the year, but the Bulldogs werent very good the rest of the season. Georgia Tech, Georgia State and Savannah State were OK, while Kennesaw State and Georgia Southern were just awful.
Bob Hoffmans team got better as the season went along and was really strong after the New Year, ending the season with an NIT appearance.
The college baseball season in the state has a very similar feel to it.
Savannah State is pretty good. Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Kennesaw State are OK, and Georgia is putrid.
Then there is Craig Gibsons Mercer program, which, simply put, has the best team in the state this season. The Bears are 7-4 against the other Division I programs in the state, splitting with Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and Georgia State while winning two of three from Kennesaw State and sweeping Savannah State (Georgia and Mercer didnt play this year). But most importantly, the Bears, like the schools basketball team, have been strong in conference play.
Hoffmans team won the regular-season A-Sun title, while Gibsons team is in good shape to do the same, sitting tied with North Florida for first place in the conference. Mercer has six conference games remaining in the regular season: three this weekend at home against East Tennessee State, which is in fourth place, and three next week at last-place Northern Kentucky.
Unlike the basketball team, however, the baseball team looks like a lock to get into the NCAA tournament even if it doesnt win the A-Sun tournament title. Mercer, a consensus top-25 RPI team, is ranked in several polls and is close to being included in the top polls -- Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball. The Bears have a résumé that will be tough to ignore.
Mercer has a veteran bunch that doesnt seem to get rattled and plays its best in the big moments, and that has paid off with what could be the programs best season ever. The program never has won 40 games in a season (the program record for wins is 39, set in 1981 and matched in 2011), but this years team is on pace to make that happen with three wins.
But that kind of success should be expected. Gibson has built a strong program since taking over as the Bears head coach in 2003. Of the programs top 10 seasons based on victories, five have come on Gibsons watch: 39 in 2011, 38 in 2012, 38 in 2010, 37 this season and 34 in 2006.
That kind of consistency is hard to match, and it certainly has been tough for the other teams in the state to live up to. Thats especially true this season as Gibsons team has been the states best, and the Bears dont look like they will slow down any time soon.
Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org