Tuesday, November 15, 2016

At the Tipping Point

In sports it often seems that our favorite players and teams are at a tipping point. Sometimes we're actually at that point, but mostly it's just something we say as we build sports narratives in our minds. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, for example, is in his third-straight make-or-break season (at least, I haven't really looked back further).

Calvin's potential tipping point is different than that of Stafford, feeling more severe. Will the program bounce back and return to national renown and MIAA dominance, or was last season a harbinger of lean years to come?

Calvin's 10-15 finish in 2016 was the program's first sub-500 season since 1984. That's not great. 2017 will be a different season, that much is for sure, but it's not clear how much different it will be in terms of wins and losses.

What is clear (or should be clear) is that this upcoming season isn't likely to set the tone of the next decade of Calvin basketball. Another substandard season isn't going to (necessarily) usher in a run of mediocrity (or worse!).

The situation was similar just four years ago when the Knights finished 13-13. Any sixth grader with a straight edge could draw a downward trendline from 19-9 (2010) to 16-12 (2011) to 13-13 (2012). Tipping point tipped. Calvin was doomed.

Except they weren't doomed. The Knights immediately rebounded to go on one of the better three-year runs in recent program history: a 24-win per season average, two league titles, three league tournament titles, three trips to the NCAA Tournament, and two runs to the Sweet Sixteen.

It was just the third time Calvin had ever won 20+ games in a stretch of three or more consecutive seasons, and the first time they did it without winning a National Championship.

This season might not go well for the Knights -- who knows exactly -- but either way it's unlikely to be part of an actual downward trend for the program. The tipping point is not real. At least probably not.

The race for MIAA Tournament spots should be an interesting one. Hope appears to be the favorite and Olivet will probably finish last, but spots 2-7 are very much up for grabs. Our expectation, as always, is for Calvin to compete at the top of the conference. And they'll be back there soon enough.

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