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In a wide-open Colonial, Towson has the talent and experience to be a dark horse

And Brian Fobbs is an under-the-radar player of the year candidate.

William & Mary v Towson Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Nick Lorensen is a UMBC lifer and new to Mid-Major Madness. So we sent him to Towson and asked him to write about the Tigers, because we’re just mean that way.

TOWSON, MD — Towson has not been to a NCAA Tournament in 28 years. This might be the year that changes.

The Tigers’ head man, coach Pat Skerry, is entering his ninth season, and has turned the program around entirely. He began his tenure by snapping a 41-game losing streak, and although they went 1-31 that year, it has led to five winning seasons in the past seven years.

Last season was difficult for Tigers. They played a lot of teams close but seemed to never be able to pull it out. In two-possession or overtime games last year, the Tigers went 4-11. That was the difference between going 10-22 and 21-11.

But this offseason, they have worked on execution, awareness and mental toughness.

“In a league like the Colonial, the teams that win are the ones who win the close ones,” Skerry said.

Although it may ultimately come down to the CAA tournament, last year’s regular season conference champion, Hofstra, won nine out of 13 of their two-possession or overtime games. It could make or break you as a postseason team in a high mid major conference.

The key piece to this year’s team is All-CAA second-teamer Brian Fobbs. After transferring from Genesee Junior College in New York, the guard made an instant impact. He was one of the top scorers in the league, scoring double digits in 27-straight games to end the season. Fobbs ended up finishing the season averaging 17.5 points per game and was fifth in the CAA in scoring.

This offseason, there have been rumblings of him as a dark horse for player of the year, and first-team All-CAA. Over the offseason, he says he’s worked on being more aggressive and on improving all facets of his game.

If Towson reaches that 20-win plateau once again, there is a good chance he is one of the main reasons why.

You should expect Fobbs to be right there challenging Grant Riller and Nathan Knight for Player of the Year. If he leads Towson to the tournament, don’t be shocked if multiple CAA Players get drafted in the NBA Draft for the second year in a row.

His fellow guard Tobias Howard was another great JuCo transfer for the Tigers. After starting the majority of the non-conference season, he was moved to the bench during CAA play. Tobias continued putting up great numbers though, averaging 10.8 points per game in those last 13.

Over the offseason, he’s focused on finding ways to make his teammates better. That means learning their “hot spots” and improving his passing ability. Tobias was the team’s lead playmaker last year, averaging 2.6 assists per game.

It is always hard to find a new playmaker in mid-major basketball, so any time the best one on the team returns, it’s huge. Tobias is the key core of this squad, helping to make the others around him look flawless.

The hidden piece and a possible 3 guard is Nicolas Timberlake. The redshirt freshman appeared in nine games last season before going down with a season-ending foot injury. Skerry described him as a “strong, athletic and tough” guard. He started in five of nine games last year.

Not only does Towson have a solid core of guards but it returns two big-time forwards and bring in a key transfer.

Dennis Tunstall has survived all the transferring in and out at Towson and is the only player entering his fourth year at the school. Last season was his best by far, starting 27 games and making the All-CAA Defensive Team. He led the squad in rebounding (7.7 per game), blocked shots (1.0) and field goal percentage (55.4). Although he is not the biggest scoring threat, he is a stalwart down low.

His counterpart in the post will be a familiar name to Atlantic 10 fans: Nakye Sanders. The Duquesne transfer had break out stuff last season, picking up three double-doubles for the Tigers.

Towson also got big news a couple weeks back when San Diego transfer Juwan Gray was cleared to play this season.

“He is a skilled forward, 6’8 and can shoot it,” Skerry said to describe him.

The Tigers’ coaching staff had him on their radar for a while now, trying to get him the season before. In two seasons out west, he made a huge impact for the Toreros. His freshman year, he led them in steals. And during his sophomore campaign, he finished third in blocked shots.

Gray could be that key piece at the end of the game who will boost the Tigers to victory. He has had multiple double-doubles in college and is a 41 percent three-point shooter. Last season, he scored 16 points against NCAA Tournament squad Saint Mary’s and was 6-6 from the field, including four threes.

“Although we are certainly not there yet, we have a chance,” Skerry said.

And that’s all you need in the CAA. The Tigers return eight of their nine top scorers and all their leaders in the major statistical categories. Of course it will still come down to those three days in March.