In mid-January, after a loss to Lafayette left them with a 5-10 record, 0-3 in the Patriot League, prospects looked bleak for the Navy basketball team.
But the Midshipmen (12-12, 7-5) have made a reversal of form the past month and find themselves in position to gain the top seed in the conference tournament, starting March 4, if they can upset visiting Fordham this afternoon.
If the Mids beat the league-leading Rams (9-4) and follow up Monday with a victory over last-place Army at West Point, Navy will have the No. 1 seed.
"Saturday [today] is a must-win for us," Navy coach Don DeVoe said. "It's a championship game for Fordham. If they win, they're league champs. We can't be worrying about the tournament just yet."
But the Mids have put themselves in excellent position by winning seven of their past nine games. The turnaround came after a five-game losing streak in January. "We were really struggling back then, not doing the little things it takes to win games," said DeVoe, in his second year at the academy after compiling a 204-137 record in 11 seasons at Tennessee and 7-21 in one year at Florida.
Trying to end the losing streak, DeVoe gambled by turning over his offense to Brian Walker, an unusually quick 5-foot-8 freshman guard from Marion, Ind. After a few shaky performances, Walker has established himself as the team's floor leader, winning three of the past five conference Rookie of the Week honors.
"Walker's emergence has been a major key to our turnaround," DeVoe said. "Before he took over, we had trouble just getting the ball over half-court. But Brian can beat the pressure defenses, and he also gives us a new dimension by forcing the tempo.
"The other thing that has happened is that we've won an unusually high number of close games, with different guys giving us a lift."
DeVoe also has settled on a starting lineup featuring Walker and T. J. Hall (11.8 ppg) in the backcourt. Defensive specialist Victor Mickel, a senior swing man, plays up front with sophomore center Alex Kohnen and junior forward Wes Cooper.