March Madness carries for Mercer a nostalgic reminder of the eventful day when the #14 Bears stunned the #3 Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Men’s March Madness. To get there, they had to beat the Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast in the A-Sun championship game. Since then, the team has found themselves in the SoCon championship game once, losing to the University of North Carolina-Greensboro (UNCG) in current head coach Greg Gary’s second season.
Aside from that moment of success, there has been little else to cheer for at Hawkins Arena. Excluding his second year where he took the Bears to the SoCon championship, Gary is winning just 48% of all games and 46% of SoCon games.
When he was announced as head coach, his specialty in coaching wing players and those in the post was highlighted, both offensive areas. Since then, Mercer has gotten noticeably worse in those places with the second-lowest points per game in the conference in the 2022-23 season at 68.7 per contest. Free throw percentage was also a struggle as they shot 69% from the line throughout the season.
Shooting from deep was not a particularly large part of Mercer’s game plan in the 2022-23 season as they shot the fewest three-point tries in the SoCon, 47 fewer than the next team above them. Overall, they made only 33.4% of their tries from deep, or 196 of 586 throughout the season. However, against league opponents, the Bears held their SoCon foes to just 33% from beyond the arc.
For his part, Gary has brought a stronger defensive front to Mercer than when he first arrived. In the first two seasons of his time here, the Bears ranked sixth in the SoCon in points allowed per game. In the last two seasons, however, their ranking went all the way down to second in the league, behind only perennial defensive power, UNCG.
Despite that, the team cannot identify itself as a defense-first team. Nor can it claim to be a powerful offensive team. It has no identity outside of being a mid-table squad year in and year out, one that could take the best team in the league to overtime one week and fall to the worst school the next.
There are good players on the team, a bright spot being Jalyn McCreary ‘24, who transferred to the Bears before this past season from the University of South Florida. Jah Quinones ‘26 and Michael Zanoni ‘26 are both primed to be the guards of the future for Mercer, but they will need a supporting cast around them to bear some of the load. There will be some questions for the post, however, as David Craig ‘26 recently entered the transfer portal. Talent abounds for the Bears looking forward, but it will be up to the head coach to put the pieces together and to replace the production of the players who are moving on, whether from graduation or through transfers.
Gary was hired for the purpose of getting his wing and post players ready to play in the SoCon. While these statistics are not entirely reflective of his coaching since the players bear the responsibility to make the necessary plays with and without the ball, the head coach for Mercer needs to get them in the position to score through better game planning.
The school cut ties with its longtime head coach Bob Hoffman after the 2018-19 season for having middling success in the SoCon. Gary needs to improve his squad before the next season or calls for a new direction could come for him as well after just five seasons at the helm.