It’s called March Madness for a reason.
To paraphrase, that’s what Binghamton men’s basketball head coach Tommy Dempsey has told his team as it prepares to face top-seeded Stony Brook in the America East tournament quarterfinals on Saturday.
“I told the players that over the next month they’re going to see a lot of crazy things happen in college basketball, a lot of upsets,” he said. “Teams are going to win games that they weren’t supposed to win, and our mindset has to be that we believe we can be one of them.”
Under head coach Steve Pikiell, the Seawolves (23-6, 14-2 AE) have now won three regular-season league championships in the last four years. They’ve fallen short in the conference tournaments, but this is arguably Pikiell’s best team.
Stony Brook, which finished the regular season with a program-record 23 wins, leads the America East in points per game and scoring defense, and according to www.kenpom.com, the Seawolves rank 30th in the entire country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Binghamton (3-26, 1-15 AE) averaged 42 points in a pair of losses to the Seawolves this season.
In last year’s quarterfinal matchup with Stony Brook, Binghamton led with as few as 11 minutes left before falling, 78-69. This year, the No. 8 seeded Bearcats think they’ll have a chance to upset the top seed if they can stay close late in the game.
“If we’re in it come the stretch, the pressure slips off of us and goes on the other team because, from what I hear, they’ve been the best in the league a couple years and never really … went to the NCAA tournament,” BU freshman guard Jordan Reed said. “So I figure as long as our team stays in it, the pressure will gradually slip over to them and we hopefully will come out on top.”
Dempsey expects his team to have some extra fans in the stands come Saturday, as Albany, the tournament’s host, plays after the Bearcats. With a win over Maine, the Great Danes would face either Stony Brook or Binghamton in the semifinals.
“The Albany faithful won’t be rooting for Stony Brook, I’m sure,” Dempsey said.
But even with all the support in the world, tightening the reins on Stony Brook won’t be easy. Dempsey said that nearly flawless execution — playing cohesively in the 2-3 zone, hustling back to prevent transition buckets and keeping Stony Brook freshman Jameel Warney and senior Tommy Brenton off the glass — will be key.
“When I talk about being perfect it’s not about making every shot or not making any mistakes offensively,” Dempsey said. “It’s more about we’re going to have to be almost perfect defensively. We’re capable of doing that. We just have to stay focused.”
Dempsey has often said that this year’s Bearcats need to limit opponents to around 60 points in order to win. Binghamton simply doesn’t have the offensive arsenal to play with a team as the score creeps into the 70s.
Reed has been one of the bright spots offensively, though, leading the team and ranking second in the conference with 16.7 points per game.
But Brenton, reputed as one of the Northeast’s premier defenders, frustrated the freshman to the tune of a 10.5-point scoring average on 26.1 percent shooting in the teams’ two meetings.
Reed said he likes competing against Brenton for the learning experience.
“He’s one of the smartest and [most] talented players that they have here in the America East,” Reed said. “So I feel like going against him is just only going to make me better for next year, but not only next year — just to be a better … player in the future.”
Even if Reed finally wins the individual battle with Brenton, Binghamton seniors Jimmy Gray and Taylor Johnston and junior Brian Freeman will need to score, too. But Dempsey said the contributions can’t stop there.
“We’ll need some periphery guys to make some big shots and to get some big offensive rebounds,” he said. “You see that happen at this time of year. Sometimes in March, for whatever reason, on a given day for a given team, the ball goes in the basket and a guy who has only made a handful of threes all year makes a couple.”
The odds are stacked against Binghamton even finding itself in a situation in which those “big shots” and “big offensive rebounds” could come to fruition.
If they do, though, and Binghamton wins, few upsets this season would be more surprising — and this season has featured more than its fair share of shockers.
But it’s March, the month in which madness disrupts structure.
Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. on Saturday at SEFCU Arena.