Stony Brook gets its shot at redemption tomorrow morning.
One year and four days ago, the Seawolves fell victim to the America East’s farcical conference tournament format, which afforded fourth-seeded Albany a semifinal home game against top-seeded Stony Brook. The Great Danes, better a year ago than they are today, upset the Seawolves and then beat No. 2 Vermont to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
In the days leading up to last year’s America East tournament, SBU head coach Steve Pikiell took the high road when the bracket revealed a potential semifinal matchup against the hosting Great Danes.
“It doesn’t matter who you play, and it doesn’t matter where you play,” Pikiell told Pipe Dream. “If you’re good enough to win the game, you win it.”
The Seawolves weren’t good enough to win that one game, the loss vanquishing their NCAA tournament hopes and banishing them to the NIT. And they were barely good enough to split the season series with Albany in 2013-14.
In both meetings this year, Albany scored at a more efficient rate than its season average — and significantly higher than Stony Brook’s in-conference rate of 0.96 points allowed per possession. The Great Danes also limited the Seawolves to one point per trip in their 77-67 win on Jan. 29. Stony Brook scored 1.08 points per possession in conference play.
Just two weeks ago, Stony Brook overcame a late 10-point deficit to beat Albany by five at Pritchard Gym, the site of tomorrow’s championship game.
I’ll pick Stony Brook in this one because of guard play, but those guards — seniors Dave Coley and Anthony Jackson and sophomore Carson Puriefoy — will also need to crash the glass against the bigger Great Danes. Last year’s semifinal loss at Albany will motivate Stony Brook in its last game at Pritchard.
Looking at 2014-15
Could Hartford be the favorite to win the league title next season? The Hawks will return every key player from this year’s team, while Vermont and Stony Brook will each lose a handful of rotation players. Yes, the Hawks still have their weaknesses — mainly rebounding — but their hot finish to 2013-14 bodes well for the future.
Just three Catamounts who played more than 10 minutes per game will suit up for John Becker next season — assuming a higher-profile school doesn’t lure the head coach away from Burlington. They’re solid America East players, but Becker may need time to cultivate his patented style of ball movement and tight defense with a team sans Sandro Carissimo and Brian Voelkel.
Stony Brook returns its top two scorers — Puriefoy and America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney — and all-rookie team member Ahmad Walker. Pikiell has a track record of performing well even after graduating key players, but he’ll have three gaping voids to fill: Jackson, Coley and athletic power forward Eric McAlister.
Even the Great Danes — who will graduate DJ Evans, Gary Johnson and Luke Devlin — have questions to answer.
Of course, the postseason signing period is still a few weeks away, and rosters are wont to change up until the fall. We won’t know exactly what Vermont, Stony Brook and Albany will look like in 2014-15 for quite some time, but we do have a solid idea of the lineup Hartford head coach John Gallagher will field.
As for Binghamton, the Bearcats have a five-man recruiting class at the moment to replace three seniors. The numbers don’t add up, so some scholarship players will inevitably either leave the team or become walk-ons.
I can speculate — I stress, speculate — three possibilities.
Junior guard Chris Rice will graduate this spring. He played sparingly this season, and might choose to pen the next chapter of his life.
Redshirt junior guard Rob Mansell will also graduate this spring. A knee injury curtailed his comeback from an ACL tear, but even before he went down for the season, Mansell struggled shooting the ball and battling the younger guards for minutes. The graduate-transfer rule would enable Mansell to play immediately for another school, should he choose to leave Binghamton for his fifth season of collegiate eligibility.
Junior forward Jabrille Williams — the son of New York Knicks assistant coach Herb Williams — played his freshman season at Binghamton as a walk-on. He could revert to walk-on status, allowing head coach Tommy Dempsey to allocate another scholarship to an incoming freshman.
The five commits range between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6, so freshman forwards Nick Madray and Magnus Richards will need to work this offseason to improve their strength inside. Two of Binghamton’s three graduating seniors — Roland Brown and Alex Ogundadegbe — stand at 6-foot-8.
Even with a thin set of big men, Binghamton could be picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll because the rest of the league’s lower half loses several significant players.