On Monday, March 21, men’s basketball head coach Levell Sanders was announced as a finalist out of 15 recipients for the 2022 Joe B. Hall Award, an accolade granted to the best first-year Division I men’s basketball coach. Under Sanders, the Binghamton University men’s basketball team has resurged to its best form in over a decade and has rekindled the passion in BU fans who have frequently packed the Events Center during the 2021-22 campaign.

Since Binghamton’s 2009-10 season, the program has been on a downward spiral which was further accelerated by the poor coaching of former head coach Tommy Dempsey. Dempsey’s final years of tenure were highlighted by the departure of one of the biggest talents in BU program history in former guard Sam Sessoms, as well as that of former guard and 2020-21 BU top scorer Brenton Mills a year later. Dempsey’s contract expired at the end of the 2020-21 season and was not renewed. Following a sigh of a relief, concern by some fans resurfaced as Sanders was appointed interim head coach for the program shortly after.

In spite of initial doubts about Sanders’ capabilities at the helm of the team, he has unquestionably performed above the expectations of early skeptics, not to mention the America East (AE) itself. In this year’s AE preseason coaches’ poll, Binghamton was picked last due to a previously destitute season under Dempsey and numerous changes in the athletics department. Not only did BU earn the No. 6 playoff seed, but the team garnered its best conference record since 2010 and made an, albeit shaky, advance to the AE semifinals. The team seemed rejuvenated with a newfound energy and positive attitude that has been all-but absent on the court for years, and the Binghamton fans were consequently infected with the same disposition.

One of Sanders’ most notable achievements was bringing John McGriff and Jacob Falko into the program from St. John’s University and Gardner-Webb University, respectively. McGriff seemed a promising prospect from the start of the season, quickly becoming a crowd favorite after lighting up the Events Center during BU’s opening match against Cornell. Falko, however, got off to an extremely slow start, struggling to find the bottom of the net despite starting most nonconference games. Once AE play kicked off, Falko seemed an entirely different player, soon becoming BU’s top scorer and the 11th best in the conference, averaging 12.9 points per game. Falko was named first-team all-conference and is the first player to receive that recognition in 12 years.

While this season’s performance was not mediocre, it was certainly far from perfect. Sanders frequently admitted that the team was unable to play more than one half of good basketball. The Bearcats almost always guaranteed one entire half of extreme disappointment while simultaneously delivering a 20-minute performance that would make some NCAA tournament teams look like kindergarteners by comparison. The consistent polarity plagued the Bearcats for the entirety of conference play and fueled increasing frustrations in BU supporters.

Where the team has garnered the most concern, however, is in the roster itself. Like clockwork, Binghamton’s biggest talents have looked to transfer to different programs immediately following their breakout seasons. In 2020, Sessoms eagerly packed his bags to compete at Penn State, while Mills transferred to Bowling Green. Neither McGriff nor Falko have entered the transfer portal, but Sanders will have to keep both at the program if there’s any chance of him capitalizing on this season’s success.

Although neither of the two transfers have jumped ship, seven other Bearcats have. Over the past month, more names have been popping up in the transfer portal, according to Verbal Commits. Most notably, former AE Rookie of the Year George Tinsley submitted a transfer request after remaining loyal to Binghamton for three years. Losing nearly half of the entire men’s basketball team is not only a significant blow to BU’s already limited depth off the bench, but it raises multiple red flags. BU has found itself in similar situations in the past. At the start of the 2019-20 season, the Bearcats found themselves with an entirely new-look roster after a chunk of the team left for a myriad of different reasons. This year, however, all seven players are looking to transfer, and each submitted their respective requests within weeks, if not days, of each other.

On the surface, it’s difficult to fault Sanders for much of the team’s adversity. Having been handed a program in a state of disarray as a first-year coach, there was little chance that Sanders alone was going to take BU to the NCAA tournament. Considering BU athletics experienced such drastic change over a short window of time, any degree of success on behalf of Sanders was commendable. However, that period of change is not over. With half the roster looking to leave and expectations built high for next season, Sanders still has a significant amount of work ahead of him if he wishes to rebuild the men’s basketball team back to its former glory.

It is premature to suggest that Binghamton men’s basketball has returned to its elite status in the AE. However, that should not detract from the success the program has garnered over the past four months. Having been formerly separated by COVID-19 in an ideologically divisive environment, students have begun to reconnect with one another as they collectively cheer for a BU basketball team that is refreshingly enjoyable to watch. The historic presence of fans at the Events Center brings campus to life during every home tipoff without fail. The Editorial Board commends Sanders’ leadership as well as the decision by BU athletics to appoint him as permanent men’s basketball coach for the next five seasons.

Despite the ongoing change within the Binghamton men’s basketball team, fans should look forward to the future of the program. Binghamton is no Vermont, nor by any means Gonzaga, but still remains a Division I program which coaches and athletes have poured blood, sweat and tears into. As fans who want to see our school to succeed, it is our duty to pack the Events Center and show continued support as the program begins to rebuild. Sanders deserves the full appreciation of every Binghamton fan going forward, and those who overly criticize this season’s result are suggesting that they would rather have another Tommy Dempsey in charge.

Regardless of whether or not Sanders is handed the Joe B. Hall Award at the start of April, Binghamton will still have his back.