As winter approaches, the Binghamton men’s basketball team returns to the court after the team’s best finish in the America East (AE) in 12 years. The Bearcats were picked to place last in 2021’s preseason coaches’ poll, yet went on to be the sixth seed, finishing the postseason with one road win. With Binghamton head coach Levell Sanders at the helm, BU finished with a 12-17 overall record along with an 8-10 conference record and a trip to the AE semi-finals. After exceeding expectations last season and adding new faces to the roster, BU was picked to finish fourth in this year’s poll. Sanders, however, does not want his players to focus on that.

“We don’t focus on any kind of expectations,” Sanders said. “We just try to prepare ourselves as best as possible day by day. I think I always try to put more expectations on myself than anybody else, and that’s what we do with our players. We try to put a lot of pressure on our guys to execute and be the best version of themselves. Being picked fourth in the coach’s poll is not really anything that we gotta worry about.”

This past off-season marks Sanders’ first full offseason as Binghamton’s head coach, having yet to be promoted from his interim position last year. Sanders admitted that the position hindered his ability to make much change in the previous offseason, but after being named to the full-time position in February of this year, he wasted no time in using his new title to bring in several new faces. The Bearcats have five new players joining the roster in 2022, one freshman along with four transfers.

“The biggest thing for us was that we didn’t have the interim tag title attached to what we were doing,” Sanders said. “The previous summer was difficult in recruiting because a lot of the questions that we had were about the future and our future. That’s helped us out a lot that we didn’t have to talk about that, and we can just promote our program, promote ourselves as coaches and promote how we can help individuals achieve the goals they wanna achieve. That was the biggest thing for this past summer.”

Although BU brought in new talent, it also retained many of its important pieces. Its leading scorers, senior guard Jacob Falko and junior guard John McGriff, remain a part of the BU core. Seemingly satisfied with the guard play, Sanders used the offseason to bring in front-court players that he feels have a lot to contribute to Binghamton’s success in 2022-23. With transfers like junior forward Tariq Balogun and graduate student forward Miles Gibson, Sanders believes the Bearcats can more effectively work the ball into the paint and size up their opponents better than last year.

“We have a guy like [Balogun] that I think is gonna surprise a lot of people,” Sanders said. “Having a guy like him and his ability and athleticism and the way he can score inside, we’re definitely gonna use that. Gibson has been a pleasant surprise for us. He can play a ton of different positions. You can use him inside. He can score inside. I think our front court will be a lot more productive this year than it was in the past.”

Other returners in the Binghamton squad include senior guard Dan Petcash and graduate student guard Christian Hinckson, who each were top five on the team in minutes played last season. Both players will look to fill the void that guard Tyler Bertram left when he departed in the transfer portal this offseason. While Bertram was the team’s leading three-point scorer last year, Petcash and Hinckson rounded out as BU’s two most efficient shooters from beyond the arc. The two guards will likely see an increase in volume this season and will attempt to maintain their past efficiency. In order to help the shooting output, Sanders also bought in transfer sophomore guard Matt Solomon, who drilled 71 threes last season at Allan Hancock College.

“The biggest thing for [Petcash] is he just needs to be a little bit more aggressive offensively,” Sanders said. “He shot 46 percent from the three-point line last year, but he didn’t take a lot of shots … We just need him to be more aggressive, and if he can get that mindset of being more aggressive offensively, it will help him and it will help us as a team.”

The Bearcats’ season officially starts on Monday, Nov. 7, but they will not begin conference play until Dec. 31 against Bryant. In the meantime, they will face nonconference opponents, beginning with their season opener against Cazenovia at home. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Dr. Bai Lee Court in Vestal, New York.