Monday, August 19, 2013

Breaking Down Stony Brook's Nonconference Schedule

Senior guard Anthony Jackson returns to backcourt to lead Seawolves in encore following last season's school record 25-win season that saw team reach second round of NIT. (Photo courtesy of Newsday)

Now five months removed from a 25-win season that saw his team pick up their first postseason victory and reach the round of 16 in the National Invitation Tournament, Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell intimated that scheduling had become much harder in the wake of the Seawolves continuing to reach new heights as they become a household name across the nation. Regardless of the challenge, Pikiell managed to put together a schedule befitting of a high-major team this season as Stony Brook looks for their fourth America East regular season championship in five years, with the ultimate goal being for the Long Island institution to represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament just fifteen years after transitioning to Division I. Here is a detailed breakdown of each team Stony Brook will face in their fifteen-game non-league slate, with insights and quotes from one of the classiest and most respectful head coaches in the business in Pikiell, who does not get anywhere near enough of the mounds of credit he deserves:

Friday, November 8th at Marist: Stony Brook opens what will be their last season at Pritchard Gym before their on-campus arena's renovation is complete by hosting a Marist team that welcomes a new head coach in Jeff Bower, and also returns several key pieces from last year's team, including 6-10 senior center Adam Kemp and swingman Jay Bowie, whose injury-plagued season kept the Red Foxes from advancing further up the MAAC ladder last year. The Seawolves were 4-0 against MAAC teams last season, with a victory against Marist at McCann Arena that Pikiell called a "war" among those victories. "You know, it's going to be a great home opener," Pikiell said. "Last year could have went either way, and now they have the excitement of a new coach and a new coaching staff. They have a lot of really good returning players, and we're going to be really tested right out of the gate."

Sunday, November 10th vs. Haverford College: The Seawolves welcome the Division III Fords into Suffolk County for what most will consider an in-season exhibition game, but is actually a unique opportunity early in the year for Pikiell to get a feel for his team and personnel. Coming off a 7-17 season last year, Haverford returns three of their top four scorers, including senior forward Brett Cohen, who averaged nearly fifteen points and eight rebounds per game last year. "It gives us another home game," an optimistic Pikiell stated, "which we've really struggled to get anyone to come here and play us. It also gives me a chance to try different lineups on the court during the course of a game. Because it's so early, you're still figuring your team out early in the year. That's why I like playing these games."

Wednesday, November 13th vs. Northeastern: Stony Brook's second game against a postseason team comes against the reigning Colonial Athletic Association regular season champion Huskies, who will retool under head coach Bill Coen after the graduation of team leaders Joel Smith and Jonathan Lee. However, Northeastern still holds several weapons at their disposal, including forwards Quincy Ford and Reggie Spencer, who will be joined this year by Scott Eatherton, who sat out last season transferring from Saint Francis University.

Sunday, November 17th at Indiana: The Seawolves get perhaps their stiffest test in the regular season in this 2K Sports Classic preliminary round game, where they travel to Assembly Hall in Bloomington to take on Tom Crean and the Hoosiers, who will look to shed the disappointment from their Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse last season after spending most of the year as the No. 1 team in the nation. Several key members of last year's team are gone, including Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, the second and fourth overall picks in the NBA Draft, respectively; as well as swingman Christian Watford and sharpshooter Jordan Hulls. However, Crean has exceptional talent to spare, with sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell poised to become the best player at his position in the Big Ten, while senior wing Will Sheehey will benefit greatly from the arrival of 6-9 freshman Noah Vonleh, who comes to Indiana with a great deal of hype to accompany his phenomenal talent.

Friday, November 22nd vs. Toledo: The first of three 2K Sports Classic subregional games from Detroit comes against the Rockets, a team already picked by many to win the Mid-American Conference this season. A guard-oriented team coached by Tod Kowalczyk, Toledo is paced by senior Rian Pearson, who led the team by averaging almost eighteen points and seven rebounds per game; as well as junior point guard Julius Brown, an underrated 5-10 dynamo who averaged six assists per game last year. The Rockets return four of their five starters, and welcome Justin Drummond to the program after the 2012 MAAC Sixth Man of the Year sat out last season upon transferring from Loyola.

Saturday, November 23rd vs. Florida Atlantic: Sometimes it's easy for people to forget the Owls considering they compete in a professional sports market and are in a mid-major league in the Sun Belt Conference, but Florida Atlantic gets instant credibility when one sees that the program is coached by Mike Jarvis, who coached Patrick Ewing in high school in Boston before going on to achieve his greatest success in the 1990s at George Washington and later at St. John's, whom he took to the Elite Eight in 1999. This year will be a true test of Jarvis' coaching ability, considering both of his leading scorers have left, forcing Argentine import Pablo Bertone to carry the team as he enters his junior season. On the positive side, the lack of a senior on the Owls' roster will enable to Jarvis to build for another run at an NCAA Tournament in the 2014-15 campaign.

Sunday, November 24th at Detroit: The Titans, now one year removed from their 2012 Horizon League championship, are also in somewhat of a rebuilding state after the graduation of Nick Minnerath and Doug Anderson; as well as the reported transfer of Canadian shooting specialist Jason Calliste, and they also lose the services of Ray McCallum. The senior point guard and coach's son was drafted by the Sacramento Kings in the second round of June's NBA Draft, and made a strong enough impression on their Summer League squad to earn a three-year contract. Detroit also has some NBA lineage on their roster in the form of Juwan Howard Jr., who enters his third season following a year in which he averaged over seven points per game and shot 37 percent from three-point range.

Tuesday, November 26th at Canisius: Stony Brook plays their second straight game against a coach's son, as senior point guard Billy Baron leads his father Jim's Golden Griffins into a season in which they will once again be a contender in the MAAC. Canisius loses Harold Washington and Isaac Sosa, but returns their other two starters up front in senior forwards Jordan Heath and Chris Manhertz. Heath's younger brother Josiah will have an even bigger role on this team this season, as will senior guard Chris Perez, who is eligible immediately after transferring from Stetson.

Pikiell on playing eight games in nineteen days to open the season:
"We have an unbelievable stretch right there against some really good, successful teams. I figure by December 1st, we'll know a lot about our basketball team after being tested against Northeastern, at Indiana, at Detroit, at Canisius. One of the great things about my program about the last four of five years is what I call 'quality depth.' We have a deep bench, and with this stretch, it helps to have that kind of depth in your program. Our guys have done a great job of being in shape, and they'll continue that. I take a lot of pride in us being a well-conditioned team that defends for 40 minutes. I'm excited about that, and I think that's one of our strengths. We have two or three guys at every position, so injuries don't decimate us either. We get a key injury here or there, we're still able to compete at a pretty good level."

Sunday, December 1st vs. St. Francis College: Glenn Braica and the Terriers return the favor in this matchup by coming to Pritchard one year after entertaining Stony Brook in Brooklyn Heights in what served as a coming-out party for shooting guard Dave Coley, who was instrumental in the Seawolves' 77-61 victory. St. Francis will need to reload after losing senior forwards Akeem Johnson and Travis Nichols, but junior power forward Jalen Cannon remains a star in the making alongside the backcourt of junior Brent Jones and senior Englishman Ben Mockford. "This should be an exciting game," Pikiell said with regard to what will be his team's first home game in eighteen days. "St. Francis is always a war, and coming off all the road trips we have, we should be really excited to be playing in our gym again."

Wednesday, December 4th vs. Fairleigh Dickinson: The Knights usher in a new era this season with new coach Greg Herenda, who will essentially have to rebuild the team from scratch following the departures of seniors Kinu Rochford, Melquan Bolding and Lonnie Robinson. Danish import Mathias Seilund, who was one of FDU's biggest role players last season, will now have to step up and become the team leader for New Jersey's sole Northeast Conference representative.

Saturday, December 7th vs. La Salle: Stony Brook has the honor of participating in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden for the second time in three years, and will open a doubleheader also featuring St. John's and Fordham by drawing Dr. John Giannini and the Explorers, who return almost everyone from last season's improbable Sweet 16 run. Despite losing Ramon Galloway, La Salle remains a force to be reckoned with in the backcourt thanks to Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills, and NCAA Tournament hero Tyrone Garland, while Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright pick up the pieces inside the paint. "I'll tell you, we've come a long way," said Pikiell in regard to his program's exposure enabling them to be invited to the Holiday Festival. "It's an exciting opportunity because we get to play a really good La Salle team and get to play in the 'World's Most Famous Arena.' Our kids are excited about being part of a doubleheader. It will be a great opportunity to play on national TV."

Thursday, December 19th at Loyola (Maryland): The Seawolves travel to Reitz Arena in Baltimore to meet the Greyhounds, who leave the MAAC for the Patriot League and welcome a new coach in former assistant G.G. Smith after Jimmy Patsos replaced Mitch Buonaguro at Siena in April, in the first game of a four-year series. Smith will have a majority of new faces on his roster this season following the graduations of Erik Etherly, Robert Olson and Anthony Winbush among others, but senior point guard Dylon Cormier returns as the Greyhounds' team leader while R.J. Williams joins him in the backcourt and Jordan Latham steps into Etherly's role in the paint. Movie buffs will instantly recognize the name of redshirt freshman guard Sean Tuohy Jr., as he is the son of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, whose adoption of Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher was chronicled in the Academy Award-winning film "The Blind Side." "We always try to get down to Maryland," Pikiell informed us. "We do a good job recruiting in that area, (Tommy Brenton, the Seawolves' all-time rebound and assist leader, hails from Columbia, Maryland) and it should be a great game for us."

Sunday, December 22nd vs. Cornell: Stony Brook's final home game before America East play opens is a return match of a game contested last year against Bill Courtney and the Big Red at Newman Arena in Ithaca. Leading scorer and rebounder Shonn Miller returns for his senior season, with sophomore Nolan Cressler and junior Devin Cherry primed for breakout seasons in Cornell's backcourt.

Friday, January 3rd at Virginia Commonwealth: In what will be one of the more intriguing games on Stony Brook's ledger, the Seawolves will make the trip to the Siegel Center in Richmond to meet Shaka Smart and his patented "Havoc" defense that the Rams have used to make them a unique and formidable opponent. Guards Darius Theus and Troy Daniels have graduated, but VCU's backcourt depth will more than make up for the losses, as Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year Briante Weber moves into the starting point guard position alongside Rob Brandenberg, while Jordan Burgess; whose older brother Bradford was an integral part of the Rams' 2011 Final Four run, will compete with Melvin Johnson for the third guard spot. Up front, swingman Treveon Graham and underrated power forward Juvonte Reddic will return their blend of aggressive rebounding and natural athleticism to make VCU the favorite to cut down the nets in the Atlantic 10 this season.

Wednesday, January 8th at Columbia: Stony Brook makes the journey through Queens and into Levien Gym to play the Lions in Manhattan in their final contest before league play. Now in his fourth year at Columbia, Kyle Smith loses point guard Brian Barbour, but has a pair of qualified shooters in sophomore Grant Mullins and junior Steve Frankoski to minimize the loss of his floor general. Pay close attention to junior forward Alex Rosenberg this season. A 6-7, 215-pounder, Rosenberg may be undersized as far as typical power forwards go, but with Mark Cisco having graduated, the New Jersey native becomes the most experienced member of the frontcourt, and should be in line for a season that, with all the right breaks, should produce all-Ivy League honors come March.

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