After a home loss to NJIT (currently 9-18) on Dec. 28, Stony Brook stood 4-8 and apparently needing at least a season of transition after last year’s run to the America East title, graduating a strong senior class including all-time great Jameel Warney, and seeing the coach the built them basically from scratch (Steve Pikiell) leave to go to Rutgers with his top assistants.
On top of everything else, two of its top returning players – Ahmad Walker and Deshaun Thrower – were arrested in separate incidents and no longer on the team by the time the season started.
But the dreaded “rebuilding” didn’t take as long as most thought. While Stony Brook was surely not as loaded as the last couple of years, it still had plenty of good America East talent, and the result has been winning 12 of 14 since that NJIT defeat, and being 11-2 in conference play with three games remaining (and clinching at least a No. 2 seed) after finally putting away a stubborn Hartford team 66-54 at Chase Family Arena Wednesday night.
Had they been wearing different uniforms, New Hampshire might have been taken a little more seriously this season. The America East coaches knew better, of course, picking the Wildcats second behind Vermont, with three of the eight who were not Bill Herrion putting New Hampshire first.
That, of course, is a long, long way from most of the history of the program, which can’t really be called checkered because there aren’t enough successful data points to offset the 19 (?!?) straight losing seasons from 1995-2014. The Wildcats only had one winning campaign in the previous decade to that as well, so it probably goes without saying they’ve never been to the NCAA Tournament (becoming Division I in 1977).
Maine and Hartford have been in Division I basketball for a combined six decades (Maine joined in 1977, Hartford in 1984), and have a grand total of zero NCAA Tournament appearances between them, so while many coaches and programs talk about “upholding the tradition”, what do you do when there’s not much to work with?
Maine has had just one winning record in its last 12 seasons (2009-10), but there’s a little to talk about there, as Dr. John Giannini – who went to the Sweet 16 with La Salle in 2013 – went 24-7 in 1999-2000 before they lost at Mike Brey and Delaware in the America East semifinals. Giannini had one more 20-win season in Orono, losing at Vermont in the conference final in 2003-04, before heading to Philadelphia.