Stony Brook won’t dance but the program is on the rise

If you told Bryan Dougher, Danny Carter, Tommy Brenton & Dallis Joyner in 2008 that  they would win 75 games at Stony Brook, nearly make the NCAA tournament twice, win two regular season America East titles and participate in the NIT two times, they would have probably laughed at you, thinking it was a joke. In the four years since Stony Brook’s Class of 2008 arrived at the struggling America East school, they have accomplished all of the above.

The coach that recruited these four high schoolers to Stony Brook, Steve Pikiell, took over a basketball program that was in the midst of a school-wide academic probation issue which accompanied the school’s rise from D-III to D-I athletics. The Seawolves finished a combined 20-67 from 2005-2008, finishing no higher than ninth in the America East conference. Things weren’t quite Binghamton, NJIT or Towson bad, but things certainly weren’t good.

That all changed  with the Class of 2008.

Joining the aforementioned freshmen was JuCo transfer Muhammad El-Amin, a Lansing (MI) native who attended Lansing CC for two seasons. El-Amin immediately became Stony Brook’s go-to-guy, scoring 15.7PPG as a junior. Freshman guard Bryan Dougher, a

Despite never Dancing, Stony Brook has taken great strides.

Scotch Plains (NJ) native chipped in with a healthy 11.2PPG, good enough to make the America East All-Rookie team. Stony Brook finished 16-14, more than doubling the previous season’s win total, before bowing out to New Hampshire in the America East tournament. The Seawolves finished 4th in the America East. The program looked like it was headed in the right direction.

2009-10 was an even better season. Stony Brook went from finishing 9th in 2007 to winning the America East regular season title with a  22-10 (13-3) record. The Seawolves looked poised to reach their first ever NCAA tournament but surprisingly lost in the second round of the America East tournament to fifth seeded Hartford and then lost in the first round of the NIT to Illinois. Leading scorer Muhammed El-Amin was graduating, it looked like it was back to the drawing board for Pikiell’s program.

Steve Pikiell added two important pieces to his Seawolves puzzle in the Class of 2010: David Coley and Al Rapier. Coley, a freshman and Rapier, a JuCo transfer, would add 10.6PPG, filling some of the void that El-Amin left behind.

From November to mid-February, Stony Brook actually had a poor season. They were 11-16 with two games remaining, it was unlikely they would see any post-season basketball beyond the America East tournament – they were just another mid-tier low-major program. It didn’t help that leading rebounder Tommy Brenton missed the entire season with a knee injury he suffered during the off-season.

Despite the odds, Stony Brook rolled into the America East tournament on a two-game winning streak. The Seawolves slipped by Albany in the first round and shocked the region with a 22-point drubbing of number one seeded Vermont in the semi-finals. They would travel to Boston University to play the two seed Terriers with an NCAA auto-bid on the line. A most improbable run.

It looked as if Stony Brook was going to cruise. They held BU’s leading scorer John Holland scoreless for the first 17 minutes and the Seawolves led by 15 early in the second half. Holland took over in the second half, making it a one or two possession game down the stretch before he made two game winning free throws with 2.4 seconds on the clock. Here is the foul. Not only was it arguably not a foul, but Holland might have traveled on the play. Junior guard Bryan Dougher missed a half court heave at the buzzer by inches and Stony Brook’s season was over just like that. It was heartbreak again for the Seawolves, a type they weren’t used to.

This season was the last hurrah for seniors Al Rapier, Bryan Dougher, Dallis Joyner and Danny Carter. The latter three had been instrumental in the program’s 180-degree turnaround and Rapier provided valuable experience off the bench as a junior. After coming so close the season before, the team knew they could Dance — the program was no longer a perennial America East bottom-feeder. After starting 3-6 against some tough non-conference opponents, Stony Brook blew through their remaining games, finishing 17-2, good enough for the America East regular season title and a the top seed in the conference tournament.

After disposing of Binghamton in the quarterfinals, Stony Brook found itself in trouble against Albany. Fittingly, Dallis Joyner provided a buzzer beating put-back for a 57-55 win. Once again, the Seawolves would have a chance to Dance, this time they would play on their home court, where they were 13-0 this season, against 2-seed Vermont.

Stony Brook struggled from the start today. Vermont clogged the paint and forced a ton of tough, contested shots from within the arc. The Seawolves also struggled from deep, shooting a mere 4-19. Stony Brook trailed by 13 with just under seven minutes to play, the dream looked dead, the students were relatively quite. Before one could blink, Vermont’s lead was cut to six courtesy of an 8-1 run by Dave Coley. The crowd was loud, there was hope, this was the moment for Stony Brook’s seniors to finally get over the hump.

But it never happened.

Vermont suffered through a 10:04 field goal drought to end the game but Stony Brook couldn’t reduce the deficit past four. Senior leader Bryan Dougher fouled out with :36 to play, tears filled with every type of emotion filled his eyes — the dream was dead. Vermont hit their free throws and their small contingent of students rushed the court to celebrate a second NCAA tournament appearance in three seasons. Stony Brook has never been to one.

I would imagine that most serious high school basketball players dream of playing in the NCAA tournament. Dougher, Rapier, Carter and Joyner will never know how it feels to play with the giant NCAA logo at the middle of the court and the nation’s eyes watching you. But they do know something else.

The 2008 class sparked the emergence of a Division I basketball program that was all sorts of irrelevant before they set foot on campus. From 20-67 in three seasons, to 75-50 (and  counting) in four seasons, 2 NIT appearances and 2 regular season America East titles. Individually, Bryan Dougher’s Stony Brook Athletics profile says the record he dreams of breaking is Stony Brook’s scoring record. He did just that with a three pointer at the 12:02 mark in the first half today.

After today’s game, head coach Steve Pikiell summed up how much the 2008 class means to him, “I wouldn’t trade this senior class for 10 trips to the NCAA tournament, and I mean that sincerely.”

Dancing is the ultimate goal, but this is a damn good consolation.

The future looks bright. Despite losing three of their top five scorers, Tommy Brenton returns for his senior season (he received a medical redshirt in 2010-11) and Steve Pikiell landed the highest rated recruit to ever sign with Stony Brook, Jameel Warney (Roselle Catholic HS, NJ). Pikiell also received commitments from three other high school seniors in Ryan Burnett, Carson Puriefoy and Ahmad Reid.

Breaking Down the 1-Bid Leagues

Every bubble team’s worst nightmare: A team that is surely going to receive an NCAA Tournament bid no matter what and the rest of their conference has no chance at an at-large. The team winds up losing in their conference tournament and some sub .500 team receives the tournament auto-bid, suddenly turning a 1-bid league into a 2-bid league, subsequently “stealing” an at-large bid.

If you’re a fan of a bubble team, you want the following teams to win their conference tournaments so that the above scenario is avoided. The percentage attached to each team is assuming the team wins every remaining game EXCEPT the conference tournament final. Some of the projected Top 100 win/bad loss counts & RPI numbers are subject to change. (Ex: ‘Team Bad Loss’ has RPI of 101 but improves that to 93 by Selection Sunday)

Ohio Valley Conference: Murray State

The Racers are pretty much a lock for an at-large if they falter in the OVC tournament. They would have a 3-0 record vs the Top 50, 2 bad losses with an RPI in the 30s.

Chance of receiving at-large: 100%

Ivy League: Harvard

If Harvard wins out (@Columbia, @Cornell) they will receive the Ivy League auto-bid. If, however, they drop a game and Penn wins out, the two teams would be tied and would play a play-in game as they split the season series 1-1. Harvard would very likely.

Harvard would have an RPI somewhere around 45-50, 1 maybe 2 (St. Joes is 51) Top 50 wins, 7~ Top 100 wins (7-3 record), 2 bad losses and poor SOS. They would have a shot at an at-large.

Chance of receiving at-large: 60%

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference: Iona

Poor late officiating might cost Iona an at-large bid if they happen to lose in the MAAC final. A Robbie Hummel trey produced by an illegal screen downed the Gaels in their first game of the season. A win would have had Iona at 1-0 vs the Top 50 & 7-2 against the Top 100 with an RPI in the low 30s.

Iona’s resume reminds me of Harvard’s and would be arguably better save their loss to Purdue and their three bad losses. The Gaels likely need to win the MAAC and anything less than that would be a huge disappointment.

Chance of receiving at-large: 15%

Big West: Long Beach State

The 49ers have an outside shot of receiving an at-large bid if they lose in the Big West conference final. If that were to happen, they’d have an estimated RPI of 28, the toughest OOC SOS in the country, one or two bad losses (Montana is currently No. 101), 0 Top 50 wins and 2 neutral/road Top 100 wins (vs. Xavier, @Pittsburgh)

Chance of receiving at-large: 10%

Summit League: Oral Roberts

Another team with an outside shot at a bid if they lose in the Summit League final. They would have an RPI in the high 30s, 0-1 vs Top 50, 3-3 vs Top 100 (win @Xavier) and a poor SOS.

The Golden Eagles’ main threat in the conference tournament is South Dakota State, who they split the season series with 1-1.

Chance of receiving at-large: 5%

Other conferences (team) considered:

CAA (Drexel/VCU) – Both teams have a lot of wins but poor SOS/RPI numbers and bad losses will ultimately leave the CAA at a 1-bid league.

Sun Belt (Middle Tenn St) – A gaudy record but 0 Top-50 wins, 2+ bad losses and a poor SOS means the Blue Raiders need to win the Sun Belt title.

**Pacific 12 (Arizona, California, Washington) – All three teams are squarely on the bubble right now so this situation is changing by the game. As of right now the Pac-12 is not a 1-bid league but can be in the future.


Bubble Watch: Sunday, February 26th

Bubble teams, as usual, are in bold.

Sunday, February 26th:

Cincinnati @ South Florida (12PM ESPN3) – Huge, huge bubble game in the Big East. The Bearcats are in slightly better position but are still firmly on the bubble. South Florida is on the outside looking in and definitely need this win to improve their resume.

#24 Indiana @ Minnesota (1PM ESPN) – Minnesota has dropped four straight and are teetering on the outside of the bubble.  They surely need this win against a Top 25 team or they are likely NIT bound.

California @ Colorado (5:30PM) – California is hovering around an 8/9 seed right now but a loss would put them in the bubble conversation as the Pacific-12 is quite weak this season.

Iowa @ Illinois (6PM BTN) – Like Minnesota, Illinois is in a tailspin, dropping their last six. A must win game against an Iowa team which has done surprisingly well in conference play under third year skipper Fran McCaffery.

#16 Florida State @ Miami (FL) (6PM ESPNU) – Miami have lost three of their last four games but lost by just five @ Florida State earlier this month. For a team squarely on the bubble with state bragging rights on the line (for the 451 non-UF college basketball fans living in Florida), this is an important game.

Oregon @ Oregon State (7:30PM) – Oregon is hovering around the cut line with this being the most difficult of their three remaining games. Winning out and a Pacific 12 tournament run might just lock up a bid.

I’ll be doing daily Bubble Watches and other NCAA tournament related work until Selection Sunday (March 11th). Stay tuned.

LockBox & Notes: March 7th

Add: Alabama
Remove: Minnesota, Southern Miss

Last 4 IN: Boston College, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Colorado
First 4 OUT: Penn State, Baylor, Memphis, Clemson
On the Fringe: Alabama, VCU, Washington State, Missouri State

21 teams for 13 bids

Notes: Minnesota was eliminated after a very poor showing down the stretch in the Big Ten. Southern Miss finished 0-3 in C-USA including a loss to Tulsa to get themselves off the board. Alabama is back in the mix with a win over Georgia

Bubble teams are rooting for Utah State, Butler, Old Dominion and Gonzaga to win their respective conference tournaments.

There will be one more LockBox released on Selection Sunday along with a complete breakdown of every team that has locked up a bid. I will rank the bubble teams in order and give approximate percentages of making the tournament for each, similar to this site: DanceCard. I got 64/65 teams correct last season.

LockBox & Notes: February 28th

Add: None
Remove: Nebraska, Alabama, Wichita State, Dayton

Last 4 IN: Gonzaga, Colorado, Baylor, Michigan
First 4 OUT: Boston College, Penn State, Butler, Colorado State
On the Fringe: Washington State, Clemson, Southern Miss, Minnesota, VCU

Notes: Colorado State, VCU, Southern Miss and Minnesota all dropped out with losses since the last LockBox. Boston College was edged out by Michigan, Baylor and Colorado due to lack of quality wins. Colorado propelled themselves into the field of 68 after a huge comeback against Texas on Saturday. The Buffalo have 5 Top 50 wins.

Nebraska’s loss to Texas Tech, Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss, Wichita State’s loss to Missouri State and Dayton’s loss to Xavier have dropped these teams out of the LockBox altogether.

Only one bubble team is in action tonight (Gonzaga vs CS Bakersfield), so a Bubble Games of the Week highlighting the important games to follow this week will be posted sometime tomorrow afternoon.

LockBox & Notes: February 25th

Add: Dayton
Remove: None.
Last 4 IN: Gonzaga, Colorado State, Richmond, Southern Miss
First 4 OUT: Virginia Tech, Penn State, Butler, UAB
On the Fringe: Michigan, Washington State, Colorado, Clemson, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Dayton, Nebraska, Alabama, Wichita State

Notes: Virginia Tech’s resume is hurt due to a technicality. They have three wins just outside the Top 50, leaving them with a goose-egg for Top 50 wins. Southern Miss slides in as a result … Penn State blows away relative teams in terms of Top 50 wins and RPI, but their inability to win on the road, and an unimpressive OOC slate leaves them OUT. Four Top 50 wins is pretty hard to deny, but no Top 75 wins, a bad loss (Maine) in the OOC and only two road wins (Northwestern, Indiana) on the season will do that … Colorado State and Richmond earn bids due to their ability to win away from home.

I’m pretty confident that Colorado State, Southern Miss, Penn State, Virginia Tech and Butler are the only interchangeable teams. Can’t see overwhelming cases for any other teams. Minnesota and VCU? Maybe.

Next update: February 28th (AM)

LockBox & Notes: February 21st

Add: Penn State, Butler, Nebraska
Remove: UTEP, New Mexico, Maryland, Ole Miss

Last 4 IN: VCU, Memphis, Butler, Colorado St
First 4 OUT: Richmond, Baylor, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State
Other Schools Considered: Michigan, Penn State, Washington State, Clemson, Southern Miss, Nebraska, Alabama, Wichita State

UTEP has been removed after losses to UCF and Southern Miss. New Mexico has dropped off the board after a last second loss to Utah (third loss in a row). Maryland dropped out even after going 1-1. The Ole Miss Rebels have dropped from my consideration after losing, yet again, to Mississippi State.
Penn State was is now being considered after a home win against Minnesota. Nebraska earned consideration after defeating #3 Texas. Butler had been written off before winning six straight, and many bubble teams losing. They are now purely on the bubble.