T.S. Eliot called April the cruelest month, but he was unfamiliar with the March Sadness that has afflicted Steve Pikiell's otherwise successful basketball program at Stony Brook. The Seawolves (21-10) embark on another attempt to earn the school's first NCAA Tournament bid with renewed confidence when they face Binghamton (6-25) in the America East quarterfinals tonight at Island FCU Arena.
Playing under a new format in which every game is at the home of the higher-seeded team in each round, this marks the first time SBU has hosted an early-round game. As the third seed, this might be Stony Brook's only home game, but Pikiell is optimistic after finishing the regular season with a six-game winning streak that included a win at No. 1 seed Albany, the Great Danes' only America East loss.
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"I think we can play with anybody," Pikiell said Tuesday. "This team is very confident. Our chemistry has gotten better as the year has gone on, and I also think our freshmen have learned how to help us. We're playing real good basketball right now.
"The last six games, we're playing as good on defense [56.8 points allowed] as we've ever played since I've been here. I think we can play with anybody. I'm very excited about what [Wednesday night] brings and, hopefully, what the future brings."
Junior forward Jameel Warney just won his second straight America East player of the year award and leads all of Division I with 20 double-doubles, while junior guard Carson Puriefoy III was a first-team all-conference selection and junior forward Rayshaun McGrew earned third-team honors.
Warney called this his best season yet, but he added, "At the end of the day, it doesn't mean anything if I can't win a conference tournament."
The Seawolves lost the conference championship and automatic NCAA Tournament bid last March for the third time in the previous four seasons and the second time at home. "It's pressure, but it's what you come here for," Warney said of the NCAA quest.
"We want to be the first team to make history here and go to the first tournament. We deal with that pressure day in and day out. If we keep playing how we've been playing, we'll be fine."
Although Binghamton has a poor record, the Bearcats won four of their final nine games, including a win over Vermont, which tied Stony Brook for second with a 12-4 record but got the No. 2 seed because of a head-to-head sweep.
"They're young and dangerous," Warney said of the Bearcats. "They beat Vermont, so they're capable of playing as well as anybody in the conference. We've got to treat it like it could be our last game and go out and win."
The cruel irony for Stony Brook is that it certainly would have hosted the first two rounds of the America East Tournament in its new arena if not for the changed format. But Pikiell is grateful for one home game. "There's a good feeling," Pikiell said, "to play in front of our students, our fans, our band and the community. I think the guys are excited."