Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell will be the first to tell you that there was no excuse for his team losing to Albany in an America East semifinal, despite the game being played at the Great Danes campus arena.
While it’s true Stony Brook had a great regular season and dominated the America East conference season, the Seawolves didn’t win when it counted. That aside, it’s time to talk about the format of the America East tournament.
Holding the tournament on the campus of a team in the league needs to change. Call it sour grapes if you must, but there is no denying that Albany benefitted from being able to play two tournament games on its home floor.
Upsets are great for college basketball as Albany, the fourth seed, upset the top-seeded Seawolves. But conference officials have to reward the top seeds. Stony Brook having to play Albany on the Great Danes’ home floor was not a reward, even if the Seawolves were the superior team.
There are three remedies to this situation:
1. Allow the higher seeds to host all games. The NEC and the Patriot League do this.
2. Play the entire tournament on a neutral court. This is done in most conferences. This option could be cost prohibitive for some of the smaller conferences.
3. Play the preliminary rounds on a neutral court and let the highest remaining seed host the championship.
In theory, the third option is what the America East is doing. The problem is the league holds it preliminary-round games on the home court of one of the teams in the conference. This year it was on Albany’s campus. Last year the preliminary rounds were played on Hartford’s campus.
Last year Hartford upset second-seeded Boston University in a quarterfinal. Hartford, a sixth seed which finished 9-21 last season, fell to eventual tournament champion Vermont, 77-73, in a spirited game. Both games were played on Hartford’s home floor. There’s no denying that Hartford received a boost playing on its home floor.
Some will argue that St. John’s playing Big East tournament games at Madison Square Garden gives them an advantage. Not so fast. The Red Storm doesn’t play all of its games at MSG and even when they do it’s not always a home-court advantage.
On Campus believes, at least when it comes to one-bid leagues, the best option is to allow the top seed to host all games. If that doesn’t work, play the preliminary rounds on a true neutral court and let the highest remaining seed host the title game.
Stony Brook won 24 games, but won’t play in the NCAA Tournament.
Of course you still have to win the games.
Just ask Mercer. The Bears won the Atlantic Sun regular season title and the entire conference tournament was played on its campus. That didn’t stop Florida Gulf Coast from upsetting Mercer in the championship game.