We’re not yet a full month into the college basketball season. So making any bold post season predictions wouldn’t make any sense at this juncture. That said, it’s not too early to make a few evaluations of some of the local teams. Last season was a promising one for a couple of Long Island-area squads. The Stony Brook men made their first NIT as a Division I squad, while the St. John’s women advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second time in five years.
The St. John’s men and Hofstra women made the NIT, while the Hofstra men played in the CBI. The Stony Brook women struggled in their non-conference schedule, but rebounded for a strong finish in America East play. So what about this season? Check out some of my early-season observations below.
Hofstra (4-3): So much for Hofstra having a miserable season. It’s early, but the Mo Cassara regime is in full effect. It helps that Hofstra has the CAA’s best player in Charles Jenkins. But offense isn’t the reason Hofstra is winning. The Pride have played excellent defense. The 107 points they surrendered to North Carolina notwithstanding, the Pride have been lights out on the other side of the ball. They’ve given up 63 points or fewer in their other six contests. Finding a consistent second and third scoring option has been a bit of a challenge, but JUCO transfer Mike Moore has reached double figures in five of Hofstra’s seven contests. Junior forward David Imes has had the scoring touch the last few games, too. If either of those two can consistently reach double figures, Hofstra could be the surprise of the CAA. It’s also worth noting that Australia’s Brad Kelleher will be eligible to play next Saturday against Florida Atlantic for the Pride. Kelleher is a capable ball handler who can shoot and run an offense.
Stony Brook (3-4): The Seawolves haven’t gotten off to the strong start a lot of people expected them to. But there’s no need to worry. The Seawolves coughed up an 18-point lead in a one-point loss to Columbia on Saturday. In fairness, Steve Pikiell was without Dallis Joyner (ankle) and Chris Martin (suspension). Both players are important pieces to the Pikiell puzzle. One thing is for certain, Bryan Dougher can light it up. He’s averaging 17.6. points and is shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range. Like Hofstra, however, Stony Brook needs to find some more scoring. The departed Muhammad El-Amin was arguably the best player the Seawolves have ever had. He had the ability to break down a defense, get to the rim or pull up from the mid-range. He could also stretch a defense from behind the arc. No one on the roster has stepped into El-Amin’s roll yet, so spreading the ball around is important. But Pikiell is an excellent X and O man and should have this worked out by conference season.
St. John’s (5-1): Steve Lavin has made his imprint on St. John’s and New York City. Off to an excellent start, this Red Storm team has the feel of a squad that is destined for an NCAA Tournament appearance. Save for talented freshman Dwayne Polee, this is the same team that took to the court last season. But Lavin seems to be getting a little more out of the roster than Norm Roberts did. Eight players on the Red Storm roster are averaging between 6.7 and 14.3 points. That doesn’t include Justin Burrell or Sean Evans, both of whom were key players last season. It still remains to be seen if the Red Storm can do any damage in the Big East. But you have to admit there is a much different feel to this team. The Red Storm need to take advantage of a remaining non-conference slate that includes games against St. Bonaventure, Fordham and Davidson. A 9-1 mark heading into its Big East schedule is not out of the question.
Hofstra (4-1): Outside of losing to Virginia in its season-opener, Hofstra couldn’t ask for much more. Shante Evans has been a rock in the paint for the Pride. The 6-1 sophomore had 26 points and 15 rebounds in a win at Providence last week. It was one of the Pride’s best wins over the last couple of seasons. A big factor in Hofstra’s strong start has been the play of Marie Malone. The 6-2 junior is averaging 12.2 points and 6.8 rebounds. Evans and Malone have proved to be a potent one-two punch. If the Pride’s three-point bombers –Kate Loper, Candice Bellocchio, Nicole Capurso– can keep it going from the outside, look out CAA, you’re looking at one of the conference’s most complete teams. The Pride’s offensive balance was on display in Sunday’s 89-73 win over Fairfield as five players scored in double figures.
Stony Brook (3-4): With a surprisingly easy win over FDU and a close loss to Iona, Stony Brook has shown much improvement this season. They’ve been in every game this season thanks to a strong start by Kirsten Jeter, Destiny Jacobs, Jodie Plikus and Sam Landers. The Seawolves suffered a huge blow when senior guard Misha Horsey went down with a torn ACL. Stony Brook had no problems with FDU and played well against Iona without Hosrey, but that doesn’t mean she won’t be missed down the stretch. Landers, Plikus and reserve guard Tamiel Murray is going to have to pick up the slack. Things could get a bit tougher for the Seawolves, who begin a five-game road swing beginning Thursday at George Mason. Taking three of five games on that swing would have the Seawvolves at 7-5 heading into their conference schedule.
St. John’s (7-1): There’s no denying the St. John’s women have been the area’s most accomplished Division I program the last half-decade. Two NCAA and two NIT appearances are proof of that. This season should be no different. A balanced scoring attack with led by Shenneika Smith (13.6), Da’Shena Stevens (13.1) and Centhya Hart (10.6) has been the primary reason, along with a stout defense. Although smaller than many of their opponents, the Red Storm have managed to do well on the boards. Hart is averaging 9.1 boards, while Stevens is pulling 8.9 rebounds per game. Even Smith (7.4) has been hitting the boards. But there is one issue. The Red Storm needs one of its top two in Smith and Stevens to be the go-to player in close games. Both are capable of dropping 20-plus on any given day. But at least one needs to be a little more aggressive. The guess here is that coach Kim Barnes Arico will get it done.