After losing three starters, including all-time Stony Brook scoring leader Bryan Dougher, Seawolves basketball coach Steve Pikiell might be expected to have reason for concern. But the truth is that he's giddy with anticipation of what could be the deepest and most talented team he's had in his eight seasons.
Pikiell's excitement starts with the return of America East player of the year candidate Tommy Brenton and junior guard Dave Coley and bubbles over with the addition of what promises to be his best recruiting class, including 6-8, 255-pound post man Jameel Warney, who has the tools to challenge Dougher's scoring record.
"When you have the best player in the league -- and I think Tommy is that -- it's a good feeling," Pikiell said. "Coley is a real good guard, and we have a big man who can be a double-double guy. The ingredient is going to be our defense. How quickly can we catch up to playing good defense? If we do, we'll compete for another league title. It's a good place to be."
The defending regular-season champion Seawolves lost the conference tournament title game at home to Vermont last March and settled for their second NIT bid instead of the school's first NCAA bid. The offense was painfully bad in that game, but Pikiell expects his 2012-13 team to play faster and score more easily.
Freshman point guard Carson Puriefoy III, known as "Tre," might have something to do with that. He's competing with tough-minded junior Anthony Jackson for the starting job, and there will be times when both are on the court with Coley in a three-guard alignment.
"I'm going to play faster because we are faster," Pikiell said. "You always play at the pace of your point guard. Bryan was great, walk it up. Tre Puriefoy is a push-the-ball, make-plays point guard. We're not built to grind right now, so we've got to run a little bit.
"We have to change our defenses up and mix in some zones to protect our young guys from foul trouble . . . so Jameel isn't sitting in the stands."
Warney turned down Iowa, Temple and Penn State to play for Stony Brook. "He's strong and an athletic, above-the-rim guy," Pikiell said. "Most important, he catches everything, and he's our best passer. I say that, and we have Tommy Brenton, who is a real good passer.
"When Jameel catches it in the post, he sees the floor. He's been double-teamed in high school, so he's adjusted to that life. I look forward to teams doubling because he's so good at passing the ball."
Size and depth also will be assets for the Seawolves. Up front they have 6-8 junior Eric McAlister as a candidate to start at power forward if Brenton moves to small forward, and 6-9 redshirt sophomore Anthony Mayo backs up Warney. Redshirt freshman Scott King is 6-9 and might find a role with his outside shot.
If Brenton starts at power forward, 6-5 Ron Bracey might get the call at small forward. Veterans Lenny Hayes and Marcus Rouse will find playing time at shooting guard or small forward. The freshman class also includes a talented pair of 6-4 guards in Ahmad Walker and Ryan Burnett.
"We can score in different ways," Pikiell said. "Last year, we would maul the glass and hope Bryan would be making shots. This year, we have more guys that can shoot. We've got a nice blend."
Could it finally be the combination of talents that puts Stony Brook in the NCAA Tournament? "I feel good about our program," Pikiell said. "That [NCAA bid] is the only thing we have missing."