This might be the week where Stony Brook’s hype exceeded its ability.
With one vote at 19th in the AP Top 25, the Seawolves might not go any higher than their current lofty heights. They are undefeated in league play and still sit as about a four in 10 favorite of going 16-0.
Their major obstacle appears to be a road trip to Albany in a week. So over the course of the last few weeks I talked to every opposing coach in the conference to try and figure out the key question: who might match up best with the Seawolves?
The majority sided with Albany, who has recently been Stony Brook’s foil when it comes to the big game, but there was one other team that coaches voted for: New Hampshire. The Wildcats drew three votes, with the Great Danes taking the majority of opposing coaches in the league.
“It’s definitely Albany and it’s because they’re experienced, they’ve got seniors and they’ve got enough size and toughness in the interior,” one coach said. “I think Stony Brook is the best team, but in any one game situation Albany can beat them.”
“I don’t think you can consider either a clear cut favorite,” another coach said of that matchup. “I don’t think there’s any separation between the two teams.”
Stony Brook beat Albany 69-63 at home in their first meeting, which was nationally televised on ESPNU, but plenty of coaches in the league watched and their opinions varied on how the Seawolves were able to hang on.
“I didn’t think Albany played particularly well, I thought they were sleepwalking around out there,” one coach said of the Great Danes’ first meeting with Stony Brook. “I thought for whatever reason Albany wasn’t playing as hard as they could in such a big game. It was a little bit bizarre to me, but they still should have won.”
While the Seawolves handled New Hampshire in their first meeting, the Wildcats have since won six of their last seven games and are starting to look like the team that last season tied the school record for wins. Three coaches said they feel the Wildcats match up favorably with the Seawolves.
“I think Albany is going to give them a battle and can beat them certainly, I just feel like UNH has the physical nature and has the athletes,” one coach said. “I don’t know that Albany is ever going to get to 80 to win.”
“UNH can really defend, the problem is they don’t have enough guys,” another coach said. “I don’t think UNH has the guys that can break them down and score, but UNH has the bodies I think to defend them.”
Yet the Wildcats have their own warts, after struggling to come together due to suspensions early in November and December, they have started to put together wins and sit in third place, a game and a half ahead of Vermont.
“I thought they would be better this year,” one coach said in evaluating the Wildcats. “I really think highly of the front court of [Tanner] Leissner and [Jacoby] Armstrong, I think if they didn’t play [Iba] Camara they’d be a lot better.”
Stony Brook leads in offensive efficiency in conference play, scoring a robust 1.17 points per possession. The Seawolves’ only flaw has been they have taken the fewest free throws in league play.
“I think their free throw shooting may catch up with them at big games,” another coach said. The Seawolves currently have made 68.2% of their free throws, which ranks 236th in the country.
So far, in conference play, the Great Danes have been the only team to play Stony Brook to a two-possession game. Still, coaches can find flaws in the current conference leader.
“I still think [Carson] Puriefoy seems disconnected from the rest of the team,” one coach said. “I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong about that, but watching them play he seems to be on his own.”
While coaches can hardly stop their praise of senior Jameel Warney, who appears set to shatter all school records in the next few weeks, in order to try to beat Stony Brook, they focus on the cast around him.
“I think Puriefoy is good, but outside of Puriefoy the rest of their personnel is marginal,” one coach said. “The problem is they just have something that nobody has.”
Coaches understand that if the Seawolves run the table and finish 16-0—something last done by Delaware who went 14-0 during the 1991-92 season—there will be plenty of pressure when it comes to Stony Brook’s tournament games. Even with an undefeated conference season, SBU’s resume fails to stack up after a 9-4 start in non-conference play. If the season ended today, they would not have a win over any team in the current NCAA tournament field.
“I guess they don’t have the marquee win; the Princeton win was solid,” one coach said. “I don’t see any reason why if they ran the table and somehow got tripped up end of the year at 28-5, or I don’t know what, but like why not?! I do think they at least belong in the discussion because I see other teams that are in the discussion and I think they’re every bit as good as some of those teams.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.