It seems to happen this time of year that every game that appears next on the schedule consequently becomes, "the biggest game of the year." Media hypes the game up and the crowds pour in (at least the did in BU's Wednesday night's game against Vermont) to get a taste of playoff/tournament-like basketball. And while the crowd at Case Gymnasium Saturday afternoon will most likely be sparse (as even on the heels of an eight-game winning streak, the majority of the student population has failed to notice the Terriers' successes), the magnitude of the game won't. Not only will Binghamton look to avenge a blowout loss (one of two home losses the Bearcats suffered at the Events Center this season), but the game will go a long way toward determining the conference champion as well as the second and third seeds.
Entering the matchup, the Terriers and Bearcats are tied for second place in the conference standings (9-3) a half game behind the University of Vermont. While UVM has downed the Terriers twice, the Bearcats have beaten the Catamounts two times, meaning that a win by Binghamton(which has won four in a row and six of its last seven) would put them in the drivers' seat, as far as attaining the top seed goes. A win by the Terriers would make things very interesting as BU would find themselves tied with Vermont (10-3), but in second because of the tiebreaker procedures. It would also make it very difficult for Binghamton to attain the top seed/NIT bid/homecourt advantage should they reach the America East Championship without some help from the two teams that would be in front.
While seeding is a concern, it's a periphery one, as the Terriers should be much more focused on executing at a higher level following a lackluster performance against Vermont. The game marked the first time since BU's first loss to UVM that the team didn't function like a cohesive unit, turning the ball over 21 times and assisting five baskets while running bad offense. Credit Vermont's defense for applying even more ball pressure and throwing harder presses at BU than they did in the teams' first meeting, but by no means was that game representative of the Terriers' best effort.
What's equally worrisome is the element of fatigue, as BU has now played 12 games with a seven-man rotation and five of those seven players logging roughly 36-40+ minutes a game. The problem is, because BU's playing to attain the highest seed possible, the Terriers will be unable to rest before the start of the conference tournament. That said, not having fresh legs for the biggest weekend of the season is also an issue.
As far as Saturday's contest goes, the Bearcats -- while one of the most athletic teams in the league -- don't match up well against the Terriers and BU coach Dennis Wolff and his players were able to exploit those differences well in the teams' first meeting, so much so that Binghamton's leading scorer, D.J. Rivera (20.7 points per game), reportedly left the bench area in the second half and started toward the locker room out of frustration. Binghamto's makeup is similar to BU's prior to the injuries to Tyler Morris and Carlos Strong -- with four very athletic and capable guards who can score at will (and are all averaging in double figures) -- but since, the Terriers have morphed into a forward-heavy lineup, while Binghamton still relies on their athleticism and outside shooting (their 3-point field goal percentage is first in the conference after the Bearcats struggled mightily from beyond the arc in non-conference play). Malik Alvin is, however, nursing a sore ankle and knee, so his role could be limited. Also, Theo Davis officially left the Bearcats Thursday because "he simply doesn’t want to play basketball anymore," according to coach Kevin Broadus.
Playing in a familiar gym (where Binghamton has won only two times in its history) should help the Terriers relax and not appear as disjointed as the did on Wednesday, but it will be interesting to see how the veteran team responds to coming up short in the first of two extremely important conference battles this week.
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Projected starting lineups: