Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nine Teams, Nine Days: Binghamton

Last season: 23-9 (13-3 America East), conference champions, lost in NCAA Round of 64 to Duke.

Head coach (suspended): Kevin Broadus, 2 seasons, 37-24 record (22-10 AE)

Interim head coach: Mark Macon, first season.

Departing players: Malik Alvin, Theo Davis, David Fine, Reggie Fuller, Brandon Herbert, Emanuel Mayben, Jaan Montgomery, Matt Mullins, D.J. Rivera, Sean Watson.

Incoming players: Jimmy Gray, Pina Guillaume, Mahamoud Jabbi, Taylor Johnston, Umur Peten, Dylan Talley, Greer Wright.

Expected starting lineup (position, name, year, 2008-2009 stats):
G Chretien Lukusa, junior, 4.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.9 SPG
G/F Moussa Camara, junior, 3.4 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.3 SPG
F Taylor Johnston, freshman, no previous college experience
F Greer Wright, junior, 11.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.2 APG (City College of San Francisco)
C Kyrie Sutton, sophomore, 1.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.2 BPG

Player to watch: Lukusa. Binghamton returns the least of America East's nine teams. The Bearcats are particularly weak at guard. Of the team's remaining scholarship players, Lukusa is the only one standing under 6'5". Although Lukusa is well-regarded as a perimeter defender, he is neither a natural point guard nor a dangerous threat from beyond the arc. However, given the current roster construction, Lukusa will at times be asked not only to run the offense, but create scoring opportunities. It's far from an ideal situation. The degree to which Lukusa can assume these duties in an effective manner will go a long way toward determining whether Binghamton can remain competitive this season.

Biggest strength: Length. There isn't a whole lot to go on when looking at Binghamton's roster because the cupboard is bare and the remaining pieces are mostly raw, but if the Bearcats have a strength, it's the length of the players currently on the roster. At 6-foot-5, Dylan Talley will outsize most of the guards trying to defend him. Taylor Johnston is an athletic 6-foot-7 wing who can shoot. In general, the entire Binghamton roster is built around size and athleticism, which could pose some problems for the less athletic teams in the conference. Whether having capable athletes will translate into any measurable success on the court is another question entirely.

Biggest weakness: Experience. The Bearcats return 240 points from last season. There were four players on last year's team who scored more than that individually, and a fifth, Dwayne Jackson, who most likely would have had he remained on the team past midseason. Lukusa, Sutton, and junior forward Moussa Camara are the only players on the roster with any Division-I experience. None of them have experience as a go-to player in pressure situations; only Lukusa has regularly logged starters' minutes. Learning on the fly is usually a painful process, so although the Bearcats will likely be a better team at the end of the season than at the beginning, it's safe to expect more than a few stretches of ugly basketball, especially early in the season.

Offseason: How quickly things change.

At one point, Binghamton was favored by many pundits to repeat as America East champions for the 2009-2010 season. Of the departing players, only Reggie Fuller was a significant contributor from the previous year's team. Sean Watson played only two games before being lost for the season due to a back injury. Dwayne Jackson and Theo Davis had left the team prior to the Bearcats' championship run. One outgoing transfer, Brandon Herbert, was a role player; the other, Matt Mullins, was a walk-on and had logged just five minutes in 2008-09.

Then, without any gradual buildup, the combustible material holding together Binghamton's fragile basketball program burst into flames. Tiki Mayben was arrested on September 23 for allegedly dealing cocaine. Following news of the arrest, Mayben was released from the team, followed shortly thereafter by the release of five other players, including D.J. Rivera and Malik Alvin. Just like that, every last one of Binghamton's primary scoring threats had been removed from the program.

The damage was not limited to players on the roster. Binghamton athletic director Joel Thirer was reassigned and replaced on an interim basis by James Norris. Shortly after a report surfaced indicating that head coach Kevin Broadus had contacted potential recruits during a time period where said contact was prohibited, Norris instituted a ban on all off-campus recruiting; later, Broadus would be put on paid leave of absence and replaced by then-assistant coach Mark Macon.

The off-court drama permeating Binghamton athletics is not limited to the basketball program. Suffice it to say that the Bearcats' cupboard is, for the moment, extremely bare. Binghamton will aim to remain competitive in America East by relying on the few capable players who return from last year and the incoming crop of freshmen and transfers.

Guards: If anything is going to go right for the Bearcats this season, it will have to start with Chretien Lukusa. Last year's Binghamton team had no shortage of offensive threats, freeing up Lukusa to focus on other aspects of the game. Lukusa is well-regarded as a stopper, making life difficult for opposing guards and playing hard-nosed defense. As a scoring guard Lukusa is miscast; as a facilitator he is in need of major improvement. Lukusa's assist-to-turnover ratio was an unhealthy 0.64 last season, and he was not the primary ballhandler or a playmaker. Efficiency generally decreases as usage rate increases, so it will be a challenge for Binghamton to get the necessary volume from the junior guard in an economical manner. At the very least, however, Lukusa can be counted on to make life difficult for opposing perimeter players and provide value on the defensive end.

Moussa Camara, in contrast to Lukusa, profiles as a scoring guard -- although the Bearcats list him as a forward, Camara's height does not prohibit him from playing two-guard, and the overall length of Binghamton's roster leaves Camara as the starting two-guard more or less by default. Camara was much more efficient last season than in his freshman campaign -- his eFG% jumped from 41.0 to 52.5. Despite this, Camara averaged less than 15 minutes per game last season. Camara offers little in addition to scoring -- 23 rebounds and five assists in approximately 300 minutes doesn't amount to much. In any case, the Bearcats are ill-equipped to try and out-shoot their opponents. While Camara's shooting skills are much needed, he isn't an exceptional shooter -- merely a capable one. Unless he becomes a better perimeter defender, look for the Bearcats to gradually give more minutes to freshmen at Camara's expense, possibly including the loss of a starting role.

There are two other guards on the roster, both of whom are freshmen. Dylan Talley's offensive game centers around dribble-drive penetration, a critical part of Binghamton's offense last season. If the offensive system employed by Macon resembles Broadus' strategy from last year, Talley should be a natural fit as a guard who uses his size and strength to force his way into the painted area. The freshman guard will get minutes from day one out of necessity, but if he improves on the defensive end -- there are questions about his ability as an on-ball defender -- he should command significant playing time. The other freshman guard, Jimmy Gray, is a walk-on from nearby Binghamton High School and is not expected to contribute significantly.

Forwards: Taylor Johnston will most likely play small forward for Binghamton but has the skills of a two-guard, both off the dribble and from beyond the arc. At 6-foot-7, Johnston can use his length to his advantage, shooting over smaller perimeter players without being forced to alter his shot or bringing them to the post. The usual freshman adjustment should be expected, but all reports point to his scoring ability and on-court awareness as reasons why he should make an impact this season. Given the Bearcats' roster situation, that impact will be necessary.

Greer Wright is eligible to play this season after transferring from City College of San Francisco. Although Wright is 6-foot-8 and a frontcourt player, he was a guard in high school and has range. Theo Davis aside, Binghamton's on-court track record with incoming transfers has produced results, and Wright does not carry the baggage of previous Bearcat transfers. Wright was a productive player in junior college and should provide some badly-needed offense for the Bearcats -- the question is, how much?

Center: While Lukusa has the highest floor of the returning Bearcats, sophomore center Kyrie Sutton has the highest ceiling. Sutton logged 15 starts last season as a true freshman but never saw more than 23 minutes in a game due to a combination of foul trouble and his own offensive limitations. Sutton was effective on the defensive end, particularly as a shot blocker. His 1.2 BPG in limited playing time came from a 10.9 BLK%, nearly doubling Reggie Fuller's rate and outpacing even Marqus Blakely on a per-possession basis. Couple that with effective rebounding on both ends of the floor and you have a useful player. Sutton is a physical presence and one of America East's few true centers but has yet to display any substantial scoring ability. For now, if Sutton can manage to stay out of foul trouble -- he committed 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes last season -- other teams will stay out of the post.

Umur Peten and Pina Guillaume are also listed as centers on the Bearcats' roster. Peten is a junior walk-on who arrived in Vestal via Turkey. He was a major contributor on a championship-winning college team in Turkey, but whether he can contribute anything of value to a Division-I team is anyone's guess. There are relatively few examples of walk-on big men providing significant value. More interesting is the freshman Guillaume, who was a force his junior year of high school -- he averaged 20 points and five blocks per game -- but missed his senior season due to injury. Guillaume reportedly lacks polish on the offensive end, but shot-blocking is a valuable commodity, and with the foul-prone Sutton set to start Binghamton could use a defensive presence to rotate in off the bench.

New walk-ons: Almost every team has at least one walk-on player. Binghamton is a special case -- with the significant player losses, the Bearcats needed to add players in order to fill out the roster. After open tryouts, Binghamton announced six additions to the team: Ramon Bernardez, Charlie Fackler, Mike Horn, Preston Peña, Javon Ralling, and Anthony Valerio. None is likely to be a significant contributor.

Outlook: There is very little depth on the Binghamton roster. Any injury will be exceptionally difficult to absorb. Lapses on defense will tax an already overwhelmed offense. Early in the season, the Bearcats may be able to hide their various weaknesses, but as teams present Binghamton with varying styles of play and strategies designed to expose the Bearcats' myriad deficiencies, it will become increasingly difficult for this team to keep up with its opponents for a full 40 minutes.

The best chance for Binghamton to win this season involves limiting possessions and playing excellent defense. If the Bearcats can slow the game down to a snail's pace, the opponent's superior talent will have fewer opportunities to impose its will. Keep a game close until the final few minutes and anything can happen. Of course, "anything" still includes former Boston University head coach Dennis Wolff's prediction that "it's conceivable (Binghamton) could not win a game" all season.

1 comment:

NadaCT80 said...

Well unlike Syrcause who fell to LeMoyne, Binghamton at least nailed the D2 squad in front of 3,000 fans for an exhibition game (most AE teams would love to have 3,000 on a conference night, let alone a Tuesday exhibition game).