Monday, November 9, 2009

Nine Teams, Nine Days: Stony Brook

Last season: 16-14 (8-8 America East), lost in America East quarterfinals to New Hampshire.

Head coach:
Steve Pikiell, 5th season, 36-81 record (17-47 AE).

Departing players:
Marques Cox, Jonathan Moore, Jermol Paul, Michael Tyree, Demetrius Young, Michal Zylinski.

Incoming players:
Patrick Dame, Leonard Hayes, Eric McAllister, Preye Preboye, Marcus Rouse.

Expected starting lineup
(position, name, year, 2008-09 stats):
G Bryan Dougher, sophomore, 11.2 PPG, 1.9 APG, 1.6 RPG
G Muhammad El-Amin, senior, 15.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.2 APG
F Tommy Brenton, sophomore, 6.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG
F Preye Preboye, freshman, no previous college experience
F Dallis Joyner, sophomore, 6.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.6 BPG

Player to watch: Tommy Brenton. Brenton wasted no time establishing himself as a force on the interior last year, grabbing 16 rebounds in his first collegiate game against Maryland-Eastern Shore. While his six offensive rebounds against the Hawks is still a career best, Brenton continued to work the glass over the next four months, emerging as one of the best defensive rebounders in the entire country -- on a per-possession basis, he grabbed more defensive boards than Cole Aldrich or DeJuan Blair. Brenton's scoring contributions, however, aren't quite where they need to be. With Mr. Efficiency, Demetrius Young, gone to graduation, Stony Brook needs Brenton to up his production and become a complete player instead of just a rebounding savant.

Biggest strength:
Forcing turnovers. Brenton is an outstanding defensive rebounder, but Stony Brook was only third in defensive rebounding percentage among AE teams. More impressive is the Seawolves' ability to force turnovers. Stony Brook forced turnovers on 23.4 percent of opponents' possessions last year, ranking just outside the nation's top 25 teams. No other AE team ranked among the top 50. Marques Cox was the team's best thief, but while Cox was lost to graduation, there are several other players on the roster with active hands. The Seawolves' success last year was overwhelmingly due to their defense; if that strength remains intact, Stony Brook should be competitive in even its toughest games.

Biggest weakness:
Interior scoring. Demetrius Young was far and away the Seawolves' most efficient offensive player last year. Young scored 9.2 points per game, many on easy layups and uncontested dunks, while converting almost 65 percent of his shot attempts. Despite having an incredibly efficient interior scorer, Stony Brook still made just 43.7 percent of its two-point attempts, ranking 306th out of 344 Division-I teams -- and now Young is gone. The Stony Brook frontcourt has its strengths, rebounding chief among them, but an inability to get points from shots near the rim threatens to render the Seawolves' offense one-dimensional. Unless incoming freshmen, Preye Preboye chief among them, can make an immediate impact at the offensive end, it's hard to see how this weakness will be remedied.

Muhammad El-Amin took a month to assert himself as the Seawolves' go-to player on offense, and consistent starts didn't arrive until after Christmas. As time progressed, however, it became increasingly clear that El-Amin was Stony Brook's best perimeter option. The senior guard has excellent accuracy from beyond the arc, hitting more than 38 percent of his shots from there, but takes the majority of his attempts from closer. El-Amin also gets to the free throw line regularly, where he connects more than 80 percent of the time. The junior college transfer ended every conference game with double figures in scoring, and a repeat performance wouldn't surprise anyone.

Bryan Dougher received much praise as a freshman, starting every game for the Seawolves, running the point, and eventually winding up on the America East All-Rookie team. One has to wonder how much of that praise is deserved. Dougher scored a lot of points, to be sure -- he finished second on the team in scoring with 11.2 points per game -- but doing so required a lot of shots. Dougher actually shot less than 30 percent from the field during conference play, a rate dragged down by his inability to score from inside the arc. Players rarely qualify for any all-conference team while shooting so poorly, except perhaps the All-Defense team. Dougher displayed shooting ability while in high school, but if his rates don't improve as a sophomore he needs to concentrate more on creating more for others (less than two assists per game last year as the starting point guard) instead of taking -- and missing -- so many shots.

Chris Martin appeared in 27 games for the Seawolves, coming off the bench to provide instant offense. Like Dougher, Martin was plagued by relatively poor shooting. However, Martin's shooting performance was at least passable, and the then-sophomore guard possesses the ability to get to the free throw line with regularity (where he shot just under 74 percent), increasing his effectiveness. Martin was forced to deal with family issues throughout last season, which may have impacted his performance. The value of a high-volume, inefficient scorer is debatable, but no one questions Martin's ability to change a game when his shots find the twine.

Marcus Rouse is one of three new guards on this year's Seawolves squad. He profiles as a combo guard at this level -- while he is neither a natural point guard nor a natural off-guard, he is capable of logging minutes at either position. Head coach Steve Pikiell cited Rouse's defense when he committed to Stony Brook in the early period. As a combo guard, Rouse was noted for his shooting -- he was the top scorer for a DeMatha High School team that was ranked among the top 25 high school teams in the nation. Rouse should see immediate minutes.

Leonard Hayes arrives on Long Island as a 6-foot-4 wing capable of playing the two or three. Hayes reportedly brings a well-developed offensive game with him to Stony Brook. The Seawolves lack a second scorer capable of playing the wing, so Hayes' ability to create his own shot should benefit Stony Brook.

Patrick Dame is a junior college transfer from the Community College of Rhode Island. Dame played very well in community college, scoring more than 17 points per game in 2007-08 while adding more than seven assists per game. The Seawolves have enjoyed recent success identifying junior college players -- El-Amin wound up in Stony Brook by way of Lansing Community College -- but it's difficult to say how well Dame will make the transition.

Two years ago, Eddie Castellanos was averaging nearly 20 minutes per game, and while the results weren't eye-popping, he was at least earning some playing time. Last year, with several new arrivals in the backcourt, Castellanos' playing time significantly decreased. This year shouldn't be any different.

In case you missed it, Tommy Brenton is a rebounding machine. Although he isn't a prolific scorer, Brenton does a pretty good job of making the shots he takes -- his eFG% was 52.3 -- and he does virtually everything else at least reasonably well with the exception of shooting free throws. As previously mentioned, Stony Brook needs Brenton to score more. That most likely involves Brenton shooting more, which is probably a good thing, as every additional shot Brenton takes is one less shot taken by one of the Seawolves' several inefficient backcourt scorers.

Dallis Joyner, at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, has the physical gifts to be an excellent power forward in America East. His best skill is probably his shot-blocking -- he's probably the second-best shot-blocker on the team after Desmond Adedeji, and with a year of experience should only get better. The offensive game, however, isn't quite there yet for Joyner. As a freshman, the forward shot just 41 percent from the field while attempting exclusively twos. That, combined with mediocre rebounding for a player of Joyner's height and build, does not amount to an outstanding player. Still, Joyner's had a pretty good season for his first year, one that would have warranted more attention on teams without two more high-profile freshmen. Improvement on the offensive end should be the goal.

Brenton's rebounding successes are a combination of positioning and relentless effort. In Preye Preboye, Stony Brook may have another player in the same mold. At Winchendon, a prep school in Massachusetts, Preboye regularly went up against taller players and owned the boards. Unlike Brenton, however, Preboye comes with a scorer's reputation, and while he does most of his damage near the rim, he has enough range to take longer jumpers and even 3-point shots. Interior scoring is what Stony Brook needs, so Preboye stands a good chance of starting from day one.

If Preboye doesn't start, the most likely player to find a spot in the starting lineup is Danny Carter. Carter is tall and lean, standing 6-foot-9 but weighing just 210 pounds. Carter shot well from closer range, hitting more than 50 percent of his twos, but was largely ineffective when he attempted shots from farther out. As a freshman Carter showed the ability to score in bunches when given the opportunity -- he dropped 20 in the Seawolves' blowout loss at UConn -- and was also an effective shotblocker in limited minutes. Carter needs to improve his play somewhat in order to deserve a starting role, but he should be at worst the first forward off the bench for Stony Brook.

Eric McAlister took a year at prep school to improve his game, and he did so, emerging as a shot-blocker and rebounder who earned third-team All-State prep honors in New Jersey. Listed at 6-foot-8 and only 200 pounds, McAlister may need to add some muscle in order to reliably man an frontcourt position at this level, but his athleticism should help him make the occasional play while his body fills out.

Andrew Goba is a fifth-year senior. In four years of play he has averaged less than a point per game. Improvement at this stage seems unlikely.

Desmond Adedeji had a rough transition to Stony Brook, in large part due to his DUI arrest. However, when on the court -- which wasn't often -- Adedeji's contributions were hard to ignore. In 125 minutes, Adedeji had 13 blocks. That's more than four per 40 minutes. Adedeji also grabbed 37 rebounds in that timeframe, which is about 12 per 40 minutes. While the 6-foot-10, 305-pound center isn't the poster child for conditioning and may never be capable of giving the Seawolves major minutes, in short spurts he can be very effective.

It's difficult to say whether the Seawolves will make a serious run at the conference title this year, but they will most assuredly play very defense. That alone should be enough to separate the Seawolves from teams six through nine in this countdown. Defense was never Stony Brook's problem last year -- offense was the issue. The Seawolves rely on their perimeter players to create offense, and apart from El-Amin, those perimeter players miss too many shots. To be blunt, that's not the basis of any successful offensive strategy. Stony Brook's defense should keep it in virtually any game it plays this season, and defense alone may very well be enough to win several of them no matter how poorly the offense performs, but at some point other players have to start scoring. It's not particularly clear where the additional offense is going to come from, and it's that lack of scoring potential that separates the Seawolves from the remaining three teams.

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