We’re headed down the stretch of the most exciting and relevant college basketball season Long Island has ever seen. Jason Molinet and LI Pulse.com take a look at each Long Island men’s basketball team and its March outlook:
Stony Brook (20-7, 12-2; RRI: 142)
The Seawolves, winners of nine straight, are enjoying their best season – by far – as a Division I program and have all but locked up their first trip to the postseason. The only question? NCAA Tournament bid or NIT. The game of the decade for the Seawolves is Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. Stony Brook hosts second-place Vermont (21-8, 11-3). The game will be televised on MSG Plus. Stony Brook, which beat Vermont, 65-60, last month, can lock up the regular season conference title with a victory. The title also ensures an NIT bid and gives the Seawolves serious confidence heading into the America East Tournament March 4-7 in Hartford (with the title game on ESPN2 March 13 at noon at the higher seed). Give coach Steve Pikiell his due for bringing in young talent and leading them down the winning path. The lone senior in the lineup, Muhammad El-Amin, has been playing lights out basketball for a month now.
Best Case: Winning the America East Tournament gives Stony Brook an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Prediction: Seawolves go 25-8 and lose in the first round of the NCAAs.
Hofstra (16-13, 8-8; RPI: 157)
After struggling through the first half of its Colonial Athletic Association schedule, Hofstra has rebounded in a big way, winning four in a row and seven of its last eight. The latest was a 92-89 overtime win over Rider on Sunday. Guard Charles Jenkins (profiled in LI Pulse magazine’s February issue http://www.lipulse.com/sports-wellness/article/pride-and-passion ) led the way with 31 points and leads the conference in scoring at 20.1 ppg. And Hofstra coach Tom Pecora earned his 152nd career win, tying Paul Lynner (1962-72) for the second most in school history. The Pride closes out the regular season at home on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 4 p.m. against Georgia State. The CAA Tournament begins March 5 in Richmond. There is no shot at an NIT bid. The only way to extend the season is to win the CAA Tournament – and that’s not impossible with a prolific scorer in Jenkins.
Best Case: Hofstra is locked into the No. 7 seed and will play the No. 10 team in the first round of the CAA Tournament. The winner gets the No. 2 seed. Prediction: The Pride finishes 18-15 with second-round loss in CAA.
C.W. Post (20-5, 16-3)
One year removed from a run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division II Tournament, C.W. Post has the look of a contender once again. Coach Tim Cluess has done it with an entirely retooled roster. The Pioneers’ 79-50 win over Molloy on Saturday locked up the program’s third-straight 20-win season and extended their home winning streak to a remarkable 41 games. C.W. Post is one game behind Bridgeport (20-7, 17-2) in the East Coast Conference. Aaron Hall (16.7 ppg) is third in the conference in scoring and 6-7 Serb Nemenja Jokic (7.7 rpg) is second in rebounding. The Pioneers close out the regular season at Queens College on Saturday, Feb. 27. Good news: The Pioneers host the ECC Tournament March 4-7. They’ve already locked up a first round bye. The only way to guarantee an NCAA Tournament bid is to win the ECC Tournament.
Best Case: Cluess-coached teams win the games they are supposed to. Prediction: C.W. Post wins the ECC Tournament and advances a round or two in the NCAA Division II Tournament to close out the season at 26-6.
Adelphi (18-10, 11-10):
The Panthers are currently tied for eighth place in the 16-team Northeast-10 Conference. Adelphi opened the season 14-1 and ranked 25th in the Division II poll. And then? Eight losses in 10 games. Adelphi closes out the regular season Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. against New Haven. The Panthers do play great defense for longtime coach James Cosgrove. And Copiague’s do-it-all Richard Byrd has been impressive, leading the team at 19 ppg.
Best Case: Adelphi claims the No. 7 or 8 seed and a home game in the conference tournament, which begins Feb. 27 at the higher seed. The good news is the Panthers have proven they can play with top seeds Bentley and Stonehill, their likely quarterfinal draw. Prediction: 20-11.
USMMA (21-4, 12-2)
Kings Point claimed the regular-season title in the Landmark Conference. The Mariners play a conference tournament semifinal on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. against No. 4 Susquehanna. Coach John Krikorian’s team has the highest scoring margin in the conference (14.5 points) and is second in rebound margin at 5.7. Former Holy Trinity star Jon Snead is the leading scorer.
Best Case: The Mariners have dominated the Landmark Conference. Two more wins and they earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament (a first for the three-year-old Landmark Conference). Prediction: 23-5.
Old Westbury (19-6, 17-3)
Ranked 36th in the latest NCAA Division III poll, the Panthers clinched the Skyline Conference regular season title and are 11-0 at home. Not bad for a 12-15 team a year ago. Veteran coach Bernard Tomlin has a lineup featuring four players in double figures, led by Hakiem George and Mepham’s Lester Prosper (second in the Skyline with 8.7 rpg). Shane DeNully leads the conference in assists (6.09). The Panthers earned a first round bye in the Skyline Conference Tournament, which begins Tuesday, Feb. 23.
Best Case: Old Westbury will host a Skyline semifinal on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m., facing the winner of No. 5 Farmingdale State at No. 4 Maritime. Two wins and the Panthers are in the NCAA D-III Tourney. After that, who knows? Prediction: 21-7
St. Joseph’s (17-8, 16-4)
St. Joe’s of Patchogue clinched second place in the Skyline Conference and has won six in a row, including a 49-48 win over Old Westbury. Coach John Mateyko won 24 games a year ago and 21 in 2008, so the Eagles know how to get it done. In fact, the team actually won 20 games this season. But St. Joe’s was forced to forfeit three early-season wins due to an ineligible player. Former St. Anthony’s teammates Chris Jimenez and Shahab Syed lead the way.
Best Case: The Eagles await the winner of Purchase-Yeshiva in the semifinals of the Skyline Conference Tournament on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m. And then, a likely title-game showdown with Old Westbury. The teams are 1-1 this season. Prediction: 18-9.
Farmingdale State (13-12, 13-7)
The Rams are treading water in fifth place in the Skyline Conference. Farmingdale State went 110-35 (.759 win percentage) from 2005-09, including a magical 27-4 run a year ago. That pretty much sums up coach Erik Smiles’ wildly successful tenure. But the program’s streak of three trips in four seasons to the NCAA D-III Tournament is in doubt. West Hempstead’s Shehee Martin leads the team.
Best Case: This season is a disappointment for the Rams. No. 5 Farmingdale State travels to No. 4 Maritime for a Skyline Conference Tournament quarterfinal on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. Prediction: 14-13.
Molloy (11-15, 9-9)
The Lions, in a tight race for fourth place in the East Coast Conference, close the regular season with three straight games at home, culminating Saturday, Feb. 27 at 3 p.m. against Dowling. Coach Charles Marquardt has a weapon in Elmont’s Brian Hutchinson. He’s an inside force, fifth in the ECC in scoring and tops in rebounding.
Best Case: A first round win in the ECC Tournament is realistic. Not much else. Prediction: 15-16.
NYIT (12-14. 9-10)
The Bears are currently fifth in the ECC, with a shot at fourth place. They play their final home game Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7:15 p.m. against Dowling. California JUCO transfer Jerrell Walker leads the team in scoring.
Best Case: It’s been an up and down season for coach Sal Lagano. Better luck next year. Prediction: 14-15.
Dowling (8-19, 6-13)
Losers of six of its last eight in the ECC, Dowling is fighting just to qualify for the conference tournament. Games against NYIT and Molloy remain. Senior David Seagers has carried the load.
Best Case: Coach Steve Hayn’s team has lost eight games by four points or less. Dowling needs to learn how to close out games, but that’s a lesson for next season. Prediction: 8-22.