Maine to win the America East regular-season basketball title last Sunday was important for Stony Brook because it clinched a postseason bid to at least the NIT. But Seawolves coach Steve Pikiell says being the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament means little in the first two rounds. "We get the white jersey is all we get," Pikiell said.
Of course, Stony Brook (20-8, 14-2 America East) should have an advantage against Binghamton (2-28, 1-15) in a quarterfinal game at noon Saturday at Hartford University's Chase Family Arena. The No. 1 seed becomes more significant if the Seawolves win that game and Sunday's 5 p.m. semifinal against the Albany-New Hampshire winner for the right to host the conference final next Saturday with an NCAA Tournament berth at stake.
Two years ago, Stony Brook was seeded first only to lose in the semifinals to Boston University. The Seawolves made the final last year as the fifth seed but lost by two points at BU. Those experiences have shaped Pikiell's new approach in the quest for SBU's first NCAA bid.
"I used to have our guys fill out their brackets and envision it," Pikiell said, referring to the 2010 team that was No. 1. "Last time, we were talking about Game 3 if we win. This time, there's none of that talk. It's about us being focused and zoned in at 12 o'clock Saturday. We've eliminated a lot of that nonsense."
Pikiell told his team to concentrate on playing "Stony Brook basketball," emphasizing defense and rebounding. That was the key to a strong finish in which the Seawolves won 17 of 19 games and went 13-0 at home. The leadership of starters Bryan Dougher, Dallis Joyner, Al Rapier, Tommy Brenton and Dave Coley is vital, but Pikiell said reserves Marcus Rouse, Lenny Hayes, Anthony Jackson, Danny Carter and Eric McAlister all could play major roles.
"I think the most important thing for us moving into this tournament is our bench," Pikiell said. "They've played in crunch minutes. I think it makes it harder for teams to prepare for us."