Greer Wright, left, Mahamoud Jabbi and Chretien Lukusa, right, are three of the four Bearcat senior stars. Pre-conference opponents include Cornell, Colgate and St. Bonaventure universities.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Men’s basketball preview: Bearcats return four senior startersTweet
Four returning senior starters, including one of the top five players in the entire conference. Veteran leadership back from a team that went 8-8 in league play. A decided home court advantage (21-5 in last two seasons), thanks to a fan base that has led the America East for seven consecutive seasons. And a newly channeled focus and stability under second-year interim coach Mark Macon. Those are the positives that have Bearcat faithful eagerly awaiting the tip-off of the 2010-11 season.
The controversy and distractions that accompanied the coaching changeover and subsequent NCAA investigation are now behind the program and the University, allowing Macon and his players to focus on basketball and “unfinished business.”
Last year’s team battled its way through an immensely difficult 2009-10 season that saw scrutiny and emotional hardship around every corner. Yet the team rallied around each other and shook off a 3-8 start to win 13 games and place fifth in the America East.
The 2010-11 edition is still light in numbers (12) with three holdover walk-ons from last season necessary to fill out the roster. The experience level drops off dramatically after the penciled-in starters and the Bearcats will need to avoid any injuries to their core group to remain competitive. Also, it remains to be seen how the team can stack up throughout the grind of the 16-game conference slate. Last year’s squad went 5-3 the first time through the America East lineup with the aid of emotion, team unity and the element of surprise, as AE opponents picked Binghamton to finish dead-last. But as the season wore on in February, the distractions and fatigue seemed to take a toll and with conference foes no longer underestimating the Bearcats, the team struggled to five losses in its last seven games, including two by wide margins. How the 2010-11 team handles itself over the long haul of the season and whether it can improve its road struggles of a year ago (4-15 away from home) will determine its relevance at the America East Championship come March.
Wright remains top scoring threat from wing
After scoring with relative ease in his first season, 6-foot-8 senior wing Greer Wright returns for his final collegiate season. Wright’s talent and athleticism make him a candidate for conference Player of the Year honors. He scored 16.8 points a game in league play last winter but was far more than just a scorer. He also led the team in assists (3.2) and steals (1.2) and ranked second in rebounding (6.1). Wright tallied 20 or more points eight times and reached double figures 22 times. He drained 27 points, including the game-winning jumper to beat Stony Brook, and two weeks later dropped 30 on Vermont in a BU win. America East coaches named Wright to the league’s Preseason All-Conference team and his continued if not increased production and leadership will be pivotal to BU’s success in 2010-11.
“Greer is such a well-rounded player,” Macon said. “He does everything for us – he rebounds, shoots it, passes it. He is very unselfish, which makes him good for our team. But I need him to score more points ... be more selfish.”
Wright is excited about the team’s improvement from a year ago and believes a run for the conference title isn’t too far a leap.
“I expect a lot from myself but our offense is more balanced this year,” he said. “Moussa (Camara) is attacking the basket more, Chretien (Lukusa) is shooting better and Kyrie (Sutton) is big in the post. We have better conditioning and are more stable this year. We know who we have and our team chemistry is better.”
Sophomore spot-up shooter Taylor Johnston can spell Wright. Johnston played in 13 games as a freshman and has improved his accuracy and physical strength.
Senior captain Lukusa anchors backcourt
Sturdy fourth-year guard Chretien Lukusa returns for his final collegiate season and his heart and character have steadied the program in the last year. Lukusa transitioned to the point guard spot last October and the team leaned on his physical and mental toughness. He averaged a team-best 33.9 minutes per game and offered 7.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in addition to tough man defense. But as with any new position, there was room for improvement, and Lukusa dedicated himself in the off-season to learning the nuances of the point guard position.
“I worked on my ball-handling and my jump shot and just letting the game come to me ... I don’t want to force things,” he said. “I need to be a floor general, get the ball to the guys in places where they want it and hit the open shot.”
Like the other four seniors, Lukusa recognizes the end of his collegiate career is looming in March and that has also served as extra motivation.
“There is a sense of urgency,” he said. “Everything I do is for the last time and I want to try to bring the school another championship. We are playing for something this year and that’s exciting.”
Fellow four-year letter-winner Moussa Camara, who like Lukusa was thrust into a leadership role last winter, turned in a solid season with 10.7 points per game and a team-best 48 three-pointers. Camara, a lean 6-foot-6 wing, scored in double figures 20 times, including 11 straight to end the season. He bumped up his scoring average to 13.6 during conference play and showed the ability to get to the basket - a skill that complemented his long-range shooting.
A quartet of players will back up Lukusa and Camara at the guard spots, headed by much-improved sophomore Jimmy Gray . A Binghamton native who averaged just under eight minutes as a freshman, Gray is a sharpshooter and his continued transition from all-state scholastic player to Division I contributor will be important for the program.
Freshmen Robert Mansell and K.J. Brown, along with senior walk-on Preston Pena, will also be in the mix.
Mansell, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, scored 1,215 career points at Cheltenham High outside Philadelphia and his size and aggressiveness figures to make for a quick adjustment to the college ranks. He averaged 19.8 points and 7.3 rebounds as a senior, earning repeat first-team all-conference honors. He became just the seventh player in school history to reach the 1,000-point plateau.
Brown, a 6-foot-1 point guard, was a standout at Living Faith Christian Academy before spending last year at West Point Prep. He averaged 14 points and 5 assists as a junior and was a two-time all-state selection in New Jersey.
Jabbi brings energy, determination to forward position
One of the most inspiring stories of the last year was the emergence of Mahamoud Jabbi as one of the top forwards in the conference. Two years removed from being a Division III player at SUNY Oswego, Jabbi has made himself a Division I impact player with the numbers to warrant all-conference consideration. Undersized up front at 6-foot-7, Jabbi relies on his athleticism and intense work ethic. He averaged 8.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and an America East-leading 2.1 blocks in conference play (more than NBA signee Marqus Blakely) – numbers that were on par with third-team all-conference selections last season. Without the benefit of offensive sets geared for him, Jabbi earned his living on put-backs and second-chance jumpers, showing a range that extended beyond the paint. He produced four double-doubles and racked up double-digit rebounds six times in his last 11 games. Now a graduate student in BU’s Student Affairs Administration program, Jabbi has made the most of his academic and athletic opportunities and is looking for even more in his final collegiate season.
“We have a system in place and our guys are used to each other this year,” Jabbi said. “We are using last year’s situation as motivation and that taught us not to take anything for granted. It pushed me to work even harder for my final year.”
Freshman forward Alex Ogundadegbe arrives from DeMatha Catholic High - one of the most storied high school programs in the nation. At 6-foot-8, 235 pounds, Ogundadegbe has the body to bang down low but his transition from scholastic role player to Division I contributor will be methodical.
Improving Sutton holds down post position
Six-foot-9 junior center Kyrie Sutton offers BU an athletic big man in the post – which isn’t all that common in the guard-oriented America East. So Sutton can be a weapon on the glass and on the receiving end of feeds from a slashing Wright and company. Sutton averaged 6.2 points and 3.5 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of playing time, but with the departure of other big men Umur Peten (14.2 minutes per game) and Pina Guillaume (15.6 minutes), Sutton figures to log substantially more court time.
Sutton can run the floor and finish (60 percent FG last year) and possesses a polished jump hook that is difficult to defend. He scored 12 points against nationally-ranked Pitt and scored in double figures seven times, including back-to-back outings to end the season. Sutton’s 18-point, 8-rebound, 3-block performance in 28 minutes against Hartford showed his enormous upside.
“Kyrie will fare well for us as long as he stays out of foul trouble,” Macon said. “He came along at the end of last season and showed some good things.”
Schedule pits Bearcats against in-state foes in first semester
After traveling around the country in an exhausting non-conference slate last season, Binghamton has scaled back its travel in favor of in-state rivalries and regional opponents. Seven of the team’s 13 non-conference games are against New York state opponents, beginning with the season-opener at Colgate on Nov. 10.
The Bearcats will play 13 teams from seven different conferences. The five home dates include showcase games against in-state opponents St. Bonaventure (Nov. 21) and Cornell (Dec. 18).
The team plays four of its first five games on the road before playing four of its next five at home. Binghamton went 9-3 at the Events Center last year.
Four days after the opener at Colgate, BU will travel to Lewisburg, Pa. to take on a Bucknell squad that won 14 games and finished second in the Patriot League a year ago. Binghamton welcomes the Bonnies for its home opener on Nov. 21. St. Bonaventure, which has a strong local alumni base, won 15 games and reached the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals last winter.
After an away game at Army (Nov. 23), BU plays at Colonial Athletic Association member Drexel for the first time (Nov. 28). The Dragons won 16 games a year ago and were 11-7 in the CAA. Back home, BU will face another first-time opponent in Canisius (Nov. 30). The Golden Griffs won 15 games a year ago and boast a 7-foot-3 center.
The December slate is very challenging, with the six opponents averaging more than 20 wins from a year ago. The month begins with a Dec. 8 home game against a CAA-member Hofstra team that went 19-15 and played in the College Basketball Invitational last season. Binghamton then makes a trip to NYC to face Manhattan on Dec. 11, in front of what promises to be a large Binghamton alumni contingent.
Back home, the Bearcats host a Cornell team that went 29-5, advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 and earned a final ranking of No. 17 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll last year. The Big Red is BU’s closest Division I opponent (49 miles away), though the teams have played just five times in Binghamton’s 64-year basketball history. The Bearcats beat Cornell in 2006 and lost in 2007.
Binghamton stays home for a Dec. 21 game against first-time opponent St. Peter’s, which went 16-14 and placed fourth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in 2009-10.
Then the Bearcats close out the month with a daunting trip to West Virginia (Huntington) and across the border to Kentucky (Morehead), where they will face Marshall (Dec. 28) and Morehead State (Dec. 30). Marshall went 24-10 playing out of Conference USA and advanced to the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com tournament in 2009-10. The Herd beat Binghamton at the Events Center last season and like Canisius, boasts a premier seven-foot shot blocker. Morehead State went 24-11 and was the runner-up in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. The Eagles, 2009 NCAA participants, went 15-3 in league play and then reached the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational last year.
A return game at Atlantic 10 member La Salle on Jan. 2 completes the non-conference schedule.
The team’s traditional 16-game America East slate consists of home and away games against each of the other eight league members. Hartford will again host the America East Championship on March 3-6 with a very determined BU team (and fans) eager to return to the tournament after a year’s hiatus.