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Men’s basketball to face NCAA finalists Syracuse and Kansas

By : John Hartrick

Bearcat fans acknowledge the role of Alaskan native Nick Billings during a game last year. Billings will have a chance to play before a home-state crowd this fall when BU participates in the 8th Annual Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska, Novemb
If Binghamton University men’s basketball fans thought last season’s schedule was daunting, the 2003-04 version will cause quite a stir. One year after battling the likes of Syracuse, Villanova and Iowa State, head coach Al Walker has raised the bar yet again, locking in the two NCAA finalists from last March — national champion Syracuse and runner-up Kansas. The Bearcats are likely to be one of the very few teams, if not the only team in the entire nation, that has both finalists on its regular-season schedule.

The game against fellow Central New York school Syracuse (December 13) continues a series which began in 2001-02, while the game at Kansas (December 29) allows BU seniors Brett Watson and Brandon Carter to play in their home state — a special event Walker likes to create for all of his out-of-state players.

In addition, BU will open its season at the 8th Annual Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska, November 20-23. In the eight-team tournament, the Bearcats will open against St. Mary’s (Calif.), and either face Rice or Idaho State in the second round. Binghamton will also play in the Central Connecticut State tournament, where they will meet Loyola Marymount (Calif.).

“Obviously we’re very excited to play both national finalists,” Walker said. “We’re also in some very competitive tournaments. The Alaska tournament is a great opportunity for our program to compete in a national field at an elite, certified event. It’s special for us, and especially exciting for Nick (Billings) to go home and play in front of family and friends. When it’s all said and done, St. Mary’s will be one of the best teams on our schedule. That’s a very challenging game.”

The 27-game slate features 11 home games and an 18-game America East schedule, which begins in the second semester. The 18 conference games are two more than last year after the arrival of UMBC as a new member.

At home, BU has 11 games, including marquis matchups with expected conference powers Vermont (January 2), Northeastern (February 18) and Boston University (February 29). Last season, the Bearcats were a stellar 10-2 in West Gym in front of an average of 1,811 fans. Buoyed by three regionally-televised games, that fan base swelled to capacity (2,275) several times in February.

“Last year we had an absolutely incredible home atmosphere,” Walker said. “And it gave us great momentum and energy on the basketball floor and helped us become a very good home team.”

That home atmosphere will either be in the West Gym or the adjacent Events Center. While the contractual completion date of the $33.1 million Events Center is April, the basketball court and related team facilities in the new facility may be available for the 2003-2004 season. A determination of the site for all men’s and women’s home games for the season will be made in early September, with the possibility of games being played in the West Gym, Events Center or a combination of the two facilities.

The 2003-04 schedule will be adjusted slightly once the America East television package is announced. Binghamton could have as many as four televised games, which typically result in changing Saturday dates to Sunday to accommodate the regional cable networks.

The women’s team, under new head coach Rich Conover, will open its season by hosting Syracuse on November 22. The Bearcats will play another Big East member, St. John’s, and also compete in the Arizona State Sun Devil Tournament, December 5-6. At home, BU will host its own tournament November 25-26, with Hofstra, Canisius and North Texas taking part.

“This is a very challenging schedule and we are excited about it,” Conover said. “Our non-conference schedule features a pair of Big East schools as well as a trip out to the Arizona State Tournament, all of which should help prepare us for the America East Conference schedule. We have also added LaSalle to our traditional non-conference rivals. It’s the most well-rounded schedule that we have had since we moved up to the Division I level.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08