INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY
Bearcats’ fortunes rest on guards, frontline
By : John Hartrick
Led by its talented backcourt and four returning starters, the men’s basketball team enters the 2005-06 campaign with reason for optimism. After a taste of postseason success last winter, the Bearcats are eager to build similar momentum heading into the 2006 America East Championship, which will return to the Events Center in March.
For the first time in Binghamton’s America East tenure, the road to the conference championship and subsequent NCAA berth appears to be fully accessible.
The Bearcats have moved from a frontcourt-dominated team to one that will lean on its guard play in 2005-06. The level of contribution that head coach Al Walker receives from his post players will likely determine whether his team can make a run in the conference tournament.
“We return a lot of experience but we have to establish an inside presence,” Walker said. “If we can secure inside production, our perimeters will have that much more room to operate.” Walker knows the face of the conference has changed dramatically.
“The league is completely wide open,” he said. “With the loss of Vermont’s senior class, the loss of two first-team all-conference players at Boston and with Northeastern’s departure (to the Colonial Athletic Associ-ation), every team in the America East believes they can get on a roll and win the regular season championship. The whole complexion of the league is in transition. It will be interesting to see who comes out of the pack early and establishes themselves as a real frontrunner.”
The Bearcats enjoyed two conference “firsts” last season — posting a win on the road at Maine and then knocking off Boston University for the first time in eight tries.
But BU was just 2-7 in road conference games and still has yet to win at three AE venues — Boston, Hartford and Vermont (0-12). As in past years, Binghamton’s non-conference schedule features several formidable opponents and a variety of teams from conferences in the Northeast.
The marquee game is a matchup with reigning Big 12 champion Oklahoma on Nov. 23 in Norman. The Bearcats will also play in the Utah State Holiday Classic on Dec. 29 and 30, where they will open against Idaho State.
Other games include the home opener against 2005 NCAA tournament team Niagara on Nov. 18, and first-time encounters with Central Connecticut State (Nov. 28 and Dec. 22), North Florida (Dec. 17) and Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 21).
In all, the Bearcats will play five teams that played in the postseason a year ago. A possible tournament pairing with Utah State would push that number to six.
With the departure of Northeastern, the America East slate will be 16 games spread over 10 weeks.
“One thing that’s different this season is that we have more home games early with the students here,” Walker said. “That’s obviously an important part of our experience as a team — to play at home in front of our fans, in our building, and win in November and December.”