OBW America East Mailbag Dec. 17 edition

OBW Editor-in-Chief Sam Perkins
OBW Editor-in-Chief Sam Perkins
OBW Editor-in-Chief Sam Perkins

OBW is unveiling a new and what will hopefully become a weekly feature with it’s OBW America East Mailbag, in which fans email their America East-related questions to OBW Editor-in-Chief Sam Perkins, who promises to answer them openly, honestly, transparently, and, at times, bluntly.

As a Hartford Alum, this season coming in had a lot of high expectations. A month into the season those expectations have not been met. With a new Athletic Director and several more years left on his contract is Hartford’s head coach John Gallagher on the hot seat to be fired at season’s end?

Thanks,
Mike

Hi Mike, thanks for the email. I know I sound overly harsh on Hartford a lot, and perhaps I’m holding them to too high a standard. The Hawks have been enigmatic in the early going, but have shown they can play at an incredibly high level as evidenced by their beat down of a very good Holy Cross team.

With that said, Hartford just does not seem to have evolved from the team they were two years ago. Yes, the then-sophomores have taken steps over the past two years to be come better players, but their team, their system and their scheme are still very much the same: An over-reliance on three-point shooting, and on Mark Nwakamma holding down the battle in the low-post trenches on his own, without reinforcement.

To me, this is a huge year for the Hawks: With the graduation of six seniors at the end of the school year, among them Nwakamma, the team’s star, and the team’s heart and soul in Corban Wroe and Yolonzo Moore II, if the Hawks don’t win this year, they are in for a big rebuild next year and I just do not see them being able to offset all the talent they are losing.

Back to the question at hand: If the Hawks don’t punch through to the big dance, what happens with Gallagher? From everything I have heard, when he was hired by then-AD Pat Meiser in the summer of 2010, the understanding was that he needed to get the team to the NCAAs (which would be the first in school history) within six years. We’re now in year five. Certainly some things have happened since then: Gallagher was extended through 2017-2018, and Meiser retired and was replaced by Anton Goff in May of 2014.

From what I have seen, Goff is a fan of Gallagher. I also think that the loyalty Gallagher has inspired from players present and past goes a very long way – he brings in good kids, graduates them, and they stay very connected with the school. However, I also know that Hartford wants to get to the NCAAs bad in men’s hoops, so they won’t wait forever.

If Hartford comes up short this year, I don’t see Gallagher on the hot seat – yet. I think if they make it to the Championship game, he’ll have two more years to try and get it done. If they don’t make the Championship game, I think next year will be a make or break season.

Stony Brook has been arguably the premier program in the league during the regular season for the past 5-6 years, but hasn’t been able to win the big one when it counts. What do you think is the reason for the Seawolves’ struggles in the conference tournament?

Thanks,
Steve

Hey Steve, thanks for asking. I’ve thought a lot about the Seawolves’ struggles to win the big one, so to speak, and I can’t help but see somewhat of a lesser version of Dennis Wolff’s Boston University squads from 2002-2004 in the Seawolves, albeit one that likes playing for their coach a whole lot more (before anyone gets up in arms, “lesser” is not a slight to Stony Brook: Those BU teams were ridiculously deep in talent and athleticism).

What I mean is this: Stony Brook, like Wolff’s Terriers teams, is deep, athletic, and really gets after it defensively. Both game planned around their defense and depth. Over the course of a 30-game season, that overall talent, depth, and ability to get stops wins out. However, in the vacuum of the America East Tournament (or now playoffs), when you have to win three straight games, team’s seem to need to be able to hit big shots on offense, benches are shortened, and you usually go with your best 5-8 players as opposed to your best 8-11 players.

BU really struggled with this for a few reasons, and I have seen some similarities with previous Stony Brook squads. With both teams on offense, it often seemed like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen without a head chef: No one really knew who was the guy who should take “the big shot.” I also think that both teams really, really struggled from having a lack of an offensive identity and game plan, so not only did they not know who should take the big shot, but they didn’t even really know how to generate the big shot.

What I think bodes well for Stony Brook is that, even with the graduation of so many great players over the past two years, they seem to have much, much more of an offensive identity now: Get the ball to center Jameel Warney on the blocks, or in point guard Carson Puriefoy’s hands so he can create off the bounce.

With that said, these next two years are huge: If Stony Brook can’t finally punch through to the NCAAs before Warney and Puriefoy graduate, you have to wonder if the current staff has reached the peak of what it can do on Long Island.

Do you think that Binghamton University will be able to move forward this season without Jordan Reed?

Thanks,
Brett

Hey Brett. Things are definitely looking bleak in Vestal right now, and I think expectations need to be tempered among fans. I do definitely think they can “move forward this season,” but moving forward without Reed means comparing the team at the end of the year to where it is right now – did they get better over the course of the season? Did players improve? Did the team gel and compete better? — not to what we expected from Binghamton at the beginning of the year with Reed.

I think the Bearcats have some very, very talented freshmen, especially Willie Rodriguez, whose junkyard dog game and mentality I love, along with skilled scoring big Dusan Perovic and athletic wing Romello Walker. I think how that class — Dempsey’s third, but really his second true recruiting class because of when he was hired — develops is key.

To use this as a jumping off point: I’ve seen some fans openly calling for Dempsey’s head, and I think it is way too early for that. People need to remember: One, just how atrocious a situation Dempsey inherited, and two, just how hard it is to build a program up. Coaches in similar situations have struggled during their first few seasons, alternating between steps forward and backwards before getting it right.

Look no further than Steve Pikiell at Stony Brook for a comparison: Pikiell inherited a mess of a situation, with NCAA sanctions for low APR scores like Binghamton, but Pikiell had the advantage of having an entire boat-load of money and support from the Athletic Department behind a push to get Stony Brook basketball good and get it good in a hurry. This isn’t faulting Binghamton’s athletic department: they want basketball to be good, but it isn’t the same kind of push.

Back to Pikiell: People forget that before all the 20-win seasons and regular season championships that in his first three seasons, Stony Brook really struggled and one could argue that he really missed almost entirely on his first three recruiting classes. Case and point: The Seawolves went 4-24 in 2005-2006, 9-20 in 2006-2007, and then dropped back to 7-23 in 2007-2008. During that time, the Seawolves roster was a revolving door, and of the four-year recruits Pikiell brought in, only Andrew Goba, Eddie Castellanos, Marqus, and Chris Martin stayed for all four years, andnone of them earned any All-Conference honors. Year four, Pikiell hit a home run with his recruiting class, landing guys like Tommy Brenton, Bryan Dougher, Dallis Joyner and Muhammad El-Amin.

My point is, it really takes time to build a program, especially one that was literally blown-up from within because of the scandal Binghamton endured. I think you need to give Dempsey another year before you can make an assessment of him. Overall, his classes seem to have gotten better in overall depth and talent from year one, to year two and now year three.

It definitely hurts to lose a singular talent like Reed, but considering how talented he was, and that he was still available for a team like Binghamton so late in the late signing period, you had to kind of expect there would be a high-probability he wouldn’t pan out.

Speaking of Reed…

What were reasons behind Jordan Reed transferring, and what schools have you heard of have gotten involved in terms of new destination?

UVM Hoop Cat

I usually hear about what is going on behind closed doors in the league, but people from both sides have been incredibly tight-lipped about what happened.

I wrote a profile on the relationship between Reed and Dempsey this summer, in which both seemed very genuine, open and, frankly, vulnerable when discussing what they both acknowledged had been a rocky relationship, but that both said had become incredibly close and supportive.

When news of Reed’s departure broke, I racked my brain wondering if I had been BS-ed by either or both of them. In talking with a laundry list of former teammates, opponents, coaches and people close to Binghamton’s program, everyone seemed to think that both were very genuine at the time.

What I’ve managed to piece together is that both are very strong, and at times stubborn and set in their ways. That they actually didn’t dislike each other at all, and both tried to change a bit to accommodate the other, but that in the end, Reed didn’t like what he saw his role becoming with the team, and Dempsey wasn’t willing to allow Reed to operate in a way different from his teammates because he felt the short-term benefits of his play, would be greatly outweighed by the long-term costs towards the culture of the program.

I have also heard that Reed was legitimately dealing with some non-basketball, off the court issues that greatly complicated matters.

I haven’t heard any specific teams where he might land, but I’ve heard that there’s a good chance it will be closer to his hometown of Philadelphia.

Well, that wraps up our first edition of the OBW America East mailbag. Please email your questions on any America East-related topic to onebidwonders@gmail.com for next weeks edition.

Thanks again!