2015-16 College Basketball Previews: Binghamton Bearcats

Sophomore swing man Willie Rodriguez is back to help lead a young Binghamton Bearcats team that returns all five starters from a season ago.
Sophomore swing man Willie Rodriguez is back to help lead a young Binghamton Bearcats team that returns all five starters from a season ago.

The Binghamton Bearcats are one of the youngest teams in the NCAA, but despite their record, they didn’t play like it last season.

Yes, they went 6 – 26 overall, and 5 – 11 in conference play, but they relied heavily on freshmen to carry them over the course of the year. Their top two scorers were freshmen, and one only played half the year before a season-ending injury.

The Bearcats haven’t been in contention in the America East in a while, but contention may be on the horizon. With a slew of young talent back to lead the way, the future is bright in Vestal, NY.

Heading into 2015-16, what will the young Bearcats have in store for an encore performance? How will having one of their top scorers back healthy for a full season change their outlook?

Scroll down below and take a read about what the Binghamton Bearcats have to offer for the 2015-16 season, and hopefully beyond, in the America East Conference.

Who’s Missing

Last season, the Binghamton Bearcats were one of the nation’s youngest teams. They relied heavily on their younger players, and it may pay off in the long run if they all stay together at Binghamton. The Bearcats were one of just three teams in the country to have freshmen as their top two scorers.

Heading into the 2015-16, the roster for the Bearcats is relatively unchanged. Only one player of significance is gone from the team, and he only played a handful of games before making the move out of Binghamton. Sophomore power forward Nick Madray is the lone ranger gone from last year’s team who played significant minutes.

The power forward only played in 13 games for Binghamton in 2014-15, making 10 starts in the process. Madray averaged 7.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest in 22.0 minutes per game. Madray opted to transfer out of Binghamton, freeing up space in the starting lineup for others in the process.

Madray will play the remainder of his collegiate career as a member of the Eastern Michigan Eagles, starting in the 2016-17 season.

With the Bearcats only losing Madray from last year’s roster, that means there is a plethora of talent coming back that Tommy Dempsey can utilize in various ways as Binghamton looks to become a contender in the America East once again.

Who’s Returning

With only one player leaving from last year’s squad, it’s easy to pick up on the fact that the Binghamton Bearcats will have a ton of players back for another go-round in 2015-16. Another added benefit for the Bearcats is that the majority of their players are sophomores! The fact that their players are still early in their NCAA careers has fans buzzing about the future for the Bearcats.

From last year’s team, here’s a full list of key contributors returning for the 2015-16 campaign, and hopefully beyond:

Willie Rodriguez (SO): 32 gp (30 starts), 11.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg

Dusan Perovic (SO): 15 gp (9 starts), 11.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg

Romello Walker (SO): 32 gp (31 starts), 8.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg

Marlon Beck II (JR): 32 gp (20 starts), 8.2 ppg, 2.6 apg

Justin McFadden (SO): 30 gp (23 starts), 6.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg

Yosef Yacob (JR): 32 gp (15 starts), 5.8 ppg, 1.2 apg

Bobby Ahearn (SO): 31 gp (18 starts), 4.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg

All across the floor, the Bearcats have young and talented players ready to lead the team back into contention in the America East Conference. Leading the way is 6’6” sophomore forward Willie Rodriguez. The native of Orlando, FL lead the way as a freshman for the Bearcats, scoring a team-high 11.8 points per contest. He showed brief flashes of decent shooting range, making 21.9% of his three pointers a season ago. While it’s not a strong number, it shows that he has the range to make the shots, but not necessarily the comfort level or the accuracy just yet. If he can develop his shooting range, and become a more consistent shooter away from the basket and at the free throw line, he has the potential to be a top-tier player in the conference over the next three years.

The team’s veteran leadership will come in the form of junior point guard Marlon Beck II this season. The Bowie, MD native averaged a team-best 2.6 assists per contest, and will look to lead the offense once again from the back-end this year. As a junior, and one of just four upperclassmen on the roster, Beck will be tasked with providing leadership both on and off the court over the course of the season.

Add in junior guard Yosef Yacob, and the Bearcats have a formidable duo of point guards who are both capable of controlling the offense from their position.

Having a full season of 6’9” forward Dusan Perovic can never hurt matters either, as he brings some much-needed size to the front court. Against Boston University, Perovic went off for 34 points in 34 minutes of action, showing a ton of promise as a freshman. Before his season was cut short after just 15 games due to injury, the native of Podgorica, Montenegro averaged 11.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest. Having Perovic in the lineup on a consistent basis will surely help the Bearcats’ odds this season.

Fellow starters like Romello Walker and Justin McFadden bring their own strengths to the court. McFadden is a strong rebounder (3.6 rpg) and a decent shot blocker (15 blocks), while Walker is a strong rebounder for his guard position (4.6 rpg) and a decent shooter from the floor (35.6%). Both should factor into the starting lineups this season on a consistent basis.

A strong five player recruiting class, coupled with the likes of Yacob and Ahearn, the depth for the Bearcats is strong this season along with their starting five. Having talented, reliable bench players gives the coaching staff options in terms of in-game lineups, and that’s the situation Tommy Dempsey finds himself in this season.

Projected Starting Five

Guard: Marlon Beck (JR)

Guard: Romello Walker (SO)

Forward: Justin McFadden (SO)

Forward: Willie Rodriguez (SO)

Forward: Dusan Perovic (SO)

Schedule Notes

For the Bearcats this season, they are hoping to reverse their fortunes in terms of road contests. Binghamton is coming off a 1 – 15 performance on the road a season ago, and are hoping that their returning talent can help turn things around.

Three of the team’s first four contests are on the road, including their season opener when they pay a visit to the St. Bonaventure Bonnies. A home-date with a strong Army team doesn’t make things any easier for the Bearcats before they go back on the road to visit Cornell and Central Connecticut State. Any of those four games are winnable contests, but with Binghamton’s track record on the road recently, nothing is for sure.

Home dates against Boston and Colgate close out November and open up December for the Bearcats. Perovic is hoping for a repeat performance against the Terriers, while Boston will hope to keep him in check.

A tough three-game road trip, highlighted by a trip to the Breslin Center to take on the Michigan State Spartans, poses more tough road challenges for the Bearcats. They also travel to Oakland University to take on the Golden Grizzlies, and Buffalo to take on the Bulls.

Three home games around Christmas give the Bearcats their best chance to build positive momentum before conference play begins against Stony Brook. Saint Francis (PA), Florida International, and Mount St. Mary’s all pay a visit to Vestal, NY to take on Binghamton. The team has a great chance to sweep the homestand and score three big wins.

The Binghamton Bearcats are a team that’s on the rise, and that’s easy to see from the young talent that they have coming back and the production they put p as freshmen in 2014-15. The Bearcats could very well surprise people this season and contend a year early in the America East Conference, and that’s exactly what they’re hoping to do.

With the likes of Vermont, Stony Brook, and Albany returning experienced talent in the America East this season, it’s tough to see Binghamton getting over the hump this year in terms of contending. With that being said, a middle-of-the-pack finish for the Bearcats looks like the probably result for the season, and that’s a massive step forward after a 6 – 26 record in 2014-15. You’ll see the Bearcats in contention in the near future, and you’ll get a first-hand look at what they’re capable of this season.

– T.B.