UAlbany needs success on defense, boards

Going into the 2015-16 opener at Kentucky, UAlbany coach Will Brown thought his Great Danes were rea
University at Albany head men's  coach Will Brown and sophomore Joe Cremo watch practice from the baseline of the campus P.E. Gym.
University at Albany head men's coach Will Brown and sophomore Joe Cremo watch practice from the baseline of the campus P.E. Gym.

Going into the 2015-16 opener at Kentucky, UAlbany coach Will Brown thought his Great Danes were ready to attack the season.

“I thought we were in a good place last year,” he said Wednesday after practice at UAlbany’s PE Gym.

That team finished 24-9, falling in a shocking upset to Hartford in the first round of the America East Tournament. But throughout the year, the three-peating Danes seemed primed for another title run, until that abrupt ending.

So what does Brown think of this remade Great Danes’ team, one with so many new names? Does he think that, ahead of Friday’s opener at Penn State, this year’s team is ready to compete for an America East title?

“Nope,’’ he said flatly, “but we’re gonna be.”

“This year,” Brown said, “I’m very concerned going into the early part of the season.”

Part of the reason, of course, is that UAlbany has lost three marque players in Peter Hooley, Evan Singletary and Ray Sanders. Roles have changed: Joe Cremo slides into the starting lineup, as does fellow sophomore guard David Nichols. Both will be called on to score. Marqueese Grayson, a junior college transfer from Gillette, will also be part of the backcourt that will be buttressed up front by returning bigs Mike Rowley and Greig Stires.

Scoring will not be an issue for the Great Danes, even though the departed Big Three seniors accounted for 39.8 points per game. “If we don’t turn the ball over, we will be rock-solid offensively,” Brown said.

Last year’s team averaged 75.6 points per game — and an even better 77.9 in conference. Despite the lost of three main cogs, UAlbany doesn’t expect a dropoff.

“As a group, we are very talented offensively,” Stires said. “We have a lot of new guys, and guys who didn’t get a chance to play last year, who can score the ball.”

So what’s the problem?

Brown is a defensive-minded coach, and his successful Danes teams over the year have been all about playing solid D and rebounding.

According to the coach, the Danes are “not fully embracing the defensive side of the ball.”

The thing is, ask any player on the team — any — what questions remain about this team going into the year, and they will say the same thing: Defense and rebounding. They are at least hearing the message Brown is trying to impart.

“Can we defend and rebound consistently on a daily basis?” Cremo said. “Other than that, everything else will take care of itself.”

You can tell Brown has been hammering them with the importance of individual and team defense. You can see it in practice. You can hear it from Brown. And you can hear Brown in the players’ comments.

“Shooting doesn’t always travel on the road,” Nichols said, “but rebounding and defense does.”

UAlbany opens on the road with a pair of tough major opponents in the Nittany Lions and Cincinnati before a string of games against they would be favored on paper leading up to the Nov. 27 Albany Cup clash, being held for the first time at SEFCU Arena.

But it’s too early to go through the schedule and start putting Ws and Ls next to games. This is a team that still doesn’t have a set nine-man rotation yet. It has a coach who still thinks they are not buying in on the defensive end. Picked to finish third in the conference, the Danes are a team you will have to wait-and-see on.

“Until we play a proper game we don’t know our identify,” Rowley said. “But we are practicing to form this identity, and it is based on effort. We could be known as a good defensive team that can rebound.”

That sounds like what the coach wants, but according to him, not what he’s seen yet.

UAlbany Schedule

Friday: Penn State at University Park, Pa., 7 p.m.

Monday: Cincinnati at Cincinnati, Ohio, 7 p.m.

Wednesday: Oneonta, SEFCU Arena, 8 p.m.

Naismith Hall of Fame Tip-Off–Mohegan Sun

Sat., Nov. 19: Grand Canyon, Uncasville, Conn., 8 p.m.

Sun., Nov. 20: Brown, Uncasville, Conn., 8 p.m.

Sun., Nov. 27: Siena, SEFCU Arena, 7 p.m.

Wed., Nov. 30: Holy Cross, SEFCU Arena, 7 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 3: Yale at New Haven, Conn., 2 p.m.

Wed., Dec. 7: Marist, SEFCU Arena, 7 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 10: Colgate at Hamilton, 2 p.m.

Mon., Dec. 12: Canisius at Buffalo, 7 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 17: St. Francis Brooklyn, SEFCU Arena, 7 p.m.

Tue., Dec. 20: SMU at Dallas, Texas 8 p.m.

Fri., Dec. 30: Columbia at New York, 7 p.m.

Mon., Jan. 2: Cornell, SEFCU Arena, 7 p.m.

Thu., Jan. 5: UMass Lowell* at Lowell, Mass., 7 p.m.

Sun., Jan. 8: Stony Brook* at Stony Brook, 2 p.m.

Wed., Jan. 11: New Hampshire*, SEFCU Arena, 7 p.m.

Mon., Jan. 16: UMBC* at Baltimore, Md., 1 p.m.

Thu., Jan. 19: Binghamton*, SEFCU Arena, 7 p.m.

Sun., Jan. 22: Maine*, SEFCU Arena, TNBA

Wed., Jan. 25: Vermont*, SEFCU Arena, 7 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 28: Hartford* at West Hartford, Conn., 7 p.m.

Wed. Feb. 1: UMass Lowell*, SEFCU Arena, 7 p.m.

Sat., Feb. 4: Stony Brook*, SEFCU Arena, 7 p.m.

Mon., Feb. 6: New Hampshire* at Durham, N.H. 7 p.m.

Thu., Feb. 9: Binghamton* at Vestal, TBA

Wed., Feb. 15: UMBC*, SEFCU Arena, 7 p.m.

Sun., Feb. 19: Maine* at Bangor, Maine, 2 p.m.

Wed., Feb. 22: Vermont* at Burlington, Vt., 7 p.m.

Sat., Feb. 25: Hartford*, SEFCU Arena, 7 p.m.

*Conference games

America East Tournament

Wed. March 1 America East Quarterfinals TBA TBA

Mon. March 6 America East Semifinals TBA TBA

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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