ALBANY — The UAlbany men’s basketball team hasn’t played a game yet this season, and the Great Danes’ personnel is significantly changed from a season ago.
But UMBC head coach Ryan Odom, whose squad visits SEFCU Arena at 4 p.m. Saturday for UAlbany’s season-opening game, isn’t overly concerned with worrying about the unknown facing his team this weekend. The fifth-year coach who famously led his program to the first-ever win for a No. 16 seed against a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men’s tournament back in 2018 said Friday during a phone interview with The Daily Gazette that he has a strong sense of what to expect from the Great Danes when America East Conference play starts up this weekend.
“That’s just how conference play works,” said Odom, referencing the familiarity that league foes develop with each other through the years.
While Odom needs to rely on old scouting reports and past knowledge to ready his team for back-to-back games against UAlbany, Great Danes head coach Will Brown and his coaching staff have five games of UMBC’s to review, and UAlbany’s constantly changing schedule has stayed relatively still long enough that the Great Danes have been pointed toward an opener against UMBC for multiple weeks.
And . . . Odom knows from which position he’d rather be entering this weekend’s America East series.
“Absolutely, I’d want to be playing games,” Odom said.
UMBC has looked solid through its first five games, posting a 4-1 record and not losing since its opener against Georgetown. Five players average at least 10 points per game for UMBC, which was picked to finish second in the America East preseason poll.
Speaking earlier this week during a teleconference with reporters, Brown said it’ll be a challenge for his team to open up with back-to-back games after a stop-and-start preseason against UMBC.
“They’re a really good basketball team,” Brown said of UMBC, which won at SEFCU Arena last season to break an 11-game losing streak on UAlbany’s home court.
Brown said, though, there will be no excuses for his team this weekend. Coming off a 14-18 season in which they lost their last six games, the Great Danes have a clear aim.
“Our goal,” Brown said, “is to win both games this weekend.”
Brown declined to reveal which five players will be on the court when the Great Danes tip off their campaign.
But he’s dropped plenty of clues as to how he expects his team’s minutes to be allocated.
Redshirt junior Cameron Healy, who is 47 points away from 1,000 for his career, will play big minutes and shoot it as much as possible. Bolstering UAlbany’s perimeter play are junior CJ Kelly — a program newcomer — who has been described as UAlbany’s “most talented individual offensive player,” while redshirt senior Jojo Anderson looks strong after a 2019-20 season marred by a knee injury. Junior Antonio Rizzuto and fifth-year senior Chuck Champion — another newcomer — should add quality depth for the Great Danes on the wings. Sophomore Trey Hutcheson, Brown said, will shift more to the 4 this season after a solid freshman season playing mostly on the wing, and Brown has voiced optimism regarding what redshirt junior Adam Lulka and fifth-year senior Kellon Taylor will deliver for the Great Danes in the paint.
Several times this preseason, Brown has said he thinks the program addressed its top weaknesses from a season ago, which were a lack of players able to create offense off the dribble and a lack of athletic bigs.
In looking at what UAlbany returns from last season and what it added through transfers, Odom said he sees a more complete UAlbany team as it heads into this season.
“I like the roster they’ve put together,” Odom said.
A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed that UAlbany will play Niagara next Tuesday in a non-conference game.
That day, the Great Danes will play Niagara in a 3 p.m. matchup at SEFCU Arena, which currently is not hosting fans because of restrictions related to the pandemic.
Earlier this week, Brown said UAlbany is trying to schedule two non-conference games between its matchups this weekend with UMBC and its Jan. 2-3 games at Vermont.