ALBANY — It’s a short turnaround for UAlbany from its opening weekend of America East Conference men’s basketball games to its first non-conference game of the season, which takes place 3 p.m. Tuesday against Niagara.
The Great Danes lost Saturday and Sunday against UMBC. UAbany misfired on two shot attempts to push ahead in the final 20 seconds of Saturday’s one-point loss, then had a late lead Sunday before falling 65-60. While UAlbany is 0-2, Niagara brings a 2-3 mark into the game at SEFCU Arena after starting its season 0-3.
From UAlbany’s first two games of the season, here are five takeaways.
Partially out of necessity because of the team’s back-to-back games and partially because head coach Will Brown wanted to evaluate as many players as possible, the Great Danes used 12 players in both games against UMBC.
While it was his choice to do that, it wasn’t a decision Brown was thrilled about making.
“I think I’m at my best as a coach when I can ride five guys for long periods, and we have one perimeter sub, one frontcourt sub,” Brown said.
This season’s Great Danes have more quality depth than in recent seasons, though, so it seems likely UAlbany extends its rotation a bit more than usual — but it’s also unlikely Brown keeps utilizing 12 players for long.
Brown said he expects to play an expanded rotation against Niagara because it’s the Great Danes’ third game in four days, but the shortening of UAlbany’s rotation should come relatively soon.
After an up-and-down sophomore season, it was a good sign for the Great Danes that junior Antonio Rizzuto started his season with strong back-to-back games.
What was worrisome, though, was how redshirt junior Cameron Healy started his season.
After battling an injury late last season that derailed his — and UAlbany’s — campaign, Healy had to check out for the final minutes of Sunday’s loss after playing the weekend with an injury Brown said the Great Danes are “hoping [is] a spasm, but it could be worse than that,” and that the injury caused pain in Healy’s ribcage.
If Healy isn’t physically right, that changes UAlbany’s outlook from potential contender in the America East to a squad that will struggle to stay in the conference’s top half. When Healy is back at 100%, though, the Great Danes need more from him than the 16 points on 5 of 20 shooting he offered against UMBC last weekend.
Brown said Healy is “falling into that trap again where he’s not shooting the basketball on the catch,” and that the 6-foot-3 guard needs to get back to showcasing his game’s top strength.
“He is an elite, elite shooter,” Brown said of Healy, who attempted half his shots from 3-point territory against UMBC. “He’s trying to prove to everyone he can dribble and create, and he needs to do what he does [best]. He’s the best 3-point shooter in our league. He needs to catch and shoot.”
Only one player — redshirt junior Adam Lulka on Sunday — played 30 or more minutes in a single game last weekend for UAlbany, as the team had eight players each game play at least 10 minutes.
So a number of Great Danes played fewer minutes than one might expect, but it was particularly surprising that sophomore Trey Hutcheson only registered nine minutes each game. After a strong freshman season that saw the 6-foot-5 wing player make 25 starts, and average 6.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, Hutcheson totaled two points against UMBC.
“I haven’t lost confidence in Trey,” Brown said, “but, I tell our guys all the time, what you’re doing every day in practice is going to send a message to the coaching staff. My goal is to put our team in the position to win the game, and I’m going to put the guys on the floor each night that I feel put us in the best position to win the game that night.”
Brown opted to bring redshirt sophomore Sam Shafer off the bench before Hutcheson in each game against UMBC, and said Shafer had “deserved, at this point” that chance after rarely playing last season. While Shafer played more minutes on Saturday than Hutcheson, that reversed on Sunday.
“He needs to stay patient [and] regain his confidence shooting the ball,” Brown said of Hutcheson. “I think he’s a little bit frustrated right now and he’s hesitating to shoot the 3.”
Brown added: “He’s got to stay aggressive.”
It’s no secret that UAlbany is willing to play smaller this season in an attempt to charge up its offense after it ranked last in 2019-20 America East play in offensive efficiency, per kenpom.com.
But that means UAlbany needs to do a better job, and perhaps get a bit creative, in how it handles keeping up on the glass.
UAlbany was out-rebounded 39-28 and 36-29 against UMBC, which had a significant size advantage in the frontcourt against the Great Danes.
“We’ve got to be technically sound and box guys out, and just show better toughness,” said UAlbany graduate student Kellon Taylor, the team’s 6-foot-6 starting 4. “At the end of the day, getting a rebound is just toughness.”
Brown has said the plus-minus metric is one he values in judging his team and players.
In the team’s opening two games, only one UAlbany lineup had a game in which it registered better than a plus-five designation. In Saturday’s game, the lineup of Anderson, Healy, Rizzuto, Shafer and Taylor outscored UMBC 13-4 in a stretch of 4:15.
Meanwhile, only two players had a positive plus-minus in both games for UAlbany — one surprising, one unsurprising.
Rizzuto, who scored a team-best 25 points last weekend, was a plus-21 Saturday and a plus-6 Sunday.
The other player?
That was Chuck Champion, a graduate student who transferred to UAlbany from Loyola.
While Champion — who is working back from a foot injury — didn’t score in 13 total minutes, UAlbany was plus-3 in Champion’s seven Saturday minutes and plus-9 in his six Sunday minutes.