ALBANY — The improvement UAlbany men’s basketball junior Antonio Rizzuto made from last season to this one has been noticed around the America East Conference.
Thursday, it’ll be announced whether Rizzuto’s growing game earned him a spot on one of the league’s all-conference teams.
“Rizzuto’s been a first-team all-league guy,” Stony Brook head coach Geno Ford said after Saturday’s game at SEFCU Arena.
UAlbany has not had a player earn a first-team selection since Joe Cremo in 2018. Cremo’s selection that season was the fourth consecutive year that the Great Danes had at least one player earn such an honor.
After averaging 7.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game during an up-and-down sophomore season, Rizzuto — UAlbany’s captain — averaged 13.4 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game during an abbreviated season that saw the Great Danes play 14 total games and earn the No. 5 seed for the America East playoffs that start this Saturday for them with a game against No. 8 NJIT at Hartford.
Rizzuto’s statistics are relatively modest, but he has a case to be a first-team selection given his solid offensive contributions and his status as one of the league’s top defenders. He’s regularly earned praise from opposing coaches and UAlbany head coach Will Brown for the energy and passion he brings to the court during a season that saw him raise his shooting percentage to 42.7% from last season’s 37.3% while taking more than three shots per game more this season.
“I think what he’s done this year is he’s gotten it done on both sides of the ball,” Brown said Wednesday during a teleconference. “There’s a lot of guys that score the basketball that don’t have the impact on the defensive side of the ball — or you have guys that make a huge impact defensively, but not so much offensively.”
Brown credited Rizzuto for how he had “diversified his offensive game” this season. Rizzuto took 76% of his field-goal attempts last season from 3-point territory, but that number has dropped to 66% while he’s taken more free throws this season (31) than he did last season (27) despite this season, to this point, including 17 fewer games.
“He’s been a complete player and a well-rounded player,” Brown said.
The coach also mentioned junior CJ Kelly, UAlbany’s leading scorer on the season at 13.5 points per game, as deserving consideration for a spot on one of the league’s three all-conference teams.
Brown, though, said the Great Danes are relatively unconcerned with individual honors.
“Ultimately, I think the biggest thing is: What can we do as a team moving forward in this conference tournament?” Brown said. “I think that’s what we’re going to consume ourselves with.”
As redshirt junior Cameron Healy put it Wednesday, America East teams have become accustomed to the “quarantine games” they’re playing this season in fan-less venues because of restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Healy, though, also remembers how he fed off the crowd last season at Stony Brook in the playoffs when he registered a game-high 28 points in a UAlbany loss played in front of a crowd of 2,166.
Healy said it’ll be “interesting” to see how the lack of fans affects the intensity that comes with a playoff game, but expects the Great Danes to be ready.
“It comes down to bringing your own energy,” Healy said.
This weekend’s postseason schedule will be 100% finalized as of early Thursday afternoon, as the America East is allowing itself to make changes to the slate up until 48 hours before each playoff round starts.
The league’s guidelines state that if a team is unable to play because of issues related to the novel coronavirus pandemic and the conference is given 48 hours or more notice, the league will re-seed the playoffs without that team.
If a team cannot play, but the league has less than 48 hours of notice, “the game will be considered a ‘no contest’ with the opposing team advancing to the next round and the playoff bracket will not be altered.”