ALBANY — Ten games into his second season as UAlbany men’s basketball coach, Dwayne Killings has the Great Danes out to the exact same 3-7 record they had at this point in his first season.
But, it certainly doesn’t feel exactly the same.
A year ago, UAlbany had lost the first five games’ of Killings’ tenure as part of an overall 1-7 start, but the team closed its opening 10 games on an upward trajectory with back-to-back close wins, beating Columbia at home before going on the road to beat Boston College and give the program its first ever win over an opponent from the ACC.
This year, things seem to be spiraling in the wrong direction 10 games in. Just one of the Great Danes’ three wins this season is over a Division I opponent, and the team’s last three contests have all been double-digit losses that have seen UAlbany’s struggling defense ripped apart to the tune of 82.7 points per game.
Those problems have come as the Great Danes have dealt with a rash of injuries, including the loss of star sophomore forward Justin Neely for the season with a torn ACL.
“We haven’t been the defensive team that we wanted to be at the beginning [of the season],” Killings said Thursday. “Much of that, honestly, is injuries. Justin going down changes a lot defensively. . . . And then last year, we had a lot of older guys. Paul Newman, Jarvis Doles had more experience guarding the ball screen, versus Jonathan Beagle, who’s learning on the fly [this season]. Our approach is very much the same, but our individual experience is not there yet.”
It’s on defense that Killings’ club has the biggest strides to make as it visits Big East foe Providence on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. for a non-conference matchup at Amica Mutual Pavilion that will be televised nationally on FS1.
In Killings’ rookie season as head coach, the Great Danes were in the middle of the pack nationally on defense, ranking 172nd in adjusted defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com. Through 10 games this year, UAlbany ranks 324th.
The raw stats are just as unkind to the Great Danes as the advanced metrics. UAlbany, which allowed American to shoot a staggering 71.4% from the field in an 88-62 loss on Nov. 29, ranks 357th out of 363 Division I programs in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot at an even 50% clip. Tack onto that number the fact that UAlbany’s 210 personal fouls are the ninth-most in Division I, and the problems are easy to spot.
It’ll be a tough assignment to sort those issues out Saturday against a Providence (7-4 overall) team that head coach Ed Cooley has turned into one of the Big East’s best on a yearly basis.
“Coaches stress defense every single day,” sophomore forward Aaron Reddish said. “It starts on defense. I think once we figure that out, a lot of pieces will fall into place.”
Reddish’s presence could be one key to unlocking UAlbany’s defensive potential. The versatile and athletic 6-foot-8 wing has been in and out of the lineup due to injury and illness, but Killings is hopeful that the sophomore can bring many of the same qualities that have been missing with Neely’s absence from the lineup.
“He’s one of our better athletes, with his length,” Killings said. “You look at the Towson game, the Siena game, he’s one of the guys that we put on the better players from the programs we’re competing against. Aaron can help us a lot from that perspective. He needs reps. Any time you’re out for extended days, it takes a little bit of time to get back.”