COLLEGE BASKETBALL – All four of the Capital Region’s Division I college basketball teams have now stepped into conference play — to varying levels of success.
Three teams — the Siena men and women, and the UAlbany women — had unbeaten weeks in league play, while the UAlbany men stumbled out of the gate.
This week’s men’s basketball slate sees Siena play a pair of home games, facing Saint Peter’s on Friday and Rider on Sunday, while UAlbany visits UMBC on Thursday before hosting UMass Lowell on Sunday. On the women’s side, UAlbany is home Wednesday against UMBC and at UMass Lowell on Saturday, while Siena plays home games Thursday against Fairfield and Saturday against Marist.
Michael Kelly, Adam Shinder and Will Springstead cover college basketball for The Daily Gazette, and each week set the scene for the upcoming action.
THREE TAKEAWAYS FROM THE LAST WEEK
THIS MICHAEL ELEY IS PRETTY GOOD
The Siena men’s basketball program was confident in freshman Michael Eley ahead of this season.
That’s been rewarded.
The 6-foot-4 guard picked up Monday his third overall, and second in a row, MAAC Rookie of the Week award after averaging 14 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in Siena’s Connecticut sweep of Quinnipiac and Fairfield. Eley is averaging 8.2 points per game this season, but the reserve has scored 13.5 points per game during the Saints’ four-game winning streak.
THE SIENA WOMEN ARE MAKING STRIDES AMID CONTROVERSY
At the beginning of the season, there were questions of when, not if, the Siena women’s basketball team would show its obvious skill. Judging from the Saints’ MAAC wins over Rider and Canisius last week, the time may be here. Coincidentally, it also happened the same week head coach Jim Jabir temporarily stepped aside as the college investigates him for allegedly making racially insensitive and misogynistic remarks.
FINALLY, THE UALBANY WOMEN ARE HEALTHY
It took until Game 15 for UAlbany women’s basketball to get its full roster healthy and available, but that just so happened to coincide with the start of America East play. Head coach Colleen Mullen’s team looked the part of conference favorites last week, beating Vermont by 14 at home and going on the road to crush New Hampshire by 25.
THREE QUESTIONS FOR WHAT’S AHEAD
CAN THE UALBANY MEN FIND A CONSISTENT LINEUP?
Shinder: Considering that UAlbany head coach Dwayne Killings has already given 11 different players at least one start, it’s hard to say “yes” to this one. Sure, Gerald Drumgoole Jr. and Jonathan Beagle are pretty much locked in, which is a modicum of consistency, but those other three spots have been in constant flux. I’ll say no, especially if the point guard trio of Malik Edmead, Da’Kquan Davis and Marcus Jackson continues to be as muddled as it’s been so far.
Kelly: I mean . . . yes, they can. They could simply choose to stop changing their lineup all the time. But, short of just opting to do that, what Killings needs is five players demonstrating consistency and cohesion. Right now, though, UAlbany is a team that plays a lot of guys, but doesn’t necessarily have depth. The Great Danes have 11 players who have appeared in at least nine games and are averaging double-digit minutes, and only two double-digit scorers in Beagle and Drumgoole. UAlbany needs players to step up. Until the Great Danes get that, it’s hard to see how the lineup doesn’t keep shifting.
Springstead: I was there when Killings said he planned on starting whomever gives him the best energy. So far, that energy has gone in big waves, and I think it will continue to, so I don’t see a consistent lineup happening.
CAN THE UALBANY WOMEN MAINTAIN THEIR FOCUS?
Springstead: The Great Danes have gone from a grinding, less-than-fully healthy non-conference schedule to a most impressive 2-0 start in the league. Suddenly they are the Giant, and the rest of the league is Jack. So long as they maintain their selflessness — and I think it’s a veteran-enough team that that will happen — I think they can.
Shinder: They did it last year, I see no reason to believe it’ll be any different this year. The Great Danes play elite-level defense, and they’re deep enough to absorb a top player having an off night. That’s usually a pretty good formula for success.
Kelly: I agree with both of you. I don’t see “focus” being an issue — but health concerns are going to stay there with this club all season. The Great Danes are built to weather missing a player here or there, but they need their full complement of players to flourish.
FROM MOST LIKELY TO LEAST LIKELY, WHICH OF THE FOUR AREA TEAMS GOES 2-0 IN THE GAMES AHEAD?
Kelly: I’ll take, in order, the UAlbany women slightly ahead of the Siena men, then the UAlbany men just ahead of the Siena women. At Maine on Jan. 28 is the next time I see the UAlbany women in a close one, while the Siena men have a great shot to get to 5-0 in conference play despite a talented Rider squad showing up Sunday in Albany. The matchup with first-place Fairfield Thursday looks like a potential stumbling block for the Siena women, while Sunday vs. UMass Lowell — 13-2 overall — will be a tough one for the UAlbany men to solve.
Shinder: Starting at the top, I’ll go with the Siena men to take full advantage of a weekend at home. I’d rank that just a hair ahead of the UAlbany women, then the UAlbany men, and finally the Siena women. The Siena men have shown an ability to be really tough down the stretch during their current four-game win streak. The UAlbany women should be able to use this week to allow their numerous players back from injury to regain their rhythm. The paths for the UAlbany men and Siena women have much larger potential roadblocks this week.
Springstead: I’ll go with the UAlbany women, followed by the Siena men, UAlbany men and Siena women. I join my colleagues in saying it’s a slight space between my top two, but I think the Rider men are a dangerous game for Siena. The Broncs have one-point losses to Providence and Delaware, and a six-point loss to Georgia. Yes, there are some puzzling losses there, too, but when they show up, watch out. And, I agree, Fairfield looks like a tough matchup for the Siena women.
THREE NUMBERS TO KNOW
That’s the total minutes players on this season’s Saint Peter’s roster played in the club’s last matchup with Siena. After making their incredible run to the Elite Eight last year, the Peacocks were hit hard with departures, and the team that head coach Bashir Mason — not Shaheen Holloway, now at Seton Hall — brings to Albany for Friday’s matchup with the Saints is a much different crew. Siena, by the way, returns players that logged 114 minutes in that 84-70 win last February against Saint Peter’s, a game that was the last loss for the Peacocks before they fell to North Carolina with a spot in the Final Four at stake.
The 3-point shooting percentage for Siena’s Andrew Platek, the best mark in MAAC men’s basketball. As a team, Siena also leads the MAAC in 3-point percentage at 37.8%, though the Saints also shoot the third-fewest 3s in the conference.
The number of offensive rebounds UMBC’s women’s team averages, which leads the America East. UAlbany’s 2-0 start in the league has been aided by a rebounding edge in both games. The Great Danes need to make sure to keep the Retrievers off the boards if they’re to improve to 3-0.