ALBANY — His coaching staff has plenty of ideas.
Throughout this month, UAlbany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown wants to see as many of them as possible put to the test against opponents.
“I think November is all about learning about your team,” Brown said. “We have a sense of where we’re at, but it never goes as you planned. You’ve got to use November as a barometer to see where you’re at.”
UAlbany’s first chance to see what it has for the 2019-20 season comes 7 p.m. Saturday night when it hosts Lehigh at SEFCU Arena. After finishing 12-20 during a rebuilding campaign, UAlbany enters this season optimistic its talented roster that gained experience last season has the ability to win at a high level.
Until redshirt junior guard Jojo Anderson returns in December, UAlbany appears likely to rely heavily on six players. That group includes sophomores Malachi de Sousa, Cameron Healy, Adam Lulka and Antonio Rizzuto, plus seniors Ahmad Clark and Romani Hansen.
Lulka and Hansen — a transfer from Savannah State — are likely to start in the frontcourt, while Brown hasn’t confirmed which three of Clark, de Sousa, Healy and Rizzuto will start on the perimeter. Last season, de Sousa replaced Clark in the starting lineup late in the campaign, but Brown said earlier this week that he doesn’t view it as Clark vs. de Sousa for the final starting spot for the Great Danes.
“It’s about starting the best group that plays the best together and plays the most consistent because that’s what I’m looking for right now,” Brown said.
While UAlbany hasn’t played yet this season, Lehigh opened its season with a 66-62 loss against Monmouth. Lehigh won 20 games last season, but lost three of its top-four scorers from that group and was picked seventh in this year’s Patriot League preseason coaches’ poll.
UAlbany was picked to finish fourth in the America East’s preseason poll, but has the talent to outperform that prediction. Lulka and Rizzuto each had strong stretches last season, Clark and Healy were third-team all-conference selections, de Sousa has the potential to be the best of UAlbany’s sophomores and Hansen was a key contributor at Savannah State.
Beyond that core six — and make it seven when Anderson (knee) returns — UAlbany has several players battling for playing time. Senior forward Kendall Lauderdale should see some action, while Brown said throughout the preseason that freshman wing Trey Hutcheson had earned minutes. Recently, Brown said redshirt freshman wing Sam Shafer and freshman forward Mitch Doherty had played well enough to likely earn some time on the court.
“The ultimate goal is to win the game, but you also want to reward some guys for doing a good job in practice, and I have some young guys that I want to get on the floor so they can wear the uniform with the lights on,” Brown said. “You want to see them in that scenario.”
The game against Lehigh is the first for UAlbany of eight November matchups. UAlbany has a solid chance to get through November with a winning record, but Brown is more concerned with making sure his team gets through this month ready to have a productive December.
“When you get to December,” Brown said, “you hope you’ve addressed your areas of concern.”