The next opponent for the men’s basketball team is a familiar one from the gridiron – the Albany Great Danes. Albany, like the University of New Hampshire, hails from the America East Conference for basketball, and sits at 2 – 1 going in to Wednesday’s game.
The Danes are coached by Will Brown, who inked a contract extension prior to the start of the season that locks him in until 2018. It’s safe to say that at least some of the motivation for the deal was the AE championship and NEC berth held by Albany last basketball season – a season that strangely began with a 69 – 66 victory against our own Dukes and ended with a loss to Duke in the tourney.
Albany has some work to do to defend that title. They lost some significant players after last year – the leading returning scorer averaged just 9 points per game – but they do return three starters and six players total from that team that lost to Duke in March.
Coach Brown is, of course, aware of the task ahead. “Obviously losing Mike Black and Jake Iati… two big losses for sure.” he stated in the America East preview. “But we do have a nice group coming back. We really had six starters last year when you include Hooley and four of them are coming back.”
His biggest concern, despite having six newcomers, is leadership. Jake Iati was the unquestioned leader of the Danes last year and was the glue that held the team together, that motivated the team after a loss. “The biggest thing for us this year is that you’re not going to replace Jacob, but who can help embrace that leadership role and just not care what anybody thought and just lead because they want to win and win badly.”
Albany is looking to senior forward Sam Rowley to take up that mantle. At 6’6″, Rowley is an athletic forward who is currently shooting out of his mind from the field – 75% after three games and he has only shot better with each consecutive game. He is also their primary rebounder along with center John Puk. Says Coach Brown, “Sam Rowley … is a matchup problem. We went to him early an often in games.”
The Dukes are likely athletic enough this year to keep with Rowley, though the other guy to watch inside the pant is the aforementioned center, John Puk, a four-year starter. Puk and Rowley both were big parts of Albany’s win last year over the Dukes one year ago, combining rather evenly for 25 points and 15 boards. That performance was a career high for the junior center. Puk is capable, but gets fewer buckets and rebounds than one might think considering his 6’10″ frame.
Indeed, one area to target with this Albany team is rebounding. Even the much-maligned NJIT kept pace with them on the boards; Siena and Quinnipiac both out rebounded the Danes. Another key in terms of stopping their star Rowley is turnovers. Sam has the dubious distinction of leading Albany in that stat by a wide margin; he’s turned the ball over 13 times, and no one else has done so more than four. Quinnipiac really confounded him, also drawing enough fouls to take him out of the game.
In addition to a capable frontcourt, the Danes have a few guards that have been playing well so far this year. Peter Hooley and DJ Evans are the starting guards. This isn’t a team that gets a lot of assists, and when they do Hooley and Evans have been getting them fairly evenly. Hooley has been waiting for his shots to fall. To this point, he’s just 9 – 32, but it may be a matter of time considering he was a 42% shooter in a significant role on last year’s tourney team.
Albany has one main option coming off of the bench, and that is Dave Wiegmann, a 6’8″ forward who is capable of stepping out and hitting a three. Wiegmann has given the Danes solid if unremarkable minutes so far this season.
This is a team that is looking to reload and build on the success of last year, and they plan to do that by again being competitive in the America East. “Some guys will have to step up and embrace new roles. But our nucleus is good,” says Brown. Albany earned their berth last year on the strength of a great conference tournament run, winning their third championship as the fifth seed – the lowest in America East history. This is an experienced team with an experienced coach that knows how to win at their level.