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Great Danes Start to Come Around

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From Hoopville's Phil Kasiecki:


America East Notebook

by Phil Kasiecki

Great Danes Start to Come Around


As the preseason favorite in America East, Albany figured to set the tone for the conference this season. With a 2-0 record after early wins over Binghamton and Stony Brook, the Great Danes are doing just that, but they didn't quite do it in non-conference play like one might have expected.


The Great Danes have three non-conference games left, including an appearance in the Bracket Buster in February. They currently sport a 5-6 record after Wednesday night's win at struggling Brown, a game that wasn't a sterling effort but could be a sign of things to come. They didn't come into the game thinking it would be a cakewalk with the Bears, who are 2-8 and continue to struggle mightily on the season.


"You never want to be that team that a team breaks out against, and that was a concern of mine," head coach Will Brown said after the game.


The Great Danes' record is reflective in part of the schedule they have played, which includes road games with Florida, San Diego State and UCLA, but also of an adjustment they have had to make: depth. It was just two seasons ago that this injury-riddled team was very thin and had a walk-on in their rotation. Jon Iati, the America East Rookie of the Year that year, led the nation in minutes played at just under 40 per game. But now, depth abounds for Albany, which is the primary reason the coaches picked them to win a conference where few teams have both talent and experience. Past starters like senior Levi Levine and Iati are now reserves, which they haven't been before.


Depth helped win Wednesday's game, as three players, including Kirsten Zoellner and Jamar Wilson, picked up their fourth foul in a short time in the second half. The shooting of sophomore forward Brent Wilson (17 points, including 4-7 on three-pointers) and the solid reserve play of Jason Siggers (10 points in a career-high 23 minutes) and Iati (10 points) went a long way to getting it done.


Injuries also played a role. Versatile sophomore Brian Lillis missed some preseason practice time and the first two games after having surgery early in the fall to repair a stress fracture in his right foot. Lillis is expected to be the team's point guard going forward, which should only make the team better since it will allow Jamar Wilson to play off the ball and focus on scoring, which he does well.


"I think we're going to start playing better and better and better, whereas I think a lot of teams in the next couple of weeks will start leveling off," Brown said. "I think in another 2-4 weeks, we'll really start to blossom as a team.


"Our biggest thing right now is getting back to where we're all healthy, which we're close to, and then guys understanding and learning new roles. That's been the biggest thing for us."


It wouldn't hurt if Lucious Jordan could get going as well. After Wednesday's game, the senior guard is averaging under 7 points per game, less than half of what he averaged last year. He missed the first three weeks of practice and hasn't really gotten untracked.


Other America East Notes


* Vermont goes into the new year with a 5-5 record after a 72-62 home win over American on Thursday. They won their only conference game thus far, and as the young team gains more confidence and starts gelling better now that they have some games under their belt, this team won't be an easy out.


* Boston University went 1-1 at the Cable Car Classic in Santa Clara, taking a tough 63-57 loss against Bucknell before an 80-69 win over UC Riverside in the consolation game. Leading scorer Corey Hassan is a scorching 24-46 from long range in the last seven games, where the Terriers have gone 5-2, and Kevin Gardner had a big second half in the win over UC Riverside. The Terriers' offense appears to be getting better, and that should continue with Tony Gaffney back since he is another potential scorer.


* Kenny Adeleke has seven double-doubles in ten games for Hartford thus far. Freshman Chris Cole has helped improve the guard play, posting a better than 2:1 assist/turnover ratio and allowing guys like Adeleke and Aaron Cook to score. That makes the Hawks a potential contender in the wide-open conference.

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