Q&A about Albany with UnrankedAE

Manhattan and Albany play tonight at 7 p.m. at SEFCU Arena in Albany in the first round of the CIT. The Jaspers have had the biggest turnaround in Division I and are 20-12. Albany is 19-14. Both teams lost earlier than they wanted in their conference tournament. I asked the guys at UnrankedAE (Matt) and WCDB (Jay) for some more info on the Great Danes.

1. I’ll be blunt. Why is Albany’s defense so bad?

Matt: Bad coaching and poorly suited personnel. See the likes of Gerardo Suero, who essentially plays center field regardless of the defense scheme, wing-man Logan Aronhalt, who was logging 30 minutes despite lacking great quickness until his knees gave out, and probably the worst front-line in the America East. But the problem is that this is an offense-oriented team and an offense oriented coach — they maintained a mindset that they could outscore anyone, and defense was just not a priority. This team lacked the will to compete on defense. There’s no way around it — and the dramatic improvement after 5’8 Jacob Iati was entered into the starting line-up after injuries was the ultimate proof. Iati, through sheer force of will, brought energy in abundance on defense and better commitment to positioning, and lo-and-behold, Albany started playing their best defensive of the year down the stretch.

Jay: Albany’s defense is so bad because it seems as if when one aspect of it is working, the others are not. For example, take the Boston U. game back at SEFCU Arena for example. The Great Danes are playing flawless defense, and jump out to a 17 point lead. A huge reason for the success was the fact that they were all over the boards, with a huge advantage in that department. However, in the second half, the perimeter defense fell apart. We blew the lead.

Then in our most recent loss to Stony Brook, it was the other way around. The guards were doing an excellent job of limiting the damage from Bryan Dougher, Dave Coley, Anthony Jackson, etc. on the perimeter, but we gave up nearly as many offensive rebounds as we grabbed TOTAL rebounds. Just a matter of being out of sync, really.

2. This game will be a study in contrasts. Which poorer unit (Manhattan’s offense, Albany’s defense) will step up on that side of the ball and control the game?

Matt: I think Manhattan’s offensive unit is markedly better than Albany’s defense and should, at least on paper, steamroll Albany. However, if this Albany team plays with the same intensity it brought in a heart-breaking buzzer beating tip-in (after the shot clock buzzer when off inadvertently, causing Albany’s center Blake Metcalf to stay grounded, as any good UAlbany fan will tel you), it could be a close one.

Jay: I don’t see why Manhattan’s offense is being regarded as poor! Third in the always high scoring MAAC is a lot more to be proud of than leading the traditionally less powerful AE in points per game. With that said, the Great Danes were able to lock down Rider at SEFCU Arena, so give me the Great Danes defense, but they will have to key in on George Beamon.

3. Gerardo Suero is garnering lots of postseason accolades after scoring 21.6 PPG. What are the strengths and weaknesses of his game?

Matt: Gerardo Suero is the most physically gifted player in the America East in the last few years, and perhaps ever. With almost no formal coaching, he’s managed to score at an incredible clip. The AE’s finest are known for their gritty play, and a fellow blogger bet me that after a full season of being hit on every play by Tommy Brenton and Brian Voelkel, he’d slow down. He hasn’t. He’s able to absorb and avoid contact by continually impressing with incredible mid-air adjustments that allow him to create room to score against opponents of every level. He’s shooting 37% from three, so he can keep defenders honest, and he’s even improved as distributor. He replaced a first-team all-conference performer known exclusively for his offense (Ambrose again), and the offensive improved dramatically. It’s quite simply been the best offensive season by an Albany. The weaknesses? He’s constantly on the attack, and there have been stretches where he’s suddenly a liability in the offense. He’s been know to go for stretches forcing everything at an astronomical turnover rate — Will Brown has been better at giving him a quick hook and short break for him to refocus. The bigger problem though is defense. In some games, he’s hurt the team on defense as much as he’s helped on offense. The athleticism is there (see team leader in steals and a number of rebounds), but the instinct and dedication are now.

Jay: His strengths: he is unbelievable at driving to the basket, and getting to the free throw line as a result. He is also getting better at learning to kick out on the penetration to set up open shooters. His weaknesses: Still learning defensively, foul prone on both ends of the floor (picks up more charges than a Discover Card), and a lack of versatility offensively. He needs to develop a pull up jumper.

4. Around America East people will tell you that Mike Black is the guy who really makes Albany go. Is that true? If so, why? If not, who is?

Matt: I’d go with true. Mike Black is the steadiest player on Albany and they might be unlikely to bring it past half court without him. His assist-to-turnover ratio is markedly increased this year, and his offensive rating has seen a huge spike. However, how much of this is attributable to Suero? His ability to create has taken a lot of pressure of Mike Black and Logan Aronhalt, who both saw dramatic improvements in efficiency (especially now that the offense has another component other than passing it around the perimeter… no, I’m not bitter about the Will Brown extension, why do you ask?).

Jay: I’d say that’s accurate. When he is hot offensively, finding teammates for good looks and scoring, they are a very hard team to beat.

Thanks to both Matt and Jay. Check out UnrankedAE for everything you need to know about America East!

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