The months leading up to the 2012-13 UAlbany men's basketball season were supposed to be filled with buzz and excitement as the 19 win team returned every man on the roster in hopes of making an America East title run. While the chance of hanging a banner above the home court at SEFCU Arena is still a legitimate possibility, you can pretty much forget about the pomp and circumstance leading up to next winter. This past week the basketball program at UA suffered two immeasurable losses when a pair of would-be seniors, Gerardo Suero and Logan Aronhalt, announced that they are leaving the program. Suero has decided to forgo his senior season in order to play professionally in the NBA or overseas, while Aronhalt's decision comes based off academics and the fact that the University at Albany doesn't carry the major of his future Master's degree. Before I dive in I'd like to preface the fact that I don't ever try to disguise that I pull for the Great Danes. How could I not? After all I called nearly every possession of every game this past season, I'm employed by the university, and I work side by side with the program staff almost every day during the season. In doing this I became immersed in the program and found myself looking forward to next year's broadcasts as if I was the one playing the games. That being said, when I found out that both players were leaving the school it felt like a punch to the gut (make that two punches to the gut). This offseason I had continuously boasted how Albany was 1 of 9 division I teams in the nation to not have a senior and thus returned every contributor next winter. Jump forward a few scenes and skip the press conference wishing Suero and Aronhalt the best of luck moving forward and that same Great Danes squad is now missing 50% of its offensive firepower from the year before. Suero wound up finishing this year as the 7th leading scorer in division I basketball, averaging 21.5 points en route to breaking the programs all-time single season scoring record previously held by a truly "Great" Dane, Jamar Wilson. And while Aronhalt wasn't a top-10 scorer in the country, he was a top-10 scorer in the America East (13.8 ppg) and had already cracked the list of top-25 scorers in UA history without ever playing a game of his senior season. So with both all-conference selections and leading scorers parting ways with UAlbany, how can the Danes make that up in order to have a successful campaign in 2012-13?
The answer, I believe, is a tricky one. Firstly, Albany won't try to make up the offensive production of Suero and Aronhalt, because they can't. Gerardo Suero was a once in a generation scorer for Albany and Logan Aronhalt, until a left knee injury kept him out of the final 8 games, was as consistent of a scorer as there is in the America East. He went for no less than 12 points in the first 24 of 25 games this past season. UAlbany, with the possible exception of point guard Mike Black, who can go for 20 on any given night, doesn't have players talented enough on the offensive end to come close to matching what Suero or Aronhalt were capable of. But did anyone ever say that simply outscoring your opponent was the single and only way to win? Never! The losses of Suero and Aronhalt shouldn't be understated, but I can almost guarantee that the Great Danes will be a much better defensive unit this coming season. I also don't want to lose sight of the nucleus that will still be on Albany's campus this Fall. The aforementioned Black, a second team America East selection, will bring all of his 80 starts experience to the table for his senior season, and he's not alone. The front-court of 6'9 soon-to-be senior Blake Metcalf and a healthy 6'8 soon-to-be junior Luke Devlin have combined for over 100 division I starts and will look to bring a hard nosed defensive presence this season that lacked at times in 2011-12. If the 6'10, 275lb soon-to-be junior Jon Puk can consistency bring it in 2012-13 the way he showed in glimpses this past season, he'll give the Danes a true "big man" post presence that is lacking conference wide. I can't forget about the continuation of the Jacob Iati story that will have another chapter titled "Senior Year" after he averaged double figures over the final 8 games of the season and received the final America East Player of the Week award in 2011-12. I expect that with Iati now comfortable in the playing group and ready to contribute over the course of a season, he'll continue to stretch the defense and give Black's penetration a reliable kick-out option when sucking in other perimeter defenders. Mix in one of the better athletes in the conference in Jayson Guerrier, who started the final five games of the season and averaged double figures over that time and wouldn't you know, you've got yourself a contender. Now the devil's advocate will say that I'm only choosing to highlight the positive and that Albany doesn't have someone who can bail the team out in the closing seconds of games the way Suero did a handful of times, but I beg to differ. The Great Danes went 9-7 in conference in 2011-12 and I think they'll finish with the same record, if not better, partly because of the way the conference has graduated talented seniors and is wide open this coming season. In the two games against Binghamton, UMBC, UNH, Maine and Hartford, I expect UAlbany to be somewhere right in the ballpark of 7-3. If the Danes can split the games between the typical contenders of Stony Brook, Vermont, and Boston, you're looking at another 9 to 10 wins within the America East conference. Now I'm not going to come on here and say that this team overall will be better because of an addition by subtraction theory, but the fact that Albany will be committed defensively this season only helps their chances during the conference tournament when every single possession is a grind due to the heightened importance of an NCAA tournament berth. I tend to be a positive person by nature so pardon me if I'm not tweeting that the sky is falling on head coach Will Brown and his staff. But you know what? The same way as if Suero and Aronhalt weren't leaving Albany, the Great Danes will have to go out and play each game anyway and earn it just the same. And when that time comes next winter, I'll be there calling it as I see it.