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AU men’s basketball team looks to turn defense, rebounding into wins
11/11/11

ALFRED, NY - When the Alfred University men’s basketball team opens its 2011-12 season Nov. 15, the team will have a different look than it has the first three year’s of head coach Dale Wellman’s tenure at the Saxons’ helm.

A smaller, three-guard lineup that emphasized quickness and a turnover-producing perimeter defense will be replaced by rotations that provide size and a post presence aimed at reversing a glaring rebounding disadvantage from a season ago.

"We’ll be playing different this year. We want to be a bigger basketball team, with taller players, because last year we were really hurt by rebounding," Wellman said.

Indeed, the Saxons (8-17, 3-13 Empire 8) were outrebounded by an averaged of 41-34 per game last season. Many of the opponents’ boards - nearly 14 per game - were of the offensive variety, leading to many second-chance scoring opportunities.

"The big thing this year will be defense and rebounding. That’s what we’re focused on," he said. "Offensively, this will give us a good inside-outside game. The bigger players will give us a better post attack and that will open things up for out outside game and penetration. And we want more scoring in transition, so we want guys on the court who can really turn things up defensively."

AU has the players to improve on its post play and rebounding this year. Junior Center Bryan Bobo (Ontario, NY/Wayne) and senior forward Pat Hollenbeck (Ontario, NY/Wayne) return, as does senior forward Derek Lewis (Horseheads, NY/Horseheads).

At 6-5 and 6-4 respectively, Bobo and Hollenbeck will be counted on to assert themselves in the post from a rebounding standpoint (they averaged 4.4 and 1.8 boards per game, respectively in 2010-11) and as scorers (Bobo averaged 4.9 points; Hollenbeck scored 2.9). Lewis, at 6-5, averaged 5.8 points and 4.9 rebounds last season, but did so while playing much of the time around the perimeter. He’ll be counted on to provide more production in the paint this year. "I’d love for those three guys to average five or six rebounds," Wellman said.

A welcome addition in the frontcourt is freshman forward Dan Totten (Red Hook, NY/Red Hook), who Wellman said will be counted on to be a factor immediately. The 6-5 Totten is an energetic post player who Wellman expects will contribute on the offensive and defensive glass while playing solid post defense.

"He’s unbelievably active all the time. He goes after everything," Wellman said of Totten. "As an interior player, he can hit the mid-range jumper and get after the offensive boards."

Of 6-3 junior forward Brett Dennis (Webster, NY/Webster-Schroeder), who averaged just under two points and one redound in limited time a season ago, Wellman said, "He plays had on defense and rebounds the ball. His effort alone will get him on the court."

While on the smaller side, 6-2 sophomore Michael Branche (Schenectady, NY/Colonie) will be counted on to play a role at the forward position. He missed some time to injury his freshman year, playing in only 16 games, but still managed to score 2.7 point and pull down 2.1 rebounds in just over 11 minutes of play each contest.

"(Branche) did all he could to rebound the ball and play defense, and he’s really developed a solid inside-outside game," Wellman said. "We expect him, and we expect all the guys, to rebound more than they did last year."

At 6-5, sophomore Jason Ruback (Pittsford, NY/Pittsford-Mendon) presents matchup problems to opponents because of his ability to hit from outside. Providing depth in the post will be a pair of freshmen forwards in 6-6 Dalton Walsh (Stockton, NY/Cassadaga Valley) and 6-3 Billy Thompson (Monroe, NY/Monroe -Woodbury). Junior Terrell Rankin (Buffalo, NY/Sweet Home), a 6-2 transfer from Genesee Community College was a junior college all-region performer. He is recovering from injury and could earn playing time at forward.

Another newcomer at the forward position, 6-2 freshman Justin Escobar (Henryville, PA/Pocono Mountain East) will find time on the court because of his outstanding defensive ability.

Junior Sean Curran (Honesdale, PA/Honesdale), while listed as a guard/forward, is more of a backcourt player and comes into the season as one of the best shooters in the Empire 8 and the Saxons’ top perimeter threat. He averaged 9.3 points per game (second-most among returnees) and made 52 three-pointers (second-most last year) on 37 percent shooting from behind the after. Wellman hopes the 6-2 Curran can score more points driving to the hoop to compliment his outside shot.

"He’s one of the best outside shooters in the conference," Wellman said. "But he’s capable of more than just shooting threes. He can be a tremendous offensive threat."

The Saxons have several solid backcourt players. In addition to Curran, Wellman will look to senior 6-2 guard Josh Parker (Buffalo, NY/Sweet Home) to be a force on the offensive and defensive end.

"Josh has the potential to be the best defender in our league," Wellman said of Parker, who had 41 steals, one off the team lead, last season, while averaging 9.4 points (tops among returnees) and 4.3 boards. Parker has a good outside shot, but is most effective in transition and slashing to the basket. "We’ll need him to score for us, and he can do that in a variety of ways," Wellman noted.

Two other returnees at guard - 5-10 junior Tim Costello (Windsor, NY/Windsor) and 5-10 sophomore Mike Hill (Whitesboro, NY/Utica-Notre Dame) - will compete with 5-10 freshman Tim Pacheco (Mt. Pocono, PA/Pocono Mountain East) for time at the point, although Hill will see most of his time at shooting guard.

"Costello can shoot and is a solid pass and defender and plays with a lot of energy. Pacheco really compliments him well. He’s a great on-the-ball defender, a good passer and more of a slasher. Both can handle the ball well," Wellman said. "(Hill) is a guy who can shoot from any place on the court. We expect him to make his open shots."

Sophomore Thomas Tsatsis (Neponsit, NY/Townsend Harris), at 6-1, is a solid defender who will compete for time at the two-guard spot, as will 6-0 sophomore Nay-Quan Bloomer (Manhattan, NY/Cardinal Hayes), a transfer from Dean College. Freshmen Ryan Mahon (Oneonta, NY/Oneonta) and Mike Snyder (Pulaski, NY/Pulaski) provide the team depth at the guard position.

AU held teams to 34.6 percent shooting a year ago, and Wellman said he looks for that number to get even lower as the team improves its rebounding and continues putting forth a solid defensive effort. On offense, he looks for his own team’s shooting to improve (the Saxons shot 32.4 percent last season) while getting easy buckets off transition and from the offensive glass.

"This year, we’ll be able to score and do it in a variety of ways," he said. "We just need to put the guys in situation where they can, and we have the players to do it."

It’s every team’s goal to reach the postseason, and for the Saxons, that hopefully would mean the program’s first-ever berth in the four-team Empire 8 championship tournament, the winner of which earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

"Our goal is to compete in the Empire 8 Conference and just reach our potential," Wellman said. "If we can do that, then hopefully there will be some extra games for us at the end of the year."