Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 17 Albany (Men)
Lyle Thompson is gone, but Albany is not going anywhere.
Even without the most prolific scorer in NCAA history, the Great Danes are favored to win the America East and return to the NCAA tournament, where they've bowed out in consecutive quarterfinals against Notre Dame.
Albany at a Glance
2015 Record: 16-3
3 Big Things
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Albany has dominated its opposition the last three years, which unsurprisingly overlaps with the emergence of the Thompson trio. The climbing margins also allowed younger Great Danes to gain valuable experience and build necessary depth.
1. Life without Lyle begins.
Scott Marr developed a sense of humor in the offseason when asked repeatedly about losing two-time Tewaaraton winner Lyle Thompson."Oh, you didn't hear? Lyle's got another year of eligibility," Marr joked.
Thompson — and his NCAA-record 400 career points — doesn't have another year at Albany, of course, meaning the Great Danes will have to move on without the most prolific scorer of all-time. Connor Fields (66 goals as a freshman) will be able to absorb some of Thompson's lost production, but Albany will also lean on Seth Oakes, who is expected to rejoin the team in the spring after missing fall ball.
"Every team every year loses great players," Marr said. "We just happened to lose one of the best in the game."
2. Riorden is more than a highlight film.
Blaze Riorden has started every game in goal since he arrived on Albany's campus, logging 55 starts and nearly 3,092 minutes in net. Each season, his goals against average has decreased (11.93 to 11.25 to 9.93) as his save percentage increased (49.1 to 54.9 to 56.0). But he burst onto the scene last year with a coast-to-coast goal in the NCAA tournament against Cornell.
Riorden represented Team USA at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships as a forward, but will return to the cage for Albany. He was the only collegiate player to make the U.S. squad and Marr said he hopes his goalie can carry that confidence into the spring.
3. That's Thomson, no "P."
Albany boasted the nation's highest scoring offense in each of the last three seasons, but will welcome a new offensive coordinator this year: former Great Dane standout attackman Merrick Thomson. Thomson takes the reins from Eric Wolf, who took the same position at Harvard. Thomson spent the last six years coaching at The Hill Academy in Ontario.
"Philosophy-wise, I don't think it's that much different," Marr said.
Albany will continue to play an up-tempo, fast-paced style based on box lacrosse tendencies and two-man games. Thomson just has different personnel to do it with.
Blaze Riorden (Sr.) *
* returning starters
Riorden became nationally known after his NCAA tournament goal, but his play in net was very solid (56-percent save percentage) in anchoring Albany's much-improved defense.
Taylor, a US Lacrosse All-American from Watertown, N.Y., had 99 points in his senior season and figures to be a player in Albany’s deep midfield rotation.
It’s tough to get noticed while playing aside some of the best college lacrosse players ever, so Maloney’s 83 career points went overlooked. But now he can step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
Biggest Question Mark
Reh had a solid freshman season in limited time (19 points in just eight games), but now will be counted on to help lead a potent attack alongside Connor Fields and Seth Oakes.
Connor Fields gets to be the go-to guy on Albany's attack after scoring 66 goals as a freshman (Rich Barnes)
What rival coaches say about the Great Danes
"It will be impossible to replace Lyle, but they still have plenty of playmakers on the offensive side and Riorden has the ability to steal games. Very scary team."
"Huge hole to fill. Don't let anyone tell you that they are better off without Lyle or they'll move the ball better. Can young attack carry the ball?"
"The greatest player ever just left, but the hangover will not be an all-year one where you swear off lacrosse forever. The athleticism this team possesses surprised me during the playoff games. Scotty Marr is going to need to coach now. He can come up with good schemes, as proven prior to the Thompson era, but he has not had to do much but work the officials the past four Thompson filled years. I like this team, but feeling they are a bit overrated."
"This may be a pretty obvious statement, but will be interested to see how this team plays without No. 4 in the lineup. Does Fields step up and assume the leadership role on the attack? This team will need Blaze to play well for them, as their defense usually gives up a lot of shots."
"They're tops in the conference. They still have Connor Fields and the goalie. They play with a lot of confidence and up-tempo. One of the things that wasn't talked about a ton was their depth last year. While Lyle was amazing, they were deeper than us and had more guys and ran us into the ground. They do a great job there recruiting a lot of kids that can get up and down."
Consecutive wins by Albany over America East competition, including three straight conference tournament championships. The Great Danes have owned the America East, but should be challenged by Stony Brook in 2016.
26 at Hartford
March 19 vs. Stony Brook
Albany might have tougher games on the schedule (at Syracuse, at Maryland), but none will mean more than a mid-March tilt against the Seawolves. The winner of this game will notch a key conference victory and have the inside track on home-field advantage for the conference tournament.
Matt Garziano and Tim Cox may be out of eligibility, but that doesn’t mean they’re done with the Albany program. Both former Great Dane midfielders have returned as coaches — Garziano as a student assistant coach and Cox as a volunteer assistant coach.
Without Lyle Thompson and with Stony Brook surging, Albany will have competition in the America East this season. But there's enough in the cupboard to build an identity and return to the NCAA tournament.
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