Way back in early February on this Internet computing page, I asked a fairly straightforward question: What's Albany's ceiling in 2013? Now, as I like to make things impossible and opaque simply because I can, that question actually had two layers to it:
- Could the Thompson Trio -- Lyle, Ty, and Miles -- shoulder the majority of the Great Danes' offense while receiving the majority of the defensive focus from opponents and still thrive?
- Could Albany's defense perform at an average level and not serve as an anchor to the Great Danes' NCAA Tournament aspirations?
It's still early, but the returns appear to show that Albany is dealing with these situations fairly well, thank you very much. The Great Danes are 3-2 with a big win over Syracuse in the Carrier Dome (in double overtime), a good win against Massachusetts, a devastating one-goal loss to Drexel, and a solid win against a Canisius squad that should improve as the season progresses. I'm not saying that Albany is bound for the NCAA Tournament and that they should make arrangements now, but the Great Danes have answered a lot of the questions that surrounded the program entering the season. To wit:
- Currently ranked ninth in adjusted offensive efficiency at about 35 goals per 100 offensive opportunities, Albany is flying offensively. (It should be noted that the Great Danes have played a schedule ranked only 57th in opposing defenses faced. With that adjustment, however, the Great Danes still rank among the nation's best.) Even with Miles Thompson sidelined since the Drexel game, Albany has morphed the Thompson Trio into the Thompson Duo without missing too much in the offensive end. Despite heavy concentration of usage among the three Thompsons -- 42 percent of the team's shots have come from the crosse of a Thompson; 49 percent of the team's points are attributable to a Thompson; and around 45 percent of the team's usage indices (shots, turnovers, goals, and assists) are concentrated in the play of a Thompson (Lyle is actually responsible for about 24 percent of the team's overall instances) -- Albany is still operating in an efficient and destructive manner with the ball. What especially helps here is that despite the usage in shots, the Thompsons aren't hurting the Great Danes' offensive effort -- the three are combining for a 31.18 raw shooting percentage (eliminating Miles Thompson's 18.5 raw shooting percentage, the rate rises to 36.36 percent). These guys are crushing opponents, and their mere presence is opening opportunities for guys like Ryan Feuerstein and Will Fuller to step forward and contribute. This is impressive -- not the most impressive thing I've ever seen, but impressive nonetheless -- in that the concentration exists and performance has been high. This is one of the more interesting national developments this season.
- The defense, however, has not exactly been as fortunate in clearing its issues as Albany's offense has been. The Great Danes are only ranked 46th in adjusted defensive efficiency at this point in the year; this value, however, is helped by the fact that the Great Danes have played a schedule ranked 11th in opposing offenses faced. Like in 2012, the team is still struggling to consistently end opponent offensive possessions in an efficient manner, and given the fact that Albany's opponents are playing about three-and-a-half more offensive possessions per 60 minutes of play than the Great Danes, Albany is putting additional pressure on a defense to hang in there when it hasn't shown that it is capable of doing so. While things aren't mercilessly terrible for the Great Danes on the defensive end, it appears to be a ceiling limiter again for Albany (at this rate, the Great Danes' Pythagorean win expectation is only hovering around 55 percent, the 30th-strongest mark in the country (consistent with its adjusted efficiency margin ranking)). Some stronger play out of the cage (Blaze Riordan holds a 44.9 save percentage and the team is turning away somewhere around 29 shots per 100 defensive possessions (53rd nationally)) and stronger field defensive play out in front of Riordan that doesn't involve ball watching (the team's defensive assist rate ranks 42nd in the country at 18.59 assists per 100 defensive opportunities) would go a long way toward cementing Albany as a strong America East representative in the NCAA Tournament.
The Great Danes are doing great things this season, they just haven't put to bed all of the issues that they faced entering the year.