The men’s basketball season is less than two weeks old and the Yellowjackets have re-established themselves as a dominant force and contender for the national championship, posting an unbeaten record and capturing two early tournament titles.
With a 76-36 win over SUNY Elmira on Tuesday night, UR improves to 6-0 and maintains its place as the number seven ranked team in the country on http://www.d3hoops.com.
In fact, the competition has never come within 15 points of toppling the Yellowjackets, including the championship game of the UR/Holiday Inn Airport Invitational in which UR handed Susquehanna University its first loss of the season in the 75-58 title match-up.
“We’re not surprised that we are 6-0,” Head Coach Mike Neer said. “This momentum is a carryover from the last few seasons. We have a good number of players who have been practicing and playing for us the past few years. They know what it takes to be successful and expectations are very, very, high.”
Leading the Yellowjackets has been forward Seth Hauben who is averaging 15.8 points a game and scoring a season high 26 points versus Susquehanna, earning him the tournament’s most valuable player award.
Senior forward Andy Larkin has proven himself as a go-to guy with a .583 shooting percentage and junior shooting guard Brendan McCallister rounds out the top three scorers with 50 points. Junior guard Gabe Perez leads the team in assists and steals.
In a team with as much depth and experience as the Yellowjackets, Neer is able to concentrate on the finer aspects of the game.
“We’ve asked each player to play the game one possession at a time,” Neer said.
“Regardless of the score, let’s lock in on what needs to be done on this play, especially defensively,” he said. “There is a tendency once you have the game firmly in control to lose concentration. We have learned to continue concentrating even though we have the game in hand.”
Even with a team as high-caliber as the Yellowjackets, UR’s performance has continued to impress. Endicott College of Massachusetts, who upset New England powerhouse Keene State in New Hampshire, was mauled 70-43 two days previous in the Palestra.
The odds were in favor of UR beating Wesleyan College, but no one could have expected the Yellowjackets of manhandling the number four ranked team in the New England Small College Athletic Conference – a conference more prominent than its name might suggest – by a score of 79-46 in the UR/Holiday Inn Airport semifinal.
Also important were the Yellowjackets’ wins over Nazareth and Susquehanna.
“Nazareth has some key talent and we outplayed them at their place,” Neer said.
“I expect a different game and a stronger performance from Nazareth if we face them in the JP Morgan Chase Tournament.”
Continuing, he said, “Susquehanna is a pretty good team – they started four seniors and won 18 games last year. They were very competitive and I was surprised that we were up 19 points at the half. They competed at every possession and made us earn our baskets.”
The Yellowjackets are at full steam ahead at the moment but will face challenges as they enter the more competitive part of the schedule, starting with this coming Saturday’s game against Carnegie Mellon University.
“Carnegie Mellon will be our opening conference game. In conference play the talent level is closer to our own.
“Also, we play Carnegie Mellon twice a year so they know us very well. We won’t be able to get any cheap baskets from them,” Neer said.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing UR right now is the impending Winter Break.
After playing Hobart College on Dec. 10, the Yellowjackets will not practice for 20 days.
For all that is going well for the team right now, it will be imperative that the players practice and maintain their conditioning so as to be ready to face the greater challenges of second semester play.
Schloss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.