Men's basketball at their banner raising ceremony. Photo by Ian Feldmann.
This story is accurate as of 11/5. UMBC men’s basketball plays Marquette on 11/6, which is during the printing of this issue. Game recap for 11/6 will be on retriever.umbc.edu.
It is November, and that means college basketball is back. The UMBC men’s basketball team is set to embark on the 2018-2019 season after a historic year in 2017-2018. During that season, the Retrievers posted a 21-10 record and placed second in the America East regular season standings after the preseason coaches poll had originally picked them to finish fifth. In the America East playoffs, the Retrievers defeated UMass Lowell and Hartford to earn the right to play in the America East championship in Vermont, where Jairus Lyles made a three-point shot with 0.5 seconds left on the clock to defeat the Catamounts 65-62, and win the America East championship. Winning the America East championship gave the Retrievers an automatic birth into the NCAA tournament, where they became the first ever 16 seed to beat a 1 seed in the tournament’s history, beating the Cavaliers in a dominating fashion, 74-54. In the next round, the Retrievers would fall to Kansas State, putting an end to their historic run.
The 2018-2019 season is full of new challenges, and UMBC Coach Ryan Odom is adamant that it is time for UMBC to move past its historic win and start “building towards new memories.”
The Retrievers enter the new season with all but four of their players returning. Leading scorer Jairus Lyles, America East defensive player of the year KJ Maura, and the all-time leader for games played at UMBC Jourdan Grant graduated at the end of last season. The three seniors played almost all of the minutes at the guard position last year. Reserve guard Ishmail Jabbie also left the team so that he could focus on his last year of studies. To fill the holes left by the departure of these guards, UMBC has brought in both veteran and freshman guards.
Junior-guard Ricky Council II spent last year as a redshirt transfer, after not getting much playing time at Providence in two years there. Despite the lack of playing time at Providence, Council is a skilled player who can handle the basketball. He has good passing vision and is a solid perimeter shooter.
Junior-guard KJ Jackson transfers to UMBC this season after posting an impressive season at Temple College in Texas. Jackson posted 25.8 points per game last season, demonstrating his prolific scoring ability. Jackson is also extremely skilled defensively, registering more than two steals per game in his time with Temple.
Freshman-guard Jack Schwietz, brother of junior-forward Sam Shwietz, was an all-around player in high school. He was listed as a two-star recruit, and with his shooting and defensive abilities, he could blossom into a star at UMBC.
Freshman-guard Jose Placer was a captain for team Puerto Rico in the 2018 FIBA U18 world championships. Placer was a two-star recruit and brings a dynamic offensive ability to the Retrievers. Placer can score from anywhere on the court. He also has good vision, which contributes to his passing ability. Placer seems to be a special player and could make a bid for the America East all-rookie team.
Freshman-guard RJ Eytle-Rock also has experience on the national stage, playing in multiple events on behalf of Great Britain. Eytle-Rock is a skilled ball handler which allows him to score inside. Eytle-Rock was ranked no. 1 in the Luol Deng top 50 camp in 2016.
With the graduation of last year’s group of experienced guards, the Retrievers will have some work to do building a new offense. The three guards played for Odom for two years, which gave them familiarity with the system that this year’s group of guards will not be able to replicate with only a few months together as a unit. But by the time conference play rolls around, expect Jackson, Council and Placer to have ironed out all of the wrinkles. Expect these three to play a major role in running the offense, with Schweitz, Eytle-Rock and sophomore-guard Josh Rosario playing complementary roles at the position.
At the forward positions, UMBC returns all players from last season. Graduate-forward Joe Sherburne and junior-forward Arkel Lamar were the starters at forward for the majority of last season. The pair has played together for the last three seasons and have chemistry. Sherburne and Lamar both possess excellent perimeter shooting ability, and both players will be occupying major leadership roles both on and off the court. The pair are projected to get similar playing time to last season. Sophomore-forward Brandon Horvath will likely provide depth off of the bench, with excellent perimeter shooting ability.
The Retrievers will likely start the season without their starting center from last year. Sophomore-center Daniel Akin, who had a breakout campaign last season, made the America East all-rookie team and the all-tournament team after the America East championship. Akin suffered a knee injury while playing in an international game for Great Britain during the summer. There is no timetable for Akin’s return but Odom said, “it’s most likely going to be the end of November, but that’s just a guess.” He also noted “[Akin] is a physical specimen, he might walk in tomorrow and tell me he’s ready.”
To replace Akin for the time being, Odom has tabbed junior-forward Max Curran as his starter at the center position. Curran has played most of his time at the forward position, but he has embraced a position change for this season. Curran is 6’9, the same height as Daniel Akin. But, he is much quicker than the average center, and he possesses perimeter shooting ability that most centers cannot replicate. The Retrievers may lose inside defensive presence with Curran on the floor, but they will gain scoring ability that will likely nullify that change. With Curran on the floor at the center position, the Retrievers will have five players on the court who can shoot from outside, which could potentially be reminiscent of the Golden State Warriors “death lineup.”
Other players rotating time at the center position will include Senior-center Nolan Gerrity and junior-center Sam Schweitz in the absence of Akin. Both players play more of a traditional center role, and they have a commanding presence inside the paint. Gerrity is a scoring center, while Shweitz is a very good rebounder. Senior-center Max Portmann will also likely see time at the center position and will be looking to showcase his abilities after an injury-plagued campaign a year ago.
The Retrievers face a tough non-conference schedule, playing power-5 teams such as Marquette and Penn State. But, UMBC has shown that they can play with the best teams in the country. They played tough against no. 3 Arizona last season, almost pulling off an upset before Arizona went on a late run to defeat the Retrievers. UMBC also held a narrow lead against in-state rival Maryland at halftime of their contest in College Park last season. They will have tough challenges ahead of them, but the official prediction by the Retriever sports staff has UMBC finishing non-conference play with a 10-5 record.