A slow start to a season isn’t totally unfamiliar to Husson University men’s basketball coach Warren Caruso.
Husson has averaged 20 wins per season for the last 40 years, made 12 national tournament appearances the last 20 years, and won nine regular season conference titles over the last 14 years, so while it may not be unheard of, a 1-6 start is definitely cause for concern.
The Eagles are in a tailspin after starting out 0-3, but Caruso isn’t about to panic.
“We’ve tweaked our approach, but we’re not going to overhaul it. It’s more mental adjustments,” Caruso said. “We’ve all got to do a better job, starting with the coaching staff.
“We feel like we’ve let our student-athletes down a little bit, but we’re back to work and we’re confident about changing things for the better.”
To that end, Caruso has been searching for the best combinations, rotations, and substitutions to maximize his team’s offensive production and defensive ability.
“I think the thing this year that may be a little different from other slow starts we’ve had is we’re still searching for an identity,” he said. “We usually know who we are and the way we’re playing by now.
“We’re still trying to find the combination that works for us in terms of people who play, who they play with, when they play, and how long. We haven’t found combinations we’re real excited about yet, but we have a lot of options.”
Coming out of preseason, the Eagles looked like an undersized team with plenty of shooters and ballhandlers, so Caruso was banking on an uptempo, transition-type of game fed by steals and turnovers and defensive rebounds, but the Eagles have run into some solid half-court teams that have been able to dictate tempo and either beat Husson on the boards or make easy shots off superior ball movement.
“I don’t think we’re that far off from being 3-4, but we’re still 1-6,” said Caruso. “We’ve had too many lapses, but the bottom line is when you play good teams, they expose your weaknesses.
“Now what we have to do is move forward and play to our strengths [shooting, ballhandling, experience, quickness] while limiting our weaknesses [size, defensive cohesion, rebounding].”
To that end, Caruso has already made some personnel changes, putting 6-foot-1 junior guard Matt Cummings of Howland in the starting lineup to attack the boards and be a defensive presence.
“I think we’ll narrow in on a rotation. We need more of a rebounding presence and that hopefully frees others to do some things,” Caruso said. “Our play off the bench has to get better as well. I think our bench becomes shorter for us to get better.”
Junior Matt MacKenzie has basically been Husson’s only consistent inside presence. The 6-5, 220-pound forward is leading the team in points (13.9 per game) and is second in rebounds (5.0).
Senior guard Blaine Meehan of Winterport is averaging 9.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, and senior forward Scott Kissinger is averaging 8.6 points and 5.4 rebounds. Junior guard Brock Bradford of Kenduskeag is scoring 12.5 ppg.
“We’re limited in our options on the interior because we’re not very big, but we are relatively the same size we were a year ago,” Caruso said. “It comes down to timing and execution. We have to be more selective offensively and playing inside out.”
Husson is shooting 42.6 percent overall, but just 26.3 percent from 3-point range
“I don’t think we’re relying on the 3, but we’re maybe not as selective as we should be on when and where we take them,” Caruso said. “We have to work to get easier shots.”
Caruso saw positive signs in Husson’s last game, a 58-47 loss to Bates on Dec. 19, and two practices since then. He’ll get a chance this weekend to see how much his team has improved over the Christmas break as the Eagles play in the Catholic University Tournament in Massachusetts.
“We’re really pleased with the way our guys have hung in there. That’s the mark of a veteran team,” Caruso said. “Now we have to find a way to be at least 2-2 over our next four games.”