BANGOR, Maine — The 2009-10 edition of the Husson College men’s basketball program is a bit of a dichotomy.
Sure, the Eagles are a lot younger with 14 new faces and just four of their top nine players — and six overall — returning from last season, but three are starters and the top three scorers and some of that new talent figures to give Husson something it’s lacked the last two seasons.
“On paper, we addressed deficiencies we had a year ago,” said head coach Warren Caruso. “Our freshman class is as good as any as I’ve had since I’ve been head coach, I think. We’re deeper, bigger and more athletic than we were a year ago. The question is are we a better team?
“We had great chemistry on the team and we need to get to that level as quickly as possible this year. That’s the key.”
The Eagles, who went 16-11 last season, will have their first chance to find out if they’re better tonight as they open the season on the road with a 7 p.m. game against Gordon College in Wenham, Mass.
“At times it feels like we’re pretty young with 20 guys and so many new faces, but we do have some big scorers back from last year, and we’re more of a complete team because we’re multidimensional,” said starting forward and tri-captain Matt MacKenzie, who led Husson with 18.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last sea-son.
MacKenzie should know. The 6-foot-4 senior from Warren was basically Husson’s only legitimate inside presence and scorer last season.
“We have a lot more size than we did. Last year, it was primarily me in a four-out, one-in offense. This year we can go three-out, two-in,” MacKenzie explained. “It’ll make it so much easier because teams can’t just stick double teams on me all night. They’ll have to pick their poison.”
Husson’s other proven “poisons” include senior guard Brock Bradford (13.8 ppg, 5.0 assist and 4.0 rpg) and junior forward Jay Uhrin (9.8 ppg).
“Our ability to get out and run in transition and our ability to pound the ball inside should open things up for everyone,” said Bradford, who hit 39.2 percent of his 3-point attempts. “Rather than have to help down to box out some on the inside, we just box out our own man and as soon as we get the ball, get out and go. It should be fun.”
Sophomore transfer Josh Jones of Jefferson joins the squad and instantly goes into the starting five. The 6-4, 205-pound forward is an immediate upgrade inside.
Captain Matt Cummings of Howland and fellow senior guard C.J. Hodges will vie for the other starting spot while guards Phil Leighton of Naples and Dylan Palmer of Newport, center Marc Zaharchuk of Richmond, and forward Brooks Spaulding of Fairfield — all freshman — should see plenty of time off the bench.
All four freshmen offer size upgrades as well. Both guards are 6-1, Spaulding is 6-5, and Zaharchuk is 6-11.
“We’re comfortable going eight deep right now, but 9-12 may not be far behind,” Caruso said. “We’re having a lot of fun because of the new faces and the potential possibilities we have with them.”
The defending North Atlantic Conference champions are looking to mesh the new guys quickly and develop some kind of tempo or momentum early as the Eagles face a tough non-conference, first semester schedule featuring seven teams with 16 or more wins last year, seven defending conference champs, and three teams that played in the NCAA Tournament last year.
“I believe we match up much more favorably against teams in our non-conference schedule,” Caruso said. “That’s good because we’ve struggled against those guys the last two years. The big thing is winning the conference, but we have to perform against non-conference teams if we’re going to put ourselves in position to win national tournament games, and that’s our ultimate goal.”