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November 9, 2012
There are underdogs and then there are underdogs. The latter is what Bryant University will be tonight at Assembly Hall. The Northeast Conference program located in Smithfield, Rhode Island is a huge 33.5 point underdog per the latest lines from Vegas.
2011-12 was an ugly season for the Bulldogs. Bryant went just 2-28, losing its last 15 games in a row. The team managed one conference win over St. Francis (PA) and an early neutral site victory over UC Davis. Otherwise it wasn't very pretty for head coach Tim O'Shea, a former head coach at Ohio University who cut his teeth in the area for many years as an assistant at Rhode Island and Boston College.
While one might say there's nowhere to go but up for Bryant, there's definite reason to expect a much improved season in 2012-13. The team's three top scorers are back led by junior forward Alex Francis. The 6-foot-6, 205-pounder is an All-Conference candidate after averaging 17.1 points and 7.4 rebounds a year ago. 6-foot-3 Frankie Dobbs was the team's most productive guard (13.3 points, 4.6 assists) but shot only 34.9 percent from the floor last season. 6-foot-3 Corey Maynard is also one to watch in the backcourt (11.4 points, 3.5 assists). Maynard missed 11 games last year with an injury. He's one of four Australians on the roster.
Dobbs and Maynard won't be shy about throwing up the three-pointer. The two combined to average over 13 shots a game last year from behind the arc.
The problem for O'Shea is a lack of size to help Francis out around the basket. The forward is undersized against bigger conference teams and the roster presents only one player taller with significant playing experience, 6-foot-8, 210-pound Claybrin McMath. Last year as a sophomore he started 18 games and averaged 4.8 points and 2.9 rebounds over 19 minutes a game. Another option might be improved senior Vlad Kondratyev, a 6-foot-8 native of Ukraine.
The newcomers are highlighted by two redshirt sophomore transfers, Dyami Starks and Joe O'Shea. The 6-foot-2 Starks comes over from Columbia where he averaged 4.4 points in 12.1 minutes as a freshman. He was a Minnesota Mr. Basketball finalist out of Duluth East High School. Starks had a game high 20 points for Bryant in the team's exhibition win last week over Salve Reginia University. He got the start at guard while Maynard came off the bench.
Joe O'Shea is the nephew of the head coach and sat out last season after transferring from Holy Cross. The 6-foot-7 forward saw little time as a freshman for the Crusaders but earned a start in that exhibition game victory, scoring four points in pulling down five boards in 21 minutes.
Bryant's struggles are common for a university transitioning in Division I. In fact the 2012-13 season is the first time the school is eligible for a post-season berth.
"Being eligible for the postseason - it changes everything," said O'Shea earlier this week. "I don't know if the average fan realizes just how big of a deal not having any possibility of postseason play is in college basketball. Everyone who goes on to play basketball at the college level dreams of playing in the NCAA tournament. That hasn't been a possibility for four years, and now it is. To finally have that restriction lifted is a huge change, and we are all excited about having something to play for."
While the Northeast Conference team only averaged 61.3 points per game last season, Indiana is not expecting a slow tempo.
"They are a very good transition offense team," says associate head coach Tim Buckley. "They really look to push the pace off made baskets or missed baskets. They will run some sets but they will flow into a motion."
In the Northeast's preseason coaches poll, Bryant was picked to finish 10th in the 12 team league.
This won't be O'Shea's and Bryant's first trip to Assembly Hall to take on a Tom Crean coached team. Back on December 28, 2009, Indiana beat the Bulldogs, 90-42.
"Everybody is excited about the opportunity to play our first official Division I game against the No. 1 team in the country," O'Shea said. "It really is a unique opportunity, and everyone is looking forward to it. I know I am, and I know the players are."
For more on the Bryant, check out the Hoosier Game Day page.
Expected starters and key reserves with last year's stats: