By MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Both undefeated Shenendehowa varsity basketball squads have a set of games this weekend against out-of-section opponents.
The Shenendehowa boys will head to Onondaga Community College in Syracuse for games against clubs from Auburn and Baldwinsville; meanwhile, the Plainsmen girls will take on Bishop Kearney and St. Laurent in the Amsterdam Holiday College Showcase.
Both boys head coach Tony Dzikas and girls head coach Joe Murphy said they were excited to get their clubs playing against unfamiliar opponents as the calendar moves closer to 2015.
“This gives us a different look than we see all the time, and lets us try different things,” Murphy said Friday.
For Murphy’s squad, this weekend’s games at Amsterdam High School should give the club its best test or two of the young season. The 7-0 squad’s closest contest this campaign was an 11-point win against Bethlehem, but Bishop Kearney — a top-five ranked Class A team in the state — and St. Laurent, a strong Montreal program, should help the Plainsmen grow this weekend as a team.
In particular, Murphy was interested to see his squad match up with Bishop Kearney. Calling the opponent a “mirror image” of his Plainsmen, Murphy said Saturday’s 4:15 p.m. tip will give his team a chance to taste some of its own medicine.
“They’re very similar to us,” he said. “Most of their offensive stuff comes off their defense and they like to press … and they like to get out and run.”
While Murphy’s squad has forced opposing teams into mountains of turnovers this season with its zone pressure, the coach said his club needs to use this weekend to work on cutting down its number of miscues.
“We’ve got to keep working and getting better at limiting our turnovers,” he said. “With the (uptempo) way we play, we’re going to have our share of those, but we need to do a better job of taking care of the basketball.”
Another point of emphasis for the weekend’s action will be making sure the Shenendehowa girls take care of their glass. Sophomore forward Sydney Brown, who is coming off a 15-rebound effort in the Plainsmen’s win Tuesday against Troy, said the squad is expecting to have to battle down low.
“We’re going to have to box out and rebound because we’re playing against some taller girls,” Brown said.
For the Shenendehowa boys, Saturday’s contest is a bit different. The Plainsmen, Dzikas said, will have a size advantage against Baldwinsville, but will need to make sure it handles the defensive pressure of the smaller, scrappy club.
“But I like our motion offense a lot and I love when we can run it, so I’m hoping they do come out and play a lot of man against us,” Dzikas said.
The Shenendehowa boys know little about Auburn for Sunday’s game, but will get a chance to watch that squad play Saturday after its own game. Regardless of what Auburn brings to the court, the Plainsmen are mostly focused this weekend on continuing to fine-tune their own game after a 6-0 start to the season.
“We need to continue to get better defensively,” said junior guard Kevin Huerter. “We’ve been pretty good at holding teams below 40 points or in the 40s, so far.”
In six games this season, the Shenendehowa boys have allowed an average of 40.7 points per game, and the Plainsmen have only allowed more than 47 points once this season. Meanwhile, the squad has not struggled on offense; besides the club’s four-point win against Colonie in mid-December, the Plainsmen have won each of their games by at least 20 points.
The number of lopsided games the Plainsmen have been involved in this season has left the club hoping for some back-and-forth contests this weekend.
“We’re trying to get better every game,” said Huerter. “A close game now means a close game later in the season … won’t bother us much and we’ll be ready for it.
“Any game that is close gets us more mature and better for the postseason,” he added.
While the club wants to come out of this weekend with two more wins and an 8-0 record, Dzikas said he would take a loss if it meant his team got better from its trip to OCC.
“A non-league loss isn’t a bad thing,” he said. “We’re hoping for some competitive basketball out there.”
The boys’ games this weekend are both scheduled for 3 p.m.; the girls’ Sunday contest is slated for 12:45 p.m.