By JOHN CORYER
---- — PLATTSBURGH — It’s sometimes better to test the water before jumping in.
That won’t be the case, however, for the Plattsburgh State men’s basketball team this weekend.
The Cardinals (3-1) open their SUNY Athletic Conference regular season with arguably their most difficult road trip of the year in league play tonight at Oswego and on Saturday at Cortland.
The Lakers and Red Dragons, expected to be major forces in the conference this season, are both 3-0 against nonconference foes.
The Cardinals went a combined 0-5 against the two teams last year, losing to Cortland in the SUNYAC Tournament.
“It’s the hand we’ve been dealt,” Plattsburgh coach Tom Curle said. “No question, this is our most difficult road trip. But we have to play everyone on the road and everyone at home at some point.
“We’ve played some tough competition against Middlebury and St. Lawrence, and that should help us be prepared for league play.”
Oswego has recorded victories over D’Youville (122-72) and Morrisville (83-59) in its own tournament and most recently at Cobleskill (80-70).
Hayden Ward (19 points per game), Daniel Ross (13) and Kyle Covley (12) are averaging in double figures for the Lakers. Ward was a First-Team All-SUNYAC selection a year ago.
Cortland, meanwhile, has wins at Elmira (63-60) and at Utica (97-84) and against Ithaca (84-67) at home. Four Red Dragons are averaging in double figures — Jeremy Smith (17.7), Jesse Winter (16), Brian Manning (14.3) and Harrison Hefele (12.7). Winter was a First-Team All-SUNYAC performer last season, and Manning was selected to the Third Team.
“Both teams bring back a lot of players from last year — Cortland brings back just about its entire team,” Curle said. “They both have good size and can hit the three. Cortland does a good job setting up its threes. Both are very athletic.
“This is where you hope your depth will come into play. But conference teams want to protect their home floor. I have confidence that we are an improved team this year, and we will see how much we’ve improved this weekend.”
The Cardinals are coming off a win at St. Lawrence (84-68) on Tuesday night, and Curle likes what he has seen thus far.
“More and more, we’re seeing the competitive spirit on the team,” he said. “The players are finding roles that fit each other. We played 14 kids against St. Lawrence. That’s not because I wanted to get a look at everyone — it’s because I felt they all could help us win. That also allows us to be fresh.
“I’ve been pleased with our effort and energy. High energy promotes a positive environment. But this is a tough stretch for us the next couple of weeks. It will be telling for us.”
If the Cardinals continue to show that kind of effort, Curle and his coaching staff will be able to concentrate on the technical side.
“We still have to do a better job defending the post,” Curle said. “It’s a lot better when you can keep the opponent’s big men seven feet from the basket instead of four. We need to cause opponents to miss more layups.”
Last season, the Cardinals lost by an average of nine points in the five combined losses to Oswego and Cortland. The closest game was a five-point home setback to Oswego, 69-64, and the most one-sided contest was agaomst Cortland (75-60) in the SUNYAC Tournament.