Friday, February 27, 2015

How do you play a game that "doesn't matter?" UAlbany men's hoops has the answer

Every game matters! Every minute, every play could make or break a season! You've got to bring your best game every time your foot touches the court.

We all know the cliches. More often than not they're all true. Games matter and plays matter and caring about both of them is sometimes the most important part of it all.

via UAlbany athletics

So, what happens when a game, technically, doesn't matter?

That's the conundrum facing the University at Albany men's basketball team on Saturday afternoon. The Great Danes take on America East rival Vermont at 2 p.m. at SEFCU Arena after gametime had been switched so that it could be seen on ESPN3. Essentially the idea was that these two teams would be battling it out for league supremacy, fighting for the regular season title and by default, the No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

It didn't really play out like that.

UAlbany clinched the No. 1 seed on Wednesday night and Vermont followed up by settling into the No. 2 seed not long afterwards. But, here's the thing, they still have to play each other.

"Right now our focus, obviously, is we want to win," said coach Will Brown. "We want to be healthy, focused and ready to defend our America East Conference Tournament championship. That’s our mindset right now."

This game offers the Danes a chance to have a bit of fun, to test out some new looks without giving away every single weapon in their collective basketball arsenal. Brown said he might throw UAlbany into a diamond and one or triangle and two defensive look but also made sure to add that he wouldn't "show too many cards in case we have to play again."

The big thing for UAlbany in this game is to give some players a bit of a chance to prove themselves. It seems fairly safe to assume that guys like Evan Singletary and Sam Rowley won't notch their usual 30-plus minutes a game but that doesn't mean that other players like Mike Rowley or even Wheeler Baker and Tre Green won't see extended time on the court.

One person Brown is certain he wants to remain on the court though is Peter Hooley who hopes to be back up to his previous season average heading into the conference tournament.

"There’s really one guy that I’m concerned about his minutes and that’s Peter," Brown said. "I’d like to play him heavier minutes, get him to 28, 30 minutes if possible. Other than that I think I’ll be very relaxed. I think our group will be relaxed."

UAlbany has no plans to do anything but play to win. It may be an unorthodox approach for a team that has already clinched home court advantage in the conference tournament but it's also a team that simply despises losing, even when it supposedly "doesn't matter."

That being said, the Danes are also well aware that nothing will change if they do lose today. It will not detract from what they've already done or what they hope to do. But then again, neither will winning.

"If Vermont comes in here and beats us and we’re fortunate enough to meet again down the road are we going to be concerned or worried that they beat us in here? Are we not going to be as confident? No. Not at all," Brown said. "If we win that game, what does it mean? We won our last regular season game, let’s go defend our conference tournament title."

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The America East men's tournament is taking shape

The University at Albany men's basketball team won its first America East regular season championship since 2005-06 on Wednesday night.

It wasn't exactly surprising. After all the Great Danes, trailed for about 50 seconds en route to a 67-49 victory at UMBC. But while the victory, and by extension the championship, was almost inevitable, UAlbany's win on Wednesday did help shape the bracket for next month's conference tournament.

Of course, UAlbany notched the No. 1 seed, meaning that the road to the NCAAs will go through SEFCU Arena. But it wasn't just the Danes who found themselves locked into postseason position. Wednesday night saw the first six teams in the bracket set with only a few collective games left on the regular season schedule.

1. UAlbany
2. Vermont
3. Stony Brook
4. New Hampshire
5. Hartford
6. Binghamton

But what about the important part - a schedule. Well, we have some of that too and we (or me, really) can kind of guesstimate how the rest of it is going to shape out. So, here we go.

QUARTERFINALS, WEDNESDAY MARCH 4th
No. 8 Maine at No. 1 UAlbany, 7 p.m.
No. 7 UMBC at No. 2 Vermont
No. 6 Binghamton at No. 3 Stony Brook
No. 5 Hartford at No. 4 New Hampshire

As of Thursday at about 6 p.m., UAlbany was the only team to officially announce a time for the quarterfinals games but it seems fairly safe to assume that most everyone will play then since it is a weeknight. Meanwhile, as far as the final two seeds, UMBC swept Maine this season so as long as the Retrievers win on Saturday they're the No. 7. A loss and a Maine win would obviously swap the teams while a loss from both UMBC and Maine this weekend would keep things as they are listed above.

Also, keep in mind that if UAlbany wins its first round game, the Danes will likely see the winner of the UNH/ Hartford game. Both games against New Hampshire were down-to-the-wire matchups for UAlbany, so that could be fairly interesting.

The official bracket for the A-East tournament should be released after games wrap on Saturday and league awards will be announced on Monday afternoon. Expect some tweets and stories and general reporting on that as well. In other words, if you're not following @LauraAmato on Twitter, you should be.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sam Rowley, America East MVP? Will Brown thinks so.

You read that headline right.

University at Albany men's basketball coach Will Brown said on Monday afternoon that he feels that senior Sam Rowley shouldn't just be in the discussion for America East MVP, he is the league MVP.


Now, upon first reading that (or hearing it in media availability) that may seem like a bit of an overstatement. After all, this is also a league with Jameel Warney in it. But if you take a second and think about Brown's comment, which you can see in full under the cut, it almost all starts to make sense.

Rowley's numbers are there and they're good. Add into the mix that he's an undersized forward on a team that, quite literally, runs its offense through him and those good numbers become even more impressive. If there's a vote for leadership on and off the court too, Rowley may have that locked up as well.

So, with two games left in the regular season and a week until the America East tournament, is it really all that strange to think of Rowley as an MVP contender? Not really.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

HOW THIS CAN PLAY OUT: The America East

Hey, did you guys know that it's almost March.

Let's repeat that. It is almost March. You know what that means? It's the most wonderful time of the basketball year. Sing that last sentence, it'll make you feel better.

In other words we are coming down the stretch of the regular season for college basketball, a journey that began all the way back in November and is set to cap off with conference tournaments early next month before the annual onslaught of metaphorical March Madness.

It'l be fun, I promise.

But before we get to the madness, there are a few things that have to happen first. Namely, we need to sort out seedings for the league tournament and how teams are going to stack up against each other when the America East Tournament gets underway in March. This year, the women's tournament is being held at Binghamton while the men's tournament is a play-at-the-higher-seed style.

There are a lot of possibilities here. There are variables and ifs-and-whens and all that jazz so, to make things a little bit easier, under the cut is a breakdown of both the men's and women's sides of the tournament with some extra consideration to where UAlbany could wind up after the final regular season buzzer goes off.

Happy incoming madness, everyone.

HOW THIS CAN PLAY OUT: The MAAC

Hey, did you guys know that it's almost March.

Let's repeat that. It is almost March. You know what that means? It's the most wonderful time of the basketball year. Sing that last sentence, it'll make you feel better.

In other words we are coming down the stretch of the regular season for college basketball, a journey that began all the way back in November and is set to cap off with conference tournaments early next month before the annual onslaught of metaphorical March Madness.

It'l be fun, I promise.

But before we get to the madness, there are a few things that have to happen first. Namely, we need to sort out seedings for the league tournament and how teams are going to stack up against each other when the MAAC Tournament comes to the Times Union Center in March.

There are a lot of possibilities here. There are variables and ifs-and-whens and all that jazz so, to make things a little bit easier, under the cut is a breakdown of both the men's and women's sides of the tournament with some extra consideration to where Siena could wind up after the final regular season buzzer goes off.

Happy incoming madness, everyone.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Let's talk about the Siena women's basketball team for a second

Got a minute? Let's talk about the Siena women's basketball team because we need to be talking about the Siena women's basketball team.

The Saints have transformed themselves this season and they've done without much fanfare.

Well, line up the trumpets because the fanfare is coming right now.

Siena grabbed perhaps its most important victory of the season on Saturday afternoon, taking down Fairfield 54-47 on the road. The win over the third place team in the MAAC moves Siena into sole possession of fifth place in the league standings with just two regular season games left. The top five teams receive a first-round by in the upcoming MAAC tournament next month.

The victory over the Stags comes just days after Siena secured its first winning season in 11 years after defeating Manhattan on the road on Thursday night. That victory, the 15th at the time, also marked the most victorious season for the Saints since the 2003-04 season.

Do you see a trend forming here?

This Siena team has done something special this season and it's more than just victories and record-setting - senior Tehresa Coles broke the all-time program steals record on Thursday as well - this team has now won 11 road games and 16 total games with just seven active players on the roster.

Think about that for a second. Seven players. On a basketball roster. They can't even play a full-team scrimmage in practice and yet despite the injuries and unexpected hurdles the Saints have become the almost-Cinderella story of the MAAC this year.

As of Saturday afternoon, Siena had three players averaging in double digits, led by freshman phenom Margot Hetzke who notched yet another double-double performance against Fairfield. The lowest point average of the Saints' seven players is 4.9.

Now, there have been problems. Turnovers have been a consistent issue with an average of 18.7 a game. The Saints, by virtue of their roster size, simply cannot press on every single possession and they are, more often than not, forced back into a zone to try and maintain energy for the entire 40 minutes.

But in a season where they were picked to finish 10th in the league, it would be almost unfair to let those negatives overshadow everything that Siena has accomplished.

The Saints have two more games left on the schedule - against Canisius and Saint Peter's - both of them home at the ARC, a place that Siena has sometimes struggled to find success. But at this point, after proving so much and overcoming so much, how can anyone start to doubt this team?

Friday, February 20, 2015

THE FIRST HALF: Hartford at UAlbany

Strictly speaking, it helps, in a basketball game to put the ball through the hoop.

Usually that results in points and points are usually good for teams that want to win basketball games. The University at Albany men's basketball team had a rather difficult time putting the ball in the hoop in the first 20 minutes of Friday night's game against Hartford.

The two teams went into the break knotted up at 25 all.

In the first half, the Great Danes shot just 9-for-25 from the field and connected on just two shots from three-point range. On the flip side, Hartford went 10-for-19 from the field and five those made field goals came from distance.

That kind of accuracy from (seemingly) anywhere on the court helped the Hawks build a seven point lead with just over seven minutes left. But, somehow, the Danes found an answer and it came by finding the holes in Hartford's zone.

The Hawks had been using a 2-3 matchup zone to basically shut UAlbany out of the paint but once Sam and Mike Rowly were able to get a little more physical on the block and find a bit of a push-off on the dribble drive, the Great Danes found a bit of offensive life.

Peter Hooley, who played 14 minutes despite still coming off the bench, gave the Great Danes their first lead of the night on a coast-to-coast drive with 3:05 left int he period.

Although UAlbany wasn't able to convert on the final possession of the half - Sam Rowley's attempted tip-in rimmed out - the tie at the break was about as good as the Danes could hope for considering their early shooting struggles.

Hooley leads the Danes with five poitns while seven UAlbany players have posted on the box score. Mark Nwakamma and Corban Wroe both have seven for Hartford.