ALBANY — In Stony Brook, UAlbany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown sees a much-improved squad, something the veteran leader of the Great Danes described as “crazy to say” since the Seawolves finished 24-9 last season.
In UAlbany, Stony Brook head coach Geno Ford sees a team that is “obviously” one of the America East Conference’s top contenders.
“This Albany team is really playing well,” Ford said Friday in a phone interview. “[Ahmad] Clark is playing like an all-conference point guard, and [Cameron] Healy is the best 2 guard in the conference, in my opinion, by a significant margin. There’s some firepower over there.”
The Great Danes visit the Seawolves Saturday night at 7.
Strong mutual respect between the two programs is nothing new, and continues with Ford as a first-year head coach of the Seawolves. While the casts of characters change each year, the rivalry between the two programs remains one of the best the America East has to offer.
“And I’m not big on rivalries and all that,” Brown said. “But when I hear people talk about rivalries — for me, a rivalry is with a team that you’ve played meaningful games against. For us, in this league, since I’ve been in the league, we’ve played very meaningful games with strong implications against two teams — Stony Brook and Vermont.”
While UAlbany (3-0, 10-8) did its part to set up its matchup on Long Island as a battle of undefeated teams, Stony Brook (3-1, 12-7) slipped up Wednesday at Hartford in a 68-65 setback. That game, Ford said, demonstrated the hot-and-cold nature of his team, which won on the road at conference favorite Vermont earlier this month.
“We’re combustible,” Ford said. “We can get into a rhythm and bomb shots, which we did at Vermont and we were able to get out of there with a big win. But, if you don’t make them, you can certainly lose to anybody.”
Stony Brook has attempted 44.7% of its field goals from 3-point territory, and the Seawolves have made 35.6% of their attempts from downtown. Making long-range shots is crucial for Stony Brook, while Ford said UAlbany has become a much more difficult team to prepare to play since the Great Danes started getting healthy in recent weeks.
“For one, Will’s proven over a long period of time to be an excellent coach. You give him talent and they’re hard to beat,” Ford said. “Having their full roster, they’re more versatile. They can play two big guys together, or they can throw [senior Romani Hansen] in at the 4 and then they have a stretch 4. They can play small because [6-foot-6 sophomore Malachi] de Sousa is kind of a guard. They just have various ways to play you now, which they didn’t have earlier in the year.”
Ford added: “I just really like their team.”
UAlbany split with Stony Brook last season during a rebuilding season for the Great Danes. While his group is better than it was last season, Brown said the Seawolves are better on both ends of the floor. UAlbany’s coach said he views Stony Brook junior Elijah Olaniyi — who is averaging 19.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game — as the America East’s most improved player, and that no player has made more of a difference for Stony Brook this season than redshirt junior Makale Foreman who has upgraded one of the team’s guard spots in averaging 15.8 points per game after sitting out last season as a transfer.
While conference play is barely underway, UAlbany has a chance to leave this weekend with itself in particularly strong position. In a 16-game league schedule evenly split between home and away games, UAlbany has a chance to secure its third road win before it plays its second game at SEFCU Arena.
“We haven’t really discussed any of that with our guys. We haven’t discussed standings at all,” Brown said. “We have so many areas where we have to get better, so we’ve been consumed by us — but if we can find a way to win this game on the road, obviously, you come back home 4-0 and you’ve got a couple home games right ahead of you.”