ALBANY – As it turns out, Capital Region fans had a number of chances this season to watch locally three of the Final Four teams in this year’s Division I men’s basketball tournament.
Earlier this month, UConn and Miami were in Albany at MVP Arena for their opening games of the tournament. Meanwhile, Florida Atlantic, the Final Four’s Cinderella option, played UAlbany at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.
San Diego State? Now, the Aztecs did play Troy — but that’s the Division I school based out of Alabama in the Sun Belt Conference.
Those four teams will play Saturday in Houston, with Florida Atlantic meeting San Diego State in the first matchup at NRG Stadium before UConn takes on Miami.
Back in November, Florida Atlantic topped UAlbany 73-56 in its visit to the Capital Region. That victory was the fourth in what became a 20-game winning streak for the Owls, a No. 9 seed who enters this weekend’s action at 35-3.
In that November game, the Great Danes fell behind by 17 points, rallied to tie the score with less than eight minutes to go, then lost by the same margin of the lead they’d earlier erased. After that contest, UAlbany head coach Dwayne Killings noted the improvements his club needed to make, but also pivoted during one of his answers to send some more credit Florida Atlantic’s way.
“This is a really good basketball team, Florida Atlantic. They just beat Florida on the road,” said Killings, referencing the Owls’ two-point win in mid-November against the Gators. “They’re big. They’re physical. They shoot the ball really well.”
Killings said the Owls were “in position, potentially to win their league.” Florida Atlantic did win the Conference USA regular-season and postseason titles, and is now two wins away from a national championship.
UConn and Miami were in the area much more recently than the Owls. The Huskies and Hurricanes each won two games at MVP Arena, headed separate ways for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds, and now meet back up in the Final Four in Houston.
Both teams had similar showings in Albany to their other tournament games.
UConn was down two points to Iona at halftime and up one against St. Mary’s at halftime, then blitzed its way to blowout wins at MVP Arena. The rout started early for UConn and Amsterdam native Andre Jackson Jr. in the Sweet 16 against Arkansas, but then the Huskies played a competitive half with Gonzaga in the Elite Eight before they stormed to a 28-point win. In its four tournament games, UConn has won by an average margin of 22.5 points per game.
Meanwhile, Miami needed memorable comebacks to win its first and fourth tournament games, while the Hurricanes scored double-digit wins in between those games. In the first round, Miami needed a game-closing 16-1 run to secure a seven-point win against Drake. Then, with a spot in the Final Four on the line, Miami trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half before rallying to an 88-81 win vs. Texas.
Saturday’s men’s Final Four will be the first not to feature a top-three seed, as UConn is the highest seed as a No. 4, while Miami and San Diego State are both fifth seeds. Along with No. 9 Florida Atlantic, Miami and San Diego State are each making first-ever appearances in the Final Four, which makes this year’s semifinals the first since 1970 with three first-time programs.
Contact Michael Kelly at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMichaelKelly.
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Categories: College Sports, Sports, Sports, UAlbany