The last time University at Albany played the Vermont Catamounts, in Burlington in March, the Great Danes walked away with their second consecutive America East Conference championship.
In fact, although the Great Danes only have four wins in the 20-game series, two of those resulted in league tournament crowns.
Both rosters have changed quite a bit over the last two years, but the Catamounts and Great Danes have turned this series into one of the top rivalries in the league, and it continues today at 1 at SEFCU Arena.
Albany (0-1, 5-8) comes into the game struggling both offensively and defensively. After a 4-1 start, the Great Danes have won only one of their last eight, and are riding a four-game losing streak.
In the Danes' last game, a 75-66 loss at New Hampshire, Albany held a six-point lead with just over six minutes left, but left the Wildcats off the hook.
“We had a couple of 10-point leads in the first half of that game, but then we made some turnovers, and the game got close again,” Albany head coach Will Brown said. “But we still held a six-point lead when, all of a sudden, they hit a three-pointer, and then they run the clock down to one second and bank in another three-pointer. That really deflated us,” Brown said.
“When we are struggling
offensively, we need to work all the more on defense to make up for that, but instead, we got frustrated and put our heads down. To tell you the truth, we seem to have a two- or three-minute span when we struggle shooting on the road. We're just a few minutes here and there from being 8-5 instead of 5-8.”
Vermont, 1-0 in the conference and 6-7 overall, features the best outside-inside threats in the conference. Junior guard Mike Trimboli averages 20 points a game, and is also a premier playmaker for the Cats. Marqus Blakely, a 6-5 forward, produces 18.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and has more than 20 dunks already this season, despite missing two games with injury.
“We can't let Trimboli and Blakely beat us,” said Brown. “That's the key. In the past, we've had some luck with putting a taller player on Trimboli, so we might put Brian Lillis or Jerel Hastings on him. Blakely is a different case. At least he plays with his back to the basket, so we know where he will be. He usually tries to get the ball in position so he can attack the rim. We will focus on both of those players.”
Fifth-year senior Keith Cieplicki, a 6-4 forwarrd who is the only three-time captain in UVM history, is the Cats' other double-digit scorer at 11.2 ppg.
Albany is paced by the 6-5 Lillis, who averages 13.4 points and 4.9 rebounds. The tri-captain has reached double figures in 12 of his 13 games.
Rounding out the probable starters for the Danes are 6-8 senior forward Brent Wilson (9.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg), 6-8 junior forward Brian Connelly (10.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg), 6-7 freshman center Al Turley (2.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg) and 6-2 freshman guard Josh Martin (6.4 ppg,).
Freshman guard Tim Ambrose (8.9 ppg) and senior guard Jon Iati (8.4 ppg) provide spark off the bench. Ambrose scored a
career-high 24 points against Duke, while Iati needs 24 points to join the 1,000-point club.