If the University at Albany wanted a litmus test to find out just how good the program is compared to the other top contenders in the America East Conference, today’s matchup with Vermont fits the bill.
The 1-0, 12-3 Great Danes travel to Burlington, Vt., to meet the 1-0, 8-5 Catamounts at Patrick Gym at 2 p.m. Vermont not only has won the last six games in the series, but the Catamounts have taken 23 of 31 games overall and 10 of the 13 previous games at Patrick Gym.
“This will be a really good test,” said UAlbany senior center Blake Metcalf. “They’ve won the tourn-ament twice since I’ve been here, and it’s always a tough place to play up there. The fans are right on top of you.
“We consider ourselves one of the best teams in the league. Albany and Vermont go way back. I’ve never beaten them since I’ve been here.”
Senior guard Mike Black agrees with Metcalf that it will be a strong challenge, but he doesn’t carry the baggage from past seasons.
“Who cares about last year? That’s in the past,” he said. “We’re up for the challenge. Vermont is a good team, but what they’ve done in the past is in the past. We don’t think about what they did to us last year, and that doesn’t motivate us. But if we win, it tells us that we’re a good team.”
UAlbany head coach Will Brown has plenty of respect for Vermont.
“If there is one team in the league that wants to make the games against them ugly, it’s them,” Brown said. “I want to see where we are right now, so I think this is a perfect time to play them.
“They have no problem grinding games out. They run the flex offense until they pass out. We wouldn’t mind the game being in the 60s or the 70s. If it’s in the low 50s, it will be a slugfest.”
Brown also is well aware that Patrick Gym is perhaps the toughest place in the league to play for visiting teams.
“It’s an interesting place to play,” Brown said. “They have a good atmosphere. It’s kind of like a high school gym, and their fans yell and scream after every basket. They’ve done a good job of establishing pride in defending their home court.
“This game is as much mental as physical. Both teams will defend and rebound. I think Vermont will focus on Mike [Black] and Jacob [Iati], but I think that both of them will still play well. We’ve been getting consistency from our bench. I don’t worry about a lack of production when I’ve got to go to the bench.”
Vermont averages 61.7 points and allows 60.6, compared to UAlbany’s scoring averages of 66.7 ppg and 61.5 points allowed. Both teams average nearly 14 turnovers per game, and their rebounding numbers are almost equal.
The biggest difference is in the shooting departments, where the Danes lead the conference in both overall field-goal percentage (.442) and three-point shooting (.389).
Probable starters for the rugged inside-oriented Catamounts are 6-foot-2 junior guard Sandro Car-issmo (9.1 ppg), 6-4 junior guard Candon Rusin (8.1 ppg), 6-6 junior forward Brian Voelkel (6.5 ppg, 8.5 ppg, 3.9 assists), 6-7 forward Luke Apfeld (10.7 ppg) and 6-9 freshman Ethan O’Day (6.0 ppg). Voelkel is the team’s best all-around player, despite his mediocre statistics.
UAlbany, off to its best start at the Division I level, counters with a lineup that includes Black (16.1 ppg, 3.0 assists), Iati (16.1 ppg, league-leading 53 three-pointers made), Jayson Guerrier (4.2 ppg), Metcalf (4.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and John Puk (5.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg). Key players off the bench are Peter Hooley (7.0 ppg), Sam Rowley (6.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Luke Devlin (2.9 pg, 2.3 rpg).
UAlbany continues its road trip Monday at Binghamton before returning home to play a week from tonight against Maine.