While University at Albany head coach Will Brown is adamant that his Great Danes play every game to win, he admits that today’s ESPN BracketBuster contest at Fairfield will be useful more as preparation for the upcoming America East Conference tournament than for anything else.
“It’s important because it’s another game for our seniors,” said Brown, whose 19-9 Danes play the 17-11 Stags of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. “In the grand scheme of things, we always play to win, but we’re thinking more about the America East Conference tournament than about the BracketBuster.
“Fairfield is a very good team, and playing them will definitely help get us ready for our tournament. Other than that, we’re not putting too much emphasis on this game. Fairfield doesn’t know much about us, and we don’t know much about them, other than the usual scouting reports and films we have of each other.”
Brown said the BracketBuster series, which ends after this season, has run its course, especially for teams like UAlbany, which must go on the road in a late-season game that doesn’t mean much in the standings for either team.
“It was a great concept when it first came out,” he said. “They were guessing when they originally picked the 20 best mid-majors in the country, but it backfired when some of the top teams didn’t perform that well. Now, they let almost all of the mid-majors play in the tournament. If you get one of their TV games, it’s tremendous for your program, but if you don’t, it doesn’t mean much.”
Brown said he may also use today’s game to experiment with his lineup.
“It’s an opportunity to do some things in a game setting that we haven’t done before,” he said. “We may try to use a small lineup, but we also might try to play with a very big lineup. These are things we might not try if we were playing Vermont in a conference game late in the season.”
Brown said he expects the Stags to play exceptional pressure defense from end to end.
“Fairfield is a very good defensive team,” he said. “They will pressure our perimeter guys all over the floor. We need to be careful with the basketball, and we need to throw the ball inside. We also need to get to the ball to Sam Rowley. He’s been playing terrific lately, and we have to get him involved in the offense. We can also use him to bring the ball up against their pressure.”
Rowley, who scored 18 points in last Wednesday’s loss at Boston University, has improved his average to nearly nine points a game. He is also the team’s leading rebounder (6.4 rpg).
Senior Mike Black tops the Great Danes in scoring at 15 points per game, while Jacob Iati adds 12 ppg. Junior center John Puk (5.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg) is also in the usual starting lineup, but redshirt freshman Peter Hooley is unlikely to play because of a concussion. He missed the BU game.
Fairfield will be celebrating its senior day with a starting lineup that usually includes Derek Needham (14.9 ppg, 68 three-pointers), Amadou Sidibe (6.5 ppg), Keith Matthews (5.7 ppg), Marcus Gilbert (5.4 ppg) and Josip Mikulic (5.0 ppg).
“Needham is one of the best players in the MAAC,” said Brown. “He will be a handful.”
The Great Danes return home to celebrate their own senior day Thursday against New Hampshire. UAlbany closes out the regular season at Stony Brook March 3 and then hosts the America East Conference tournament March 9-10.