Equality is not a huge priority for the NCAA tournament selection committee.
However, when it comes to the opening round “play-in” games, the four teams involved out of the 68-team field might be as equal as any.
That’s why the University at Albany is hoping to capture its first NCAA tourney win when the Great Danes take on Mount Saint Mary’s of the Northeast Conference tonight at 6:40 at the UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio.
The winner takes on the tournament’s top overall seed, Florida, on Thursday at 4 p.m. in Orlando, Fla.
While the 18-14 Great Danes won the America East Conference as the fourth seed for the second consecutive season — the only two times a champion was seeded that low — the 16-16 Mountaineers also won their conference as the fourth seed.
Sounds like parity and a good shot for a win for the Danes, who were early two-point favorites.
“I’m not disappointed with our seeding at all,” said senior center John Puk, who scored six straight points in the second half to help the Danes rally past Stony Brook, 69-60, in last weekend’s America East Conference championship game at the Seawolves’ Pritchard Gym.
“Last year, we were a 15th seed, and we played very well against Duke. So we’re a 16th seed this year. At least this presents an opportunity for us to get our first tournament win.”
Puk gave assistant coach Don Bassett plenty of credit for how he and the rest of the Danes shot their free throws against the Seawolves. They were 14-for-14 in the final six minutes.
“Free throws win games, and coach Bassett was working with us on our technique. We are all shooting our free throws well, and it should help in the tournament,” Puk said.
“This will be a different experience for us. We’ve done very well with our one-day scouts, but that’s against conference teams that we’ve already played before. We haven’t played this team, so we will have to really concentrate on our scouting report.”
Puk, Gary Johnson, point guard DJ Evans and David Wiegmann could be playing their final game for the Great Danes if they lose to the Mountaineers.
“I don’t want to think about that,” Puk said. “Hopefully, we will have a couple more games.”
UAlbany head coach Will Brown was optimistic about his tournament pairing. “A true 16th seed has never beaten a No. 1, so percentage-wise, we have a better chance to win, because we’re playing a team from a similar conference,” he said.
“We know that if we play our style, we have a good chance to win,” said junior forward Sam Rowley, the team’s second-leading scorer who poured in 18 points before fouling out in the AE championship game. “We’re playing our best basketball right now.”
Peter Hooley is the Great Danes’ leading scorer. He was named the AE tournament MVP after connecting for 71 points in three games.
“We’re a very close team, and we play for each other,” he said. “We will be well prepared.”
Like UAlbany, MSM is participating in its fourth NCAA tournament. The Mountaineers have three players with 1,000 or more career points — senior Julian Norfleet (1,598), Sam Prescott (1,196) and Rashad Whack (1,059). MSM is one of eight teams in the nation with three active 1,000-point scorers.
Wack is averaging 19.7 ppg over his last 20 games since the calendar flipped to 2014. The Mountaineers have posted a 13-7 record over that span.