ALBANY — It’s March.
So University at Albany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown knows to expected the unexpected.
“Nothing would surprise me this time of year,” Brown said.
But that his team’s playing Stony Brook in the America East tournament is unsurprising. The two SUNY rivals have played seven times in the last eight postseasons, with UAlbany winning the last four after Stony Brook won the first three. When the teams met last year in the semifinals, UAlbany prevailed after losing to Stony Brook twice during the regular season.
This time around, UAlbany (No. 4, 22-9) heads into its postseason matchup with Stony Brook (No. 5, 12-18) after sweeping the Seawolves during the regular season . . . but that means little when the teams collide 7 p.m. Saturday at SEFCU Arena in this year’s quarterfinals. Stony Brook is one of the hottest teams in the America East: The Seawolves have won four of their last six games.
“I do think that they’re playing really well right now,” Brown said. “They went to UMBC and won, and then they had Vermont on the ropes the other day.”
Meanwhile, UAlbany has won four of its last five, but the Great Danes’ lineup is a question heading into the postseason. After only using one starting lineup all season against Division I foes, UAlbany had to change its starting lineup for its regular season finale against Binghamton because fifth-year senior Travis Charles has a sprained left MCL.
His status for the Great Danes’ game against Stony Brook is unclear. Brown said he needed to see Charles practice Friday to consider playing him against Stony Brook, and that practice session was closed to media members.
Will Brown also said he doesn't plan to tell any media members Friday about Charles' status.— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) March 1, 2018
“I’ve got to keep you guys on edge. It makes for good social media.” https://t.co/pdIkGoYOtn
If Charles does not play, fifth-year senior Alex Foster will again have an increased role for the Great Danes. In his first start of the season on Tuesday, Foster delivered 15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, and said Thursday he’s ready for whatever his role will be against the Seawolves.
“I’m just going to do whatever Coach asks me to do,” Foster said. “If he wants me to play 15, 20 minutes, I’ll do that. If he wants me to play more, I’m all for it.”
What Brown clearly wants, though, is for Foster to come off the bench because that means Charles is in the Great Danes’ starting lineup. Charles — a second-team all-conference selection — and his mid-range jumper is key to the UAlbany offense, especially in freeing up space for juniors Joe Cremo and David Nichols to attack the paint.
“He’s always my go-to guy,” said Cremo, a first-team all-conference selection.
With or without Charles, Foster said the Great Danes are bringing the right mindset into the postseason.
“It’s tunnel vision right now. It’s one-and-done now,” Foster said. “Every set, every possession, we have to take it seriously.”
At points this season, that’s been a struggle for the Great Danes, a veteran team prone to lapses in concentration. Cremo said that won’t be the case against Stony Brook.
“At the end of the day,” Cremo said, “if we do a great job on the defensive end — where it all starts for us — our offense will come.”
“If we do that,” Cremo said, “we’ll give ourselves a good chance.”