America East Tournament – Men’s Championship Game Preview
After a thrilling run through the first two rounds of the America East basketball championships, UAlbany is faced with the daunting task of heading north to Patrick Gym in Burlington to take on the second seeded Vermont Catamounts on Saturday.
The game is the Great Danes' first appearance in the league championship game since the 2006-2007 season, in which they defeated these same Vermont Catamounts at Patrick Gym to cap off their second consecutive America East crown.
This time around, the Danes are faced with the task of trying to prevent the Catamounts from winning their second straight conference tournament and NCAA Tournament bid.
Statistically speaking, these two teams are evenly matched in a number of categories. They are separated by less than one point per game (Albany scores 64.8, Vermont 63.9), one rebound per game (Albany 34.0, Vermont 34.3), one assist per game (Albany 11.2, Vermont 11.4) and one percentage point from the field (Albany 43.6%, Vermont 43.9%).
The Catamounts are in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense, allowing just under 59 points per game, while the Danes sit just outside of the top 40, allowing a shade of 60 points per contest.
UAlbany is certainly driven by their guards offensively, as Mike Black and Jacob Iati pace them with 15.0 and 12.2 points per game, respectively. Vermont, meanwhile, is led by their bigs on the offensive end with Clancy Rugg (11.4 ppg) and Luke Apfeld (10.8 ppg) leading the team in scoring.
The biggest concern for the Great Danes has to be getting Iati going against the Catamounts, as he has struggled mightily against Vermont. In 65 minutes against the Catamounts this season, Jacob Iati has scored two points on 1-17 shooting including an 0-11 clip from three point range. If the Danes want to experience the NCAA Tournament this season, he has to have a good game.
A huge priority for the Great Danes defense has to be Candon Rusin and Sandro Carissimo, who were the only players to score in double figures in both games against Albany for Vermont.
In this year's conference tournament, Rusin is averaging 16 points per game, while Carissimo is averaging 8.5 points per contest. Luke Apfeld will also be a must for the Great Danes to contain if they want to continue their season past this weekend.
Something the Great Danes do have going for them is the depth added by Gary Johnson. He saw virtually no playing time and was not a part of the Great Danes rotation during either game against Vermont this season. His athleticism will make things easier for the Great Danes on the defensive end, and his presence will allow more time for Peter Hooley to rest, taking the pressure off of the first year player to perform on such a big stage.
Vermont does have the advantage of having defeated the Great Danes twice already this season, including a 25 point blowout win on their home court but, as Stony Brook can tell you, that means nothing come conference tournament time. We are surely in for a treat at Patrick Gym this Saturday morning.