Why Iowans Should Be Rooting for UAlbany Tonight

Following a late-season stumble, the University of Iowa men’s basketball team will be participating in a play-in game in Dayton, Ohio tomorrow night against the University of Tennessee. The Hawkeyes’ travails (especially when contrasted with the ascendency of the Big 12 Conference Champion Iowa State Cyclones) have a lot of folks grumbling and out of sorts around here. And it could get worse, as it’s no gimme that the Hawkeyes are going to be able to beat Tennessee, who hung tough against overall #1 seed Florida last week in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

So to mitigate a potential week of disappointment and wounded pride, I’d like to invite all of my Iowa neighbors, of both Cyclone and Hawkeye persuasions, to adopt the University of Albany Great Danes tonight — as they are also in Dayton with the Hawkeyes, playing for a berth in the final field of 64.

Yeah, I’m partisan, sure. I got my masters’ degree from UAlbany’s Rockefeller College, and I later worked there as Executive Director of University Auxiliary Services at Albany, responsible for quality of living services (e.g. dining, book store, laundry, banking, vending, etc.) for the 20,000+ person campus community.

UAlbany earned its spot in the play-in game by winning the America East Conference Championship for the second year in a row as a #4 seed, beating Vermont and Stony Brook (who swapped places as the #1 and #2 seeds) both years to get there. They are facing the Mount Saint Mary Mountaineers, champions of the Northeast Conference — in which UAlbany was once a perennial powerhouse in football, before jumping to the Colonial Athletic Association.

So why should you, my fellow Iowans, root for the Great Danes of UAlbany? Because they have some seriously strong credentials that you’ll appreciate, as follows:

1. When the UAlbany men made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2006, they took #1 overall seed Connecticut down to the wire as a #16 seed, leading by 11 points halfway through the second half. They also hung in there with Duke last year as a #15 seed, so they will at least make it exciting when they play #1 overall seed Florida later this week.

2. The Great Danes’ star players in 2006 and in the following year (when they returned to the NCAA Tournament) were Brian Lillis — who grew up in Urbandale and went to Dowling Catholic — and Brent Wilson, who is originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

3. Their current starting center, senior John Puk, is from Waterloo, Iowa. Freshman Dallas Ennema is from Sheldon, Iowa, and looks to be a star in the making in years ahead.

4. They came to Des Moines two nights before last Christmas to play (and lose to) Drake at the Knapp Center. And, really, you know that was no treat for them, right? We owe ’em a solid for that trip, for sure. John Puk had a great Waterloo contingent rooting for him behind the UAlbany bench, which was cool to experience.

There’s also two bonus reasons for the Cyclone fans out there to root for UAlbany:

5. Hawkeye coach Fran McCaffrey’s prior job was at Siena College in Loudonville, New York, a northern suburb of Albany. Siena and UAlbany are fierce rivals in their local market accordingly, so rooting against Fran comes naturally for UAlbany people, including me, who are likely to be receptive to Hilton Magic accordingly.

6. The UAlbany Women are also in the big dance this year, as a #15 seed going up against #2 seed West Virginia. And I don’t need to remind you what West Virginia did to the Cyclones this year, do I?

So are you with me, Iowans? If so, clear your throats and repeat after me . . . . UA! You Know! Go Danes!

UAlbany Great Danes. John Puk (#44) of Waterloo, Iowa at center of frame.

UAlbany Great Danes. Senior John Puk (#44) of Waterloo, Iowa at top center of frame.

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