Stakes High, Tensions Higher in Albany Cup

By Kevin Sweeney

The Albany Cup has always been one of my favorite mid-major rivalries. The game, which has been played every year since the turn of the millennium, pits Siena of the MAAC and Albany of the America East.

However, this season’s game will be much different than it has been in years past.  For the first time, the game will played at SEFCU Arena on the campus of the University of Albany, rather than downtown at the Times Union Center, where Siena plays its home games. This move has brought frustration to the Capital Region, as the game typically draws over 10,000 fans but will be capped at around 5,000 thanks to the change in location.  In order to limit demand for tickets, prices are very high, as the cheapest seat is going for $40, with center sections with chairbacks costing $6o. These exorbitant prices has led to anger from fans, as it now would cost a family of 4 $200 to attend a mid-major basketball game.

If tensions weren’t high to begin with, the two head coaches have certainly escalated them to another level.  The barbs began with Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos saying that this was the only time that the game would ever be played at UAlbany, and then made fun of Albany’s large number of JUCO players on their roster.

He continued to jab at the Danes the following week, this time making fun of their supposedly weak non-conference schedule:

These types of comments weren’t out of character for the boisterous Patsos, who is known for his on and off-court antics throughout the college basketball world.  However, the response for Albany’s coach Will Brown certainly raised some eyebrows. The usually subdued Brown responded, suggesting that Patsos, who has seen two key players in Nico Clareth and Lavon Long suspended early this season, has lost control of his program and that Patsos should go run a comedy show, not a basketball team. At one point, he even said this:

The emotions have seemed to cool off over the past few days, with both coaches being very complimentary of their opponent.  With the game upon us in just under 24 hours, we finally get to see these teams settle things on the floor and it should be very entertaining.

Siena hasn’t had a dream start to a season they entered with high expectations, starting 2-3.  However, the Saints are finally at full strength, as Nico Clareth’s 3-game suspension for a violation of team rules is complete, and Lavon Long is in his third game back from his identical 3-game ban.  The Great Danes are 3-2, but one of those wins was over D-3 Oneonta State, so take that for what you will.

Projected Starters:

Siena

  • G: 6’1 Marquis Wright: 19.8 ppg, 4.4 apg
  • G: 6’0 Khalil Richard: 6.4 ppg, 50% 3-point FG%
  • F: 6’7 Lavon Long: 16.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg
  • F: 6’8 Brett Bisping: 8.6ppg, 7.4 rpg
  • C: 6’10 Javion Ogunyemi: 15.6 ppg, 2.6 bpg

Albany

  • G: 6’0 David Nichols: 16.4 ppg, 2.2 spg
  • G: 6’2 Marqueese Grayson: 8.4 ppg, 57% 3-point FG%
  • G: 6’4 Joe Cremo: 16.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg
  • F: 6’7 Greig Stire: 7.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg
  • F: 6’8 Mike Rowley: 6.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg

3 Things to Watch:

  1. Clareth vs Cremo: Ever since these two guards walked onto their respective campuses, there has been a debate over which team had the better now-sophomore sensation.  Clareth provides so much energy for the Saints with his play and antics on the floor, as he is known for his flamboyant celebrations after big plays. Cremo is much more of a quiet leader, a hard worker who is willing to get dirty to get the job done.  While Clareth won’t start, he will likely play around 30 minutes and get the assignment of guarding Cremo. I expect Clareth, who is coming off the suspension, to come into the game with an incredible amount of energy. If he can stay focused, I think he will have a HUGE night, potentially tipping things in the Saints’ favor.
  2. Rebounding Battle: Siena was an excellent rebounding team a year ago, but despite not losing any major contributors from their frontcourt, have struggled on the boards this season.  On the other hand, Albany has dominated the glass all year, winning the rebounding battle in every game they’ve played except for a blowout loss to Cincinnati.  The Saints must limit the Danes’ opportunities, especially on the offensive glass, where a missed rebound can lead to easy points.
  3. Crowd: Although there are still a few (<50) unsold seats right now, SEFCU Arena will likely be bursting at the seams tomorrow night, as fans continue to purchase standing-room only tickets.  However, the question will be the breakdown of fans.  Siena has always drawn extremely well, and will likely have a strong turnout of fans, despite the high price tag. The students for UAlbany, who will likely be returning from their Thanksgiving break right around gametime, might be the deciding factor on crowd noise.  If the nearly 1000 student seats are all full, the Danes will likely have a strong home court advantage.  Otherwise, it might feel like a neutral site or even a Siena home game.

Pick

This game will be close wire to wire. Both teams are very talented, and I wouldn’t be surprised if both teams win their respective conferences. I think the Saints get it done on the road, 81-77.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marquis Wright have an absolutely huge game, and Siena has the athletes on the perimeter to shut down the Danes’ guard duo of Nichols and Cremo when it matters most.

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