If the anticipation hasn't killed Albany and Vermont, they'll fight for the chance to represent the America East Conference in the NCAA Tournament Saturday on the Catamounts' home floor.
The America East's tournament format isn't particularly unique - an eight team set-up with quarterfinals, semifinals, and a championship game, with the top remaining team hosting the finals - except for one aspect: a six-day wait in between the last two rounds. After Vermont easily handled UMBC and Albany knocked off top-seeded Stony Brook last Saturday, the teams had to go back home and spend an entire week preparing for today's game. Now, they head up to Burlington to decide the winner of this one-bid league.
Home-court advantage shouldn't be overlooked here. Albany has had a thrilling run so far, coming from the No. 4 seed to make it to the finals, first knocking off Maine, 50-49, on a Sam Rowley shot with 14 seconds remaining, and then taking down No. 1 Stony Brook as Mike Black hit a buzzer-beater for the 61-59 upset. But both those games came in front of a friendly crowd. The quarterfinals and semifinals of the America East Tournament were hosted by Albany, supposedly a neutral site but in essence home games for the Great Danes.
Now, they head to Burlington, where they were eviscerated in their one regular season match-up, losing 70-45 as Black was the only player who managed double digits as they shot just 35.7 percent from the field. They also lost the other end of the season series, falling 50-43 after a late 9-0 run by Vermont put them in charge.
The Catamounts are fine from the field, but they live at line. Forwards Clancy Rugg and Brian Voelkel took almost as many free throws as they did field goal attempts this year, compiling the No. 7 and No. 10 free throw rates amongst all players in the country. Rugg leads Vermont with 11.4 points per game, while Voelkel is second in the conference with 8.7 rebounds per game. Albany is relatively weak inside, blocking just 5.7 percent of opponents' shots, No. 316 in college basketball, so Rugg and Voelkel could feast. If Vermont can keep Black from going off, they could be going dancing.
Both teams have a little bit of tournament history:. For Vermont, this would be back-to-back trips to the dance and their third NCAA berth in four years. Although their biggest basketball moment was an upset of No. 4 Syracuse in 2005. Albany followed that up with their first of two NCAA Tournament appearances the next year, almost upsetting No. 1 UConn after going up double-digits in the second half.
Here's the info on Sunday's championship:
No. 2 Vermont (21-10, 11-5, Kenpom ranking 128) vs. No. 4 Albany (23-10, 9-7, Kenpom ranking 152)
11:30 a.m. Eastern