You can make several superlative claims about Monday night’s men’s NCAA Division I basketball title game, where Duke defeated Wisconsin, and the entirety of this year’s men’s Final Four, which saw the end of Kentucky’s undefeated season. For example, it was one of the most intensely played series in recent memory, at times resembling a football game more than the game Naismith envisioned. It was also one of the youngest, at least for Duke and Kentucky, which were constructed primarily of first-year players headed straight for the NBA, or one-and-done as the common pejorative vernacular goes. And it was one of the most competitive events in recent times, with two of the three games essentially a toss-up.
For all those in the Albany area that consider themselves fans of the U Albany Great Danes men’s basketball team, today is your day. Today is the day after your school’s first ever NCAA tournament victory, albeit one that came in the second-tier first round, or play-in game as it’s more commonly known, where the worst teams in the tournament play for the right to join the square field of 64. They handled Mount St. Mary’s last night, and early this morning landed in Orlando where tomorrow they’ll take on the #1 ranked Florida Gators, a team that’s won 26 straight and the SEC regular and tournament championships. For the sake of comparison, Albany did not win a single game against a team from a so-called “power conference,” even using the term loosely.
When the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference moved its basketball tournament from frequent host city Albany, then-Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos was perhaps more upset than even arena and city officials. Patsos loved the downtown experience, he loved Albany’s restaurants, and he loved the knowledgeable college basketball crowds that made mid-major basketball feel like the big time each March.
Now, after nine years at Loyola, where he took the Greyhounds from a six-win season his first year all the way to the NCAA Tournament in 2012, Patsos can call his favorite MAAC city home.
Yesterday was a two hour delay in our school district. That’s mainly because we’ve already used up all our snow days, so cancelling the whole day would have cut into spring break, and no one wants that. So in our two hours of free time, my five year old son and I did what most families did, I’m sure. We filled out NCAA tournament brackets. I did mine, and Sloan did his. If Sloan wins, he doesn’t have to put his clothes away for a week. If I win, well, there’s nothing on the table, but I’ll probably feel less guilty when I eat half his Halloween candy next year.