(photo courtesy: Steph Crandall)

Albany 80, Yale 72: Three Thoughts

Yale freshman Paul Atkinson picked up his second foul five minutes into Friday night’s game in Albany, and as per James Jones’ custom, Atkinson was immediately banished to the bench for the rest of the half.

Except who to replace him with? What would have been the starting center – sophomore Jordan Bruner – is out for the year with a knee injury. Fellow sophomore Austin Williams, who played sparingly last season but is it at least 6-foot-8, 235 pounds, is out as well. Replacing the likes of Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod is obviously darn near impossible, but recent history has shown that last year’s No. 5 Sam Downey was also extremely underappreciated.

And so Jones had no choice but to turn to senior Noah Yates, who spent most of his athletic time at Yale on the football field so is not afraid of contact, but stands just 6-foot-5.

The result was predictable: Albany domination in the paint. To be fair, the Great Danes will likely be able to do that against much of its competition this season, but consider that in its three losses, Yale opponents are shooting 85-127 (66.9%) on two-point shots. For a program that prides itself on its interior play, this could be an infuriating campaign for Jones and the Bulldogs.

Two things can help Jones and his staff get a little sleep: a) Two of the losses were to Creighton and Wisconsin, while Albany is very good, especially on the interior, for a mid-major with veterans Greig Stire and Travis Charles leading the way, and b) The bottom half of the Ivy League may not be able to hurt them at all in the paint.

But we shall see. Will Yale’s offensive weapons like Alex Copeland and Miye Oni (with freshman Azar Swain adding a little Friday night as well) be able to help the Bulldogs overcome those deficiencies and win using a different style than we’re used to. Well, they did a little last year, so maybe?

What did we learn at new and improved (at least in the scoreboard department) SEFCU Arena?:

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  1. Albany is very good and eventually will be heard from

Most of the America East press will go to Vermont and rightfully so, the Catamounts were 16-0 in conference last season and stand to be better this season. But Albany has been building for a while, and when you add the previously mentioned interior players with Joe Cremo, whom Yale had no answer for, and you get a really good team..

The Great Danes (3-0) have a far from daunting schedule, its toughest two non-conference games are against Memphis and Louisville, and they are currently already 45% per KenPom to win in Memphis. They should have little trouble with the bottom half of America East, so it’s not out of the question for Albany to post something like 25-6 (KenPom has them at 23-8) by March. It won’t get them in the NCAA at-large discussion, but NIT possibly? Or they could just take down Vermont like they’ve done on a few occasions before. But as Will Brown would be first to point out, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves.

2) Yale’s record may not matter as much

Yale (1-3) has a brutal non-conference schedule, partly by design but partly because fewer mid-majors are willing to play them these days. Obviously the biggest question is Makai Mason (who was in attendance), who is scheduled to return about the time that Ivy League play begins, but may be in line for two seasons at Baylor if he doesn’t play at all this season, providing the NCAA gives him an injury waiver for his sixth year of eligibility.

Regardless, it’s hard to see Yale falling out of the Ivy top four, even without him. Oni and Crawford both had stretches of dominance against a very good defense, the Bulldogs actually led at the half, and closed to within four in the final minute. Can they win the Ivy League like this? Probably not. But it only takes two March games in Philadelphia these days.

3) Joe Cremo might be key

Like some other veteran players (such as Princeton’s Devin Cannady or Yale’s Crawford when Mason is out), Cremo didn’t have to be at his best every night in his first couple of years at Albany, but he is the star now. As he showed Friday, he’s perfectly capable of being it, when Yale put a smaller guard on him, he made them look silly in the paint and he has the ability to step out and hit threes. But he had only 34 points in three America East Tournament games last season (just seven in the final), and the Great Danes would love him to step up and challenge Anthony Lamb (and perhaps Tanner Leissner) for America East Player of the Year.

Bonus notes)

James Jones played for Albany when it was Division II three decades ago … Associate head coach John Ieti was suspended for the game because of a recruiting violation. Brown was also handed a one-game ban, but will serve it Monday night against Oneonta … While frustrating, Yale was much more competitive than it was the last time it played at SEFCU Arena two years ago.

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