For our weekly mid-major basketball focus, let’s jump to the American East and look at Albany. Just how good are the Great Danes this season?
The American East has always churned out solid NCAA Tournament products. One immediately thinks of the Vermont squad that pushed Purdue to the limits last season, for example. The Albany Great Danes have been a staple in the conference since the hire of Will Brown in 2002. Brown has led Albany to five NCAA Tournament berths in his tenure, including three straight appearances from 2012 to 2015.
Despite winning 24 and 19 games, respectively, in the last two seasons, the Danes have been unseated atop the American East. First, by Stony Brook in 2015-16 and then by the aforementioned Vermont Catamounts last year. Now, with a scintillating 12-3 record coming into the New Year, Albany looks poised to take back the conference.
As it stands, Albany is ranked fourth in the Mid-Major top-25 poll. The only teams above them are BYU, Saint Mary’s, and Gonzaga, all WCC teams. With this, the Great Danes are clearly considered to be one of the best mid-major teams in the country right now.
They have moved into this position with the help of a relatively light schedule. According to KenPom, Albany’s strength of schedule ranks 305th in the nation (out of 351 teams). The games that could have been resume makers for the Great Danes came against Memphis and Louisville. Both games were close throughout, but ultimately Albany dropped both tilts. Their only other loss came to Monmouth in late November, which could be characterized as a bad loss given Monmouth’s current standing in the Metro Atlantic.
We know that building a resume is essentially a moot task for most mid-major teams. It is no different for Albany; the American East is a one-bid league and the Great Danes know they need to win the conference tournament. So, the losses do not necessarily bother me at this point, as a “resume” is not needed for their NCAA Tournament application.
However, the Danes do have some quality wins as well, most notably over Yale, Iona, and most recently, Kent State. While those may not seem like marquee victories, they are valuable as Yale and Iona sit in the KenPom top-200. Now, they move into an American East conference that is fairly even outside of themselves and Vermont.
The Great Danes are led by their fabulous junior guard Joe Cremo. Coming to them from Scotia, New York, Cremo was named to the All-America East Second Team last season. However, Cremo has put himself in a position to win Conference Player of the Year with his play this season. He currently posts 17.5 points per game along with four rebounds and nearly four assists per contest.
Yet, the most impressive aspect of Cremo’s game is how efficient he has been. So far this season, he is shooting 48 percent from the field and 52 percent from 3-point range. That 52 percent clip is in no way skewed by lack of attempts either as Cremo shoots roughly four threes a game. For a guard to do that with that many attempts is astounding.
Will Brown’s supplemental pieces around Cremo are no slouches either. Junior guard David Nichols averages nearly 16 points a game as well. This creates a backcourt tandem that is not only one of the best in the American East but the nation too. Besides that, fifth-year senior Travis Charles tallies up 15 points and roughly six rebounds for the Great Danes. Couple that with his 60% shooting clip and you have one of the most efficient forwards in the conference.
As is the case with several mid-majors, size may play a factor in the downfall of Albany. While the rest of the America East is not necessarily standing tall, their lack of height could hurt come March. The Great Danes’ tallest player in their consistent rotation is a modest 6-foot-8. This hurts them in the rebounding battle as well as the defensive war, and Albany is not a terribly efficient defensive team to begin with.
The lack of defensive ability may prove fatal if the Great Danes make their way into the NCAA Tournament. However, their offensive firepower may propel them to heights we cannot foresee at this time. One thing is for sure, the Albany Great Danes are poised to take the America East conference, and maybe the nation, by storm in 2018.