Here’s an obscure, overlooked NCAA Tournament fact: This is the first time in history that two SUNY schools showed up on the Big Dance card in the same year.
And with all due respect to UB, which has the name NEW YORK dominating its logo, SUNY at Buffalo isn’t the state’s most accomplished team in the tourney. That honor goes to Albany, which made the field for the third straight year and the fifth time in the last 10 years.
The Great Danes also have one of the more emotional stories in the tournament. It’s the human stories, the ones that tug at your heart, that make this tournament great – not how many of Kentucky or Duke’s freshmen will jump to the NBA after stopping by for a year in college.
Albany’s Peter Hooley, a 6-4 guard from Australia, missed eight games this year to return home to be with his mother, who was dying of colon cancer. While he was back home, the Great Danes went 8-0, while the university community was raising funds for colon cancer research.
Sue Hooley died on Jan. 30. Her son went back to New York and, a month later, sank a three-point shot with 1.6 seconds left to give Albany a 51-50 victory over Stony Brook in the America East championship game and an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney.
Will Brown, a Long Island native who has been the Great Danes’ head coach for 14 seasons, said his wife Jamie, has watched a replay of Hooley’s shot “a thousand times” and cried every time.
“It was like a fairy-tale ending,” Brown said. “It was like a movie.”
Imagine if Hooley’s shot had come in an NCAA Tournament. It would be replayed on ESPN for years to come, like Bryce Drew’s buzzer-beater for Valparaiso in 1998 and Christian Laettner’s famous shot that beat Kentucky in the East Region final in 1992.
Albany, seeded 14th in the East, has a chance for another feel-good moment Friday in Columbus. The Great Danes take on Oklahoma, which lost to North Dakota State in overtime as a No. 5 seed a year ago.
Game to Watch: North Carolina State-LSU. The 8-9 games are often the province of gifted but inconsistent teams from elite leagues. NC State beat Duke by 12 and won at Louisville, but had some troubling losses. LSU has NBA talents on the front line in sophomores Jarrell Martin and Jordan Mickey. The Tigers lost by only two to Kentucky, but had bad losses to Missouri and Mississippi State.
Check for Grammy winner Bruce Hornsby in the crowd. His son, Keith, is a top three-point shooter for LSU. He was named for jazz pianist Keith Jarrett.
Upset City: Wyoming over Northern Iowa. It you want a game that reflects the plodding, defensive nature of modern college hoops, this is for you. It’s bound to be low-scoring and close. UNI is fourth in the nation in scoring defense (54.1), Wyoming eighth. The Cowboys have four seniors and a junior in the starting lineup, including star
forward Larry Nance Jr. (son of the former NBA star), who battled back from a serious knee injury, Crohn’s Disease and mononucleosis to be Mountain West defensive player of the year.
Sleeper: Michigan State. This is an uncontested layup. The Spartans often outplay their seed under Tom Izzo, whose Spartans have made the tourney 18 straight years and reached the Elite Eight in eight of them. They bumped off No. 1 seed Virginia last year and are on a collision course with the Cavs again. Izzo has reached six Final Fours, twice as a No. 5 seed. People underestimated those squads, too.