Lots to root for in Danes, Dutchmen
According to well-respected statistics guru Nate Silver, the University at Albany has less than a 1 percent chance of winning the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. But so what?
It’s always exciting when a local team gets to play in the big tournament. And there’s always a chance they’ll surprise everyone and advance to the next round. After all, upsets are not uncommon. Why can’t the Great Danes be this year’s Cinderella?
For a college sports skeptic such as myself, the surprising success of UAlbany makes it possible to take a rooting interest in the tournament, even if it’s likely to be short-lived. For a day or two, I’ll be able to put aside my misgivings about college sports and the money schools pour into them, and enjoy the excitement and competition.
Of course, my love of basketball makes it easier to go along for the ride.
As does the fact that I have friends cheering for UAlbany and I like to support my friends as much as possible. In other years, I’ve cheered for Siena. I like to see schools from New England do well. And I enjoy watching Duke lose.
There’s no guarantee the Great Danes will even get to play the tournament’s overall top seed Florida. First, UAlbany must beat Mount Saint Mary’s in Dayton, Ohio, Tuesday. If the Danes win, they will travel to Orlando to meet the Gators. And Florida’s pretty good: Silver gives the Gators a 14 percent chance of winning the tournament and a 99 percent chance of beating UAlbany or Mount Saint Mary’s.
These are exciting times for Capital Region college sports.
The UAlbany women’s basketball team is also headed to the NCAA tournament after capturing the America East Conference title earlier this month.
Women’s basketball doesn’t get nearly as much attention as men’s, but this Great Danes team is worthy of attention: They are the first America East team since 1998 to win three consecutive women’s basketball conference championships and their 28 regular-season victories are the most in team history.
Last weekend also saw Union College beat Dartmouth College to advance to the ECAC Hockey tournament semifinals in Lake Placid, where they will face Cornell on Friday.
I’m happy to see Union do well, and I hope they beat Cornell and eventually go on to win the tournament. That’s a distinct possibility, because they are the top-seeded team.
But I’ll be honest: I haven’t always rooted for Union.
One of my friends used to travel to Albany to root for Cornell in the ECAC tournament and I found it fairly easy to cheer right along with him, though I couldn’t quite bring myself to don Cornell’s colors or join in their chants. However, it’s been years since my friend has come to Albany to watch hockey and my loyalties have shifted. I’ve come to know a lot of people who root for Union hockey and it’s fun to see the team do well.
I often worry that fans, players and coaches take college sports too seriously.
But there’s something about seeing local teams succeed that pushes all my misgivings and cynicism aside. Perhaps it’s because everybody involved appears to be having a good time. Or because the success of Capital Region teams is far from certain. UAlbany is not Memphis or the University of North Carolina. They’re just happy to be in the tournament — they don’t expect to win, and their fans don’t expect or feel entitled to a Final Four appearance.
Some might look at the long odds facing the men’s basketball team and wonder why they should bother tuning in.
But when I read about the happiness of the Great Danes, it brings a smile to my face.
Take Luke Devlin, a senior on the men’s team.
Acknowledging the team faces a challenge against both Mount Saint Mary’s and Florida, he said, “It’s been a fantastic end of the season for me. I can’t think of anything better than to get at least one more game in my career.”
Well, here’s to Luke and the rest of the Great Danes.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.