Upstart Albany has nothing to lose against powerful Duke

Albany head coach Will Brown watches his team Albany head coach Will Brown watches his team practice for a second-round game of the NCAA tournament in Philadelphia. (March 21, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

advertisement | advertise on newsday

PHILADELPHIA -- Will Brown has been down this road before. Seven years ago, the Albany coach brought his 16th-seeded team to Philadelphia and put a scare into No. 1-seeded Connecticut, leading by 10 with 10 minutes to play. Of course, a No. 16 still hasn't won an NCAA Tournament game in 114 tries, and the Great Danes lost that one by 13 points.

Reminded of that moment Thursday, Brown, 41, smiled at a TV reporter and said, "I'm not going to cry for you . . . I like to say we softened them up for George Mason ."

Brown actually has every reason to be happy. By upsetting Stony Brook and Vermont to win the America East Tournament and land his third NCAA bid, Brown likely gained some job security going into the final year of his contract. But no one expects the 15th-seeded Great Danes (24-10) to threaten No. 2 Duke (27-5) in a second-round game Friday at Wells Fargo Center, especially after the Blue Devils were stunned by 15th-seeded Lehigh a year ago.

"Lehigh didn't do us any favors, that's for sure," Brown joked. "I think Duke will be focused."

Just how does Brown, a Miller Place native who played for Dowling College, prepare his undersized team to face the likes of 6-11 Ryan Kelly, 6-10 Mason Plumlee and high-scoring guards Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon?

With humor and a knack for relieving pressure on a team led by 6-foot Mike Black and 5-10 Jacob Iati, who Brown says is closer to 5-8.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"When you play BCS-level schools, it's important to get off to a good start and hang around," Brown said. "You get into the second half and those teams get tight because they're expected to win big."

The Great Danes got off to a great start early this season at Ohio State. "We were tremendous for 15 minutes," Brown said. "Then coach [Thad] Matta decided to take timeout and really yell and scream, and the rest was history."

Brown promised his team will be physical. "We're not going to back down from Duke one bit," he said. "The problem is they're bigger, stronger, more physical and more athletic at every position. Even their managers are bigger and stronger than our guys."

Rimshot. Recalling his only previous meeting with Duke, a 40-point loss in 2007 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Brown said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski "was not kind to us." At the same time, Brown knows fans for Creighton and Cincinnati will get behind his team "because why wouldn't they want Albany to win so they could play Albany in the next round instead of Duke?"

What Brown didn't understand was his players going nuts when they saw they were playing Duke. "I'm saying to myself, these kids are crazy," he said.

His son Jackson, 10, had some encouraging words. "He said to me last week, 'Dad, we beat Stony Brook. They were a No. 1 seed. Duke is No. 2, so we should be able to beat them.' So I had to explain that to him."

You also may be interested in: