Albany Times Union
Uconn-iona headline at MVP MARCH MADNESS - ALBANY
Andre Jackson leads Huskies against Gaels, coach Pitino
ALBANY — Amsterdam native Andre Jackson is coming home. Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino is coming back.
The fourthseeded University of Connecticut and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Iona, seeded 13th, will meet in a NCAA men’s basketball tournament first-round game at 4:30 p.m. Friday at MVP Arena in Albany.
It was the matchup that drew the loudest cheer from the crowd at a selection show watch party on Sunday inside the arena atrium. The Huskies of the Big East and Gaels are among eight teams coming to MVP Arena for first-round games on
Friday and second-round games on Sunday.
Jackson, who played at Albany Academy, is a junior guard for Uconn. Pitino won national championships at Kentucky and Louisville before Iona hired him three years ago.
“I’m thrilled with who we have,” MVP Arena general manager Bob Belber said. “I love that last announcement with Uconn against Iona. Having Coach Pitino against Uconn and the Iona team that just won the championship, that’s going to be a great opportunity to showcase it here.”
The Gaels won their second MAAC title under Pitino in the past three years by beating Marist on Saturday in the championship game in Atlantic City, N.J.
Iona has won 14 straight games since losing their most recent trip to MVP Arena, a 70-53 setback to Siena on Jan. 27.
Uconn (25-8) and Iona (27-7) are playing in the West Region.
In other Albany games, No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s (26-7) will play No. 12 Virginia Commonwealth
(27-7) at 2 p.m. Friday with the winner facing Uconn or Iona on Sunday.
In Midwest Region action, No. 5 Miami (25-7) will meet No. 12
Drake (27-7) at 7:25 p.m. and No. 4 Indiana (22-11) will play No. 13 Kent State (28-6) at 9:55 p.m. in the late Friday doubleheader at MVP Arena. The winners will play Sunday.
There are Capital Region connections besides Jackson. Drake guard Roman Penn began his college career at Siena, where he played in 2017-18. Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff is a University at Albany graduate.
This weekend is being cohosted by Siena and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
“It’s great to have Iona here,” MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor said. “It’s a good local draw. Their fan base can come upstate easily. I think it’ll be good for us in terms of the local atmosphere.”
This will be Iona’s 75th time playing at MVP Arena. The Gaels are 44-30 all-time there, including 28-13 in the MAAC
MVP Arena has hosted the NCAA men’s basketball tournament twice — first- and secondround games in 1995 and Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight matchups in 2003.
Belber said the arena was able to lure back the event after 20 years because Albany County invested $43 million in arena improvements that include an enclosed atrium, new video boards, ribbon boards, outdoor video screens and renovations to the locker rooms and dressing rooms.
Albany had to wait an extra three years because MVP Arena was supposed to host the 2020 tournament before it was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The other teams are great, too,” Belber said. “We’ve got a mix of teams that are from all over the country. The fan bases that are going to be coming in are lots of different locations throughout the country. We’re going to roll out the red carpet for the teams as well as for the fans and it’s going to be fun basketball. It’s at a caliber that normally people would not be able to see live in person.”
The teams are expected to arrive in Albany on Wednesday, following a snowstorm forecast to hit the area on Monday and Tuesday.