The Final of the “What Was the Greatest Marist Women’s Basketball Team of All-Time” Tournament: Who Will Take the Crown?

Will Bjarnar: Hello, Jonathan. Welcome to the Thunderdome.

Jonathan Kinane: Thanks Will, it’s been a long, thrilling ride to get to this stage.

WB: It has. It’s weird to communicate like this, you know, through a screen and a chatroom rather than in a newsroom. If we were holed up in LT141 for a few hours working through this tournament, I think it’d be an experience filled with cooperation and pleasantries. But I’ll be honest… this tournament? Being the only competitive thing in my life right now? I’m ready to duke it out. So I won’t even ask how you are. Truth is? All I care about is crowning a champion.

But… how are you? You good, safe? Family’s okay? Miss you, pal.

JK: Well, I’m hanging in there. I’ve been watching a whole bunch of old games on TV. Everything is going so slow. It’s still weird to not be in LT 141 at 11 on Wednesday morning. I hope everything’s going well over in Rochester.

WB: I can’t complain. I’ve read a few books, watched some good movies, mastered Wii golf again. The 18-hole course on Wii Sports Resort was killing me for a few days there, but I’ve gotten the hang of it. 

JK: I have few regrets in life. Getting rid of my Wii is one of them.

WB: How about once we get through this whole quarantine mess, we play a round. My dime. Well, mom’s dime. She bought the Wii.

JK: I’m down. I can get pretty heated when it comes to golf, real or virtual. Hopefully I can go the whole round without throwing the remote.

Speaking of anger, the debate over the best Marist Women’s Basketball team of all-time has gotten pretty heated. We’re down to two teams, who do you like?

WB: I’m glad you asked. Truthfully, I’m torn. I think we’ve done a rather fine job analyzing the hypothetical matchups between some teams we are quite familiar with and others we most certainly are not — apologies to Nikki Flores, who points out that Fifi Camara would’ve strengthened the ‘05-06 squad. She did, I swear! Her name just didn’t stuff the stat sheet on that particular evening. But I do think that with our vast and magical knowledge on the outcomes of such an imaginary tournament, we’ve picked the two best teams to showdown in the finals. 

For my money, I’m riding with the tournament’s no. 1 overall seed, the Sweet 16 team from ‘06-07. Yeah, yeah, boring, the top seed, I know. But sometimes that’s just how it shakes out! Not every Zion-led Duke runs into a Michigan State. What say you?

JK: Well, I certainly agree that we whittled it to the two best teams in the tournament, even though I really wanted to advance the ‘19-20 team to the finals (it’s not bias, I swear). I have to disagree though. I think the no. 2 seed from ‘07-08 is the best to ever do it at McCann Arena. Side note: that Duke team should have lost to UCF and Tacko Fall in the second round.

WB: I’ll address these points out of order. 

I completely agree. Tacko Fall is the personification of the phrase “going H.A.M.” And he wasn’t even the best player in that game! Nor was Zion, mind you. It was Aubrey Dawkins! 32 points on 67% shooting to go with four assists and three boards. If UCF wins that game, that performance goes down in history as one of the best in an upset victory ever. But alas. I still say it was rigged.

But to your first point… are you sure? I mean, I know it was a more seasoned squad than the year previous — aka my squad, the better one. And I will acknowledge their perfect MAAC record of 18-0 and astounding 32-3 mark for the full season. But I don’t know that I can subscribe to awarding a team that was that talented but ultimately fell short, more than they perhaps should have. The reason I’m so inclined to go with the ‘06-07 group is because I do believe they were just as talented, if not more so (missing Alisa Kresge on the ‘07-08 squad is a crucial loss of a master floor general), AND they made it all the way to the Sweet 16. That has a nice ring to it.

JK: Success in sports, especially college sports has always been measured in results. It is true that there is only one Sweet 16 banner that hangs in the rafters of the McCann Center. My problem with this is that terrific teams like the ‘07-08 group, who have the most wins in team history, fade to the background.

Let me make this argument. The ‘06-07 team came into the NCAA’s as a 13-seed and after winning against the 4-seed, they beat fellow mid-major in the form of Middle Tennessee State in the second round. Next year’s team was ranked for much of the year and earned a 7-seed. The drawback: playing 2-seeded LSU after they won their first-round game. Being a higher seed ended up hurting this team. Had they had been a little more undervalued, maybe like the ‘06-07 squad, they would have made a similar run. There is a fascinating video by Jon Bois of SB Nation on this topic if you’d like to check it out.

WB: I think I will check that out. Right after I win this argument. 

Here’s the problem. Maybe not so much a problem as it is an interesting wrinkle to the very concept and beauty of the NCAA Tournament. Value helps you as it hurts you. The ‘07-08 team was valued and esteemed, even by the selection committee. And yet they fell under the pressure. They were successful and deserved the recognition that they received, don’t get me wrong. But when it came time to show that even that recognition — being seeded seventh — was too low, they couldn’t do it. Meanwhile, the year before, a younger version of the same team you’re arguing for took two higher-seeded foes to school in wire-to-wire wins. They then lost to the eventual champion, a Pat Summit/Candace Parker-led Tennessee Vols squad. Again, don’t get me wrong: the LSU team that the ‘07-08 Marist team faced was no joke. But in comparison to the ‘06-07 Vols unit? Sheesh.

JK: This guy has the audacity to say he’s going to win this argument. I can’t believe it. But he does make a good point. Hypotheticals aren’t going to get us all that far, we can speculate all we want about matchups and who lost against which team (if you’re going to lose to anyone it might as well be the eventual champion). There are two better ways to settle this. Statistics and the eye-test. The teams are very similar on the stat sheet, probably not enough to make any key distinctions. But Will, if we do the old blind resume test, are you really going to tell me that the ‘06-07 team is better? The ‘07-08 squad has a better record, more quality out of conference wins, and a better strength of schedule (150th compared to 191st). If we ask 10 people who the better team is, eight will say ‘07-08, the other two don’t know basketball.

WB: This guy has the audacity to call me “this guy.” That’s “this co-writer” to you, bub. I have a name.

Where I have a name, you have a solid argument, but not one that will go unimpeded. I’ll kind of concede to your point about strength of schedule (you can’t argue with stats). But I’ll also point out the fact that, for mid-majors, the 41-place difference in SOS on display here isn’t as telling as it might be when you’re faced with two teams that posted similar records and are ranked fourth and 45th. The difference is a few decimal points; not a rounding error, but not a reason to deem this a blowout. The ‘06-07 group might not have the stellar conference record of the ‘07-08 team, but you also have to note that the competition in ‘06-07 was inarguably superior. They faced better Iona, Loyola (MD), and Canisius, beating all of those teams throughout MAAC play (except a lone loss to Loyola (MD) on the road, a fluke, no doubt). 

Let me also direct your attention to that out of conference play you so confidently spoke of in favor of the ‘07-08 squad. I’ll give you this: neither of our selected teams won many impressive non-conference bouts during their seasons. However, the ‘06-07 group had a considerably harder schedule to start their year, colliding head-on with two teams that would finish the year at the top of the class: the eventually top-ranked Maryland Terrapins and the eventually sixth-ranked Duke Blue Devils. They also embarrassed practically every other non-MAAC opponent on their way to the conference title. Your group won a championship too, that’s true. But your only non-conference foe of any real merit comes in the form of the eventually 16th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. A worthy challenger, no doubt. But none as prestigious as those in Marist’s way in the late-fall of 2006. 

These are both highly impressive teams. I just think that the ‘06-07 group did a lot more while dealing with — and facing — a lot more. Even if realtimerpi.com says otherwise. Their page isn’t even secure, anyway. How can they be trusted?

JK: Well Will, if that’s even your name, you make a tremendous point there. This debate has been the perfect lead-up to our title game. It’s time to settle this once and for all. 

No. 1 2006-07 (29-6, Sweet 16) vs. No. 2 2007-08 (32-3, Round of 32) 

AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX

We’ve left the northeast entirely as Jerry World is the host for our title game. How it would have been nice for the Hand sisters to end their careers here, but we have the old “one v. two” matchup instead. It seems fitting, and it’s exactly what we wanted, with plenty of overlap between the two teams. 79,444 screaming, rabid fans have packed their way into this magnificent piece of architecture. It’s one of the few times a meaningful game is actually played in these confines.

Who makes the first move? Why it’s the top seed, of course. Alisa Kresge has one of those magical runs we see in the Final Four (think Spike Albrecht in 2013 for Michigan). She puts her typical pass-first approach off to the side and scores 18 first-half points. The ‘07-08 team has no answer. Literally, she was a senior on the ‘06-07 team. Fitz, Dahlman, Viani, and Flores all cancel each other out to some degree. After 20 minutes the one-seed leads 42-31.

You’ve hopefully read enough of these to know that a comeback is in the offing. 

Erica Allenspach, a freshman on the ‘07-08 team, comes off the bench to help key a 15-5 run in the middle of the second half. The margin was cut to one, 51-50.

As the game comes into crunch time, both versions of Brian Giorgis go to their star players: Rachele Fitz. An epic duel sees each player score 10 consecutive points, and the best part is the trash talk that is taking place between the older and younger Fitz. Kresge, who has not even attempted a shot to this point in the second half, finds herself open and splashes a three. Inside two minutes left and her team has a 69-66 advantage. 

The teams have only combined to play a single close game in the tournament. The ‘07-08 squad’s last outing against the ‘19-20 group. Despite this, both teams are well-prepared (we know who their coach is).

Nikki Flores of the ‘07-08 team, makes two free-throws to cut the lead to 69-68 with under 30 seconds left. Timeout is called by the ‘06-07 Giorgis, leaving both teams without any remaining.

The one-seed must try to run time off the clock and then make free-throws when the foul comes. A STEAL! Viani picks her own pocket and gets to the tin for a layup that gives her team a 70-69 lead with 15 seconds left. 

Unbelievable. 

No timeouts. The game must go on.

Fitz brings it up. We’re down to 10 seconds. She wants this. Dahlman attempts a screen but it’s defended beautifully. Five seconds left. She’s 26 feet out but puts it up anyway. It’s short. Painfully short, nothing but air.

Has the ‘07-08 team done it?

No. Kresge, one of the smaller players catches it on the fly and puts it back in. In a scene that bears resemblance to the 1983 Championship Game, the ‘06-07 has earned an unforgettable 71-70 victory. This time, the one-seed is victorious. Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, who are in attendance, wonder why it couldn’t have been this way for them all those years ago.

The game will never be forgotten. Many documentaries will be made, including the best 30-for-30 of all-time. It was a thrilling conclusion to what was a thrilling tournament. There will never be another one like it. It’s been a fun ride and Will and I hope you have enjoyed as much as we have.

All-Tournament Team:

Rachele Fitz, forward, ‘06-07, ‘07-08

Julianne Viani, guard, ‘06-07, ‘07-08

Rebekah Hand, guard, ‘19-20

Corielle Yarde, guard, ‘10-11, ‘11-12

Alana Gilmer, forward, ‘19-20

We want to hear what you think! Be sure to let us know if there was something you would have done differently. We can take it. We promise.

Edited by Bridget Reilly

2 thoughts

  1. That was a fun segment – but if you ask me the No. 3 2010-11 (31-3, Round of 32) team was the best, and if Allenspach doesn’t go down they upset #2 Duke and probably have best shot at Marist getting to the Great Eight in program history.

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