The Midseason Roundtable: Women’s Basketball

Halfway through the women’s basketball team’s season, the writers who gave their expectations in the Entrance Roundtable are back to discuss how the Red Foxes’ season has gone so far and what lies ahead.

What are your thoughts on Marist Women’s Basketball so far this season?

Jonathan Kinane: Perhaps a bit greedily, the first thought I have about this team is that they should be 12-0. The currently paused Red Foxes sit at 10-2 overall and 8-2 in conference play, splitting series with Quinnipiac and Fairfield and sweeping pre-season favorite Manhattan. Marist fumbled away those two games against the Bobcats and Stags, but going 4-2 in “the gauntlet” is certainly something the Red Fox fateful should be happy with.

They’ve played so well because of their stifling defense, which is top-10 nationally, holding opponents to 50.9 points per game. Caitlin Weimar has been spectacular as a freshman and seniors Willow Duffell and Allie Best provide stability when the team needs it most. Marist should get an added kick on offense once leading scorer Sarah Barcello returns from a foot injury. 

Nick Stanziale: I am surprisingly impressed with the way the Red Foxes have handled themselves to start the season. We all knew the storylines heading into the new season – how could Marist overcome the loss of four outstanding seniors? Well, it looks like they had no problem moving forward as a program, and huge credit is given to Brian Giorgis, his staff, and most importantly the players.

Before the season began, I thought Marist would have a slow start to the season since there were a lot of new faces within the program and since they didn’t have lots of time to practice together. I had a feeling it would eventually come together, but to start 10-2? I’m not really sure anyone saw that coming. 

Bridget Reilly: I have thoroughly enjoyed the women’s season thus far, mostly because it has been unpredictable and exciting! I, along with several others, did not expect the women to be 4-0 after their first four games, let alone 10-2 now midseason. The team has shifted its approach to the game – looking for shots in the paint and midrange, rather than their previous gameplay with more outside shooting. This young team has shown it can compete and will continue to be competitive in the future, and that is truly exciting to see.

Mackenzie Meaney: The women’s basketball team has been super fun to watch. We were all nervous and had questions going into the season about how they replace last year’s senior class, how they will compete against top MAAC teams, and if they lost their touch as one of the top competitors. Those were quickly and resoundingly answered. The Red Foxes picked it right back up from where they left off last season and went on an absurd winning streak that almost lasted a full calendar year. They are currently 10-2 and while they have switched up a few things, they are still so good. 

Carissa Kellman: Coming into the season, we were all anxious to see how this team would come back after a shortened season that resulted in the loss of a powerful senior class. This season has proved to all other teams in the conference that Marist remains a fierce competitor. Both seasoned veterans and dominant rookies on the team have come together to lead their squad to a 10-2 overall mark. I am thoroughly impressed with the entire team as well as Brian Giorgis for coming back from a shortened season and excelling in these adverse circumstances.

Who is the team’s most valuable player at this point in the season?

Bridget: I cannot go with anyone else besides my favorite: senior guard Allie Best! This season she has really proven that she can take care of the ball, run the offense, and find chances to take an outside shot. She is the unsung hero of the squad and she is under the radar about it, which I love. Leading the team in assists and stepping up in the recent absence of three-point shooter Sarah Barcello are just two of the areas she has been excelling in. Best is a player who knows this game and is a big reason Marist has been off to such a successful start this year.

Jonathan: There are a couple of different ways you could go with this one but I’m going to agree with Bridget and say Allie Best. Until the Niagara series, she led the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (it was 30-to-1 at one point!) and is someone Brian Giorgis absolutely trusts with the ball in her hands. She is a real floor general, leading the team in playing time with 33.3 minutes per game. Most valuable doesn’t mean the best scorer or most talented. It means someone who makes those around them better and who you want on the floor in crunch time. That is Allie Best.

Nick: I’m going to agree with Bridget and Jonathan on this one, I really am enjoying the season Allie Best is having, and I think Giorgis is too. They both stole my thunder on what I wanted to touch on with her game, so there is not much else to say, but I do want to reiterate what Jonathan wrote, “most valuable doesn’t mean the best scorer or most talented.”

Sure, she knows how to handle the ball given that insane assist-to-turnover ratio, she knows how to control a game, and she is a great all-around player, but that’s not why she is my MVP. Best makes everyone around her better and she knows how to lead this young team, those are the qualities you need in an MVP, and those are qualities she brings every day and night. If Marist wants to make a deep run in March, they are going to need Allie Best to continue what she is doing. 

Mackenzie: The team’s MVP right now is a tie for me between senior Willow Duffell and freshman Caitlin Weimar. Duffell has stepped up and been a big presence for the team on the court as a reliable scorer with 11.5 points per game. She’s over 80 percent from the free throw line and has also stepped up as a leader in these games to help some of the younger players find their ground. Weimar has blown the MAAC away picking up five Rookie of the Week awards and continues to play solid basketball in the paint. 

Carissa: It looks like we have two factions here. I would have to agree with Mackenzie on the team’s most valuable player being Willow Duffell. A seasoned player, Duffell has propelled the team into consistent victory this season over top competitors such as Niagra. With five Rookie of the Week awards, it comes as no surprise that Duffell is averaging 10.4 points and 7.4 rebounds this season. It’s not just her lead in rebounds that makes her MVP though, as her assists have been major for the team’s wins. Duffell has served as the catalyst for the women’s basketball team.

Who or what about the team has surprised you the most this season?

Jonathan: I think it’s common to see many young teams struggle on the defensive side of the ball, but that hasn’t been the case for Marist this season. Giorgis’ scheme always seems to befuddle MAAC opponents, but this young team is doing so at an alarming rate, forcing Niagara into 52 turnovers in two games. The Red Foxes gave up around 60 points per contest in the past few seasons, a good enough mark for those teams that had no shortage of offensive firepower. This year, when the offense has struggled to give them run support, (to use a baseball analogy) the defense had their backs, routinely holding teams under 50 points, perhaps the basketball equivalent of a shutout. Giorgis said, “this team will go as far as the defense carries us.” Turns out that might be a pretty long way. More on that later. 

Nick: I think heading into this season Marist knew they had to focus on their defense if they wanted to contend for a championship, and their defense has impressed me — and everyone — thus far. This team ranks 6th in the country in points per game allowed at 50.9 and as Jonathan mentioned above, they forced Niagara to turn the ball over 52 (!) times in a span of 85 minutes, that’s just absurd. As the season continues to unwind, I think it’s clear that Marist will carry on with the defensive mentality. 

Bridget: I think all of us would say that one of the most surprising things this season is how well the team has blended together considering the new blood now on the roster. The young players have truly stepped up this season. Trinasia Kennedy is a sophomore, coming of age, averaging 9.2 points per game (4th on the team), and totaling 23 assists, 14 steals, and 37 rebounds. I have certainly been impressed by Caitlin Weimar as well, excelling on the boards offensively and defensively while taking strong necessary shots in the paint. Zaria Demember-Shazer has also made her mark on the roster as a freshman forward, averaging 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Several players off the bench such as Emma Wax, Anabel Ellison, and Sam Bailey have been a light into the future of the program.

Carissa: Bridget makes a great point here. Going into this season, the team knew that they had to follow-up last season’s plays from the seniors and not let their departure affect their chance at the MAAC title. Kennedy and Weimar have been instrumental in helping the team with all areas of the stat sheet. The younger players have truly been the stars of the season here and that has made this season surprising and interesting to watch. 

Mackenzie: I have been the most surprised with Allie Best’s play. There were some question marks heading into this season about who that point guard was going to be. She has stepped into the role very well and makes great plays. She passes well, she hustles after every ball, and she can shoot. Best steps up big when the team needs her on the score sheet, but also does a lot of the work that tends to go unnoticed. 

What is one area where this team needs to improve before March?

Mackenzie: For me, the women have to work on limiting their turnovers. They currently have 175 total turnovers and average 14.6 giveaways per game. The average points scored on them off of turnovers is the same number. Once they tighten those up, I think they will have a lot more luck with keeping leads and maintaining control of the games instead of having to climb out of a hole or watch their leads shrink. 

Bridget: End-game situations, for sure. In the final stretches of their games, the women don’t shine so well in finishing foul shots, preventing turnovers, and closing things out when they have the lead. The games against Quinnipiac and Fairfield demonstrated this failure in closing the game with a W. Sometimes this does happen as a result of tired legs or playing down to another team’s level (which they will need to be wary of moving forward considering the recent games against Niagara). In the coming games, there is no real threat to Marist so they should be pulling out the win, but these close games that may fall the other way might resurface once again. If so, it’s better now than in March, however, the women will need to improve their end-game tactics especially prior to the MAAC tournament in March.

Jonathan: I’m going to branch off what Bridget said about free-throw shooting. The Red Foxes are only shooting 66 percent from the line, which is middle-of-the-road in the MAAC. Willow Duffell is the only reliable high-volume foul shooter, at 84 percent in 31 attempts. Marist missed crucial free-throws in their two losses and in the first Niagara game that went to overtime. None of the other four starters shoot above 64 percent from the line, with Barcello being the worst transgressor at 53 percent. The Red Foxes could do with getting to the line a little more and cashing in those freebies. If Marist wants to make a run in the MAAC Tournament, they must make their foul shots in the clutch.

Carissa: Missing free-throws has thrown off the team from being on top during the first half of a few of their games. When it comes to starting fast, they need to get better at facing cold opponents like Niagara. The first half is crucial to the success of the remainder of the game, and by working on their foul shots and getting to the line more frequently, I think Marist can drastically improve.

Nick: I think Marist needs to heavily improve their three point shooting. They are shooting 33% from downtown, which is 80th in the country. Offensive production was a question mark heading into this season and I think the Red Foxes have quieted those critics, but they still have work to do from deep. The three-ball will be crucial when they meet Fairfield, the best long-range shooting team in the country, down the line in the MAAC tournament. Fairfield can put up points, and they can do it quickly, that was shown in game two of their weekend series two weeks ago. I am thoroughly impressed with everything from the Red Foxes this season, but the three-point shooting does need some improvement. 

Is Marist now the team to beat in the MAAC?

Jonathan: Gosh, this is a tough one (I should know, I wrote it). I’ll throw caution to the wind and say they are the team to beat. Marist was the better team in each of the series they played during “the gauntlet”. Fairfield and Manhattan have more experience and Quinnipiac has a legendary coach in Tricia Fabbri, but I think the Red Foxes have the most talented bunch. Their defense is a step above everybody else in the league, and I think the eventual return of Sarah Barcello will help solve some of the offensive troubles. This next month of basketball should help them hone their craft even further, while Fairfield still has dates with Manhattan and Quinnipiac.  

Nick: Simple answer: yes. I think it’s a two-team race between Fairfield and Marist, but how is Marist not the team to beat? They lead the MAAC conference in points per game at 64.1 and in points allowed per game at 50.9. Although I think Marist is the team to beat, Fairfield is seen by most as the answer to this question. In their weekend series two weeks ago, Marist showed they were the better team though. In their first meeting, the Red Foxes held the Stags, who were averaging a conference-leading 67.5 points per game to just 38 points. Following that impressive defensive effort, the Red Foxes had game two all but wrapped up, until they handed the Stags that game in a late collapse.

Marist also swept Manhattan — the Jaspers sit third in the MAAC standings — and Marist split their series against Quinnipiac who sit fourth in the conference standings. That Quinnipiac series was a lot like the Fairfield one, domination in game one, a tough loss in game two. Marist currently sits at number two in the conference standings with a better overall win percentage, but trails Fairfield in conference win percentage by a small margin. To wrap up this long answer, Marist is without a doubt the team to beat. 

Bridget: They are certainly seen as that, I believe by most, and yes I would say so. However, I will also say, as I also mentioned before, they have been involved in close games this season. They have been within the margins of winning or losing more so, arguably, than last season. Therefore, come March, the tournament could really be open to any team that goes on a hot streak. I do believe Marist will be and is the team to beat as long as they stay consistent and focused as a team to remain at the top. 

Mackenzie: I think it’s really tough to say, but I think it is a tie between them and Fairfield. They are one and two in the conference standings and split their series when they played against each other. They are going to be the two teams everyone wants to take down, which is going to make for some interesting games leading up to the tournament because they will have a target on their backs and people will want to try to take them down. If they continue to play good basketball and tighten up some things in the late minutes of their games, they are on pace for a great finish to the season.  

Carissa: Marist is most certainly seen as a top competitor in the conference along with Fairfield. As Bridget said, their involvement in many close games this season could result in Marist losing their chance at becoming the team to beat in the MAAC. The thing is, they need to get an upper leg on Fairfield. I think if they can focus on their defense and hold their opponents to more low scoring outputs, they can be the top team.

What are your predictions for the second half of the season? Where do they finish in the conference standings? Do they win the MAAC Tournament?

Nick: First off, I am ALL in on this team. I love what I am seeing, and it is really fun to watch this young squad come into their own. With that said, I think the second half of the season is much like the first. Giorgis will continue to preach defense and the players will continue to execute. Before the season started, I said that Giorgis and his teams know one thing and one thing only; winning. This winning mentality will carry over into the second half of the season and Marist will finish first in the conference standings. They will acquire that one seed and head into Atlantic City as the favorite where they will ultimately avenge last season, and win the MAAC tournament. 

Jonathan: Before the season, I called for the Red Foxes to go 13-7 in MAAC play. At 8-2 with the toughest part of the schedule behind them, I dearly hope that I was wrong. Of course, now that they are on pause, nothing is certain. I’ll say they drop one game down the home stretch (look out for Siena if they can get back on the court) and finish three losses in the conference. If any team fails to play all 20 league games, the seeding for the MAAC Tournament will be decided by who has the most conference wins. Marist currently has the highest number of MAAC wins, so I think they have a real chance to be the 1-seed in Atlantic City. This could mean a rematch with Fairfield in the title game, which is something I’m sure the Red Foxes would be ready for. 

Bridget: Of course I would love to see the women win the MAAC tournament this year, especially after last year’s tragic end. I do believe they have the potential and spirit to do it, but will it be easy? No. The women have been tested in finishing close games and by teams ranked lower than them. Therefore, any team could come along and throw them for a loop, however, I do see the women pulling out the tournament win or at least making it to the final game. 

Mackenzie: Coach Giorgis called the schedule stretch of Fairfield, Manhattan, and Quinnipiac “the gauntlet”. Those were some of the toughest teams and games that they will play this season. The hard part theoretically is over, so I see them winning the rest of their games finishing the season in the one or two spot (which all depends on how the rest of Fairfield’s season goes), and reaching the MAAC Championship.

However, this year, the MAAC is equipped with teams that are full of surprises like we saw with Marist’s games against Niagara. The rest of the season is theirs to maintain this top spot, and turn the jets on when tournament time rolls around. Considering the circumstances with last year’s finish, as Bridget mentioned, it would be awesome to see them pull out a championship win. 

Carissa: Following up on what Mackenzie said, I think that some of the hardest games this team has had are over. It’s now up to them to take what they’ve seen from Fairfield, Manhattan, and Quinnipiac and learn from that. They lost out on this opportunity last season, but with the way that the younger players have stepped up and seasoned seniors have catapulted the team to 10-2, I’m certain that Marist will have a competitive edge when it comes to the second half of the season. When it comes to winning the MAAC, they have to be ready for one of these teams to be their competitor again, and I am confident that they will have all of the spirit and tools to lead them to the championship title.

Edited by Sam DiGiovanni and Nicholas Stanziale

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