When Marist Women’s Basketball takes the court against Saint Peter’s on Thursday, it will have been 18 days since the Red Foxes’ last outing against Siena.
This is the third time Marist (14-2, 12-2 in the MAAC) has gone over two weeks without playing a game this season. The program paused for 19 days after a referee in the team’s win over Albany tested positive for COVID. After sweeping Niagara in late January, the Red Foxes went 15 days without a game because of contract tracing protocols after a Purple Eagles player contracted the virus.
Now, the Red Foxes are in the midst of a third barren patch on the schedule. This time, at least, Marist does not have to pause team activities. Brian Giorgis’s team has not taken the court because other MAAC teams are struggling mightily with COVID-19.
Marist is one of the lucky teams that has not had a positive COVID test. The MAAC implemented more schedule changes than I can count to keep its active schools playing. Eventually, the league began to run out of combinations, and Marist, along with fellow championship contender Manhattan, has sat idle for the last few weeks.
After the Niagara series, the Red Foxes’ next opponent Iona came down with a positive test. The week after, Monmouth, who Marist was supposed to play at the end of February could not play because they did not have enough eligible players.
Now as the regular season reaches its last week, the part of March that you can’t really call March Madness, the Red Foxes have a home series scheduled against Saint Peter’s. The 18 day stretch without a game will end.
Only, it shouldn’t. Not yet, anyway.
There is no good reason for playing the games on Thursday and Friday. Marist has 16 games (you need 13 to qualify for the NCAA Tournament) under its belt, and Saint Peter’s is tied for the league-lead with 23 games played.
If you look at the conference schedule this week, you see that all of the other contests feature teams that have struggled to stay on the court this season. Niagara, Siena, Iona, and Monmouth all need to play for chances to improve their seeding in Atlantic City. Marist and Saint Peter’s both have the security of a first-round bye.
If Saint Peter’s (10-13, 9-8 in the MAAC) takes a game off the Red Foxes, they will head into the MAAC Tournament as the three-seed, an improvement from the five-spot where they are now. Even if they managed to sweep Marist, they can’t jump Quinnipiac (who swept them) for the two-seed.
Marist’s case is much simpler: they can’t move up or down. Since Quinnipiac is not playing this weekend, no team has a chance of eclipsing the Red Foxes’ MAAC win total. It is Marist’s first time being the one-seed in the MAAC Tournament since 2013.
So, what do the Red Foxes have to gain from playing this weekend? Frankly, nothing.
You could argue that the games could serve as a warmup for Atlantic City, but I am not sure that is the case. Marist is 2-0 in the games following their extended breaks from play. Unlike those instances, the Red Foxes have been practicing the entire time. Opting out of this week’s series allows Marist to focus on potential opponents in the MAAC Tournament and better prepare their players for potentially playing three games in four days.
On a poignant note, these games, if they do happen, could be the final time Willow Duffell and Allie Best play in the McCann Center. We don’t know if either of them plans to take advantage of an extra year of eligibility, but the last time any Marist player got the authentic McCann experience was March 7, 2020. I am sure Duffell and Best could live with skipping senior day festivities in front of an empty gym if it meant jeopardizing their potential final shot at an NCAA Tournament berth.
I have had this issue on my mind for most of the season, especially once it became clear the Red Foxes could contend in the league. When I asked Giorgis about the possibility earlier in the season, he brushed it aside, saying that he wanted his team to play.
Later on, he changed his tone. After a game in February, he said that it was a real probability that the team would not play the week before Atlantic City. Brian Giorgis knows his team better than anyone else. Maybe he thinks the team needs the games, but why should either team risk it?
Even if they play, the overwhelming odds are that Marist will be fine. They have made it through most of the season without contracting the virus, and odds are they will get away with it for another weekend of play. Risking a two-week pause at the beginning or even in the middle of the season is something you can live with. It gets more difficult to reconcile playing a relatively meaningless series right before the regular season ends.
The entire college basketball community has seen how easily COVID can spread from one team to another. All it takes is one positive test to put two or more teams out of action. We all remember last season’s heartbreaking ending, but at least the same fate awaited every team. This year, seeing your season end prematurely and watching another team make it to the NCAA Tournament would be extra-heartbreaking.
So I’ll ask again: Why risk it?
Edited by Bridget Reilly and Nick Stanziale