With basketball season rapidly moving toward March, we decided to reconvene our writers from the pre-season roundtables and have them discuss how both Marist teams are performing to this point in the season.
First up, the women’s team. It’s been an up-and-down final campaign for Brian Giorgis, with his team showing promise on some nights but not performing up to par on others. The Red Foxes are 7-9 overall and 3-4 in the MAAC and still have a lot of work to do if they want to finish in the top-five of the conference to clinch a first-round bye in the MAAC Tournament.
Let’s hear what our writers have to say.
What’s been the story of the season to this point?
Jonathan Kinane, Editor-in-Chief: Well, I think it’s been a mixed bag of highs and lows. The successful trip to Dublin gave fans a look at what the team could be if it was able to consistently move the ball and operate on offense. An embarrassing 49-point loss to a talented Columbia team showed that Marist is not the mid-major power it was in years past.
The Red Foxes have shown signs of progression from last season, but they need to up their level in conference play. A 3-4 start through seven games isn’t disastrous, but losses to Canisius, Iona (by 21 at home), and Siena are frustrating because those are teams Marist hasn’t had trouble beating in years past.
I think a lot of what this season is about is adjusting expectations. If the team has an off day or night, it will lose in a conference where there are no easy games. In Brian Giorgis’s final campaign, the Red Foxes are not a juggernaut that will sweep through the MAAC schedule. For fans (and players) of a program that’s been winning for the last 20 years, that might not be the easiest thing to accept.
Issy Cicinelli, Assistant Editor: I think the season can be summed up in one word right now, inconsistent. There are games, such as the ones in Dublin, where the Red Foxes looked like they could be serious competitors in the MAAC, but then there are others, like their Columbia matchup, where you can see that this team is a bit young and inexperienced.
I think there are a lot of factors that go into play for why this is, but I think it stems from a lack of depth from some of the bench players and also from the inability to put up points when they need them most. In Giorgis’s last season, this is not where the Red Foxes want to be, but there is still time for them to try and turn it around and put themselves in a good position going into the MAAC tournament.
Kira Crutcher, Contributing Writer: Expectations were high for Giorgis’s final season at the helm, particularly after last season which was plagued by offensive issues and a lack of consistency. Albeit with some improvement this season, Marist is not the team it could be and has been in years past under Giorgis. Over Giorgis’s reign, the Red Foxes have faced some very strong opponents including UConn, but have never had a defeat as large as they faced against Columbia.
When I made my preseason predictions, I noted that last year’s team lacked chemistry and a common mindset. I think Marist will build this chemistry as the players continue to adapt to one another, the conference, and for the younger players – college ball.
Danny Destler, Contributing Writer: The biggest story of this season has to be the lack of consistency and rhythm this team has. It started off the year with three straight losses, winning three straight, and so on. This has been a trend for most games this season. They need to win the MAAC games they should be winning because come tournament time, because, as it stands, this team will have a hard time making it beyond the first round.
What is the team’s biggest weakness?
Jonathan: A lack of balance. There are multiple answers to this question but when you’re getting the lion’s share of production from three players, that is cause for concern. Zaria Shazer, Kiara Fisher, and Kendall Krick combine to score about 40 of Marist’s 57 points per game. Marist’s big three accounts for more than two-thirds of its offensive production.
If one of them has an off night, it makes it that much more difficult for the Red Foxes to win. Julianna Bonilla, another member of the starting five, has become the team’s fourth option, but she is more of a catch-and-shoot player who thrives when the ball is moving around. The problem is that sometimes, the ball doesn’t move like in the recent loss against Siena when Marist assisted on just 20 percent of its made shots.
There also hasn’t been enough production from the bench with Jackie Piddock being the top scorer at 3.2 points per game. I understand that the role players can contribute by hustling and playing good defense, but someone needs to score, and that shows because the three main players all average over 30 minutes per game.
Issy: Think there are a few weaknesses of this team starting with the lack of three-point shooters. The Red Foxes are averaging 4.3 three-pointers per game while their opponents are averaging 6.3. They have made just 69 out of 245 attempted three-pointers and are shooting at a percentage of just 28.2%.
I think these problems in the three-point range stem again from their lack of bench production, which Jonathan, Kira, and Danny all touched on. To Kira’s point, Kiara Fisher, Zaria Shazer, and Kendall Krick are having great seasons, but the whole team cannot rely on these three to put up all the points. The ladies on the bench will need to find more ways to get the ball in the basket and make up for their starters when they come off for a breather.
Kira: The biggest weakness is the lack of balance in this roster. Fisher, Shazer, and Krick, while all having incredible seasons, including a career-high in points for Fisher, finding more balance will be crucial to Marist’s success going forward.
I completely agree with Jon and Danny, the team relies too heavily on Fisher, Shazer, and Krick, especially offensively. In the loss to Siena, the big three accounted for 91 percent of Marist’s points. While their performance is certainly not a problem, other players need to step up, especially offensively. It is incredibly dangerous to have this much dependency rest solely on three players. If anything were to happen that prevented any of these three from playing, or if they have an off-game Marist, will suffer the consequences as we saw when Fisher sat for the first half against Manhattan.
Danny: I have to agree with Jon. The lack of balance this team has is the most noteworthy weakness I have seen so far this season. I feel as if once the Red Foxes sub a starter out there is no production from the bench players. The bench needs to contribute more and if they don’t, this team will have problems late into the season.
Who has been the MVP so far this season?
Jonathan: This is a tough one. Shazer is the team’s leading and most consistent scorer, putting up 15 points per game but I’m going to with Fisher. After sitting out the first half of a recent game against Manhattan because she was late for a practice, she helped the Red Foxes turn a slim halftime deficit into a 13-point margin of victory.
The troubling thing with Fisher is that she tends to perform a lot better when Marist loses. In the team’s six wins, she’s averaging just over nine points per game. In the team’s eight losses, she’s scoring better than 17 points per game, including a 29-point effort against Siena.
She’s my MVP because as the starting point guard, she holds the key to Marist’s vaunted motion offense. Her turnover numbers are too high (four per game) and her assist numbers should be better (she ranks 11th in the MAAC), but on her day, she is probably the best point guard in the MAAC. My hope is that she’s able to keep the ball moving and begins to dish out a few more helpers to her teammates.
Issy: Shazer is definitely my MVP so far this season. Talking about how inconsistent the Red Foxes have been during this up-and-down season, Shazer has been a solid, consistent, and productive player for the Red Foxes when they need her most. She is averaging 14.5 points a game being a solid leader for Marist on offense. On defense, she has 12 blocks and 18 steals so far and leads the team in rebounds, totaling 105, 78 on defense, and 27 on offense.
I also want to give some kudos to Fisher, Krick, and Julianna Bonilla. These three have also been productive for the Red Foxes and have been great compliments to each other. In the rollercoaster season this has been, these ladies have shown some growth and progress from each of their previous seasons with the team.
Kira: Shazer is definitely my MVP so far. Averaging 14.5 points per game, and recording double digits in all but two games, you can almost always guarantee a high-caliber performance from the junior forward. Her near-triple double against St. Peter’s was just the latest example of what she means to the team.
Danny: I am going to have to go with the other two and say Shazer for this one. She is averaging 15 points and 6 boards per game this season, both team highs. You can make an argument for Fisher as she has also played well. I believe that Shazer is the best all-around player so far for the Red Foxes this season. I hope she can continue to be leading the pack in scoring for this team down the road.
What has been the biggest surprise of the season?
Jonathan: My friends generally describe me as a glass-half-empty guy and I’m afraid that’s what I have to be here. I know this was in the non-conference and it happened at the very start of December, but I have to say that the 103-54 loss to Columbia was the thing that surprised me the most.
Like Kira said, in Giorgis’s tenure, Marist has had to play teams like UConn and did not even lose that big. It was jarring to watch and see the team get dismantled like that against another mid-major, albeit the Columbia team the Red Foxes went up against was one of the most talented squads in a loaded Ivy League.
This goes back to what I said earlier about redefining expectations. Losses like this happen to average mid-majors, which is the territory where Marist finds itself.
That’s alright. Average mid-majors can still win their conferences.
Issy: The loss against Columbia was definitely a surprise this season, but going in a bit more of a positive direction.
I am going to say one surprise for me was some great flashes of talent from freshman guard Jackie Piddock so far. In the entrance roundtable, I said Morgan Tompkins was my newcomer to watch, but Piddock has shown that she is going to be a huge part of Marist’s future in the coming seasons. In the Red Foxes’ game against Lafayette, Piddock put up 12 points, grabbed five rebounds, and logged a steal and a block. She had some strong showings against American and Niagara where she put up six points and seven points respectively.
I think Piddock will continue to get better as time goes on and should be a big contributor to the Marist squad for the next few seasons.
Kira: While I completely agree with everything said here, I am going to answer this a bit differently. After positive offensive performances on the road against Siena and St. Peters, Marist heavily struggled to score against Fairfield,
Danny: The blowout loss to Columbia hands down. Losing 103-54 was an eye-opener for sure. This was the biggest loss of Giorgis’s career. Jon put it perfectly in his gamer, “a night of sobering lows for Marist women’s basketball.” A lot of things went wrong that night. Usually two mid-major schools have a more competitive game than this. Give Columbia credit as they are a very talented team but Marist looked flat out there.
Give us your revised predictions. How do you see this season ending?
Jonathan: I don’t think there’s a whole lot to change from my preseason predictions. I called for a 15-14 record, which certainly isn’t out of the question. I do think a 12-8 MAAC mark might be a bit of a lofty goal after seeing how things stand in the conference after a couple of weeks of play.
I’m now going to predict an even 10-10 conference record for the Red Foxes because there is so much parity in the league. I think the top nine teams (sorry Rider and St. Peter’s) will beat each other up during the season and I expect Marist to at least hover around the top half of the league and be in the conversation for a first-round bye in Atlantic City.
As for the postseason, it could end as early as the first day of games or stretch all the way until Championship Saturday. I just hope Giorgis goes out in memorable fashion.
Issy: I had the Red Foxes finishing with a 15-14 record overall and 11-9 in conference play. I am going to have to agree with Jonathan and say that I think a MAAC record of 10-10 is a bit more realistic with how the season is going so far, so that would take their overall record to 14-15 overall.
Of course, I am still holding out some hope for the Red Foxes to finish above the .500 mark, but seeing how things are currently, there are definitely some things they must improve on if they want to make a run in the postseason.
For Giorgis’ last time at the helm, ending the season with another MAAC Championship trophy in hand is definitely the goal, but more must be done to make this dream become a reality.
Kira: Like Issy, my prediction was 15-14 overall and 11-9 in the MAAC. As it stands, I am also revising my prediction to 10-10 in the MAAC, but my earlier prediction is definitely not out of the question.
If Marist wants to place themselves in the best contention for the championships, such as earning a first-round bye, they need to finish the MAAC conference strongly.
Danny: My prediction was 14-15 overall and 11-9 in the MAAC. I am going to agree with Jon and also say a 10-10 conference record. I think it is a fair record for the way this team has played so far. A first-round bye would help this team tremendously, so that should be the goal for the team. I hope for the best possible outcome for Giorgis being this is his last season on the sidelines for the Red Foxes.
Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Andrew Hard
Photo from Jonathan Kinane