The Outlet: UAlbany basketball teams face uncertain path

Kyara Frames, left, uses hand sanitizer during a recent UAlbany women's basketball practice. (Gazette file photo)

Kyara Frames, left, uses hand sanitizer during a recent UAlbany women's basketball practice. (Gazette file photo)

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, College Sports, Sports

Colleen Mullen attempted to answer the question, then realized she couldn’t.

Once her UAlbany women’s basketball program is able to resume practicing, how many practices will her group need before it could play in a game?

“To prepare, really — I really don’t know,” Mullen said Monday night, several hours after she held a team meeting via Zoom to discuss the university’s move to remote learning for the remainder of the fall semester. “I just don’t really know.”

Mullen’s program was picked to finish in fourth place in the America East Conference, the league announced Tuesday, but it’s unclear when the Great Danes will actually be able to play this season. As part of UAlbany’s “PAUSE,” all of the school’s athletic activities are shut down, and that comes following months during which restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic robbed UAlbany’s basketball teams of all their summer workouts, a significant chunk of their fall sessions and disrupted their abbreviated preseasons.

The UAlbany women are scheduled to debut Nov. 29 against Central Connecticut and the school’s men’s team is set to play Marist — which is also not currently practicing because of a pandemic-related pause — the prior day. Both Mullen and UAlbany men’s head coach Will Brown said Monday the top factors in determining when their teams could play, once they’re allowed, are related to health and safety concerns. Brown said he doesn’t know a number of practices he’d need to have his team hold before he’d be confident they’re ready, but noted that NCAA guidelines, in a normal year, establish that teams are able to conduct 30 full-contact practices before their season-opening games.

“And we’re at five right now,” said Brown, whose team’s activities were suspended last week because “an individual associated with the men’s team was part of a pool of tests that came back presumptively positive for COVID-19 during routine pooled surveillance testing.”

So, how much time do the Great Danes need?

“I think it’s just day by day,” Mullen said. “We may not have all the answers soon.”

Ahead of the UAlbany women in the conference poll released Tuesday were Maine at No. 1, Stony Brook at No. 2 and UMass Lowell at No. 3. Behind UAlbany, in order, were Binghamton, UMBC, Vermont, Hartford, New Hampshire and NJIT. Making the preseason all-conference team were Maine seniors Maeve Carroll, Bianca Millan and Dor Saar, UMass Lowell junior Kharis Idom and Stony Brook senior India Pagan.

THE NEW GUY

It sounded funny Monday the way Iona men’s basketball head coach Rick Pitino made clear he didn’t have any say, one way or another, in how the MAAC had formatted its schedule for the 2020-21 season.

“I didn’t have any participation in it — obviously, I’m new to the conference, so I think there’s smarter minds than myself because I’m so new,” Pitino said during a conference call with reporters. “I really don’t understand the conference that well, so I think the other minds are much better than mine in terms of what to do and what precautions to take.”

Yes, Pitino is the newcomer to the MAAC coaching ranks.

He’s also a 68-year-old who is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, led two programs to national championships — one, which Pitino won at Louisville, was vacated — and is the lone coach to ever guide three programs to a Final Four.

Or, as he described his level of experience during an answer regarding his support for a proposal that pitched all teams should qualify for this season’s NCAA tournament, Pitino is someone who has “participated in multiple NCAA tournaments.”

Hired in March, Pitino brings one of college basketball’s most-recognizable brands to the MAAC from his time coaching at Kentucky, Louisville and in the NBA. He’s at Iona, though, after Louisville fired him in 2017 following an FBI investigation involving the program. 

While many figure that Pitino’s stay at Iona won’t last long and that the coach will eventually head to a power-conference program, Pitino said he views his tenure at Iona as “a way to end a career.”

That career, Pitino said, is far from finished.

“God willing,” Pitino said, “I have about seven, eight years left in coaching. I’m still as passionate as ever.”

SCHEDULE UPDATE

Liberty men’s basketball released Tuesday its schedule for the 2020-21 season, and it shows a Nov. 30 game against Siena.

That matchup will serve as Siena’s third game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The Saints will open their season Nov. 26 vs. UMass inside “Bubbleville,” then play Nov. 28 vs. Delaware before taking on Liberty.

Meanwhile, UAlbany’s Brown said the Great Danes are now slated to play Drexel and Quinnipiac in early December at Mohegan Sun Arena. 

LIU was set to be in a four-team pod with UAlbany, Drexel and Quinnipiac, but there have been reports that LIU will no longer play non-conference games. If LIU doesn’t play non-conference games, Brown said the tournament format of the Great Danes’ stay at Mohegan Sun Arena will go away, and his team will simply play both Drexel and Quinnipiac. 

Initially, UAlbany was set to play LIU, then play either Drexel or Quinnipiac.

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