They need more time to get the system right, but Ali Jaques wants her Saints to utilize the in-your-face defensive style her teams generally use.
Away from the court?
Jaques’ message to her Siena women’s basketball players is quite different: “Stay away from everybody.”
For good measure: “Don’t talk to anybody, either.”
Jaques laughed Monday as she divulged both of those tips she’s given to her team as it nears successfully making it to its Nov. 25 opener at Alumni Recreation Center against Hofstra, but the advice isn’t a joke. Jaques’ team is the Capital Region’s only Division I program currently practicing, and a fresh basketball program seemingly needs to “pause” practicing each day as a season set to be played amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic approaches.
Making it through the close of the fall semester without needing to halt practicing becomes a more realistic — and urgent — goal for Jaques’ squad with each day. Classes end this fall at Siena later this week, while finals wrap on the same day Siena is scheduled to open its 2020-21 season. From there, as campus mostly empties out, the hope is it becomes easier for a basketball program to avoid having one of its members test positive for the coronavirus.
Siena men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello espoused that belief last week. That the Siena men’s basketball program came so close to making it to Nov. 25 without issue, only to need to shut down in-person team activities a couple weeks before its first scheduled game, served as yet another grim reminder for Jaques’ program as to how quickly a team’s circumstances can change.
“That’s the reality,” Jaques said.
On the court, Jaques likes the way her squad is developing. She isn’t ready to name a starting lineup, but said she is “really confident in eight players.” Among that group of eight, confidence is especially high in junior Amari Anthony, senior Rayshel Brown, junior Lala Watts and graduate student Isis Young.
Freshman Ahniysha Jackson, an Albany High School graduate, made a strong impression during Sunday’s intrasquad scrimmage.
“I really like what she’s brought to the table,” Jaques said of the 5-foot-7 guard. “Her progress has been really great.”
While contributions from a freshman such as Jackson would be great for a Siena squad picked to finish in sixth place in the MAAC, this season’s Saints expect to rely more on veterans than youngsters as they did last season. Already, Jaques said she can see the improved maturity of this season’s team in how it quickly grasps new plays.
“That’s the difference between having juniors and having sophomores,” Jaques said.
MAAC SCHEDULES RELEASED
The revised MAAC basketball schedule was released Monday, and the Siena teams will open with Dec. 11-12 games against Fairfield. The men will open their conference season on the road, while the women will start with games at Alumni Recreation Center.
The MAAC had announced in mid-September that its men’s teams would play Tuesdays and Fridays, and its women’s teams would play Wednesdays and Saturdays. Then, on Nov. 7, the league announced it was moving to a scheduling model that includes both men’s and women’s teams playing Fridays and Saturdays. In the MAAC’s current format, two schools will play each other on back-to-back days at one site, with the men playing at one school and the women playing at the other.
Siena’s teams have a bye during the MAAC’s Jan. 8-9 batch of games, while the entire league is leaving the week of Feb. 22 clear for make-up games due to postponements related to the pandemic. The MAAC tournament remains scheduled for March 9-13 in Atlantic City.
Non-conference schedules, though, remain uncertain for the Siena teams.
Jaques said she has agreements with four programs to play games prior to MAAC play, but only two of those games — Nov. 25 against Hofstra and Fairleigh Dickinson on Dec. 5, both at Siena — have signed contracts. Her expectation, too, is that she will try to schedule a non-conference game or two between her team’s Dec. 18-19 games against Canisius and its Jan. 1-2 games against Monmouth.
Meanwhile, the Siena men’s basketball non-conference schedule likely needs to be completely redrawn — again — besides an expected game Dec. 22 at Drexel. Maciariello’s team does not have a return-to-practice date set, but it’s highly unlikely the Saints will be able to play any games at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, in late November, as they’re currently scheduled.
Maciariello, though, said he wants to see if it’s still possible for the Saints to end up in “Bubbleville” to play multiple games in early December — especially since the Saints lost their Dec. 6 game at Vermont when the America East Conference school announced Sunday that its winter sports teams won’t compete any earlier than Dec. 18.
“Now we have a larger window there where we could play,” Maciariello said.
Maciariello, too, said he’d like to schedule multiple games in the Saints’ open window of dates in late December.
“I think you have to try,” Maciariello said. “If the NCAA is saying the bare minimum of games to get into the [NCAA] tournament is 13 games, we want to play as many non-conference games as we can.”
. . . ABOUT THAT NCAA TOURNAMENT
The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee announced Monday that its 68-team tournament “should be held in a single geographic area to enhance the safety and well-being of the event.”
That means the tournament’s early rounds won’t be spread across the country. In the NCAA’s press release, it was announced the NCAA is “in preliminary talks with the State of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis to potentially host the 68-team tournament around the metropolitan area during the coordinated dates in March and April.”
Indianapolis is scheduled to host the 2021 Final Four. The entirety of the 2020 tournament was canceled due to concerns related to the pandemic.
“We have learned so much from monitoring other successful sporting events in the last several months, and it became clear it’s not feasible to manage this complex championship in so many different states with the challenges presented by the pandemic,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, said via the NCAA’s press release. “However, we are developing a solid plan to present a safe, responsible and fantastic March Madness tournament unlike any other we’ve experienced.”
It wasn’t clear Monday if the NCAA women’s tournament will move to a single-area setting. Albany’s Times Union Center is scheduled to host Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in 2021.
UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson said Monday the Great Danes’ teams still don’t know when they will be able to return to practice following the university’s fully moving last week to remote learning for the remainder of the fall semester.
The UAlbany men last practiced Nov. 2, while the UAlbany women last practiced Nov. 9.
The UAlbany men are scheduled to open their season Nov. 28 vs. Marist and the UAlbany women are scheduled to host Central Connecticut the next day. Benson said a determination on whether to play those games, as scheduled, should come soon.
“Later in the week,” Benson said, “we’ll evaluate where we are and make a decision.”
Both Saint Rose basketball teams practiced Monday for the last time for several weeks, but their hiatus from the practice court has a planned end date despite the college moving Tuesday to remote learning for the rest of the fall semester.
Saint Rose athletic director Lori Anctil said Monday that both teams, which compete in the Division II Northeast-10 Conference, are scheduled to return to practice on Dec. 28 and likely to start regular seasons that only include conference play at some point in January.
“But a lot depends on how things look a month from now, when everyone is getting ready to return,” said Anctil, whose college reported Sunday it had eight active COVID-19 cases — six students, two employees — and 17 total cases for the fall semester at the time it announced its decision to move to remote learning.
In all, the college’s move to remote learning only slightly affected the school’s basketball teams. Anctil said the clubs were originally set to continue practicing through Nov. 24, then break until returning to practice on Dec. 28.
Anctil said a Jan. 9 start date for competition has been considered, but that it’s likely the NE-10 moves that date back at least a week.