A defensive force in basketball, usually that’s a center with shot-blocking prowess or a perimeter player capable of using ample athleticism and length to blanket an opposing team’s top scorer.
A different kind of force was on display last weekend at SEFCU Arena.
That’s when 5-foot-2 Darnell Rogers disrupted the UAlbany men’s basketball team’s offense every minute he was on the court for visiting UMBC.
To what degree did Rogers, and his unique ability to pressure ball-handlers, affect UAlbany’s weekend series with UMBC?
After made UMBC baskets, UAlbany’s point guards — redshirt senior Jojo Anderson and junior Jamel Horton, each more than a foot taller than Rogers — didn’t attempt to dribble up the court against a pressuring Rogers, instead opting to get the ball to a different Great Dane so that Rogers couldn’t swipe it.
“Rogers tries to wear out the opponent’s point guard,” UAlbany head coach Will Brown said. “The first 47 feet of the floor, he’s really good. Pressures the ball. Gets steals. Disruptive. So, our mindset was, ‘Let’s not give Rogers the opportunity to wear out our point guards.’”
The son of former Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Shawnta Rogers, Darnell Rogers is believed to be the shortest scholarship player in Division I men’s basketball history. Now a senior, Rogers visited the Capital Region as a freshman to play against Siena when he was on Florida Gulf Coast’s team.
Rogers played sparingly then, but is a starter now for UMBC. He’s averaging 11.3 points per game this season, plus 1.6 steals per game on the defensive end of the court where he’s become a true weapon for head coach Ryan Odom with his ability to pick up opposing point guards 90-plus feet from the basket.
“That’s what he does,” Odom said.
And opponents take a while, Odom noted, to get used to playing against Rogers. UAlbany didn’t use a player against UMBC that was shorter than 6-foot-3, and it was apparent on multiple occassions that UAlbany ball-handlers were uncomfortable dribbling with Rogers around.
“He’s so unique,” Odom said of the 150-pound Rogers. “The first time you play against him, it takes you a minute to get used to [him] because he’s right up underneath you, he’s so fast [that] you can’t get away from him, you can’t really put the ball down because he’ll take it — and he’s strong. A lot of times, smaller guys aren’t that strong, but he’s rock-solid.”
In helping UMBC to a pair of wins at SEFCU Arena, Rogers totaled 22 points, eight assists and two steals.
“The kid,” Brown said, “can play.”
Late last week, as the MAAC was finishing up another round of men’s basketball rescheduling related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, commissioner Rich Ensor expressed confidence that the MAAC season will end in Atlantic City and that “somebody will walk out of there with an AQ bid.”
The winner of the conference tournament earns that AQ — automatic qualifier — to the NCAA tournament every year, but teams also currently need to play at least 13 games this season to “be considered for NCAA championship selection,” which is half the usual minimum.
So, could a team — say, a MAAC men’s basketball team that won’t play any games this season until January, at the earliest — not be invited to the league’s tournament if it’s not on track to meet the minimum?
In that situation, Ensor said, the league wouldn’t take that step — but that such a team likely would withdraw itself from entering the tournament.
Dollars, of course.
“We do have a bylaw that says if you don’t meet NCAA AQ standards, that if you go into the MAAC tournament and win it, then you’re responsible for the loss of revenue to the league,” said Ensor, referencing the (significant) payments conferences receive based on their participation in the NCAA tournament.
Such a rule, Ensor said, has always existed and isn’t unique to the MAAC. Ensor said conferences have such a rule in place to guard against a team that qualifies for the NCAA tournament, but isn’t eligible for one reason or another to participate.
And . . . Ensor said he doesn’t expect the MAAC’s teams — including 0-0 Siena, which is currently paused — not to be eligible for the NCAA tournament when his league’s season is complete.
“I am more than confident that everyone will meet the minimum,” Ensor said, “but it’s a constant work in progress.”
With the Siena men’s basketball program entering its third pandemic-related pause of in-person activities last week, the MAAC announced related schedule changes Monday for the Saints. Siena’s games against Monmouth will shift from Jan. 1-2 to Jan. 3-4. Also, Siena’s twice-postponed home games against Canisius will now take place Jan. 8-9.
Siena is the only MAAC team not to play a game yet this season.
The 0-2 Siena women are also paused, and are next scheduled to play Jan. 3-4 at Canisius.