Wednesday was another odd day in what’s been an odd — and that’s putting it lightly — local Division I college basketball season.
Early that morning, the UAlbany men’s basketball program announced it had “been placed on a temporary pause following a presumptive positive [COVID-19] test,” a result that could keep the program off the court for at least this weekend. The team’s games Saturday and Sunday against UMass Lowell remain on the team’s schedule, for now, but head coach Will Brown said Wednesday the Great Danes haven’t practiced yet this week.
“I haven’t even asked about the games this upcoming weekend,” Brown said during a phone interview with The Daily Gazette. “I’ve just been concerned about our team and waiting for this result.”
The program had one member among its Tier 1 personnel test positive for COVID-19, and is awaiting a second test for that individual to determine if the program needs to remain shut down.
“So I’m trying to remain optimistic and hopeful,” said Brown, whose program experienced a stop-and-start offseason and preseason before starting play Dec. 19 against UMBC.
The UAlbany men’s basketball program was supposed to have a media availability Wednesday, but that was scrapped after it was announced the program had paused. Meanwhile, each of the area’s other three Division I programs did happen to have some sort of media availability — and each, inevitably, saw the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic significantly factor into the discussion.
Siena women’s basketball head coach Ali Jaques, speaking on a MAAC women’s basketball teleconference with reporters, noted her team returned Tuesday to full practice after its latest pandemic-related pause — and that seven players and two coaches from the program have tested positive for COVID-19 at some point since the school year started.
Jaques’ team is set to play Quinnipiac this weekend. Her Saints made the trip to Quinnipiac earlier this month, only to find out several hours before tip-off that it couldn’t play because of a positive COVID-19 test result within their program. The bus ride back to Loudonville that day was a somber one, Jaques said, during which “you kind of feel like you’re going back to jail” because quarantine awaited some program members.
“These guys just want to play games, and they want to compete in practice,” said Jaques, whose team is 2-2 on the season. “They feel like they’ve had three preseasons. I’ve got a team right now that is itching to just get on the court and go.”
On a separate teleconference with media members, UAlbany women’s basketball sophomore Grace Heeps said her team’s goal this week at practice is “to focus on the next opponent, which we think is UMass Lowell for this weekend.” UMass Lowell is UAlbany’s next scheduled opponent, but Great Danes head coach Colleen Mullen said her team’s “mindset” now is to expect changes “because every time we’ve had an opponent, something’s come up where it’s possibly, maybe, going to change — maybe not.”
Mullen revealed that was the case last week, too. UAlbany ended up playing its scheduled games against New Hampshire this past weekend, but Mullen said there was a window of time during which the Great Danes thought they’d end up playing Hartford that weekend — and, so, the coaching staff devoted a night to readying that game plan.
“Myself and all our assistants were up all night, trying to watch film on Hartford to prepare for practice the next day,” Mullen said of the game preparation that ended up serving as a distraction for “18 hours” for her team.
And, then there’s Siena men’s basketball, which has had an uninterrupted run of play and practice since it had three nearly consecutive pauses to close out its 2020. Head coach Carmen Maciariello said his first-place Saints remain “just thankful we’re playing,” but voiced concerns about the upcoming schedule of his team, which calls for Siena to play five games in eight days as part of the MAAC’s efforts to reschedule previously postponed games.
Noting that it’s unlikely all MAAC teams will be able to play their full 20-game slates and that schedules are unbalanced already since not every team is playing each other both home and away, Maciariello wondered during his program’s teleconference with reporters why able-to-play teams were having so many games scheduled tightly together.
“For me, it’s about safety,” Maciariello said. “I think it’s really tough to try to play five games in eight or nine days. I don’t think it’s best for anybody — especially for the league. We want to make sure everyone’s safe and everyone’s players are in the right spot.”
Maciariello’s Saints play Marist twice this weekend, then next Wednesday vs. Canisius before hosting Quinnipiac for a two-game series that starts two days after the Canisius game.
For Brown’s team, this week’s development would appear to put into question the Great Danes’ games this weekend against UMass Lowell and potentially the following weekend’s games against Hartford. That uncertainty is especially tough for a team that had won three of its last four games after a 1-5 start.
“Everyone’s anxious and wants to know what direction we’re going — and, then, we’ll go from there,” Brown said.