Friday, November 15, 2013

Top Mid-Majors Meet As Albany Beats Depleted Marist

Earlier this week, previewing Marist's visit to New York's state capitol to play at UAlbany, I penned a very complimentary column for The Troy Record about Red Foxes' coach Brian Giorgis.

In case you missed it, here it is:

Giorgis didn't miss it. And, after his team's 69-59 loss to a very good Albany team, he joked about it.

"I knew, as soon as I saw that column, that you put a jinx on us," said the Marist coach, a smile on his face.

It's one of the few things Giorgis has to smile about these days.

And, note to Giorgis: it wasn't my fault!

His team is off to an 0-2 start, but that's no real surprise. They lost to nationally No. 6 ranked Kentucky in the season opener and, then, to the Great Danes on Wednesday. Albany entered that contest rated the No. 17 team in's poll of mid-major programs (from 24 conferences), probably several spots lower than deserved.

Marist had come in at No. 3 in the poll, surely higher than deserved considering the team's current state.

When Marist came to Albany this week it had better players on the bench than on the court in many instances.

Its two true "bigs," players who, if healthy, are capable of elevating the program even beyond its normal success, were both out.

Tori Jarosz, the 6-foot-3 transfer from Vanderbilt, is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, suffered this past spring, and Giorgis said she won't be back until much later this season, maybe late January or early February.

Delaney Hollenbeck, a 6-5 center, looks like she'll also miss most of the season with continued leg issues that have been difficult to diagnose and more difficult to cure.

They sat alongside starting point guard Casey Dulin (a broken foot), a preseason first-team all-MAAC selection; and highly touted freshman guard Sydnie Rosales (recent shoulder surgery).

Dulin is out for at least several more weeks, while Rosales won't be back, according to Giorgis, until some time in January.

It left Marist to start senior forward Emma O'Connor in the post, alongside four perimeter players. And O'Connor plays more like a guard than a foward.

That lineup's only frontcourt help came from 6-2 freshman Kat Fogarty, who did get four points in 13 minutes, but only grabbed one rebound and looked like a still-developing first-year player.

Albany has a proficient front-line that includes 6-foot-9 junior center Megan Craig and 6-1 sophomore forward Shereesha Richards.

Both were key reserves a year ago when the Great Danes went unbeaten through regular-season America East play and, then, advanced to the NCAA tournament. Both were first-team preseason picks in their conference this year.

Richards, so far, is looking like she'll become one of the best players ever to perform for Albany. She had 28 points and 15 rebounds against Marist on Wednesday.

The contest was one of the best matchups of strong mid-major programs the Albany area has seen in many years, one that doesn't always happen.

But when Albany had a scheduled game fall through late this summer, and Giorgis still had one more game to fill on his team's schedule, the teams agreed to a two-year home-and-home series. Albany will play the Red Foxes in Poughkeepsie next season

Much was made, by the Albany area media, of the somewhat upstart Albany squad knocking off perennial mid-major power Marist.

It would have been far more interesting, though, to see what might have happened had Marist been even a little closer to full strength.

"Right now we're very small and not very physical," admitted Giorgis, afterwards. "And, that's not a good combination."

It was though, a big victory for Albany, one that will boost the program's standings not only in the mid-major rankings but come tournament time, should the Danes get there, when seeding positions for the NCAA event are determined.

By then, few will remember that Albany beat a depleted team. The only thing tournament committee members will see is a big "W" in the game against Marist.

Much to Marist's credit, that carries great significance.

Giorgis, his sense of humor still intact afterwards, said he's already looking forward to next year's meeting.

"It will be nice because that's a home game for us next season," he said, pointing out that he hasn't had much luck bringing strong opponents, except ones like highly ranked Kentucky, to Poughkeepsie for games.

Indeed, his team's next home game is more than a month away, a Nov. 18 contest against Northeastern.

Before then there are on-the-road games against four other teams ranked 21st or better in the mid-major poll, as well as three other contests including one against high-major foe Ohio State.

For those counting, Marist is on an eight-game road trip before seeing the friendly confines of its on-campus McCann Arena again.

For sure, there's no place like home. So, it's no wonder that when Giorgis is asked about playing Albany again next season the first thought he has is that it's a home game for his team.

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