It is always a pleasure to watch the pure basketball the Marist women's team plays, and your Hoopscribe feels fortunate to have the opportunity to get a first-hand look at the Red Foxes at least five times annually.
The latest viewing came today (Sunday) when Marist came to Siena.
The result? Typical ... Marist 66, Siena 48.
Siena stayed close for about the first 30 minutes, trailing at that point by only four (44-40). And, then, Marist stopped making turnovers (13 in the first 30 minutes, only three afterwards), started getting good shots and making them (12 of its last 15) and steadily pulled away.
This observer strongly believes that this is head coach Brian Giorgis' best work, and that's saying something since his winning percentage since taking over the program in 2002 is the fourth-best of any active coach behind only UConn's Gino Auriemma, Stanford's Tara Vanderveer and Baylor's Kim Mulkey.
Marist, though, was expected to be good once again this year, a strong favorite for a 10th consecutive regular-season title. That, though, was until the program lost its only two post players, 6-3 Vanderbilt transfer Tori Jarosz and 6-5 freshman Delaney Hollenbeck two games into the season.
Coaches expect to lose players annually to graduation, and get the entire off-season and preseason practices to adjust. But Giorgis, due to the early season losses of his post players, had to restructure this year's playing style during an on-going season.
The losses left Marist without the singular star it has often had in past season, but with as balanced a team (six players average between 6.9 and 11.6 points per game) as Giorgis has ever coached.
"This year's team is definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts," said Giorgis, prior to Sunday's game at Siena. "It has gelled very well. We have different people step up on the offensive end almost every game. Defensively, we've been consistent."
Defensively, Marist is better than ever even if it doesn't have a player over 6-2 in its playing group.
Against MAAC opponents, Marist allows just 47.6 points per game, far ahead of the next-best defensive team, Fairfield, which allows 55.5 ppg. against league foes.
Offensively, the Red Foxes' "read" offense, in which players move to areas predicated on how the opposition's defense is playing, is tied for the top spot in field goal percentage (41.6 percent) in conference games.
And, Marist does all the "little" things. Its free-throw percentage, for instance, was 78.2 percent entering Sunday's game which was fifth-best of all Division I teams nationally.
Somehow, Marist continues to do it without height, and with only one real forward (the 6-2 Emma O'Connor.
"When she comes out of the game, we're basically playing with five guards," said Giorgis.
But, somehow ....
How about these numbers:
- Since Marist lost to Manhattan on Feb. 28, 2010 the Red Foxes have a 56-1 won-loss record against MAAC opponents, including conference tournament games. The only loss in that stretch was again against Marist (Feb. 4 of last season).
- Marist has had perfect 18-0 league records in two of the past five seasons, and it wouldn't shock anyone if it added another one this year.
- Since the start of the 2004-05 season Marist has a 129-9 won-loss record (including league-tournament games) against MAAC opponents, an incredible .935 winning percentage.
- Marist has won, or shared the last nine conference regular-season titles and has won the last seven league post-season tournaments and the resultant trip to the NCAA's.
- Under Giorgis, Marist has started league play with a 12-0 record in four seasons, including this one.
- The current 12-game winning streak is the 11th of at least 10 wins in a row under Giorgis.
It is all unprecedented in the league's 32-year history for either women or men.
And, there's no end in sight. This year's team will lose starters point guard Kristine Best and Elizabeth Beynnon, along with top reserve Kristina Danella, who recently eclipsed the 1,000-point career mark (does any other team nationally have a reserve with over 1,000 career points?).
But, everyone else is back, along with healthy post players Jarosz and Hollenbeck. On top of that, the current active freshmen, particularly swingperson Madeline Blais and guard Sydney Coffey, look like they'll eventually be impact players.
And, Giorgis, at age 57 and a Poughkeepsie-area resident for more than 30 years, continues to maintain he's not going anywhere (proving it by turning down an opportunity to interview at Georgetown this past off season).
It all means the a program that already ranks with any nationally at the mid-major level over the past decade of Giorgis' leadership is only going to continue to be difficult to beat for years to come.