Bryant's historic season in jeopardy after positive test among Tier I personnel; NEC playoffs begin on Saturday 3/6
The phrase every program has longed to avoid hearing: "You're on pause."
The Bryant Bulldogs, who were lucky enough to stay COVID-free for as long as 3 months, are back on pause after a member of Tier 1 personnel tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday; thus cancelling the planned Mount St. Mary's series for this week.
The Northeast Conference released the following on Sunday afternoon:
The Mount St. Mary's at Bryant men's basketball series on March 2-3 has been cancelled.
The cancellation follows positive COVID-19 results within Bryant's Tier 1 personnel and subsequent contact tracing. Combined with other injuries, Bryant will be unable to meet the NEC's minimum roster requirements in order to safely compete.
Bryant's status for the postseason has yet to be determined.
To be frank, this is nothing short of soul-crushing for a program hitting its stride. After a two-game sweep of LIU in which Bryant clinched at least a two-seed in the NEC Championship, the Bulldogs appeared to have momentum on its side; it capped off a program-best 9-0 record at the Chace Athletic Center, and the opportunity to retain home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Let's dive into our final episode of Bryant Notebook of the regular season.
RESULTS TO DATE (14-5 Overall, 10-4 NEC)
11/27 - L 85-84 @ Syracuse
12/1 - W 93-85 @ New Hampshire
12/5 - W 138-83 vs. Rhode Island College
12/8 - W 101-82 @ St. Francis Brooklyn *
12/9 - L 93-91 @ St. Francis Brooklyn *
12/12 - W 81-72 vs. Stony Brook
12/16 - W 74-62 vs. Wagner *
12/17 - W 81-75 vs. Wagner *
12/21 - W 93-88 @ UMass
1/7 - W 93-68 vs. Central Connecticut *
1/8 - W 76-64 vs. Central Connecticut *
1/14 - L 89-82 @ St. Francis Univ. (PA) *
1/15 - W 72-63 @ St. Francis Univ. (PA) *
1/30 - L 81-79 @ Fairleigh Dickinson *
1/31 - L 95-84 @ Fairleigh Dickinson *
2/11 - 2/12 @ Sacred Heart - Cancelled *
2/20 - W 60-58 vs. Merrimack *
2/21 - W 76-60 @ Merrimack *
2/25 - W 87-80 vs. LIU *
2/26 - W 63-60 vs. LIU *
3/2 - 3/3 vs. Mount St. Mary's - Cancelled *
* denotes conference opponent
1. Per sources, Bryant is confident their team will be able to play on Saturday. So, here's the shakedown: well-entrenched sources in the Bryant program have told media that Saturday's first-round playoff game is a go. Multiple coaches confirmed to the media through different sources that they'll have some version of their team ready to play, regardless of the opponent and regardless of who is dressed. From one coach, obtained through sources: "Confident we'll be able good to go on Saturday." For this week, that means remote practice, ball handling drills, and watching film; most assuredly on either Sacred Heart or Mount St. Mary's, one of which the Bulldogs will play on Saturday provided they are able to field a team.
2. Even if Bryant can play on Saturday, they will be without some starters. Sources close to the team have confirmed to us that it was indeed a player that tested positive for COVID-19. That player had quite obviously come in contact with virtually his entire team, some enough to warrant a hotel quarantine. Per the Northeast Conference, the standard isolation policy is a 10-day quarantine from the time of potential exposure to COVID-19. That would mean that if a player was exposed (via contact tracing) to the virus even if a player tests positive, they are subject to the 10-day isolation policy set forth by the league. Unfortunately enough, we've confirmed some of these players saw significant minutes on both Thursday and Friday. Bryant - for obvious reasons - cannot release who is in isolation and who is not. We'll likely find out on Friday or Saturday who will be rostered, but one thing is for sure: expect Jared Grasso to reach deep into his bench before you expect him to not field a team.
Of note, in the NEC's press release: "Combined with other injuries, Bryant will be unable to meet the NEC's minimum roster requirements in order to safely compete." Bryant's picture may have been a bit more clear if freshman guard Erickson Bans wasn't in a walking boot with a reported ankle sprain. He is currently day-to-day: if it's a matter of injury (and not COVID exposure) for Bans, you can bet you'll see him on the court, regardless of whether or not he can compete.
No matter what happens, this will go down as a program-changing season for Bryant. The 2020-21 campaign is one for the history books, regardless of what goes down in the coming week. The attractiveness of Bryant as the NEC favorite started on day one of the season with a one-point loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in New York. It grew when after the 93-88 win against UMass, college basketball experts pointed out that the Bulldogs had picked off two Atlantic 10 teams in the last two seasons: both on the road, both as heavy underdogs. While NEC fans knew what Bryant was capable of, it fell into perspective when conference play began. They swept Wagner, who now sits with the Bulldogs atop the league. SFU had never lost at home to Bryant until their mid-January split in Loretto. The 'Dawgs effortlessly swept Merrimack, their biggest defensive challenge they faced all year. LIU won every game they played against the Bulldogs since 2016, until Bryant picked them off twice in less than 24 hours. They added in a 138-point performance - a program record - in December. Bryant didn't lose once at home, recorded its first triple-double in program history, and for a good chunk of the year, paced the nation's top-five scoring programs.
Jared Grasso's priority this year has been "winning different types of games," so it's safe to say he's pretty satisfied. He knows, though, that cutting down a net will be the ultimate test of progress for Bryant this year. To do it under these circumstances would be nothing short of pure wizardry.