Thursday, April 24, 2014

Team Report: Canisius Women Need Post-Play Help

Here's another in the "Team Report" series, taking a look back and a crystal-ball look ahead at conference teams.

Up now ...

CANISIUS WOMEN

2013-14 RECORD: 9-11 in MAAC play, sixth place; 13-17 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A one-game improvement over the previous season's 8-10 MAAC record, the best conference record since a 14-4 finish in the 2008-09 season and the highest finish (fifth, by virtue of tie-breakers) in the league standings since '08-09 ... All of that was accomplished with an impressive late-season flourish, a 4-1 record that began in mid-February through the end of regular-season play. Included was a showdown 66-63 victory over Rider in the final game of regular-season play that captured the fifth seed (and a first-round tournament bye) for Canisius and relegated the Broncs to sixth place ... Rising junior point guard Tiahana Mills turned in arguably her best game of the season in that win over Rider, scoring 19 points (7-of-8 shooting), and getting five rebounds and five assists. She had at least six assists nine times during the year, the second-most six-assist games in program history ... Rising 5-10 junior forward Crystal Porter was also at her best late, averaging 12.2 pints and 6.4 rebounds in the team's last five regular-season games. She had a big 23-point explosion in one of those games, against regular-season champion Iona ...  Rising senior guard Kayla Hoohuli had a nice season, leading the team in scoring (10.8 ppg.), in steals (33 overall) and in three-pointers made (48). She also had one of her best performances late, scoring 23 points in the MAAC Tournament loss to Quinnipiac ... Graduating senior 6-3 post Jamie Ruttle finished off a solid career with 1,180 career points ... Rising senior 6-1 forward Courtney VandeBovenkamp (3.9 points, 3.9 rebounds) came back from missing the previous season with a knee injury, got back into the starting lineup by midseason and provide solid play after that.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Despite some slight improvement over the previous year, it was the program's fifth-straight sub-.500 finish, a 35-57 record in MAAC play (60-93 overall) during that stretch. And, despite the nice late season surge, the season came to a resounding stop with a 72-61 setback to Quinnipiac in the quarterfinal round of the MAAC Tournament, a game in which the the winners had a 44-21 lead at halftime and were never threatened ... This looked like it might be the season in which the Griffs really challenged for better. The roster included four fourth-year players, all of whom had won MAAC Rookie of the Week awards as freshmen. But, none of the four made dramatic improvements off their freshmen seasons ... Also lacking was the team's traditional three-point barrage. At one time the program held the national record for consecutive games with a made three-pointer (a string that ended a couple of years ago). This year, though, its 154 made three-pointers was only ninth-best in the 11-team MAAC ... Injuries also played a minor role as VandeBovenkamp wasn't 100 percent early, Porter played through some injury issues most of the year and one of the team's best outside shooters, reserve guard Emily Weber, (3.5 ppg.) only got into 16 games because of recurring injury issues ... Rebounding was also an issue. Despite two 6-3 players and another at 6-1 in the playing group, the Griffs were outrebounded by 2.3 per contest.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Some rebuilding, and probably a restructuring of how the team plays. Ruttle and 6-3 reserve Jen Lennox are done, leaving only VandeBovenkamp and rising 6-1 sophomore Laniere Coleman, who only got into three games this season, as the only forwards on the roster taller than 5-10. The team also got an early signing period commitment from another 6-1 player, forward Abby Schwenk of Ohio. If the team can get some contributions from the post, it could approach this past season's record. Porter, a 5-10 forward, will also help. She led the team in rebounding (4.9) this past season. Its top perimeter players are all returning. With Hoohuli at off-guard and Mills at the point, the Griffs has one of the better starting backcourts in the MAAC. There should be good depth, as well. rising sophomore Lauren D'Hont is deadly from long range (23-of-47 on treys this season), and Weber has the potential to be just as good from the perimeter.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: The lack of both height and experience in the front court will cause issues in 2014-15. A likely greater emphasis on perimeter play could surprise some opponents on specific nights. But, there doesn't seem to be a strong enough inside game to expect the string of sub-.500 seasons to end. Most prognostications will have Canisius finishing near the bottom of next season's standings, as will this one. A bottom-four finish seems likely at this point.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Team Report: Canisius Men Face Rebuilding Season

And, now, begins the annual series of off-season team reports.

Each report will be a combination of looking back at the past season with an early crystal-ball glimpse of the future as best we can figure it.

We've decided to start in the west and, then, move eastward in some semblance of order.

So, we'll start with ...

CANISIUS MEN

2013-14 RECORD: 14-6 in MAAC play, tied for third; 21-13 overall that included a post-season trip to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT) where the Griffs dropped a 111-100 decision.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Year 2 of the Baron era pretty much mirrored the first. Head coach Jim Baron directed a team spearheaded by his son, 6-foot-2 guard Billy, to a 20-14 record in 2012-13 and, then, went a game better this past season. It marked the first time in school history that a Canisius men's coach won 20 games in each of his first two seasons ... It was also the second straight year the Griffs went to the CIT. Last year's appearance was the program's first in national post-season play in 17 years ... Baron, the son, was the MAAC's Player of the Year and arguably the conference's best perimeter player since Luis Flores played at Manhattan. He finished fourth nationally in scoring (24.1 ppg.) and 41st nationally in assists (5.3, which led the MAAC). He also led the MAAC in three-pointers made (3.1 per contest). Individually, he might have been at his best when he played every minute of a triple overtime victory at Siena, scoring 40 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out five assists. And, his 821 points scored this season is the second-best single-season total in program history, trailing only Larry Fogle's 835 set 40 years ago ... He got some help from talented teammates, including senior guard Chris Perez (12.9 ppg.) and 6-11 senior center Jordan Heath (10.5, 5.5 rebounds and 72 blocks. Freshman Zach Lewis was one of the better young perimeter playes in the league (8.5 ppg, 63 made three-pointers), and Chris Manhertz was his typically tough inside force, averaging 6.9 rebounds per contest.

WHAT WENT WRONG: To many close losses. The Griffs lost MAAC games by one to Monmouth, by three to Marist, by five to Manhattan and by seven to Quinnipiac. Reverse two of those and they would have been strong contenders for the regular-season title ... Then, there was a three-point loss to Iona in the semifinal round of the conference's post-season tournament when a clearly tired Baron misfired on a pretty decent look on a game-tying three pointer. Instead, Iona held on for a 75-72 victory ... Manhertz also suffered a late-season broken nose, missed three games and wasn't 100 percent for a few games after that. It robbed the Griffs of their lone true inside toughness and they went 4-4 in their final eight regular-season games, a stretch that coincided with Manhertz' injury ... Otherwise, there just wasn't enough inside play. Canisius got outrebounded by 3.0 per contest ... And, its defense wasn't exactly a brick wall. Canisius allowed 75.6 points per game, and only 45 Division I teams allowed more ... That was never more evident than when the Griffs hosted their lone CIT game. Canisius scored 100 points in that contest, but gave up 111.

WHAT'S AHEAD: A major rebuilding process. Losing Baron, the player, is more than enough to set any program back a few notches. The team also loses its next two leading scorers in Heath and Perez and its leading rebounder in Manhertz. That's the program's top four players. Whew. But, the cupboard isn't totally empty, particularly on the perimeter. Rising 6-4 junior guard Dominique Raney (5.5 ppg.) and rising soph Lewis (9.5) are back, but neither is a true point guard. Neither is 6-4 Adam Weir, who redshirted this past season and who could get into the playing group. Your guess as to the Griffs' next point guard is as good as anyone's. It might be incoming JC transfer 6-5 Jamal Reynolds, who played the last two seasons at Mott (Mich.) CC. He was a highly touted floor general during his pre-college days in Canada. The front court, though, is really thin. Phil Valenti, a 6-7 forward, did come on as the season progressed and had a late-season 15-point/9-rebound effort against Iona. If he adds about 10 or 15 pounds of off-season muscle, he can be on his way to being one of the better front-court players in the league. Rising senior Josiah Heath, a 6-9 forward, also needs to step up. He only averaged 11 minutes per contest last season. The roster also includes 6-10 rising junior center Kevin Bleeker, the least-used player on this year's roster who is likely to get key minutes next season.

REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: Any program with so many significant losses can't maintain what Canisius has done of late. Plus, there's plenty of inexperience at every position. If Canisius can approach .500 next season it will be a significant accomplishment. Most preseason predictions will see the Griffs picked near the bottom, and that's the thought here, too. Expect something in the bottom three, maybe even last, in a season of growth leading to better things in coming seasons.

Monday, April 21, 2014

ATM: News and Notes From Around The MAAC

Here's a feature we like to call "ATM," an acronym for "Around The MAAC."

ROHRSSEN MOVING ON?

Although nothing has been officially announced, it appears that former Manhattan men's basketball coach Barry Rohrssen will be joining John Calipari's staff with national champion Kentucky.

Rohrssen, universally known by his nickname "Slice," is one of the all-time nice guys to have come through the MAAC.

He was at Manhattan for five seasons and had a 52-98 record there, precipitating his firing after the 2010-11 season.

Three seasons later, his replacement, Steve Masiello, had Manhattan in the NCAA Tournament this year. But, even Masiello has regularly credited Rohrssen for the players he brought in that had significant impact in the program's recent turnaround.

Rohrssen is widely recognized as one of the better recruiters nationally. At Manhattan, he brought in George Beamon, Mike Alvarado and Rhamel Brown, the team's top three players this past season.

For the past two years Rohrssen has been an assistant at Pittsburgh, the position he also held prior to becoming Manhattan's head coach.

IONA'S POWELL MOVING ON

A couple of weeks ago it looked like Aleesha Powell of the Iona women's team would be part of a strong returning group expected to help the Gaels contend for the 2014-15 regular-season's championship.

Instead, it now appears that she is transferring to Seton Hall, according to one internet source that tracks women's players who are changing schools.

Powell, a 5-foot-6 rising junior guard, was the team's third-leading scorer (11.7 points) this past season and was No. 2 on the Gaels in total assists (122).

Her move to Seton Hall reunites her with former Iona coach Tony Bozzella, who recruited Powell to play at Iona and coached her there when she was a freshman.

ARMAND HAS PORTSMOUTH SUCCESS

Iona's senior guard Sean Armand was the only player from the MAAC who participated in last week's Portsmouth Invitational, a showcase event for strong college players not expected to be drafted by the NBA.

The 6-foot-4 Armand averaged 12.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and seven assists per game in three contests.

Players are divided between six teams that play three games each in a round-robin format to determine squads that advance to the event's championship game.

Canisius guard Billy Baron had also been invited to the event, but opted not to participate.

COMING ATTRACTION:

As has been the case in every post season since Keepin' Track of the MAAC's humble beginnings, we've produced "team reports," and will do so again in coming weeks.

The reports take a look back at regular season play from the just-concluded season as well as a crystal-ball look at what might be ahead.

We give the full treatment to every men's and every women's program. The reports will begin within a few days, so keep checking in early and often.

There won't be any order to when reports appear. But, when we do a report on a men's team, that school's women's report will immediately follow ... or, vice versa.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Iona, Marist Early Women's Picks for 2014-15 Season

Time to take a very early look at how things could turn out in 2014-15 season for women.

And, with a caveat. Again, it's very early. Much good happen between now and then. Teams are still going through the late recruiting period, so very little consideration, for now, is given to incoming freshmen/transfers.

We will make two initial judgments.

1) The women's league will be stronger overall next season. This year's bottom two teams, Siena and Saint Peter's, both have outstanding additions joining their programs and both will be significantly more competitive in 2014-15. Otherwise, there isn't another league team suffering so many graduation losses to think they'll fall very far.

2) Here's something we've never written since the blog's beginning prior to the 2008-09 season, and never harbored a thought about for the past decade: When you get to the bottom of this post (we're rating teams in reverse order), there will be a team other than Marist as the early preseason favorite.

That's not to say the Red Foxes are suddenly coming back to the pack. They'll still finish as one of the top two teams and, in all likelihood, will compete strongly for the regular-season title.

And, that's not to say that Marist won't once again be the conference's representative to the NCAA Tournament.

No league coach knows how to win key games better than Marist's Brian Giorgis. And, no team in the league, over the years, has played better defense than Marist for more than a decade.

There's a correlation. Defense wins big games, and defense wins in the MAAC Tournament. Marist will play defense.

But, for the first time in close to a decade, there's a real threat to Marist's domination.

So, here we go ... the very early 2014-15 predictions ...

11. SAINT PETER'S

Competitive at times last season, the sign that the team played hard for first-year program coach Pat Coyle, who has five seasons of coaching in the WNBA on her resume. The team loses one player of real significance, third-team all-MAAC pick post player Kaydine Bent. But, Coyle will rebuild quickly. Coming in are two eligible and very good transfers, point guard Rebecca Sparks from St. Francis, and 6-2 center Imani Martinez from Tennessee State, and Coyle thinks both will help right away. There's also some good recruits coming in. Always hard to judge incoming freshmen, but the pieces mean the program will start turning around in the not-so-distant future.

10. CANISIUS

The team's best player, Jamie Ruttle is graduating, along with the team's height, Ruttle and reserve Jen Lennox, both 6-3. The Golden Griffins have some good perimeter players returning in Kayla Hoohuli, who could be one of the better off-guards in the MAAC this season, point guard Tiahana Mills and sniper Lauren D'Hont. Chrystal Porter also had a nice season, and Courtney VandeBovenkamp, at 6-1, gives the team at least something inside. But, the Griffs struggled with rebounding even with Ruttle and Lennox on the roster.

9. SIENA

The coaching switch two years ago hasn't helped yet, as the program endured its worst conference record in its Division I history in any league (3-17) in 2013-14. And, two starters and a key reserve are graduating. Soph-to-be post player Megan Donohue and the return of another tough forward Simone Kelly (a December knee injury) will give the Saints some strong play in the post. Tehresa Coles is a superior defender on the perimeter, and swingperson Ida Krough provides a little bit of everything. But, a influx of talent is needed. The incoming freshmen class is reputed to be a good one, but freshmen rarely make major contributions at this level. The future will be better, but this year is likely to just be a step towards that.

8. NIAGARA

Meghan McGuinness is an emerging standout out the perimeter, already one of the league's better scoring threats who should be even better as a senior in the coming season; and, 6-2 Victoria Rampado was the MAAC's top rookie this past season. Val McQuade also provides perimeter scoring and good ball-handling. The team does lose its most athletic player in Chanel Johnson. And, it had rebounding issues this past season. If 6-3 Sam Lapszynski and/or 6-1 Gabby Baldasare can step up, the Purple Eagles have the potential to move up a few spot in the standings.

7. MANHATTAN

Two players graduate, and two good replacements step in. Gone is one of the league's all-time best long-range shooters in Monica Roeder, along with solid point guard Allison Skrec. But, Kayla Grimme, a 6-2 post who might have been the best rookie early before a season ending injury, returns. And, Skrec's role at the point should be adequately filled by eligible Wagner transfer Jacqui Thompson, a two-year starter there. Otherwise, everyone else is back, including forward Ashley Stec, snipers Shauna Erickson and Nicole Isaacs and emerging Blake Underhill.

6. RIDER

They lose MyNeshia McKenzia, one of the MAAC's best players in recent memory. And, Shereen Lightbourne will also be missed for her inspirational leadership. But, everyone else returns, along with two prospective starters who missed just about all of last season, guards Taylor Wentzel and Emily Fazzini. The Broncs will legitimately go five or six deep on the perimeter with returning point guard Manon Pellet, off-guard Kornelija Valiuskyte and freshman sniper Stephanie Mason, who had two huge games in the MAAC tournament. Swingplayer Lashay Banks should also be better after playing much of last year with an ankle issue. And, 6-1 post Julia Duggan was one of the league's top young players this past season. Rider is probably one more good rebounder away from seriously contending for a top-five position.

5. MONMOUTH

This is your scribe's pick as the team most likely to be a positive surprise this season, and picking it fifth might be a little low. The Hawks will have the biggest front-line rotation not only in the MAAC, but maybe of just about any mid-major level team anywhere. It has three 6-foot-4 post players, and all of them are above average in terms of ability. Sarah Olson is returning senior-to-be starter in the post and she'll be joined by rising sophomores Christina Mitchell and Sophie Beaudry. The two 6-4 youngsters both are fairly athletic and talented, and head coach Jenny Palmateer often used two of the three together last season. There's also a emerging point guard in rising soph Helena Kurt, an all-Rookie team pick from this past season. The Hawks lose glue-senior Chevannah Paalvast, but have rising senior Jasmine Walker back, along with soph-to-be Mia Hopkins, who showed some signs last season.

4. FAIRFIELD

The Stags are always tough with a thick offensive playbook that is hard to defend, particularly with a good point guard in charge. And, they have a good one in senior-to-be Felicia DaCruz. There are significant losses, though, in all-MAAC player Katie Cizynski and solid Brittany Obi-Tabot, as well as long-range bomber Alexys Vazquez. But Samantha Cooper, a very promising 6-2 post who only played three games as a freshman before a season-ending injury, should help up front. She'll get support from 6-2 Casey Smith, an eligible transfer from St. Joseph's. And, another returnee, Kristin Schatzlein should step into a bigger role as a capable scorer. Coach Joe Frager's "system" usually brings good results, and there's enough talent here to finish this high, at least.

3. QUINNIPIAC

Losing a post presence like Brittany McQuain is a sizable setback. But four other key players are back from the team that gave Marist all it could handle in this season's MAAC Tournament championship game. The Bobcats had a 17-point lead late in the first half in that contest, and still had a late-game three-point shot to tie the contest that fell short. Rising senior point guard Gillian Abshire was among the national leaders in assists this past season and is as good at the position as it gets in the conference. Jasmine Martin is an effective perimeter scorer and returning forwards Samantha Guastella and Nikoline Ostergaard will help ensure Quinnipiac stays close to the top of the upcoming season's standings.

2 MARIST

Point guard Casey Dulin, do-everything guard Leanne Ockenden and first-team all-MAAC forward Emma O'Connor are gone, and they were probably Marist's top three players from this past season. Tough to endure losses like that and maintain. But, Marist has done it before, and there are reasons to believe they'll endure it again. Back are emerging all-stars Madeline Blais and Sydney Coffey, both capable of major offensive contributions. And, 6-3 center Tori Jarosz, who was never 100 percent this year after suffering a preseason Achilles injury, should be better in the coming season. Then, Giorgis has a knack for having young players make major strides, meaning the expectations will be high for rising sophs forward Kat Fogarty, guards Brittni Laiy and Sydney Rosales. Then, there appears to be a solid freshman class coming in, led by Maine's Player of the Year, guard Allie Clement. And, Giorgis is still head and shoulders the top coach in the conference, and that counts for something.

1. IONA

The Gaels became the first team to displace Marist as the top seeded team entering the MAAC's post-season tournament in nine seasons, after sharing the regular-season title with the Red Foxes and earning the No. 1 seed on tiebreakers. Iona had every starter from the previous year still in place for 2013-14, and first-year head coach Billi Godsey knew the team didn't need a lot of change, just a few tweaks which she capable installed. It will be much of the same in the coming season with three key starters still around. The biggest loss is defensive-minded post player/shot-blocker Sabrina Jeridore, and there's a replacement on hand in 6-4 eligible transfer Karynda Dupree, a part-time starter as a freshman at La Salle where she blocked four shots in three different games. Also back are arguably the league's top two players for 2014-15 in two-time Player of the Year guard Damika Martinez and reigning rebound leader forward Joy Adams. Also gone is steady point guard Haley D'Angelo, but Aleesha Powell is capable of moving into that role and Aaliyah Robinson, who has been instant perimeter offense off the bench in the past, is likely to join the starting lineup.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Iona, Siena Top The Early Ratings For Next Season

One season ends and, it seems, it's time to start looking ahead to the next one.

It's probably a little early for that. MAAC programs are still in the middle of the late recruiting period so incoming recruits and transfers could have subsequent changes on our league's basketball landscape in the time between now and the season's start in November.

But, we'll give it a try anyway. For now, here's one scribe's view of how teams will finish for the coming season, in reverse order.

The analysis will be relatively short, for now. We will say that it looks like a long, cold basketball winter in Western New York, that there appears to be a top-heavy, two-team race for the regular-season title, that two others seem strong bets for the top five spots and that everything below the top four is anyone's guess.

One last reminder: As I have done for at least a dozen years, I will once again be providing the MAAC's seasonal preview for The Sporting News' annual College Basketball preview issue, which traditionally hits newsstands in late September/early October.

The magazine is the best-of-its-kind national publication available through traditional outlets, and while the mid- and low-major leagues don't get quite as much space in the magazines as the high-level leagues, there's still enough to provide a concise and complete look at our league. Hope you'll check it out.

So, this year's "early" predictions for men. Women's predictions to follow within a few days...

11. NIAGARA

It looks like, at least right now, that guard Antoine Mason will return for his senior season. The nation's No. 2 scorer this past season will at least help the Purple Eagles remain competitive. But, the team's top big man (Marcus Ware) and second-best scorer (guard Marvin Jordan) are both graduating, and back-up point guard Tahjere McCall is leaving the program. Mason, 6-5 forward Ramone Snowden and point guard Wesley Myers is a nice trio, but there's not much else there for now. Incoming freshmen, or redshirts from this past season, will likely join the starting lineup and would have to make huge strides to move Niagara up in the conference standings.

10. CANISIUS

Losing Billy Baron, the league's top perimeter player in at least a decade, is bad enough. But, the program also loses its next two leading scorers (Chris Perez, Jordan Heath) and its best rebounder (Chris Manhertz). The Griffs start out with some backcourt potential in Zach Lewis and Dominique Raney, but without a point guard. Phil Valenti is becoming a very good MAAC forward, and  Josiah Heath, who averaged just 11 minutes per game last season, probably moves into the starting rotation. But, the team will be extremely inexperienced and will struggle to maintain the success of the past two seasons.

9. FAIRFIELD

Could be another rebuilding year for the Stags, who faced inexperience issues in the backcourt this past season and will again this year, due to reported transfers. Guards Justin Jenkins, Sean Grennan and Lincoln Davis all appear to be leaving Fairfield. And, the team's best player, Maurice Barrow, is graduating. It leaves talented 6-6 forward Marcus Gilbert, bruising forward Amadou Sidibe and promising sophomores-to-be K.J. Rose and Doug Chappell as four likely starters. The rest of the playing group is a question mark.

8. RIDER

The Broncs usually figure out a way to be competitive, but they're losing four-year stalwarts guard Anthony Myles and Daniel Stewart, their top two players. There's still a very good guard trio returning in Zedric Taylor, Kahlil Thomas and Jimmy Taylor, one of the league's emerging point guard standouts. Brusing post Junior Fortunat is also back. And, there's the addition of 7-foot-0 center Matt Lopez, who is very talented but has already been at two schools (La Salle, Utah State) in his first two seasons of college play. If Lopez works out, Rider has the potential to move up.

7. MARIST

The very effective front-court duo of Adam Kemp and Jay Bowie is gone, and there don't appear to be step-in replacements. Still, the Red Foxes have one of the top perimeter tandems in the MAAC in 6-5 senior swingman Chavaughn Lewis and Rookie of the Year point guard Khalil Hart, who is a real good one. And Lewis is an early Player of the Year candidate. Another guard, T.J. Curry, was effective when he got into the starting lineup. But, lightly used freshmen, ones like Kentrall Brooks and Nick Colletta, and sophomore Eric Truog will have to step up for Marist to continue building on the solid foundation coach Jeff Bower put in place in his first season.

6. MONMOUTH

Probably the biggest team in the MAAC with 6-10 post players Chris Brady and Zac Tillman having contributed this season as freshmen, as did 6-8 Greg Noack. The perimeter is well-stocked with bookend 6-6 forwards Deon Jones and Andrew Nicholas, the team's top two scorers from this past season. Guards Max DiLeo and Josh Jones give the team a good backcourt tandem as scorers and Justin Robinson, in his freshman season, showed he's one of the conference's better young point guards.  Basically, everyone is back and that could mean the Hawks could challenge for the top five.

5. MANHATTAN

The fallout from the Steve Masiello mess probably won't be felt this season, but his credibility took a hit in recent weeks and the question about whether his players will be as receptive to him in the future remains. Plus, the program lost as much via graduation as anyone with the departures of scoring swingman George Beamon, Defensive Player of the Year post player Rhamel Brown and gritty point guard Michael Alvarado. Returning is talented swingman Emmy Andujar, sniper Shane Richards and post player Ashton Pankey, who flashed some strong signs late in the season. But there are questions in the backcourt, enough to ensure Manhattan is on the bubble for finishing in the top five in the coming season.

4. QUINNIPIAC

The graduation losses of big man Ike Azotam and the two Shannons, Shaq and Umar, are considerable ones. But, there's a wealth of returning talent starting with one of the league's most-gifted inside players in Ousmane Drame and do-everything/hard-playing guard Zaid Hearst. Add to that group two very strong freshmen of this past season, guard Kasim Chandler and forward A.J. Sumbry, who will be a reasonable replacement for Azotam. Senior-to-be guard Evan Conti provides much versatility and experience to the backcourt and swingman James Ford provided off-the-bench production this past season.

3. SAINT PETER'S

Everyone of significance returns, with the exception of fourth-leading scorer Chris Burke, and a redshirt sophomore, Chaz Patterson, could be a more-than-adequate replacement. Senior-to-be guard Desi Washington (just ask Fairfield about him) and forward Marvin Dominique are among the top 10, or so, players in the league. Bruising post Quadir Welton and point guard Trevis Wyche both had strong freshman seasons and should step up even more. Kris Rolle had some big contributions in the MAAC tournament, and could play a bigger role this coming season. The Peacocks are probably either one more quality big man, or scorer, short of truly contending for the regular-season title. But, John Dunne is one of the league's top coaches and always seems to get his teams playing like the proverbial junk-yard dogs, particularly late in the season.

2. SIENA

Every scholarship player returns from a 20-victory team, albeit one whose win total got a significant boost from playing, and winning the title of, the CBI post-season tournament. Still, Siena got better as the season went on and went 9-2 in its last 11 games. The extra games (Siena played a program high 38 this season) helped it develop. Two freshmen were starters this past season, and two more were in the playing group. One frosh, Marquis Wright, is already among the best floor generals in the league. Senior-to-be Rob Poole is one of the MAAC's better players and 6-8 junior-to-be Brett Bisping emerged as a future all-conference candidate and probably improved, off the previous season, more than any other player in the league. Add to that mix eligible talented transfer swingman Patrick Cole and a couple of promising incoming freshmen and Siena is clearly in the mix for the top spot in the coming season. And, it doesn't hurt to have the league's best coach in Jimmy Patsos.

IONA

Tough to lose three starters in swingman Mike Poole and guards Trey Bowman and Sean Armand, the league's second most-proficient three-point shooter (to Canisius' Billy Baron this past season). But, two starters return in point guard A.J. English and forward Isaiah Williams. English is an early candidate for Player of the Year a year from now, and Williams is one of the league's most-talented performers. Plus, big man David Laury was an early season starter and lost that role through some lackluster midseason effort. But, at his best he's as good as it gets in the post in the MAAC. Then, there's Marshall transfer Kelvin Amayo, a redshirt last season, who adds more gifted offense to the Gaels. The fifth starter might be Tavon Sledge, a feisty point guard who has held that role in the past. And, as always, expect an off-season's infusion of more talented transfers/JC players to come aboard to help out. If offense meant everything Iona would be the runaway favorite for next season. But, because defense is an equal part of the equation, the Gaels look to be only a very slight favorite over Siena.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Top MAAC Women's Stories of 2013-14 Hoops Season

Earlier this week we identified the Top 10 stories of the 2013-14 season for men. Time, now, for the ladies, in reverse order ...

10. GOOD THINGS ON DISPLAY AT MONMOUTH

This story is almost predicated on good things to come for the first-year entrant to the MAAC, but that's a product of what we saw from the Hawks this past season.

Despite just a 6-14 league record, we're picking Monmouth as the surprise team of next season. The team has some of the best young talent we've seen (and we saw every women's team play at least three times), including a pair of 6-foot-4 skilled and talented "bigs" in Christina Mitchell and Sophie Beaudry and point Helena Kurt. All three will be sophomores next season and all three are very talented.

And, there's a strong third 6-4 player on the scene in senior-to-be Sara English. Monmouth's team this season, and next, might be the tallest the MAAC has ever seen. And head coach Jenny Palmateer isn't adverse to using two of her "trees" at the same time. And, it's not that Monmouth didn't show some signs this season. It beat third-place Fairfield during the regular season and finished strong with a regular-season ending demolition of Siena (80-57) and a play-in MAAC Tournament round victory over Niagara (66-62), before a tournament-ending loss to Iona.

9. MASON SHOWS SIGNS OF THINGS TO COME

If Monmouth's play this year was a harbinger of future team success, then the indications of an emerging standout were on display by Rider's Stephanie Mason in the MAAC Tournament.

Mason, a 5-foot-9 freshman guard, was a lightly used reserve (11.5 minute-per-game average) for much of the regular season. And, in the MAAC event's play-in round she played just three minutes, had a turnover, a foul and did not score.

And, then, she didn't play much in the first half of the tournament's quarterfinal-round contest against Fairfield. But, with the Stags holding a 43-34 advantage midway through the second half, Mason became the event's emerging star.

Against a Fairfield zone, she made four consecutive three-pointers, the final one giving her team a 50-46 lead on its way to a 63-56 upset over the tournament's No. 3 seed.

As if to show that wasn't a fluke, she scored a career-high 18 points in 23 minutes of playing time in the semifinal round, a surprisingly close 70-59 loss to Marist.

8. A NEW REGULAR-SEASON CHAMPION

For the first time in 10 years a team other than Marist was the regular-season champion. That was Iona, coached by Billi Godsey.

The Gaels actually tied for the top spot with the Red Foxes, both with 18-2 conference records. But, by virtue of tie-breakers, Iona was the top seed for the MAAC Tournament.

7. IONA'S GODSEY NAMED NATIONAL AWARD WINNER

Godsey was recently named the WBCA Spalding Maggie Dixon Division I Rookie Coach of the Year, with the announcement coming in Nashville, Tenn., the night prior to the NCAA tournament's women's championship game. She becomes the first coach in conference history to claim the honor.

In her first season as a head coach she led Iona to a program record 26 victories and an in-season 18-game winning streak, the longest in school history.

The award is named in honor of the late Maggie Dixon, the former Army head coach, whose inaugural year with that program resulted in a 2006 Patriot League title. Dixon tragically passed away on April 6, 2006, just a few weeks following her team's appearance in the NCAA tournament.

6. ANOTHER STRONG SEASON FOR FAIRFIELD

The Stags played longer into the 2013-14 season than any MAAC women's program, advancing to the semifinal round of the WBI Tournament before losing to Illinois-Chicago.

Fairfield finished with a 22-11 record and, during the regular season, handed Marist one of its two losses.

It was just the continuation of a strong run of success under coach Joe Frager, whose team has participated in national post-season play four times (three WBI events, one WNIT berth) in the past five years.

5. NEAR HISTORIC YEAR BY RIDER'S McKENZIE

While MyNeshia McKenzie, the talented 6-foot-0 senor forward was putting up big numbers all year for Rider, she was also chasing history.

Her 19.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per-game average this past season was the latest run by a player that fell just short of averaging a historic 20/10 for a full season.

No MAAC women's player has ever recorded a 20/10 season average. The closest was former Loyola standout Patty Stoffey, who was five total rebounds short of the achievement in the mid-1990's.

4. HISTORICAL RUNS BY IONA PLAYERS

We're seeing history in the making by two Iona players, junior guard Damika Martinez and sophomore forward Joy Adams.

Martinez, through three seasons, already has 1,866 career points which is 11th all-time on the league's career list. When she scores 10 more points next season she'll move up to eighth. And, before the season is out, she is almost assured of becoming the MAAC's all-time leading scorer. Loyola's Patty Stoffey currently tops the league's career scoring list with 2,467 points.

Martinez had 771 points last season (her 24.9 ppg. average was eighth-best nationally), so a duplication of that would push her to 2.,637.

Adams, in just two seasons, has moved into the No. 31 spot among the league's career rebounders with a total of 794. Her 13.8 rebound-per-game average this past season was third-best nationally.

She needs just 423 more rebounds to become the conference's all-time leader in grabbing missed shots, a mark currently held by former Manhattan standout Rosalee Mason (1,217). Adams had 442 rebounds this past season, and still has two more seasons of eligibility.

Adams is also chasing national historical marks. If she duplicates this past season with her next two years, she'll finish with close to 1,700 career rebounds. That would be enough to lift her into the No. 3 spot of all-time rebounders in NCAA Division I history, behind only Courtney Parks (2,034) of Oklahoma and Wanda Ford (1,887) of Drake.

3. MARIST BEATS RANKED OKLAHOMA

It isn't often that top-25 ranked opponents even take a game against a MAAC team, let alone travel to play on the home court of one of our conference's programs.

But, Oklahoma (ranked 19th nationally at the time of the game), came to the McCann Recreation Center for a December non-league game and Marist showed why ranked teams are loath to come to Poughkeepsie.

The Red Foxes earned a 76-69 victory. Sophomore guard Sydney Coffey poured in a game-high 25 points for the winners.

It was Marist's first-ever home-court victory over a nationally ranked opponent.

2. MARIST'S SERIES WITH IONA

There was a new challenge for the Marist women this year in the form of Iona.

Iona won the first of the two regular-season meetings with the Red Foxes, 73-71, in Poughkeepsie (Jan. 13) on Damika Martinez' dramatic 17-foot shot with three seconds remaining.

The outcome broke a 42-game home winning streak by Marist and a 36-game string of victories over MAAC opponents in games played anywhere.

Marist, though, got revenge in a big way when the two teams met again in the final game of the regular season, on the Gaels' home court.

The Red Foxes came away with a start-to-finish demolition of Iona, winning by a 79-67 score that wasn't anywhere near as close as the final score indicated.

1. MARIST, YET AGAIN, IN CLASSIC VICTORY

Marist entered this season's MAAC tournament with an eight-year run as the event's winner and automatic entrant to the NCAA tournament. Under the superb direction of coach Brian Giorgis, it had been nine NCAA trips in the past 10 seasons.

It looked very much like that string would end as Quinnipiac, which entered the MAAC this season after winning the championship of its former league (the Northeast Conference) the previous season, held a 17-point lead late in the first half if this year's MAAC Tournament championship game.

But, then, Marist started chipping its way back in, getting to within 11 at halftime and kept the pressure on after that.

Sophomore guard Sydney Coffey had 16 of her team-high 23 points in the second half for Marist and gave her team its first second-half lead with a bucket with 5:45 remaining.

Quinnipiac, though, didn't falter, and a basket by its superb post player Brittany McQuain followed by two free throws by guard Jasmine Martin tied the score at 64-64 with 2:18 remaining.

Junior center Tori Jarosz, though, followed with a layup and a free thow to give Marist a 67-64 lead with 1:43 remaining. McQuain than made another inside shot to pull the Bobcats to within one with a minute left.

Coffee then made two free throws with 14 seconds remaining to give the Red Foxes a 69-66 lead, and a subsequent three-point attempt to tie the game for Quinnipiac bounced off the rim.

Marist secured another MAAC championship game victory and its ninth straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

Although it lost, 87-65, in a first-round NCAA game against Iowa (on Iowa's home court), the MAAC tournament victory proved once again that the only certainties seem to be death, taxes and conference domination by the Marist women's basketball team.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Looking Back at MAAC'S Top Stories For 2013-14

College basketball season, at least for men (the women's NCAA championship contest is tonight), is over. So, what better time to reflect on what we've seen.

Here, in reverse order, are one person's opinion on the Top 10 stories in the MAAC this season. We'll do men first. The ladies will get their chance ... when their season ends.

10. ADDITIONS OF QUINNIPIAC AND MONMOUTH

The decisions to add the two programs was visionary. Each brings nice mid-sized facilities to the league, true "small arenas," if you will, that instantly became the best two on-campus buildings in the league.

And, both brought pretty good teams. Quinnipiac contended for the league title most of the season, while Monmouth, despite a less-than-stellar won-loss record, exhibited one of the better stables of young players and figures to be a solid program in the coming year and even better going forward.

9. A DOUBLE DOSE OF REBOUNDING

Quinnipiac was the best rebounding team in the country, its 11.8 rebound-per-game positive differential over opponents was No. 1 nationally.

There was little surprise about that, not after watching the bruising inside tandem of junior Ousmane Drame and senior Ike Azotam do their tough work inside all season. Drame's 10.5 rebound-per-game average is ninth-best nationally, while Azotam's 10.2 average is 12th best.

8. JIMMY PATSOS AT SIENA

He was the head coach at Loyola for the previous nine seasons, but clearly didn't want to be part of that program's move to the Patriot League. When Siena's position opened up last March, Patsos was interested. And, credit Siena for being interested in him.

In truth, it was a no-brainer of a decision. Patsos had a strong resume as both a program-builder (Loyola won a single game the year before he took over and, then, had the MAAC's best record over his final two seasons) and for bringing out the best in his players.

At Siena, he turned 6-8 sophomore forward Brett Bisping, a virtual non-entity the previous season, into one of the most-improved performers nationally. He fit together a playing group of four freshmen, two sophomores who barely played last season and three juniors who all had bigger roles than in the past and, somehow, turned in a 20-victory season (more on that later).

It's no stretch to consider Patsos the best coach in the MAAC.

7. ANTHONY MASON'S BIG SEASON

The 6-foot-3 junior guard at Niagara led the country in scoring for a good portion of the season before winding up No. 2 (to Doug McDermott) with his 25.6 ppg. average.

And, somehow, he was omitted, by league coaches (shame on you!) from the conference's top post-season all-star team.

Still, he was the rare bright light for a Purple Eagles' program that was decimated by defections last spring and summer of former head coach Joe Mihalich and three of its best expected returnees who opted to play elsewhere.

6. IONA'S REGULAR SEASON TITLE

After finishing fourth the previous year, the Gaels reloaded and came as close to dominating the regular season, with a 17-3 record, as we've seen since Siena's three-peat series of titles a few years back.

As usual, Tim Cluess' team made a living with its offense, scoring 83.6 points per game that ranked nearly five points per contest better than the next-best scoring average by a conference squad.

If nothing else, Iona was the league's most-exciting team to watch, particularly with its all-league backcourt pairing of senior Sean Armand and sophomore A.J. English.

5. DESI WASHINGTON'S LATE-GAME SHOTS

The offensive-minded junior guard from Saint Peter's ended Fairfield's season with a 28-foot three-pointer from the right side as time was running down in overtime, giving the Peacocks an overtime victory in the quarterfinal round of the MAAC tournament.

By then, Fairfield had already seen far more of that than it wanted. The buzzer-beater marked the third time this year Washington beat the Stags on a last-second shot. All three were three-pointers, and all three were virtually from the same exact spot ... right hand side ... of the court.

At Saint Peter's, they called that "thrice as nice."

4. BILLY BARON'S WORK AT CANISIUS

The 6-2 senior guard was a do-everything performer who helped lift his team to its best season since the days when John Beilein prowled the Buffalo school's sidelines.

Baron averaged 24.1 points per game (1,405 total points over two years since transferring from Rhode Island to continue playing for his father, Jim Baron) AND, he led the MAAC in assists.

The statistics he accumulated, creating a place in school history and, even, reaching some rare national milestones, are too wide-reaching to mention them all. It's sufficient to just say he was the top perimeter talent these eyes have seen in the MAAC since Luis Flores played at Manhattan more than a decade ago.

3. MANHATTAN'S TRIP TO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

The regular season didn't go as expected. The Jaspers were the universal preseason pick to win the regular-season crown and, then, went 15-5 to finish second to Iona. But Manhattan got things right after that, advancing to the NCAA's via a MAAC tournament title that included a 71-68 victory over Iona (holding the Gaels to more than 15 points below their per-game average).

Once in the national event, Manhattan drew the unenviable match-up with Louisville, the previous season's national championship. And, it was an even less-enviable pairing for the coaches of the two schools. Rick Pitino is Louisville's head coach, and Manhattan coach Steve Masiello not only played a season for Pitino (at Kentucky), but served under Pitino as a Louisville assistant for the six seasons prior to his hiring at Manhattan.

And, then, Masiello's team nearly pulled off what would have been one of the top upsets of the tournament, leading Louisville with only a few minutes remaining before Pitino's team made a final surge to earn a 71-64 victory.

2. THE MASIELLO MESS AT MANHATTAN

Not long after Manhattan's NCAA Tournament appearance, it appeared Masiello was making the inevitable move to bigger and better ... a five-year deal for more than $6 million total was agreed on for the Jaspers' coach to move to the University of South Florida.

And, then, a background check turned up the previously overlooked fact that Masiello had never graduated from Kentucky, despite having claimed, on his official resume, to have earned a degree in communications from that school.

Once the fabrication was discovered, USF opted to withdraw its agreement with Masiello, and the coach was left in limbo for several weeks while Manhattan (which also has a policy of not hiring coaches without a degree) decided whether or not to allow him to return.

In a recent decision, Manhattan announced that Masiello would be on unpaid suspension, but would be permitted to return to his position as head coach upon completion of degree work (reportedly, he needs to complete 10 credit hours), presumably this summer.

1. SIENA'S RUN TO A CBI TITLE

It might only be No. 4 in the proverbial pecking order of the four national post-season tournaments, but it's a national event, nonetheless, and Siena won it this season. It is believed to be the first championship of a national post-season tournament ever by a MAAC team since the league's formation in the early 1980's.

Siena did it with a back-to-the-future there, playing the final two games of the unusual best-of-three championship series with Fresno State on its on-campus, 3,500-capacity Alumni Recreation Center gymnasium.

It's the first time the ARC was used, due to conflicts at Siena's usual Times Union Center home, for a regular-season men's game since Feb. 18, 1997.

Siena did its best work there on Saturday, leading every second of the way after the game's first play (a Brett Bisping three-pointer). The Saints had a 17-point lead by halftime against a very good opponent, a 22-point lead early in the second half and, then, held off a late-game challenge (the Bulldogs got to within nine with 1:31 remaining).

Bisping, who Siena coach Jimmy Patsos called "one of the most-improved players in the country," was the event's MVP.