Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Hopes For MAAC Teams

Call this a late visit from Santa bearing fictional gifts ... or some New Year's desires for MAAC men's teams.

Whatever, here are some things we hope happen for conference programs:

FAIRFIELD: The return to close to full health for fifth-year senior forward Greg Nero, and an opportunity to be an on-court contributor before the season ends. Nero is one of the hardest-playing individuals this blogger has seen in many years and deserves to finish out semi healthy on the court.

IONA: A national assist title for junior guard Scott Machado, which would be the second straight won by a MAAC player (Siena's Ronald Moore led the nation in assists last year), and continued good play by Mike Glover, all of which should keep the Gaels in serious contention for the league crown.

SIENA: Two things: Better health for its players and patience from a tradionally impatient fan base. Senior guard Clarence Jackson has missed several games with a badly sprained ankle, and his absence has hurt Siena's offense (Siena only scored 48 points at St. Joseph's). Several other key players have missed games as well. The result is a 4-8 start for the Saints and clear displeasure from many fans who somehow expect the team to be as good as the last three seasons despite the fact that three of the program's best-ever players graduated last year and ain't walking through that door.

MARIST: Continued progress of young players on what must be one of the youngest teams in the country. Marist won't contend this year, but it's fun to watch a young team make strides and the Red Foxes are already showing signs of that.

CANISIUS: Is it too much to ask for another year of eligibility for graduated guard Frank Turner? Guess so. OK, a few fewer turnovers from his replacement, Gabby Belardo (44 assists, 49 turnovers so far), which should be good enough for the Golden Griffins, a veteran team, to win more games than the previous year for the fifth straight season.

NIAGARA: Rapid maturation of young players for the 29th youngest team nationally. More games like its 69-61 victory at St. Bonaventure recently, the Purple Eagles' only victory in their last 10 games. And, a return to health of freshman swingman Antoine Mason, who averaged 16.7 points in his first three games before a foot injury has kept him out since then.

SAINT PETER'S: Either a quick, albeit unexpected, return to health by senior guard Wesley Jenkins, or an ability to play without him. With Jenkins the Peacocks were playing like conference contenders. Without him, so far, they have merely been solid but clearly missing his offensive contributions. Here's hoping Jenkins either comes back from his knee injury this season. But, if not, he'll redshirt and, hopefully, help his team contend for a conference crown next season.

MANHATTAN: Fewer one-and-dones ... first Rico Pickett, who led the conference in scoring last year before departing early to pursue professional opportunities and, now, Demetrius Jemison, a 6-8 forward graduate student who played three seasons at Alabama and will only be with the Jaspers for the rest of this season. Tough to build good team chemistry that way.

LOYOLA: A go-to scorer for a team whose per-game leader (Jamal Barney) only averages 11.0 points per game. Barney seems like the likely candidate after leading the MAAC in scoring two years ago, but hasn't approached that kind of production since then. The Greyhounds appear to have enough supporting pieces, but are off to an 0-2 MAAC start and a 4-8 overall record.

RIDER: The belief that all its MAAC games are really non-conference contests. Last year the Broncs beat then No. 15 Mississippi State in a non-conference contest and, then, went an underachieving 9-9 in league play. This year the Broncs are 8-4 against a tough non-league slate, including a victory at USC. And, then, in their first MAAC contest hosting Siena on Nov. 26 they were dominated, 73-60.

TO ALL: It's easy to say a happy and healthy new year. Let's hope the new year brings exciting basketball and success for MAAC programs. But, more importantly, that all of us remember that athletics is just a small part of life, particularly at the mid-major level. Life is about far more than that. It's about relationships, and the hope here is that all of us get to spend time with and appreciate those we love. That truly is the most important thing of all.

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