Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Men's Storylines at the Midway Juncture

In case you didn't notice, the halfway point of the conference men's season has been reached. Every team has played nine of its 18 conference games.

So, at the halfway mark let's take a look at storylines that have developed within the MAAC thus far, in no particular order ...

- The struggles of Siena.

Actually, this is probably the top story in the league. Any time a team with as much recent success as Siena (four straight trips to the MAAC tournament's championship game) then follows with some struggles it's a topic throughout the league.

Still, you didn't expect the three-time defending conference champions to make it four in a row, did you? Not after the loss of Alex Franklin, Edwin Ubiles and Ronald Moore, three of the best players in the program's history. Add to that the graduation of Kenny Hasbrouck, the league's 2009 Player of the Year, the previous season and that's four all-time program standouts over two years.

No MAAC program has weathered that kind of personnel losses without a significant drop off.

So the Saints, 77-26 over the past three seasons, are 7-12 overall right now with a 4-5 MAAC record which places them in sixth in league play just a game ahead of two seventh-place teams in the quest to avoid the post-season tournament's play-in round.

Could Siena's fall have been predicted? To some extent. Your blogger picked the Saints for fourth. But, maybe not to this extent.

So, what's the problem? The impatient (some might say way-over-the-edge impatient) Siena fans are already picking apart first-year head coach Mitch Buonaguro.

But, it's not the fault of the top assistant coach at the program during previous coach Fran McCaffery's five-year run. Place much of the blame on McCaffery who struggled in recruiting for some time as quality recruits opted to go elsewhere rather than come to Siena and sit for a season or two while the likes of Ubiles, Franklin, Moore, Hasbrouck, Ryan Rossiter and Clarence Jackson got almost all the minutes over the past three seasons.

That situation has left the current junior and sophomore classes without a standout, instead comprised entirely of role players. McCaffery's proclivity for keeping his starters in the game for beyond reasonable minutes also inhibited the development of the role players.

And, then, McCaffery took 6-8 freshman forward Malsahn Basabe, who originally signed a scholarship agreement to play at Siena, with him to Iowa. Basabe is averaging 10.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game at Iowa, much of it against Big 10 competition. Imagine how much he'd have helped the Saints had he come aboard.

Siena might still have weathered its woes a little better were it not for season-long ankle injuries to senior guard Jackson, a preseason first-team all-MAAC player. The Saints are now 2-7 in games he has either missed entirely or large portions of, and 5-5 otherwise.

There's a universal belief that you are what your record indicates. Siena's 7-12 record indicates the absence of its second-best player with an injury, the defection of a highly-touted recruit, the graduation losses of all-time players over the past two seasons and a recruting handicap while those players were monopolizing playing time minutes during their respective careers.

- Coach of the Year so far?

That's easy. Fairfield's Ed Cooley, who already lost senior forward Greg Nero to continued health issues for the season and has several former all-league caliber players, most notably Yorel Hawkins and Warren Edney, yet to return to that level of play this season. Still, the Stags are front-runners with an 8-1 record and a 15-4 overall record. Their only loss thus far was by a point at Loyola.

- Surprise team?

In a positive sense, Loyola, which is 6-3 in league play so far and having pinned the lone setback on Fairfield through the midway point.

After a 4-8 start overall the Grehounds have rattled off a 6-1 record, and are doing so without a single player averaging over 11.1 points per game. Shane Walker has emerged as one of the conference's best big men, producing 11.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.

The team has started eight different players this season and, as always, gets the solid team-oriented play head coach Jimmy Patsos demands.

Honorable mention surprise team goes to Saint Peter's, also 6-3 in league play (11-9 overall), which has played much of the season facing uncertainty over its best player, guard Wesley Jenkins, and his knee woes. Jenkins, though, is playing at a high level of late and the Peacocks are using quickness and athleticism to overcome a lack of height (no player taller than 6-foot-7).

- Surprise team in a negative sense?

The knee-jerk reaction is to look at the 3-6 conference record of Canisius (9-10 overall), despite the return of four starters and the addition of South Florida transfer Gaby Belardo, who has been spectacular at times, as the fifth starter.

But, it appears to have taken the Golden Griffins a few games to develop chemistry with Belardo, their new point guard. Over the last nine games Canisius is 5-4 including a recent victory over second-place Iona.

So, things are definitely going in the right direction for a team that certainly will be feared in the post-season tournament.

Maybe Niagara, then? After several seasons as a league contender, the Purple Eagles are tied for last in the conference with a 1-8 mark.

Again, easy to understand. Niagara has the same problems as Siena ... the loss of three high-quality performers (Bilal Benn, Tyrone Lewis, Rob Garrison) to graduation, and an injury to highly regarded freshman Antoine Mason, who averaged 16.7 points in his first three games and hasn't played since due to a foot injury.

- Mid-Season All-Stars.

Let's go with 10:
- Ryan Rossiter, Siena's 6-9 center.
- Mike Glover, Iona's 6-7 forward.
- Anthony Nelson, Niagara's 6-1 guard.
- Justin Robinson, Rider's 6-1 guard.
- George Beamon, Manhattan's 6-3 guard.
- Scott Machado, Iona's 6-1 guard.
- Derrick Needham, Fairfield's 5-11 guard.
- Mike Ringold, Rider's 6-7 forward
-Shane Walker, Loyola's 6-10 center.
- Ryan Bacon, St. Peter's 6-7 forward.

- Player of the Year at the mid-way point:

Siena's Ryan Rossiter in a semi-runaway. His 19.5 points per game trails league leader Mike Glover (19.7) by two-tenths of a point. His 13.1 rebounds per contest not only leads the MAAC, but is 2nd-best nationally.

COMING ATTRACTION: We'll take a look at the top women's stories at the mid-way point.

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