Friday, December 2, 2011

News, Notes From Around The MAAC

Please pardon the recent interruption to Keepin' Track of the MAAC. Your blogger took a brief hiatus to recharge the batteries, while doing considerable research.

The results will be a full compliment of team-by-team previews for both men's and women's programs beginning before the weekend is out.

But before we get to that, it's time for the latest installment of "ATM," otherwise known as "Around The MAAC"

- JUST WHEN YOU think it's save to start believing that this might be the year someone (finally) other than the Marist women's team wins the conference's regular-season title which the Red Foxes have owned for the past seven years, things begin reverting to accepted normality once again.

Marist started 1-2 against non-conference opponents, losing to Villanova and Princeton, both solid teams. Since then it won two games in Cancun (over Drake and South Dakota State) and another over a good Hartford (5-2) squad.

The Red Foxes, though, clearly don't have the offensive firepower of a year ago. Scoring replacements for departed Player of the Year Erica Allenspach (graduation) and forward Kate Oliver (transfer) have yet to emerge on a consistent basis. Senior guard Corielle Yarde (15.5 points per game) is the team's only double-figure scorer to date. Kristina Danella, a 6-1 forward and a transfer from UMass, looked to be the best option to provide a little extra offense but she is only averaging 5.3 points per game through the team's first six games. And Allenspach's replacement at point guard, Kristine Best, runs the team well (18 assists against just 6 turnovers), but isn't much of a scoring threat (3.2 points per game thus far).

- SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE ... Rider's senior guard Ali Heller led all conference women in 3-point shooting percentage (.433) last season, and is off to an even faster start this year. Through five games she is shooting .571 percent from beyond the bonus stripe, the 10th-best percentage nationally of all Division I players. She has made 16-of-28 tries, including a career high six (6-of-10 shooting) in the team's 68-48 victory over St. Francis (N.Y.) on Wednesday.

- THE BEST FRESHMAN in the league so far among women's players so far is 5-7 guard Damika Martinez of Iona, whose 13.0 points per game is ninth-best in the MAAC and best for all freshmen. Her addition makes an already strong Iona team a better candidate to be among the potential teams seeking to dethrone Marist. The Gaels have the requisite "star" player in 6-1 senior forward Kristina Ford (she leads the conference in scoring with 19.1 points per game, and is second in rebounds at 8.4) and a terrific point-guard in fifth-year senior Suzi Fregosi, who not only leads the MAAC in assists (6.0 per game), but in free-throw percentage (.947, having missed just one charity stripe attempt thus far).

- THE SIENA MEN'S team continues to forge on with limited numbers, playing its recent games (including a 51-44 loss at Saint Peter's on Thursday) with just seven healthy scholarship players. Four of those are freshmen, and one of those (forward Marcus Hooper) saw just three minutes of action. Expected senior contributor Owen Wignot continues to sit out after suffering a head injury in the team's season-opener, and remains in a day-to-day situation. The Saints do expect 6-6 sophomore forward Trenity Burdine (foot injury) to return around Christmas.

- ONE OF THE TOP individual games by a women's player to date was turned in by Siena's senior forward Lily Grenci, who had 23 points and 18 rebounds (the highest rebound total to date by a women's player this season) in a 75-63 loss to a solid North Carolina A&T squad on Thanksgiving. Grenci, who only had 139 points and 104 rebounds combined over her first two years due to a variety of foot and ankle injuries, is healthy this season and is the league's second-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder.

- THE BEST CANISIUS MEN'S TEAM might be the one the current starters have to face every day in practice. The practice unit includes three transfers who are ineligible this season due to NCAA transfer rules, but figure to play prominent roles a year from now. Freddie Asprilla, a 6-10, 28-pound center, transferred to the program from Kansas State; Jordan Heath, a 6-10 forward, came to the team from Robert Wesleyan; and, 6-3 guard Isaac Sosa transferred in from Central Florida.

"We've got two guys close to seven feet, and Sosa to practice against every day," said Canisius coach Tom Parrotta. "Those three are tough for our starters to practice against every day."

Until next season, though, the Golden Griffins will try to overcome a size deficiency this season. Four of its top five players are 6-foot-2 or smaller, and its fifth (sophomore Chris Manhertz) is only 6-foot-6.

THE TOP SCORING men's team nationally is Iona, averaging 94.3 points per game through Thursday's contests. And those points come, in no small part, because the Gaels have the top assist-distributor on the Division I level in Scott Machado, whose 12.8 dishes-per-contest is slightly rivaled only by North Carolina's Kendall Marshall (10.8).

Machado's "signature" game thus far was a 15-assist, zero-turnover performance in a 26-point rout of Maryland in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic.

"When I saw the stat sheet, I thought that was a misprint," said Iona coach Tim Cluess. "He (Machado) is as good as anyone in the country at point guard right now."

ESPN's Doug Gottleib, serving as color commentator for the Iona games televised from the Puerto Rico event, opined on the air that Machado was playing himself into a late first-round position in the next NBA draft.

NOTE: Check back tomorrow (Saturday) for more ATM ...

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