Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Early Picks for Top Individual Post-Season Honors

A number of sources claim that this particular forum, while meant to be a place for MAAC followers to read about a variety of entertaining topics from around the league, is also read by more than a few coaches.

And, for some reason, the belief is that some of the opinions delivered in this particular corner of cyberspace might influence those coaches who vote on the very meaningful post-season awards.

This forum is influential? C'mon.

But, on the slim chance that it is ... and with the knowledge that some of the voting is done before the last weekend of league play, here are your correspondent's choices for those post-season honors. Just in case.

Women's awards first, followed soon by men's:


A three-person race.

Lynn Milligan's Rider team is 9-7 headed into its final two games. One win in the last two will enable the program to equal its all-time single-season best victory total (10, 1999-00 season) since entering the MAAC in 1997. Its current victory total of nine is the best since then. If Rider wins its last two (home games vs. Siena and Iona), Milligan will have a strong case in the coaches' picks.

Tony Bozzella's Iona team is 11-5 and tied for second place in the conference standings, far surpassing expectations of league coaches who picked the Gaels to finish eighth in the preseason poll. Iona's core group is also relatively young (only one senior in the first eight), and has progressed noticeably throughout the season, winning six of its last seven games. If his team wins its last two (games at Manhattan and at Rider), Bozzella will be a very strong candidate.

Brian Giorgis' Marist team is 16-0, has already clinched its 10th consecutive regular-season title (and, that's not a misprint) several games ago and might finish out with its third unbeaten record in league play in the last six years. Typical Marist? Not this year, not after the team lost its only two post players to injuries after two games, requiring Giorgis to readjust his team's playing style during an ongoing season.

THE CHOICE: Giorgis of Marist, particularly if his team avoids a late-season "slip" (home against Saint Peter's, at Fairfield) and finishes 18-0 in league play for the third time in six seasons. Considering the loss of his team's only two post players after this season's second game, this has been his best work.


Probably a two-person race.

Siena's senior forward Lily Grenci, Siena's only consistent offensive force, has faced a steady diet of defensive double-teams, triple-teams and, at times, quadruple-teams. Still, her 16.4 ppg. average in MAAC-only games is second best in the league and her rebound average of 9.3 is third. She is the only player in the league in the top three in those two major statistical categories.

Iona's sophomore guard Damika Martinez leads the league in scoring at 17.8 in MAAC-only games. A year ago she became the first freshman in league history to lead all conference scorers. After some early season inconsistencies, she has speaheaded Iona's in-season turnaround and is shooting 45.9 percent from the field (eighth in the league) and 51,4 percent during the team's recent 6-1 run.

THE CHOICE: This one is so close that your blogger really would like to hold off on a decision until after the final two games. If Siena were to avoid the play-in round of the league tournament, that would bolster Grenci's chances. Iona, though, looks like it will either finish second or third. Knowing how coaches tend to favor players from higher-finishing teams, the choice could easily be Martinez. But, also knowing how coaches tend to vote for seniors over underclasswomen, the choice could easily be Grenci. I'm still supporting Grenci, primarily because she has been consistent throughout the season while Martinez had some mid-season struggles. But that's subject to change after the coming weekend.


NOTE: We're only considering stats in league play,since it's next to impossible to interpret, say, non-league stats of a Marist program that played four teams ranked in the top 15 nationally compared to several other league teams that play significantly easier non-conference schedules.

- Lily Grenci, Siena's 6-1 senior forward (16.4 ppg., 9.3 rebounds).
- Damika Martinez, Iona's 5-7 sophomore guard (17.8 ppg.)
- MyNeshia McKenzie, Rider's 5-11 junior forward (14.1 ppg., 10.1 rebounds)
- Lauren Gatto, Niagara's 6-2 junior center (15.2 ppg., 6.7 rebounds)
- Ashley Durham, Canisius' 5-6 senior guard (15.2 ppg., 90.3 FT percentage)

Toughest omission: Iona's 5-11 freshman forward Joy Adams (14.3 ppg., 9.4 rebounds)


Two serious contenders.

Kristina Danella, a 6-1 forward from Marist, averages 9.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and makes 90.9 percent of her free throws.

Meghan McGuinness, a 5-11 guard from Niagara, averages 11.3 points per contest.

THE CHOICE: Danella, who is a true "Sixth Player." She only started three times in the Red Foxes' 27 overall games this season. McGuinness, on the other hand, has 13 starts in Niagara's first 27 games and is as much a "starter" as a "sixth player."


No need for discussion here.

THE CHOICE: Iona's 5-foot-11 freshman forward Joy Adams. She is a borderline choice for all-conference first-team honors. She already has been the league's Rookie of the Week 11 times this season, matching the all-time best for most times winning that award (only Marist's Rachele Fitz also won 11 times), and there's one more week of play for her to get No. 12.


Two serious contenders.

Siena's 5-9 sophomore guard Tehresa Coles, who has ranked in the top 20 for steals nationally for most of the season and is a disruptive full-court force, not only making steals but getting deflections, tie-ups, and getting to more loose balls than any player your blogger has seen in a few years.

Marist's 5-10 junior guard Leanne Ockenden, arguably the league's best on-ball defender for the league's top defensive team.

Amazingly, a mid-season assessment that Coles was the front-runner for the award (at that point) drew more debate than any single topic in recent memory in this forum. Which led us to take an even closer look.

While it's true that Coles is among the national  leaders in steals, she is not the league's top "thief." In league play, Kristal Edwards of Saint Peter's averages more steals than Coles. And, Siena's so-called "Blizzard" defense is primarily a zone (although first-year coach Ali Jaques doesn't like the "zone" label for it) which allows Coles significant freedom to roam since she's not assigned a specific player to guard. In her position at the top of the key on defense, she's well covered by teammates if she gambles for a steal and misses.. Still, your blogger hasn't seen a more-disruptive force on the defensive end in recent years. Even without getting a steal, her play alone often prohibits opposing offenses from even looking at the basket until the shot clock is running down. Her quickness and game-long hustle gives Siena more "extra" possessions than any player in the league for any other team.

Ockenden is a different defender. Marist plays almost exclusively man-to-man and Ockenden always is assigned the opponent's highest perimeter scorer. Her job is to prohibit her "opposite number" from scoring, and there's a reason why she's known as "Lockdown Leanne" by followers of the Marist program. While it's difficult to identify who she spends the most time guarding every game, the observation is that it's almost always the opponent's off-guard, or the team's top backcourt scorer. Through 16 MAAC games so far, only four of her most-likely defensive assignments have scored more than 11 points against Marist this season, and Iona's Damika Martinez, the league's leading scorer, has done it twice (17 both times). In all, opposing off-guards shoot 28.8 percent against Marist and average just 7.4 points per game. Preseason Player of the Year Katie Sheahin is a combined 1-for-18 shooting in two games with Ockenden as the primary defender. Ockenden's steal average is still noteworthy (2.3, fifth best in the conference), and she has 14 blocked shots (9th best) in 16 games. Plus, she is the best defender on a team whose defense is No. 1 in the league in every measurable statistic. Marist allows just 47.2 points per game (next is Fairfield at 54.1) and holds opponents to 32.6 percent on field goal attempts. Siena ranks ninth in both those statistics.

THE CHOICE: Proverbial apples and oranges. A pick-pocket thief and full-court disruptive force (Coles) or a brick-wall defender (Ockenden). This one might be as difficult as the Player of the Year choice, not only for coaches but for your humble correspondent. But, we're finally leaning toward Ockenden, slightly, as the choice for this award..

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