Saturday, February 16, 2013

Rambling Thoughts, Opinions As Season Winds Down

Thoughts as the MAAC season heads for its final games of regular-season play:

- The Iona men look to have more individual talent than any team in the conference, but relative struggles (the Gaels have lost four of their last five games) have to be somewhat attributable to team chemistry issues with nine new players joining the program since the end of last season. Basketball is the ultimate team game, and it takes time for players to learn how to play together. Still time, though, and Iona will definitely be dangerous in the league's post-season tournament.

- Favorite quote of the year, coming after someone asked Niagara coach Joe Mihalich about if there was a surprise that his team has held on to first place in the men's standings despite a starting lineup that includes three sophomores and a freshman. "Is this team ahead of schedule?" Mihalich was asked. "I wasn't aware that there was any schedule," responded Mihalich.

- I'm not a big fan of the recent trend of MAAC programs bringing in a slew of transfers to quickly rebuild a team, and I'm not alone. One of the best pieces I've seen advocating new rules to reign in the ever-growing number of players transferring was done recently by Bob DiCasare of the Buffalo News. Here it is:

- What has gotten into the Marist men's team? After struggling for much of the season, the Red Foxes turned their season around lately, thanks in no small part to the return of junior do-everything swingman Jay Bowie after he missed 13 games with a concussion. In the last three games Marist has beaten Iona and Loyola, and it took a last-second three-pointer from Juan'ya Green for first-place Niagara to escape with a 57-54 victory over Marist on Friday.

- ESPN national broadcast color commentator Jay Bilas, in his "Weekly Report" feature, recently identified his Top 6 rebounders nationally, and put Siena's O.D. Anosike No. 1 on the list. "This guy is a relentless rebounder," said Bilas, about Anosike. "Put him on any Big East or ACC team and he's still a double-figure rebounder." OK ... I'll take some exception. First, I've never been a proponent of trying to rank college players from the sport's various levels. And, I've also never a fan of the national media making "expert" opinions on mid-major level players/teams. The very strong guess here is that Bilas has never (or, rarely) seen Anosike play in person. And, it's next to impossible to try to project how Anosike would do were he playing for a high-major level program. But, there's usually good reason why players wind up at our level and not the next level of college basketball. Suffice to say, though, that Anosike is very good at rebounding the ball. Good enough to be in position to be the nation's leading rebounder for the second straight season.

- I've always rooted for underdogs, so it's nice to see the Rider women's program having success (7-6 in MAAC play thus far, already the most conference victories it has had in a season since 1999-00). This might have happened for the Broncs a year ago, were it not for a variety of injuries. Much credit goes to head coach Lynn Milligan. It's not easy to bring in talent to a long downtrodden program, let alone trying to change the proverbial "culture of losing," but Milligan has brought in talent and her team believes it can continue producing even more success this year.

- Can anyone even begin to identify a better mid-major level women's program than Marist over the past 10 1/2 seasons? And, I mean anywhere in the country? No need to bring up the numbers ... they're out there for anyone to see. Suffice to say that what Marist has done under head coach Brian Giorgis is absolutely astounding. And, this season, after the team lost its only two post players after two games (yet is currently 13-0 in league play) is as remarkable as any in the program's run of success.

- I've never been a proponent of firing a head coach, unless the individual is clearly over his head or there are other extenuating circumstances. Siena fans, though, have been clamoring for the dismissal of third-year head coach Mitch Buonaguro almost since he lost his first game after replacing Fran McCaffery for the 2010-11 season. His team already has 20 losses this season, but it says here that he's been more than a little bit of a victim of circumstances. First, it was next to impossible to recruit while Siena had an iron-clad group of starters during McCaffery's tenure, relegating at least three incoming years of recruits to mostly role players. And, this season's team has been heavily victimized by injuries (as was last year's). This year's team has already seen five of its top nine players miss between three and nine games with injuries or academic issues. And, a lack of experience has also hurt. Age-wise, Siena has the eighth-youngest team nationally. Buonaguro, though, is the same guy now as he was when he devised the scouting report that resulted in college basketball's all-time greatest upset, Villanova's victory over Georgetown in the 1985 national championship game (Buonaguro was a Villanova assistant that year). In this era of must-win, even at the mid-major level, I'll certainly understand if Siena opts for a post-season coaching change. But, I would like to see what Buonaguro could do under better circumstances than he's had since taking over the program.

- By now, every opponent knows the way to best defend the Siena women's team is to double- and triple-team the Saints senior forward Lily Grenci. Yet Grenci still finds ways to produce. She had 24 points and 14 rebound against suffocating defense against Rider on Friday, shooting 8-of-15 from the floor, while the rest of the Saints shot 8-of-44 (18.2%) from the floor. Grenci is the MAAC's only player to rank in the top three in both scoring (15.2, 2nd) and rebounding (9.2, 3rd). In a year when no other player is a particular standout, this should be the first time in many years when a player from a losing team (Siena is currently 5-8 in conference play) is the MAAC's Player of the Year.

- Marist's 6-foot-10 junior center Adam Kemp had a game of note recently when he had 29 points, 16 rebounds and 7 blocks in a victory over Iona last week. He became the first Division I player with at least 7 blocks and more than 25 points and 15 rebounds in the same game in six years. The last player to surpass those numbers in a game? Rider's former standout Jason Thompson, who had 31 points, 16 rebounds and 7 blocks late in the 2006-07 season. And, here's another interesting note on Kemp: He played high school basketball at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill H.S. in central New York. His coach there was Al Knapp, who is the dad of former Siena standout Scott Knapp.

- I wish there were more statistics to measure defensive play beyond just the steal category, because I've never gotten more feedback (mostly from Marist fans in support of that team's top defender, Leanne Ockenden) than after my pick of Siena's Tehresa Coles as my mid-season pick for Defensive Player of the Year among women's players a couple of weeks ago. Coles is still among the top 20 nationally in steals (3.1 per game), and is as disruptive a defender anywhere on the court as I've seen in many MAAC season. Yet, Ockenden is a good an on-ball defender as there is in the MAAC this season, and she regularly holds opponents far below their per-game averages. Apples and oranges on this award. It will be interesting to see how the coaches vote when the season is over.

- I'm not looking forward to Loyola's departure from the MAAC and the loss of regular contact with its coach Jimmy Patsos, who can intelligently discourse on a variety of non-basketball issues. As a coach, he took over a program that had a single victory in the year prior to his arrival and elevated it to an NCAA tournament team last year and one that could easily repeat again this year, its last one in the MAAC. Plus, he is one of the league's all-time nice guys. While his sideline histrionics (toned down in recent years) are legendary, he is nothing like that when the games end.


Frank from Pok said...

Steve, Few comments about "Defensive Player of Year":
1) Since out of conference schedules vary greatly, use conference only stats
2) Defense is more than steals. Blocks and defensive rebounds should also be taken into consideration.
3) Impact on game of player being guarded (difficult to quantify)
These stats give the edge to Ockenden.

speedboy said...

Steve sometimes its hard to read this stuff because every story is about a senior or marist so i guess the lady gaels of iona will have to wait two more years.the young ladies continue to improve every game and beat teams they re not suppose to beat. but you dont seam to be impressed.its ok though march is near and they will keep getting better.

Fredrick Davidson said...

Nobody should feel sorry for Mitch. How many coaches get another chance to be a head coach after getting fired at a mid-major? And actually get a better job the second time around?

You say only a firing when the coach is over his head? Nobody fits that description more than Mitch. Forgetting how many foul players have, who's in the game, playing people so many minutes they're gassed at the end of games!

Villanova was 27 years ago and was before the three-point shot and shot clock. Mitch never was able to coach in the modern game.

Good assistant not head coaching material.

Siena basketball is a business. If you thinking otherwise you're kidding yourself.

Mitch is done at Siena..make all the lame excuses you want but he's 33-56 and have fallen in every way possible under him.

That's being objective. Not ignoring it and making excuses because he won a natinal title 27 years as an assistant coach and because he's a "nice guy".

Steve Amedio said...

Thank you all for the interest!

EdB said...

I think Mitch is a pretty good coach... I saw two games this year that were very tight and where a couple of tight calls went the other way (one of them, at Fordham, was a travesty), but Siena battled back. I agree with Steve, I'd like to see Mitch get another year. Yes, he's 20 games under .500, but I'd like to see what he can do with another year of recruits

game observer said...

I suppose that by not including the out of conference stats and only using the conference stats; as suggested in an early comment; it would lead one to hope that Ockenden gets the edge. Not true. or if you take out offensive rebounds and only count defensive rebounds, as was suggested. How about only picking players from teams that have no conference losses? That's not right. imagine what the player of the week list would look like. While she may not be the defensive player of the year in the end, Coles did deserve it for the mid year selection if you are comparing her to Ockenden. Defensively, Ockenden has more blocks than Coles; alot more, but not more rebounds and not more steals.Sheahin has more blocks and rebounds than both Coles and Ockenden. In the Marist game against Loyola,Sheahin did'nt score, but Ockenden didn't have any field goals either. She had 2pts. which came from the free throw line and she was not fouled by Sheahin. In the game that Marist played in early February against Iona it was mentioned in an earlier comment that Ockenden shut down the leagues leading scorer. Not true, Ockenden did have a great game, 5 steals, 1 block, 1 rebound and 5 pts. We know the outcome, because Marist never loses. Shut down the leagues leading scorer, Martinez; didn't happen, Martinez who averages 17pts or more, scored 17 pts. Unless it was another game, sometimes we see what we want to see. It doesn't change the fact that Ockenden is good. You can ask the question. If you had to pick on MAAC player to shut down the opponents top player who would you pick? We know who Marist would pick, but not everyone agrees. Sheahin, Coles and Ockenden are all good players with good stats. They all work hard,but in my opinion there is one who stands out more than the others. The one who is most improved over last season; the fasted and the most aggressive on defense. The one who if there is a pile up on the court and someone comes out with a steal, it more than likely will Coles. Hopefully she will rewarded in the end. In comparison they are not apples to oranges, I think they are apples to apples or oranges to oranges. Its just a question of what kind of apple or orange you like. Macintosh or Golden Delicious; or Tangerine or Navel. Whether it is one of these three that are the moments topic or someone else, they all work hard. Whoever gets the title should be proud.

Nomar said...

Speedboy - this is the year that other women's basketball teams had a chance take out Marist and so far they haven't been close - including your Gales. Next year Marist will be even stronger then this year - with Jaroz & 6' 5' Hollenbeck back. And another great recruiting class. Nope you had your chance.

Steve Amedio said...

Thanks game observer for one of the most well-thought-out comments we've received. And, again, thanks to all for the interest.
And, speedboy, I've given the ladies from Iona there share share of posts. Coach Bozzella is one of my favorites. And, I'll get another first-hand look at the Gaels, who are having a very good season, on Sunday. So, check for something on them in days to come.
And Nomar ... please desist from borderline "taunting." We'll accept on-topic and respectful comments. But, if it starts to go beyond that ... well, you've got the message boards as a forum. Any sort of "taunting" here won't be tolerated and will immediately be deleted.