Monday, December 30, 2013

Slow Start Gives Way To 3-Game Marist Win Streak

Here was Marist men's coach Jeff Bower's "welcome" upon his return to college basketball: an 0-9 start to the 2013-14 season.

Bower, a former Marist assistant back in the days when Dave Magarity was the program's coach, had spent the previous 15 seasons in the NBA in various capacities.

He rejoined Marist as the program's head coach this past spring and the early season welcome mat was a non-league schedule that included high-major level opponents Maryland and Providence and some strong mid-major foes like Elon, St. Joseph's, Loyola Marymount, Stony Brook and Morgan State.

Bower's team went 0-7 against those teams and, then, drew the toughest possible daily double on the first week of conference play, games against Manhattan and Iona, the top two teams in the coaches' preseason poll.

So, welcome to 0-9.

"That was a big part of our challenge," admitted Bower, in a recent phone interview. "We faced a level that was extremely challenging. I thought we handled it well. We played hard enough to win, at times, but we just didn't play well enough. The schedule did a great job of exposing what we had to be better at."

And, Bower had to guard against a team-wide letdown that could have come with an 0-9 start.

"You're always concerned about the group's capacity to endure something like that," he added. "You have to keep an eye out for if they do they allow that to set in. Or, the guys can take the approach that they want to get better, and this is how they're going to get better with the end in mind.

"We continued to talk about not who we are today, but who we're going to be in March. We've tried to focus on each day, that `today' is extremely important, it's a day to get better and improve toward who we want to be."

The Red Foxes have shown definite signs of adhering to that, showing season-long improvement to date.

After some lopsided early losses came closer ones. The team's last four games in the 0-9 stretch were losses by margins of six, seven (in overtime), nine and 11 points.

And, then, better things started happening. A 76-62 victory against Penn on Dec. 22, the team's last game before the Christmas break, was the third in a three-game winning streak.

That stretch has also included victories over the College of Charleston (69-62) and Bucknell (69-51).

"We're still far from who we want to be, but it was good that the guys were able to go into the Christmas break on a positive note," said Bower. Marist tries to extend its recent run of success when it returns to league action Thursday, hosting Fairfield.

Was there ever a concern about the 0-9 beginning?

"Every game, whether it's a good result or a bad one, creates a reaction ... we're trying to be a tough-minded team that can take the punches, come back and deliver some punches," Bower said.

Marist endured more than its share of early punishment and, of late, has started to dish out some of its own.

The turnaround can be traced to a line-up change five games ago that got junior guard T.J. Curry into the starting five and giving Marist a small group with only one starter taller than 6-foot-5.

Curry, a lightly-used back-up to former Red Fox Isaiah Morton (who recently left the program) the last two seasons, has averaged 11 points over the past five games and has provided another perimeter weapon.

Curry has made 11 of his last 19 three-point attempts over that five-game span. Morton had been a non-factor shooting the ball, having made just 6-of-46 shots (13 percent) in his nine games before opting to seek a transfer.

Morton's departure has also meant more playing time for redshirt freshman guard Khalil Hart, a highly touted recruit two years ago who missed the 2012-13 season with a knee injury. Hart, a recent MAAC Rookie of the Week award winner, has averaged 14.4 points per game in the last five contests.

Those two, along with swingmen Chavaughn Lewis (16.8 points, 4.6 rebounds this season), Jay Bowie (11.4, 2.4) and 6-10 center Adam Kemp (8.2, 7.2, 2.1 blocks) provides Marist with a solid starting five.

"We went to the lineup change a few games before (Morton left the team), and since it has been together we've gotten more ball-handling," said Bower. "T.J. has been very efficient with his time and gives us a 3-point shooting element. That allows us to spread the floor more and move the ball quicker. He blends well with Khalil (a penetrator, who draws defenders and dishes to open teammates). Khalil has a good feel for how to play and is getting comfortable after missing all of last year.

"It has all been a part of our team improving. Our guys are starting to get comfortable playing the way we want."

There's still progress to be made, though. The team's depth has been lacking in the early going, for one thing.

"We're working on that," said Bower. "We're trying to give guys minutes to get some confidence and comfort. Manny Thomas (a junior forward) had a big game against Penn (12 points in 22 minutes), (sophomore forward) Phillip Lawrence has been getting some decent minutes. (Freshman forward) Kentrall Brooks is coming along and (senior forward) Pieter Prinsloo is playing a good amount of time as a front-line reserve."

Where Marist is now, though, indicates considerable progress has already been made.

"At the beginning our approach had to be to fundamental play," added Bower. "We just had to emphasize some very basic principals that we didn't have consistently in our play either individually or collectively. That has been the challenge of this whole process to this point ... to take our individual talent and blend that into something that creates team results."

After the 0-9 start, the results have all been positive.

"As a coach, I never looked at us as being 0-9," said Bower. "All we've done is to look at the next game and the next set of days to get ready for the next game. We just looked at what level we performed at against who we were playing that night, and where would that get us once we got into conference play.

"Our goal is to be competitive within the league. We want to have ourselves ready to take advantage of whatever the situation holds, to grow, build and achieve. We would love to be playing for something at the end of the season.

"We'd like for our guys to give something to our fan base to really enjoy this season. We've got great fans who are just waiting for us to give them something."

The three-game winning streak means the Red Foxes are starting to give their fans something to enjoy. The wait for more might not be much longer.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Best MAAC Stories: No. 27, Loyola Men's Turnaround

Here's another in the series identifying the "Terrific 32," the top basketball-related stories in the previous 32 years of the MAAC's history.

NO. 27


How far had the Loyola men's basketball fallen?

Its Ratings Percentage Index was dead last among all Division I programs at the end of the 2003-04 season.

Attendance for home games rarely approached four figures that year, one in which Loyola put up a 1-27 record and avoided a winless season only by a late-January six-point victory over Marist.

It had gotten so bad that former head coach Scott Hicks spoke about his inability to bring in local players, revealing that Baltimore-area standouts would accept any other scholarship offer to avoid attending Loyola. He said that players perceived having to play at Loyola to be an embarrassment.

That 1-27 record marked the 10th consecutive season of sub-.500 play by the men's team. The Greyhounds' five-year record from 1999-2000 through 2003-04 was an abysmal 23-118, the worst five-year overall record of any MAAC program to that point.

And, then, Hicks was fired and replaced by Jimmy Patsos.

Patsos' first year produced a modest five-victory improvement to 6-22.

At one point at a game in which Loyola was losing by a sizable margin, fans behind the Greyhounds' bench heckled Patsos for his team's continued poor play.

The always outspoken Patsos turned to the hecklers to deliver the message: "You can boo us now, but wait until I get my `guys' in here."

His guys started arriving as transfers that season, and became eligible in Patsos' second season.

Among those were Maryland transfers guard Andre Collins and 6-10 center Hassan Fofano. Collins averaged a MAAC-best 26.1 points in Patsos' second season, Fofano was a defensive presence in the middle and averaged 7.8 points and 5.5 rebounds ... and Loyola finished 15-13, its first above-.500 finish in 12 years.

That marked the turnaround of what, over the previous six seasons, had been the conference's losingest teaam over a six-year span in MAAC history.

Patsos continued to bring in quality transfers to keep Loyola moving forward after that. His `guys' included the likes of Providence transfers guards Gerald Brown and Jamal Barney, both big scorers, Notre Dame transfer forward Omari Israel, another key Maryland transfer in forward Shane Walker and a standout forward from Northeastern in forward Erik Etherly.

The program augmented the transfers with some strong recruiting, some of the recruited players even coming, finally, from the Baltimore area.

Patsos not only brought winning records back to Loyola, but restored the program's reputation to the point where it was becoming attractive to join the team rather than the embarrassment it once was.

After Patsos' first-season 6-22 finish his teams had three straight winning records. Then came a drop to back-to-back seasons of 12-20 and 13-17. Next was a 15-15 record (2010-11).

And, then, came even better things.

Over the past two seasons, Loyola's final two in the MAAC before opting to join the Patriot League, the Greyhounds finished 24-9 in 2011-12 and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 1993-94 season, when the late Skip Prosser was the team's coach.

Last season brought a 23-12 record and a second consecutive national post-season tournament, this time the tournament.

It marked the first time in program history it had gone to national post-season tournament in back-to-back years.

Its 24 victories in 2011-12 was the first 20-win season since the 1948-49 season and the 47 victories over the 2011-12, 2012-13 seasons were the most by any MAAC team over that span.

The era of Patsos marked what might have been the best turnaround of any program in league history.

Ironically, both Loyola and Patsos moved on since the end of the 2012-13 season.

Loyola joined the Patriot League. And, Patsos successfully chased an opportunity to remain in the MAAC, eventually hired by Siena this past April.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Best MAAC Stories: No. 28, Tears For Gathers' Loss

Here's another in the series identifying the "Terrific 32," the top 32 stories related to MAAC basketball in the league's first 32 seasons of play.

No. 28


The date was March 4, 1990, the semifinal round of the conference's post-season tournament, the first one ever played in downtown Albany in what was then known as the Knickerbocker Arena.

Late in the second half of a 106-90 victory over Siena, a glance at the La Salle bench brought the shocking sight that the Explorers' star forward Lionel Simmons had his head in his hands, shaking uncontrollably with tears running down his face.

And, he wasn't the only one. Tears were plentiful for players from the Philadelphia-based school that night.

They had just been informed, during a late-game time out, that one of their own, Philadelphia native Hank Gathers, had collapsed during a game that night and died.

Gathers, who led the nation in scoring and rebounding at Loyola Marymount that season, had an abnormal heartbeat and felt that his prescribed medication adversely affected his play. It was suspected that he was not taking any dosage on game days.

And, on that fateful day, in the first half of a West Coast Conference tournament game, he collapsed on the court, lost consciousness and could not be revived.

Word of Gather's passing soon reached Albany. After La Salle's players were told of the situation, Philly natives Simmons and Doug Overton left the court to grieve in the team's locker room.

Those two and Gathers grew up together, and had formed a bond playing in each summer's Sonny Hill League. Overton and Gathers had even played together at Dobbins Technical High School, and Simmons was a rival from South Philadelphia H.S.

That night the La Salle team gathered to meet in coach Speedy Morris' room and, then, decided to participate in the next night's championship game and dedicate its performance to Gathers' memory.

That La Salle team, arguably the best ever to play in the MAAC, defeated Fordham, 71-61, for the conference title and a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Simmons, the talented 6-foot-7 forward, scored 26 points including 18 in the second half. Overton had 10 points and the two combined to make five key free throws in the game's final two minutes after Fordham had pulled to within 64-61.

"Life certainly outweighs basketball tremendously," said Simmons, fighting back tears when he met with the media after the victory over Fordham. "Being only 21, I could never imagine anything like this happening. Now, I'll definitely approach life a lot differently. I won't take anything for granted. Hank was the strongest guy I ever say, and what happened to him I can't even imagine."

Morris, afterwards, called the outcome a "character victory."

"Hank would have certainly wanted us to play," said Simmons, back then. "He was such a competitive person."

Players wore black bands on their jerseys in Gathers' memory. Several, including Simmons, wrote "Hank," or "44" -- Gathers' number -- on wristbands, uniforms and sneakers.

"We try to tell them that life goes on," added Morris, after the 1990 championship game. "Those of us who could get up from those adversities are going to be the ones who are going to be successful.

"Gathers was a player who gave it his all. If we could take an example from Hank Gathers, it would be to give our best."

And, on the night of the 1990 championship game in downtown Albany, La Salle's players gave it their best in the worst of times to honor their lost friend.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Better Days Ahead For Mihalich As Hofstra Rebuilds

Old friend Joe Mihalich, who had more wins as a coach in the MAAC from his 15 years at Niagara than anyone in conference history, made an appearance at Albany's Times Union Center with his Hofstra team on Monday.

It was the same old sideline-animated, good-natured Mihalich who has now coached 35 games at the Albany facility over the years ... and, that's not counting his visits as an assistant coach at La Salle when that program was in the conference.

But, the team he surpervised on this trip to upstate New York was most definitely not a product of Mihalich's well-known desire for an uptempo style and high scores.

Hofstra lost, 67-59, to the Saints.

Fifty-nine points by a Mihalich team? That's not like what we're used to seeing, it was remarked to him.

"Yeah, maybe for a half," Mihalich said, smiling.

But, it's all part of a building process that Mihalich knows won't happen overnight, or even within a year's time.

Shortly after he was hired this past April by the school he asked to meet with his team.

"I got brought into a room," Mihalich said, "and there were four guys."

That's all that was left from the 2012-13 mess of a season that resulted in defections, dismissals and a 7-25 finish, the worst record in the program's 77-year history.

Three of the four returnees are among the top seven players this season. The fourth averages about 12 minutes per game, and that's pretty much it for players Mihlaihch says he can rely on right now. His point guard, Dion Nesmith, is playing through a knee issue and missed three games recently, although he came off the bench to play 33 minutes against Siena.

"It's a challenge," said Mihalich, Monday night. "I've basically only got eight guys ... this isn't the way we want to play, eventually, but it's what we have to do right now."

What Mihalich wants to do is establish an up-tempo, free-flowing offensive style like the one he had at Niagara over the years.

The Purple Eagles' offense traditionally came from high-scoring balance. A year ago, when Mihalich was at Niagara, current national scoring leader Antoine Mason, averaged 18.7 points per game, nearly 10 points lower than his current scoring rate, and three other teammates were among the MAAC's top 30 scorers.

Still, Mihalich has had to somehow put together a roster for this season. His playing group is comprised of the four returnees, two immediately-eligible transfers (who earned degrees at their previous schools) and two freshmen.

Even with that depleted a roster, Hofstra has been close to being better. Now 3-7 overall, four of its losses have been by nine points or less.

But, pieces are in place to think things might get better quickly.

It brings to mind the first season that current Siena coach Jimmy Patsos was at Loyola, brought that team for a game at the Times Union Center and was heckled by fans behind his bench in a lopsided loss by the Greyhounds.

At one point, Patsos responded to the hecklers by telling them to wait until he could bring in "his guys." And, when he did, Loyola got better quickly.

Mihalich could probably say the same thing, right now. But, he won't.

Still, he has some of the program's best players sitting on his bench via transfer rules who won't be eligible until next season.

Among those are Niagara transfers guard Juan'ya Green, who averaged 16.5 points and 4.9 assists per game in the MAAC last season; and forward Ameen Tanksley (11.3, 6.0 last season). It also includes guard Brian Bernardi, a transfer from SMU where he averaged 3.5 points per game as a freshman there.

Mihalich is also excited about 6-foot-10 recruit Andre Walker of Maryland, who signed during the November signing period.

"That's in the future," said Miahlich. "I'm not even thinking about that right now. I love the team we have right now, and that's all I'm worried about."

But the future does indeed look better for a program that finished just 7-25 last year, was forced to dismiss four players for a variety of infractions and, ultimately, fired previous head coach Mo Cassara.

Mihalich was brought in to clean things up and, eventually, win games.

The cleansing has begun. The wins won't be far behind.

And, 59-point productions will come by halftime rather than over the course of a full 40 minutes.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Column Looks at What Might Have Been For Mihalich

In my role as a sports columnist for the Troy Record Newspaper, the subjects are occasionally MAAC-related.

Here's my column that appeared in this past Sunday's edition. It's about former Niagara men's coach Joe Mihalich, now at Hofstra, coming back to Albany's Times Union Center for a game against Siena.

The column alaso deals with Siena's near-hiring as Mihalich as its head coach back in 1994 when the school was seeking a replacement for Mike Deane.

Here it is ...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Marist Women Hitting Stride, Topple National Power

Just 35 days removed from an 0-3 start and 29 days since the record was 1-4, it certainly looks right now that everything has been restored to order for the Marist women's basketball team.

If there was any remaining doubt about that, the Red Foxes dispelled it with a 76-69 victory over Oklahoma Saturday at the McCann Center in Poughkeepsie. Oklahoma entered the game ranked 20th nationally in the most-recent AP Top 25 poll.

The victory marked Marist's first-ever win against a top-25 team on its home court.

That's a little misleading, since top 25 teams don't often visit the home courts of mid-major level programs. Still, it happens and it happens more often at Marist than at any other MAAC school. Earlier this season, Kentucky (ranked No. 7 nationally) came to Poughkeepsie where it earned a 75-61 victory over Marist in the season-opener for both programs on Nov. 8.

Back then Marist was still trying to find some chemistry for a team of some role players moving into more-meaningful positions as well as the unavailability of four scholarship players.

Only one of those four, senior point guard Casey Dulin, has returned but she has alreade very significant contributions as well as extending what had been a very short Marist bench.

The team is still short inside as its only two players on the roster taller than 6-1 (6-5 Delaney Hollenbeck and 6-3 Tori Jarosz) remain out with injuries.

But the Red Foxes are big everywhere else, particularly in terms of player improvement.

No player's offensive contributions have gotten better than sophomore guard Madeline Blais, who averaged just 2.8 points per game last season and, now, averages a team-best 15.8 ppg. thus far.

Leanne Ockenden's scoring average is up to 15.4, from 8.7 last year; Emma O'Connor is up from 9.0 to 13.3, Sydney Coffey is up to 10.3 from 7.3 and Dulin, who averaged 10.2 ppg. last year, is now averaging 12.7 in the three games since she returns and has solidified the point-guard position (5.7 assists per game).

Since the 1-4 start it was clear to see that Marist was making rapid strides, including a a 103-66 victory over a good Northeastern team (currently 6-4), the highest single-game total since coach Brian Giorgis took over the program 12 years ago.

Marist, though, does even better work on the defensive end. And, when Dulin drew an offensive foul from a driving Oklahoma player late in Saturday's contest, it all but secured the huge upset.

"It was a really great win, and I think it's something I'll always remember," Dulin told the Poughkeepsie Journal newspaper, afterwards.

Defense? It didn't hurt that the MAAC's reigning Defensive Player of the Year Ockenden held Oklahoma's Aaryn Ellenberg to 1-of-8 shooting from beyond the three-point line.Ellenberg had been 35-of-91 from bonus territory and was averaging 18.8 points per outing entering Saturday's contest. She was limited to just 12 points in the full 40 minutes, making just 5-of-19 total shots, against the Red Foxes.

A crowd of 1,904 turned out to watch the upset.

"It's great to give our fans this," Giorgis told reporters, afterwards. "I couldn't be more proud of a group of individuals ... from where we've come from the beginning of the year to now, the kids just seem to keep getting better and better."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

ATM: First Wins For New Coaches; Big Numbers

Here's another in the news-and-notes series called "ATM," or, Around The MAAC.

- Congratulations to new conference coaches Jeff Bower at Marist and Pat Coyle at Saint Peter's for getting their respective first victories on the job this season.

The Marist men opened the season with an 0-9 record before getting their first victory, a 69-62 decision over the College of Charleston on Dec. 15. Five days later they got another one, a 69-51 victory over Bucknell, for Bower's first "winning streak," albeit a modest two-gamer.

The program got the wins despite the defection of former starting point guard Isaiah Morton, who left the school with plans to transfer elsewhere. It has left the Red Foxes with freshman Khalil Hart (last week's MAAC Rookie of the Week) and lightly used junior T.J. Curry as backcourt starters, and to no ill effect.

The Saint Peter's women started the season 0-7 before breaking through for a 72-56 decision vs. Fairleigh Dickinson on Dec. 11. Junior guard Antonia Smith has been leading the Peacocks, averaging 12.2 points per game so far.

Of course Coyle has won games in the MAAC before, having been the head coach at Loyola, before moving on to the WNBA, and she took the Greyhounds to two NCAA tournament appearances.

- MAAC men's performers continue to show up on the national statistical leaderboards.

Niagara's Antoine Mason continues to lead the nation in scoring at 28.6 points per game. He could become the second Purple Eagle to lead all Division I scorers. Alvin Young also did it in the 1998-99 season.

Manhattan's Rhamel Brown is No. three in blocked shots per game at 4.4, while Quinnipiac's Ike Azotam is ninth nationally in rebound average at 10.8.

A couple of former MAAC players also show up in the national top 10 statistically. Former Iona big man Chris Pelcher, now at New Hampshire, is third nationally in rebounding (11.8), while Loyola's Dylon Cormier (the Greyhounds are now in the Patriot League) is sixth in scoring at 23.6 ppg.

- Several conference women's players also figure prominently in the national statistics.

Iona's junior guard Damika Martinez averages 26.7 points per game, second-best nationally. She has led the MAAC in scoring in each of the past two seasons, the only conference player to top conference scorers as a freshman and a sophomore.

Two other Gaels are also among the national leaders. Senior post player Sabrina Jeridore leads all Division I performers in blocked shots per game (4.8), while sophomore forward Joy Adams is sixth nationally in rebound average (12.9).

Monday, December 16, 2013

Saint Peter's Finally Slays Seton Hall "Giant"

The schools are separated by a mere 15 miles, so any time Saint Peter's of Jersey City, N.J., goes against Seton Hall of South Orange, N.J., it's a big deal.

It's probably a bigger deal for the Peacocks, the MAAC's representative that gets an annual attempt to try to slay the "giant" that plays in the Big East.

Saint Peter's came darned close early in the 2009-10 season. It took a last-second 35-foot heave by Seton Hall's Eugene Harvey to get the Pirates a 53-51 victory in that meeting.

Otherwise the rivalry resembled the the situation that once existed between baseball's New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, the Yanks' former dominance once described as a hammer vs. a nail.

Mostly, Saint Peter's got "hammered" in its annual in-state rivalry meeting with Seton Hall, having lost 17 straight in the series.

But all of that changed on Saturday as the Peacocks made the requisite clutch plays both at the end of regulation and through overtime to finally hammer back at at Seton Hall with an 83-80 overtime victory over the Pirates at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Junior guard Desi Washington finished off the heroics with a three-pointer with 3.3 seconds remaining to clinch the victory, and finished with a career-high 34 points.

Junior forward Marvin Dominique added 25 points and eight rebounds (23 of his points coming in the second half and overtime session).

The win, though, very nearly was stolen away. Saint Peter's had a three-point lead with three seconds left in OT when Seton Hall inbounded to half court and called a time out with 1.1 seconds remaining.

The subsequent in-bounds play went to the Pirates' Brian Oliver, who sank a trey at the buzzer to send the game into the extra session.

And, then, Seton Hall took a quick three-point lead in OT, a point at which it might have been expected that the beleaguered Peacocks, who entered the game with a 2-6 record and more than their share of tough losses, accept their fate of another loss in the series.

Instead, Saint Peter's finally found a way to knock off a good Seton Hall team that entered the game with a 7-3 record.

It was the fourth victory over a high-major level opponent in the Saint Peter's career of head coach John Dunne. His teams had previously beaten Rutgers twice and Alabama once in recent years.

But, Saturday's was the first over Seton Hall for the Peacocks since 1995 and it was most assuredly the biggest non-conference victory of Dunne's time with the program.

So, how did he celebrate?

"A lot of clearing out the snow from my driveway and walkway on Sunday and, then, some nice family time," said Dunne.

For sure, though, there were celebratory emotions from the victory and, quite possibly, a realization that things are finally coming together for a program that put up 5-26 and 9-21 records in the two years since its 2010-11 appearance in the NCAA tournament.

It's a win the program certainly needed, particularly after being on top for almost the entirety of its game at Boston University, before losing, 66-65; and, after being ahead by 12 points with under eight minutes left at Niagara before losing there, too, 61-56.

"The whole thing for us is so fragile," said Dunne, by phone on Sunday. "We could have won at BU and Niagara, but we didn't. We win those two and, then, we're 4-4 instead of 2-6 (prior to playing Seton Hall).

"Instead, as a young team, you feel like the world is caving in. And, then, Seton Hall hits that three to tie it at the end of regulation and gets an early three-point lead in overtime ... '

At that point, it wouldn't have been difficult for the Peacocks to just accept another difficult and discouraging close loss. Instead, Dunne's team rallied back for what could have been a season-turning victory, a much needed momentum builder.

"You get wins like that by going through the wars together and facing adversity together," said Dunne.

"We've got a chance to be pretty good. This is the most talent we've had in the program in a few years. As a coaching staff we've just been telling the guys that they can't worry about our record, or about what people around the league, even on our own campus, might be saying or thinking about us. We just have to keep working hard and improving every day.

"We had some of our best practices the days leading up to the Seton Hall game, and it showed. We were missing shots early, and we told the guys at halftime that those shots would start falling, and they did."

Maybe now, finally, things will start falling Saint Peter's way.

It's been a bit of a climb just to get here. Dunne's 2010-11 NCAA team was top heavy with seniors, four of them in the starting lineup. It has been a process to rebuild after that and, now, the rebuilding seems to be ready to start paying off.

But, not without some work. Dunne points out that only three members of his currently playing rotation, Washington, starting guard Chris Burke and reserve forward Elias Desport have past experience in the program.

Joining Washington and Burke in the starting lineup are two freshmen, point guard Trevis Wyche and forward Quadir Welton and Dominique, a transfer from Fordham. One of the team's top reserves, combo guard Jamel Fields is a transfer from Fairfield and is in his first season of eligibility for the Peacocks.

Dominique is averaging 18.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game thus far and looks like one of the best forwards in the MAAC.

"And, remember," said Dunne. "He has hardly played before. He didn't play much as a Fordham as a freshmen and, then, was hurt and didn't play a lot as a sophomore. He had to sit out here last season as a transfer, so this is the first year he's been playing a lot in college."

Wyche, a learning-on-the-job point guard, is 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, while Welton's per-game averages of 7.3 points and 6.4 rebounds stamp him as one of the better first-year players in the conference.

Even Washington, the team's leading scorer (13.4 ppg.) is having to adjust.

"Remember, he was our go-to guy last year and pretty much had carte blanche in our offense," said Dunne. "Now, he's going through a learning process of learning how to play together."

That sounds like Dunne's entire team, a mix of some old and much new, with more talent than in the recent past, still learning to play together.

"You have to go through some wars," admits Dunne.

It doesn't hurt to win one of them to accelerate the process, and Saint Peter's won a big one against Seton Hall on Saturday.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Quinnipiac Women Win Battle Of Strong Mid-Majors

Quinnipiac had one of the nation's best mid-major level women's basketball teams a year ago.

The Bobcats went through Northeast Conference play with a perfect 18-0 record, advanced to the NCAA tournament and finished with 30 overall victories.

Since then it moved to the MAAC.

As a welcoming gift, of sorts, it got to open league play ... its first-ever game in the conference ... with a game against preseason favorite and 10-time defending regular-season champion Marist.

And, it got to play that game with one day of prep time, the contest taking place on Dec. 6, just two days after Quinnipiac knocked off Hartford, 62-49.

Marist (also 18-0 in the MAAC last year) won that meeting of league unbeatens from a year ago, 69-63, but not before the Bobcats put a scare into the Red Foxes by getting to within a point late in that contest.

For sure, a better indication of just how good one of the MAAC's two newest women's teams can be came today (Sunday, Dec. 15) in another meeting of teams that went unbeaten in conference play

The Bobcats played at UAlbany, 16-0 in the America East Conference a year ago, at the Great Danes' SEFCU Arena home court.

Albany came into the game as one of two remaining unbeaten mid-majors (8-0 this season) and ranked fourth in the national poll for mid-major level programs.

Quinnipiac came in rated 24th in that poll, despite a 4-5 record. But that record came against some high-powered opposition, enough of them that the Bobcats' strength of schedule to date was rated the fourth most-difficult nationally of any Division I program.

And, Quinnipiac is sure to move up in the mid-major poll after upending the Great Danes in grand fashion, 74-53.

Albany played the game without its 6-foot-9 center Megan Craig (a minor medical issue), but it appeared doubtful that the Danes would have beaten Quinnipiac this day unless, say, Brittney Griner showed up as Craig's replacement.

Your Hoopscribe's first look at Quinnipiac as a MAAC member was an impressive one, a viewing of a team that works well together, that plays unselfishly (six players reached double figures), that moved the ball quickly and effectively (16 assists on 23 baskets) and that got good play off the bench (two of the double-figure scorers were reserves).

League coaches, in their preseason poll, predicted Quinnipiac to finish third in the conference this season, behind Marist and Iona.

But, if the Bobcats are only the third best team in the MAAC this season, then the league is extremely strong at the top, that's for sure.

Quinnipiac did lose a little from last season's 30-3 team, most notably leading scorer and guard Felicia Barron. But, it also lost a key reserve point guard, Lisa Lebak.

The presence of those two last season enabled the Bobcats to legitimately go 10 deep, a luxury veteran coach Tricia Fabbri used to great advantage.

"We used the term `Gold Rush' for what we did last season, which was basically to employ a five-for-five substitution pattern, kind of like they do in hockey," said Fabbri, after Sunday's victory at Albany. "Having that second point guard allowed us to do that effectively.

"We're a little different this year. We're still going Gold Rush when the opportunity is there, but not like last season."

What's like last season, still is strong depth, enough so that senior forward Camryn Warner and junior guard Nikoline Ostergaard came off the bench Sunday to combine for 23 points on 10-for-15 shooting from the floor.

Warner was particularly key, scoring seven straight Quinnipiac points midway through the second half as the Danes made a push to get its deficit down to six..

Her third basket in that run gave the winners a nine-point edge before teammate Samantha Guastella sank the dagger, a long three-pointer with 5:02 remainiing to give the winners a 12-point edge.

The Bobcats also have their share of starting talent, including selfless point guard Gillian Abshire, who entered the game ranked seventh nationally in assists; strong 5-11 post Brittany McQuain (4 points, 9 rebounds Sunday), 6-1 junior forward Damantha Guastella, who did much of her offensive work (10 points) on the perimeter, but also grabbed eight rebounds, and 5-8 explosive junior guard Jasmine Martin (16 points), who helped her team grab an early edge with back-to-back three pointers midway through the first half.

Fabbri said the victory provided a nice lift for her team, much more than anything that came out of a close loss in its first-ever MAAC contest earlier this month against Marist.

"This (the win vs. Albany) was one that we needed for our psyche," admitted Fabbri. "Losing is never good in any real sense. The MAAC is a new league for us and we didn't know what to expect.

"But when you get a big win like this today, teams around our league will take notice."

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Some Columns That Touched On Topics Of Interest

We don't often share stories that appeared elsewhere on this blog. The preference is to provide original material.

But, we'll make an exception when the material is produced by this scribe.

Several months ago I was fortunate enough to be hired as a sports columnist at The Troy (N.Y.) Record newspaper, an old stomping ground in past years.

The Record, in that way, is kind of like the newspaper buisness' version of the New York Yankees ... it's willing to hire old guys with (hopefully) something left in the proverbial tank.

On occasion, some of my recent columns have touched on some MAAC-related topics as well as general college-basketball related ones.

So, in case you missed these ...

This one is about Brian Fruscio, whose connection with the MAAC lasted just one season. He was an assistant coach with the Saints for the 2004-05 season. That was the last year of Rob Lanier's time with the program.

Fruscio is a native of New York's Capital Region, so when Lanier and staff was fired he just stayed in the area, eventually becoming the dean of students and boys' basketball coach at Albany Academy. His team captured a divisional state Federation Tournament championship last season, but Fruscio still makes an annual trip to some high-level college programs to pick the minds of some of the top coaches in the country.

Siena's first-year coach Jimmy Patsos is off to a 3-8 start with the Saints with games coming up with Hofstra and Fordham. His team could easily be 4-9 or 3-10 when the New Year starts.

It's likely to be a worse 13-game start than former coach Mitch Buonaguro's 5-8 record after his first 13 games on the job four years ago.

The Siena "faithful" were calling for Buonaguro's firing long before he reached the 13th game of his time with the Saints. The opinion here is that they should exhibit a little better behavior, a little more patience, this time with Patsos.

This one isn't really MAAC related, but it's about a terrific college basketball accomplishment.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer recently went over the 900 mark for career victories. She's currently No. 4 on the all-time list for career victories by a coach of women's teams and is likely to be No. 2 before this season ends.

She's still young enough (recently turned 60) to eventually surpass all-time victory leader Pat Summit. VanDerveer is an Albany native, attended schools in upstate New York through her freshman year at college before moving on.

Friday, December 13, 2013

ATM: Big Game, High Ratings, Big Point Totals,

Time for another installment of news and notes from around the league, otherwise known as "ATM," or ... Around The MAAC.

- There's a big non-conference game, involving one of the MAAC's newest members, coming up.

That takes place Sunday when the Quinnipiac women travel to play at UAlbany of the America East Conference, a 2 p.m. contest at Albany's on-campus SEFCU Arena. Barring something unexpected, your Hoopscribe will make the trip (and, provide a report), greatly anticipating a first view of Quinnipiac since that program joined the MAAC.

UAlbany is currently 9-0 thus far, one of just two mid-major level teams still unbeaten (BYU is the other).

And, the Great Danes are ranked No. 4 in the mid-major poll, done by, which considers teams from 22 conferences.

UAlbany already knocked off one MAAC "giant," Marist, by a 69-59 score in Albany on Nov. 14, and, now, gets a shot at another one.

Quinnipiac checks in at No. 24 in the mid-major Top 25 poll, even with its 4-5 overall record. But, the Bobcats' losses have all been to strong opponents: Lousville, Tennessee-Martin, St. John's, St. Joseph's and Marist, in its first MAAC conference game.

Albany is led by Shereesha Richards, a 6-1 forward who is on her way to becoming one of the best players ever to play for the Great Danes. She is averaging 23.5 points and 10.0 rebounds thus far. That ranks her 12th nationally in scoring and 31st in rebounding.

Quinnipiac counters with a trio of high-caliber players. Jazmine Martin, a 5-6 junior guard, averages 15.1 ppg. Brittany McQuain, a 6-0 senior forward, averages 12.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per contest. And, 5-9 junior guard Gillian Abshire averages 7.4 assists per contest, the seventh-best average nationally.

- Qunnipiac isn't the only MAAC team to crack the mid-major Top 25. Marist, which knocked off the Bobcats, 69-63, on Dec. 6, are rated No. 15 nationally.

And, Iona, currently 6-2 overall, is also getting votes in the poll, enough to check in at No. 33 nationally.

- In case you missed it, Damika Martinez of the Iona women's team recently scored a school-record 42 points in the Gaels' 83-67 victory over Columbia on Monday.

The outburst topped the school's previous best of 38, scored by Maria Johnson during the 1978-79 season before the MAAC even came into being.

Martinez's total was the sixth-best single-game output on the Division I level nationally this season and elevated her scoring avverage to 26.7 ppg., which is third-best nationally.

Big point totals are nothing new for the dynamic 5-foot-7 junior guard. She has led the MAAC in scoring each of the past two seasons, the only player in league history to lead the conference in scoring as a freshman and in her first two years in the league.

- Another Iona player, men's standout Sean Armand, became that school's all-time leading three-point shooter in a victory over Marist on Nov. 23.

When Armand hit the final one of four treys made in that contest his career total for made three-pointers reached 264. That surpassed the school's previous record of 263, reached in the 2005-06 season by Steve Burtt Jr.

Armand now stands at 276 career three pointers, but isn't likely to approach the MAAC career record for treys.

That's currently held by former Saint Peter's standout Keydren Clark, who had 435 made treys in his career.

Armand, though, could challenge the No. 2 spot on that list. That's currently at 362 treys by former Marist sniper Will Whittington.

Preview Manhattan Women's Rebuilding Going Well

Here's the final installment in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 4-14 in MAAC play, 8-23 overall.

KEY LOSSES: Forward Toni-Ann Lawrence (9.9 points, 6.2 rebounds), guard Maggie Blair (4.4, 3.1).

KEY NEWCOMERS: 6-2 freshman center Kayla Grimme, 5-8 freshman guard Nicole Anderson.

EARLY STARTERS: 6-0 senior forward Monica Roeder (12.1 points, 4.5 rebounds last season), 5-7 senior guard Allison Skrec (8., 2.6, 5.0 assists), 6-1 junior forward Ashley Stec (5.6, 3.2), 5-7 junior guard Nicole Isaacs (3.5, 33 3-pointers), 6-2 freshman center Kayla Grimme.

NOTABLE: Despite a poor record a year ago, the Jaspers showed a little at the end, beating Niagara and Loyola in back-to-back games before getting knocked out of MAAC tournament play by Marist ... It's a 1-6 start so far this season, but all the losses have come against very solid mid-major opponents ... Lawrence, who started her career as a little-used reserved, developed into a very good MAAC player and her inside work will be missed ... So far, though, there's more balanced scoring. A year ago, Roeder was the only player who averaged double figures. Her stats are similar this year (11.6, 4.7) and she remains one of the league's better long-range snipers. But she's getting a little help this year. Two others, Isaacs (10.4) and Grimme (10.7) are also averaging double figures, and threee other players are at 5.6 ppg. or better ... Grimme is the surprise of the conference thus far. Her 10.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game makes her one of the early contenders for Rookie of the Year honors. She has already led Manhattain in scoring in three games and in rebounding five times in the team's first seven contests. At 6-2, she is the type of relatively tall post players that don't often come into the league ... Skrec, one of the best true point guards in the league last season, has increased her assist-per-game average to 5.3 this year ... Stec, a project as a freshman, has been improving steadily and is now a starter and averaging 7.1 points and 3.4 rebounds ,,. Isaacs remains a long-range threat, having made 20 treys thus far ... Shayna Erickson, one of the MAAC's better freshmen last season, has been coming off the bench (5.6 points, 4.4 rebounds per game) thus far.... The team has had seven different players start a game, and those are the only seven who have averaged at least 9.3 minutes per contest so far ... The freshman class also includes 5-8 guard Nicole Anderson (1.7, 1.7), who has been contributing ... Maeve Parahus, a 6-1 frosh guard, hasn't done much yet bue she's a deadly long-range shooter and should help at some point.

STRENGTHS: Balanced scoring, long-range shooting ability, a precision offense directed by one of the league's better point guards in Skrec and one of the league's top freshmen in Grimme.

WEAKNESSES: Only six players averaging more than 9.3 minutes per game, so depth isn't there yet. Tough early record, but opponents have all been solid. Not a lot of bulk inside.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: League coaches, in their preseason poll, picked Manhattan for 10th in the 11-team league. Your scribe thinks the Jaspers can be better than that. If the team gets a little more contribution from its bench, and Grimme can continue her early pace, Manhattan could get up into the seventh/eight place range.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Preview: Manhattan Men Poised To Chase Crown

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 9-9 in the MAAC, 14-18 overall.

KEY LOSSES: 6-7 forward Roberto Colonette (3.6 points, 2.8 rebounds), forward Mohammed Kaita (3.4, 1.4).

KEY NEWCOMERS: 6-10 sophomore forward Ashton Pankey, transfer from Maryland; 6-3 freshman guard Tyler Wilson.

EARLY STARTERS: 6-4 swingman George Beamon (16.8 points, 6.3 rebounds in four games last season), 6-7 senior forward Rhamel Brown (11.4, 5.2, 3.0 blocks), 6-2 senior guard Michael Alvarado (8.4, 2.4, 2.1 assists), 6-6 junior forward Emmy Andujar (8.0, 5.0, 2.4 assists), 6-0 sophomore guard C.J. Jones (1.7, 1.1).

NOTABLE: The loss of Beamon, the previous season's leading scorer in the conference, to foot injuries after four games last season appeared to make 2012-13 a lost cause. And, then, coach Steve Masiello made a mid-season change in the team's style of play, changing from up tempo and wide open to a slow-it-down, defensive emphasis. The change enabled the Jaspers to go 8-2 leading up to the MAAC Tournament's championship game where it nearly earned an NCAA tournament berth before losing, 60-57, to Iona ... The Jaspers are off to a 6-2 start, their best eight-game opening stretch since a 7-1 beginning to the 2001-02 season ... Beamon appears back at full strength and is averaging 20.4 points and a career-high 7.5 rebounds thus far ... The Jaspers certainly have the requisite senior star power. In addition to Beamon, Brown (8.0, 6.9 and 4.5 blocks) and Alvarado (11.6, 4.3 and 4.1 assists) are also seniors ... Brown, 10th in the nation in blocked shots per game last season, is currently tied for second. He had nine blocks in the loss to Fordham and eight in a victory over Monmouth so far ... Alvarado has become more of a point guard, averaging 4.1 assists per contest, nearly double last year's average ... Then, add Andujar (7.5, 5.1), a junior, to the mix and there's plenty of experience on hand ... Manhattan was just a little small last season, but no longer after the addition of 6-10 Pankey (5.5, 3.4), a transfer from Maryland who had to sit out last season ... The bench includes more quality, starting with 6-5 sophomore Shane Richards (8.9, 1.3) ... Richards, who had a nice frreshman year, has turned into a three-point specialist. He's 22-of-53 from long range so far, but hasn't made a shot (0-for-4) inside the bonus stripe ... Juniors Donovan Kates and RaShawn Stores also were key members of last year's playing group. Although their numbers are down this year, they add even more quality depth ... The top newcomer so far is 6-3 freshman guard Tyler Wilson, who had 15 points in a recent game ... Manhattan appears to have returned to the up-tempo style Masiello prefers, averaging 76.1 through the first eight games ... Its only losses thus far have come against George Washington and Fordham.

STRENGTHS: Defense, particularly in terms of blocking shots. And, the offense is back in full swing with the return of Beamon and a playing group that legitimately goes at least 10 deep.

WEAKNESSES: Still a little small when Pankey isn't in the game. But, the Jaspers are making up for that behind Beamon who, at 6-4, is averaging a team-best 7.5 rebounds and has become the complete player Masiello has  been asking him to become.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: League coaches predicted the Jaspers, in their preseason poll, to win the regular season title. As did this blogger. No reason to change that prediction now. Iona looks like the only real challenger (although Canisius may sneak into the mix). The schedule maker did us a favor by matching Manhattan and Iona, in their second meeting of the regular season, on the last day of the season, Feb. 28. That one could decide the league title.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Preview: Iona Women Have Strengths Everywhere

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 13-5 in the MAAC, 20-13 overall.

KEY LOSSES: Forward Diana Hubbard (3.2, 0.9).

KEY NEWCOMERS: 5-9 redshirt freshman forward Christina Rubin.

EARLY STARTERS: 5-7 junior guard Damika Martinez (18.1 points, 5.2 rebounds last season), 5-11 sophomore forward Joy Adams (13.0, 10.7), 5-6 junior guard Aleesha Powell (9.8, 3.7), 5-6 senior guard Haley D'Angelo (4.6, 2.0, 3.6 assists), 6-3 senior center Sabrina Jeridore (4.4, 4.8, 3.1 blocks).

NOTABLE: Second-best team in the league last year to Marist, and went to the WNIT. Afterwards, head coach Tony Bozzella moved on to Seton Hall. The transition to new coach Billi Godsey, formerly an assistant at Virginia Tech, seems to be going well ... The Gaels are currently 6-2 with the losses by a point to strong mid-major Bowling Green and to St. John's ... Martinez is as dynamic a scorer as the conference has ever seen. Two years ago she became the first freshman to lead the MAAC in scoring, duplicated that last season and added Player of the Year accolades. She's even better this year. Her 26.7 ppg. average so far far outdistances any other conference player and ranks third nationally. Her 42 points in a recent game set an Iona record (formerly held by Maria Johnson, 38, in the 1978-79 season), and was the sixth-best single-game total nationally this season ... The program's entire starting five fron a year ago returns, as does its top two reserves ... Every starter has made strides since a year ago. Besides Martinez's huge jump in scoring, her rebounding (6.3) is also up. Adams, the MAAC's Rookie of the Year last season, is averaging 17.0 points and 12.9 rebounds per game thus far ... Powell's 9.5, 3.3 averages are about the same as a year ago, but her assists (3.6) are up. D'Angelo's assists are also up, to 5.1 thus far and she has an astronomically good 41 assists to just 11 turnovers thus far. And, Jeridore's rebound average is up dramatically (7.3 so far), and she is the nation's leading shot-blocker (4.8 per contest) ... The top reserves are Aaliyah Robinson (5.9, 1.9), a 5-9 sophomore guard; 5-11 sophomore forward Cassidee Ranger (2.0) and 5-9 freshman guard/forward Christina Rubin (4.0, 1.7), who sat out last season with an injury ... The Gaels are shooting 44.8 percent from the field, 42nd-best nationally.

STRENGTHS: Scoring, experience, rebounding, depth. Pretty much everything is in place.

WEAKNESSES: An entirely new staff that's not as familiar with the conference as the previous staff.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: League coaches, in their preseason poll, picked Iona to finish second, as did your blogger. We'll believe someone other than Marist wins the regular-season title when it does someday happen. But, Iona is probably as close to being able to do that this year as any team in recent memory. Quinnipiac also looks strong, so a finish somewhere in the top three looks like Iona's fate.

Preview: Iona Men Reloaded For Another Title Run

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 11-7 in the MAAC, 20-14 overall.

KEY LOSSES: Guard Momo Jones (22.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists last season), forward Taaj Ridley (8.2, 5.6), guard Dennis Curtis (3.8, 1.4).

KEY NEWCOMERS: Senior 6-foot-6 swingman Mike Poole, transfer from Rutgers, 6-7 sophomore guard Isaiah Williams, transfer from State College of Florida Manatee junior college.

EARLY STARTERS: 6-9 junior forward David Laury (13.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, last year's totals), 6-5 senior guard Sean Armand (16.6, 5.1), 6-5 senior guard Trey Bowman (8.3, 3.80, 6-4 sophomore guard A.J. Williams (7.0, 2.5), 6-7 sophomore guard Williams.

NOTABLE: The Gaels suffered through a 1-6 mid-season slide last season before winning their last two regular-season games and, then, all three MAAC tournament games to represent the league in the NCAA Tournament. There, they got a tough draw, a very good Ohio State squad, which knocked off Iona, 95-70 ... Any time a program loses a player the caliber of Momo Jones, the league's Player of the Year, there's usually a dropoff. But, this is the program that also lost the previous season's Player of the Year in Scott Machado after the 2011-12 season and barely skipped a beat last season ... Looks like more of the same for Iona, which just reloads, albeit in non-traditional style. Five of the team's top seven players in terms of playing time thus far began their college careers elsewhere. Two of them are newcomers Poole and Williams ... Jones' scoring load has been picked up by Armand, who is averaging 22.1 ppg. thus far ... Laury has also increased his scoring average (15.1 ppg.) by two points per game, Bowma (12.3) by four points pr game and English (13.1) by 6.1 ppg. ... English, an exciting, athletic sophomore, missed the second half of last season with an injury but has come back at 100 percent and looks to be an emerging standout who should develop into one of the MAAC's best players, possibly a worthy successor to the guard assembly line that, of late, has included Machado, Jones and, now, Armand ... Ridley never averaged double figures for Iona, but his 5. rebounds per game will be missed ... Currently the Gaels are getting outrebounded by 1.9 per game ... The team's two losses came to a strong Cleveland State team (by four points) and national powerhouse Kansas (by 10) ... Iona led the country in points per game last season at 80.4 .... It's not quite there this year, but it's not far off at 79.4 ppg. Still, scoring is up this year and that average only ranks 60th nationally ... But, bigger totals are coming. Iona is averaging 87.3 ppg. in its last four contests ... The team's field goal percentage is a commendable 47.2 so far, 78th best nationally ... And, the Gaels continue to take care of the ball, committing fewer than 12 turnovers per game and have 112 assists vs. 82 turnovers so far, a surprising positive ratio considering the team's preferred up-tempo style of play.

STRENGTHS: As always, it seems, terrific outside shooting. Armand is already the program's all-time leader in made three pointers and has 24 through seven games thus far. English and Williams also average at least two treys per contest. Laury is among the best big men in the conference and is also extremely versatile. He's as good a passer as he is a scorer/rebounder.

WEAKNESSES: Rebounding. Laury averages 8.7 per game, and Williams is next at 4.9. While Williams is listed as 6-foot-7, he's basically a perimeter player. Iona has four guards on the court most of the time, but all four are 6-4 or taller.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: League coaches, in their preseason poll, tabbed Iona for second. Your blogger agreed in preseason predictions. There's no change here now after early results. We'll still go with Manhattan as the favorite to capture the regular-season crown, but Iona isn't far off. It would be a bit of a surprise if Iona doesn't finish in one of the top two spots.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Preview: Time For Canisius Women To Move Forward

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 8-10 in the MAAC, 12-8 overall.

KEY LOSSES: Guard Ashley Durham (11.7 points, 3.6 rebounds per game), forward Ashley Wilkes (8.2, 6.4), forward Allison Braun (4.0, 4.2).

KEY ADDITION: 5-11 freshman forward Lauren D'Hont.

EARLY STARTERS: 6-3 senior forward Jamie Ruttle (8.8 points, 4.7 rebounds last season), 5-7 senior guard Kayla Hoohuli (6.8, 3.4), 5-9 senior guard Jen Morabito (5.5, 2.0), 5-5 sophomore guard Tiahana Mills (4.1, 3.2, 2.6 assists), 5-10 senior forward Crystal Porter.

NOTABLE: Off to a 4-4 start thus far. This was supposed to be the culmination of one of the program's better recruiting class. Current seniors Ruttle, Morabito, 6-3 Jen Lennox and redshirt junior 6-1 Courtney VandeBovenkamp all captured MAAC Rookie of the Week awards as freshmen in the 2010-11 season. And, then, none has truly made the step to become the requisite star at this level ... The program has languished since a 24-9 finish in 2008-09 that included a berth in the MAAC title game and, ultimately, a national post-season appearance in the WNIT ...Ruttle, despite being one of the MAAC's taller players, only averaged 4.7 rebounds last year and is at 3.9 (and a team-best 11.0 ppg.) this year ...Lennox, an effective shot-blocker (87 for her career) comes off the bench. VandeBovenkamp was knocked out last season by injury, and has been slow to regain her form, although she moved into the starting lineup of late when Porter missed a game with an ankle injury ... Morabito is still a deadly long-range shooter (19 treys thus far and an 8.5 ppg. average), but has never become a double-digit scorer it looked like she'd become ... Porter has stepped up nicely after limited minutes as a freshman. She was averaging 6.1 points and 4.4 rebounds before her ankle injury ... Mills (8.0, 5.0 and 4.8 assists) has become one of the league's better point guards as a sophomore ... The Golden Griffins always seem to have terrific long-range shooting, and it's no different this year with Morabito, Hoohuli (10.0 points ppg., 13 treys so far) and sophomore Emily Weber (5.1, 1.3) ... Since that 24-9 season the Griffs have gone 12-19, 11-20, 12-18 and 12-19 ... Freshman Lauren D'Hont (4.1, 2.0) has been contributing off the bench. With three seniors and two juniors among the key players, this should be the year the program turns things around.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: League coaches picked Canisius, in their preseason poll, to finish 6th, and that's probably an insightful pick. Still, there's height, experience, outside shooting and a very good point guard in place. It wouldn't be a reach to think the Griffs could get as high as fourth if everything comes together.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Preview: Canisius Men Succeeding Despite Changes

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 11-7 in MAAC play, 20-14 overall.

KEY LOSSES: Guards Harold Washington (13.8, 2.6), Isaac Sosa (11.6, 2.0), Alshwan Hymes (7.1, 2.1).

KEY NEWCOMES: 6-3 senior guard Chris Perez, transfer from Stetson; 6-7 redshirt freshman forward Phil Valenti, 6-3 freshman guard Zach Lewis, 5-11 junior guard Jeremiah Williams, transfer from Vincennes Junior College, 6-4 sophomore guard Dominique Raney, transfer from Navarro College.

EARLY STARTERS: 6-2 senior guard Billy Baron (17.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.0 assists last season), 6-2 senior guard Chris Perez, 6-10 senior center Jordan Heath (9.2, 5.9), 6-6 senior forward Chris Manhertz (7.6, 8.7), 6-4 sophomore guard Dominique Raney.

NOTABLE: Off to a 4-3 start thus far. Last season's 20 wins marked a 15-victory improvement over the previous year, the greatest one-season jump in program history and third-best nationally over the previous season. It was also the first time the program won 20 games since the 2000-01 season ... Probably no coincidence that well-respected veteran coach Jim Baron came aboard last season, and brought his son, Billy, along as a transfer from Rhode Island ... Since then, there have been considerable losses, almost all on the perimeter where double-digit scorers Washington and Sosa both graduated. They were the team's top long-range threats, with Sosa hitting 96 treys and Washington 59. Hymes, an effective reserve guard, also opted to leave the program early ... Replacements came in the form of senior Chris Perez, a transfer from Stetson, who is averaging 11.9 ppg. and 3.3 rebound so far and sophomore transfer Dominique Raney (6.6, 2.1). True freshman Zach Lewis (6.4) has been the first perimeter sub so far, while junior Jeremiah Williams, a JC transfer (2.9) has been getting minutes as the back-up point guard ... The one perimeter returnee, though, is a good one in senior Billy Baron, who is averaging 19.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 points per game. He was picked as the league's preseason Player of the Year and has done nothing to discourage that sentiment. His scoring is up 2.5 ppg. over a year ago, while his assists are down ... Canisius did return two good front-court players in 6-10 senior Jordan Heath and 6-6, 235-pounder Christ Manhertz. Heath is averaging 10.9/5.1, and recently had a 28-point, 10-rebound game against Saint Peter's in the league opener for both teams. Manhertz (7.4, 5.0) was inch-for-inch the league best rebounder last season (8.7) but his rebound stats are down this season ... Phil Valenti, a 6-7 redshirt freshman who sat out last season to add some strength, is off to a good start off the bench (4.1, 3.9) ... This year's roster has 14 players and 10 of them did not play a minute last season; few MAAC programs have had such turnover ... Only 10 players have seen court action this year. Baron traditionally finds a playing group early and sticks to it.

REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: League coaches, in their preseason poll, predicted a third-place finish for Canisius, as did your blogger. The MAAC, thus far, looks like a two-team race for the top between Manhattan and Iona. After that, Canisius, Rider, Fairfield and Quinnipiac look bunched in the next group. The guess here is Canisius will finish somewhere as high as third and as low as sixth.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Marist Women Pass Test Vs. Quinnipiac In Opener

Meet the new boss when it comes to MAAC women's basketball ....

Same as the old boss.

It's Marist, of course.

We're only one game into league play, the season opener for the Red Foxes coming Friday night.

But the schedule maker did fans of the conference a big favor by creating a big-time matchup for the curtain-raiser.

It was Marist at Quinnipiac, the meeting of the conference's two teams that went to the women's NCAA tournament a year ago, the conference's two teams that put up perfect league records in the 2012-13 season.

The Red Foxes, of course, did it by going unbeaten in MAAC play and advancing to the NCAA's as the conference's representative.

Quinnipiac did the same thing in its former league, going 16-0 in the Northeast Conference a year ago and advancing to the NCAA's before moving up to the MAAC for the current season.

Marist earned a 69-63 victory in the battle of teams picked, in the coaches' preseason poll, to finish first (Marist) and third (Quinnipiac) this season.

Your scribe got to view a good portion of the contest view the magic of the internet, and the impression is that Marist, despite height limitations (again, much like last season) is impressive again in its precision motion offense and defensive work that takes away what opponents like to do best.

Friday the Red Foxes' defense virtually took Quinnipiac's preseseason second-team pick forward Brittany McQuain out of the offense. McQuain, who entered the game averaging 13.2 points per game, got just two points on 1-of-4 shooting against Marist.

Marist continued to get offense from a variety of different sources. Friday it was sophomore guard Sydney Coffey leading the way with a career-high 19 points. Madeline Blais, another sophomore, added 11 while senior forward Emma O'Connor chipped in with 11.

Marist had a 13-point lead late in the first half before Quinnipiac rallied to within 33-27 at halftime..

The hosts then got to within a point at the 18:18 mark of the second half before an 11-0 Marist run behind five points from Coffey and four from O'Connor.

The Bobcats cut it to two once again, 56-54, with 6:27 remaining and to within one with less than four minutes to go.

And, Marist's lead was down to one again with 2:06 remaining.

O'Connor then scored for the winners and Coffey made two free throws to push the advantage to five. Quinnipiac got within three once more, but couldn't get any closer as Marist closed it out.

Preview: Rider Women Need Rebounds, Assists

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 10-8 in the MAAC, 15-15 overall.

KEY LOSSES: Guard Sironda Chambers (13.0 points, 3.9 rebounds), forward Caitlin Bopp (9.9, 9.1), forward Carleigh Brown (4.0, 3.4).

KEY NEWCOMERS: 5-9 freshman guard Stephanie Mason, 5-10 junior guard Lashay Banks, transfer from Cincinnati.

EARLY STARTERS: 6-0 senior swingperson MyNeshia McKenzie (14.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, last season's statistics), 5-8 sophomore guard Mikel Johnson (5.6, 1.6), 5-7 sophomore guard Manon Pellet (1.7, 0.7), 6-3 junior forward Marritt Gillcrease (0.7, 1.6), 5-10 junior guard Lashay Banks.

NOTABLE: The Broncs are off to a 2-5 start, but they also started 7-10 last year before an 8-5 finish that resulted in the 15-15 overall record. It was the program's first non-losing season since 1994-95 ... It might be hard to better that this year, though, after some key losses, particularly guard Sironda Chambers and forward Caitlin Bopp, the team's second and third-leading scorers from last season ... Still, though, there's much talent in place led by 6-0 senior swingperson MyNeshia McKenzie, who averages 17.9 points and 10.7 rebounds per game thus far. She was a first-team preseason all-MAAC selection by league coaches, and has been one of the league's top players for some time ...the loss of Chambers is offset by Cincinnati transfer Lashay Banks, who is averaging 12.6 points and 4.7 rebounds thus far. She played sparringly at Cincy (2.4 ppg. two seasons ago), but was a 1,000-point scorer on the high school level ... There's no replacement for Bopp, but 6-3 Gillcrease, who rarely played the past two seasons, has stepped up to help out inside, averaging 4.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game thus far ... Emily Fazzini, a 5-10 junior guard who was averaging 9.8 points through four games, is out of action right now with no timetable for her return ... It leaves Johnson as the best long-range shooting threat (37 treys last season and 14 so far this year) ... freshman guard Mason, though, has also exhibited a nice shooting touch (9 treys so far), and she had a career-high 15 points in a recent victory over UMBC. Gilcrease had 10 points and 8 rebounds in that contest ... Johnson had a career-high 20 points in the Broncs' last game, a loss to Navy ...What the program lacks for the second straight season is a prototypical point guard. Last year no player averaged more than 1.7 assists per game, and right now McKenzie and Konelij Valiskyte, a reserve guard, are the assist leaders at 1.6 per contest ... Shereen Lightbourne, a budding star early in her career, has returned after missing the last two seasons with knee injuries. Yet while her return as a graduate student is a feel-good story, she probably won't regain her early form and is playing lightly, just 17 total minutes through the first seven games.

STRENGTHS: The requisite star in McKenzie, and a strong second fiddle scorer in Banks. Depth at the guard position.

WEAKNESSES: While McKenzie will all but certainly lead the team in rebounding for the second straight year, there's no real second option on the boards. If Fazzini, who had been the team's third-leading scorer, is out for a length of time, that's a big loss. And, there's the lack of a true point guard.

REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: League coaches picked Rider to finish fifth, in their preseason poll, and there's no argument about that here. The likelihood is somewhere between fourth and seventh.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Around The MAAC: Points, Steals, Key Contests

As we do every season, we occasionally find some time to look around MAAC.

It's a feature we call "ATM," or Around The MAAC.

Here's the latest installment.


In case you haven't noticed, the top two players among  the Division I national scoring leaders includes one from the MAAC and another former player in the conference.

Niagara's junior guard Antoine Mason (as predicted in this blog prior to the season) is the national scoring leader, connecting on 30.0 points per game thus far.

No. 2 on the national list, at 25.5 ppg., is Dylon Cormier of Loyola, a MAAC member until this season.

If Mason retains the scoring lead through the season he would become the fourth MAAC player to win a national scoring title.

The others have been Army's Kevin Houston, 32.9 ppg. in the 1986-87 season; Niagara's Alvin Young, 25.1 ppt. in the 1998-99 season; and, Saint Peter's Keydren Clark, who did it twice, 26.7 ppg. in the 2003-04 season and 25.6 pg. in the 2004-05 season.


It's usually pretty difficult for freshmen to make a mark at a mid-major level program, but frosh guard Emia Willingham of the Siena women's team has already had a break-out performance.

Willingham, a quick 5-foot-6 guard, had 10 steals in a recent game against Sacred Heart.

That total is the single-game high nationally thus far this season, tied Siena's school record for single-game swipes by either men's or women's players, and is second all-time for a game played by a MAAC player.

Only former Manhattan standout Gina Somma, who had 12 steals in a game during the 1993-94 season.


The new conference team expected to be the most-competitive in terms of regular-season championship contention is the Quinnipiac women's squad.

The Bobcats are currently 3-4 in non-league play, but are highly regarded enough to rank 24th nationally in the poll of mid-major level programs from 23 different conferences.

Quinnipiac's losses thus far have been to Louisville (No. 5 nationally at the time of the game), 6-1 St. Joseph's 5-1 St. John's and 5-3 Tennessee-Martin, the three-time defending Ohio Valley Conference's representative to the NCAA tournament.

And, now, we'll really get a look at how good Quinnipiac can be this season.

The Bobcats have back-to-back games coming up against two other teams rated in the mid-major poll.

They host Marist on Friday at 6 p.m., the first MAAC game of the season and it's a good one. The teams were picked in the coaches' preseason poll to finish first (Marist) and third, respectively, in conference play this season.

Marist is currently ranked No. 18 in the mid-major poll.

Both programs are coming off NCAA appearances and perfect records in league play from the 2012-13 season. Marist was 18-0 in the MAAC, and Quinnipiac was 16-0 iin its former affiliation, the Northeast Conference.

And, then, the Bobcats play another non-league contest on December 15 at UAlbany (2 p.m.).

UAlbany checks in at No. 8 in the mid-major poll. And, once again, it's a meeting of teams that went to the NCAA's last year after perfect league records. The Great Danes were 16-0 in America East play in 2012-13.

Your blogger plans on attending the Dec. 15 Quinnipiac at UAlbany game to get a first-hand look at the Bobcats, and will provide a post-game report.