Thursday, March 20, 2014

Some Final Seasonal Thoughts, A Look Ahead

Some buzzer-beating thoughts as another basketball season comes to a close.


Despite some initial disagreement from a couple of league coaches about bringing Quinnipiac and Monmouth into the MAAC at the start of the this academic year, it says here that those two programs have proven to be more-than-worthy additions.

Competitively, the Qunnipiac women finished fourth in the final regular-season standings and, then, knocked off top-seed Iona in the post-season tournament's semifinal round and very nearly did the same to No. 2 seed Marist (losing, 70-66) in the championship game after holding a 17-point lead with four minutes remaining in the first half.

The Quinnipiac men finished third in the final regular-season standings, had two regular-season victories over NCAA-bound Manhattan and one over MAAC tournament top-seed Iona. The Bobcats got knocked out in the MAAC event's semifinal round, but had lost one of its top players, standout guard Umar Shannon, to a knee injury, just a week before the tournament.

The Monmouth men might have only finished 5-15 in league play and 11-21 overall, but the roster did not include a single senior and only had three juniors. And, one of its best players, freshman point guard Justin Robinson, missed most of the season's second half with a foot injury. It certainly will be a vastly improved team a year from now.

And, the Monmouth women were similarly youthful with just a single senior starter. It has not only one of the tallest rosters in the MAAC (four contributing post players all 6-foot-4), but an emerging standout point guard in freshman Helena Kurt. The Hawks finished strong with a 28-point regular-season-ending victory over Siena and, then, an upset 66-62 decision over Niagara in the first round of the MAAC tournament.

On top of each of those programs' talent levels, each school's playing facilities rank as one-two (you can pick) among the MAAC's best on-campus playing venues.


Our downstate brethren proudly claim that the annual meetings between Iona and Manhattan, schools separated by 9.3 miles, is our state's best rivalry.

Still, when those two teams met in the recent MAAC Tournament's championship game (and, I know, the game was played in Springfield, Mass.), the crowd was only 1,749.

The atmosphere was good, but nothing near what it was like for a Canisius at Niagara game your scribe attended this season at the Purple Eagles' Taps Gallagher Center.

That's a series that has includes 176 meetings since 1906. The schools are separated by about 20 miles. And, the joint was jumping, as they say, for an all-but-meaningless regular-season game when the two met in the February contest in question. The enthusiastic fans at this year's game at Niagara made for an near-impossible-to-hear situation.

We'll throw the annual non-league meetings of Siena-UAlbany up there for a strong local rivalry. And, there's no disputing that Iona-Manhattan is nearly as intense is it gets.

But, this scribe's choice for the best rivalry between men's basketball schools in New York State will be Canisius-Niagara.


Everyone wants to speculate on who will be the men's and women's early favorites to win the 2014-15 regular-season titles. But, we'll leave that for another day. Instead, we'll try to identify some teams who will break out a year from now.

These aren't necessarily teams that will strongly contend for the conference title, but they are teams that will be significantly improved, teams that will surprise opponents and conference followers once next season begins.

Our men's choice is Saint Peter's.

The Peacocks' men's team loses just one player from its top eight, senior swingman Chris Burke, who was the team's fourth-leading scorer. It gets back two of the better players in the league in 6-7 forward Marvin Dominique and guard Desi Washington.

Two freshman starters from this past season, point guard Trevis Wyche and forward Quadir Welton, come back with a year's experience and, likely, the improvement that usually comes between a player's first and second season.

Also back will be swingman Chazz Patterson, who redshirted this past season but can be a contributor. Bench strength comes from forward Kris Rolle and guard Jamel Fields, each filling that role capably this past season.

The team probably needs some front-court depth to really break through, but that might come from junior-to-be 6-7 forward Elias Desport.

On top of everything, we perceive John Dunne to be one of the conference's top three coaches.

The Peacocks finished 9-11 in the MAAC this past season and 14-17 overall. The expectation here is a top-five finish next season.


Hope you'll excuse us if we opt to name two ... Monmouth and Saint Peter's.

Monmouth was the tallest team in the league this year, and all that height comes back a year from now with a full season's experience behind it.

Senior-to-be Sara English, and sophs-to-be Sophie Beaudry and Christina Mitchell all stand 6-foot-4, and all are very effective players. The Hawks often used a "twin-towers" lineup to good effect at times during this past season.

Point guard Helena Kurt was a starter as a freshman this past season, improved dramatically as the season progressed and showed signs of becoming one of the conference's better players at her position in future years.
Jasmine Walker, a sophomore guard this past season, also returns alongside Kurt. She was the Hawks' second-leading scorer this past season. And, Mia Hopkins, another freshman guard, flashed some late-season offensive capabilities and should play a significant role a year from now.

The team loses a significant contributor, graduating senior swingperson Chevannah Paalvast, its leading scorer. But a capable replacement, swingplayer Sarah Olson, becomes eligible next season. She is a transfer from NJIT, where she averaged 7.4 points per game as a sophomore in the 2012-13 season.

Monmouth finished 6-14 in MAAC play this season and 8-25 overall. We can easily envision a better-than .500 finish a year from now and a spot in the MAAC's top five for 2014-15.

The Saint Peter's women might not have that dramatic a reversal. With a 2-18/3-27 record this season, plus the loss of graduating Kaydine Bent, the team's top scorer and rebounder, there's much rebuilding to do.

But, Pat Coyle, who took over the program this past season, is one of the conference's better coaches. And, she not only has some good role players returning, but also solid recruiting class coming in for next season, and two transfers who should each be significant contributors in 2014-15.

Those are 6-2 Imani Martinez, a 6-foot-2 forward who played her freshman season at East Tennessee State and 5-6 point guard Rebecca Sparks, who played her freshman season at St. Francis (Pa.). There, she scored 27 points in her final game before opting to transfer to Saint Peter's.

The Peacocks might not crack next season's top five, but a double-digit overall victory total seems to be a reachable number with much better coming in future seasons.

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