Friday, April 24, 2009

Thanks For Reading, See You in 2009-10

The preview of the 2009-10 season, below, will likely be the last post for some time, unless something unusually noteworthy occurs during the off-season. We'll get started again with season previews and anything else of note not long after the mid-October start of practices.

The break provides an opportunity to thank a few people for considerable support during the 2008-09 season.

Thanks, primarily, to my family for being excited about my opportunity to get involved with this blog and, then, for much-needed support and encouragement for keeping it going after a particular rough stretch this past November.

Thanks to MAAC administrators, particularly MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor, who offered the opportunity to create and write in this forum, and thanks to assistant commissioners Jill Skorarczak and Ken Taylor for their support and direction throughout the season.

Thanks to all the coaches, players, sports information personnel and, in many cases, fans for their cooperation and insights throughout the season.

Thanks to all of you who read the blog this season, and to those who reached out with comments and suggestions. The interest is very much appreciated.

I have covered the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in one form or another, first as a sportswriter and, now, as a blogger, since Siena joined the league in 1989.

The conference has never disappointed, whether it be in a competitive situation or otherwise.

It is a league that fans (and writers) can be proud of. Things are done the right way. Players remain students first.

Coaches and players alike recognize the continued need to publicize the conference and are appreciative of not only media coverage but fan interest. As such, it's still possible for fans to get significantly "closer" to their favored program and have the type interaction with coaching staffs and players that usually doesn't happen at the high-major level of college basketball.

It makes the MAAC enjoyable to be around.

On top of everything else, it's a very good level of college basketball.

I look forward to a continuing my blogging efforts about the MAAC next season.

And, I hope you'll continue reading.

A Look Ahead to the 2009-10 Season

One season behind us, the next one about seven months away from beginning.

Too soon to look ahead?

No, it’s never too soon for that.

The crystal ball, the tea leaves and whatever other devices you might use to predict the future all come up with the same answer: The 2009-10 MAAC season will look a lot like this past season’s, maybe even a little better.

The top teams … Siena, Niagara and Rider … are likely to be the top teams again.

But the next tier from this past season … Saint Peter’s, Iona, and Fairfield … all look capable of being better in the foreseeable future. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if any of those three broke into the top three of the MAAC standings.

At least two of the 2008-09 season’s lower-tier teams, Loyola and Canisius, have enough talent on board to expect improvements, too.

Manhattan and Marist both got hit by some unexpected player losses and will likely be young in a league where experience usually counts for plenty.

League coaches universally proclaimed this past season to be one of the best in conference history in terms of top-to-bottom competitiveness.

That, though, is an annual refrain tossed out merely to positively shape public perception.

This season’s play in the MAAC was very good.

Best ever? Not sure I agree with that.

But if someone wants to begin proclaiming how good the 2009-10 season will be for MAAC basketball … they won’t get any debate from this humble blogger.

Let’s take thumbnail glances at what’s ahead for the men’s programs, from the top down in predicted order of finish for 2009-10.

SIENA: The 2008-09 edition was quite possibly the 2nd-best team in MAAC history, behind only the 1989-90 La Salle squad. And, the Saints could be even better next season (although probably not as good as that La Salle team that sent three players on to the NBA).

Gone is Kenny Hasbrouck, this season’s Player of the Year, but everyone else of significance returns.

The 2009-10 starting five will include three seniors and two juniors, the type of experience that, when coupled with the type talent Siena has, traditionally results in championship-level play.

Add to that group two productive freshmen from this past season’s team, and a recruiting class that head coach Fran McCaffery raves about.

Incoming recruits include a much-needed back-up point guard in Jonathan Breeden, a standout shooting guard in Denzel Yard, and, lanky 6-foot-8 forward O.D. Anosike, who is capable of playing either in the post or on the perimeter and is likely to have the greatest impact among newcomers.

And, then, there’s talented guard Kyle Griffin, a transfer from La Salle who is recovering from a knee injury and should be ready to play by mid-season.

It means Siena will be bigger, deeper and even better than this season.

Of course expectations will be unusually high. Siena became the first MAAC men’s team in the conference’s history to advance to the second round of NCAA tournament play in back-to-back seasons. Siena fans will expect the coming season’s team to at least achieve that again, if not go even deeper in the NCAA’s.

NIAGARA: The league’s second-best team, and on one night in a late regular-season game, (a 100-85 victory over Siena) thrust itself into the conversation for the best in the MAAC.

The only loss is 6-10 center Benson Egemoyne, but it’s a big one in every sense.

The four returning starters … Bilal Benn, Rob Garrison, Tyrone Lewis and Anthony Nelson … rank right there with Siena’s four returnees. And, its depth will be better, too. Current freshman Austin Cooley looks like he’ll be a factor in years to come.

But, the Purple Eagles don’t currently have an inside presence.

They could go small, with 6-6 Demitrius Williams in the middle, or thrust slender 6-9 incoming freshman Andre Gillette into the playing group. For sure, the Purple Eagles will again be the conference’s most-athletic team, and likely be the greatest threat, again, to Siena's championship hopes.

RIDER: Like the top two, in terms of key players returning, it’s more of the same here.

Of the seven-man playing group at season’s end, the only loss will be departing senior Harris Mansell, who battled an elbow injury all year and was never at full strength.

Back is senior-to-be Ryan Thompson, possibly the preseason favorite for Player of the Year accolades. Also back will be hard-working forward Mike Ringold, and talented freshman Novar Gadson, who should have been (it says here) the conference’s Rookie of the Year.

ST. PETER’S: Coach John Dunne has turned the program around from an also-ran in recent years into a solid contender for the foreseeable future.

Every player that averaged at least two points per game last season is back, and the team’s two standouts, emerging 6-7 center Ryan Bacon and guard Wesley Jenkins, one of the MAAC’s top snipers, are both entering their junior seasons.

Add to that duo a pair of good-with-the-ball guards in Nick Leon and Brandon Hall, and do-everything small forward Akeem Gooding, and the upcoming season could be a good one for the Peacocks.

FAIRFIELD: Things should be better for the program that survived a key player defection and more than its share of injury problems this past season.

Back is an effective front-court group of Greg Nero, Warren Edney and Mike Evanovich, as well as Anthony Johnson, if he gets medical clearance after missing much of last season.

The guard spot, though, isn’t quite so solid. Lyndon Jordan, who stepped in at midseason to play the point, looked capable. But, he’ll have to take another step forward for the Stags to improve. Fairfield will also need immediate contributions from incoming freshman Colin Nickerson.

IONA: The Gaels lost two key parts to graduation, leading scorer/rebounder Gary Springer, their top inside player; and 6-6 swingman Devon Clarke, their third-leading scorer.

But, expect talented soph-to-be point guard Scott Machado to be improved after some inconsistent play as a freshman, which will be a key. Otherwise, Iona is set with Milan Predanovic at the other guard spot and, probably, 7-0 Jonathan Huffman at forward position.

Springer’s loss could be offset if junior-to-be Alejo Rodriguez returns to the form he flashed before back problems but rarely exhibited this past season.

Any chance of Iona finishing higher is predicated on quick contributions from incoming freshmen 6-9 Chris Pelcher and 6-2 guard Ben Mockford and red-shirt freshmen Keon Williams and Kyle Smith.

LOYOLA: Jimmy Patsos’s teams are always competitive, and the Greyhounds will be so in the coming season with strong perimeter play. Swingman Jamal Barney is arguably the conference’s most-explosive scorer, and guards Brett Harvey and Brian Rudolph are both experienced and effective.

How far Loyola can go this season will depend on the development of big men 6-7 Anthony Winbush and 6-9 Josh Woegand, along with 6-10 Shane Walker, a transfer from Maryland who sat out last season. If Walker is very good, then Loyola could move closer to the top of the conference standings. Traditionally, though, perimeter-position players transferring from a higher level have had more success in the MAAC than big men.

CANISIUS: One of the league’s youngest teams returns every key player, including senior point guard Frank Turner, one of the most-exciting performers in the conference.

Overall, the Golden Griffins’ top seven players are back. Natural progression is expected, and if 6-9, 320-pounder Chris Gadley gets in better condition he could be an inside force. Incoming freshman Rob Gagliardi should have an impact, too.

The Griffs will legitimately go eight deep, and more, and could push to move up a few spots.

MANHATTAN: Rumors that head coach Barry Rohrssen might be leaving for a position at Kentucky remain active. But even if the Jaspers’ coach stays, the team doesn’t look likely to move out of the bottom half of the league standings for some time.

The decision of do-everything swingman Chris Smith, the team’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, to leave the program hurts.

Back will be 6-5 guard Darryl Crawford and 6-2 guard Antoine Pearson, and big man 6-9 Laurence Jolicoeur, who will need to contribute more. Otherwise, there isn’t a lot in place to think Manhattan will be in the MAAC’s upper echelon in the immediate future.

MARIST: The last-place finisher of this past season will have its work cut out to avoid the cellar again in 2009-10.

The Red Foxes not only lost their best front-court player with the graduation of Ryan Schneider, but unexpectedly lost their best guard, David Devezin, who was not granted a medical redshirt year as originally expected. Devezin, it was recently ruled, did not receive a medical redshirt after playing just three games at Texas A&M in the 2005-06 season.

It leaves the team without a single player who averaged more than 6.9 points per game last season. Devezin’s loss means that junior Dujuan Goodwin and sophomore R.J. Hall will be more-prominently featured in the backcourt.

Up front, 6-9 Korey Bauer showed some promise this past season. And, help is coming in the sizeable form of 6-10 Casiem Drummond, a transfer from Villanova, who will be eligible to play after the first semester. Sam Prescott, an incoming freshman-to-be guard, could also have an impact.