Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Hopes For MAAC Teams

Call this a late visit from Santa bearing fictional gifts ... or some New Year's desires for MAAC men's teams.

Whatever, here are some things we hope happen for conference programs:

FAIRFIELD: The return to close to full health for fifth-year senior forward Greg Nero, and an opportunity to be an on-court contributor before the season ends. Nero is one of the hardest-playing individuals this blogger has seen in many years and deserves to finish out semi healthy on the court.

IONA: A national assist title for junior guard Scott Machado, which would be the second straight won by a MAAC player (Siena's Ronald Moore led the nation in assists last year), and continued good play by Mike Glover, all of which should keep the Gaels in serious contention for the league crown.

SIENA: Two things: Better health for its players and patience from a tradionally impatient fan base. Senior guard Clarence Jackson has missed several games with a badly sprained ankle, and his absence has hurt Siena's offense (Siena only scored 48 points at St. Joseph's). Several other key players have missed games as well. The result is a 4-8 start for the Saints and clear displeasure from many fans who somehow expect the team to be as good as the last three seasons despite the fact that three of the program's best-ever players graduated last year and ain't walking through that door.

MARIST: Continued progress of young players on what must be one of the youngest teams in the country. Marist won't contend this year, but it's fun to watch a young team make strides and the Red Foxes are already showing signs of that.

CANISIUS: Is it too much to ask for another year of eligibility for graduated guard Frank Turner? Guess so. OK, a few fewer turnovers from his replacement, Gabby Belardo (44 assists, 49 turnovers so far), which should be good enough for the Golden Griffins, a veteran team, to win more games than the previous year for the fifth straight season.

NIAGARA: Rapid maturation of young players for the 29th youngest team nationally. More games like its 69-61 victory at St. Bonaventure recently, the Purple Eagles' only victory in their last 10 games. And, a return to health of freshman swingman Antoine Mason, who averaged 16.7 points in his first three games before a foot injury has kept him out since then.

SAINT PETER'S: Either a quick, albeit unexpected, return to health by senior guard Wesley Jenkins, or an ability to play without him. With Jenkins the Peacocks were playing like conference contenders. Without him, so far, they have merely been solid but clearly missing his offensive contributions. Here's hoping Jenkins either comes back from his knee injury this season. But, if not, he'll redshirt and, hopefully, help his team contend for a conference crown next season.

MANHATTAN: Fewer one-and-dones ... first Rico Pickett, who led the conference in scoring last year before departing early to pursue professional opportunities and, now, Demetrius Jemison, a 6-8 forward graduate student who played three seasons at Alabama and will only be with the Jaspers for the rest of this season. Tough to build good team chemistry that way.

LOYOLA: A go-to scorer for a team whose per-game leader (Jamal Barney) only averages 11.0 points per game. Barney seems like the likely candidate after leading the MAAC in scoring two years ago, but hasn't approached that kind of production since then. The Greyhounds appear to have enough supporting pieces, but are off to an 0-2 MAAC start and a 4-8 overall record.

RIDER: The belief that all its MAAC games are really non-conference contests. Last year the Broncs beat then No. 15 Mississippi State in a non-conference contest and, then, went an underachieving 9-9 in league play. This year the Broncs are 8-4 against a tough non-league slate, including a victory at USC. And, then, in their first MAAC contest hosting Siena on Nov. 26 they were dominated, 73-60.

TO ALL: It's easy to say a happy and healthy new year. Let's hope the new year brings exciting basketball and success for MAAC programs. But, more importantly, that all of us remember that athletics is just a small part of life, particularly at the mid-major level. Life is about far more than that. It's about relationships, and the hope here is that all of us get to spend time with and appreciate those we love. That truly is the most important thing of all.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rider Is Top MAAC Team in Ratings

Your blogger doesn't pay much attention to computer ratings of college basketball teams early in the season. The belief is that teams don't start falling into a range that provides a decent measure of their levels until at least a third of the way through a season.

Well, we're beyond that point. Just about everyone has played at least 10 games thus far, so we'll start providing some computer ratings of MAAC teams and, on occasion, other teams of note to conference fans, throughout the season.

We'll start with Jeff Sagarin's men's ratings, done via a computer formula. Just a note. Your blogger doesn't perceive Sagarin's ratings to be the truest measure of teams. I prefer Jerry Palm's as the best measurement. Over the years, Palm's ratings have almost always been closest to ratings compiled by the NCAA. In fact, Palm's formula for rating teams is almost the exact one used by the NCAA.

Anyway, here's how MAAC men's teams rate as of Wednesday morning (although Tuesday's results are not included) in Sagarin's ratings, with records in parentheses:

Rider (8-5) is the highest-rated MAAC team at 83rd of 345 Division I teams nationally. The Broncs currently have won three straight and have early season non-conference wins over Southern Cal, TCU and Loyola-Marymount.

Next is Iona (7-5), at No. 93, followed by Fairfield (8-3), 99; Siena (4-6), 126; Saint Peter's (7-5), 176; Loyola (4-7), 200; Canisius (5-6), 234; Niagara (3-9), 298; Manhattan (2-10), 313; and Marist (2-10), 331.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

UAlbany Gives Winter Lift To Opponent

This item has nothing to do with the MAAC, except that the University at Albany has played some MAAC teams (Iona and Siena) in non-league games.

But, it has everything to do with the Christmas season, a season of giving, and everything to do with what college basketball is supposed to be about.

It's about a bus trip from Albany to Cincinnati for UAlbany this past Sunday, a 12-hour journey necessitated by winter's grasp on the great northeast that prohibited air travel. But, the Great Danes needed to get there for their game tonight (Tuesday) against Xavier so a bus was hired.

One of Xavier's players, standout sophomore guards, Mark Lyons, also needed to get there.

He was home for Christmas in his native Schenectady, N.Y. And, like UAlbany, discovered that the flight he intended to take to return to Xavier was cancelled and he wouldn't make it back to Cincinnati in time for the game.

That's when Xavier coach Chris Mack reached out to UAlbany and its coach Will Brown and asked if the Danes could add another passenger on the bus ride to Xavier. The extra passenger, of course, was Lyons.

Brown could easily have responded that there was no room at the inn, that he would not allow Lyons to book passage with his team. He could have played the part of the Grinch, and that stance would have been understood.

After all, it would have been a competitive advantage to tell Lyons that it would be uncomfortable for him to be on the bus and leave him behind. Lyons is Xavier's second-leading scorer averaging 13.1 points per game.

Instead Brown embraced the season of giving, and never hesitated in providing transportation for Lyons on the UAlbany bus.

"This speaks volumes about the college basketball community trying to help someone out like this," said UAlbany sophomore co-captain Logan Aronhalt.

It speaks volumes about the season of giving, at atmosphere that, one hopes, exists in college athletics year round. It speaks volumes about college sports being something more than a business, about being something more than a win-at-all-cost situation.

And, it speaks volumes about UAlbany coach Brown, a good guy who did a nice thing.

The story of Lyons' trip with the "enemy" to get back to Cincinnati for tonight's game was widely reported in upstate New York.

One of the best reports seen by this blogger was done by good friend Tim Wilkin of the Albany Times Union newspaper.

Here's a link:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Alabama Transfer Jemison Joins Jaspers,

The Manhattan men's basketball team got an early Christmas present that came in a sizeable package.

How big? Try 6-foot-8, 240-pounds. Whew.

That's the size of Demetrius Jemison, a transfer from the University of Alabama who played three seasons there and, then, sat out what would have been his senior season with an injury.

Johnson got his undergraduate degree and, then, transferred to Manhattan to attend graduate school. NCAA rules allow for students transferring for graduate courses to play immediately at the new school, rather than sit out the usual one-year requirement, if the previous school's graduate division does not (and the new school does) offer the course of study the student intends to pursue.

Jemison, though, was forced to stay off the court until the NCAA was satisfied with the conditions of his transfer waiver. That favorable ruling didn't come in until just prior to the Jaspers' game at Binghamton on Dec. 11.

Jemison was immediately used as a starter and had 13 points and 7 rebounds in his first game. He followed that up with games of 7 points and 13 rebounds (vs. Hofstra) and 10 points and 7 rebounds (vs. Bowling Green).

Jemison's addition to the roster couldn't have come at a better time as the Jaspers have been left woefully thin on the front line after a season-ending Achilles injury to forwards Roberto Colonette and a sprained MCL suffered by Robert Martina, which kept him out of several games earlier this month.

Jemison, a native of Birmingham, Ala., averaged four points and four rebounds in his three active seasons with the Crimson Tide. After being named co-winner of the Tide's Defensive Award in his freshman season, Jemison averaged 5.6 points and 5-3 rebounds with 20 blocks in his sophomore season while also earning Academic All-SEC honors. He played a more limited role as a junior in 2008-09 before sitting out last season with an injury.

Jemison earned his bachelor's degree in consumer science from Alabama last spring with a season of eligibility remaining. He will complete his eligibility at Manhattan while pursuing a master's degree in the school of education.

Even with Jemison in the lineup, though, the Jaspers are struggling. After opening the season with victories over Penn and NJIT Manhattan has lost 10 straight to fall to a 2-10 overall record.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Peacocks Suffer Loss of Jenkins, Again

It's the day after Christmas in upstate New York, a blizzard is approaching and at least some games in the New York Metropolitan area are being postponed due to inclement weather there. Among those is the Fordham women's tournament, in which Siena is scheduled to compete, which has been pushed back a day to this Wednesday and Thursday, instead of Tuesday and Wednesday.

But those are the inconveniences of sports in the great Northeast in the winter. No big deal.

The holiday season, though, wasn't very kind to one MAAC member, the Saint Peter's men's basketball team.

The Peacocks' standout guard, 6-2 senior Wesley Jenkins, a first-team preseason all-star selection, might miss the rest of the season after reinjuring his knee in a 61-55 victory at Binghamton on Dec. 21. The victory was Saint Peter's fifth straight (giving it a 7-4 overall record) and appeared to have it poised for chasing the conference's regular-season title.

Instead it appears that the team could be without its top player for the remainder of the season.

Jenkins underwent an MRI just before Christmas (no results yet), and there have been reports concerning speculation that he has sprined the MCL and ACL in the same knee that he injured in the preseason. If the preliminary diagnosis is correct, he would be lost for approximately six weeks, effectively ending his season.

SPC has won five straight and six of seven since Jenkins returned from his preseason injury. There have been signs that SPC was beginning to hit its offensive stride. It was a welcome sign just as heavy league action is set to begin in January.

If there is a bright side to this mishap, it would be that the injury happened when it did. Jenkins is eligible for a medical redshirt under NCAA rules if he wishes to return next season. There is also a slim possibility that the injury is not as bad as originally feared and he could be back sooner and not lost for this season.

And, that's not all.

Senior 6-7 forward Ryan Bacon, the team’s best big man, was also injured late in the Binghamton contest and he is expected to be out a minimum of two weeks with a sprained foot. There's a chance he could return for the resumption of league competition next week.

Even without Jenkins, Saint Peter's is likely to be competitive this year. But with him it was a legitimate championship contender.

In its first game without Jenkins since the injury it lost a 55-52 decision to Rutgers. The Peacocks return to action against Lehigh in a non-league game on Wednesday before resuming conference competition on Monday when they host Canisius.

With the strong orientation for defense that Dunne has preached since his arrival, I expect SPC to hang tough and remain the type of team no one wants to play, with or

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hewitt Well-Appreciated Around Siena

It was a very non-descript women's non-conference basketball game the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 22, at Siena's Alumni Recreation Center. UC Santa Clara was in town to play against Siena.

And, so was Paul Hewitt, the former Siena men's coach who now is the head man at Georgia Tech. His team was also in town for a men's game this night against his former team.

But, not long after the 11 a.m. start of the women's contest, Hewitt quietly entered the ARC to watch the women's team of the school he coached at for three seasons just short of a decade ago.

And, that pretty much says all you need to know about Hewitt. The words loyalty and the phrase "remembering where you came from come to mind."

So does the word "class," and Hewitt has it in large doses.

Remembering where you came from?

Hewitt graduated from St. John Fisher's College, a small school in the Rochester, N.Y., area in 1985. That was 25 years ago. But there Hewitt was this past May as the commencement speaker of that school's 2010 graduation ceremonies.

But Hewitt isn't just on hand for the highly publicized events. He spends a couple days up there every summer helping out at the school's summer basketball camp, and does so without compensation. And coaches there ... often ones who have never yet met Hewitt personally ... tell how he calls their office a few times annually just to check on the program, and to offer advice and encouragement.

When he was at Siena, Hewitt was a regular attendee of women's games, offering his support. Even 10 years after his absence, a secretary in the Siena athletic office remembers that her professional relationship with Hewitt was the best she has ever had with any coach in any sport at that school.

For sure he is well-remembered at Siena for reasons beyond treating people well. He turned around a program that had fallen on hard times prior to his arrival into an NCAA tournament team in his second season and an NIT appearance in his third year. In three years with the Saints he recorded a 66-27 record.

But college sports are ... or, at least, should be ... about far more than mere wins. And, even if Hewitt's teams did not have that kind of success at Siena, there would still be positive feelings about him around that school.

Which leads us to his current position at Georgia Tech, where he has been since leaving Siena after the 1999-00 season.

A quick glance at a fan message board dedicated to the school's basketball program is filled with vitriol against Hewitt, filled almost entirely with displeasure at his work there and hopes that the school will replace him immediately, if not sooner.

And, it's not just fan boards. A columnist, who shall remain unidentified so as not to give him further credibility, for a major Atlanta newspaper wrote this recently about Hewitt: "If Paul Hewitt isn’t the worst basketball coach in the country, it’s only because ours is a mighty big country."

Let's see, Hewitt's Georgia Tech teams have a 177-144 record over the past nine years and this year's team, despite the early loss of two now-NBA front-court players, is 6-4.

Georgia Tech values academics ... there are no easy majors there in which to "hide" athletes. The school competes in the Atlantic Coast Conference, arguably the best basketball conference in the country.

Yet, Hewitt's teams there have been to the NCAA tournament in five of his nine seasons, went to the NCAA championship game in 2004 and, as recently as last season, beat eventual national champion Duke in its final regular-season contest, advanced to the ACC's post-season tournament's championship game before losing there and, then, won an NCAA contest before its season ended.

And this makes a columnist wonder if Hewitt isn't the worst coach in the country?

Seems to me the columnist has his thought process reversed. Hewitt should be the one wondering if a columnist who comes to such a wild conclusion might just be the worst newspaper columnist in the country.

As a newspaper guy who covered Hewitt's Siena teams, it was clear that Hewitt not only brought winning to Siena but turned around an entire program.

Players were required to attend every class, sit in the front row of classes and participate in discussions. Players were not allowed to wear T-shirts to classes, instead required to wear shirts with collars. Players were required to be neatly groomed ... no mustaches, beards or long hair.

Hewitt's intention was not just to prepare players for life on the court, but life off it.

At the start of one particular winter road trip a player arrived with a multi-colored wool cap with tassels, something that looked like it might have come directly from a clown's head. After Hewitt had a short discussion with the player, the offending hat was never to be seen again.

When asked what was said, Hewitt revealed: "I told the player that if the hat made the trip, then he wouldn't."

The very strong guess here is that Hewitt's philosphy of basketball and life at Georgia Tech is the same as when he was at Siena.

Players attend classes, dress respectfully, are well-groomed, treat others with respect. That Hewitt has the respect of those whose lives he touches within the school and within the community.

And, yes, Georgia Tech wins. Maybe not as much as Siena did when Hewitt was there. Still, a 177-144 won-loss record through nine seasons entering this year isn't exactly cause for concern let alone cries for his dismissal.

Worst coach in America?

A comment like that says something about a columnist would offer that opinion and about a knee-jerk fan base who would believe it, and what it says isn't very positive.

Those who know Hewitt a little better than that know he's a lot closer to the other end of the coaching spectrum.

And to see Hewitt attend a late-morning Siena women's basketball game is the perfect reminder.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Marist Women Capture Tourney Title

Just when teams might have been thinking the waters of MAAC women's basketball were becoming relatively safe the "shark" of the contest has made its presence known again.

That, of course, would be Marist which showed some signs of having cracks in its proverbial armor earlier this season.

And, then, it went to Las Vegas for the Dual in the Desert Tournament and, you could say, ran the table.

It won the event against somem pretty high-powered opponents, including a 78-70 victory over Houston in Monday's championship game. The Cougars fell to an 8-2 overall record. Marist is now 9-2.

To get to Monday's championshiop contest the Red Foxes had to beat first-round opponent Louisville and, then, second-round for and 19th-ranked Nebraska.

Senior guard Erica Allenspach, the MAAC's Preseason Player of the Year, played up to that billing in leading Marist over Houston by scoring a career-high 34 points and adding eight rebounds. Allenspach also scored 20 points against Nebraska in Sunday's game, and was named the event's Most Valuable Player.

"She played the way most people felt she could play," Marist head coach Brian Giorgis said. "She led us in everything. (She) just did a tremendous job."

Allenspach said the three-day tournament performance said a lot about how ready her team is to compete for another championship in league play.

"A lot of people got a lot of experience in this tournament," she said. "And it shows we can play with anyone."

And, that's not good news for the rest of the MAAC.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Glover's Strong Play Goes On vs. Orange

Just when it appeared that Iona's Mike Glover couldn't play much better he turns in a double-double against Big East power Syracuse ... by halftime.

The 6-foot-7, 240-pound junior playing his first season in the MAAC had 14 points and 10 rebounds at the intermission before finishing with 25 points and 16 rebounds in 'Cuse's 83-77 victory over the Gaels Saturday night.

The outcome ended Iona's seven-game winning streak, much of it driven by Glover who now averages 22.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. He is one of just two conference players averaging a double-double on the season. Siena's senior center Ryan Rossiter (20.3, 13.3) is the other. And, it has become fairly clear already that Glover and Rossiter are head and shoulders the two prime contenders for the 2010-11 season's Player of the Year honors.

Glover, who originally signed to play at another Big East school, Seton Hall, prior to the 2007-08 season (academic issues never allowed him to play there), showed Saturday that he is a high-major level player plying his trade at the mid-major level.

Said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, after Saturday's contest: "We couldn't contain Glover; that was our biggest problem."

"He (Glover) had a lot of movement," added Syracuse center Baye Moussa Keita. "He was on the baseline and, before you know it, he got the ball."

Glover, after the Syracuse contest, heaped some credit on teammate and junior point guard Scott Machado for his (Glover's) early season success.

Glover said that he and Machado have already developed a certain chemistry this season. Glover said that he signals Machado to “lob it up there,” then chases the ball when Machado directs it toward the rim.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Iona's Glover Off To Exciting Beginning

One of the pleasures about college basketball is that there is constant change. In the MAAC that change doesn't happen with quite the rapidity of the high-major level where the best players are too often of the one-and-done variety before moving on to the pay-for-play opportunities. But, individual turnover happens every four years, if not sooner.

It's a refreshing sight to see new players join the MAAC and to watch either their development or immediate proficiency.

So your blogger has Monday, Jan. 3 circled on the calendar. It's when the Iona men visit my home base, the Albany, N.Y., area, to play Siena at the Times Union Center.

And I can't wait to see the latest MAAC standout newcomer, the Gaels' 6-foot-7 forward Mike Glover.

Glover is averaging 22.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, first and second-best, respectively, in the conference.

And, he has been a huge piece, along with first-year coach Tim Cluess's newly installed faster-paced offense, that has taken the Gaels from an offensively-challenged squad last year that averaged 66.1 points per outing to a dynamic offensive force that, prior to Saturday's game at Syracuse, averaged a MAAC-best 80.1 points per night.

Amazing how that happens when a newcomer comes in to immediately contribute 22-plus points a game.

But Glover isn't the typical newcomer. He comes in with one year of junior college ball behind him (he averaged 17.3 points per game at Eastern Utah Junior College last season).

Glover also has a proverbial "checkered" past, having attended three high schools and, now, four different colleges.

He originally accepted a scholarship to play at Seton Hall, enrolling there in the fall of 2007. But the NCAA ruled him ineligible while it investigated his academic record and he never played there. Still, attending Seton Hall started his five-year "clock" to fulfill his athletic career. Because this is his fourth year after that clock began, he has just this year and next season to compete at the collegiate level.

After Seton Hall he attended ASA Junior College in Brooklyn, but did not play there, and the College of Eastern Utah. Last spring, though, he initially announced he would attend St. Francis of N.Y. but changed his mind when that school's coach, Brian Nash, abruptly gave up coaching shortly after Glover's decision.

When Nash left Glover opted, then, to attend Iona. He preferred to stay in the New York metropolitan area to be close to his girlfriend and their young son.

Glover developed a reputation for his ability in NYC summer leagues, and is confident enough in taking on the challenges of playing in the MAAC to have made this preseason comment: "We're just ready to destroy some of the teams in the MAAC this year," said Glover. "I pretty much can't wait."

So far Glover has been backing up his words. Iona is 2-0 against MAAC opponents (having beaten Niagara and Canisius so far) and is riding a 7-game winning streak overall entering Saturday's contest at Syracuse.

Recently he earned an Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week award by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Dick Vitale's Player of the Week recognition on

For the week he was honored he averaged 29.7 points and 12.7 rebounds in three games, posting double-doubles in all thre contests while shooting 67.3 percent (35-for-52) from the field. Included was a 39-point, 14-rebound effort against Canisius. On's Daily Leader Board, Glover had the top effort in the nation in that contest, and the second-best two nights later against Niagara when he had 30 points.

His back-to-back 30-point efforts made him just the second player in Iona history (Jeff Ruland was the first) to record back-to-back double-doubles with 30 or more points.

Glover's 39 points vs. Canisius represented the sixth-highest single-game scoring total in school history.

Glover's 22.1-point scoring average leads the MAAC while his 9.6 rebounds per night average is second.

It puts him clearly in the early running to be a conference Player of the Year candidate. Only Siena's senior center Ryan Rossiter (20.3 points, a national-leading 13.3 rebounds) appears to be a stronger candidate thus far.

If Glover does become the MAAC's Player of the Year either this season or next, he would be the first transfer student to earn that honor since former Manhattan standout Luis Flores earned that honor in the 2003-04 season.

And this blogger, for one, can't wait to see Glover play.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

All-Time Great Brown Honored by Siena

It was a memorable night when Siena hosted Florida Atlantic for a relatively non-descript non-conference game earlier this week for reasons far beyond the fact that the home team at the Times Union Center came out on top.

It was a memorable, and enjoyable evening because the Saints honored one of their own, its all-time leading scorer Marc Brown, by retiring his uniform at halftime of the Siena-Florida Atlantic contest.

Brown becomes just the third former Siena player to have his number raised to the home court's rafters. Billy Harrell, arguably the best athlete in school history (in addition to being the program's best pre-Division I player in the 1950s, he also played professional baseball), and 2009 graduate Kenny Hasbrouck are the others.

There was considerable debate in Siena Land about any Division I-era's player (Hasbrouck) having a number retired before Brown.

But, Siena officials said it was no slight, that it prefers to have the individual being honored on hand for the ceremony, and Brown had played 16 seasons of professional basketball overseas before taking over the Division III program at New Jersey City University (formerly Jersey City State) where he has coached for the past three seasons.

Brown brought his team to the area for a pre-Siena contest at the TUC against Rensselaer. Although Brown's team lost it didn't diminish the former Siena standout's night.

"It is just an unbelievable feeling," said Brown. "It's a wonderful night and it brought back a lot of memories."

As Brown made remarks during the ceremony, he thanked those in attendance for their support.

"You, and all the support you showed me, was the sole reason why I stayed here for four years," said Brown, who nearly left Siena after his sophomore season to transfer to Seton Hall.

The support was still evident, exhibited in a semi-private moment that few in attendance likely noticed.

When Brown had finished his post-game address to his own team, he made his way up an aisle of a corner section of the TUC, about midway through the first half of Siena's game, to get to one of the facility's luxury boxes. As those in the nearby sections noticed Brown walking up the aisle they universally began clapping and offering hands for Brown to shake or slap five on his way to his seats.

Nearly 20 years since his 1991 graduation from the Loudonville school he still commands that sort of admiration for his playing career.

And, why not? He remains the school's all-time leading scorer, and still ranks second in career assists.

How good was he? His former coach Mike Deane still calls Brown the best player he ever coached, and Deane coached five seasons at the high-major level when he was at Marquette.

As a former newspaper guy who has covered Siena since the early 1980s, and the MAAC since 1989, the opinion here is one that agrees with Deane. Brown is certainly the best to have played at Siena, at least in the Division I era.

And while Brown only played two MAAC seasons after Siena became a conference member in 1989, he certainly is among the all-time best to have played in the league.

Only former La Salle standout Lionel Simmons has a clear case for being a better player within the MAAC than Brown.

If someone wants to make the case that Brown was the second-best MAAC player all time, there won't be any argument here.

Former Rider center Jason Thomspon was a college standout, and is having a nice NBA career. But, his contributions while in the MAAC, it says here, are just below Brown's.

Keydren Clark, the former Saint Peter's guard, won two NCAA scoring championships and scored nearly 900 more career points than Brown. But, as far as making teammates better and making his own team better ... and, even, just in terms of individual talent ... I'll put Brown slightly ahead of Clark.

Brown was not only a great scorer, but one of the best and most-creative passers to ever play in the MAAC.

There won't be any argument about that coming from current Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro.

Brown's final regular-season game at Siena at the end of the 1990-91 season was played at the school's on-campus Alumni Recreation Center. The opposing team was Fairfield and the Stags' coach at the time was Buonaguro.

Brown scored 44 points setting what was then a single-game school record (surpassed by Doremus Bennerman's 51 points in the consolation game of the 1994 NIT against Kansas State). And, with his team holding a significant lead, Brown came out of that contest with about five minutes remaining.

"We double teammed him, and triple teammed him and we couldn't stop him," remembers Buonaguro. "We tried everything to contain him, but when he got into the open floor he was unbelieveable."

"I felt like I could have scored 100 that night," remembered Brown.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fairfield-Siena Game a Showcase for Stags

The showdown between the preseason choices to be the conference's best team instead became a showcase for a squad that, now, can stake a legitimate claim on being No. 1 in the MAAC.

That would be Fairfield, which administered a decisive 72-55 victory over Siena on the Saints' home Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.

The outcome snapped Siena's 28-game homecourt winning streak against MAAC opponents.

The winners' dominance showed up mostly in the paint where it had 36 rebounds to just 22 for Siena, and where the Stags' defense, much of it administered by 7-foot-0 junior center Ryan Olander, a defense that limited Siena's starting center and power forward to seven total points.

All seven of those points came from Siena's Player of the Year candidate senior center Ryan Rossiter, whose 7-point, 7-rebound effort was his worst production of the current season by far. Siena's starting power forward O.D. Anosike went scoreless and grabbed just a single rebound in 23 minutes of playing time.

Siena played without starting small forward Owen Wignot (concussion-like symptoms) and with its top point guard, freshman Rakeem Brookins, attempting to play through a severe stomach virus.

But Fairfield made the trip without its top reserve, senior forward Greg Nero.

And, unless the return of Wignot to the lineup and Brookins to full health suddenly solve a myriad of Siena's growing pains, then Friday's contest was also this: A meeting of MAAC dominance past (Siena) vs. the present and, likely, foreseeable future (Fairfield).

The meeting between the teams was the first since last season's conference tournament championship game in which Siena needed to rally from 16 points down in the second half before winning in overtime.

Did that outcome weigh on the minds of Fairfield's players?

When Stags' standout sophomore guard Derek Needham was asked about that, Fairfield coach Ed Cooley wouldn't even allow his player to deliver an answer.

"Not a factor," said Cooley, answering the question poised to Needham. "We don't care about last year. We lost an opportunity ... it passed us by. This is a new year. We're a better team than last year, and that (Siena) was a different team.

"This was a league game ... it's a long year. We're just trying to get better."

Fairfield could hardly have been better than it was when it counted Friday night.

After Siena pulled within four, 43-39, with 12:30 remaining Fairfield went on a 15-1 run for a 58-40 lead and Siena played most of its reserves after that.

Needham finished with 12 points and eight assists, senior forward Warren Edney had a game-high 16 points, Olander had 11 points and sophomore guard Colin Nickerson had 10 points and nine rebounds.

From the looks of one game, Fairfield has a strong enough inside game (Olander), particularly on the defensive end; enough scorers (Edney, Yorel Hawkins, Needham and Nickerson) and depth (it went nine deep against Siena, and that was without Nero).

Mostly, though, Fairfield has arguably the best backcourt in the league in the sophomore N&N tandem, Needham and Nickerson.

Nickerson is an understated, mistake-free (one turnover in 28 minutes, 4-of-5 shooting) off-guard, while Needham is the spectacular, dynamic point guard whose five first-half turnovers against a single assist not only enabled Siena to keep things close but earned him a seat on the bench for a spell.

In the second half Needham had seven assists against two turnovers while scoring 10 points.

Apart from Nero, Fairfield is also relatively healthy for the first time in three seasons. But, Cooley points to an oft-overlooked portion of his team's play for Friday's success.

"During the summer I knew we had to improve on the defensive end and we worked hard, as coaches, to come up with a better defensive scheme," said Cooley. "We just preached team defense."

On Friday that defense gave Siena problems all night and the Saints' 55 points was their lowest output of the season.

"I thought that Fairfield's defense was really good," said Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro. "I have not seen inside defense like that all year. We had problems getting to the rim. They took Ryan Rossiter out of the game and held O.D. Anosike to no points. We need more production from our 4 and 5 positions to win a game like this.

"They played a defense that was physical and our big guys were a non-factor. That's our strength, and that's the thing they obviously took away. Olander played as well in this game as I've ever seen him play. More teams are going to try to take Rossiter out of the game, and we have to find someone else to score."

Buonaguro has called his team a work in progress often this season, and it's also a team in transition as it tries to find ways to succeed after losing key players that helped bring the program to league championships in each of the past three seasons.

On an early season showdown in Albany, though, it's clear that Siena is still trying to figure things out.

Fairfield, on the other hand, looks like it has already done that. And, on this night, there was little doubt about which team is the best in the MAAC for now.

Siena-Fairfield Match An Attractive One

When Fairfield visits Siena tonight (Friday) for a key early season conference matchup it will be the first time in a few years that a MAAC opponent might be perceived as the better team.

But, that's how the coaches voted in their preseason poll, picking Fairfield to win this year's regular-season crown and picking Siena for second.

And, that's what the records, thus far, indicate. Fairfield is 5-3 overall and coming in on a four-game winning streak. Siena is 2-5 overall, albeit against a difficult non-league schedule. Both teams won their only league games to date.

Heck, Fairfield was nearly the better team last March in the championship game of the conference tournament, holding a 16-point lead early in the second half before a loud, enthusiastic pro-Siena crowd rattled the young Stags (even Fairfield coach Ed Cooley admitted the crowd was a factor) down the stretch. Still, Siena had to survive a last-second shot from the corner by then-freshman guard Colin Nickerson at the end of regulation that set up the overtime session in which Siena finally took over.

Siena's air of invincibiility is also lacking this season. Its 38-game homecourt winning streak, which had been the second-longest nationally, ended in its opener against Vermont. Siena is currently 0-3 at home, its first 0-3 home start since moving to the Division I level in the 1976-77 season.

But ... Siena still has one home-court streak active. It hasn't lost at home to a conference opponent since Feb. 16, 2008 when it suffered an 83-76 overtime setback to Loyola. Since then the Saints have won 28 straight games, counting both regular-season and conference tournament contests, at its Times Union Center home-court confines.

Which leads us to tonight, as attractive an early season matchup as we'll get as preseason No. 1 meets No. 2; the upstart Stags against King of the Hill Siena

Prior to his team's meeting with Siena, Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey admitted he was one of three coaches to vote Siena as the top team in the coaches' preseason poll. Dempsey's reasoning is that Siena has earned that designation, coming off three consecutive league titles, and is still the team to beat until someone does just that.

And, then, Siena showed it wasn't ready to vacate its position of superiority just yet by beating the Broncs, 73-60, in Lawrenceville, N.J.

To be sure both Fairfield and Siena are vastly different teams than when they met in the MAAC tournament's championship game just nine months ago.

Siena graduated its "Big Three" of forwards Alex Franklin and Edwin Ubiles and guard Ronald Moore, all of them deserving of recognition as some of the program's all-time best players.

Fairfield's big loss, literally, was 6-foot-8 forward Anthony Johnson, but the Stags are different this year with a sense of familiarity as well.

Back are forwards Yorel Hawkins, Warren Edney and Greg Nero who all missed either the entire 2009-10 season (Edney and Nero), or the second half of it (Hawkins) with injuries.

Hawkins is currently in the starting lineup, averages 7.3 points per game and is fresh from his best effort of the season, a 16-point performance in the Stags' 72-52 victory over Howard on Tuesday.

Edney, who averages 7.3 points, has been in and out of the starting lineup. Nero, coming off the bench, averages 5.5 points and 3.9 rebounds in 20 minutes of playing time per contest.

The Stags also have arguably the conference's best young backcourt in sophomores Derek Needham, who averages 12.1 points and 5.5 assists (13 assists vs. Howard), and Colin Nickerson, who averages 6.5 points per game.

Siena's two key returnees from a year ago are 6-9 senior center Ryan Rossiter, whose 14.3 rebound-per-game average is the best nationally; and 6-4 senior guard Clarence Jackson, who averages 16.9 points, third best in the MAAC, but is coming off a 4-of-16 shooting performance in the Saints' recent overtime loss to Albany.

Siena currently is second in the MAAC in points scored (74.5), while Fairfield is the conference's best defensive team (54.9 points allowed per contest).

For sure it's an attractive matchup, and with much on the line so early in the season.

Monday, December 6, 2010

It's Marist Men's Team Atop Standings

By now they're more than used to this in Poughkeepsie. Having the Marist College team atop the MAAC standings is nothing out of the ordinary.

After all, the school's women's team has monopolized the conference like no one else in league history.

Oops ... wait a minute. Those are the men's standings we're looking at.

And, yet, there are the Red Foxes at 2-0, sharing first place with Saint Peter's and Iona.

This is, basically, the same Marist team that finished 1-29 last season. Last season's 1-17 league record matched the worst ever by a MAAC team (only Loyola's 2003-04 team also finished 1-17), and its overall record was the singular worst ever turned in by a conference team.

And, this is the same team that started 0-6 this season against non-league opponents to run its losing streak to 24 dating back to its only victory from last season, an early January decision over Manhattan.

But, suddenly, this isn't the same Marist team. Already the Red Foxes have doubled last season's victory total after earning home-court wins over Niagara, 80-72, on Friday; and over Canisius, 74-64, on Sunday.

It's a vastly different team, actually, as four of five starters either weren't playing at all or were getting limited court time at the end of last season.

Marist's starting lineup for its two victories has been 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman Manelik Watson, who sat out last season; 6-3 sophomore swingman Sam Prescott, who was academically ineligible for the second half of last season; 5-10 junior point guard R.J. Hall, who missed last season's first half with academic difficulties and, then, came off the bench for the team's final 15 games; 6-5 true freshman forward Jay Bowie and 6-4 sophomore guard Candon Rusin, the team's top returning scorer (9.5 points per game) and the only returning starter still in that role.
The other thing notable is that the Red Foxes use only one player (Watson) over 6-5.

"We defended well in our non-league games, but lost when height and talent (of opponents) took over," said Marist coach Chuck Martin, after his team's victory Sunday over Canisius. "Back in our league we're not the biggest team but we're not the smallest team any more and we're starting to see the results of that in our last two games."

Marist is doing it so far not with any individual stepping up but with a balanced effort.

Against Niagara, Prescott had 18 points, Rusin had 17, Bowie had 15 points and 10 rebounds and Hall had 13 points and five assists.

Against Canisius, Prescott had 13 and 10, Hall had 13, and Bowie and Rusin each had 12 points.

If statistics are any indication, the relative lack of size results in a quicker, more athletic and more-difficult to guard lineup. The result has been that Marist is getting fouled more often than opponents.

Against Niagara, it made 25-of-36 free throws to just 13-of-21 for the Purple Eagles. Against Canisius it made 28-of-42 from the charity stripe while the Golden Griffins made just 7-of-10.

Neither of Marist's two vanquished foes are expected to compete for the conference title.

Still, two wins ... after a season that produced just one victory total ... is cause for some early celebration.

We'll see how the Red Foxes do when league play resumes when they travel to Loyola on Jan. 3. We'll see what happens when Marist matches up against some of the better conference teams, and we'll see if the team's relative inexperience can continued to be overcome.

But optimism exists again where there wasn't much of that emotion last season.

"We feel like if we can keep working hard we can keep winning," said Bowie in the post-game press conference after Sunday's contest.

Right now there's no reason to think otherwise.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

MAAC Women's Hoop News And Notes

News and notes from around MAAC women's basketball ...

- You want offensively challenged teams? Welcome to the world of women's basketball in the MAAC so far in non-conference play.

Games might be exciting and close, but they're definitely not high-scoring. So far, through 59 games played by conference teams the average per-game point production by MAAC members is 54.1 points per contest.

That's down considerably from last season when only one team (Rider) averaged fewer points per game than this year's league-wide 54.1 per-game average. A year ago MAAC teams averaged 59.9 points per outing overall.

Of course the lesser production to date can easily be attributed to many of the conference teams taking on non-league opponents from higher-level leagues, so it should be interesting if scoring goes up some when league play begins.

Until then, though, some scores might continue to look like they were recorded in a half, rather than over a full 40 minutes. Like ...

- In a game this past Thursday Fairfield dropped a 30-29 decision against Villanova. The Lady Stags shot just 21.6 percent from the field in the contest, including 1-of-15 from 3-point territory.

- The Siena women scored 59 in a 63-59 loss against UAlbany on Saturday night. That 59-point total actually was the second-highest single-game production recorded by a conference team over the past six days encompassing 14 games. Only a 62-point "explosion" by Manhattan in a 62-48 victory over fledgling Division I program NJIT accounted for more points by a MAAC team over the past six games.

- Marist only scored 40 points in its most-recent contest, a 49-40 setback when it hosted St. Bonaventure on Saturday night. The point total is believed to be the program's lowest in head coach Brian Giorgis' tenure as head coach, now in its ninth season. Marist starters Katie Oliver (no points), Corielle Yarde (1 point), Erica Allenspach (3 points), Elise Caron (4 points) and Brandy Gang (5 points) combined for just 13 total points.

- Usually high-powered Canisius only scored 35 points in a 57-35 setback against Duquesne on Saturday. The Griffs, though, did extend their NCAA record for consecutive games with a made 3-pointer to 491. And, 6-foot-4 freshman center Jamie Ruttle continues to impress. She had seven points and 10 rebounds in the contest. She has averaged 8.7 rebounds over the past three games. Ruttle and another 6-4 freshman Canisius center, Jen Lennox, each average 5.5 rebounds per contest on the season, the 14th-highest total among league players thus far.

Siena Takes Double Dip Vs. Rival UAlbany

After a break of a couple of days there's nothing like returning to basketball to attend a doubleheader of games that attracts a loud, electric crowd of 10,753.

That was the attendance for the UAlbany-Siena men's/women's doubleheader at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., Saturday night and the atmosphere was as great as you'll find anywhere for meetings of mid-major level teams.

The games didn't disappoint, either. The women's contest ebbed and flowed until the final seconds while the men's contest went into overtime.

And, the Albany Cups, large trophies presented to the winners of the meetings played annually since the 2001-02 seasons, both now reside in Albany.

The Great Danes won both games.

The Albany women's team rallied from a seven-point deficit with just over four minutes remaining with some late-game shot-making to earn a a 63-59 victory over Siena.

The Albany men made some late-regulation free throws to rally from a 3-point deficit to force overtime and, then, outscored the Saints, 16-10, in the extra session to earn an 88-82 victory.

It is believed to be the first time in the history of the series, either since both teams have been Division I or before both programs played at that level, that UAlbany has swept both the men's and women's games in the same season.

And, what does it mean?

It means nothing, since they are non-conference games and neither the Siena or UAlbany teams will likely be in position to attract at-large invitations for a post-season tournament.

And, yet, it means everything since the schools' campuses are a mere six miles apart and the teams' athletes play pick-up ball together for much of the off-season and, quite often, are close friends.

But from such camaraderie comes an intense rivalry. The outcome earns bragging rights for the ensuing year, and you can believe there is much of that done during that time.

Intensity of play? Your blogger will rank it right up with that of any MAAC tournament championship contest.

Think Army-Navy football, Yankee-Red Sox baseball, or Duke-North Carolina basketball, only on a smaller scale.

We'll limit our impressions to the Siena teams, since this is a blog designed to feature conference teams.

Women first, of course ...

The Siena women are 1-4 thus far, but might be one of the best 1-4 teams you'll find anywhere and could easily be 3-2 if it could close out games better.

In addition to losing a late-game 7-point lead Saturday, it also gave away another potential victory in its previous contest, a 57-48 setback to Central Connecticut State. In that game, a late-game technical foul whistled on a Siena player enabled Central Connecticut to take and make two free throws that tied that game and forced overtime.

On Saturday it took three pressurized late-game three-point shots to enable Albany to rally back for its win.

Siena, though, has shown positive signs including a legitimate conference Player of the Year candidate in 6-foot-2 senior center Serena Moore, who had 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots against Albany. She is currently the conference's leading scorer with 18.4 per game, nearly four points better than her closest competitor, and 9.4 rebounds per contest.

If balloting were held now, Moore would almost assuredly be a runaway winner for the conference's top individual award.

On the men's side, the Siena men continue to show that they'll struggle without a significant contribution from 6-4 senior guard Clarence Jackson, who did not provide one against the Danes.

Jackson shot just 4-of-16 from the floor for 12 points against UAlbany.

Meanwhile, his teammate, senior center Ryan Rossiter continued to put up MAAC Player of the Year numbers with 28 points and 13 rebounds.

He is currently the conference's leading scorer (21.3 points) and rebounder (14.3). In fact, his rebound average is the best nationally. To date, it would be hard to envision anyone else even in the conversation for the conference's top individual honor.

The loss dropped Siena to a 2-5 overall record. Three of those losses are at home, on the heels of what was a 38-game home-court winning streak entering this season. That 0-3 home start marks the first time the team has lost its first three home games since moving to the Division I level in 1976.

"Siena is still a really good team, but they're just not as good as they were last year," said UAlbany coach Will Brown afterwards, explaining everything one needs to know about Siena's early season record.

What team would be the same after losing three of its all-time players in Alex Franklin, Edwin Ubiles and Ronald Moore? The personal observation that it was difficult to recruit players who would have primarily sat the bench when those three were around justifiably monopolizing playing time.

The result though, is that Siena is without a so-called signature star player in its current junior and sophomore classes.

For sure Siena is clearly not the same team it was when it was winning the past three MAAC regular-season titles.

Saturday it played most of the way without starting forward Owen Wignot, who departed late in the first half after taking a hard blow to the head and never returned.

In Wignot's absence, freshman Trenity Burdine got his first extended playing time and responded with 14 points in 32 minutes. Another Siena freshman, point guard Rakeem Brookins, continued his forward-moving development and had nine assists against just two turnovers against the Great Danes.

But, young players make mistakes and more than half of Saturday's minutes (122 of 225) went to Siena's freshmen and sophomores.

Saints' head coach Mitch Buonaguro has regularly noted that this year's team is a work in progress, and the progress will likely continue throughout the season.

Much progress needs to be made on the defensive end.

Said Buonaguro Saturday night: "We clearly did not defend. I loved our heart and our ability to come back, but to give up 88 points ... we absolutely couldn't guard them. We wanted to guard their perimeter players, and look what they scored..."

UAlbany's three perimeter players, Tim Ambrose, Logan Aronhalt and Mike Black combined for 67 of the Danes' 88 points.

"Plus, our late-game play is not where it should be, and we spend a lot of time on it," added Buonaguro. "But you have to look at who's out there. We're very young.

"We had a one-point lead in overtime (77-76 with 1:56 remaining) and we foul 18 feet from the basket. We didn't do that the last three years. This is still a team that makes mistakes at the end of games. We work on it, but we've got a lot of young guys. It is what it is."

What it is for both Siena teams is a work in progess. And coaches for both teams stressed the obvious afterwards ... the hope is that the trials and tribulations of non-conference play results in the type progress that pays dividends during conference play.

Which, of course, is the hope and desire of every coach throughout the league.

And, league play is upon us. It looks to be a exciting and highly competitive season of conference play coming up ... definitely something to look forward to watching.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jenkins, Nelson Return, Both Play Well

Two key conference players made their respective returns to action in recent days, and their teams are sure to be the better for it.

Wesley Jenkins, a 6-foot-2 senior guard at Saint Peter's, had missed his team's first four games due to a knee injury. Jenkins, though, began practicing again recently and got back into the lineup for Saturday's game against Long Island University, a little earlier than anticipated.

Jenkins had been the Peacocks' top scorer in each of the past two seasons, so it was hardly a surprise that his first game back on the court resulted in his team's highest point output to date.

Jenkins contributed 13 points in 29 minutes of playing time, while adding two blocks, two assists and two steals.

Saint Peter's earned a 65-62 victory over LIU. In its previous four games the Peacocks scored 50, 56, 52 and 30 points. Saint Peter's 6-6 senior forward Jeron Belin, perhaps finding openings due to Jenkins' presence, had a career-high 23 points against LIU.

Out west, Niagara got bolstered this weekend by the return of its lone senior, 6-2 point guard Anthony Nelson, who missed his team's first three games with a nose injury.

In Nelson's first game, a 65-61 victory over Bowling Green in the Legends Classic Tournament, he converted a layup with a second left on the shot clock and under a minute remaining in the contest that extended a two-point Purple Eagles' lead to four.

"Having Anthony made a huge difference. He was really rusty, he hadn’t practiced for two weeks, and it was the first time he’d gone live with the face mask on,” Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. “But he’s the glue guy. We needed him to make a play, and he did. And we were able to do so many more things because of him.”

Niagara (now 2-3) dropped its second game of the tournament, 75-65, against the University of Albany. Nelson, though, contributed 11 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

The Purple Eagles, though, have played their last two games without 6-3 freshman swingman Antoine Mason (sore foot), who had averaged 16.7 points through the season's first three contests.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Siena Dominates Rider (Again) in Opener

Rider had opened the season with a 4-1 record, while three-time defending MAAC champion Siena was 1-3 before the teams met Friday night at the Broncs' Alumni Gymnasium in what was the first meeting of conference opponents of any league nationally.

But, sometimes the more things seemed to have changed the more they remain the same.

The Saints opened defense of their league title and their attempt to become the only men's team in MAAC history with four consecutive regular-season championships by doing what they seem to have made a habit of in meetings with the Broncs by dominating a significant portion of Friday's contest.

Siena earned a 73-60 victory over Rider, turning around a 41-35 deficit with a 29-7 run over a 10-minute second-half stretch to take full control.

Rider has had no success against the Saints of late, losing both regular-season meetings last season (by a combined 48 points) and a MAAC tournament semifinal-round contest by 10 points.

Rider had been trying to go to 5-1, which would have been its fastest start to a season since 1997-98, but fell to 4-2 overall instead.

Siena, now 2-3 overall, captured its conference opener for the sixth straight season.

The Saints' 6-foot-9 senior center Ryan Rossiter continued to live up to his preseason Player of the Year recognition with an 18-point, 17-rebound performance, his fourth double-double effort in five contests thus far.

For his career Rossiter has 36 double-doubles, matching the all-time record for that by Siena players, also held by early 1990's standout center Lee Matthews.

Rider had come in averaging 75 points per game, second best among MAAC teams, but was held to 15 below that average. The Broncs particularly struggled in the second half, scoring just 24 points in the final 20 minutes and just 12 for the first 13 minutes of the second half.

Rossiter entered the game as the fifth-leading rebounder nationally (12.3 per game). After his 17 boards against Rider he now averages 13.4 per contest.

Rossiter's board work Friday night also moved him into fourth all-time on Siena's all-time list with 809, trailing only Matthews (1,037), Steve McCoy (969) and Alex Franklin (923).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Siena at Rider Friday Opens MAAC Season

The first foray into league competition among MAAC teams takes place Friday night, and it's a good one: Siena at Rider, 7 p.m., at the Broncs' Alumni Gymnasium in Lawrenceville, N.J.

It's a matchup of last year's regular-season and post-season tournament champion Siena against the team its own coach, Tommy Dempsey, voted in the coaches' preseason poll to win the league crown.

Instead, the Broncs underachieved finishing with a 9-9 MAAC record and a 17-16 overall mark.

Siena is still expected to contend for conference honors this year ... and Dempsey gave them one of three first-place votes from coaches in this year's preseason poll.

Rider? The expectations weren't so high this year for the Broncs. At least not until the early returns started coming in.

Right now, Rider's 4-1 non-league record is the best among conference teams. Included have been impressive victories at USC and against TCU and Loyola Marymount, the latter two coming in the Hall of Fame's Tip-Off Tournament in Springfield, Mass.

Right away, then, two of the conference's better teams face off to tip off MAAC play.

"It's a good test right away," said Dempsey. "But my view since the preseason vote hasn't changed. I didn't vote us first this year. Until proven otherwise no one else (other than Siena) has earned the right to be voted first. Until someone shows that they're better than Siena ... they've just been so dominant in our league. They've still got a lot of good players. I'm not ready to jump on any other bandwagon."

While Rider is 4-1, Siena is off to a 1-3 start with losses against solid Vermont and two top 25 teams, Minnesota and Butler. The Saints' one victory was at Northeastern.

"It's interesting to have a chance to go up against them so early," said Dempsey, whose team might get a good indication from the game of just how good it might be this year.

Last year's meetings, certainly, told a story about Rider that Dempsey didn't enjoy.

Siena won both easily by a combined margin of 48 points. The Saints also beat the Broncs in the semifinals of the MAAC tournament by 10 points.

"They were just clearly so much better than we were last year," admitted Dempsey.

First-year Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro knows, though, that his team is in for a tougher match Friday than in last year's meetings.

"That's a tough game," said Buonaguro. "We go right from playing Butler (Tuesday night) to having to go down there and play a good Rider team."

"We feel good about our start so far," added Dempsey. "But we know we'll ultimately be judged by how we do in league play."

And, that starts tonight. With a good one to tip off the 2010-11 MAAC season.

Butler Looks Impressive in Win over Siena

Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro might not have known how many times teams he has been involved with have been Butler prior to Tuesday night's meeting with the Bulldogs but that contest, at Albany's Times Union Center, certainly wasn't one of them.

It would have been hard to have brought in a more-attractive opponent than a team that played for last season's national championship and came within a last-second 3-point attempt of upsetting Duke in that contest.

Prior to the contest Buonaguro emphasized that he had played Butler plenty ... 14 times as an assistant coach at Cleveland State (both teams are in the Horizon League) and once last season as a Siena assistant ... and had never beaten it.

But, that wasn't quite true. Times Union beat writer Mark Singelais did a little research and discovered that Cleveland State beat Butler in three straight seasons, 1997-98 through 1999-00, while Buonaguro was on its staff.

"I’m losing my mind,” Buonaguro, 56, told Singelais. “See, I’m old … We beat them three times, so that’s better than I thought.”

Buonaguro certainly had other things on his mind besides his history with the Bulldogs leading up to the game ... like trying to figure a way to beat them.

His team did run out to a 13-5 advantage early in the contest, and was still within 44-41 early in the second half before Butler went on an 15-5 run to take a 59-46 lead. To that point, with less than 10 minutes remaining in the contest Butler had only committed six total turnovers.

When it was over Butler had a precision-like 70-57 victory and committed a grand total of 11 turnovers, exactly its season average through its 3-1 start.

Old friend Howard Herman, a sportswriter with the Berkshire (Mass.) Eagle newspaper who attended the game, made a telling observation.

"When I go back to the office, I'm going to tell the people I work with that I just saw the best team in the country," said Herman. "They're going to think I'm crazy for saying that."

Howard's point, though, was that Butler might not be the most-talented assemblage nationally and might not be as capable of making the NCAA tournament run it did a year ago, but it epitomizes the concept of real team play as well as any team you're likely to see anywhere this season.

Ball movement, unselfish passing, working the ball around deep into the shot clock to ensure a good shot, outstanding attention to team defense ... it was all on full display against Siena.

It was certainly a joy to watch.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Peacocks, Belin Get Big Victory over 'Bama

John Belin might not have had the impact that some expected when he came to Saint Peter's last season after a nice two-year career at Monroe Community College.

But, he had a big hand in the Peacocks' biggest victory of recent memory on Monday night, a 50-49 victory over Alabama in the Paradise Jam Classic played in St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In fact, Belin didn't have much of an impact on that game either until the final two minutes of play. And, then, the 6-foot-6 senior forward took control.

With Saint Peter's trailing 47-44 with two minutes remaining, Belin made a driving layup to cut the Crimson Tide's margin to one.

Alabama got its lead back to three with a pair of free throws before Belin collected an offensive rebound, got fouled and made one of two free throws.

Alabama then committed a turnover with 38 seconds left to play, Saint Peter's held the ball for 29 seconds and, then, Belin connected on a three-pointer with 10 seconds remaining to give the Peacocks a 50-49 lead which it held on to for the victory.

Amazingly, Belin's late-game offensive heroics ... six points in the final two minutes ... were the only six points he scored in the contest.

“Jeron (Belin) is a talented player and when he gets his feet set and gets a good look at the basket like that he can make those shots,” said Peacocks' coach John Dunne. “We are running more plays for him this year and he is going to be a big part of the offense for us.”

The victory was the program's first over a team from a BCS conference since it defeated Rutgers in 2007. Alabama plays in the Southeast Conference and it was picked to finish third in the conference's West Division. The Crimson Tide finished 17-15 last season and have eight players back from that team.

The Peacocks continue to play without standout guard Wesley Jenkins (knee injury), who is expected to return to action by early December. Without him, though, offense has been difficult to come by. Through four games Saint Peter's is only averaging 47 points per contest.

The win over Alabama was the Peacocks' first of the season after an 0-3 start.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rider's Fast Start Raises Expectations

A year ago at this time things could hardly have looked much better for the Rider men's basketball team.

The team was good enough for its own coach, Tommy Dempsey, to pick it to win the MAAC's regular-season title in the preseason coaches' poll and there certainly was some justification for that confidence.

More came in the team's season opener when it traveled to Mississippi State and put an 88-74 thumping on a team rated 15th nationally at the time.

There was one more victory immediately after, a win over Lehigh. And, then, even Dempsey admits the rest of the season didn't go as expected.

After beating Lehigh, Rider went 15-16 in its final 31 games including a 9-9 record against MAAC opponents.

Win a league title? Not even close, especially when it lost its two regular-season games against Siena, the team that did win the MAAC championship, by a combined margin of 48 points.

What has the new year brought? Another early season demolition of a solid team from a power conference on the road, a 77-57 victory at USC on November. 17.

The difference, so far, is that the Broncs haven't immediately destructed. They followed that up with a pair of victories in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Springfield, Mass., topping TCU, 76-61, and Loyola-Marymount, 73-63.

Rider's is 4-1 thus far (its only loss was a 77-67 decision at UMass), the best record of any conference team as it approaches Friday's start of league play when it hosts Siena.

The Broncs are certainly poised to exceed expectations (ahem ... your blogger picked them to finish eighth), rather than failing to meet them like a year ago.

All that might happen even without graduated 6-foot-6 swingman Ryan Thompson, its singular star of a year ago. Otherwise, though, every player of significance returns. The Broncs are a veteran team in a league where having quality veterans traditionally means team success.

"It was a learning experience, what we went through last year," said Dempsey, in a recent phone interview. "Just because you win at Mississippi State doesn't entitle you to have a good season, but we went through that. When we won that game last year we starting thinking things would get easy ... that because we beat them we'd beat everyone else on the schedule. It was a poor approach.

"How we handle the success of winning (at USC) still has to play out, but we came back and beat a really good TCU team and, then, beat a talented Loyola-Marymount team. This year is a lot different. Last year we thought we were really good, but as soon as you start thinking you're really good you stop getting better. Beating USC was a nice win for our program and the league, but we know we'll be judged by how we do in league play."

If the first five games are any indication, then there's no reason to think Rider can't realize some of the hopes for league success left over from a year ago.

Senior guard Justin Robinson, primarily a second fiddle to Thompson's virtuoso act in recent years, has stepped up nicely thus far, averaging 17 points and 3.6 assists through five games. And, it would be hard to find a better performance than the one he turned in against USC: 28 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the floor, 5-of-5 from three-point territory and 5-of-5 from the foul line.

The Broncs' veteran forwards, junior Novar Gadson (13.6 points per game) and senior Mike Ringold (12.6 points, 6.0 rebounds) have been solid thus far, as has junior forward Brandon Penn (6.2 points). And, freshmen forward Danny Stewart (4.6 points, 5.4 rebounds) and guard Anthony Myles (6.0 points) have contributed as has the latest Thompson, Jonathon (no relation), a sophomore guard averaging 4.2 points.

Thus far the Broncs have depth (eight players average at least 16 minutes per game) and efficiency ... how about a .522 field goal percentage through five games?

Yet other than a year's maturity, a couple of contributing freshmen and the absence of Ryan Thompson, Rider isn't much different than 2009-10. So, what happened last season?

"There was a lot of pressure on Ryan, not only to lead the team but the pressures of playing in front of NBA scouts every night," said Dempsey. "Plus his brother (6-11 Jason Thompson of the Sacramento Kings) is having NBA success and Ryan wants to get there. It wasn't his fault, it was just there.

"Even some of the other guys, outside of Ryan, at times felt like they were playing for the scouts more than playing for Rider. We got in a bad way as a team. our on-court chemistry wasn't always great. Guys were not playing within roles. You start to do that and you lose games. It gets contagious and it snowballs on you.

"Now, we're more of a team. There aren't a lot of external distractions. We're more focused on winning games. That's something we had to go through ... a learning experience. That team did not expect to struggle like we did. Still we got to the MAAC semifinals and had a winning season (17-16 overall), but in a sense we underachieved. We spent all spring and summer addressing that the last thing we want to be known as is a program that underachieves.

"We don't have an NBA hopeful any more, so we're not as sexy within the league. But, at the same time, we're a very good team with three preseason all-league players (Robinson, Ringold and Gadson). We've got a good freshman class. We've got the makings of a good team that should be helped by going through what we've been through."

There haven't been many underachieving years for Rider, which has had just three losing records overall since joining the MAAC in 1997-98.

"One of the hardest things to do as a mid-major program is to have sustained success," added Dempsey. "I think that we've been one of the programs in our league that hasn't had a lot of ups and downs. We've been a solid program for many years. We don't get maybe credit because we haven't been able to get to the NCAA tournament. But, at the same time, we continue to put a good team on the court every year. We lost a lottery pick (Jason Thompson) and another all-time player (Ryan Thompson) and have not yet had that fall-off."

Dempsey knows doing more than avoiding a fall off this season will likely be determined by the play of Robinson and Ringold.

"Those two could wind up as Hall of Fame players here," said Dempsey. "And, if we win 18 games, they will have more wins than any two teammates who ever played here. They've been a big part of that, but they've been in the shadow of Jason and Ryan. They want to go out and leave their own legacy now."

After a 4-1 start, expectations might just be starting to rise again at Rider. And, maybe, the legacy Robinson and Ringold leave behind is more team success than that experienced by either of the Thompson

At least this year the rising expectations at Rider are rooted in more than potential and one early season victory like they were a year ago.

Butler Comes to Albany For Siena Game

How many times does a team that played for a national title the previous year come to the homecourt of a MAAC program the following season, slightly more than eight months removed from an NCAA tournament's championship contest?

Probably not often, if at all. But, it happens Tuesday night (Nov. 23) at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., when Butler returns last season's BracketBusters meeting with Siena on the Saints' home court.

Butler lost to Duke in last season's national championship contest, but not before Gordon Hayward's 3-pointer at the buzzer failed to fall, allowing the Blue Devils to escape with a 61-59 victory.

Butler's contest against Siena Tuesday comes three days after the Saints gave first-year coach Mitch Buonaguro his first victory as a head coach in 19 seasons, or since he last directed a program when he was at Fairfield in the 1990-91 season.

Buonaguro has been around college basketball continually since then, including seven seasons as an assistant at Cleveland State under that program's former head coach Rollie Massimino. While there, he worked the opposite sideline against Horizon League counterpart Butler twice annually.

So three days after getting his first victory as a head coach in 19 years, Buonaguro is looking for another first ... a victory against Butler.

"I know them well and respect them greatly," said Buonaguro. "They do things the right way there. We played them twice annually when I was at Cleveland State and we never beat them, so that will be on my mind a little when we play them (Tuesday)."

In seven years, Buonaguro had been 0-14 as an assistant coach when he was at Cleveland State in games with the Bulldogs, and 0-1 as a Siena assistant when the teams met this past February.

"They've been to the NCAA tournament 10 times since 1996," pointed out Buonaguro. "Butler and Gonzaga set the standard for mid-major programs. But, I don't consider them to be mid-majors. Those are two major college programs."

Butler's only real loss since last season was Hayward, who left school early to be an NBA first-round draft choice. Back, though, are the team's next two leading scorers, 6-3 junior guard Shelvin Mack, who averaged 14.1 points and 3.0 assists per game last season; and, 6-8 senior forward Matt Howard, who averaged 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds last season.

"I did the scout on them for last year's game, and they're the type team that doesn't beat itself ... you have to beat them if you want to win," said Buonaguro. "They just have a classy program. People in Albany are really goinig to enjoy watching them play."

And, Buonaguro will enjoy the night just a little more if he can add another first to his budding Siena coaching resume ... his first victory over Butler.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Early Recruiting Signees; Marist Men

Now that every men's and women's team previews are completed it's time to take a look at recruiting. This past week marked the end of the so-called early signing period during which players who will join colleges for next season can sign their national letters of intent.

It appears that conference men and women teams made sizeable and quality hauls during the early period.

But, the signings should come with a word of warning, something similar to that note on the sideview mirrors of cars that says "objects are closer than they appear."

For sure, recruits aren't always as good as they appear. And, then, there's the converse ... some recruits often wind up being better than their high school stats and reputations would indicate.

Want proof? How about former Saint Peter's standout Keydren Clark?

As a high school junior, Clark averaged about 10 points per game. And, then, during the early signing period prior to his junior year he had almost no offers from Division I teams. There were several teams in the MAAC approached by individuals with connections to Clark, but the interest was almost negligible. He was a 5-foot-8 guard whoh didn't really play the point and was viewed as too small to be a shooter on the college level.

Ultimately, Saint Peter's took a chance and gave him a scholarship.

And, how did that turn out? Clark led the country in scoring twice and finished with 3,058 career points, second-best all time among MAAC players.

Anyway ... we'll report early signings in dribs and drabs over the next few weeks. In most cases the reports will contain primarily information from the individual schools' websites. Many players coming into the conference, though, have played in the GymRat Challenge AAU tournament held in the Albany, N.Y., area and your blogger has been involved with that event for the last several years. So, if I've seen the player in person, Ill provide my own notes.

Here's a look at recruits signed in the early period by ...


- ISAIAH MORTON, 5-foot-8 guard, St. Augustine's (N.J.) Prep

Thomas averaged 25 points and nine assists as a junior last season. He enters his senior season with 1,656 career points just 54 shy of the record at St. Augustine Prep.

"He is a prolific scorer from the point guard spot," said Marist coach Chuck Martin. 'He's going to be outstanding in the open floor. I think he's going to excel in our style of play."

- MANNY THOMAS, 6-5 forward, Xaverian H.S./Brooklyn

No statistics are available, but he is knwon for his strong work ethic, according to a press release issued by Marist.

"He's a long, athletic wing who can be terrific on the defensive end and keep people honest on the offensive end," said Martin. "His best days are ahead of him. We think he's going to make a tremendous impact on our program."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Marist Women's Preview: Another Title

Here's the final preview of a MAAC conference team. Up now ...


2009-10 RECORD: 15-3 in MAAC play, 26-8 overall.

KEY RETURNEES: 5-9 senior guard Erica Allenspach (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists), 5-8 junior guard Corielle Yarde (13.7 points, 6.1 rebounds), 6-4 sophomore center Kate Oliver (4.9 points, 2.8 rebounds), 6-2 junior forward Brandy Gang (3.4 points, 1.6 rebounds).

KEY LOSS: Forward Rachele Fitz (17.7 points, 8.2 rebounds).

COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked for first in the preseason poll of conference coaches.

NOTES: Losing Fitz is as big an individual loss as any conference team. The 6-1 forward finished as the all-time No. 2 scorer and No. 6 rebounder for career totals in conference history. She was a key figure in the last four of the program's active five-year run of NCAA tournament appearances.
Even in her absence, though, everyone expects the Red Foxes to remain atop the league standings, and it's understandable with two of the MAAC's better players returning in senior guard Erica Allenspach and junior guard Corielle Yard. Allenspach was named the preseason Player of the Year, and Yarde a first-team preseason pick. But, the concern seemed to be who would step up to be the third offensive cog and, after a 3-1 start to this season, it appears the Red Foxes not only found one other good scorer, but two. Junior 6-4 center Oliver is averaging a team-best 12.3 points thus far, while 6-2 junior forward Gang is next at 11.8 points per game. Allenspach and Yard average 9.8 and 9.3 points, respectively.
What that shows is that Marist will be more of team that gets production from a variety of players rather than having a singular go-to performer. As head coach Brian Giorgis said in the preseason: "I don't know exactly what I have, but I've got a lot of it." Translation: good solid players across the board.
Elise Caron, mostly a reserve until now, has stepped into the starting lineup and averages 5.8 points and 4.3 assists. And, Kristine Best, who started 32 games last year, is coming off the bench. Any team with a player as good as Best as a reserve is pretty darned good.
But, we already knew that about Marist, the league's dominant program for as long as any conference team has ever been. The Red Foxes have been so good that last year's 15-3 record bordered on being dispappointing, and was the first time the team lost three league games in a season since 2003-04. Since the start of the 2004-05 season Marist has been 112-12 against conference opponents with six of those losses coming by three points or less.
The team does everything well, although it faced a slight rebounding disadvantage last year that was more than covered up by a plus-72 turnover figure.
All-around quality play will be even more important this year, though, without Fitz. But, so far, that doesn't seem like any kind of problem.

HOW MARIST WILL SUCCEED: While there isn't the one shining star that has been in place in recent years, there's more than enough quality through the team's top eight or nine best players to think Marist will win another league title. The Red Foxes have three or four players coming off the bench who would strart for several other conference teams. They'll succeed by not having any real weakness at any position, and by playing better together than everyone else. It certainly looks like Oliver and Gang can provide a potent enough front court to go along with the best group of perimeter players. And, when things get tough, both Yarde and Allenspach can step up and make big plays on their own.

COACH'S COMMENTS: "We were very fortunate to have someone like Rachele Fitz around," said coach Giorgis. "But, we have to move on, and that's what we've done. I like what we've seen so far. We've got a couple of the best guards in the conference in Allenspach and yarde. They both had great seasons last year and we expect more of the same from them. We've got a lot of kids who didn't play a lot last year coming back, too."

PREDICTION: Every season, it seems, Marist loses key pieces and merely reloads rather than rebuild, and there doesn't seem to be much doubt the same thing will happen this year. If Oliver and Gang continue to play as well as both have through the first four games then there aren't many weaknesses here. Without one real go-to player, maybe Marist loses three conference games again this year. Maybe even four. But, that will still be good enough to secure another conference championship. And, if things fall into place ... maybe the Red Foxes will run up a better record than last year.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fairfield Men's Preview: Expect the Best

Here's the last preview of MAA men's teams. Up now ...


2009-10 RECORD: 13-5 in MAAC play, 23-11 overall.

COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked to finish first in the preseason poll of conference coaches.

KEY RETURNEES: 5-11 sophomore guard Derek Needham 916.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists), 6-3 sophomore guard Colin Nickerson (4.5 points, 1.8 rebounds), 6-11 junior center Ryan Olander (5.9 points, 4.2 rebounds), 6-7 senior forward Greg Nero (hurt last season), 6-5 senior forward Yorel Hawkins (14.6 points, 5.5 rebounds), 6-5 senior forward Warren Edney (hurt last season).

KEY LOSS: Forward Anthony Johnson (16.1 points, 9.8 rebounds).

NOTES: It's no stretch to think fifth-year head coach Ed Cooley is the best at his profession in the MAAC. His first four seasons resulted in 67 wins, more than any Stag coach after four seasons in history. Despite far more than his share of injuries over the past two seasons (Johnson missed 2008-09; Edney and Nero missed last year and Hawkins missed the second half of the season), his teams have been 17-15 two years ago and 23-11 last season. The 23-11 record was the program's best since it went 24-7 in 1985-86.
Last season very nearly was even better. Fairfield held a 13-point lead over Siena with 18 minutes in the championship game of the MAAC tournament before losing in overtime. Still, Siena had to sweat out a last-second shot in regulation by Nickerson that hit the back iron before falling out. The Stags then advanced to the Tournament and faced a 27-point deficit with 16 minutes remaining before rallying to win in overtime.
There is certainly plenty of talent here, but the question remains as to its health.
Nero isn't all the way back from a back injury, and has played an average of 14 minutes in the team's first two games. Edney is averaging 10 points per game so far, and appears to be more advanced physically than Hawkins.
Then, there's the huge inside loss of Johnson, one of the league's top two inside players a year ago. Junior center Olander is averaging 7.5 rebounds thus far, but replacing Johnson is a by-committee effort. Olander, Nero, Edney and Hawkins will all have to contribute.
There are no such worries in the backcourt, which employs two sophomores and might already be among the top two or three guard tandems in the MAAC. Needham's freshman season was one for the ages at this level. Only three other players in conference history previously averaged 15 points per game as freshmen, Saint Peter's Keydren Clark, La Salle's Lionel Simmons and Rider's Jerry Johnson. Nickerson started slow, but came on and averaged 9.7 points and 5.0 rebounds in the MAAC tournament's three games.
So far, the Stags have used nine players an average of at least 10 minutes per game, so there's depth here, too.

HOW FAIRFIELD WILL SUCCEED: By being healthy, simple as that. If Nero, Edney and Hawkins continue to mend as the season progresses, then Fairfield will live up to the preseason expectations. If even two of those three play close to full strength this season, it should be enough. Olander looks ready to take a nice step forward. Needham and Nickerson can play with any guard tandem in the league, and guards win games at this level. Everything is here ... fire power, depth and, even, a strong inside game if the health holds up. And, here's the best news: the MAAC tournament will be played at the Arena at Harbor Yard this season, Fairfield's home court.

COACH'S COMMENTS: "Can Needham improve? He needs to cut down on his turnovers," said coach Cooley. "Nero is doing well. He brings energy to practice. Olander needs to act like he's been there before. If we're healthy and we stay on the same page as a team, then we can have some success this season."

PREDICTION: This blogger has been predicting Fairfield to win the 2010-11 MAAC championship since the minute last season ended, and there's no reason to think otherwise yet. Needham is likely to have an even better sophomore season as he continues on a career that eventually should rank among the best by any conference player. And, if the health holds up he'll have plenty of weapons around him as opposed to a year ago when he pretty much only had Johnson to help out on the offensive end over the second half of the season. Again, it's all about health. If the bodies hold up, so will the prediction for first place.