Sunday, January 31, 2010

Niagara Women: Statement Win vs. Marist

One of the most-gratifying parts of coaching has to be seeing one's team continue to work hard and improve even without tangible results.

The Niagara women's basketball team finished 3-28 with a 1-17 conference record last season and things weren't looking a lot better in a 3-12 start (0-4 in league play) this season.

It looked like Niagara was becoming everyone's favorite opponent, the team you knew you get could a victory against.

No one is thinking that about the Purple Eagles any more.

Third-year head coach Kendra Faustin's team has made one of the most-remarkable mid-season turnarounds by a MAAC program in recent memory.

Niagara has won four of its last five games, the first two of those victories on the road.

But the clincher, the real statement outcome about its turnaround, came Sunday afternoon at the Purple Eagles' Taps Gallagher Center with a definnitive 69-59 victory over Marist, the team that has come to epitomize dominance in the conference.

Niagara's victory ended a 13-game Marist winning streak, which had been the third-longest nationally. It was also just Marist's sixth loss in regular-season conference play since the start of the 2004-05 season.

Maybe it showed that Marist's hold on the upper position in the conference isn't as solid as it has been in recent years.

Just as much, though, it showed that Niagara isn't the place to go for a sure victory any longer.

"This is just huge for us," said Faustin. "It was a game televised by Time Warner, and afterwards I was asked if this victory made a statement to our league.

"My response was it was more of a statement to ourselves. It gives us the confidence that we are good and that we can be successful if we keep doing all the things we always talk about."

The things Faustin emphasizes are the things most teams strive to do: take care of the ball, box out, deflect opponents' passes and get steals, play hard, etc., etc.

But, Faustin says, it's also about her players understanding what they're capable of doing.

"Usually before a game we have a board in the lockerroom that lists the opposing players we're facing," she said. "We'll go over them one-by-one emphasizing their tendencies. It's a final review of our scouting report.

"But, before we played Siena (a 65-63 Niagara victory in overtime on Friday night) we put our own players' names up on the board and went through them one by one letting our team members talk about what each of them is capable of doing."

And, then, her players have gone out and fulfilled those capabilities this weekend.

Faustin has helped develop some talent in her time at Niagara. Junior forward Liz Flooks is arguably the MAAC's best long-range shooter; freshman point guard Kayla Stroman is one of the top first-year players in the conference who performs like a veteran; sophomore forward Meghan Waterman is a lock-down defender; senior forward Rachele Folino provides some post scoring; and, senior guard Jennifer McNamee, a career 1,000-point scorer, has provided an offensive spark coming off the bench.

But, no player better typifies Niagara's turnaround moreso than 6-1 senior forward Jaclyn Konieczka, who had averaged just 2.8 points through her team's first 18 games this season and had been little more than a role player in previous seasons.

"She hadn't played a lot for us in past years, but I made her a captain this year because she always says and does the right things," said Faustin, about Konieczka. "She's not the most-athletic player on the floor, but she's got the most desire of any kid I've ever coached. She'll do whatever you ask of her. A lot of times, all I've asked was for her to sit on the bench and root hard for her teammates."

Konieczka, though, moved into the starting lineup five games ago to give woefully-undersized Niagara, which had been getting outrebounded by a margin of 10 per game, a little more size inside.

It's probably not a coincidence that the team's recent 4-1 run has coincided with Konieczka's presence in the starting lineup.

And, all Konieczka did Sunday was respond with a career-high 21 points against the best team in the conference.

She wasn't alone. Stroman had 15 points and eight assists against just two turnovers; Flooks had 12 points and McNamee chipped in with eight.

Defensively Niagara forced Marist to commit an uncharacteristic 22 turnovers. Entering play this week, the Red Foxes had averaged 13.2 turnovers per contest, the third-lowest total nationally.

"We have gone through a ton of adversity," added Faustin. "But we laid a foundation to commit to doing all the little things. We even give out "Purple Pride" points to players who do positive things that don't show up in the box score. Things like setting a good screen that sets up a basket, or getting a defensive deflection.

"Against Marist, we did all of those things, all the little things."

Faustin said that earlier Sunday her husband (R.J.) offered some pre-game encouragement.

"He told me that we could do it, that Marist's players put their pants on one leg at a time, the same as us," added Faustin. "It's just that they're so talented. For us to have a chance to beat them, we would really have to put it all together."

Niagara put it all together Sunday afternoon against Marist, but it wasn't any fluke outcome, not with it being the Purple Eagles fourth victory in the last five games.

If anything, it's the product of Niagara finally figuring out that doing all the little things can add up to some big victories.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Nice Sight: Dux Is Back For Canisius Game

The Canisius basketball fortunes haven’t always been the best in recent years, but one constant has been outstanding point guard play.

From Javon “Bam” Moore back in the mid-1990's through followers at the position Kevin Worley, Kevin Downey and, now Frank Turner, the Golden Griffs’ ball-handlers always seem not only to be among the league’s best but among your blogger’s favorites, too.

All have not only been superb on the court, but exemplary off it, too.

And, include in that group Brian Dux, a seemingly too-slender guard who used tenacity, intelligence and creativity to overcome his physical limitations to carve out a fine career (1,239 career points) over his Canisius career.

Dux’s post-Canisius life, though, took a severe turn for the worse when he was involved in a horrific car crash two years ago in England where he was playing professionally.

The accident left him with a difuse axonal injury to his brain, a condition which leaves 90 percent of its victims in a persistent coma.

According to a story written by Allen Wilson in Saturday’s Buffao News, doctors initially feared for Dux’s life. When he regained consciousness, he had partial paralysis in his left arm and leg and was unable to walk on his own.

This story has gotten better since then. Dux has worked as hard at making a return to full health as he ever did on the basketball court, where his worth ethic was unmatched.

On Friday night, a full house on hand for the Griffs’ game with Niagara at the Koessler Athletic Center, got a look at how their former guard’s recovery is coming as Dux attended the game.

According to Wilson, Dux came into the gym on his own two feet.

Wrote Wilson, “No wheelchair was needed, just assistance from a cane and a friend.”

That sight had to be more rewarding for those in attendance than any on-court result.

Here’s a link to Wilson’s story:

The best part? Dux’s indominable spirit remains unbroken.

I’ll play basketball again,” Dux told Wilson. “It’s just going to take time.”

Canisius' Highlight Is Win Over Niagara

A first-half highlight-reel half-court pass from Frank Turner that Canisius teammate and forward Elton Frazier turned into an alley-oop reverse dunk shot did indeed become a nationally viewed highlight on ESPN’s SportsCenter, the worldwide leader's No. 1 play from games anywhere played on Friday night.

But that wasn’t the only reason for some positive feelings on the Golden Griffins’ Buffalo campus right now.

The Griffs knocked off Western New York neighbor Niagara, 73-70 in overtime before a sell-out crowd of 2,196 at their Koessler Athletic Center gym Friday night.

It certainly was a breakthrough victory for Canisius over their nearby opponents who had dominated this rivalry in recent years. The Griffs had only beaten Niagara once over the previous 13 tries over seven seasons.

Canisius is now 6-5 in MAAC play, and is ahead of Niagara (4-7 in conference play, 11-12 overall) for the first time this late in the season since 1998.

The victory also had a little Joe Namath bravado to it, too. After the Griffs’ last game, a loss to Saint Peter's, coach Tom Parrotta said his team would bounce back and beat Niagara.

Parrotta's exact words, made to Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan, about his team's failure to beat Saint Peter's in a game earlier in the week: "It's unfortunate that it didn't happen. "We'll regroup and we'll beat Niagara."

Well, not exactly in Namath's class of bravado, but definitely a "well-do-it" statement.

The Griffs backed up their coach's words and did it in Friday's meeting with the Purple Eagles, finally shedding the image of being the nail to Niagara's hammer in this particular series.

The Griffs backed up their coach’s words behind a game-high 20 points from Frazier, 18 from Turner and 16 from Juilus Coles.

Turner had five of his points in the overtime, including a 25-foot three-pointer with 40 seconds left that helped secure the victory and helped his candidacy as a conference Player of the Year possibility.

Turner currently averages 17.2 points, 5.1 assist and 5.0 rebounds, stats that rank with any individual's in the conference.

Niagara shot just 26-of-75 (34.7 percent) in the game, and its two big guns, forward Bilal Benn and guard Tyrone Lewis, were held in relative check, too. Benn finished with 15 points on 7-of-22 shooting and Lewis had 19 points on 7-of-21 shooting.

The loss was the third straight for Niagara, which was picked in the coaches’ preseason poll, to finish second in the conference standings this season. Instead, the Purple Eagles have lost six of their last seven games and if the season ended now would be involved in a post-season tournament play-in game.

The Purple Eagles' 4-7 conference record has them in seventh place, a full game behind 5-6 Rider, in the current standings. The top six finishers have a first-round bye in the MAAC tournament with the bottom four participating in a play-in round to advance to the event's quarterfinals.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Where does Siena's MAAC Streak Rank?

Siena has now started conference play with an 11-0 record, one of the best starts to league play in MAAC history.

The fastest start ever was accomplished by the 1989-90 La Salle team which went through the season unbeaten winning all 16 of its league contests.

Since then, your blogger believes the best start to league play took place last year when Siena started 12-0 before dropping a 90-88 overtime decision at Rider on Feb. 7, 2009.

The Saints will be heavily favored to match last season's 12-0 start, playing its next game at Marist, the league's worst team, Saturday in Poughkeepsie.

After that, Siena meets teams currently tied for second in the MAAC standings, tangling with Iona on Feb. 5 and Fairfield on Feb. 8., Those two teams, after victories on Thursday, are both 8-3 in league play.

But, both those games are on Siena's Times Union Center home court where it has a 32-game unbeaten streak overall.

For sure, the countdown is on and the speculation is already strong about whether Siena can become the conference's only program other than La Salle (16-0 in 1989-90, and 14-0 in 1987-88) to go through league play without a loss.

Siena Survives Challenge With Defense

Siena is known for its fast-paced offense, but in one of its biggest challenges of the season to date the Saints remained unbeaten in conference play on the strength of its defense.

The Saints earned a physical 66-58 victory over host Saint Peter's at the Yanitelli Center in Jersey City, N.J., in Siena's latest battle with a second-place team.

The Peacocks entered the game with a 7-3 conference record, good for a share of second, and is now 7-4 in the MAAC and 12-9 overall.

Siena has now won 12 straight games this season, the program's second-longest win streak since it moved to the Division I level in 1976. Only the 1988-89 team's 14-game string is longer. And, the 12-game streak is the longest active nationally.

The Saints have won 15 consecutive conference games (including tournament games) and 35 of their last 37 games against league opponents.

Saint Peter's had a five-game winning streak entering Thursday's contest, but failed to extend that string of success when it failed to find much offensively against the winner's strong defense.

The Peacocks held a 48-46 lead midway through the second half. After that, Saint Peter's could only connect on three of its last 13 attempts over the final nine minutes.

Two of were long three-pointers by freshman guard Steven Samuels, the second of those pulling the Peacocks to within 56-54 with about 5:25 remaining.

And, after that, the hosts made just one more field goal (1-of-7) over the rest of the contest.

More defense? Siena pretty much clinched things when, coming out of a time out with 37 seconds left and holding a four-point lead, it pressed the hosts, forced the ball out of point guard Nick Leon's hands on a pass to forward Ryan Bacon, who got pressured and lost the ball out of bounds.

The Saints made their last six free throws to finish it out.

Siena is now 11-0 in the MAAC, seven victories away from the third unbeaten team by a conference team in MAAC history.

Only La Salle's teams of 1987-88 (14-0) and 1989-90 (16-0) have ever completed an unblemished MAAC schedule.

Peacocks Pose Threat to Siena's Streak

The nation's longest active win streak resides in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Siena has it, with its 11-game winning streak.

That stretch of wins entered the current week tied for the third-longest streak nationally. Since then, though, teams with longer or equal streaks (Kentucky, Bringham Young University and Northeastern) have all lost.

Siena now stands alone atop the list.

The streak will be tested tonight when Siena is at Saint Peter's, playing in the Peacocks' Yanitelli Center in Jersey City, N.J. Game time is 7 p.m., and you can view it online via streaming video for free. Just go to Saint Peter's website ( and follow the links to athletics, to basketball and, then, to the link for the free internet feed tonight.

Your humble blogger will definitely be among the on-line viewers.

Tonight’s game is also being broadcast live on WCKY in Cincinnati as part of their Mid-Major Game of the Week Coverage, a series of 10 games over the final two months of the season. Tonight's game is the only MAAC game on the schedule in that series.

Saint Peter's has won its last five games, including a rare sweep of its Western New York swing (victories at Niagara and Canisius). It was just the Peacocks' fourth sweep of the two games on that swing since Niagara and Canisius joined the MAAC for the 1989-90 season.

Clearly, this looks like the biggest test of Siena's MAAC superiority to date, or at least the latest.

Will the Saints' hopes for an unbeaten MAAC season end tonight?

Your blogger isn't the best at predictions, but yours truly would not be surprised if the Peacocks pull off the upset.

Here are some other notes of interest:

- Saint Peters' fourth year had coach, John Dunne, had formerly been an assistant coach at Siena working there one year as an assistant for Paul Hewitt (1999-00 season) and one year with Louis Orr (2000-01).

- Dunne's Peacock teams are 0-7 to date against Siena.

- Saint Peter's active five-game winning streak is the program's longest since midway through the 2005-06 season. If it wins tonight, it would be the program's longest winning streak since a nine-game string of success early in the 1995-96 season.

- Saint Peter's current 12-8 overall record is its best after 20 games since the 2003-04 season.

- There are eight Division I men's basketball programs in New Jersey and entering this week only two of them had winning records. Besides Saint Peter's (12-8), Seton Hall (12-6) was also above the .500 mark. Seton Hall, of course, is coached by Bobby Gonzalez, whose previous coaching position was at conference member Manhattan.

- Siena is a vulnerable right now as it has been all season. Its top reserve guard Kyle Downey (5.4 points per game) is out until late February, at the earliest; and, one of its top players, 6-6 senior forward Edwin Ubiles (15.8 points, 4.1 rebounds) is questionable (shoulder injury) for tonight's game.

It should be a great MAAC matchup. Saint Peter's lost the first meeting, 64-53, in Albany, but played that game without leading scorer guard Wesley Jenkins, who has returned to action since then. In that contest the Peacocks tied the game at 42-42 with 9:15 remaining before Siena was able to grind out what it needed to do down the stretch to secure the victory.

Monday, January 25, 2010

New & Notes From Around the MAAC

News and Notes from around the MAAC ...

- Here's a look at where conference teams stand in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), through Sunday's games. These are the numbers that, at season's end, the NCAA selection committee uses as part of its process in seeding teams and selection at-large teams for the NCAA Tournament. Overall, there are 347 Division I teams rated.

1. Siena, RPI of 34.
2. Iona, 72
3. Fairfield, 124
4. Saint Peter's, 144
5. Rider, 154
6. Niagara, 174
7. Canisius, 191
8. Loyola, 192
9. Manhattan, 224
1o. Marist, 338

What does it mean now? Not much, except that Siena still has a chance to be consered for an at-large berth should it fail to capture the conference's post-season tournament.

Still ... there have been teams rated in the top 30 in the RPI before that have not been picked for the tournament. And, any loss would drop Siena's RPI meaning the Saints don't have a lot or wiggle room.

Siena could probably survive one regular-season loss, but probably not two, should it hope to stay in contention for an at-large bid if it needs one.

- Siena played its most recent game at Manhattan without senior forward Edwin Ubiles (shoulder injury) and sophomore guard Kyle Downey (broken foot), but held off the Jaspers, 66-58.

The Saints are likely to get a stern test Thursday when they play at Saint Peter's (7-3 in conference play thus far). Siena is 10-0 in the MAAC, and Thursday's contest is probably its most serious threat to date to its quest to complete the regular-season conference schedule with an unbeaten record.

- A class move by Rider women's coach Lynn Milligan late in her team's 57-43 loss at Siena on Sunday. After the Broncs' senior guard Amanda Sepulveda made a three-pointer with about four minutes left, Mulligan took her top player out o fthe game. Sepulveda had 18 points at the time, but her team was trailing by 14 points. At that point, Sepulveda needed just two more points to reach 1,000 for her career. Now, Sepulveda will score her 1,000th career points at home when Rider hosts Iona on Friday.

- While the Rider women's team has lost its last 10 games, there's still some optimism for future success, particularly since the Broncs have the clear-cut frontrunner for Rookie of the Year honors in 6-foot-2 freshman center Caitlin Bopp, who averages 7.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per game thus far. Bopp had four points and seven rebounds in 18 first-half minutes against Siena on Sunday, before suffering a back injury early in the second half and did not return to the game.

- Fairfield's senior center Stephanie Geehan continues to rate among the best nationally in rebounds (4th, 11.8 per game) and blocked shots (4th, 3.7 per game).

Other top-20 members of the national statistical rankings for women include Brittane Russell of Canisius in steals per game (17th, 3.1), Michelle Pacheco of Manhattan in steals (19th, 3.0), Rachele Fitz of Marist in field goal percentage (16th, .573), Liz Flooks of Niagara in three-point field goal percentage (13th, .462), Suzi Fregosi of Iona in assist-turnover ratio (10th, 2.45) and Erica Allenspach of Marist in assist-turnover ratio (17th, 2.23).

- Siena's senior guard Ronald Moore continues to lead the country in assists (8.3 per game), and ranks 15th in assist-turnover ratio (2.84).

Other to-20 members of the national statistical rankings for men include Alex Franklin of Siena in field goal percentage (16th, .578), Ryan Rossiter of Siena in rebounding (13th, 10.4), Derek Needham of Fairfield in assists (14th, 5.8), and Rossiter of Siena in total double-doubles (9th, 10)..

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Top Men's Players of the League's 1st Half

It's the exact halfway mark of the regular season, as good enough a time as any to take a look at the top players in the conference thus far.

But, first, a note of warning: The following is for entertainment purposes only. Picking all-star teams at the mid-season point is a meaningless exercise, and often bears no resemblance to the true actual post-season selections.

Still, it's fun to consider what has transpired to date. We'll pick two teams for me and, later, two teams for women.

Here are the men's selections...


- Edwin Ubiles, 6-6 senior forward, Siena (15.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists)
He is the leading scorer on the conference's dominant team, has stepped up in key situations and even takes over at point guard to give starter Ronald Moore a rest for several minutes each game.

- Alex Franklin, 6-5 senior forward, Siena (15.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, .57.8 shooting percentage)
A near unstoppable inside force. He is fifth in the league in rebounding and scoring and fifth in field-goal percentage.

- Ryan Rossiter, 6-9 junior center, Siena (13.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, .593 shooting percentage)
The conference's player who averages a double-double, plus his .593 shooting percentage is second-best in the league.

- Ronald Moore, 5-11 senior guard, Siena (7.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 8.3 assists)
He makes Siena go, leads the nation in assists and the conference in assist-turnover ratio with a 2.8 number when the next best in that stat in the league is 1.9.

-Frank Turner, 5-10 senior guard, Canisius (17.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, .523 field-goal percentage)
A do-everything guard who spearheads his team's best start in nine years. Has cut back his turnovers and made drastic improvement in his shooting.

ANALYSIS: It's not likely that four players from the same team will wind up as post-season all-stars; league coaches, who do the voting, tend to share the wealth when it comes to all-star honors. But, for now, who deserves a first-team slot more than any of the four Siena players? Answer: No one.


- Derek Needham, 6-0 point guard, Fairfield (15.5 points, 5.8 assists, 2.0 steals)
The best freshman the conference has seen since Frank Turner and Edwin Ubiles were co-Rookies of the Year after the 2006-07 season. A big reason for the Stags' resurgence.

- Anthony Johnson, 6-8 senior forward, Fairfield (13.8 points, 9.2 reboundsm 2,3 blocks)
Leads the conference in blocks and is No. 3 in rebounding. One of the top two or three inside players in the league, and the conference's most-heartwarming story with his return from severe health problems (blood clots) last season.

- Bilal Benn, 6-5 senior forward, Niagara (14.2 points, 9.9 rebounds)
Niagara is off to a disappointing start, but Benn is putting up his typical numbers including a near-double-double in points and rebounds.

- Tyrone Lewis, 5-11 senior guard, Niagara (17.1 points, 2.8 three-pointers per game, 1.8 steals)
The conference's second-leading scorer, and top long-range marksman.

- Rico Pickett, 6-3 junior guard, Manhattan (17.0 points, 4.2 rebounds)
Third-leading scorer in the conference, he has given the offensively challenged Jaspers enough to keep them competitive in most games.

Coach of the First Half: Fran McCaffery, Siena.
How can you pick against a coach of a team that's unbeaten in conference play thus far?
But ... if you wanted to make a case for John Dunne of Saint Peter's, or Ed Cooley of Fairfield, you wouldn't get much of an argument here.

Player of the First Half: Edwin Ubiles, Siena.
He has just taken over games when needed this season. While others have better stats, no one has had more impact on games this season.

Rookie of the First Half: Derek Needham, Fairfield.
No one is even close.

Many Notes on Conference Happenings

News and Notes from around the MAAC …

- Let’s hope conference coaches are better at X’s and O’s than they are at predictions. In their preseason poll they picked Niagara and Rider to finish second and third in this year’s standings. But, at the exact halfway mark of this season Niagara is 4-5 in league play (11-10 overall) and Rider is 3-6 (10-11 overall), good for sixth and seventh place, respectively. If the season ended right now, the Broncs would be in the post-season tournament’s play-in round.

- Here’s an amazing statistic: Kaitlin Grant, a senior forward for the Loyola women’s basketball team, had 12 steals in a game against Mount St. Mary’s earlier this season. That accounted for not only a MAAC record, but the most steals in any Division I women’s game since Georgia Tech’s Jillian Ingram also had 12 in a game late in the 2007-08 season., and only two short of the all-time national record of 14 in a single game. She entered her team’s game Friday night at Siena with 52 steals in 17 games (3.1 per outing), the 16th-best average nationally.

- The Siena women, who are off to a 4-3 start and tied for third in the conference standings (coaches picked them to finish 8th), held Loyola to 33 points in a 59-33 Saints’ victory in Loudonville, N.Y., Friday night before a crowd of 1,159 at Siena’s Alumni Recreation Center. Loyola’s 33 points accounted for the fewest points scored by a Siena opponent by a Division I opponent in the program’s history. The previous low by a Siena D-I opponent had been 38.

- A .500 record usually isn’t something to brag about, but it’s definitely progress at Canisius where the Golden Griffins got to that level again overall (10-10), their latest run into a season with a .500 mark since the 2000-01 season. They got there with a 74-58 victory over Rider on Friday night in Buffalo. Senior guard Frank Turner had 21 points, six rebounds and six assists without committing a turnover in the contest.

- One-year Siena standout Jack McClinton will have his uniform raised to the rafters (but not retired) at the University of Miami’s BankUnited Center in pregame ceremonies there Feb. 17 prior to a contest against Duke. McClinton left Siena after his freshman season and, then, led Miami in scoring his three seasons there. He also became the program’s first two-time All-ACC selection before his graduation after the 2008-09 season.

- Niagara was without senior guard Tyrone Lewis (shoulder injury) in its 74-65 loss to Saint Peter’s Friday night. It was the Purple Eagles’ second loss to the Peacocks in 11 days. Saint Peter’s also earned a 90-86 victory in double overtime 11 days prior to Friday’s game. Niagara has lost four of its last five conference games (the two to Saint Peter’s, and one each to Siena and Iona). Lewis' absence marked the ninth time this season that the Purple Eagles have played a game without one of their two first-team all-conference honorees from last season, either Lewis or Bilal Benn.

- Iona won a very entertaining 56-53 contest over Manhattan Friday night that was shown on ESPNU. The Jaspers rallied from a 10-point deficit early in the second half to take some late-game leads before succumbing. Manhattan’s standout junior guard Rico Pickett finished with 22 points, but … after a late-game drive to the basket, he took a couple of seconds for some post-play showboating to fans under the basket, causing him to be totally out of the play defensively as the Gaels subsequently pushed the ball up court. Note to Pickett: Less showboating, more hustle.

- There’s quite a race for the conference’s top scorer among men’s players. Through Friday’s games, senior guard Frank Turner of Canisius tops the list with a 17.1 points-per-game average (20 games, 342 points). Next is Niagara’s senior guard Tyrone Lewis at 17.06 (16 games, 273 points) and Manhattan’s junior guard Rico Pickett at 17.0 (17 games, 289 points).

- Last year’s leading scorer, Jamal Barney at Loyola, appears to have parted ways with the Greyhounds. Team coach Jimmy Patsos will only say that Barney has left the team for “personal reasons.” But, the junior guard had only started four times this seasons and (and averaging 13.3 points per game), and sources indicate he was not pleased with his role. Loyola was not only without Barney, but without leading scorer Brett Harvey (shoulder injury) in Thursday’s game at Siena … and held a 60-54 lead with 5:44 remaining before Siena went on a 13-1 run after that to earn a 67-61 victory.

Friday, January 22, 2010

More ESPN Exposure Coming for MAAC

It never hurts to get some national television exposure, particularly for mid-major level programs.

Four MAAC teams will get some national TV time next month, so-called "wild-card" games as part of the conference's arrangement with ESPN.

The network has selected two conference men's basketball matchups that will be televised on Friday, February 12.

An ESPN2 telecast will feature Siena College (16-4, 9-0 MAAC) at Niagara University (11-9, 4-4 MAAC). Game time is slated for 8:00 p.m. at the Gallagher Center.

Fairfield University (14-5, 7-2 MAAC) will take on host Rider University (10-10, 3-5 MAAC) at Alumni Gymnasium at 7:00 p.m. on ESPNU, the 24-hour college sports network.

Earlier this season, three MAAC schools represented the conference in ESPN's second annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon - consecutive live college basketball games that celebrated the start of the season - which was highlighted by 12 live games in 24 consecutive hours on ESPN on Tuesday, November 17.

On that day, in the 6:00 a.m. game, Saint Peter’s College earned a 58-34 victory over Monmouth University at the Yanitelli Center. Niagara followed up with a 76-69 win over Drexel University in the 8:00 a.m. contest at the Gallagher Center. Siena rounded out the day with a 59-53 victory over Northeastern University in the noon tilt from the Times Union Center. The 6 and 8 a.m. telecasts marked the first time ESPN has televised live college basketball games in those time slots after showing more than 8,200 live matchups in 30 years.

Another upcoming ESPN telecast will feature the title game of the 2010 Citizens Bank MAAC Men’s Basketball Championship at the Times Union Center, which will be featured on ESPN2 on Monday, March 8 at 7:00 p.m.

The league continues its 2009-10 MAAC Basketball Television Schedule tonight with Manhattan College hosting Iona College. Game time is slated for 9:00 p.m. at Draddy Gymnasium, and it will air live on ESPNU.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Academic Woes Strike at Marist Again

When it comes to college sports the participants are called "student-athletes."

There's a very good reason why the "student" portion of the label comes first. It's because academics, at least in a perfect world, is the more-important part of the equation.

In this blogger's considerably lengthy lifetime the equation has been turned upside down. But, that has always been at the sport's higher level, the so-called high-major level, where the need to produce revenue, to get public exposure via TV appearances, to advance in post-season tournaments, etc., has become so important that athletic teams very nearly operate like professional franchises.

The good thing about the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is that almost none of that has filtered down to the mid-major level. In this conference, for the most part, athletes remain students first.

Which leads us to recent developments at conference member Marist College, which announced earlier this week, that freshman guard Sam Prescott, who had been averaging 7.5 points and 2.1 rebounds per game, was declared academically ineligible for failing to meet NCAA academic standards and will miss the remainder of the 2009-10 season.

It's just more bad news for a program that is struggling on the court, too, with a 1-17 overall record.

Prescott becomes the program's third academic casualty of the current season. Sophomore guard R.J. Hall missed the first semester for academic reasons and 6-foot-10 center Casiem Drummond, a transfer from Villanova (where he was in good standing academically) was declared academically ineligible for the current semester.

Hall's grades improved enough for him to return to the court for the current semester.

Drummond, who sat out two semesters to satisfy transfer requirements before his academic suspension, subsequently left the program after his academic suspension to transfer to an NAIA school recently.

Still, that's three academic suspensions out of the mandatory 13 scholarship players. or about 24 percent of the program's players.

Your blogger has been covering the conference in one form or another since 1989 and can't remember there ever being this many academic suspensions within one MAAC basketball program in a single season.

The school's hometown newspaper, the Poughkeepsie Journal, has taken a to-be-applauded stance on the issue in an opinion piece available on line (link below) done by Mike Benischek.

In the piece, Benischek writes: "Right now, losing three players over the course of the season for academic reasons is a bigger error than the team's 17 losses."

Of course, each situation stands on its own and is not necessarily an indictment of the program as a whole. Still, it's a reminder that colleges are in business to educate students moreso than to prepare individuals to succeed in athletics.

That philosophy particularly needs to be fulfilled at this level of college sports.

Here's a link to Benischek's opinion piece on the topic:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Good Day for Viewing Top MAAC Teams

The Martin Luther King day of observance on Monday was a good time to be a college basketball fan in New York's Capital Region.

Those so inclined had an opportunity for a day/night doubleheader of basketball with each game featuring the unquestioned, undisputed "heavyweight champion" of the conference.

On the women's side, it was Marist playing at Siena in an afternoon contest. The evening featured the Siena men hosting Manhattan.

Domination? Where to begin with the Marist women?

They've won their last 10 games overall this season and are well on their way to an unprecedented seventh straight regular-season MAAC title. The Red Foxes have also won the last four MAAC tournaments, earning trips to the NCAA post-season tournament..

Since the start of the 2004-05 season, Marist is 84-5 against conference foes, the latest victory a 71-58 decision over Siena before a nice crowd of 921 at Siena's on-campus Alumni Recreation Center.

Siena is currently 3-3 in league play, and showing signs it will finish in the upper half of the final regular-season standings (after being picked to finish 8th, according to the coaches' preseason poll).

Siena was within six on Monday with 9:50 left before the Red Foxes broke away with a 10-3 run to put things away.

Some observations about Marist:

- Rachele Fitz, the team's 6-foot-0 forward, came into the contest averaging 19.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and shooting .582 percent from the floor. She is all but certain to be the conference's Player of the Year for an unprecedented third straight season. But, Siena held her in relative check (11 points, 9 rebounds), and Marist still won with relative ease.

- Erica Allenspach, a 5-8 junior guard, played like she'll contend for conference Player of the Year honors when Fitz is gone next season. She had a career-high 26 points, getting 12 of those on 4-of-7 work from 3-point territory. On the season she currently averages 14.6 points per game.

- Marist might also have another future Player of the Year candidate on its roster, if Monday's game was any indication. Kate Oliver, a 6-foot-4 center who is a native of Sydney, Australia, had 15 points (7-of-8 shooting), six rebounds, three assists and two blocks in just 24 minutes. Siena had no answer for her. Just one game, and Oliver came into it averaging just 4.2 points and 2.5 rebounds, but if she can play like that consistently she has the type talent that rarely is on display by a 6-foot-4 player at this level.

- Marist entered the contest fourth nationally in assist-turnover ratio (1.19), and had 20 assists against just 10 turnovers on Monday. Only Connecticut, Oakland and Ohio State have better assist-turnover ratios.

-Marist entered the game as the top free-throw shooting team nationally with its .806 percentage. It made 15-of-18 (.833) on Monday.

On Monday evening, the Siena men remained dominant with an 83-68 decision over Manhattan, despite playing without its Player of the Year candidate Edwin Ubiles (back woes).

Siena got big efforts from senior forward Alex Franklin (23 points on 9-of-12 shooting in 24 minutes) and junior center Ryan Rossiter (19 points, 14 rebounds). Sophomore guard Kyle Downey made up for Ubiles' absence with a career-high 16 points (6-of-9 shooting) in 31 minutes.

Manhattan's Rico Pickett is the real deal on the offensive end (26 points, 10-of-19 shooting), if one night's viewing is any indication.

But, it seemed clear that Jaspers' coach Barry Rohrssen would like a little more from the junior standout.

"He's a good player, but we've got to spread the ball around and have more balance," said the Manhattan coach. "It's always harder to guard five guys than it is to guard one guy."

Siena's dominance?

- The victory was Siena's 31st straight on its Times Union Center home court in Albany, N.Y., the second-longest active streak nationally. Only Kansas (52) has a longer streak.

- Its nine-game winning streak overall is the program's longest since the 1999-00 season when it also had a nine-game streak. Prior to that, the longest streak was 14 consecutive wins during the 1988-89 season. The 1988-89 team was the program's first to get into the NCAA's. There, it won a first-round game over Stanford (ranked 13th nationally at the time). Your humble blogger contends that the 1988-89 Siena team remains the best ever to play at the school.

- Siena has won the last two regular-season title, and appears well on its way to a third straight with its 8-0 conference record. Fairfield, at 6-2, is its closest pursuer.

- Saints' coach Fran McCaffery won his 100th career game with Siena (100-48). Only Mike Deane, who won his 100th game when he had only 44 losses, has gotten to the century mark for victories faster as a Saints' coach.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Siena Continues to Control Conference

Is the conference regular-season race over?

After seven league games, can we already concede the regular-season championship to Siena?

It seems that way.

In Siena's latest challenge, its meeting with second-place Fairfield at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn., the host Stags had a 46-45 lead after the first possession of the second half ...

... and, Siena then scored the next 12 points, the last coming on Saint guard Clarance Jackson's sixth three-pointer of the game, for a 58-46 advantage.

Fairfield got its deficit down to six just once more in the game, getting to within 66-60 with a little over eight minutes remaining. And, then, Siena scored six of the next seven points to grab an 11-point lead and pretty much end any remaining mystery.

The game was televised via local cable outlets both in New York's Capital Region and throughout the Fairfield area. Hope you enjoyed it because seven games in the season it might have been the final "Big Game" in terms of a championship race for the 2009-10 season.

Of course coaches will say there's a lot of time left. And, in fact, Siena's Fran McCaffery said exactly that prior to Saturday's game with the Stags.

But, consider this: Only Fairfield (5-2 in MAAC play) has fewer than three league losses, and when the Stags meet the Saints again later this season it will be on Siena's Times Union Center home court in Albany, N.Y., where the Saints have won 30 straight games.

Consider, this too: The teams picked in the coaches' preseason poll to finish second and third, Niagara and Rider, both have 3-4 conference records (Niagara dropped a 65-47 decision at Iona on Saturday). If the season ended right now one of those two teams would be in the MAAC Tournament's play-in round.

So, how do you stop Siena? Fairfield tried by getting the ball out of the hands of senior point guard Ronald Moore, who entered the game as the nation's assist leader but was held to just two assists Saturday.

Siena, though, had too many other weapoins, including Jackson (22 points), Ryan Rossiter (17 points, 10 rebounds), Alex Franklin (16 points) and Edwin Ubiles (15 points).

What Siena also does well is to attack the basket, a strategy employed by McCaffery since his arrival at the school. That philosophy almost always results in more free throws for his team than for the opposition. Against Fairfield, Siena was 18-of-27 from the foul line while Fairfield was 8-of-15.

Siena clearly doesn't just win at home. The Saints have won 31 of their last 33 games against conference competition (including tournament play). And, the current seniors have won all four games with Fairfield played at the Arena at Harbor Yards over the past four seasons.

On Saturday, Fairfield looked, at least from my seat in front of the 42-inch screen, to be one strong player and a year's experience short against the Saints.

This was your blogger's first look at the Stags' freshman point guard Derek Needham, and he is every bit as good as advertised. The conference doesn't often get true freshmen with his ability.

On Saturday he had 16 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. Those are all-league caliber numbers, and the type he has been turning in all season.

But, he's still a freshman, as evidenced by his game-high eight turnovers.

It all seems to indicate something that hardly qualifies as shocking news, that Siena is indeed the conference's dominant team.

Is the championship race over? Maybe not. Siena still has some tough road games, particularly ones at Saint Peter's (Jan. 29), at Niagara (Feb. 12) and at Rider (Feb. 26).

But, unless something unusual happens, the regular-season race might be statistically over by mid-February.

Loyola Assistant Mosley Making Recovery

I can't claim to know Alisha Mosley, an assistant coach with the Loyola women's program, personally.

My only connection with her is a nod of the head, or a brief smile when our paths occassionally crossed at games. That, and the observation of how hard she works on the sidelines during games, of how passionate she is about what she does.

And, then, when yours truly was putting together a list of signed recruits to the conference's women's programs earlier this season, the Loyola sports information staff said the source of most of that information at Loyola, Mosley, was ill and hadn't been around the office.

Recently, the severity of her health situation has been reported. Double pneumonia, and a treatment that included a medically induced coma and more than six weeks in an intensive care unit.

"When she first went in (for treatment), they didn't think she'd make it," Mosley's mother, Vicky, told Associated Press repoter Doug Feinberg.

Now, it appears, Mosley's story will have a happy ending. She is reportedly showing significant signs of recovery in recent days and it sounds like she will make a full return to good health.

We might not know Alisha Mosley very well, but that doesn't mean we can't root for her, and root hard for her to make it back to Loyola's sidelines.

Situations like hers put athletics in perspective. When Mosley does eventually return to coaching, she will have recorded the biggest victory of her life.

Here's the link to the Associated Press story about Mosley's situation:

Big Man Gives Marist a Big Nothing

The problem with transfers is that the transfers are too often a problem.

Not always ... that's a very general assumption, of course. There have been some who have been nice additions. Luis Flores at Manhattan comes to mind as does Josh Duell at Siena and Ryan Schneider at Marist.

And, then, there's Casiem Drummond, the highly touted 6-foot-10, 270-pound post player who started his college career at Villanova and was expected to bring a big boost to the Marist men's team.

Instead, Drummond has left the school, reportedly to transfer to an NAIA program.

Marist invested three semesters in Drummond, who had to sit out two semesters because of NCAA transfer rules and, then, when his eligibility would have kicked in (late December) his academic work hadn't met the school's standards and he was placed on academic suspension.

Cost to Marist: tying up a scholarship for three semesters, hundreds of hours of on-court basketball instruction and off-court academic support.

Return: Zippety Doo Dah.

Here's a link to a blog item done by Marist's hometown Poughkeepsie Journal with more details on Drummond's departure:

Friday, January 15, 2010

Big Game: Fairfield Looks to Upset Siena

The first thing you want to know from Fairfield coach Ed Cooley is if this year's start of 5-1 in conference play and 12-4 overall is a surprise ... because it is to anyone looking from the outside in.

His team is without arguably its best player, rugged 6-7 forward Greg Nero; and, 6-5 forward Warren Edney, who likely was going to be one of the better players in the MAAC this season.

On top of that, as recently as this past summer, there was uncertainty over whether 6-8, 250-pounder Anthony Johnson (blod clots) would be able to play again. And, Cooley was also handing the reins of the offense to an untested freshman point guard, Derek Needham.

On the other hand, maybe what Fairfield is doing isn't much of a surprise. After all, this is a team that dismissed its best player (point guard Jonathan Han) in midseason a year ago, lost Edney for the second half, lost Johnson for the majority of the season and had Nero battling a severe back injury that left him a shell of what he was prior to the injury.

And, last year's team finished 17-15 overall with as make-shift a group of players the program has probably ever had.

The Stags did it with a tenacity on both ends of the court, just hard-nosed play and a never-give-up attitude.

When a team does that for a few games, it's a credit to the players. But, when it continues to do so over seasons, then the coaching staff deserves considerable amounts of credit.

The Stags were 9-19 the year before Cooley's arrival and have been 56-54 since, relying more on its work ethic and tough defense than overall talent.

But, even without Edney and Nero this season (neither will play in 2009-10), there's probably as much talent in place as there has been in several years.

All of which has the Stags (5-1 in MAAC play, 12-4 overall) in position for an early season "big game" confrontation with first-place Siena (6-0, 13-4).


G-Derek Needham, 5-11 freshman (15.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists)
G-Lyndon Jordan, 6-2 junior (6.8, 4.0)
C-Ryan Olander, 6-11 sophomore (6.6, 4.4)
F-Anthony Johnson, 6-8 senior (14.1, 9.1)
F-Yorel Hawkins, 6-5 junior (15.0, 5.8)


Mike Evanovich, 6-9 senior forward (5.9, 2.5)
Colin Nickerson, 6-2 freshman guard (3.1, 0.8)
Sean Crawford, 5-10 sophomore guard (3.5, 1.1)


"Until you beat the king (Siena), you're not going to get the respect," said Fairfield coach Ed Cooley. "But, big game? I've been asked that about 20 times already. We've got 12 league games remaining right now. This is a home game for us, and we play well at home. We want to establish home court, because we still have to go up there (to Albany, N.Y.) to play Siena.

"But other people are putting more emphasis on this being a big game than us. We know what we're up against. We've been to the circus before. We know they've got a lot of weapons, but we prepare for them like we prepare for any other game.

"This game, on paper, says it's the two best teams right now. Siena is definitely No. 1, it's the clear favorite. We're just trying to keep building a program.

"We are very proud of Anthony (Johnson). Last year, it was about 100 percent that he wouldn't return (for this season). But, give our medical staff a lot of credit. The fact that `AJ' is even playing is `Wow.' He is having a great year. He is incredibly focused. He's in unbelievable shape. And, he's still got some good games left in him."

Johnson isn't the only positive surprise for the Stags. Freshman point guard Needham is without question the top freshman in the league, and it has been many years since a first-year player has had the impact he has had thus far.

"I've only been in the league for a very short time, but as I look back in MAAC history, the impact he is having on our team as a freshman is pretty unique. If you sit down and meet Derek Needham you're talking to a man and not an 18-year old boy. He is way beyond his years in on-court intellect and passing. Still, he's got a lot to learn. He makes some turnovers in critical situations, still.

"But, I don't want anyone else in this league over Derek Needham. If you're starting a team, and you have a chance to pick anyone in our league, I'd pick Derek. And, this comes from a guy who thinks (Siena point guard) Ronald Moore is the best player in our league. But, they're different players. One (Needham) is a lead guard, and the other (Moore) is a true point guard."


- The Stags have lost their last three meetings with Siena, but handed the Saints one of their two home league losses in the 2007-08 season, earning a 53-52 victory at Albany's Times Union Center on Jan. 8, 2008. Slightly over three weeks later, Rider beat Siena at the TUC, 89-75 on Feb. 2, 2008. Siena hasn't lost a home game since, having an active 30-game winning streak.

- Fairfield is 8-0 in home games this season.

- Johnson ranks No. 1 in blocked shots per game with 2.4.

- Hawkins had made 34 consecutive free throws at one point this season before missing one. His .891 free-throw percentage this season leads the conference.

- Needham has been the conference's Rookie of the Week six times in the nine weeks the award has been given thus far.

- Three of Fairfield's four losses have been by signe digits, by nine against Niagara, by 5 against Rhode Island, and by 4 against Hofstra. Its other loss was by 29 against Maryland. All four losses have been on the road.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Big Game: Siena Could Take Control

Conference play is exactly at the one-third point for teams, but already there's a game on this weekend's schedule that really could pretty much decide the regular-season race.

It's Siena at Fairfield, at the Stags' Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn. Game time is 4 p.m.

If the Saints win, they are in the proverbial "driver's seat" in the league standings. They would be 7-0 in conference play and the closest competitor would be a two-loss Fairfield. No other MAAC team, through six games, has fewer than three losses.

On the other hand, if Fairfield wins it moves into a first-place tie with Siena with a 6-1 record, and brings the other contenders back within range of the Saints.

With so much at stake, we'll take a two-part look at the game from each's side. First, Siena ...


- No. 1 in the conference in points per game, 76.9.
- No. 1 in scoring margin, +10.4 (+16.2 in MAAC games).
- No. 1 in field-goal percentage, 46.0.
- No. 1 in rebounding offense, 39.0.
- No. 6 in scoring defense, 66.5
- No. 1 in rebounding margin, +3.4
- No. 1 in assists per game, 15.4.
- No. 1 in steals, 10.3
- No. 10 in 3-pointers made per game, 4.3


C-Ryan Rossiter, 6-8 junior (12.7 points, 10.1 rebounds)
F-Edwin Ubiles, 6-6 senior (15.8, 4.1)
F-Clarence Jackson, 6-5 senior (14.8, 8.3)
G-Clarence Jackson, 6-3 junior (14.5, 2.5)
G-Ronald Moore, 5-11 senior (7.4, 3.6, 8.7 assists)


G-Kyle Downey, 6-2 sophomore (4.8, 1.4)
F-O.D. Anosike, 6-7 freshman (2.9, 3.7)


First of all, as much as we're not looking forward to playing him, everyone is happy to see (Fairfield's) Anthony Johnson back in the lineup after what he went through last season (blod clots that forced him to miss much of the season)," said Siena coach Fran McCaffery. "He is one of the major-impact players in our league.

"Any time you have a guy average around 15 points and eight rebounds ... that makes a big difference. Yorel Hawkins ... you kind of expected him to step up and have a good year this season. But, no one knew that Derek Needham would be so good. He doesn't play like a freshman. They gave him the keys to the car and he's running it. He can really pass it, and he can shoot it, as well. He'll be a handful for us, and he's got help, too. It's rare that a freshman is a go-to guy, but they go to him when they need plays.

"I don't look at this as a big game. We'll have 11 more league games to play. If we win and we're two games in front with 11 to play ... that's not decisive. We'd have a lot more work to do."


- Ubiles has solidified his Player of the Year candidacy of late, averaging 19.6 points per game on 55 percent shooting in the past seven games. He battled through some knee soreness, and missed a game, earlier this season but is close to 100 percent now.

- Moore continues to lead the country in assists.

- Rossiter's 10.1 rebound-per game average is second in the MAAC, behind only the 10.3 per game by Niagara's Bilal Benn.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Canisius Dreams of Another Monday Night

Canisius' senior point guard Frank Turner said that his team's meeting with Siena at the Saints' Times Union Center home court in Albany, N.Y., on Monday came with a theme: Get ready for a Monday night later this season.

Of course, that would be Monday, March 8, the night of the conference tournament's championship game.

"That's how we approached this game," said Turner. "Everything we did was to go through the experience so we'll be prepared for it again for the Monday night championship game."

For the first time in Turner's career it appears that the Golden Griffins have a legitimate chance to get there. That was evidenced on this Monday in an 82-70 loss to Siena, one in which the Griffs held a 59-58 lead with with 12:20 remaining and had a chance to extend that advantage on their next possession.

Instead, Turner made a turnover, and Siena got hot going on a 15-1 run to put the game away.

But, for close to 28 minutes, Canisius dared to dream of knocking off Siena and ending the home team's now-30-game winning streak at the TUC. Still, there was enough good done by Canisius not only on this night but through the season to date for it to dream of playing on another Monday night later this season.

The Griffs entered this Monday's game with an 8-8 record, its furthest run with a .500 record into a season since 2000-01.

And, that turnover by Turner just before Siena's game-deciding run? It was one of just two the 5-foot-10 guard made all night.

Otherwise, he continued to solidify his candidacy not only for a first-team all-MAAC selection, but as a legitimate Player of the Year possibility.

Against Siena turner had 23 points, five rebounds, two steals, a block and four assists. He now averages a league-best 17.4 points per game, 5.2 rebounds (17th-best in the conference) , 5.0 assists (4th), 2.4 steals (1st) is shooting 53.1 percent from the floor (5th), and has a respectable 1.52 assist-to-turnover ratio (7th).

Turner has always been one of the league's more-talented players, but his early years were often marked with less-controlled performances than has been on display this season.

He has clearly matured as a player, and Canisius' roster has matured around him.

The Griffs have been 29-64 over the previous three seasons, but an 18-44 mark over Turner's first two years could be partially attributed to the growing pains of young players.

Last year's team showed improvement (11-20), particularly late in the season. And, now, the team has a more-experienced cast with four juniors and a senior (Turner) as starters and two more juniors among the team's top three reserves.

The Griffs appear to have some strong supporters for Turner. The 6-foot-7 Tomas Vazquez-Simmons (5.8 points, 6.3 rebounds) and 6-7 Greg Loggins (10.7, 5.2) provide a solid front court, while 6-5 Elton Frazier (7.5, 4.8), 6-4 Julius Coles (14.8, 4.9) and 6-0 Robert Goldsberry (2.0 1.7 and averaging 5.0 assists in his last six games) have all been major contributors.

"The experience is a big thing, as is all the work we put in together over the summer," said Turner. "It has helped us build the type chemistry you need to win games."

And even this Monday's loss to Siena is viewed as a positive step.

"We wanted to win, but we'll come out of this with a good feeling, actually," said Turner. "We showed we could play with them. We don't accept losing, but we'll build off this game."

If Canisius, now 3-3 in league play and 8-9 overall, continues to build, with Turner serving as the primary director of the project, it's not difficult to imagine the team producing its first winning record since the 2000-01 season.

And, maybe, getting to play on a much-more desired certain Monday night in March.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Men's Showdown: Siena ... Who Else?

The first meeting of the expected top two men's teams in the conference was close for about 21 minutes.

After its second possession of the second half Niagara had a 43-42 lead.

And, then, it was never close again. Siena ran off the next nine points and the visitors never got closer than six points after that.

The Saints dominated the final 19 minutes on their way to an 83-65 victory over the Purple Eagles in a Saturday afternoon contest before a crowd of 8,065 at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.

Siena is now 5-0 in conference play (12-4 overall) and remains the only unbeaten team in league contests. Niagara fell to 3-2 and 10-7.

Siena has won the last two conference titles and all the evidence so far indicates that string will reach three. In the Saints' five conference contests they have outscored opponents by an average of 18 points.

Saturday's setback was the most-lopsided suffered by Niagara to date, its previous largest losing margin had been 12 against Akron.

"They were the best team today, no doubt about it," said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich, about Siena. "They've got a lot of ways to beat you. If it's not one thing, it's the other. There's no margin for error against these guys."

Mihalich's team, though, made plenty of errors, particularly in the second half when its defense suddenly faltered and its offense got shut down by a stiffling Siena defense.

"They (Siena) didn't do anything different in the second half," said Niagara's Tyrone Lewis. "It was us. We weren't tough enough. When you play a team like Siena that's a real good team you have to be almost perfect and we weren't."

Siena forward Edwin Ubiles also continued to make his case for Player of the Year honors. The 6-foot-6 senior finished with a game-high 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting. He scored 19 of those points in the game's final 21:30.

Niagara's counterpart to Ubiles, the 6-5 senior forward Bilal Benn, couldn't match the Siena standout scoring just seven points on 3-of-12 shooting and getting seven rebounds.

"I can't tell you what happened to him," said Mihalich, about Benn. "He seemed ready to go before the game. He just didn't have one of his better nights."

Saints' coach Fran McCaffery heaped praise on his team's inclination to do the necessary dirty work Saturday.

"The key to the game was how we played defense in the second half," said McCaffery. "We defended better and we rebounded better. Any time you play a team as talented as Niagara you have to defend and rebound or it's going to be a long night."

Siena outrebounded the visitors, 43-36 (junior center Ryan Rossiter had 12 rebounds, while freshman forward O.D. Anosike had his best game to date with nine rebounds), and Siena held the Purple Eagles to 35.8 percent shooting in the game, including 23.5 percent in the second half.

Women's Showdown: Marist ... Who Else?

Stop me if you heard this before: The Marist women's basketball team won.

The supposed showdown between two of the conference's remaining three unbeaten teams entering play Friday turned into a showcase for the Red Foxes, who knocked off Fairfield, 70-63, before a crowd of 1,992 at the McCann Center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Fairfield (now 2-1 in the MAAC and 8-6 overall) ran out to a 16-8 lead early, but after that it was all Marist.

The winners outscored the visitors 37-15 from the time Fairfield had that eight-point early lead until the 16:05 mark in the second half to take a 45-31 lead. Fairfield pulled to within six late, but couldn't get any closer.

The victory was the seventh straight for Marist (3-0 and 11-4), now the remaining unbeaten team in league play.

Marist has won the last six regular-season conference titles and its play thus far indicates that string will reach seven.

The game also featured the two top individual players in the MAAC thus far, at least statistically. And, Marist got the big edge in that match-up, too, with its 6-foot-0 forward Rachele Fitz scoring 26 points and getting eight rebounds. Fairfield's 6-2 Stephanie Geehan, the league's leading rebounder entering the game, finished with 7 points and 3 rebounds.

The Stags only used six players in the game, and continued to be without solid forward Tara Flaherty, who is recovering from an ankle injury.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Siena, Niagara Ready to Renew Rivalry

The MAAC's two premier programs of recent years will meet Saturday (Jan. 9) at 1 p.m. at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., and, as usual, it's a key confrontation in terms of the regular-season championship race.

Siena, at 4-0, remains the last unbeaten men's team in conference play. Niagara is 3-1 (its loss against Iona), but already knocked off a previous unbeaten team with a 77-68 victory over now 3-1 Fairfield earlier this week.

The Siena-Niagara match is an enticing one on many counts. The primary one, of course, is that the Saints and Purple Eagles, again, look like the conference's top two teams.

These are the two teams that met in last season's championship game. Siena has won the last two MAAC post-season tournaments. Niagara (2007) is the last team other than Siena to go to the NCAA tournament.

Niagara is also the last team to beat Siena in conference play, earning a 100-85 victory in a regular-season game last season on Feb., 27.

Additional storylines?

Siena has a 28-game home-court winning streak on the line, third longest on the Division I level.

The contest features some of the top individual talent around the league, including several candidates not only for first-team all-star honors, but potential Player of the Year candidates.

Niagara's Bilal Benn is well-established as one of the conference's most-versatile players. The 6-foot-5 forward might well be the best rebounder, inch-for-inch, in the country. He leads the MAAC with 10.5 rebounds per game while also getting 15.5 points per game. He has seven double-doubles to date, the most of any conference player.

Another Niagara senior, 5-11 guard Tyrone Lewis, averages 16.5 points and his 2.6 3-pointers per contest leads the league.

Niagara has three players averaging double figures (6-2 guard Rob Garrison is the third, averaging 11.1 ppg.), and a fourth player, junior point guard Anthony Nelson, averaging 9.4 points.

Siena, with the most-balanced offense in the league, has four players averaging between 12.4 points (center Ryan Rossiter) and 15.1 (guard Clarence Jackson). In between those two are senior forward Edwin Ubiles (14.6) and the team's other senior forward Alex Franklin 15.0.

And, then, there's senior point guard Ronald Moore, whose 8.7 assist-per-game average is No. 1 nationally.

"For God's sake, what's their weakness?" said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich, talking about Siena to the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union. "They have a terrific point guard, they have shooters, they have athletes and they have speed."

But, Mihalich's team has all of that, too.

Which, of course, makes their first meeting of this season so highly anticipated.

Interesting Historical Note from Niagara

Here's an interesting post on the Niagara University's athletic website, part of a regular feature highlighting events in the school's sports history:

LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. - On this day in Niagara history, Purple Eagle guard Gary Bossert (1983-87) set the NCAA record for consecutive 3-pointers made in a single game with 11 against Siena on Jan. 7, 1987. The shooting guard connected on his final 11 attempts from behind the arc in the 97-88 victory.

Overall on the afternoon, Bossert shot 12-for-14 from 3-point range, totaling a career-high 37 points. Bossert still holds the Niagara record for 3-point percentage in a career with .448.

The 2009-10 Purple Eagles travel back to the scene of the record for a first-place showdown against Siena on Saturday with a 1 p.m. tip.

The item stirred a personal memory since your humble blogger was a newspaper reporter at the time and covered the game for an upstate New York newspaper.

The memory bank recalls that the game was played in the first season that the rule for the 3-point shot was in effect (1986-87), that Bossert was a physical specimen who looked more likely to be part of the school's debate team than a basketball player (he was about 5-foot-9, 160 pounds), and that Siena acted as if it had no idea Bossert could shoot from long range.

But, shoot he did, and very much from long range. At least two of his shots, according to not only my published account of the game but others, too, refer to Bossert pulling up and making 3-pointers from a minimum of 28 feet out.

Niagara won the game by nine points, 97-88, so Bossert's long-range shooting did pretty much decide things.

One corrective note about the Niagara release about Bossert's big night. It refers to Saturday's 1 p.m. contest between the two programs as a return to the "scene of the record."

In truth, the game will be a return to the region, but not the "scene."

The "Bossert Game" was played in Siena's on-campus Alumni Recreation Center gymnasium. These days, Siena plays its home schedule at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.

Key Women's Contest: Fairfield at Marist

One of the most-attractive women's match-ups of the season takes place tonight at 7:30 p.m. when Fairfield travels to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to meet Marist at the Red Foxes' on-campus McCann Recreation Center.

It's a battle of two of the three remaining unbeaten teams in conference play (both teams are 2-0, as is Siena which also plays tonight at Saint Peter's). A good-sized crowd is expected. Marist is averaging 1,944 per home game this season, an attendance turnout that dwarfs the rest of the women's programs in the league and would be a nice turnout for the majority of men's teams, as well.

Fairfield doesn't appear to have skipped a beat from a year ago when it finished third in conference play over the regular season, yet lost four key players from that team.

The Stags have gotten a major boost from 6-2 forward Stephanie Geehan (see a blog item on her below), and has gotten strong play from 5-6 sophomore guard Desiree Pena (11.8 points, 2.6 assists per game) and 5-8 freshman guard Katelyn Linney (10.4 ppg.). Linney has already been the conference's Rookie of the Week four times this season.

Marist features its traditional powerhouse lineup led by two-time defending Player of the Year award winner 6-1 forward Rachele Fitz (18.6 points, 7.6 rebounds) and 5-8 guards junior Erica Allenspach (14.2, 5.0 and 4.2 assists) and sophomore Corielle Yarde (13.8, 6.2).

The contest features arguably the league's top two front-court players in Fitz and Geehan.

But, there's probably a little more at stake tonight for the hosts than just maintaining the type conference superiority that has resulted in six consecutive regular-season championships. Fairfield won last year's meeting in Poughkeepsie with a 73-65 overtime decision.

That outcome was not only one of just two Marist losses in conference play all season, but ended a 14-game overall winning streak by the Red Foxes, a streak of 35 straight home victories and a 37-game winning streak against conference teams.

It was also just one of five losses in an active 80-5 record against MAAC opponents since the start of the 2004-05 seasons.

So, the very strong guess here is that Marist coach Brian Giorgis' motivational pre-game talk to his team will include some mention of Fairfield's victory in last season's meeting in Poughkeepsie.

Fairfield's Geehan Steps Up in Big Way

Those at Fairfield who have known women's basketball standout Stephanie Geehan for the past four years recall her as a shy, humble person whose spoken interactions rarely extended beyond a word or two when she arrived for her freshman year.

"She was perfectly content to stand in the back of the room and go unnoticed," says Fairfield's associate sports information director Chris O'Connor. "Now, she's a lot more outgoing. She is unbelievably funny. She always leaves you with a smile on your face. She has made the prototypical development from freshman to senior in terms of what a college is supposed to do for you."

The same can be said for the 6-foot-2 Geehan's on-court work, too.

After serving primarily as an effective role player for her first three years with the Stags, Geehan has made an effective, if not spectacular, move into a featured role.

That progression was much needed for a team that graduated four players after last season who had each played at least 115 games over their respective careers.

Usually that type of personnel loss results in a rebuilding process, but Geehan's development from behind-the-scenes' secondary option to full-fledged standout has kept Fairfield strong this season. The Stags, entering a showdown with league powerhouse Marist tonight (Friday, Jan. 8) are one of three remaining unbeaten teams (2-0) in league play and 8-5 overall.

Geehan, who averaged a solid 8.7 points and 8.4 rebounds as a junior last season is turning in 14.8 and 12.5 numbers in those respective categories this year.

"She has improved just tremendoustly," said Fairfield coachJoe Frager. "It hasn't been so much a tangible improvement in her skills, but in her own sense of confidence. She is a much-more confident player this year. She's not thinking as much on the floor. She's just reacting and playing and doing instinctive things on both ends of the court.

"In the past she viewed herself as a complimentary player, but with a little gentle prodding from coaching staff, she has become a force. She really is so unassuming and she puts the team before herself. But, how, if she's not aggressive on offense she's actually hurting our team."

The one constant in her game has been an ability to block shots. She recorded a conference record 96 rejections last season, and is on pace to surpass that this season, averaging 3.54 blocks per contest. If she continues to block shots at her current rate, she will finish with over 100 rejections this season.

Geehan's work not only ranks among the best in the MAAC, but the best nationally. Her rebound-per-game average was fifth-best nationally through games of Jan. 3, and since then she turned in a 20-rebound performance that lifted her average from 11.8 to 12.5. He blocked-shots-per-game average is sixth-best nationally.

Her top-6 position in two statistical categories nationally makes her the only MAAC women's player to rank in the top six for even a single statistic.

Geehan also has nine double-double performances to date, the third-most of any women's player nationally. She nearly had a triple double in a recent game, recording 10 points, 10 rebounds and 9 blocked shots in a recent loss to Sacred Heart.

Over her career she already has 215 blocked shots, the third-highest total in MAAC history. She should easily surpass the conference's all-time mark of 244 recorded by a former Fairfield standout Gail Strumpf (1997-2001).

It surely is enough for Geehan to be the front-runner for the conference's Most Improved Player award, if not to get her into the conversation for Player of the Year recognition.

Her plight for the league's top individual award would get a boost tonight with a strong effort against Marist and a match-up with the Red Foxes' two-time Player of the Year award winner 6-1 forward Rachele Fitz.

None of that, though, appears to concern Geehan.

"I'm just working hard, trying to do the best I can to help the team," said Geehan, in a recent phone conversation. "Yes, my role has changed, but considering how many people graduated from our team last year, everyone's role on the team has changed."

O'Connor said Geehan probably wouldn't even be aware of her lofty position on the national statistical charts if others didn't tell her.

"That doesn't make a difference to me," she said. "I'm happy as long as our team is winning. I don't know if I'm improved as a player (over last season), or it's just a matter of trying to do what my team needs me to do."

Clearly while Geehan has made a personal transformation from her early days at Fairfield, she remains hesitant to speak about her work on the basketball court.

There, though, actions speak louder than words, and Geehan's work there has spoken volumes this season.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Top Women Players of the Past Decade

Last week this blogger picked an All-Decade team for men's players, so it's now time for the women's picks.

A quick note: This one was much harder. There was a pretty clear-cut top five in the mind of yours truly. The women's top five isn't nearly so easy to identify. In fact, there are legitimately seven players who could be included in a Top 5 of the Decade team. So, I'll include two honorable mentions.

Another note: Your blogger has seen every player under consideration a minimum of eight times, and several of them many more times than that.

Without further adieu ... the best of the 2000's, in no particular order:

Rosalie Mason, Manhattan (2000-04).

The hard-working 6-1 forward was an athletic post presence who could run the floor and make shots from the perimeter, too. Mason, like Manhattan's standout male player of the era Luis Flores, was fundamentally sound and produced major numbers with a minimum of flash and dash. She is the conference's all-time leading career rebounder (1,217) and No. 7 on the scoring list (1,875).

Rachele Fitz, Marist (2006-present)

The 6-1 forward is the only active player on the list, and her name not only belongs on the all-decade team but also in any consideration of the MAAC's all-time single-best female player. The slender Fitz also goes about her work in unspectacular fashion, but just piles up numbers. She is currently No. 3 all-time in scoring (2,104), and is on pace to surpass Patty Stoffey (Loyola) as the league's all-time leader in points (Stoffey has 2,467). Fitz is currently 16th in rebounding at 893, and is on pace to wind up 6th all time. She is also No. 2 on the career field-goal percentage list (57.6). Additionally, she is one of two two-time winners of the conference's Player of the Year award in the just-concluded decade.

Gunta Basko, Siena (1999-03).

The 6-1 swing player is the other two-time MAAC Player of the Year award winner of the past decade. She helped lead the Saints to a dominating 48-6 mark in conference play over her final three seasons, including a 17-1 record in league play in the 2000-01 season making that team one of just three in MAAC history to record at least 17 conference victories. Basko ranks 13th all time in scoring (1,833) and 8th in career rebounding (1,027).

Eva Cunningham, Niagara (2001-05)

A dynamic, athletic combo guard who could run a team and put up points. She finished with 1,753 career points, 17th on the conference's all-time list and with a 1.98 assist-to-turnover ratio, 4th-best over a career. Cunningham's 552 career assists is the second-highest total recorded in the decade of the 2000's. With Cunningham as the featured player, Niagara recorded a 36-18 record over her last three seasons. It hasn't won more than six league games in any season since her graduation.

Alisa Kresge, Marist (2003-07)

Kresge's worth is next-to-impossible to measure in numbers, and you won't find her name in many of the conference's all-time statistical-leader lists. But, some numbers do indicate her contributions. She is No. 1 all-time in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.69) and No. 1 in the past decade in total assists (586), with that total ranking as the fourth-best in conference history. Mostly, though, Kresge was the proverbial coach on the floor, an amazingly steady influence who imposed her will on games without having to score. Marist had a conference record of 8-10 in 2002-03, the year before Kresge's arrival, but had a 61-11 record in her four seasons with the team.

Honorable mentions ...

Liene Jansone, Siena (2000-04).

The rugged 6-2 inside force was the MAAC's Player of the Year as a junior, but a variety of injuries kept her from having as strong a senior season. Still, she is 26th all-time in conference scoring (1,639 points), N0. 18 in rebounding (867) and the MAAC's all-time leader in field-goal percentage (59.1).

Gail Strumpf, Fairfield (1997-2001)

Her 1,873 career points is 8th all-time among conference players, her 1,106 rebounds is the fifth-highest total in league history and her 244 blocks ranks No. 2 on the career list. The standout 6-3 center surely ranks among the better players ever to perform in the MAAC. But, much of that work came in the decade of the 1990's. The fact that this 2001 graduate only played three semesters in the decade of the 2000's kept her off this blogger's all-decade all-star list.

Coach of the Decade: Brian Giorgis, Marist (2002-present)

Not much debate here ... actually, none. Giorgis' work at Marist ranks with the best at any program in the country. He currently has a 178-58 record with the Red Foxes, and his .757 winning percentage there entering the current season was 9th best among all active Division I coaches. He took over a downtrodden program (22-68 in conference play in the five seasons before his arrival) and quickly turned things around. His first team finished 8-10 in MAAC play. Since then, his teams have dominated the conference like no other, recording a 165-45 overall record since the start of the 2003-04 season and an incredible 97-13 mark in MAAC play.

League Players Among National Leaders

The NCAA releases its statistical leaders each Monday, and the most recent numbers included some conference players among the national leaders.

Here are MAAC players/teams ranking in the top 15 nationally. Please note, though, that these stats were through games of Sunday, Jan. 3, and that some of the numbers hasve changed slightly with games played since.

On the men's side ...

- Siena's Ronald Moore is the national leader in assists per game at 8.5.

- Surprisingly, a first-year conference player, Fairfield freshman guard Derek Needham, is No. 11 in assists at 6.1.

- Siena ranks No. 6 nationally in fewest personal fouls committed per game, 14.6.

- Siena also ranks 15th nationally in steals per game, 9.8.

On the distaff side, there are considerably more players/teams ranking in the national top 15.

- Stephanie Geehan of Fairfield was No. 5 in rebounds with 11.8 per contest. Since then, she had a 20-rebound effort and now averages 12.5 per outing.

- Geehan is also 6th in blocks per game (3.5).

- Marist's Rachele Fitz is 11th in field-goal percentage (60.5).

- Liz Flooks of Niagara is No. 7 in 3-point field goal percentage (51.0).

- Marist's Erica Allenspach is 9th in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.52).

- Marist is No. 2 in free-throw percentage (81.2)

- Fairfield is No. 10 in blocked shots (6.3).

- Marist is No. 5 in fewest turnovers per game (13.8).

- Marist is No. 9 in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.18).

Friday, January 1, 2010

Looking Back: Best of the Past Decade

First, a very Happy New Year not only to those who read this small slice of the internet, but heartfelt best wishes to all.

It's not only a new year, but a new decade, as well. Before we discard the "aughts" entirely, though, let's have an appreciation for what transpired in the past 10 years.

Very simply, we'll do that by chosing a "Keepin' Track of the MAAC's All-Star Team of the Decade."

And, it is very simple. In identifying potential candidates, it was amazingly easy to come up with a clear-cut top five ... two front-court players and three perimeter players. Pretty much the same, too, in chosing a top coach for the past 10 years.

In selecting the team, the only criteria was that players played a minimum of a full season in the just-concluded decade. But, that never came into play. All five selectees played at least three full seasons in the conference during the time period.

As a note to indicate a measure of insight ... this blogger has covered the conference for all of the past decade and has seen every player that has come through the MAAC during that time a minimum of 12-to-15 times.

So, without additional formalities, here's one man's top-player list from the past 10 years in no particular order:

- Keydren "Kiki" Clark, Saint Peter's (played from 2002-2006)

The 5-8 guard arguably possessed the best inch-for-inch talent ever seen in the conference. He ranks No. 2 all-time in conference scoring (3,058 career points) and led the country in scoring during his sophomore and junior seasons. He tops the MAAC career list for three-pointers (435), is third in career steals (265) and 14th in career assists (501).

Juan Mendez, Niagara (2001-05)

The 6-7 forward might have been the best in-the-paint player of the decade. Doing most of his work close to the basket, Mendez is fourth all-time in MAAC career scoring (2,210) and rebounding (1,053). He is also 9th all time in career field-goal percentage (53.1), and was the key figure in the program's trips to the NIT in his junior season and the NCAA tournament in his senior season.

Luis Flores, Manhattan (2001-04)

The 6-2 guard was the epitomy of smooth on the court, rarely wasting a movement. A transfer from Rutgers after his freshman year, he became the decade's only two-time winner of the MAAC's Player of the Year award (2002-03, 2003-04). And, despite playing just three seasons for the Jaspers he still was proficient enough to score 2,046 points (8th all-time on the conference career list). His 88.0 percent work from the foul line tops all MAAC players.

Jason Thompson, Rider (2005-08)

He showed up at Rider as a 6-7 forward, but quickly sprouted a few more inches to become a 6-10 force both in the paint and beyond. He is 9th on the MAAC's career scoring list (2,040), 2nd in career rebounding (1,171) and 13th in career field-goal percentage (52.6). He was an NBA lottery pick of the Sacramento Kings after his Rider career, and has been an effective pro well on his way to, potentially, the best NBA career by a conference product.

Jared Jordan, Marist (2003-07)

Few improved their game as much over a conference career as this 6-2 point guard whose shooting rage as a freshmen was, basically, a layup. Jordan, though, eventually became an offensive weapon with his own shot (his 1,538 points is 48th on the conference career list), but his greatest contribution was making others better. His 813 assists tops all MAAC players, and his 2.52 assist-to-turnover ratio is No. 2 on the conference list. Unquestionably the league's top point guard of the decade.

Coach Joe Mihalich, Niagara

Mihalich became the Purple Eagles' head coach prior to the 1998-99 season, making him the conference's only program director to be in place for the entirety of the just-completed decade. And, for good reason. Including games of the current season, he has a 190-121 record in the '00's (a .611 winning percentage). His team's had just one sub-.500 record over that time. His teams have been to two NCAA tournaments and two NIT's in the past six years. Siena's Fran McCaffery has a higher winning percentage (.662), but is only midway through his fifth season with the Saints and has done most of his winning with the same core of players. Mihalich has had success with multiple core groups.

COMING ATTRACTION: We'll also pick an all-star team of the decade for women's teams.