Sunday, February 28, 2010

One Man's Opinon: Women's Top Stars

The all-star teams for women will also be released on Monday (NOTE: the top individual awards won't be revealed until ceremonies at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday).

Here's how the coaches should be voting:


Rachele Fitz, 6-foot-0 senior forward, Marist (18.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, .568 field goal percentage)
What more can anyone say about one of the best players ever to grace the conference? Fitz is the conference's to scorer this year and needs just 82 more points to become the MAAC's all-time leading scorer for women. She also ranks in the top 20 nationally this season in field-goal and free-throw percentage and has scored in double figures for 20 straight games.

Miriam McKenzie, 5-10 sophomore guard, Loyola (16.6 points, 7.7 rebounds)
Possibly the MAAC's most-improved player, turning in gaudy sophomore-year numbers after a solid (5.0 points, 2.8 rebounds) freshman season. One of the league's rising stars of the future., and was the No. 2 scorer in the conference this year.

Thazina Cook, 5-9 senior guard, Iona (14.6 points, 7.0 rebounds)
An athletic player who is virtually unstoppable in one-on-one situations. She ranks 7th in rebounding from her guard position, and also averaged 1.8 steals and made 35 3-pointers this season.

Stephanie Geehan, 6-2 senior center, Fairfield (14.5 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.4 blocks)
Geehan's inside work transcends the MAAC. She ranks 4th nationally in rebounding and blocks. She is the first MAAC player to ever record 100 blocks in a season and her 269 career blocks is also a MAAC record. Primarily a role player in her first three seasons, she made a successful move to become a "featured" performer this year.

Brittane Russell, 5-5 senior guard, Canisius (12.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 3.1 steals)
Talk about a do-everything player ... she is one of just five players nationally over the past 20 years to record career totals of more than 1,200 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists and 300 steals. Her 3.1 steals per game is 15th-best nationally.


Serena Moore, 6-1 junior forward, Siena (13.7 points, 7.8 rebounds)
Vastly improved, particularly on the offensive end, over a year ago. Arguably the most-athletic post player in the conference. She had six double-doubles this season and ranked 9th in scoring and 6th in rebounding. Also blocked 1.3 shots per game.

Erica Allenspach, 5-8 junior guard, Marist (13.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists)
Primarily a shooting guard, but she also moves over to the point and led the Red Foxes in assists. Just a deadly outside shooter (43.9 percent on 3's), who has made 54 shots from beyond the bonus stripe.

Corielle Yard, 5-8 sophomore guard, Marist (13.5 points, 5.9 rebounds)
A perfect complement to Allenspach, Yard is a quick, athletic perimeter player who can connect from long range (50 3's this season) as well as run the court as well as any player in the conference.

Michelle Pacheco, 5-8 senior guard, Manhattan (15.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists)
She lost her starting position midway through last season, but bounced back with a huge senior season to be No. 4 in scoring among MAAC players and the conference's assist leader.

Lindsey Loutsenhizer, 6-0 sophomore forward, Manhattan (15.6 points, 6.5 rebounds)
An emerging young standout who was an all-Rookie team selectee last season and has progressed into one of the conference's better front-court players. She is the conference's No. 3 scorer and ranks 10th in rebounding.


Liz Flooks, 6-1 senior forward, Niagara (12.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 52 3's)
One of the conference's best long-range threats, she was a key figure in a .500 finish for a Purple Eagles' team that only recorded a single conference victory the previous year. She is the MAAC's 11th-leading scorer.

Anna McLean, 6-2 senior center, Iona (11.6 points, 8.8 rebounds)
A tower of power for the conference's second-place finishing team. She ranks No. 3 in rebounding, has 1.4 blocks per game and her .523 field-goal percentage is second among MAAC players.

Amanda Sepulveda, 5-4 senior guard, Rider (11.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists)
Her team only won two conference games, and she was the focus of every opponent's defense yet still connected on a conference-best 73 3-pointers while also leading the Broncs in assists and scoring.

Natasha Morris, 5-8 senior guard, Saint Peter's (12.2 points, 3.6 rebounds)
One of the more athletic players in the confernece, Morris was a consistent threat both on the perimeter and in the paint. Her scoring average is 12th best in the conference. She also had 33 3-pointers this year.

Desiree Pina, 5-6 sophomore guard, Fairfield (12.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists)
Primarily a shooting guard as a freshmen, she made a successful move to the point this season while still finishing 13th in scoring among MAAC players.


Kayla Stroman, 5-5 freshman guard, Niagara (8..6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists)
Led all freshmen in minutes played (34.1 per contes) and assists. A key component in Niagara's resurgence this season and a vital cog for its future.

Caitlin Bopp, 6-2 center, Rider (8.5 points, 9.6 rebounds)
A still-developing offensive player, Bopp already knows how to control the paint. Her rebound average is second-best in the MAAC.

Katelyn Linney, 5-8 freshman guard, Fairfield (10.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists)
The league's leading scorer among freshmen. A marvelous long-range shooter whose 61 3's is the 3rd highest total in the league.

Allison Braun, 5-10 freshman guard, Canisius (4.5 points, 4.1 rebounds)
A versatile player who showed an ability to both score and get inside to rebound. She led the Golden Griffs in field goal percentage (.417) and made 20-of-22 foul shots on the season.

Diana Hubbard, 5-7 freshman guard, Iona (7.3 points, 2.6 rebounds)
The MAAC's third-leading scorer among freshmen. She did much of her damage from long range, connecting on 40 three-pointers with a respectable 35.7 percent accuracy from bonus range.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Rachele Fitz, 6-0 senior forward, Marist
Arguably the best player in conference history who is near the top of the MAAC career leaders in multiple categories. She needs just 82 points to become the league's all-time leading scorer.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Joe Frager, Fairfield
His team finished third in the MAAC in the 2008-09 season, but this year was supposed to be a rebuilding year after the loss of four of the team's five starters. Instead, Frager's team finished third again with an 11-7 conference record (16-12 overall) that included a win over MAAC powerhouse Marist for the second straight season. Frager got former role player Stephanie Geehan to become a dynamic go-to force on both ends, and supplemented that with an effective group of youthful teammates.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Kayla Stroman, 5-6 freshman guard, Niagara.
This was a three-person race between the conference's top scoring first-year player (Katelyn Linney), its top freshman rebounder (Caitlin Bopp) and Stroman.

The diminutive Stroman was the conference's top first-year point guard averaging 4.2 assists (third-best in the MAAC overall) and helped direct the Purple Eagles to a 9-9 conference record after the program won a single game in league play the year before her arrival. She was also an effective scorer (8.6 points) and a strong rebounder (3.9) for her size.

One Man's Opinion: Post-Season Awards

The voting by league coaches that determined this year’s MAAC all-star teams will be released tomorrow.

Here’s how they should have voted, according to this blogger.


- Alex Franklin, 6-5 senior forward, Siena (15.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, .568 shooting percentage)
Sixth in scoring in the conference, fifth in rebounding, second in field goal accuracy. An athletic inside player who is all but unstoppable in the post. One of the team's two "go-to" players when points are absolutely needed.

- Ryan Rossiter, 6-8 junior center, Siena (14.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, .585 shooting percentage)
The league’s top center is a double-double machine getting 18 this year, the sixth highest total among all Division I players. Leads the MAAC in rebounding and field goal percentage.

- Edwin Ubiles, 6-6 senior forward, Siena (15.2 points, .486 shooting percentage).
Arguably the most-talented player in the conference who was hindered by a series of nagging injuries. Still, eighth in scoring and 4th in FG percentage. Takes and makes more than his share of shots in key situations.

- Frank Turner, 5-10 senior guard, Canisius (16.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists).
He has almost single-handedly kept Canisius respectable this season. He ranks 4th in scoring, 5th in field-goal percentage, 2nd in assists, 1st in steals and 17th in rebounding among league players.

- Anthony Johnson, 6-8 senior forward, Fairfield (15.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, .515 shooting percentage).
Hopefully coaches didnt turn in their votes until this weekend's games were over because the bruising big man saved his best for last with a 28-point, 12-rebound effort Friday vs. Iona (to secure second place in the league) and, then, followed up with a 24-point/23-rebound effort on Sunday vs. Niagara. Hs is No. 7 in scoring, No. 2 in rebounding and No. 1 in blocked shots.


- Derek Needham, 6-0 freshman guard, Fairfield (16.0 points, 5.4 assists).

Without the freshman capably taking the reigns of the team's offense, Fairfield doesn't win half as many games. He is the conference’s fifth-highest scoring freshman in its 29-year history. Ranks 5th this season in scoring, third in assists and 2nd in steals.

- Ronald Moore, 5-11 senior guard, Siena (6.6 points, 7.7 assists, 1.8 steals).
It's extremely difficult to leave the national leader in assists off the first team, but his play when he wasn't distributing was diminished this season. His 30.9 field goal percentage allows opponents to back off him. Still, he's the conference's best pure point-guard and directs the league's best offense.

- Bilal Benn, 6-5 senior forward, Niagara (13.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists).
Mr. Versatility who ranks 2nd in rebounding, 7th in assists and 4th in steals. High energy player who has first-team skills but has been limited for portions of the season with a knee situation.

- Ryan Thompson, 6-6 senior guard, Rider (16.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists)
The conference’s preseason Player of the Year had a relatively disappointing season, including a lackluster 10-point effort vs. Siena on Friday. A sterling six-game run when he averaged more than 25 points late in the season didn't balance off a lengthy stretch of inconsistent play earlier in the year to earn first-team status.

- Tyrone Lewis, 5-10 senior guard, Niagara (16.9 points, 1.9 steals)
One of the quickest, most-athletic backcourt players in the conference. He is 2nd in scoring, 2nd in steals and first in made 3-pointers.


- Rico Pickett, 6-4 junior guard, Manhattan (17.1 Points, .435 shooting percentage)
A gifted offensive player who is still developing an all-around game. Finishes as the conference’s leading scorer in an inconsistent season that included a 2-point perfmance Sunday against Loyola.

- Darryl Crawford, 6-3 senior guard, Manhttan ( 14.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists)
He does a little bit of everthing. He is 9th in scoring, 12th in rebounding, 8th in field-goal percentage and 11th in assists.

- Wesley Jenkins, 6-2 junior guard, Saint Peter’s (14.1 points, 5.1 rebounds).
One of the league’s top perimeter marksmen. His 55 made 3’s ranks 5th in the league. He is 12th in scoring and 18th in rebounding.

- Scott Machado, 6-1 sophomore guard, Iona (12.4 points, 3.8 assists).
He runs the offense for a team that finished far above preseason expectations. Probably the MAAC’s No. 3 point guard (behind Moore and Needham). He is 5th in assists and 8th in steals.

- Ryan Bacon, 6-7 junior forward, Saint Peter’s (10.0 points, 9.0 rebounds).
Not quite the improvement he showed between his freshman and sophomore seasons, but still a solid year. He is 4th in rebounding and 5th in blocked shots.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Alex Franklin, Siena.
Siena’s clear go-to player when the Saints needed points in the paint. Rarely had an off game.
His teammate, Rossiter, is the second choice to this blogger.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Derek Needham, Fairfield.
This one isn’t even close. Needham is one of the top first-year players ever to appear in the MAAC.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Ed Cooley, Fairfield.
Clearly the most-difficult choice of any award this season. The runner-up, Siena's Fran McCaffery, directed a team to a conference record 17 regular-season victories and matched the largest margin of separation (four games) between the first- and second-place teams in MAAC history

Still ... Fairfield began the season with two starters, forwards Greg Nero and Warren Edney, lost for the season with injuries. And, the Stags have played the last 11 games without another starter, guard Yorel Hawkins (knee injury), who was their second-leading scorer at the time.

Subtract three key starters from any team and the results are not likely to be a 20-victory season (Fairfield's 20-9 record thus far marks the first time the program has hit 20 wins since the 1995-96 season), or a second-place 13-5 finish in the conference standings.


- Derek Needham, 6-foot-0 freshman guard, Fairfield (16.0 points, 5.4 assists, 1.9 steals)
Just one of four freshmen ever to average more than 15 points per game in the MAAC, joining Lionel Simmons of La Salle (1986-87), Jerry Johnson of Rider (2001-02) and Keydren Clark of Saint Peter’s (2002-03) to record that accomplishment. Clearly a future star of major proportions at this level.

- Candon Rusin, 6-4 freshman guard, Marist (9.7 points, 56 3-pointers).
Rushed into service because of struggling Marist’s pressing needs, Rusin responded with long-range shooting (third most 3’s made in the conference) and a near double-digit average for a program that needed points. One of two conference freshmen (along with Needham) to lead their team in scoring.

- Devon Price, freshman Marist (8.8 points, 2.6 assists)
Like his teammate, Rusin, he got thrust into a starting role early and has adapted well to capably handle Marist's point guard duties. He is 30th in the conference in scoring and 13th in assist and has hit 37 3’s. He and Rusin provide a measure of future optimism for a program that hasn’t had much of that in recent years.

- Darius Conley, 6-7 freshman forward, Saint Peter’s (6.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks)
When this blogger left Conley’s name off a preseason prediction of the conference's freshmen of influence, a message came from Peacocks’ coach John Dunne that Conley deserved mention, too. The season has proven Dunne correct. Conley is an effectively rugged, hard-working inside player that does much good work not always measured by box scores.

- Kyle Smith, 6-4 freshman guard, Iona (8.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 49 made three-pointers).
No program had more new players coming aboard this season than Iona, and coach Kevin Willard’s work in getting all the new parts to mesh was well-done. Smith is just one of many talented newcomers with the Gaels, a valuable long-range shooter with a hard-nosed attitude on the court.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

All-Star Picks, Tourney Preview on the Way

Here's a "programming note" for faithful blog readers ...

Check in early and often from now through the conference tournament. Your blogger will be putting up multiple posts daily, beginning tomorrow afternoon.

The conference's all-star teams will be released on Monday, the results of voting by league coaches.

But, on Sunday evening I'll post my all-star picks, the players the coaches should have chosen. We'll pick all stars for both men and women, rookie teams and top players.

After that, we'll do a report on every men's team, beginning Monday afternoon), looking back at each's season, the future and their chances at doing some damage in the MAAC tournament. We'll also do an in-depth look at the women's tournament.

We'll be at the MAAC tournament to provide around-the-clock coverage, blogging about games and other happenings throughout the tournament.

Hope you'll be reading.

Much Still At Stake on Final Weekend

It seems like weeks ago when Siena clinched the regular-season conference title, but there are still interesting story lines and battles for post-season seeding positions going on over this last weekend of regular-season play.

For instance:

- Siena dismantled Rider, 80-54, before a sell-out crowd at the Broncs' Alumni Gymnasium and a national TV audience (ESPNU) on Friday night.

The Saints had more than a 20-point margin before the first half was over, and a 34-point lead midway through the second half.

And, this was a Rider team that its head coach, Tommy Dempsey, voted to finish first in the conferences preseason voting by coaches? Talk about misplaced confidence.

Dempsey called the meeting a "mental health" game for his team, an opportunity to put in a performance that gave it a confidence boost as the conference tournament approaches. Instead, Dempsey and the Broncs are still wondering what went wrong this season. The answer is ... plenty.

- Fairfield continued its strong season in light of what easily could have been a season-wrecking series of injuries by dominating Iona, 71-54, in a battle for second place (and, possibly, more) in Friday's game at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.

Senior forward Anthony Johnson had a monster 28-point, 12-rebound performance.

The Stags started its season with two expected starters, forwards Greg Nero and Warren Edney, out for the season with injuries. And, then, they lost another starter and one of its leading scorers, swingman Yorel Hawkins, at midseason with a knee injury.

Despite all of that, the Stags continue to play way above the expectations of most observers.

The implications?

- Siena, at 16-1 in MAAC play, maintained its four-game edge over Fairfield. If the Saints win Sunday when they host Marist, it would at least match the largest margin by a regular-season champion over a second-place conference team in the MAAC's 29-year history.

Only the 1985-86 Fairfield team (coached by current Siena assistant Mitch Buonaguro) has ever won the regular-season title by a four-game margin.

Siena's winning margin would be five games if it wins on Sunday and Fairfield loses Sunday when it hosts Niagara.

- Fairfield's victory on Friday clinches second place in the final MAAC standings. Fairfield's is now 19-9 overall (12-5 in conference play) and its next victory would give the program its first 20-win season since 1995-96.

It also keeps the Stags in contention for an NIT berth (unless, of course, it wins the MAAC tournament and goes to the NCAA's).

Any NIT berth secured by the MAAC this season will likely come down to Fairfield or Iona. The Gaels have 20 victories overall, but will finish behind Fairfield in the regular-season standings.

The battle for an NIT berth will likely be determined by which of those two programs advance further in the MAAC tournament, provided both win their firnal regular-season contests on Sunday.

And, there are still regular-season implications to be contested.

- Iona is at Saint Peter's (2 p.m.) on Sunday with the winner finishing third in the final league standings and the loser dropping to fourth.

It means the winner avoids the "Siena bracket" of the MAAC tournament and would not have to face a potential game with the Saints until the tournament's championship game. The loser of Sunday's game, in theory, would be in position to face Siena in the semifinals.

- Maybe even more important is the Canisius at Rider game at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Those two teams are currently tied for sixth in the conference standings with 8-9 records. The loser will finish seventh and face the play-in round of the MAAC tournament on Friday. The conference's bottom-four finishing teams play games on Friday with the winners advancing to join the top-finishing six teams in Saturday's quarterfinals

- And, there's Sunday's noon contest with Niagara playing at Fairfield.

While the Purple Eagles are locked into fifth place, a loss would drop them to a 9-9 conference record. That would certainly classify 2009-10 as a disappointing season for the team picked to finish second in the preseason.

The winner of that meeting will be riding a nice wave of momentum into the post-season event. And, Fairfield still has plenty on the line in a tangible sense, too, including its NIT hopes and a the rare 20-victory plateau.

- And, let us not forget the continuation of another marvelous season for the Marist women's team that earned an 82-80 overtime victory over second-place Iona on Friday.

The Red Foxes got a last-second game-winner from guard Erica Allenspach that clinched the regular-season championship, their unprecedented seventh straight.

It was also the program's 113th victory over the past four seasons. Its next victory will set a MAAC record for wins over four seasons. Only Marist's 2004-05 through 2007-08 teams also recorded 113 victories.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Marist Women's Senior Day is Impressive

Your blogger took a short jaunt south on the New York State Thruway recently to attend the Siena at Marist women's game on Sunday, and was very impressed on a number of fronts.

Where to begin?

- A near sell-out, enthusiastic and loud crowd of 2,832 on hand.
- The best pep band in the MAAC by far, an approximately 200-member group that played well, loud and helped create terrific in-gym atmosphere.
- And, that atmosphere ... fans are nearly on top of the court in the tight confines of the McCann Center and provided such decibel -challenging cheers early that Siena's defense missed several assignments primarily because it couldn't communicate.

This is what all college basketball games at this level should be like.


How about a terrific program, one that has clinched its seventh straight regular-season conference title, and is a heavy favorite to win the post-season tournament and head to the NCAA's for the sixth time in the past seven years?

And, how about community support? Marist averages 2,190 fans per home games ... and, remember, this is women's basketball.

It hasn't always been like this. Your blogger remembers family-and-friend-only crowds in the low three figures as recently as eight or nine years ago for Marist women's games. But, the success has gradually drawn in an appreciative community and big crowds have become the norm in recent years.

By comparison, the Marist men only average 1,743 per home game. It would take considerable research to prove the following, but my guess is that only a few college women's programs outdraw their men's counterparts nationally.

But the Marist women outdraw most MAAC men's teams. Only Siena and Fairfield draw more fans per home game, and both those programs play in sizeable arenas.

Sunday's game, a very impressive 71-52 victory over Siena (Marist led, 40-17, at the half ending any suspense early) took place in the program's last home game of the season.

And, Marist knows how to put on a "Senior Day" ceremony.

Of course, there certainly is plenty to honor when the departing seniors include Rachele Fitz, arguably the best women's player in the MAAC's history; and a senior class of Fitz, Brittany Engle and Lynzee Johnson.

That group is a single victory away from matching the conferences all-time record for career wins.

The trio of Marist seniors already has a 112-19 career record, surpassed only by the 113 total victories by Marist women's teams from the 2004-05 through the 2007-08 seasons.

By comparison, the best four-year run by a men's team in MAAC history is a 100-31 stretch by the La Salle teams of 1986-87 through the 1989-90 seasons.

The introduction of the seniors this day went on for close to 15 minutes, with nearly 10 of those devoted to Fitz and her countless accomplishments.

And, during the pregame ceremony it was announced that the 6-foot-0 senior forward's No. 12 jersey will become the program's first women's number retired.

Marist also provided what promised to be an entertainment treat from local celebrity Congressman John Hall (D-Dover Plains), one of the founding fathers of the 1970's-era band Orleans. Hall sang the national anthem and, then, served as the Red Foxes' "guest coach."

Hall though, forgot several of the words to the national anthem. Note to Mr. Hall: Congressmen should know the words to our national anthem.

Hall also wore sunglasses throughout most of his time sitting on the Marist bench. Another note to Mr. Hall: Barring a medical condition, shades aren't cool worn inside a gym.

Otherwise, impressive was the operative description at Marist on Sunday.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

BracketBuster: Good, Bad, Some of Both

ESPN's annual BracketBuster series is designed, in part, to give supposed "on-the-bubble" teams a chance to make a statement about deserving a berth in national post-season tournament play.

Three of the MAAC's teams still had legitimate post-season aspirations entering the weekend, making their appearances in the BracketBuster games significantly more important than traditional non-league contests.

For conference teams there were good results, bad results and, in one case (if you want to stretch the issue) a little of both.

First the good: Iona's 69-53 victory over William & Mary on Friday night.

William & Mary came to New Rochelle with an RPI hovering around No. 50, so this was a victory over a quality opponent for the Gaels.

It was also Iona's 20th victory over the season (it is now 20-8 overall), which probably gets it into the conversation for an NIT berth should it fail to win the MAAC tournament, particularly since Friday's win should jump its RPI considerably from its mid-90's range prior to the contest.

The Gaels could move up the RPI ladder more in their final two conference games, at Fairfield and at Saint Peter's.

Just a guess here, but a victory in one of those games and, then, an advance to the MAAC championship game before losing in that event should be more than enough for an NIT berth. Probably any combination of results getting the Gaels to 23 victories gets them to the NIT. Finishing with only 22 victories (after MAAC tournament play) probably puts them on the NIT bubble, but still in the conversation.

Now the bad: Fairfield suffered a a 77-67 loss at the hands of Vermont on Saturday.

The Stags entered the week with an RPI of 107, while Vermont's was around the 15o-range, meaning Fairfield will drop some after Saturday's setback.

It just about erases all margin of error for 18-9 Fairfield's NIT hopes. It would likely need to win its last two games (against Iona and Niagara), and get to the MAAC tournament's championship game to reach the 22-victory plateau and get back into the NIT picture.

It doesn't help that Fairfield doesn't have a real quality non-league victory this season, while Iona now has good ones over Providence and William & Mary.

If the NIT is going to take a MAAC team (provided Siena wins the conference's tournament), it wiill likely be Iona unless Fairfield does some late-season work. It would probably take a win over Iona in their upcoming regular-season meeting and, then, a further advance than the Gaels in the MAAC tournament, for the Stags to jump over Iona into NIT consideration.

And, a little of both: Siena's 70-53 loss at Butler on Saturday.

The Bulldogs came in rated as high as No. 13 in one national poll, and extended their longest active winning streak nationally to 17. So, it's no disgrace for Siena to come out on the short end of this one,.

But, Siena had played four higher-profile non-conference games (against Temple, St. John's, Northern Iowa and Georgia Tech) before Saturday, and lost them all.

Its best victory was probably an early season decision over Northeastern. Saturday's game was its last chance for a so-called "signature" win, and the Saints came up short ... as in way short.

Siena, rated in the mid-30's in the RPI before the game, would have established itself as a legitimate at-large berth contender for the NCAA's with a victory Saturday. Instead, it almost assuredly needs now to win the MAAC tournament to advance to the NCAA's.

The loss at Butler won't drop Siena much, if at all, in the RPI.

But the lack of a victory over a top 50 opponent (its best victory is against ortheastern, with an RPI in the low 60's), plus the lopsided nature of Saturday's outcome dooms Siena's at-large hopes, at least in the uneducated opinion of your humble blogger.

This wasn't only a loss, but a definitive setback. After holding a 34-32 edge with 17:34 remaining Siena saw itself outscored by 38-19 margin the rest of the way. Actually, Butler went on a 38-16 surge before the Saints got an inconsequential three-point play in the closing seconds.

So, how can this be spun into something positive?

Your blogger has been opining for a full year (check back to last March's blog postings on the issue) that the only way for Siena to advance past the NCAA's first round is either have a regular season record so impressive that it gets a No. 5 or No. 6 seed in a 16-team bracket, or fall enough to be a No. 12 or No. 13 seed.

Siena needed to be something along the lines of 29-2 after the MAAC tournament for a No. 4 or a No. 6 seed.

We saw what being a No., 9 seed did for Siena a year ago. It gave the Saints a chance for a first-round victory in a match-up with a solid, at best, Ohio State opponent and, then, a big-time uphill battle with a No. 1 seed (Louisville).

History shows us that mid-majors have next to no chance against the better teams nationally. This year, though, it's not out of the realm of possibility for a Siena-type to knock off a No. 4 or a No. 5 seeded team in the NCAA's, particularly on a neutral court.

So, if Siena gets a No. 12 seed, it matches up with a No. 5 in the first round. If it advances, it gets a No. 4 in the second round (and, vice versa ... a No. 4 first, followed by a No. 5 ... if it gets a No. 13 seed).

Clearly, it makes for a more-difficult, but not impossible, first-round game. But, it's truly the only way for the Saints, or any MAAC team in a similar situation, to have any real chance of getting past a second-round game and to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 round.

Right now, Siena's 22-6 record that doesn't include a single real quality victory almost ensures it of a No. 12 or a No. 13 seed in a 16-team bracket, provided it gets to the NCAA event.

And, maybe, that's not such a bad thing.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Easy Answer to MAAC's Top Team Debate

When Siena got off to a 14-0 start in conference play this season, matching the second-best beginning in MAAC history, there was some growing sentiment about the current Saints' team being, perhaps, the best group to ever play in the league.

But, any thoughts of that type were nothing more than wishful thinking or, even, dillusional.

And, they were dispelled when Siena dropped an 87-74 decision at Niagara and, now, stands at 15-1 with two conference games remaining (at Rider, and home against Marist).

You can still make a case that Siena could be the second-best group the MAAC has ever seen. The Iona team of 1984-85 (26-5), the Manhattan team of 1994-95 (26-5), the Fairfield team of 1985-86 (24-7) and the Siena team of 1998-99 (25-6) are all in that discussion, too.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: A personal opinion is that the 1988-89 Siena team that featured Marc Brown and upset a Stanford team ranked No. 13 nationally in the first round of the NCAA tournament, is the all-time best Division I team at Siena. But, that's a debate for another day. And, that took place the season before Siena joined the MAAC.)

Yet when it comes time to pick the No. 1 MAAC team of all time, there's only one choice ...

The 1989-90 team that played for La Salle.

The best judge of that is current Niagara coach Joe Mihalich, who not only has been in his present position for 12 years but was previously an assistant coach at La Salle, including during its late-1980's/early 1990's era of conference dominance.

"This is no knock on Siena, and this is coming from a guy who will probably vote four Siena players as first-teamers on this year's all-star team ... but that La Salle team was just incredible. It was a team that had three legitimate NBA players. The conference has never had another team like that," Mihalich told this blogger recently."

Here's how good the Explorers were during the 1989-90 season:

- 16-0 in conference play, just one of two teams (the 1987-88 team finished 14-0) to go through a MAAC season unbeaten.

- Winning margins of double figures in all but two of those 16 wins.

- An average winning margin of 20.1 points per game in league play, best ever by a MAAC team.
- MAAC tournament victories that season by 30, 16 and 10 points.

- The 19 wins against conference opponents that season made up the bulk of a 30-game winning streak against league representatives, the longest ever by a MAAC team.

- A 30-1 record before its season ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament with a 79-75 loss against a Clemson team led by two future NBA standouts 6-foot-11 center Elden Campbell and 6-9 power forward Dale Davis.

- La Salle's only regular-season loss was a 121-116 setback at Loyola-Marymount, which featured Hank Gaithers and Bo Kimble.

- The most-impressive collection of non-conference victories a MAAC team has ever recorded, including, in order: DePaul, Penn, Villanova, Ohio State, Florida, Temple, Notre Dame and St. Joe's.

As one would expect from a team with those type accomplishments, there was plenty of talent on hand, including those three legitimate NBA players.

They were 6-7 forward Lional Simmons, 6-3 junior guard Doug Overton and 5-11 sophomore guard Randy Woods.

Simmons wasn't only the MAAC's best player ever (the only men's player to be a three-time conference Player of the Year), but he was the James Naismith Award winner as the best player in the country.

Simmons still ranks No. 3 all-time in career scoring (3,217 points), trailing only Pete Maravich and Freeman Williams. He is still the only player in NCAA history with 3,000 points and 1,000 rebounds over his career. Simmons also holds the NCAA record for most consecutive games scoring in double figures (115).

He was the seventh pick in the first round of the 1990 NBA draft, still the highest a MAAC player has ever been selected, and played seven professional seasons (averaging 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds) before injuries forced him to retire.

Overton wound up with even a longer NBA career than Simmons, lasting 11 professional seasons for eight teams as a well-regarded combo guard. At La Salle he finished with 1,795 points and 671 assists.

Woods, academically ineligible as a freshman, wound up with 1,811 career points in three seasons. Only Simmons scored more points at La Salle over three seasons. Woods was the 16th pick in the first round of the NBA draft, but never came close there to his college success.

Also on the 1988-89 team was a sophomore 6-6 swingman Jack Hurd who was arguably its best shooter. He finished with 1,683 career points.

That type of talent together at one time has never been seen in the MAAC since. In fact, it can easily be argued that the entire rest of the MAAC hasn't produced a trio of players as talented as Simmons/Overton/Woods in the conference's history.

That makes it easy to see that while there might be considerable debate about which team might be the second-best ever to come through the MAAC, there's no question about which one is No. 1.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New & Notes From Around the MAAC

Tidbits from around the conference ...

- There might be a challege for the MAAC's women's Player of the Year award after all.

Marist's 6-foot-0 forward Rachele Fitz is the defending two-time winner, and will likely add a third straight trophy to her collection.

But, Fairfield's 6-2 senior center Stephanie Geehan is making a nice late-season push.

Geehan's most-recent game was one of the most-dominant performances this blogger has seen in person in some time.

She had 32 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and 3 steals in a 51-50 victory at Siena on Monday night. Her performance included a game-winning 3-pointer from the corner with 23 seconds remaining..

Consider those totals. She scored 63 percent of her team's points and had 47 percent of its rebounds in the contest.

Here's how Geehan stacks up with Fitz so far:

Geehan: 14.1 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.3 blocks per game.
Fitz: 17.7 points, 8.1 rebounds per game.

Geehan leads the conference in rebounding and blocked shots and ranks No. 5 and No. 4 nationally in those two categories.

Fitz leads the MAAC in scoring, in field-goal percentage (.570) and free-throw percentage (.865). She is also fourth in rebounding.

- Canisius senior guard Brittane Russell recently became the first player in conference history, and the first active player on the Division I level, to have 1,200 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists and 300 steals over her career. She is a sure-thing first-team all-conference selectee.

- The Canisius women's team continue to extend its NCAA record for consecutive games with a 3-pointer, now at 479 games through Monday's contests.

- League coaches predicted that Rider's 6-6 senior guard Ryan Thompson would be this season's Player of the Year for men. He won't be that, not with mostly a season that hasn't lived up to expectations both for him and his team. And, he probably needs to continue a late-season surge to get first-team votes. But, Thompson has been terrific of late. In the Broncs' last six games he is averaging 23.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest.

- Jamal Barney, a 6-3 junior swingman, has returned to the Loyola men's team. Barney, the conference's leading scorer last season, left the team for an undisclosed reason in early January and was away from the program for six games. He returned recently and has come off the bench in three games. He is averaging 3.7 points in 10 minutes per contest since his return.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Siena Bounces Back Strong Vs. Canisius

Your blogger attended Siena's game at Canisius Sunday afternoon, the trip scheduled, in part, to possibly witness the Saints' 16th consecutive victory in conference play, which would have matched the best start by a league team in the MAAC's 29-year history.

The opportunity for tht was lost on Friday night when Niagara handed Siena its first conference loss, an 87-74 decision.

And, that was met with some resignation at Canisius, where a number of those around the program admitted they hoped Siena would win at Niagara but, maybe, come to the Golden Griffins' Koessler Athletic Center a little emotionally drained.

Instead, the Saints wanted to make a strong rebound after their first conference loss, and Canisius could put up little more than token resistence after creating a 26-26 tie with 4:50 left in the first half.

Siena scored the last 10 points of the half, had a 12-point lead less than two minutes after the intermission and Canisius only made one very minor surge, pulling to within seven midway through the second half.

Then, a 15-4 run had Siena back on top 66-48 with about four minutes remaining.

And, it was only a career shooting effort by reserve Canisius guard Bobby Bevilacqua (17 points, including four second-half 3-pointers) that kept things as close as they were.

History, though, should have told us what this game was going to be like. Siena has now won the past 10 meetings between the teams, its longest run of success against any MAAC opponent.

The average margin of the previous nine Siena victories? Seventeen points, the same margin as Sunday's final score.

Canisius played without one of its better front-court performers, 6-foot-7 junior Greg Logins, who strained a chest muscle in his team's Friday victory over Marist.

Siena took advantage by pounding the ball inside for much of the contest, scoring 54 of its points in the paint.

Its inside pair of senior forward Alex Franklin and junior center Ryan Rossiter turned in dominant performances. Franklin, who looks to be emerging in the conference's Player of the Year consideration, had 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting. Rossiter had 15 points and 17 rebounds.

"We knew that would be one of our advantages so we just tried to take advantage of that and our teammates were looking for us down low," Franklin said.

Siena is now 15-1 in MAAC play and 22-5 overall.

Canisius fell to 7-9 and 13-15.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Niagara's Win Shows Siena Can Be Beaten

On the day after the second-longest in-season win streak against conference opponents ended, the question now is what did Niagara's 87-74 victory over Siena Friday night actually mean?

Plenty, if you're Niagara coach Joe Mihalich.

"For us this shows that we really are a good team," said Mihalich, during a phone interview Saturday afternoon. "This is what we've been waiting all year for, to show that we are capable of playing this way.

"Clearly it was just a terrific win against a top-30 team in the country. But more than that, we think that's who we are."

Who Niagara always has been during Mihalich's time with the program is what it was Friday night, a high-energy, uptempo team that uses its speed and intensity to be proficient offensively and to cause problems with its quickness on defense.

Mihalich, though, knew much of that had been lacking in what was an uncharacterist and unexpected slow start (6-8 in league play, 13-13 overall) prior to Friday's victory.

"We had been playing this way early in the season (getting off to an 8-4 overall start), but somewhere along the way we lost our fire," said Mihalich.

What Mihalich also lost was 6-5 senior forward Bilal Benn, his team's leading rebounder, for three games after early season arthroscopic knee surgery; and, then, 5-11 senior guard Tyrone Lewis, his top scorer, with knee and shoulder woes for seven games.

In all, Niagara had been without one or the other for nine games this season.

"Did that have an effect on us? C'mon, that's like asking Siena to play without Ronald Moore and one of its other key guys," Mihalich said.

"Then, when they come back there's an adjustment (in terms of on-court chemistry). Against Siena we finally made the adjustment.

"Before that, it was like `OK, we've got those two guys back, so we don't have to play hard anymore.' "

The result had been a 5-9 record over the past 14 games, prior to Friday's victory, for Niagara.

Clearly, Niagara needed a kick start and Mihalich acknowledges the electric atmosphere of a national TV audience (ESPN2), a loud sell-out crowd and the prospect of playing against an opponent that had won its first 14 conference games (only La Salle, which finished the 1989-90 season with a 16-0 MAAC record, had gotten off to a faster start in league competition) all conspired to provide one.

"One key was that Bilal (Benn) played like Bilal ... he was unbelievable (15 points and 11 rebounds, including nine rebounds on the offensive end)," added Mihalich.

"I thought we were one big victory away from putting ourselves back in the picture, and this was it."

Niagara can't get back into the regular-season championship picture. Siena (14-1 now in the MAAC)had already clinched that even before it began its current trip to Western New York (Siena also plays Sunday at Canisius at 2 p.m.).

But the ramifications might be felt in the conference's upcoming post-season tournament.

"No doubt about that," said Mihalich, about whether his team's win creates some optimism around the league that Siena might be vulnerable in the tournament.

"We showed that they're human."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Niagara Ends Siena's MAAC Win Streak

Siena's 18-game winning streak against conference opponents ended at the same place where the Saints suffered their last MAAC setback: at Niagara.

Late last season, Feb. 27, 2009, Niagara handed Siena a 100-85 defeat at the Taps Gallagher Center.

Fifty weeks and 18 consecutive Siena victories over league opponents later, the Purple Eagles turned in a similarly dominating effort with an 87-74 victory over the Saints before a supportive, raucous sell-out crowd on their home court.

What does it mean?

Tangibly, too not much. Siena had the regular-season championship already secured.

For Niagara, now 7-8 in conference play, it's another win closer to finishing in the top six in the conference standings and avoiding the play-in round of the MAAC's post-season tournament.

Otherwise, it meant plenty.

It not only ended Siena's streak agaisnt conference foes but snapped a 15-game overall run of success by the Saints that was the longest nationally.

It also put a significant blemish on the Saints' hopes for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament should they fail to win the conference's post-season event. Just an uneducated guess here, but Siena probably now needs to run the table, including a victory at Butler on Feb. 20th, to stay in contention for an NCAA at-large invite.

It also means Siena, now 14-1 in MAAC play, won't become just the second team ever to win its 15 conference games and won't become the third team to go through the regular season without a loss.

So, it's still safe to consider the current Siena group among the better teams in MAAC history, but simiarly correct to assume those La Salle teams of two decades ago, particularly the 1989-90 team, continue to stand above all others.

Maybe coincidentally, current Niagara coach Joe Mihalich was a La Salle assistant coach during the Exporers' stretch of MAAC domination.

And, now, Mihalich's Purple Eagles have put a late-season demolition on Siena for the second straight year.

Senior guard Tyrone Lewis led all scorers with 24 points for Niagara, while senior forward Kashief Edwards added a career-high 20 points and senior forward Bilal Benn had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Siena's junior center Ryan Rossiter finished with 23 points, but 15 of those came in the final 10 minutes, all after Niagara had extended its lead to 17 points.

Niagara seemingly scored at will in the contest, hitting 54.1 percent of its shots, while Siena struggled against the hosts' quickness and managed just 42 percent shooting from the field.

The winners appeared, at least from a seat in front of the 42-inch screen, to play with noticeably more intensity than the Saints on this particular night.

Of course the initial reaction is to assume this is the type jump-start victory that could propel Niagara to similar success in the post-season tournament.

But, that remains to be seen.

After Niagara earned its late-season lopsisded victory over Siena at the end of the 2008-09 season it did advance for a rematch in the MAAC tournament's championship game.

But Siena won that, 77-70.

Still Much At Stake in MAAC Standings

Just because the race for the regular-season championship has already been decided (Siena has a four-game lead, and holds every tie-breaker, with four games remaining) doesn't mean there isn't a little suspense left concerning MAAC play.

It's more than enough to get your humble blogger to settle into the reclining chair in front of the 42-inch screen tonight for an attractive double-header of Fairfield at Rider, 7 p.m., on ESPNU; and, Siena at Niagara, 8 p.m., on ESPN2.

So, those are good enough places to start in describing what remains at stake.

Even with the regular-season title secured, there is much to be accomplished by Siena.

For instance, Siena could continue to make a strong case for an NCAA tournament at-large berth (should it fall in the conference's post-season tournament) by padding its current 21-4 overall record.

Siena, too, is playing for history, as in:

- If it wins tonight, it becomes the MAAC's first 15-0 team since La Salle won all 16 of its league contests in the 1989-90 season, and remains a possibility to turn in just the third perfect regular season (1989-90 La Salle, and the 1987-88 La Salle team that finished 14-0). No conference team has ever finished 18-0, the number of league games played since the 1997-98 season.

- It would add to its current 15-game winning streak, longest nationally.

- It would at least maintain its four-game lead over pursuers, and only one team in conference history (1985-86 Fairfield) has ever won a league title while finishing four games better than the second-place team.

- Overall, Siena has won its last 18 league contests (it won its last game of 2008-09, three MAAC tournament games last year and all 14 conference games this season).

Winning at Niagara, though, won't be easy despite some struggles on the part of the Purple Eagles (6-8 in MAAC play and 13-13 overall). And, Niagara has been 5-9 in its last 14 games.

But, Niagara does have four starters back from its team of a year ago that handed the Saints their last league loss, a 100-85 decision at the Taps Gallagher Center on Feb. 27, 2009.

And, Niagara is pretty tough at home, accumulating a 34-8 home-court record since midway through the 2006-07 season.

Siena, though, is the only MAAC team with two victories at Niagara in that stretch. And, the Saints also won a game there early in the 2006-07 season, predating the 34-8 run. Overall, Siena has won three of its last four games on Niagara's home court since Fran McCaffery has been its head coach.

Niagara, too, still has plenty to play for. Its 6-8 MAAC record is good for a sixth-place tie with regional rival Canisius..

The conference's top six teams have a first-round bye for the league's post-season tournament, so it's obviously important for the Purple Eagles to avoid that scenario.

And, then, there's a nice individual milestone that might not come tonight for a Niagara player, but will before the season is over.

Senior 5-foot-11 guard Tyrone Lewis needs 13 more rebounds to become the only active Division I player with career totals of at least 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 200 steals.

Tonight's other televised game, Farfield at Rider, also comes with considerable intrigue.

The Stags are currently 9-5, good for a share of third place with Saint Peter's (second-place Iona is 10-4).

Finishing second or third in the final standings would mean avoiding a potential meeting with Siena in the post-season tournament until that event's championship game.

The Stags, though, will finish out the season without standout junior wing player Yorel Hawkins (knee injury), who had been averaging 14.6 points per game. Even without Hawkins, though, Fairfield played well at Siena on Monday night. The Saints' 69-67 victory was its smallest margin in conference play to date.

Rider, which returned four starters from a strong team a year ago, could remain in contention to finish at least third with a victory tonight. The Broncs are a disappointing 7-7 in league play but a strong finish would ease those negative emotions.

Rider already seems to be turning things around with four wins in its last five games, including an 88-80 victory in the first meeting with Fairfield in Bridgeport, Conn., on Jan. 30.

And, Rider's 6-foot-6 senior standout Ryan Thompson is making a strong-late season push for all-league honors having scored 101 points in his last four games (25.3 points per contest).

The two other MAAC games tonight also could also affect the final regular-season standings.

Canisius hosts Marist tonight, and a win for the Golden Griffins would ensure they'll remain no worse than in a tie for sixth in the standings.

Also, Iona will try to keep its hold on second place in the standings tonight when it hosts Manhattan.

And, then, there are games you won't see tonight.

The Iona at Loyola women's game, and the Saint Peter's at Loyola men's game, both originally scheduled to be played today, have been postponed due to the record snowfall in the Baltimore area earlier this week.

The games will be played on Wednesday, Feb. 17 with the women's game at 4:30 followed by the 7 p.m. men's contest.

Your blogger, though, is happy to report that snow has avoided the rest of the conference's geographic territories.

It ensures that game-time temperatures in one upstate New York living room will be a cozy 68 degrees, significant amounts of popcorn will be prepared, some cold beverages will be chairside, and the 42-inch screen will be set for good night's workout allowing for viewing of tonight's two televised men's contest.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Top MAAC Women's Players Thus Far

At the midway point of the conference season, this blogger selected a men's all-star team of the halfway mark.

Now, it's the women's turn. So, here's the conference's best women's players thus far:


Rachele Fitz, 6-0 senior forward, Marist (18.3 points, 8.0 rebounds)The two-time defending Player of the Year is likely to make it three straight. She leads the conference in scoring and field-goal percentage, is No. 2 in free-throw percentage and fourth in rebounding on the best team in the league.

Miriam McKenzie, 5-10 sophomore guard, Loyola (17.2 points, 7.7 rebounds)

McKenzie is one of the conference's top young players and one of its most improved. After averaging just five points per game last season, she is No. 2 in the conference in scoring this year. She is also No. 5 in rebounding and No. 7 in assists.

Michelle Pacheco, 5-8 senior guard, Manhattan (15.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists)

One of the top reversals of form in the conference. Pacheco lost her starting role midway through last season, but has elevated her game significantly this year. She ranks No. 3 in scoring, No. 2 in assists and No. 2 in steals this season.

Stephanie Geehan, 6-2 senior center, Fairfield (13.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.4 blocks)

Geehan, previously a role player, has turned into a go-to performer on both ends with some statistics that transcend the MAAC. She not only leads the MAAC in blocks and rebounding, but ranks No. 1 nationally in blocks and No. 5 nationally in rebounding.

Brittane Russell, 5-6 senior guard, Canisius (13.2, 3.9 assists, 3.4 steals)

There's a reason Russell leads the MAAC in minutes played. It's because she does everything well. She needs four more assists to be the only active player nationally with career totals of 1,200 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists and 300 steals. Her steal average this season is No. 4 nationally.


Serena Moore, 6-1 junior forward, Siena (13.2 points, 7.7 rebounds)

She ranks among the conference's most-improved players, particularly on the offensive end. where she shoots .466 percent from the field (No. 3) and .723 percent from the foul line after hitting .490 percent from the line last year. She is probably the conference's most-athletic player.

Thazina Cook, 5-9 senior guard, Iona (14.2 points, 7.2 rebounds)

One of the best one-on-one players in the league, she can create her own shot almost at will. She might also be the best backc0urt rebounder in the league. Her scoring average is No. 6 and her rebounding is No. 6 in the MAAC.

Liz Flooks, 5-10 junior forward, Niagara (13.9 points, 5.2 rebounds)

Among the best, if not the best, long-range shooters in the league. Her .452 percent on treys is No. 1 and her .450 field-goal percentage overall is No. 3 in the MAAC. She is also No. 8 in scoring and No. 20 in rebounding.

Corielle Yard, 5-8 sophomore guard, Marist (14.7 points, 5.9 rebounds)

Another rising young player who ranks with the most-explosive scorers in the league. She has hit at least 30 points in a game twice this season, and ranks No. 5 in scoring, No. 13 in rebounding and No. 1 in free-throw percentage (.864) in the MAAC.

Linda Loutsenhizer, 6-0 sophomore forward, Manhattan (14.8 points, 6.5 rebounds)

Another young standout who has improved after a solid freshman season. She is No. 4 in scoring, No. 10 in rebounding and No. 2 in field-goal percentage (.457) in the league.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Rachele Fitz, Marist.

Almost certain to win the award for the third straight season. She ranks with the best ever to play in the MAAC.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Kayla Stroman, 5-5 freshman guard, Niagara.

She averages 8.4 points and 4.8 assists (No. 3 in the league) and is a key piece in the Purple Eagles' vastly improved season. Tough choice over Rider's 6-3 freshman center Caitlin Bopp, who averages 9.9 rebounds per game).

COACH OF THE YEAR: Kendra Faustin, Niagara.

Her team was 3-28 overall last season and 1-17 in the league. It was picked to finish ninth in this year's preseason coaches' poll. Instead, the Purple Eagles are in third place with a 7-5 conference record and riding a five-game winning streak including a a recent victory over Marist that was the Red Foxes' first league loss of the season.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Freshman Needham Looks Like Real Deal

Anyone who wanted a look at the next real standout in the MAAC only had to be at the Times Union Center Monday night to witness Fairfield's freshman guard Derek Needham at work.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder dropped 26 points on Siena in a 69-67 Siena victory over the Stags, an outcome that wouldn't have been anywhere near as close without Needham's 8-of-14 shooting from the floor.

His early play, 15 points in the game's first 12 minutes as Fairfield snuck out to a 23-21 lead, was enough for Siena coach Fran McCaffery to change defensive strategy. Instead of playing Needham straight up after that, Siena sought to shadow him whenever he didn't have the all so that he wouldn't get it back..

His production against Siena pushed his season scoring average to 16.1 points per game.

Unless he has a late-season slump, his offensive production will approach historical levels within the conference.

In the previous 28 MAAC seasons only three freshman players have ever averaged at least 15 points per game.

Those were:

- Lionel Simmons of La Salle, 20.3 ppg. average in the 1986-87 season.
- Jerry Johnson of Rider, 15.0 ppg. average in the 2001-02 season.
- Keydren Clark of Saint Peter's, 24.9 ppg. average in the 2002-03 season.

Needham also averages 5.6 assists per game, second best in the conference; and, 1.9 steals, third best among all MAAC players.

He already has Fairfield's record for assists by a freshman (135, next best was 120 by Joey De Santis in 1975-76), and will likely surpass De Santis for most points scored by a Stags' freshman (De Santis had 437 in 1975-76, Needham currently has 386).

The 19-year old Needham isn't exactly a student of MAAC history. He had never heard of Keydren Clark, even thought the Peacocks' standout only completed his college career after the 2005-06 season.

"I wasn't even in high school back," said Needham.

But, Needham appears to appreciate and respect current practitioners of the position.

During a brief pre-game ceremony prior to the Siena-Fairfield game to acknowledge Saints' point guard Ronald Moore's 1,000-point milestone, Needham stood near midcourt and applauded.

"Why wouldn't I do that? I definitely admire and respect what he's done," said Needham. "When I got here, he's all everyone talked about as far as being a point guard. Then, I got a chance to see him on tape to confirm what everyone was saying."

Surprisingly, Needham shares another trait with Moore and Keydren Clark. All three were amazingly under recruited coming out of high school.

Needham said his only other offers during his senior year at De La Salle Institute in Chicago came from Loyola of Chicago, the University of New Orleans and Drake.

"I picked Fairfield because I liked their coaches and because (current freshman) Colin Nickerson, who I was friends with, had already decided to go there," said Needham.

In getting Needham to Fairfield, Stags' coach Ed Cooley has found a key piece not only for his program's present but its future.

"If I had my choice of any player in our league right now, I'd take Derek," said Cooley. "And, that comes from a guy who thinks Ronald Moore might be our conference's Player of the Year.

"But, they're different players. Ronald is a true point guard and Derek is a lead guard. I've only been in our league a very short time (Cooley is in his fourth season at Fairfield), but I've tried to go back in MAAC history a little and it's hard to find someone who had the immediate impact on a team as he's having for us.

"The other thing is that he's way beyond his years intellectually. When you talk to him, you're not talking to an 18-year old boy. You're talking to a man."

Which is probably why Cooley felt confident about his promises to Needham, made during the recruiting courtship.

"Coach Cooley told me that if I came to Fairfield he'd give me the ball and let me lead the team," said Needham, who has done that from this season's first day of practice.

"I've still got a lot to learn. I've got to work on my pull-up jumper more; I'd like to add a floater like Ronald Moore has. I need to improve my left hand. And, I can improve on setting my teammates up better in terms of knowing where they score best from when they get the ball."

But Needham felt confident enough in his abilities already to set early season goals.

"In my mind I wanted to be the league's Rookie of the Year and to win the conference championship," he said.

The first is all but a certainty. A league regular-season championship won't happen this season. Siena has already clinched that.

But, considering Fairfield's strong returning nucleus, it's not far fetched to think the Stags can eventually fulfill Needham's second goal.

When told his team is likely to be among next year's favorites for league honors, Needham has the perfect answer.

"If that's the way it is, then bring it on," he said. "I'll be ready to lead our team there."

Just as it appears he's ready to take on the role as a worthy successor to the likes of Keydren Clark, Jerry Johnson and Lionel Simmons. Those three, the league's only freshmen to average at least 15 points per game, all finished with more than 2,000 career points and rank among the best ever to play in the conference..

Right now, it appears that's where Needham is headed, too.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Siena Approaches Historical Achievements

The Siena men’s basketball team won its 20th game of the 2009-10 season with its 88-68 victory over Iona on Friday night.

And, on Monday the Saints can clinch outright possession of the conference’s regular-season championship with a win over Fairfield at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., in its 14th game of the 18-game league season.

What it means is that we’re witnessing MAAC basketball history in the making.

Those successes to date this season hint at what the program is accomplishing not only now but but over the past four seasons with a string of excellence that puts Siena at the cusp of historical relevance in the MAAC’s 29-year existence.

Let’s take a look at what Siena has already accomplished, and what it might add to its glowing resume before the season ends.


The Saints’ 20-4 record thus far marks the fourth straight season the program has hit the 20-win mark: 27-8 last season; 23-11 in 2007-08; 20-12 in 2006-07.

Only two other teams in MAAC history can claim four consecutive 20-victory seasons. Those are the Iona teams from 1981-82 through 1984-85 (24-9, 22-9, 23-8 and 26-5) and the La Salle teams from 1986-87 through 1989-90 (20-13, 24-10, 26-6 and 30-2).

The Iona teams with four straight 20-victory seasons had Rory Grimes and Tony Hargraves as four-year constants; and Steve Burtt Sr. and Gary Springer for the first three years in the run.

The La Salle teams with four straight 20-victory seasons all included the MAAC's all-time best player, Lionel Simmons. He had considerable help from Tim Legler in the first two years of that run, from Doug Overton in the last three of those years and from Randy Woods in the final two of the stretch.

Siena’s senior players (forwards Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin, and guard Ronald Moore) have been around for all four of their team's 20-victory seasons. Guard Kenny Hasbrouck was on board for the first three years of the run, while current juniors Ryan Rossiter and Clarence Jackson have been in place for the past three seasons.

No MAAC team has ever had five consecutive 20-victory seasons.


The current Siena seniors can now claim 90 victories (90-35) over the past four seasons, the best four-year stretch in Siena history.

The previous mark for wins over a four-year stretch at that program was 89 (89-34) from 1987-88 through 1990-91), a run during which Marc Brown was the program’s top player. Siena, though, wasn't a MAAC member until the final two years of that stretch.

The all-time high victory total over four years by a conference program is 100 (100-31) by the Lionel Simmons-led La Salle teams of 1986-87 through 1989-90. The winning percentage of .763 during that stretch is the best ever by a conference team, and will remain so no matter what Siena does the rest of the way this season.

Iona’s record of 95-31 from 1981-92 through 1984-85 accounts for the second-highest four-year victory total by a conference team, followed by Manhattan's record of 93-32 from 1991-92 through 1994-95.

The current Siena group is almost certain to become the MAAC’s second all-time winningest team for a four-year run, and could approach La Salle’s all-time best 100-victory total.

Siena, with its active 14-game winning streak, has seven regular-season games remaining followed by the possibility of three games in the MAAC tournament and, then, by a national post-season tournament appearance.

Should the Saints win the MAAC tournament and, then, advance to the NCAA’s second round like they have the past two seasons they will play 12 more games this season. That means they would have to go 10-2 the rest of the way to match La Salle’s four-year 100-victory total.


Siena’s 13-0 start to the MAAC season is the longest unbeaten streak to start league play since the 1989-90 La Salle team cruised through unbeaten (16-0).

The next best start to a conference season was a year ago when Siena started 12-0 before losing in league play.

Can the Saints make it to 18-0?

Why would anyone think otherwise, barring an unexpected single-game letdown on Siena’s part?

After Monday’s game against Fairfield (Siena beat the Stags, 81-73, in Bridgeport, Conn., earlier this season), its final four games are all against teams that currently have sub-.500 records in conference play.

However, three of those last four are on the road: at Niagara on Feb. 12, at Canisius on Feb. 14, and at Rider on Feb. 26.

Still, Siena has dominanted everyone on its league schedule to date, winnings its 13 MAAC games by an average margin of 13.8 points per contest.

If Siena makes it through unblemished, it will join the 16-0 1989-90 La Salle team and the 14-0 1987-88 La Salle teams as the only conference programs to record perfect MAAC records.


If Siena does beat Fairfield on Monday, it will have a four-game lead over its closest pursuer, second-place Iona (9-4) with just four games left.

And, because Siena has already beaten Iona in both regular-season meetings, it already holds the top tie-breaker for regular-season ties.

It means a win Monday would make Siena the first team in MAAC history to clinch the regular-season title with four games remaining in the season.

It also sets the Saints up to match or better the largest lead over the second-place team in the final regular-season standings.

Only once in the conference’s previous 28 seasons has a team won the regular-season title with a four-game advantage over the second-place team. That was in the 1985-86 season when Fairfield finished 13-1 and runner-up Iona was 9-5.

Coincidentally, that Fairfield team was coached by Mitch Buonaguro, who is currently an assistant coach at Siena.

Only three other teams have won regular-season crowns by three-game margins (Manhattan in 2003-04), Iona in 1997-98, and La Salle in 1987-88).

In two seasons there has been three teams that finished with the same record to lead the conference; on five occasions there has been a two-way tie for the top spot. Nine times the top team has finished just one game ahead of the second-place tam and six times just two games ahead of the runner-up team.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Siena Thwarts Yet Another Challenge

It was the battle of the conference's top two teams at the two-thirds of-the-season point in MAAC play, second-place Iona meeting first-place Siena Friday night before a sell-out crowd of 8,056 at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.

Siena left no doubt about who rules the MAAC, swatting away another challenger like it would dismiss a bothersome mosquito with a dominant start-to-finish 88-68 victories ofer the Gaels.

Iona had certainly earned its stature as the conference's second-place team, riding an eight-game winning streak (the seventh-longest nationally) into the contest.

The Gaels had started to look like a legitimate challenge to Siena. Maybe not in the regular-season standings, but if Iona turned in a competitive performance it might have been a sign that it could do so again in the league's post-season tournament.

But, it doesn't look that way now.

Siena remains as dominant a MAAC team since the days that La Salle ruled the conference two decades ago.

In fact, Siena's 13-0 start to league play is the longest any conference team has gone into a season without a league loss since the 1989-90 La Salle team finished league play with a 16-0 record.

The MAAC has an 18-game season these days, but Saints' coach Fran McCaffery claims 18-0 isn't even on his mental radar.

"All I'm thinking about is Fairfield," said the Siena coach, about his team's next game (Monday night at the TUC).

There are plenty of others, though, not only thinking 18-0 but thinking Siena will get there, too.

And, why not?

Its current 14-game winning streak not only is the longest active string of success nationally, but also matches its program's all-time longest streak previously set by the 1988-89 team.

On Friday Siena had a double-digit advantage with 2:40 left in the first half and, then, went on a 15-6 start to the second half to take a 19-point lead with 16:09 left to play. The Gaels never got closer than 15 again.

Siena dominated just about every facet of play.

Iona, which has found success with pressure defense and three-point shooting, could only force Siena into eight turnovers and saw its offense limited to 4-of-18 shooting from three-point territory.

Siena, meanwhile, shot 9-of-17 from bonus territory (junior guard Clarence Jackson was 6-for-10 from beyond the stripe.

Senior forward Clarence Jackson led the winners with 23 points, while Jackson added 20 and junior center Ryan Rossiter had 19 points and 12 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Scott Machado had 24 points for Iona, but seven came in the game's first five minutes and nine more came in the final nine minutes when Siena's lead had been extended to 22 points.

Iona coach Kevin Willard was effusive in his praise for Siena.

"We got taken to the woodshed," said Willard. "I was proud of where we had gotten this year (the Gaels are currently 17-7 overall and 9-4 in MAAC play). But we're a long way from being able to compete with them.

"They start three seniors and two juniors. Our five starters include two freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors. You don't have a chance against them unless you pitch a perfect game. This one looked like we threw Joba Chamberlain out there and they started Roger Clemens."

It has looked like that for every conference opponent this season. Siena's margin of victory in its 13 league games to date is 13.9 points.

Friday's outcomes left Iona tied for second place with Fairfield.

If Siena beats the Stags in Monday's game, it will clinch outright possession of first place in the conference.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Good Times Here For Iona's Hoop Teams

It wasn't that long ago, the 2006-07 season to be exact, that the Iona men's basketball team reached the depths with a 1-17 conference record and finished 2-28 in overall play.

And, it wasn't that long ago when the expectations for the Gaels weren't much higher. This preseason, to be exact. That's when league coaches, in their annual preseason poll, predicted Iona to finish ninth in the 10-team league.

It wasn't that long ago, either, that the Iona women's team had similar dismal results.

The Lady Gaels finished last in conference play in the 2004-05 season, and as recently as 2002-03 could lay claim to being arguably the worst women's Division I program in the country with a 1-27 record that included the only winless record in conference play (0-18) since MAAC teams have played 18 league games.

But, that was then and this is now.

Right now is a good time to be an Iona basketball fan.

And tomorrow night (Friday, Feb. 5th) is a big night for both programs.

The Iona women are playing for first place in the confererence when they travel to meet six-time defending conference champion Marist in a 7:30 p.m. contest at the Red Foxes' McCann Recreation Center in Poughkeepsie.

Both teams are 9-1 in conference play. Marist's only loss came in its last contest, a 69-59 setback at Niagara on Sunday.

The Gaels, after a conference-opening loss to Loyola, have won nine straight league games. Their nine-game winning streak is the longest in program history and the eighth-longest active streak nationally. Iona's average margin of victory during its current nine-game winning streak is 12.4 points.

Marist had the third-longest streak nationally with 13 in a row before its loss to Niagara.

Marist averages close to 2,000 fans per home game, and a near sell-out crowd of over 3,000 is expected when Iona visits.

"Now we've got to play a team that's hotter than anything," Marist coach Brian Giorgis told the Poughkeepsie Journal recently. "We'll see what it's like to rebound (from a loss)."

Marist has dominated this series in recent years, even while Iona has been in the process of building to its current level of success.

The Red Foxes have won the last 20 meetings, dating back to the 1999-00 season.

This isn't the first time in recent years the teams have meet with first place on the line. In the 2006-07 season both teams started 7-0 prior to their first meeting. Marist won that contest, 70-49.

The Iona men will play before an even larger crowd on Friday. A sell-out of slightly more than 8,000 is expected at the Times Union Center in Albany when the Gaels meet conference leader Siena. at 7 p.m.

Siena has a 12-0 conference record and a win over Iona would give the Saints the fastest start to a league season since La Salle went 16-0 in the 1989-90 season.

The Saints also have an active 13-game winning streak, the longest in the country. And, they have a 32-game home winning streak which is the second longest active nationally.

Iona is the MAAC's second-place team with a 9-3 record, and has an active eight-game winning streak, the seventh longest active streak nationally.

Iona has lost its last eight games against Siena, including a 73-60 setback at home on Dec. 7.

But, the Gaels have improved steadily since then. The Gaels regularly use 10 or 11 players in each game, and having fresh bodies is always a good thing, and it's something that concerns Siena coach Fran McCaffery.

"It makes for a very different preparation," said McCaffery. "I watched their last game and (Milan) Prodanovic makes three 3s; we played them, and he didn’t play. (Kyle) Smythe, he didn’t shoot it well against us. I watched another game and he goes for 21.

"They have different weapons. That’s what makes a team harder to prepare for. Very few teams have a 7-footer who shoots (Jonathan Huffman). You talk about pressing them, you’re pressing four guards - they’ve got (ball) handlers. (Alejo) Rodriguez is a handful. He’s shooting 68, and he's 6-foot-9. How many people do that in the country? Not many."

Iona would only pull to within two games of Siena in the conference standings with a victory tonight, and probably won't catch the Saints for the regular-season title.

But, a win in Albany would be a message-sender. A more-than-subtle reminder that the Gaels are an on-court force to be worried about come early March when the conference's post-season tournament is also held at the Times Union Center.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Siena Gets Butler in BracketBuster Game

It might be recycling a corny movie line, but if the Siena men's basketball ultimately gets into position for (and needs) an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, it will almost certainly be able to say that the Butler did it.

That would be Butler University, currently the No. 15th-ranked team nationally, which was announced Monday night as the Saints' opponent in a BracketBuster game on Feb. 20 at 11 a.m., to be televised by ESPN2. Butler will host the game at its historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Another MAAC team, 16-6 Iona, will host William & Mary in the other televised BracketBusters contest featuring a conference representative.. That game will be played at the Gaels' Mulcahy Center at 9 p.m. on Feb. 19 and will be televised by ESPNU.

ESPN announced on Monday the pairings for the television games for the eighth annual BracketBusters games, a two-day men’s college basketball event pitting NCAA Tournament hopefuls Friday, Feb. 19, and Saturday, Feb. 20.

The contest between Butler and Siena is clearly one of the featured events. The Bulldogs are the highest-rated team in the event, while Siena has been receiving votes in Top 25 polls recently and its active 13-game winning streak is the longest nationally.

BracketBusters will feature 11 nationally televised games live, selected from a pool of 98 teams. ESPNU, the 24-hour college sports network, will televise five BracketBusters games, and ESPN2 will televise six, all simulcast on, ESPN’s customized broadband service. Three of the ESPN2 telecasts will be in high definition.

Butler, meanwhile, has a noteable winning streak of its own with 10 right now, is 18-4 on the season and has defeated Northwestern, UCLA, Ohio State and Xavier in tough non-conference contests.

Its Hinkle Fieldhouse was the largest basketball arena (10,757) in the United States when it was built in 1928, and it retained that distinction until 1950. It is the sixth-oldest college basketball arena still in use and served as host to the annual Indiana High School Basketball Championship game, including the game that became known as the Milan Miracle, the memorable 1954 victory of tiny Milan High School over the much larger Muncie Central. The film Hoosiers, loosely based on that event, used Hinkle Fieldhouse and the memorable voices of original announcers Hilliard Gates and Tom Carnegie in filming the climactic game of the popular movie.

All 10 MAAC teams will be in BracketBuster games. The eight non-televised games (Date and time to be announced later) are:

- James Madison at Canisius.
- Fairfield at Vermont.
- New Hampshire at Loyola.
- Towson at Manhattan.
- Marist at Cal-Irvine.
- Niagara at Milwaukee.
- Rider at Hofstra
- Buffalo at Saint Peter's