Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jenkins, Nelson Return, Both Play Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Siena Dominates Rider (Again) in Opener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Siena at Rider Friday Opens MAAC Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Butler Looks Impressive in Win over Siena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was certainly a joy to watch.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Peacocks, Belin Get Big Victory over 'Bama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rider's Fast Start Raises Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Butler Comes to Albany For Siena Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Early Recruiting Signees; Marist Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Marist Women's Preview: Another Title

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fairfield Men's Preview: Expect the Best

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Iona Women's Preview: Potent Offense

Here's another in the series previewing MAAC teams. Up now ...


2009-10 RECORD: 13-5 in MAAC play, 18-14 overall.

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

KEY RETURNEES: 6-1 junior forward Kristina Ford (9.5 points, 5.6 rebounds0z, 5-6 senior guard Suzi Fregosi (4.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists), 5-8 sophomore guard Diana Hubbard (7.0 points, 2.,5 rebounds), 6-1 senior forward Anda Ivkovic (8.8 pints, 3.9 rebounds).

KEY LOSSES: Center Anna McLean (11.3 points, 8.5 rebounds), forward Thazina Cook (14.5 points, 7.0 rebounds).

NOTES: Four of its five conference losses came to first place Marist and third-place Fairfield (twice each) and one to Siena. The Gaels finished second in regular-season league play, but didn't make it to the MAAC tournament's championship game because of a semi-final loss to Fairfield, again. Still, the second-place finish earned an automatic bid to the WNIT where Iona met with high-powered Maryland and bowed out in the first round.
It was Iona's third WNIT appearance in the past four years, quite a turnaround from its former downtrodden days. Iona has had five straight winning seasons. Before that stretch, prior to the 2005-06 season, it was arguably the MAAC's worst program with 23 consecutive losing records.
The Gaels opened up with a 72-40 loss against a very good Charlotte team in the first round of the preseason WNIT, hardly indicative of how good Iona can be against teams at its own level. The expectation is for yet another second-place finish behind Marist, and that has pretty much been Iona's plight for the past five season. Over that time its record in MAAC play is a commendable 60-30, second only to Marist's 83-7 mark.
The losses of potent inside force McLean and Cook, an athletic forward and two-time first-team all-league selection, are big ones. But, the team does return four players who saw considerable time in th estarting lineup last season, including 6-1 forward Anda Ivkovic, maybe its best offensive player, who missed last season's final 10 games with a knee injury. Ivkovic appears all the way back after scoring 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting against Charlotte.
Hubbard, an all-Rookie Team pick last year, did not play in the opener and Iona publicists have not yet responded to inquiries about her absence.
Milica Paligoric, a 6-3 center, has moved in to take over McLean's role and had 15 points in a preseason exhibition contest and, then, went scoreless against Charlotte. The Gaels also have a good reserve front-court player in Samantha Kopp, a 6-2 center/forward who saw limited action last season but played 13 minutes against Charlotte.

HOW IONA WILL SUCCEED: If Hubbard returns quickly, then the Gaels have plenty of firepower between her, Ivkovic, Ford and even 6-0 junior guard Tomica Bacic, who was 3-of-6 from the field against Charlotte. It's enough to survive the offensive loss of Cook. What the team needs,, though, is an inside presence. Whether it's Paligoric or Kopp ... one of the two, or the two together, have to approximate the rugged play and rebounding that McLean proviced a year ago. If Iona gets some inside production it certainly can challenge Marist for the top spot in the conference. Without that, though, it's another second-place finish for the Gaels.

COACH'S COMMENTS: "I've never had a better captain or a leader than Suzi Fregosi," said coach Tony Bozzella. "Getting to the post season last year means a lot. It shows the hard work we've all put in. Now we need to reach the next level, and we'll use last year's post-season experience to help us get better."

PREDICTION: Second place, at least, and capable of contending for the regular-season title. Fregosi is a terrific point guard and ranked 11th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio last season. She's got the requisite offensive players all around her to create significant offensive production. The feeling here is that Paligoric and Kopp will provide enough of an inside game to ensure Iona remains competitive throughout the season.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Siena Men's Preview: Much Transition

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2009-10 RECORD: 17-1 in MAAC play, 27-7 overall.

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

KEY RETURNEES: 6-9 senior center Ryan Rossiter (13.8 points, 11.1 rebounds), 6-3 senior guard Clarence Jackson (13.6 points, 2.5 rebounds), 6-2 junior guard Kyle Downey (5.0 points), 6-8 sophomore forward O.D. Anosike (2.7 pints, 3.4 rebounds).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Alex Franklin (16.1 points, 8.7 rebounds), forward Edwin Ubiles (15.3 points, 3.7 rebounds), guard Ronald Moore (7.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 7.7 assists).

NOTES: A school record for victories in a season and a single game (a late-season loss at Niagara) away from the first perfect conference season by a MAAC team since the 1996-97 expansion to an 18-game league schedule. Not that there weren't some blemishes. The Saints played six "up" games during the course of the season and lost all six (Temple, St. John's, Georgia Tech, Northern Iowa, Butler and, in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Purdue).
Gone from last year's team is the program's No. 3 (Ubiles) and No. 5 (Franklin) all-time leading career scorers and Moore who, with his nation-leading 7.7 assist-per-game average, might be the most difficult piece to replace. And, yet, league coaches pick Siena to finish second in the MAAC standings this season. Most teams at this level go through a down cycle after losing so many key individuals, but it's clear that most expect the Saints just to reload rather than rebuild.
Still, much of this season is about rebuilding, although not in the traditional sense. Departed coach Fran McCaffery, who left for Iowa, left behind two of the league's best players in Rossiter (picked as the conference's preseason Player of the Year) and Jackson as well as a strong group of former role players and two talented freshmen. This season will be mostly about players stepping up to new and different roles. The rebuilding is an attempt to rebuild enough to win, or at least contend for, a fourth straight MAAC title, something no men's team has ever done.
There is certainly enough returning to ensure Siena doesn't make the usual free-form dropoff after losing so much talent, and it has already been on display in an 0-2 start (to Vermont, an outcome that stopped a 38-game home winning streak by the Saints, and on the road against Minnesota). Rossiter had 27 points and 11 rebounds against Vermont, and Jackson, who had 29 at Minnesota, might well finish as the conference's leading scorer this season.
Otherwise, there's plenty of playing time available for all the former role players starting with promising 6-8 forward Anosike (9.5 points, 4.5 rebounds so far), 6-6 junior forward Owen Wignot (7.0, 2.5 so far) and junior point guard Kyle Griffin (2.4 points, 4.5 assists so far).
But Griffin's lack of quickness doesn't allow the Saints to play the uptempo style they did with Moore around. Freshman guard Rakeem Brookins looks to be the eventual answer, and he impressively scored 12 points in the final three minutes at Minnesota. But, he also has 10 turnovers against just three assists thus far, so he remains a work in progress. But astute program followers also recall that Moore struggled as a freshman, coming off the bench for the first seven games of his first season with the Saints.
The team also has a first-year head coach in Mitch Buonaguro, but he isn't the typically young up-and-coming coach that traditionally takes over conference program. Buonaguro not only has already coached in the conference (six seasons at Fairfield in the late 1980's and early 1990s, a time period that included two trips to the NCAA tournament for the Stags), but owns a national championship ring from his days as an assistant at Villanova (1985), has been on the sidelines for over 1,000 Division I games and served as Siena's lead assistant for the past five seasons under McCaffery.

HOW SIENA WILL SUCCEED: Rossiter and Jackson are just about sure-thing first-team all-conference players, and teams with two star players usually have some level of success. Then, there's considerable depth. The team is going eight deep right now, and junior guard Kyle Downey (minor knee injury) hasn't played yet and is likely to miss an additional couple of weeks. Most nights, Siena will go nine or 10 deep in games and has the potential to wear down opponents by shear numbers. Siena's most-recent successes, though, were not only predicated on its overall talent but its ability to run and press. Without a quick point guard right now, it hasn't been able to be anywhere near as effective in that aspect of its game. The answer might be Brookins, who looks to be one of the quickest players in the league. But he has exhibited more of a shoot-first mentality thus far. His development this season will be a major aspect in just how good the Saints can be this season. The team also likely needs a third scoring option, whether its Wignot or the currently injured Downey coming off the bench.

COACH'S COMMENTS: "The biggest challenge to me is to keep the program where it is," said coach Buonaguro. "Our biggest hole is the one left by Ronald Moore ... he ran our team. Right now we're still a work in progress."

PREDICTION: The perception here is that second place might be high expectations for a team with so much transition. Still, there's enough talent in place for the team to contend for another league crown but it won't reach those heights without settling the point-guard situation. Brookins' development might be the most-important part of the current season. The feeling here is that Fairfield remains the favorite for the regular-season title, and Siena could finish anywhere from second to fourth.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Loyola Women's Preview: Cut Turnovers

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2009-10 RECORD: 9-9 in MAAC play, 14-16 overall.

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

KEY RETURNEES: 5-10 junior guard Miriam McKenzie (16.7 points, 7.6 rebounds), 5-11 senior guard Erica DiClemente (10.7 points, 5.0 rebounds), 5-10 sophomore guard Katie Sheehin (8.8 points, 4.6 rebounds), 6-0 senior forward Meredith Tolley (7.1 points, 4.3 rebounds), 6-1 sophomore forward Alyssa Sutherland (2.8 points, 2.4 rebounds).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Kaitlin Grant (10.6 points, 6.3 rebounds).

NOTES: Help wanted on two fronts for this year's Greyhounds. It needs to find an inside game, and it needs to find a point guard. Through two games, both losses, the team has 21 turnovers against an astronomically high 56 turnovers. Thirty three of those turnovers came against highly regarded West Virginia. The ball-handling woes are a continuation of a year ago when the program lost 5-foot-5 guard Candice Walker, the previous starter at the point, due to a foot injury after four games. After that, do-everything all-league performer McKenzie took over the bulk of the ball-handling duties and had 132 turnovers against just 85 assists. But, she was highly effective otherwise, averaging 16.7 points (2nd best in the league) and 7.6 rebounds. She was the youngest player on the first-team all-conference squad last season, and is the signature standout all teams need to succeed.
As for ball-handling ... Walker is back, but hasn't played much yet. If she fully recovers and can return to her former level, Loyola will be the better for it. And, then, there's the inside game. Loyola operated at a minus 3.4 rebound-per-game margin a year ago, and the team's top oinside player from a year ago, 6-footer Kaitlin Grant, has graduated. There remains a question about whether help is coming. Freshman 6-1 forward Nneka Offodile had four points and five rebounds in a 64-57 loss to La Salle, and she could help. So, too, could 6-1 sopohomore forward Alyssa Sutherland. And, Freshman guard Nicole Krusen, who is averaging eight points and three rebounds thus far, looks like another nice piece.
Otherwise, Loyola's perimeter attack alone makes it one of the conference's better teams. Of its top four returnees, the 6-0 Tolley is the tallest, but she is primarily a perimeter player who made 43 3-pointers last season. Erica Clemente, who averaged 14 points in Loyola's last seven contests last year, is off to a good start averaging 12.5 points per outing through two games. Katie Sheehin, an all-rookie team pick last year, averaged 11.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in the team's last nine games last season.

HOW LOYOLA WILL SUCCEED: If new players don't step up, Loyola will still be a potent team capable of finishing in the upper half of the standings. But real success ... maybe getting into the top three or, even, contending for a league title ... is probably entirely predicated on finding a point guard (Walker?) and getting inside help, probably from either Sutherland or Offodile. Otherwise, everything else is in place ... a true standout, above-average support players, depth and some of the best perimeter attacks in the conference. If Offodile and/or Sutherland produce inside, and point-guard play can be addressed ... that's how Loyola will succeed.

COACH'S COMMENTS: "Hopefully, we'll get more of the same from McKenzie, who had a break-out sophomore season," said coach Joe Logan. "Still, people know about her now and teams will be coming afer her. Erica DiClemente has been with us for five years (she missed a season with an injury), wnd we'll look to her for a lot, too. Candice Walker is coming back from injury, and we can use her. We've been picked third because we're older and experienced. Right now, I'm happy people are considering us to be among the top three or four teams in the league."

PREDICTION: A lot depends on Walker's abililty to return at the point guard spot. If she can help this team take care of the ball better than it has so far, then a top three finish is the likely result. Any hopes of finishing higher than that rest with the young inside players. But, if the turnovers continue, and an inside game isn't found ... Loyola could drop a spot or two.

St. Peter's Men Preview: Jenkins a Key

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2009-10 RECORD: 11-7 in MAAC play, 16-14 overall.

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

KEY RETURNEES: 6-2 senior guard Wesley Jenkins (13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds), 5-11 senior guard Nick Leon (13.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists0, 6-7 senior forward Ryan Bacon (10.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks), 6-7 sophomore forward Darius Conley (6.3 points, 4.9 rebounds), 6-6 senior forward Jeron Belin (8.2 points, 4.2 rebounds).


NOTES: The team's top seven scorers are back, which is usually a good thing. However, the top returnee, preseason first-season all-star pick Jenkins, suffered a partial MCL knee tear early in preseason workouts. While he's been cleared to begin practicing, he's still a couple of weeks away from game action. And, even then, won't be 100 percent for some time. That's a big blow for a team that struggled offensively a year ago.
But, the Peacocks still had their best league and overall record last season since 2004-05, primarily because of a dedication to defense that held opponents to 37.7 percent shooting from the field, second-best nationally (only Florida State was better). And, then, St. Peter's opened up by holding Robert Morris to 55 points on 34.4 percent shooting (21-of-61). The bad news, though, is that the Peacocks only scored 30 points in that game, suffering a 55-30 setback. Leon was the only player in double figures with 13 points. And the indication that this is a team of players that is still figuring out how to share the ball is the fact that it only had four total assists in that contest.
Still ... every player is back and two potentially good newcomers arrive to add some depth to a team that didn't have much of that last year. Blaise Ffrench, a 6-2 sophomore transfer from UTEP and Chris Burke, a 6-4 freshman, will both get into the playing group this season although both were also slowed in the preseason by minor injuries.
It gives the Peacocks probably the league's deepest backcourt. Besides Jenkins and Leon, the team also has sophomores 6-4 Steven Samuels (4.5 points, 3.2 rebounds last season) and 6-3 Jvon Raymond (3.6, 3.0).
That type of depth doesn't exist up front, though, and Saint Peter's is a little short inside in a literal sense. Its "big" men are 6-7 sophomore Darius Conley, a true banger, and 6-7 Ryan Bacon, a more athletic inside player. Its third front-court player is 6-6 senior Jeron Belin, a highly touted junior college transfer who went through some inconsistencies in his first Division I season a year ago, but improved as the year progressed.
Even if all goes well, there's concern if this team is good enough to contend for a league title. It went 0-6 against Siena, Fairfield and Iona, the conference's three top teams, last season, while going 11-1 against everyone else.

HOW SAINT PETER'S WILL SUCCEED: Unequivocally it needs a relatively healthy Jenkins, or it will struggle to finish in the upper half of the league standings. But, if Jenkins can provide the type offense he usually does it opens things up for everyone else, too. Plus, this is as veteran a team as their is in the conference with four seniors and a sophomore with a full year's experience as probably the regular starting five. It also goes a legitimate nine deep, although six of those top nine are perimeter players. If Bacon and Conley are enough inside, and if Jenkins regains a semblence of his former ability the Peacocks will be a potent team again this season. If Ffrench and Burke progress, the perimeter talent and depth alone will cause opponents problems. This has been a building process. After three straight sub-.500 seasons, the Peacocks got above the break-even point last year. This year was supposed to be another step forward and it still could be. But, most of those hopes are tied into Jenkins' health.

COACH'S COMMENTS: "There are high expectations here this year, and we'll handle it ... I'm happy for the kids that we're getting that kind of recognition," said John Dunne. "Two years ago we finished ninth in the league with a bunch of young players, and the sentiment was that we needed to keep moving up ... and we have. Nick Leon has been great for us so far, a great leader. Ffrench is a good penetrating guard, the type we haven't had here recently. He can handle the ball and get into the lane and make passes, so it might enable us to get Leon off the ball a little more."

PREDICTION: It's probably not fair to put all the expectations on Jenkins' health, because Saint Peter's will still be competitive even if he's not at his best. Still, with him the Peacocks should contend for the league title. Without him they still have a chance to finish above .500 and be a good team. But, the offense will have to improve, and Jenkins can have a big role in that. All the news from Saint Peter's so far is that Jenkins should be back in early December, in time for the start of conference play. If that's the case, expect the Peacocks to contend for one of the top three or four spots in the conference.

Fairfield Women's Preview; Solid Outside

Here's another in the series preving MAAC teams. Up now ...


2009-10 RECORD: 11-7 in MAAC play, 20-14 overall.

COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked to finish fourth in the coaches' preseason poll.

KEY RETURNEES: 5-11 junior forward Taryn Johnson (8.9 points, 6.9 rebounds), 6-0 senior guiard Joelle Nawrocki (4.8 points, 2.9 rebounds), 5-8 sophomore guard Katelyn Linney (10.2 points, 2.3 rebounds), 5-6 junior guard Desiree Pina (12.1 points, 2.9 assists).

KEY LOSSES: Center Stephanie Geehan (14.8 points, 11.4 rebounds), forward Tara Flaherty (5.5 points, 3.8 rebounds).

NOTES: There weren't many more satisfying seasons turned in by MAAC women's teams than Fairfield's, which started 10-12 overall and 4-7 in league play. After that ... seven straight conference victories followed by two more in the MAAC tournament before a championship game setback against Marist. Then, came another victory in the WNIT before its season came to an end. Geehan was clearly one of the top two players in the MAAC last season, and her loss is a big one in every sense. She not only provided offense, but was probably the league's top defensive player as evidenced by her conference record 118 blocks last season. Flaherty was also a nice inside player, so the Stags have some rebuilding to do inside.
But, sophomore Laura Vetra, a 6-2 center and a native of Latvia, is off to a nice start (8.5 points, 7.5 rebounds) as Fairfield has won its first two games. Taryn Johnson, a 5-11 forward, is also off to a strong start this season. There is also considerable firepower on the perimeter with the trio of sophomore Linney, an all-rookie team pick last season who is averaging 19 points through two games thus far; junior point guard Desiree Pina and senior guard Joelle Nawrocki.
Plus, Joe Frager is clearly one of the better coaches in the conference. His team lost four starters from 2008-09 and, then, survived the rough beginning to bounce back strongly. He only lost two starters from last year's team, albeit good ones, but there's plenty on hand to ensure this season won't have the same early bumps as last season's.
The only issue so far is depth. Only six players are averaging more than nine minutes per contest through the first two games.

HOW FAIRFIELD WILL SUCCEED: By having one of the better perimeter trios in Pina, Linney and Nawrocki, all experienced and tested performers. How good the Stags will be likey depends on the continued development of inside players Johnson and Vetra. But so far, so good on the front line. The other issue looks like it will be finding some depth, but guard Sarah Paulus was playing well last year before an early season-ending injury a year ago, and she is likely to give the team at least a seventh quality performer. And, Frager is well-proven in his ability to figure things out as a season progresses. Fairfield is the only team to beat Marist in each of the past two seasons, which says something about his ability to prepare his squad for big games.

COACH'S COMMENTS: "We'll rely a lot on our backcourt," said Frager. "But, we've still got a lot to take care of. At this point, Pina is the heart and soul of our team. She's one of the most-competitive players I've ever coached. Linney has worked hard on her game in the off-season, particularly at putting the ball on the floor a little more. She has developed more of an all-around game."

PREDICTION: Unless Fairfield's inside players provide almost no suppor ... and that's not the case so far ... it's hard to envision the Stags falling below the predicted fourth-place finish. And, there's enough here to think a higher finish is a possibility. If it's a given that Marist is the MAAC's top team again, then Fairfield is likely to finish anywhere from second to fourt.

Iona Men's Preview: Need is Rebounding

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2009-10 RECORD: 12-6 in MAAC play, 21-10 overall.

2010-11 COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked for fourth in the coaches' preseason poll.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-2 junior guard Scott Machado (12.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists), 6-8 senior forward Alejo Rodriguez (9.0 points, 7.5 rebounds), 6-4 sophomore guard Kyle Smyth (8.1 points, 3.0 rebounds), 6-3 senior guard Rashon Dwight (5.6 points, 2.3 rebounds)Z, 6-8 sophomore forward Mike McFadden (4.8 points, 2.4 rebounds).

KEY LOSS: 7-o forward Jonathan Huffman (6.3 points, 3.0 rebounds).

NOTES: After finishing 2-28 in 2006-07, the Gaels came all the way back for a 21-10 record, and things might have been even better. Iona started 9-3 in league play and, then, lost three of its final six conference contests. Add to that a first-round league tournament loss and Iona went 3-4 down the stretch and missed out on a chance to go to a post-season tournament. The architect of the turnaround, coach Kevin Willard, served his three seasons in New Rochelle and moved on to Seton Hall. In three seasons, he put up a 45-49 record, never got the Gaels higher than third place in the MAAC and was 0-3 in conference tournament games. Somehow, though, that resume got him into the Big East. Go figure.
The only loss of any significance was Huffman, who was a perimeter player in a big body and nothing more than a role player for Iona. Otherwise, every player of significance is back, along with newcomer 6-7 Mike Glover, who has bounced around. Originally signed to attend Seton Hall, he never played there due to eligibility issues. He wound up at the College of Eastern Utah, a junior college, last season before coming to Iona.
Iona did not have the requisite "elite" player to do much more than it did last season. Machado, the point guard, was the team's leading scorer at 12.8 points per game. Only Marist, which finished last in the league, did not have a player with a higher scoring average. Glover appears to be the primary point producer this season, averaging 18.7 points through the team's first three games.
But, Iona has yet to address its biggest problem, which is rebounding. Last year it worked to a minus 2.3 rebound-per-game average. Although three games is hardly a representative sample, the Gaels are already getting pounded on the boards this season, working to a minus 9.4 rebound average to date.
Then there's the matter of finishing games. Iona had late-game leads in two of its first three games and couldn't close the deal down the stretch. Better decisions need to be made, and it looks like Machado is the team's best decision maker, and he's not the prototypical pass-first/run-the-team point guard.
Chalk some of the early season mishaps to a new coach and a new system. Tim Cluess took over for Willard and he's trying to run more. So far Iona is averaging 70.7 points per game after averaging 66.2 last season. You have to figure Cluess will get things going soon. Although never a Division I coach, he is a highly regarded tactician, and his teams at Division II C.W. Post, where he was prior to Iona, ran up a 98-23 record.

HOW IONA WILL SUCCEED: The big thing that sticks out, both last season and in a major way thus far this year, is the rebounding ... or, lack thereof. Right now Machado is the leading rebounder (5.7 per game), and no team that relies on a guard to do the bulk of the board work is going to be successful. The team does have 6-8 senior forward Alejo Rodriguez, who averaged 7.5 rebounds per game last season, but he's not yet at full strength after battling some preseason injury issues. Glover, at 6-7, probably will help out on the boards as could 6-8 sophomore forward McFadden. Right now the Gaels have just about everything else in place. They have experience, they now have a competent offensive force in Glover and they have some of the best perimeter players in the league. But, they remain the proverbial "donut" team for now ... they've got a hole in the middle.

COACH'S COMMENTS: "Scott Machado is a very competitive point guard and a leader for our team. I coaches him for one season in high school (St. Mary's H.S. in Manhasset, N.Y.), so we've got a little unfinished business together," said Cluess. "He's an aggressive, tough player and he's already been through my system. Smyth has been phenomenal so far. He's going to have a heck of a year and a career here. Glover is a newcomer from whom I expect tremendous things."

PREDICTION: The Gaels need one thing, a dedication to getting the ball off the boards. Everything else is in place here. And, maybe, what they have is enough to compete in a conference that doesn't appear to have the type dominant team that Siena had been for the past three seasons. Then, there's also the issue of closing out games and making smart decisions down the stretch. But, Cluess is reputed to be a very good coach, so the decision issue is likely to be solved soon. The rebounding issue, though, is another matter. It will probably preclude Iona from winning the regular-season title, but it's not hard to envision Iona finishing anywhere from second through fourth this season. Anything below fourth place would be a disappointment.

Siena's Mullings Another Top Freshman

Add one more newcomer to the MAAC's list of fabulous freshmen of women's basketball thus far.

On a day on which Manhattan frosh Monica Roeder was named the conference's Player of the Week, Siena freshman Allie Mullings made an impressive debut to her college basketball career.

Mullings, an athletic 5-foot-7 guard from Northwest Catholic High School in Bloomfield, Conn., was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and added 3-of-4 shooting from the foul line to score 13 points in 19 minutes of playing time. Her work helped the Saints earn a 66-56 victory over Colgate of the Patriot League Monday night in Loudonville, N.Y.

Mullings' impressive initial work is made all the more impressive for this reason: she had missed more than two weeks of practice due to a knee bone bruise. Her first appearance of any kind on the court since the injury came at a Sunday evening practice

And, then, on Monday night, with that one practice as recent preparation, she turned in a big effort to put herself into an emerging picture of strong first-year players from throughout the conference so far.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Good, Bad in MAAC Women's Openers

MAAC women's teams, like their male counterparts, also got off to a tough start in non-league contests over this past weekend.

Women's teams went 3-9 in non-league play over the opening weekend of play with only Marist, Manhattan and Fairfield earning victories.

But, there were some bright spots including the emergence of some new, young talent from throughout the conference. The best of the newcomers include:

- Manhattan's 6-foot-0 freshman forward Monica Roeder who had 20 points and 5 rebounds in the Jaspers' 63-34 victory over St. Francis of N.Y. on Friday night. Roeder's offense came mostly on 6-of-7 accuracy from beyond the 3-point stripe.

- Katie Gattuso, a 6-2 freshman center for Niagara, had 7 points and 9 rebo0unds in the Purple Eagles' 73-57 loss to Illinois-Chicago on Friday night. Teammate Kayla Stroman, who certainly made her mark on the league a year ago as the MAAC's Rookie of the Year, opened her sophomore campaign with an 18-point, 9-rebound effort.

- Aziza May, a 5-3 freshman point guard at Saint Peter's, began her college career with a 4-point, 5-assist effort in her team's 65-48 loss to Sacred Heart. May's assists were the only ones credited to any Peahens' player in that contest.

- Laura Vegtra, a 6-2 sophomore forward, made her debut in the starting lineup for Fairfield a big one, getting 12 points and 8 rebounds in the Stags' 65-48 victory over Quinnipiac on Friday. Vetra, a native of Latvia, only scored 14 total points last season.

They weren't alone in turning in strong individual performances. Others included:

- A 12-point, 4 assist performance by Iona's Anda Ivkovic in Iona's 72-40 loss to Charlotte in the opening round of the WNIT on Saturday. It was the senior standout's first game back after suffering a mid-season knee injury last seasson.

- Brandy Gang, a 6-2 junior forward who previously was a reserve at Marist, had 19 points in a starting role in the Red Foxes' 82-61 victory over Grambling State on Saturday. Through two games, Gang and preseason MAAC Player of the Year, senior guard Erica Allenspach, are each averaging 12.5 points per game for Marist.

- Junior guard Ai Heller, previously a role player for Rider, led the Broncs in scoring in both its losses to date (53-48 against Bucknell and 95-21 against Penn State). She is averaging 10.0 points per game thus far.

- Miriam McKenzie of Loyola, a preseason first-team all-conference pick, had 11 points and 15 rebounds in a 64-57 loss to La Salle.

And, then, there was the not-so-good results, including:

- Rider's 21 points in its loss to Penn State on Sunday was the program's all-time low for points scored in a game. Its previous low was a 25-point effort in its final contest last season, a first-round MAAC tournament loss to Siena. Against Penn State the Broncs had 37 turnovers.

- Canisius also struggled to take care of the ball, committing 27 turnovers in a 60-54 loss to Kent State in its season opener on Friday night.

- Iona recorded only four assists against 25 turnovers in its 72-40 loss against Charlotte.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mixed Bag For MAAC Men's Openers

News and notes from the first weekend of MAAC men's action in which conference teams put up a 4-9 overall record against non-league opponents ...

SIENA'S 38-game home-court winning streak, the second longest active nationally, is no longer. The Saints dropped an 80-76 decision to visiting Vermont before a crowd 0f 8,047 at the Times Union Center in Albany. Siena center Ryan Rossiter, the MAAC's Preseason Player of the Year, had game-high totals of 27 points and 10 rebounds, but the Saints were outbattled on the boards by a 44-30 margin.

The contest was the head coaching debut of Mitch Buonaguro with Siena. Buonaguro had been the team's lead assistant for the past five seasons under Fran McCaffery.

Siena did rally fromn 14 points down with 4:28 remaiining to pull within 78-76 with 12 seconds left, but when forced to foul it fouled one of the Catamount's best free-throw shooters, who hit both with five seconds left.

"I'm sad that the streak got broken, but we're still a team that needs work," said Buonaguro. "This really isn't unexpected. This is still a fragile, young team."...

The league's other first-year head coach, IONA'S Tim Cluess, is off to an 0-3 start after playing in the World of Vision Classic in Cleveland. Two of the three losses came in the closing seconds with the Gaels losing a lead in both.

Iona lost, 73-72, to Kent State in its opener, after holding a 72-69 lead with 1:07 remaining. It then lost, 78-68, to Cleveland State and finished with a 74-72 setback against Bryant after holding a 72-68 edge with 36 seconds left.

Highly touted incoming transfer Mike Glover, a 6-5 forward, averaged 18.7 points in the three contests...

FAIRFIELD, the preseason choice to win the conference crown, opened with a 62-45 victory over Sacred Heart. Sophomore guards Derek Needham and Colin Nickerson led the way with 13 and 11 points, respectively. Senior forward Greg Nero, who missed last season with a back injury, had six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench...

SAINT PETER'S showed itself to be offensively challenged without preseason all-league selection guard Wes Jenkins, who has been cleared to begin practicing after suffering a preseason knee injury, but is not yet ready to play. The Peacocks scored just 30 points in a 55-30 setback against Robert Morris. Senior guard Nick Leon had 13 points for St. Peter's, but no other Peacock scored more than four ...

LOYOLA dropped its opener, a 75-72 decision against Drexel. Senior guard Jamal Barney, who led the MAAC in scoring in 2008-09, had a game-high 21 points in 35 minutes of action for the Greyhounds...

CANISIUS split a pair of games over the weekend, opening strongly with a win over St. Bonaventure, 80-70, in a battle of Western New York schools. Julius Coles, a senior forward, led the way with 21, while Gaby Belardo, a transfer from South Florida, made his Golden Griffin's debut with 19 points. The Griffs then lost an 86-67 contest to Syracuse on Sunday, but only trailed by three points at halftime. Senior forward Greg Loggins led the Griffs with 17 points against the Orangemen ...

RIDER split two games this weekend, losing, 77-67, at UMass and, then, knocking off Lafayette, 80-73. The Broncs held a 21-point lead in the first half against the Minutemen before being outscored 53-22 after the break. Senior forward Mike Ringold led Rider with 21 points and nine rebounds in that game. Senior guard Justin Robinson had 18 points and five assists in the victory ...

MANHATTAN got a superlative effort from its young, emerging backcourt to open with a 75-70 victory over NJIT. Freshman guard Mike Alvarado had 23 points for the Jaspers, while sophomore George Beamon added 15 points and 11 rebounds. Senior forward Andrew Gabriel chipped in with 19 points...

NIAGARA and MARIST have not yet played.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Manhattan Women's Preview: Boards Key

Here's another in the series previewing MAAC teams. Up now ...


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

2010-11 COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked for fifth in the preseason poll of conference coaches.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-0 junior forward Lindse Loutsenhiser (15.3 points, 6.5 rebounds), 6-1 junior forward Nadia Peters (7.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks), 5-8 junior guard Alyssa Harrington (11.1 points, 2.8 rebounds), 5-9 senior guard Abby Wentworth (9.4 points, 4.6 rebounds).

KEY LOSS: Guard Michelle Pacheco (15.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.0 points).

NOTES: Only one loss, but it was a big one in do-everything point guard Pacheco, who led the conference in assists last season. She also helped direct one of the best offenses at taking care of the ball. The Jaspers' average of plus 3.4 turnovers per game was the best in the MAAC. It had 100 fewer turnovers than opponents on the season, and all those extra possessions paid off as it averaged 62.3 points per game, third best in the MAAC. It might have been even better had the team been able to rebound better. Its 32.9 rebound-per-game average was last in the MAAC, and opponents averaged six rebounds per game more than Manhattan.
The rebounding dilemma will only change through more of a dedication to that aspect of the game since there doesn't appear to be any new help on the boards coming in. Junior forwards Nadia Peters and Lindsey Loutsenhiser are the team's top two returning rebounders. Loutsenhiser, the team leader at 6.5 boards per game, also averaged 15.3 points per outing, third best in the MAAC last season, and established herself as one of the best individual performers in the league.
The Jaspers' 63-34 season-opening victory over St. Francis of New York also gave signs that there might be a replacement for Pacheco, and that the offense could be even better than a year ago. Senior guard Abby Wentworth had five assists against just turnovers against St. Francis. And freshman 6-0 swingperson Monica Roeder had a game-high 20 points, mostly on hitting 6-of-7 from 3-point territory.
Also returning is 5-8 junior guard Alyssa Harrington, who played 16 games last year before a season-ending injury. But Harrington had 37 three-pointers before her injury and was leading the MAAC in that statistic at that point in the season. There are also some solid returning role players from a year ago, most noteably 5-11 junior forward Schyanne Halfkenny and 5-10 sophomore guard Maggie Blair.

HOW MANHATTAN WILL SUCCEED: If Loutsenhiser gets even a little better, she is one of the top three or four players in the MAAC and gives her team the requisite standout it needs to be a legitimate contender. If Wentworth makes a smooth transition to the point, and there's no reason to believe she won't, that's a big help, too. Between Roeder and a return to health for Harrington ... there's plenty of perimeter firepower in place. In fact, it's all here except one thing: a real inside presence. If Manhattan had that piece, it would be on the verge of contending for a league title. It makes Peters and Loutsenhiser's board work all the more important this season. If Manhattan gets outrebounded by a six-per game average again this year, there won't be much improvement.

COACH'S COMMENTS: "Lindsey Loutsenhiser is a great scorer and, now, we need her to work harder on rebounding and defense," said coach Joe Olenowski. "But we expect a big season out of her. We have high expecations for our team this year. We've got real leaders in Abby Wentworth and Nadia Peters. I think our program is on the right track but we still have a lot of work to do."

PREDICTION: It's hard to find a good rebounder, and there doesn't seem to be one in place here, so the expectation is that the Jaspers will struggle to cut into last season's rebounding disadvantage. Still, though, everything else is in place. Even a little greater attention to the boards could bring about two or three more victories. Expect Manhattan to finish in the upper half of the league standings, maybe even as high as third, but not to seriously contend for a league title this season.

Rider Men's Preview: Middle of the Pack

Here's another in the series previewing MAAC teams. Up now ...


2009-10 RECORD: 9-9 in MAAC play, 17-16 overall.

2010-11 COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked for fifth in the coaches' preseason poll.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-2 senior guard Justin Robinson (13.2 points, 3.5 rebounds. 2.9 assists), 6-7 senior forward Mike Ringold (11.2 points, 7.0 rebounds), 6-7 junior forward Novar Gadson (11.2 points, 7.5 rebounds), 6-0 senior guard Jhamar Youngblood (6.7 points, 2.7 rebounds).

KEY LOSSES: Swingman Ryan Thompson (17.2 points, 5.0 rebounds).

NOTES: Things started so well with a road victory over 15th-ranked Mississippi State, and there wasn't any reason to think more of the same might come, particularly since the Broncs had a Player of the Year candidate in Ryan Thompson and a strong supporting staff. Instead, the Riders were among the most-disappointing teams in the conference, going .500 after the Mississippi State victory. Thompson, who is currently playing in the NBA's Developmental League, had three games of 30-plus points but averaged a very pedestrian 15.5 points in his other 30 contests. His statistics went down in every meaningful catagory compared to his junior season.
There have been some comments about this being the first time in six seasons that Rider is without a Thompson ... Ryan's 6-11 brother Jason, now in the NBA, played for the Broncs from 2004-05 through 2007-08. But, there's still one on the roster, 6-4 sophomore guard Jonathon Thompson, no relation to his predecessors of the same surname, and he started the Broncs' first game, a 77-67 setback at UMass on Saturday.
This year's team, though, doesn't have the expectations of a year ago. Not even optimistic coach Tommy Dempsey, who picked his own team to win the MAAC in the preseason coaches' poll last year, picked the Broncs for No. 1 this season. In truth, there's no replacement for the graduated Thompson, so the hope is that the returnees step up a little and the younger players who didn't get much time a year ago mature quickly.
There already seems to be some change of roles as Gadson and Youngblood, both starters for much of last season, came off the bench against UMass. Jonathon Thompson, 6-8 sophomore forward Brandon Penn and 6-7 freshman forward Danny Stewart all moved into the starting lineup. That's 60 percent of the first five, with two previous starters currently displaced. Clearly, there's much transition here.
Ringold, one of the hardest-working players in the league, had a big 21-point, 9-rebound game against UMass, but didn't get much help overall. The Broncs held a 21-point lead at halftime in the game in Amherst, Mass., but fell apart after that getting outscored 53-22 in the second 20 minutes of play. That's not a good sign. Mostly it 's probably a sign that on some nights things could be good and on other nights they won't be so good.

HOW RIDER WILL SUCCEED: Hard to envision the Broncs finishing any higher than predicted, not without a true "elite" player. But, they had one a year ago and only finished a game over .500 overall. So, maybe., a team of solid players will yield better results. That remains to be seen. But, there are nice pieces in place. Ringold is among the better inside players in the conference, but has limitations in range and at the foul line. Robinson is one of the top five or six guards in the conference, but will likely need to do even more this season both in terms of running the team and scoring. If the Broncs continue to start younger players, then a second unit that includes Gadson and Youngblood gives them some offense off the bench. Penn showed signs of being a contributor in a limited role last season and Stewart is one of the more highly-touted incoming freshmen. But, both Penn (205 pounds) and Stewart (210 pounds) are both about 20 pounds of bulk away from being able to withstand the pounding they'll face this season. Still, it should be interesting to see how the young players develop. If the maturation process comes quickly, and the a true team-oriented attack, rather than one that waited for Ryan Thompson to take over last season, is effective, then maybe Rider can move up.

COACH'S COMMENTS: "Justin Robinson's career has progressed nicely and he's ready to break out now," said Rider coach Tommy Dempsey. "He has a chance to be one of the best guards in the league, and we need him to take a step forward. It's intimidating, in a way (to be without the Thompson brothers), but you move on. They gave us everything they had. Now it's up to the other guys to continue that. We have a lot of talent in our program. All three of our freshmen are expected to play in some capacity. They'll have to play a role, but our success will be determined by our juniors and seniors.

PREDICTION: There are reasons to believe Rider can be more than competitive, particularly if you want to believe that the loss of d0-everything Ryan Thompson can be offset by more of a team-oriented style of play. Still, the doesn't appear to be enough talent, compared to teams rated above the Broncs, for them to seriously expect to contend for a league championship. Plus, there's a considerable amount of transition if the starting lineup that includes three new faces that started against UMass remains the same. If everything fall into place, third or fourth place isn't out of the realm of possibility. But it's more likely that the Broncs will fall into the fifth- or sixth-place range.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Niagara Women's Preview: Find A Post

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams. Up now ...


2009-10 RECORD: 9-9 in MAAC play, 13-18 overall.

2010-11 COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked to finish 6th in the preseason poll of conference coaches.

KEY RETURNEES: 5-5 sophomore guard Kayla Stroman (9.4 points, 4.5 assists), 5-8 junior guard Ali Morris (6.6 points, 3.6 assists), 5-10 junior forward Meghan Waterman (4.4 points, 3.1 rebounds), 5-10 senior forward Liz Flooks (12.5 points, 3.1 rebounds).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Rachele Folino (9.3 points, 5.7 rebounds), center Jaclyn Konieczka (5.8 points, 4.8 rebounds).

NOTES: Niagara was picked for last in the conference last season, started off with a 3-12 overall record and, then, won nine of its next 11 games. Among the victories was an upset of conference champion Marist, one of just three regular-season conference losses suffered by the Red Foxes. The turnaround coincided with some lineup changes, including the insertion of hard-playing center Konieczka into the starting lineup, and her graduation means the team will have to deal with the loss of her tough, physical play that epitomized the Purple Eagles' strong second-half play.
But, there are still some solid pieces in place, most noteably 5-5 sophomore point guard Kayla Stroman, the MAAC's Rookie of the Year last season; and first-team all-preseason selection senior forward Liz Flooks. Stroman's impact is measured by the fact that she played the third-highest total of minutes of any conference player last season. Flooks is as smooth an outside shooter as there is in the conference, yet also has a blue-collar work ethic at both ends of the court.
Flooks, though, won't find it easy getting open looks this season and the team certainly needs another player to step up and add something offensively. Morris appears the most-likely candeate. Waterman got significant playing time last season and was an invaluable defensive stopper. She was one of the best defensive players this blogger saw a year ago.
The Purple Eagles also struggled on the boards last season, getting outrebounded by an average of 11.1 per game over the first 15 contests. After that, though, with Konieczka moving into the starting lineup, the team actually held a small rebounding edge over the final 16 games.
They'll need more of that, and need to find a suitable replacement in the post. It looks like the fifth starter will be 6-1 freshman Katie Gattuso, whose father is the associate head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh. If she brings even a little bit of a football mentality to the court, Niagara could be OK in the middle.

HOW NIAGARA WILL SUCCEED: Continue to bring its proverbial lunch buckets to every game. That's how things turned around last year. The Purple Eagles don't have enough individual talent to overwhelm opponents, but they showed the benefit of outworking teams in last season's second half. And, with key returnees ... they likely haven't forgotten what worked in last year's turnaround.
There isn't a lot of scoring the team can count on, although Flooks is certain to be one of the MAAC's better offensive players. Otherwise, it's a conglomeration of hard-playing, defensive-minded role players whose chemistry paid dividends in 2009-10.
The team certainly needs to find a post player. If Gattuso is a reasonable approximation of what Konieczka provided last season, then Niagara could be in for another solid season, at the very least. If the team struggles to find an inside presence ... even one who only provides tough defense and rebounding ... then another .500 conference record might be the best Niagara can hope for.

COACH'S COMMENTS: "We'll play Kayla (Stroman) and Liz (Flooks) as many minues as they can stay strong and they can stay on the court," said coach Kendra Faustin. "Kayla is a great leader for us. We depend on her a lot, particularly in getting our five freshmen in the places they need to be. Liz spent the entire summer in the gym, which makes me grin ear to ear. She really dedicated herself to basketball this summer and came back in unbelievable shape. She is a real leader and the most positive person I've ever been around."

PREDICTION: Niagara will go one of two ways, and it all depends on whether it can find an inside presence. If that happens, it will contend for the upper half of the league standings. If it doesn't get the play in the paint it did last season, then it will be a team of nice perimeter players likely to finish in the bottom half of the standings.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Buonaguro MAAC's Other "New" Coach

When Mitch Buonaguro was asked recently about the biggest change he’s encountered in his move from being Siena’s top assistant to being the program’s head coach, he responded with a joke.

“I’ve had to buy some better suits,” said Buonaguro.

Tongue in cheek response, yes.

But, after more than 35 years prowling basketball sidelines, after being an active coach in some capacity for over 1,025 Division I contests … there isn’t likely to be much that Buonaguro hasn’t seen before beyond the better cut of wearing apparel he’s sporting these days.

Buonaguro not only had been Fran McCaffery’s right-hand man over the past five seasons at Siena, but it could easily be perceived that he was the proverbial basketball brains behind the operation.

Buonaguro was the front man in recruiting, using his unusually extensive list of contacts to connect with and attract many of the players that enabled Siena to win the past three MAAC championships. And, now, he's seemingly bringing in players that appear capable of maintaining the program’s high competitive level.

He has always been the tireless worker who, if he wasn’t burning the proverbial midnight oil in front of TV watching game tape of future opponents in his office he was doing the same at his home.

Buonaguro is one of two coaches taking over a conference program this season, but couldn’t be any more different from the other, Iona’s new coach Tim Cluess.

Cluess, who has had extensive success on the Division II level, has never before coached a Division I team.

Buonaguro? He not only has been a Division I head coach in the league (Fairfield, 1985-1991), but already owns a MAAC Coach of the Year plaque for his team’s work in his first season with the Stags.

While in Fairfield his first two teams went to NCAA tournaments before he was fired after the 1990-91 season when his final four seasons there produced 33-80 record.

But, Buonaguro, obviously, knows his way around college basketball circles. How many MAAC head coaches have ever worn a national championship ring?

Buonaguro has one, courtesy of being the top assistant on the 1984-85 Villanova team that upset Georgetown in that season’s national championship game.

His role in that upset of the Patrick Ewing-led Hoyas was this: Buonaguro had the Georgetown “scout,” meaning he was responsible for preparing Villanova’s scouting report for that game, and for finding the flaws in Georgetown’s game and how best his own team could go about beating the Hoyas.

The general public still perceives that outcome as one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history. But, Buonaguro doesn't agree.

“We thought we were going to win the game,” he said. “We were well-prepared for them.”

So there probably isn’t any doubt about how well Siena’s preparation, under Buonaguro, will be for opponents.

“In truth the biggest challenge is to keep this program where it is,” said Buonaguro. “We’ve won the league for the past three seasons. So our goal is pretty simple. We’re trying to win the league again.”

Siena will certainly be different. Gone are its “Big Three,” its three four-year starters _ forwards Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin and pont guard Ronald Moore.

The Saints will also be bigger this year, with the addition of Seton Hall transfer 6-9, 245-pounder Brandon Walters and a starting role for 6-7 ½ O.D. Anosike. The Saints’ best player this year is 6-9, 255-pounder Ryan Rossiter. The roster includes one other 6-9 player, forward Davis Martens.

The Saints have the most height in the conference as well as being one of the bigger mid-major level teams nationally.

“We’ll still try to play up tempo like we have in the past,” said Buonaguro. “But, we’ll probably concentrate a little more on stopping people, too.”

Buonaguro has also helped secure the program’s future by reportedly securing verbal commitments from 6-5 shooting guard Rob Poole, and forwards 6-9 Ryan Gomis and 6-8 Omah Silas.

But, for now, the 57-year old Buonaguro isn’t thinking beyond Saturday’s season opener with Vermont.

“You have to play them one at a time,” he said. “If we start thinking about Minnesota (Siena’s next game after Vermont), we’ll get beat by Vermont.”

Spoken like a veteran coach, even if he hasn’t been in the lead chair for the past 19 seasons.

“Yeah, first time in 19 years,” said Buonaguro, who knows that most individuals who get fired from the mid-major level rarely get another chance to run another program. “I’m excited, particularly because Siena is a great job. Some guys get jobs that are just bad jobs, but I’ve got a job at one of the top mid-major schools in the country. I had 45 public commitments this off-season, and that just doesn’t happen at this level elsewhere.”

Buonaguro, though, knew well the demands of the job long before it opened up. He helped create them with his behind-the-scenes work that not only produced a 112-51 record at Siena over the past five seasons but increased McCaffery’s profile enough for him to move on for a big-money job at Iowa.

The other result was the recent success polished Buonaguro’s star enough for him to be the only real seriously considered candidate to stay at Siena and replace McCaffery.

Buonaguro is the first to admit he’s a different coach than he was two decades ago in his first chance at doing this.

“I’m probably not as fiery as I was back then, although I still am fiery,” he said. “I still yell a lot, but I’m probably a little more accepting of things. I’m a better communicator now. But, I know you can only look ahead one game at a time and that you prepare for it as well as you can.”

Spoken like a veteran of the profession. And, for those who need any evidence about Buonaguro’s ability to prepare for a game … Villanova’s 1985 upset of Georgetown in the NCAA championship game should suffice.