Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Hopes For MAAC Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rider Is Top MAAC Team in Ratings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

UAlbany Gives Winter Lift To Opponent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a link:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Alabama Transfer Jemison Joins Jaspers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Peacocks Suffer Loss of Jenkins, Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, that's not all.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hewitt Well-Appreciated Around Siena

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering where you came from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worst coach in America?

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Marist Women Capture Tourney Title

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Glover's Strong Play Goes On vs. Orange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

Iona's Glover Off To Exciting Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

All-Time Great Brown Honored by Siena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fairfield-Siena Game a Showcase for Stags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Siena-Fairfield Match An Attractive One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 6, 2010

It's Marist Men's Team Atop Standings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right now there's no reason to think otherwise.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

MAAC Women's Hoop News And Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Siena Takes Double Dip Vs. Rival UAlbany

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

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

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

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

The Great Danes won both games.

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

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

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

And, what does it mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women first, of course ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much progress needs to be made on the defensive end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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