Saturday, January 29, 2011

ATM: Freaky Friday On-Court Happenings

Welcome to the latest version of "ATM," otherwise known as Around The MAAC.

And, this one has a theme, as in ... What in the Wide, Wide World of College Basketball is going on here?

Let's start in the league's western outpost, Buffalo, where the sold-out Canisius Koessler Athletic Center was host to a nationally televised (ESPNU) doubleheader of a men's and a women's game.

Men up first.

- The Canisius men earned a 69-54 victory over proximitous "Little Three" rival Niagara in what is as big a rivalry as it gets in the conference.

But, as the old saying goes, it's not a rivalry between the hammer and the nail and the Purple Eagles had pretty much done the majority of the hammering in recent years, winning 13 of the past 15 meetings and 8 of the last 10 on Canisius' home court.

But not Friday night as the Golden Griffins pulled away from a 51-47 lead with 6:33 remaining with an 18-7 burst the rest of the way to secure the victory.

Canisius is still only 4-6 in MAAC play, but more than one coach your blogger has spoken to in recent days points to the Griffs as the most-dangerous lower-end-of-the-standings (for now) team come post-season tournament time.

Heck, the Griffs are dangerous right now with six wins in their last 10 games overall, including positive outcomes over Iona and Siena.

- Best quote of the season, to date, coming from Niagara coach Joe Mihalich after his team's loss to Niagara.

The Purple Eagles are playing without standout freshman Antoine Mason (foot injury, after the season's first three games), and had been without junior forward Kashief Edwards for two weeks after he underwent arthroscopic surgery on a knee. Overall the team has just one senior (Anthony Nelson) on the roster.

Said Mihalich, about his team's woes ... "We're in a sword fight with a butter knife."

- The women's game at the Koessler Athletic Center Friday was exciting for about 25 minutes as host Canisius was within a point, 25-24 early in the second half.

And then ... visiting Manhattan went on a 30-6 run the rest of the game to secure a 55-30 victory.

Thirty points allowed? Not that out of the ordinary for Manhattan, which gives up an average of 49.65 points per contest, which is fourth-best nationally through Friday's games.

But the Jaspers take a backseat to the nation's top defensive team, another MAAC member.

That would be Fairfield, which allows an average of 47.9 points per game, best of 340 Division I teams nationally. That ranks ahead of No. 2 West Virginia (48.0) and No. 3 UConn (49.5).

- The Siena men, struggling of late without one of their two senior standouts, guard Clarence Jackson (ankle sprains), woke the echoes of recent glory days by dominating an until-now red hot Loyola team, 76-59, in Baltimore.

Loyola had won six of its last seven games, including handing Fairfield its only conference loss to date.

But, on this night the Saints put all five of its starters in double figures in the scoring column and shot a blistering 53 percent from the field.

Siena played again without its standout senior guard Clarence Jackson (ankle), its best outside shooter. But, the lack of perimeter firepower in Jackson's absence was overcome against the Greyhounds.

In Siena's previous two games, it had made just 29.6% of its shots (in a loss to Rider) and 31.1% of its shots (in a loss to Saint Peter's).

The outcome enabled Siena to hold sole possession of sixth place in the conference stadings at 5-5, a game ahead of seventh-place Canisius. It also kept Siena within range of moving up. Three teams currently share second place in the league standings, Iona, Saint Peter's and Rider, all with 7-3 records.

Of note: Siena's 6-9 senior center Ryan Rossiter became the second player in program history with 1,000 career rebounds. He trails only Lee Mathews (Class of 1993), who had 1,037 rebounds. Within short order Rossiter is almost certain to become the school's all-time retriever of missed shots.

- The upset of the season very nearly occurred in Bridgeport, Conn., when Manhattan held a 5-point lead over first-place Fairfield Friday.

The Jaspers, 1-9 in league play and 3-18 overall, held a 59-54 advantage with 1:32 remaining over the Stags (9-1, 16-4).

And, then, Manhattan players missed the front end of three one-and-one foul-shooting situations down the stretch.

The Stags countered with a jumper from Yorel Hawkins to trim the deficit to three, two free throws from Ryan Olander to cut it to one and, then, went to its best player with the game on the line.

Sophomore guard Derek Needham delivered for Fairield with an NBA-range three-pointer with eight seconds remaining for the final margin. Manhattan missed two shots in the closing seconds as time expired on its upset opportunity.

- The Siena women missed a golden opportunity to make their game Monday at Marist a relatively meaningful one.

Had the Saints beaten Iona at their Alumni Recreation Center home court Friday, they would have been 7-2 in league play heading into a showdown meeting, or sorts, with the 9-0 Red Foxes.

And, Siena held a 46-36 advantage with under 10 minutes left.

Then, the proverbial bottom fell out for the Saints.

Siena only made one of its final 13 shots down the stretch in regulation and Iona got close enough for Kristina Ford's long-range three-pointer to tie the game in regulation.

The Saints failed to score in overtime, going 0-for-4 from the field, 0-for-3 from the foul line and committing four turnovers.

Iona scored five points in OT, more than enough for its third straight victory to get to a 4-5 conference record after a 1-5 start. That's good enough, for now, for sixth place in the MAAC.

The Gaels, playing without standout senior point guard Suzi Fregosi (hip injury, out for the season), since the season's eighth game, have made a dramatic playing style adjustment of late, resorting to full-game, full-court pressure defense.

"We had trouble scoring, so we went to the press to try to force turnovers and get easy baskets that way," said Iona coach Tony Bozzella.

There were few easy baskets for either team Friday night. But, the Iona press appeared to wear down Siena as the game went on and, eventually, took the Saints out of their offense.

"We really needed this one," said Bozzella, in a classic understatement.

The Saints, at 6-3 in league play, still match their fastest start through nine league games since a 7-2 beginning to the 2002-03 season.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mid-Season Look at Women's Storylines

We're not quite at the midway point for women's basketball in the conference ... teams have played eight league games apiece, so the actual mid-season mark won't happen until this weekend.

Still, there has been enough basketball to identify some of the top storylines thus far on the women's side, in no particular order.

- Marist continues to dominate.

Death, taxes, Marist women's basketball.

The Red Foxes have won been the conference's representative to the NCAA tournament in each of the past five seasons and have won outright or tied for the regular-season conference title for the past seven seasons.

Things aren't any different this season. Marist is 8-0 in MAAC play, 17-2 overall and have a 12-game winning streak. Dominating? It has outscored opponents by an average margin of 17.2 points per game.

The only question remaining is whether Marist can get through league play unbeaten, a feat it last accomplished in the 2007-08 season.

The program has not skipped a beat after last season's graduation of three-time Player of the Year Rachele Fitz. If anything, according to more than one league coach, the Red Foxes are tougher to defend this season than in the recent past because of their balance.

Guards Erica Allenspach and Corielle Yard comprise the best backcourt in the conference, and junior forward Brandy Gang has stepped up enough to be a consistent third option on offense. The team is so balanced that only one player (Allenspach) averages more than 26.5 minutes per contest, and 12 players averaging at least 8.1 minutes per night.

- Resurgent Siena women's team.

The Saints were picked to finish eighth by league coaches in their preseason poll, but they're going to finish much higher than that.

So far Siena is 6-2 in league play and shares second place with Loyola entering this weekend.

Player of the Year-like performances by senior center Serena Moore, along with an out-of-nowhere emergence by junior small forward Maja Gerlyng, who currently averages more points per game (11.8) than minutes played last season (10.7). Geryling averages 16.4 points in conference-only contests, best in the MAAC.

Another junior, guard Christina Centeno, has become a nice third offensive option, and the team has enough quality depth to go nine or 10 deep most games.

The Saints have been over .500 in league play since the 2003-04 season, but that they seem well on their way to cracking the .500 mark in the MAAC this season with ease.

- An infusion of youth.

This blogger cannot remember there being this many freshmen having impact for women's programs, and I've been covering the MAAC since 1989.

The down side is that teams needed freshmen to step in, which usually means a lack of quality players otherwise and that has been the case for the most part. The up side is that these precocious youngsters are getting valuable playing experience that will pay big dividends in future years, and the freshmen are certainly making their respective marks.

We'd certainly miss someone if we tried to name them all, but early observations show some of the better ones to be Teresa Manigrasso of St. Peter's, Katie Gattuso of Niagara, MyNeshia McKenzie of Rider and a quartet of standouts at Canisius.

- The future.

It's inevitable that some team other than Marist will eventually win the conference title isn't it?

The last team to dethrone Marist, at least in the league's post-season tournament, was Canisius in 2005.

The crystal ball says Canisius might be the team to do it again. Not this year, but within the next three seasons.

The Golden Griffins have four freshmen -- forwards Jamie Ruttle, Jen Lennox and Courtney VandenBovenkamp and guard Jen Morabito. Another of the Griffs' top players is guard Ashley Durham, only a sophomore.

All four freshmen have won at least one Rookie of the Week award this season. Durham was an all-Rookie team selection last year.

Canisius is 2-6 this season in league play and isn't likely to crack the upper half of the standings this year. But the future for the Buffalo-based program appears very bright.

- League all stars ...

Let's take 10, in no particular order:
- Serena Moore, forward, Siena.
- Erica Allenspach, guard, Marist.
- Maja Geryling, forward, Siena.
- Corielle Yard, guard, Marist.
- Katie Sheahin, guard, Loyola.
- Katelyn Linney, guard, Fairfield.
- Taryn Johnson, forward, Fairfield.
- Erica DiClemente, guard, Loyola.
- Abby Wentworth, guard, Manhattan.
- Mariam McKenzie, forward, Loyola.

- Player of the year.

We'll be diplomatic here, and name the top two candidates Allenspach of Marist and Moore of Siena.

Allenspach was the preseason selection of league coaches so Moore will probably have to outdistance Allenspach considerably to win the award.

But, she's showing signs of doing that, averaging 14.5 points (second-best in the MAAC) and 8.9 rebounds (tops in the league). Moore is also 2nd in blocks and 4th in field-goal percentage.

Allenspach is 3rd in scoring, 5th in assists, 1st in field goal percentage and 2nd in free-throw percentage.

It should be a race between those two right down to the final games of the season.

- Coach of the Year.

Hard to pick against Marist's Brian Giorgis if his team goes through conference play without a loss. But, he needs 10 more wins in succession to do that.

For now, the choice is from the best of the also-rans, Loyola's Joe Logan and Siena's Gina Castelli.

Expectations for Siena were far below what the team has accomplished so far. So, at the midway point the front-runner is Castelli.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Men's Storylines at the Midway Juncture

In case you didn't notice, the halfway point of the conference men's season has been reached. Every team has played nine of its 18 conference games.

So, at the halfway mark let's take a look at storylines that have developed within the MAAC thus far, in no particular order ...

- The struggles of Siena.

Actually, this is probably the top story in the league. Any time a team with as much recent success as Siena (four straight trips to the MAAC tournament's championship game) then follows with some struggles it's a topic throughout the league.

Still, you didn't expect the three-time defending conference champions to make it four in a row, did you? Not after the loss of Alex Franklin, Edwin Ubiles and Ronald Moore, three of the best players in the program's history. Add to that the graduation of Kenny Hasbrouck, the league's 2009 Player of the Year, the previous season and that's four all-time program standouts over two years.

No MAAC program has weathered that kind of personnel losses without a significant drop off.

So the Saints, 77-26 over the past three seasons, are 7-12 overall right now with a 4-5 MAAC record which places them in sixth in league play just a game ahead of two seventh-place teams in the quest to avoid the post-season tournament's play-in round.

Could Siena's fall have been predicted? To some extent. Your blogger picked the Saints for fourth. But, maybe not to this extent.

So, what's the problem? The impatient (some might say way-over-the-edge impatient) Siena fans are already picking apart first-year head coach Mitch Buonaguro.

But, it's not the fault of the top assistant coach at the program during previous coach Fran McCaffery's five-year run. Place much of the blame on McCaffery who struggled in recruiting for some time as quality recruits opted to go elsewhere rather than come to Siena and sit for a season or two while the likes of Ubiles, Franklin, Moore, Hasbrouck, Ryan Rossiter and Clarence Jackson got almost all the minutes over the past three seasons.

That situation has left the current junior and sophomore classes without a standout, instead comprised entirely of role players. McCaffery's proclivity for keeping his starters in the game for beyond reasonable minutes also inhibited the development of the role players.

And, then, McCaffery took 6-8 freshman forward Malsahn Basabe, who originally signed a scholarship agreement to play at Siena, with him to Iowa. Basabe is averaging 10.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game at Iowa, much of it against Big 10 competition. Imagine how much he'd have helped the Saints had he come aboard.

Siena might still have weathered its woes a little better were it not for season-long ankle injuries to senior guard Jackson, a preseason first-team all-MAAC player. The Saints are now 2-7 in games he has either missed entirely or large portions of, and 5-5 otherwise.

There's a universal belief that you are what your record indicates. Siena's 7-12 record indicates the absence of its second-best player with an injury, the defection of a highly-touted recruit, the graduation losses of all-time players over the past two seasons and a recruting handicap while those players were monopolizing playing time minutes during their respective careers.

- Coach of the Year so far?

That's easy. Fairfield's Ed Cooley, who already lost senior forward Greg Nero to continued health issues for the season and has several former all-league caliber players, most notably Yorel Hawkins and Warren Edney, yet to return to that level of play this season. Still, the Stags are front-runners with an 8-1 record and a 15-4 overall record. Their only loss thus far was by a point at Loyola.

- Surprise team?

In a positive sense, Loyola, which is 6-3 in league play so far and having pinned the lone setback on Fairfield through the midway point.

After a 4-8 start overall the Grehounds have rattled off a 6-1 record, and are doing so without a single player averaging over 11.1 points per game. Shane Walker has emerged as one of the conference's best big men, producing 11.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.

The team has started eight different players this season and, as always, gets the solid team-oriented play head coach Jimmy Patsos demands.

Honorable mention surprise team goes to Saint Peter's, also 6-3 in league play (11-9 overall), which has played much of the season facing uncertainty over its best player, guard Wesley Jenkins, and his knee woes. Jenkins, though, is playing at a high level of late and the Peacocks are using quickness and athleticism to overcome a lack of height (no player taller than 6-foot-7).

- Surprise team in a negative sense?

The knee-jerk reaction is to look at the 3-6 conference record of Canisius (9-10 overall), despite the return of four starters and the addition of South Florida transfer Gaby Belardo, who has been spectacular at times, as the fifth starter.

But, it appears to have taken the Golden Griffins a few games to develop chemistry with Belardo, their new point guard. Over the last nine games Canisius is 5-4 including a recent victory over second-place Iona.

So, things are definitely going in the right direction for a team that certainly will be feared in the post-season tournament.

Maybe Niagara, then? After several seasons as a league contender, the Purple Eagles are tied for last in the conference with a 1-8 mark.

Again, easy to understand. Niagara has the same problems as Siena ... the loss of three high-quality performers (Bilal Benn, Tyrone Lewis, Rob Garrison) to graduation, and an injury to highly regarded freshman Antoine Mason, who averaged 16.7 points in his first three games and hasn't played since due to a foot injury.

- Mid-Season All-Stars.

Let's go with 10:
- Ryan Rossiter, Siena's 6-9 center.
- Mike Glover, Iona's 6-7 forward.
- Anthony Nelson, Niagara's 6-1 guard.
- Justin Robinson, Rider's 6-1 guard.
- George Beamon, Manhattan's 6-3 guard.
- Scott Machado, Iona's 6-1 guard.
- Derrick Needham, Fairfield's 5-11 guard.
- Mike Ringold, Rider's 6-7 forward
-Shane Walker, Loyola's 6-10 center.
- Ryan Bacon, St. Peter's 6-7 forward.

- Player of the Year at the mid-way point:

Siena's Ryan Rossiter in a semi-runaway. His 19.5 points per game trails league leader Mike Glover (19.7) by two-tenths of a point. His 13.1 rebounds per contest not only leads the MAAC, but is 2nd-best nationally.

COMING ATTRACTION: We'll take a look at the top women's stories at the mid-way point.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Niagara's Nelson is Nat'l King of Thieves

If Robin Hood was the "Prince of Thieves," then what does that make Niagara's senior guard Anthony Nelson?

Robin Hood, legend tells us, only stole from the rich in order to redistribute wealth to the poor.

Nelson, on the other hand, doesn't discriminate. He "steals" from everyone, at least on basketball court.

Prior to the Purple Eagles' game at Iona on Friday the Niagara senior was leading the nation in steals per game, an average of 3.44 thefts per contest.

His nickname, then, should be the "King of Thieves."

He had 55 take-aways in his first 16 games this year, more than any of his first three full seasons.

It's not hard to understand why. Nelson had two pick-pocket teammates for the past three seasons in Bilal Benn and Tyrone Lewis, who annually ranked among the best in the conference. They were at the key points of Niagara's effective pressure defense.

But, with both gone to graduation, it left Nelson to move into more of a defensive role in addition to his always solid point-guard duties.

And, the results are as obvious as checking the top spot on the national leaderboard for steals and to see his name there, where it has been for much of the season.

"I really don't check (the stats) that often, but the funny thing is that my mom told me that I was there (No. 1 in steals) recently and I didn't think she knew what she was talking about," said Nelson, in a recent telephone interview. "But, she was right."

Nelson said it's just about his maturation of a player, of having to step up and take larger roles on the team, particularly one so young that he's the only senior on the roster.

"It's just a matter of paying more attention to defense," he said. "I'm being a lot more aggressive on the defensive end than I had been in the past. Bilal and Tyrone ... they were more aggressive than I was in the past. Now, I'm taking a page out of their book."

That's not all that has changed about Nelson, who also averages 16.2 points per game after never averaging double figures before (last year's 9.9 ppg. was his previous best).

"My game has definitely changed," he said. "Last year I was more of a distributor getting everyone else involved. That was my role as a point guard. But when I'm home playing in the summer I'm a scorer, so this has been an easy adjustment. Now I need to be more aggressive on the offensive end in terms of scoring this year, too."

There's one more aspect to Nelson's on-court play that has changed, too. He's much more of a leader now than ever before.

In the preseason Niagara coach Joe Mihalich stressed not only how important it would be for Nelson to have a big season, but for his younger teammates to heed the messages, both in words and deeds, that Nelson would deliver.

"I think the young guys are listening to me, but it's their first year," he added. "They don't know what to expect, how to react. I try to let them know what to expect."

What to expect from Nelson is more of the same throughout the season, and a continued effort to overcome some previous slights. Nelson has never before made any of the MAAC's three post-season all-star teams, and was only a third-team selection in this year's preseason poll of coaches.

"I know we have some good point guards in this league, and I take it as a challenge to myself to outplay them in games," said Nelson. "But the first objective is to win the game. If I do outplay the opposing team's point guard, it helps us do that."

Spoken like a true leader, which he has become. Both on the court and statistically as the nation's steal leader.

Friday, January 21, 2011

MAAC Women On National Leaderboard

In a recent "ATM" .... Around The MAAC ... post you blogger identified some conference players whose individual stats ranked among the national leaders.

And, it was also noted that no individual women players appeared on the national leaderboards.

Well, a second look showed that assessment to be incorrect and your blogger is humbled by the miscue.

Indeed, there are two conference women among the national leaders in steals.

Katie Sheahin, Loyola's multi-dimensional sophomore guard, is averaging 3.6 steals per game (61 in 17 contests), an average that ranks her No. 2 nationally behind only Kevi Luper of Oral Roberts, who averages 3.8 per game.

Sheahin, an all-rookie team selection last season, has emerged as one of the conference's brightest young stars.

She also ranks first among MAAC players in assists (4.5 per game), 11th in field goal percentage (.372), 12th in rebounding (5.4) and 14th in scoring (11.0).

Sheahin and her Loyola teammates travel to Siena on Saturday afternoon, 2 p.m., for a meeting of 5-1 second-place teams. It should be a competitive contest and your blogger is looking forward not only to seeing a good, competitive game but to get a first in-person glimpse this season of Sheahin.

And, let's not overlook another MAAC player, Manhattan's senior guard Abby Wentworth who averages 3.4 steals per contest (58 in 17 games), which is 10th best nationally. Wentworth also leads the conference in scoring (14.6 points per game) thus far this season.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

MAAC Announces Hall of Fame Exhibit

The MAAC held a press conference Wednesday afternoon in Springfield, Mass., to publicize its three-year deal with that community to host the 2012, '13 and '13 men's and women's post-season basketball tournaments at the MassMutual Center there.

That's old news, but a big of "new" news emerged from the press conference, a partnership between the conference and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for an exhibit at the Hall to focus on several aspects of MAAC basketball that will open in the fall of 2011.

Here are exerpts from the press release:

"The MAAC Council of Presidents unanimously approved the exhibit that will provide our 10 member institutions excellent exposure to basketball fans of all ages," said MAAC Commissioner Richard J. Ensor. "The display will celebrate the history of the MAAC, the experience of being a student-athlete and raise awareness of the annual conference championships taking place each year in Springfield."

The exhibit will feature several different themes. Each of the 10 MAAC Institutions will have an individual kiosk to highlight the institution and its basketball history. Featured items will include a team jersey, a large acrylic team logo and information on the institution.

Secondly, a piece entitled "A Day in the Life of a College Student-Athlete" will provide visitors unique insight into what it takes to succeed as a college student-athlete. A video presentation will show selected MAAC student-athletes through their experiences, both inside the classroom and on the playing floor.

Another display will celebrate the 30-year history of the MAAC, including photos, artifacts and other memorabilia. Lastly, a section will be devoted to current happenings in the MAAC, including up-to-date news, standings and information on championships.

The presence of the MAAC in the Basketball Hall of Fame will include an exclusive area on the museum’s second floor. The museum, which has 200,000 visitors annually, will feature the MAAC schools for the three years of the MAAC Championships.

BLOGGER'S NOTE: The upcoming affiliation with the Hall brings to mind an idea ...

The MAAC should consider initiating its own Hall of Fame for men's and women's players. This is the conference 30th season of operation, so there are certainly plenty of worthy candidates.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

ATM: National Leaders, Other Notes

Here's the latest installment of "ATM," otherwise known as Around The MAAC...

- An astute blog follower. after reading about Scott Machado of Iona's quest to lead the nation in assists this season, brought to our attention that there's another conference performer at the top of a national statistical category.

That would be Niagara's senior point guard Anthony Nelson, whose 3.4 steals-per-game average is the best nationally. He is closely followed by Byron Mulkey's 3.3 steals per contest. Mulkey plays at the University of Buffalo, located about 10 miles to the south of Niagara.

All we can say, with tongue firmly in cheek, is that you should check for personal belongings after moving through western New York since that's the home base of college basketball's two top "thieves."

And, check back on this blog in the immediate future as we'll be talking with Niagara's Nelson in coming days and writing about the exploits of his quick hands.

- Nelson isn't the only conference player among the national statistical leaders. Iona's junior point guard Machado is back atop the assist leaderboard, averaging 8.4 per contest and ahead of No. 2 Aaron Johnson of UAB, who is at 8.2 per contest.

Siena's Ryan Rossiter is averaging 12.8 rebounds per contest, which is second nationally behind only Kenneth Faried of Morehead State (13.3 per game).

Most readers have probably never heard of Faried, but he has just been a rebounding machine over his his career at Morehead State. He currently has 1,418 career rebounds, which is eighth all time since 1973. In the official NCAA men's basketball record books, a distinction is drawn between the pre-1973 era and the post-1973 era. One reason is that because of the split into the three Divisions in use today (Divisions I, II and III), many of the rebounds accumulated in the pre-1973 era were against less–talented opponents that would be considered Division II, III or even NAIA in today's hierarchy.

The all-time career rebound leader is Tom Gola, who played at La Salle in the 1950s, and has 2,201 rebounds.

Since 1973, though, the all-time career rebound leader is Tim Duncan (Wake Forest) at 1,570, followed by Derrick Coleman (Syracuse) with 1,537. If Faried continues to rebound at his current rate, he should approach Duncan's record, or at least Coleman's second-place total.

The MAAC's all-time career rebound leader is former La Salle standout of the late 1980s through the 1989-90 season, Lionel Simmons. His 1,429 rebounds is sixth on the all-time list since 1973.

Here's one other current MAAC player among this year's national leaders in an individual category: Iona's 6-7 junior forward Mike Glover is making .659 percent of his field goal attempts, the fifth best percentage nationally.

- While the women's version of the MAAC doesn't have any individuals near the top of any statistical category, the Marist women's team ranks high in two categories.

The Red Foxes are actually No. 1 in fewest turnovers committed per game (11.2), a good distance ahead of No. 2 Northern Iowa (12.8).

The Marist women are also no. 11 nationally in fewest points allowed, 52.4 per contest.

- One of the better mano-a-mano individual match-ups of the season took place at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., Monday night when Siena's senior center Ryan Rossiter hadd 28 points and Canisius sophomore guard Gaby Belardo had 29 in the Saints' 73-69 victory over the Golden Griffins.

Belardo had his team's final 11 points pulling the Griffs from a 66-58 deficit into a 69-68 lead with just over a minute remaining.

Rossiter, though, followed with two free throws and, then, a rebound of a missed Belardo shot and a length-of-the-court outlet to Siena guard Clarence Jackson for a breakaway dunk and a 3-point Siena lead.

Belardo had a chance to tie it with a final shot, but his well-defended three-point try bounced off the rim at the buzzer.

- This blogger believes the closest approximation of the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is done by Jerry Palm at collegerpi.

Here's how Palm's computer approximation of the NCAA's RPI has MAAC men's teams: iona is No. 89 of 345 Division I teams nationally, followed by St. Peter's, 130; Rider, 146; Fairfield, 152; Siena, 180; Loyola, 211; Canisius, 214; Niagara, 279; Marist, 283; and Manhattan, 300.

Here's how Palm rates the MAAC's women's teams: Marist, 80; Loyola, 189; Manhattan, 213; Canisius, 217; Fairfield, 222; Siena, 234; Iona, 254; Rider, 302; Saint Peter's, 307; Niagara, 326.

Monday, January 17, 2011

ATM: Happenings Around the Conference

How about a new blog feature ... or at least, a new name for a semi-regular compilation of interesting notes from conference basketball happenings.

Call it "ATM."

No, it's not your handy automatic teller machine that dispenses money.

It's better this ATM dispenses information. It's an acronym for "Around The MAAC."

So, around the MAAC of late ...

- The last women's team to win the conference's post-season tournament and a trip to the NCAA's before Marist's recent run of five straight trips to the national tournament?

It was Canisius in the 2004-05 season.

The next team to get there other than Marist? It might be Canisius again.

Almost assuredly not this season, but the Golden Griffins aren't that far away. Your blogger was on hand to see the Canisius women end Siena's six-game winning streak Sunday in Buffalo and got a look at what is one of the better freshmen groups that has come into the league in some time.

All four of the Canisius freshmen ... 6-foot-4 forwards Jamie Ruttle and Jen Lennox, 6-1 forward Courtney VandeBovenkamp and 5-9 guard Jen Morabito ... have won a MAAC Rookie of the Week award so far this season. In all, the Griff freshmen have claimed that honor seven times thus far.

VandeBovenkamp won the award for the second time this past week, bolstered by an 8-point, 14-rebound, 4-assist performance Sunday against Siena. Morabito averages just under 10 points per game and is the highest-scoring freshman in the conference thus far. Ruttle averages 8.4 points and 4.2 rebounds and Lennox averages 5.0 points and 4.2 rebounds.

"Their statistics are better than other freshmen because we've had to use them," admitted Canisius coach Terry Zeh. "But they're getting valuable experience with all the playing time. The experience is enabling them to learn things I couldn't teach them otherwise."

The Griffs have only one senior in their playing group ... solid, heady guard Micayla Drysdale. But two other key backcourt performers, point guard Ashley Durham and off-guard Steph McDonald, are both in starting roles.

It means six of the team's top seven players will be together not only for this season, but the next two after this one. It should be enjoyable to watch the Griffs grow in maturity and develop as a team over that time.

And, it's not hard to envision Canisius developing enough to challenge the Marist league superiority in the very near future. In the meantime the Griffs are likely to cause opponents problems on any given day much like they did Sunday in their upset victory over Siena.

- Tough weekend for the Niagara women this past Friday and Sunday, having to play the last two MAAC teams without a league loss to that point. First Siena won by 40 points (77-37) on Friday against the Purple Eagles. Then Marist came to Lewiston on Sunday and delivered a more-lopsided decision 95-48.

The 95 points by Marist was the most by a MAAC team this season, and the most by a MAAC team in any game since the Red Foxes scored 98 on Jan. 9, 2009, also against Niagara.

On Sunday 12 of Marist's 14 players scored and no Red Fox was on the court for more than 20 minutes. Erica Allenspach led the way with 14 points in 20 minutes, while Corielle Yard had 13 points in 16 minutes.

It was the 11th straight victory overall for Marist, now 6-0 in conference play and the last remaining MAAC unbeaten team.

However, it's easy to see that a very young Niagara team also has a bright future, much like Canisius, in the not-so-distant future. For now the Purple Eagles' struggles are coming as sophomore point guard Kayla Stroman last season's Rookie of the Year in the MAAC has missed nine straight games recovering from a knee injury.

- The Iona men were alone in first place entering tonight's games (Monday night) with a 6-1 record although preseason favorite Fairfield could move into a first-place tie with a victory at Rider.

Iona got league victory no. 6, a 79-41 decision over Marist despite getting just six points from the MAAC's leading scorer, forward Mike Glover; and six points from its No. 2 scorer point guard Scott Machado who chipped in with eight assists.

The Gaels though appear to have found another offensive option. Freshman guard Sean Armand had 22 points against Marist in 20 minutes, including hitting 6-of-8 from three-point territory. Armand also had 17 points in 15 minutes in the Gaels' previous contest, a 100-95 overtime victory over Rider.

- Saint Peter's senior guard and preseason first-team all-conference selection Wesley Jenkins came back in a big way after missing time when he tweaked a knee injury he has been dealing with this season.

Jenkins had a career-high 31 points including 21 on seven 3-pointers in his team's 77-57 victory over Niagara on Saturday. He not only went 7-for-9 from beyond the stripe but was a perfect 10-for-10 from the foul line. Jenkins was the MAAC's Player of the Week for this past week.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Axford of Canisius Now Brewers' Closer

This has nothing to do with MAAC basketball except that it comes from good friend Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, that publication's standout baseball writer who previously covered Western New York college basketball including conference members Niagara and Canisius.

In his Sunday "Inside Baseball" column, Harrington reminds us that all-time saves' leader Trevor Hoffman's recent retirment means that John Axford heads to spring training as the unquestioned closer for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Axford played college baseball at Canisius. He emerged last season when Hoffman struggled and finished 8-2 with a 2.48 ERA and 24 saves in 27 chances. Axford voluntarily stepped aside for a late-season save opportunity so that Hoffman could step in and get career save No. 600.

"He's a fantastic teammate, a great person and in all honesty the things I'll remember (about Hoffman) most are the things that happen off the field," Axford told recently.

"He treats you fantastically. He took the bullpen out to dinner when we were on the road, and he invited us over to his home when we were in Milwaukee. He treated you like a friend, and respected you like a friend ... I just sat there and tried to soak up his 18 years of wisdom."

Axford spent three college seasons at Notre Dame before transferring to Canisius. He pitched for the Golden Griffins in 2006 and had 76 strikeouts in 70 innings there. He was originally signed as a free agent by the New York Yankees after he went undrafted in 2006, released by the Yanks after the 2007 season and, then, signed by the Brewers early in spring training of the 2008 season.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Iona's Machado Chases Nat'l Assist Title

The nation’s Division I level assist leader might come out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference … again.

A year ago it was Siena’s spectacular passing point guard Ronald Moore who led the all players from more than 340 Division I schools in assists with 7.7 per game.

This season Iona’s junior point guard Scott Machado is in contention for that individual statistical title.

Machado, through Friday’s victory at Rider, is No. 2 on the national assist list averaging 8.41 per contest. He trails only Aaron Johnson of UAB, who checks in at 8.57 per outing.

Clearly the 6-1 Iona junior has emerged as one of the most-effective practitioners of his position nationally, making a significant step forward from a year ago when he averaged 3.8 assists per contest.

Of course Iona’s new up-tempo style also helps. The Gaels are averaging more than 80 points per game this season after scoring at a 66-point per game rate a year ago. Still, the dramatic playing style change accounts about a 20-percent increase in possessions for Iona and, in theory, a similar rise in assists for Machado, but definitely not a nearly 120-percent jump in his assist totals.

“I’m just seeing openings better, inowing when guys are going to make their move, knowing when to get them the ball better,” said Machado, in a recent phone interview. “Plus I’m taking care of the ball better, I value possessions more.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Machado, the Gaels’ leading scorer a year ago, now has 6-foot-7 forward Mike Glover, an almost automatic assist converter, on the other end of his passes, many of them of the alley-oop variety. Glover is the MAAC’s leading scorer, averaging 21.4 points per game with an incredible .665 shooting accuracy from the field, the fourth-best percentage nationally.

“We’ve developed great chemistry,” said Machado, about his work with Glover. “We’re kind of like Raymond Felton and Amar'e Stoudamire of the Knicks.”

"They've been great in different ways," Iona coach Tim Cluess said recently to the Rockland Journal News. "I think they make each other better, too. They both make the team go."

The two knew each during their high school days, playing summer-league ball in New York City.

"We kind of had that chemistry way back when," Glover told the Journal News. "So I pretty much give him that look and he pretty much knows what to do with the basketball. I trust Scott. He's one of the reasons why I chose to come to Iona. He probably doesn't know that."

The results of all that are clear. After averaging a barely acceptable assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.37-to-1 over his first two years, Machado has 143 assists to 63 turnovers, a 2.27-to-1 ratio this season.

He is already just Iona’s second player in the program’s history to record 100 assists in each of his three seasons (Marvin McCullough was the first), and his assist average this season is almost certain to set a new Gael standard, breaking the 6.5 assist-per-game average of Glenn Grant set in the 1988-89 season..

Machado’s 415 career assists is currently No. 7 on the school’s all-time list and he is almost certain to surpass the program’s leaders, No. 1 Rory Grimes (558) and Tony Hargraves (539), either late this season or early next season.

It all has come despite a coaching change to Tim Cluess, but Machado even had a little bit of advantage in that regard.

“I played for coach Cluess my freshman year in high school (At St. Mary's of Manhasset),” said Machado. “He’s similar to what he was back then. He’s still hard-nosed and expects a lot out of you, and he does everything he can to help you fulfill your potential. Plus, he runs a similar style than what he ran back then, so it was an easy adjustment for me.”

An easy adjustment to a new coach, a new teammate adept at converting passes to basket, an uptempo playing style and the national maturation of a player ... it all adds up to Machado having a chance to be the second straight MAAC player to lead the nation in assists.

Siena Women Have Impressive Reversal

What a difference a little more than a month has made for the Siena women’s basketball team.

Back on Dec. 12 the Saints fell behind, 42-7, early in the second half against solid mid-major level Sacred Heart of the Northeast Conference on the way to a 72-33 defeat.

That might have been rock bottom, but it wasn’t necessarily the end of Siena’s early season woes. The Saints lost two more games after that to fall to 1-8 overall.

And, since then, the rise of the team picked to finish eighth in MAAC play in the preseason poll of coaches, has been as dramatic as it has been unexpected.

Entering Sunday’s 2 p.m. game at Canisius the Siena women have won six straight games, including a 5-0 start to conference play that has them tied with perennial powerhouse Marist for first place in the MAAC.

And, an apex of sorts, or at least a noticeable bookend to that 39-point loss at Sacred Heart, was Siena’s 77-37 victory at Niagara on Friday, its most-recent game.

In a 33-day span, then, the Saints lost a game by 39 and, then, won one by 40. Has there ever been such a dramatic in-season swing by a conference team ever?

Most likely not, and the Saints aren’t concerned about that. They’re just concerned, as any team should be, about their next game.

But, by now, Siena has established itself as one of the MAAC’s better teams this season and not only in contention to finish near the top of the conference’s final standings but to produce its first winning record in conference play since 2003-04.

It has been a long dry spell for a program that was once as dominant back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s as Marist is now.

From the 1997-98 season through 2003-04 Siena finished atop the MAAC six times in seven seasons compiling a 101-25 record against league opponents.

Even since that stretch ended Siena has never truly struggled. Its worst record over the previous six seasons was 7-11. But annual mediocrity had never been associated with the program prior to the past six seasons.

The stretch of solid-at-best seasons appears over, ready to be replaced the type of strong play and above .500 records followers of the Siena women’s team had once expected annually.

Veteran head coach Gina Castelli points to the first victory in the current six-game winning streak, a 49-47 victory at Fordham, as the true turnaround for her team.

“I think the win against Fordham really was the turning point,” said Castelli. “I think the fact that we won on the road against an Atlantic 10 team gave our team a lot of confidence. We won in a good way. We played hard, we played well together, and I think it really changed the attitudes of a lot of the players.”

Attitudes haven’t been all that has changed for Siena. The Saints had considerable transition since last year which necessitated some players step up to embrace bigger roles this season.

During the early season it was obvious that the team was a work in progress, but the progress came quickly once players got comfortable to new roles.

The most noticeable improvements have come from a pair of juniors, swingperson Maja Gerlyng and guard Christina Centeno.

Gerlying, who rarely played last season due to a variety of leg muscle pulls, is averaging 11.5 points per game and has scored 20 or more points in three of the team’s five MAAC contests.

Centeno, who opened the season as the starting point guard, has flourished since moving back to the two-position. She averages 9.9 points per game, including 11.6 ppg. since her move off the point. moving back to shooting guard.

Centeno’s best work has come from three-point territory where she is 28-of-544 thus far, a league best percentage of .537. That percentage is second-best nationally, trailing only the .545 long-range percentage of Dayton's Kristin Daugherty.

It has helped open things up inside for 6-2 senior center Serena Moore, a first-team preseason all-star selection, who has moved into contention for Player of the Year honors. Moore leads the MAAC in scoring (14.5 ppg.),is second in rebounding (8.4) and third in blocked shots (1.5).

The team’s other two starters are solid senior role players Cathy Cockrum (5.4 points, 4.9 rebounds) and point guard Missy Ramsey (21 assists, 16 turnovers in her last eight games), who has provided steady play at both ends of the court.

The Saints have also gotten strong play from bench players and legitimately use nine or 10 players in every game, which makes its pressure defense more effective.

It has all resulted in the current 5-0 MAAC record, the program’s best start since opening the 2001-02 season at 14-0.

The Saints might not yet be ready to return to those glory days, but the current stretch of strong play is a sizable step in that direction.

The future?

“We’ve always taken it day-to-day,” added Castelli. “I’m not sure we’re there yet, but I definitely think our players are learning what it takes to be a No. 1 team. I think they understand that you have to play at a certain level in order to be that top team. Again, we’re going day-to-day; we’ve had some good wins, but there’s a lot of the season left.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Early Season Men's News & Notes

What has the early portion of conference play show us? Mostly that there's a clear deliniation this season between the better MAAC teams and the lesser ones.

Through three games of league play the biggest "upsets" to date have been a pair of Marist victories, both on the Red Foxes' home court and coming against Canisius and Niagara,, teams that have both started 0-3 in league games.

Everything else so far has pretty much gone, as they say, according to Hoyle.

Some early impressions:

- Fairfield has an impressive victory at Siena in its 3-0 start and clearly appears ready to live up to the preseason prediction by conference coaches that it will win the regular-season title.

The Stags are 10-3 overall with a 9-game winning streak since losing early season games in succession to Rutgers, Penn State and St. Joseph's. Fairfield legitimately goes eight deep (although that does not include senior forward Greg Nero, who has missed the last five games), has height, athleticism and one of the league's top players in sophomore guard Derek Needham.

In short, everything is in place for the Stags to roll on.

- Saint Peter's continues to win without standout senior guard Wesley Jenkins, who reinjured his knee. No return date on him, or if he will return at all this season. Still, the Peacocks are the other team besides Fairfield off to a 3-0 start, albeit against teams with a 1-8 conference record thus far.

- Siena served notice that it could contend for a fourth straight conference title when it knocked off Iona on Monday, rallying from a 14-point deficit in the process.. The game was a meeting of teams each with 999 total victories over the existence of the programs, so the race to No. 1,000 was won by the Saints.

Siena's senior center Ryan Rossiter also made a significant statement about his candidacy for the conference's Player of the Year honors with a 26-point, 15-rebound effort against the Gaels in what has already become all but a two-man race for the top individual award.

The other strong contender is Iona's junior forward Mike Glover, who had 18 points and 8 rebounds against the Saints.

- If I had to guess the order of finish in league play, or at least which teams will finish in the top six to avoid the post-season tournament's play-in games, your blogger would say the final standings would look pretty much like they do now.

Fairfield, Saint Peter's, Rider, Iona and Siena all look likely to finish in the top six. My hunch is that Loyola, currently 1-2, will break into the top six, vaulting over Marist, which has a 2-1 MAAC record thus far.

That would leave Marist, Canisius, Niagara and Manhattan as the bottom four, although it wouldn't be much of a surprise if Canisius gets going and gets into the top six.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Early Season Women's News & Notes

Some early impressions on women's play around the conference. And, even while each team has only played two league games thus far, some definite trends are emerging.

For instance ...

- Marist is, once again, the class of the MAAC. Any surprise there? If the Red Foxes don't win the conference crown yet again this season, we all might also be looking for the sun to rise in the west.

How good is Marist? 10-2 so far and losses only to St. John's, currently No. 19 in the USA Today-ESPN Top 25 Coaches' poll, and a better-than average St. Bonaventure (10-5) squad. Victories include one over Nebraska, which was rated No. 21 nationally at the time of the game and still check in at No. 40 in the coaches' poll.

And on Tuesday Marist showed the distance between its team and everyone else with a 73-43 victory over Iona, the unanimous No. 2 pick in the conference coaches' preseason poll. Marist was ahead 24-1 as Iona went without a field goal for the first 12:29 of the contest. Iona isn't exactly a bottom feeder. In the past five seasons it has a 60-30 record against league opponents ... 0-10 vs. Marist and 60-20 against everyone else. Marist's victory yesterday was its 23rd in a row over the Gaels.

- The importance of point guards. At the next level, teams are often athletic enough and possess enough individual talent to survive without a true point guard. But not at the mid-major level where success is almost always predicated on good, team-oriented play that begins with a good on-court director.

Iona, right now, is playing without its senior standout Suzi Fregosi, who suffered a hip injury recently. Her 1.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio through the eight games she did play this season leads the MAAC. With her in the lineup Iona was 3-5 against a difficult non-league schedule. Without her the Gaels are 1-4. With Fregosi Iona had averaged 64 points per game. Without her the Gaels score just 51.4 ppg.

Niagara is also playing without its standout sophomore point guard Kayla Stroman, who was averaging 12 points and 4.4 rebounds per game before suffering a knee injury after the Purple Eagles' eighth game this year. She is expected back soon, but has not played since the injury. With her Niagara averaged 58.4 points per game. Without her the per-game scoring average is 44.0.

- Here's how MAAC teams, overall records in parentheses, are rated by Real Time RPI, through Tuesday's games:

Marist is No. 71 of 343 Division I programs nationally; Fairfield (8-3), 170; Iona (4-9), 298; Canisius (4-8), 209; Siena (4-8), 245; Loyola (4-8), 246; Saint Peter's (1-11), 273; Manhattan (8-5), 274; Rider (0-12), 305; Niagara (1-11). 332.

- Through the first two games of MAAC play, four teams recorded 2-0 records: Marist, Loyola, Fairfield and Siena. The Saints are the proverbial gate-crashers in the bunch, picked in the preseason poll to finish eighth. But, they went on the road for wins at Iona on Sunday and at Manhattan on Tuesday, teams picked to finish second and fourth in the preseason poll, to get wins and establish themselves as, potentially, candidates in the race to finish second to Marist this season.

- Congratulations to Canisius coach Terry Zeh, who became his program's all-time leader in victories with 109 when his Golden Griffins defeated Saint Peter's, 60-56, on Tuesday. Zeh moved ahead of Sister Maria Pares and her 108 career victories at the school in the 1980s.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Canisius Women Get 3 Early Recruits

Here's another in the series looking at recruits who commited to conference schools during the early signing period.

Up now ...


- Ashney Gomez, 5-8 guard, Brooklyn, a 5-foot-8 guard at Murry Bergraum High School, which was ranked No. 23 in the USA Today preseason Top 25 and has won 12 straight Public Schools Athletic League titles.

Gomez averaged 8.0 points per game last season. "She comes from a storied high school program in Murry Buergraum," said Canisius coach Terry Zeh said. "She has a tremendous feel for the game and brings the ability to play multiple guard positions."

- Kayla Hoohuli, 5-7 guard, St. Mary's H.S. (Pa.)

Hoohuli has played four years at St. Mary's, averaging 30.3 points per game as a junior when led the state of Pennsylvania in scoring and became the school's all-time leading scorer. The 5-foot-7 guard, who entered her senior season with 1,951 points, is a two-time Player of the Year in District 9 and was and was a First-Team Class AAA All-State selection as well a junior.

"Kayla is a prolific scorer as we saw with her scoring 52 points in a playoff game," Zeh said. "She has the ability to shoot it from deep, score the basketball and is a great athlete who fits in well to our system."Wilkes is in her second season

- Ashley Wilkes, 5-11 forward, Windsor, Ont., Miami Dade College.

Wilkes is in her second season at Miami Dade Junior College where she averaged 18 points and 10.8 rebounds in her first season. The 5-foot-11 forward earned All-State honors in 2009-10 and was selected to play in the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association All-Star Game.

"A powerful athletic forward, Ashley's ability to rebound the basketball in traffic and score will really help us," Zeh said.