Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Loyola's Sheahin Perfects Art Of The Steal

Growing up in an athletic family, Loyola's junior guard Katie Sheahin had the requisite driveway basketball hoop.

The driveway court drew players from around the neighborhood, mostly friends of her two older brothers.

"I always played, but my brothers and their friends were older and bigger," said Sheahin. "A lot of my shots got swatted back into the yard."

If Sheahin wanted to be able to contribute in the driveway games, she had to find some other method besides than putting the ball in the basket.

She found defense.

From the driveway to the courts both in high school and, now, at Loyola, Sheahin has been a standout defender.

"I feel like that's how I grew up, never backing down against an opponent, never backing down on the defensive end," she said in a recent telephone interview.

Followers not only of Loyola basketball, but of play in the MAAC know Sheahin to be much more than a defensive specialist.

In the 2010-11 season the 5-foot-10 guard averaged 13.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. Throw in defense and she is arguably the conference's most-versatile player.

Throw in defense and she is one of the best. She averaged 3.5 steals per game last season, the second-best per-game average nationally.

And, she's already showing, as a junior, that last year's prodigious steal-per-game rate was anything but a fluke.

She had three swipes in a season-opening loss to Maryland, seven in a victory over Navy and, then, a career-high eight in a six-point defeat against Pittsburgh. That's an average of 6.0 per game, and while the NCAA doesn't begin tabulating statistical leaders until next week, Sheahin will surely be atop the steal list when the first national statistics are released.

It's just the continuation of her defensive work from a year ago when her 116 steals set Loyola's single-season record. Her defensive work last season captured the conference's Defensive Player of the Year award in voting by league coaches. She already has 184 career assists, prior to Tuesday's game against UMBC, only 66 away from the school's career record just three games into her junior season.

If Robin Hood was the "Prince of Thieves," then Sheahin is the "Princess" of that particular activity on a basketball court.

"I just pride myself on my defensive play," said Sheahin. "I get into the passing lanes pretty well. With me it's more about timing than it is athleticism."

"She has great anticipation skills, particularly as the game goes on and she starts to recognize what the opposing team is trying to do," said Loyola coach Joe Logan. When she sees the same play a couple of times she knows where a pass is going to go and is ready to make a move on it.

"The other thing is that she has particularly strong hands. Whether she's going after a rebound, tipping a pass or making a steal ... when she gets her hands on it she's going to get it.

"Having grown up playing against older guys really toughened her up. She is a great competitor. And, she takes pride in her game on the defensive end.

By now, it would seem opposing coaches would game-plan specifically for Sheahin. Her ability to create turnovers often turns games in Loyola' favor.

It would seem that, like a great defensive back in football, her presence should be accounted for and, often, avoided by opposing offenses.

"There are some good defensive players in our league, and as a coach you have to be aware of them," said Logan. "But nine out of 10 times Katie is going to be guarding the other team's best player, and teams want to get the ball to their best players, so you can't avoid her.

"Katie has all the tools. She has strength, sheer competitiveness and height. She blocks a lot of shots. Because of her, teams often have to loft passes a little higher to get it over her when they pass it inside and it enables our post players to get some steals.

"We were fortunate that she had that type of defensive mind-set when she arrived here. She played at a high school (Our Lady of Good Counsel in Brookeville, Md.), and for an AAU program where defense was stressed. So, she came in with that and we've built on it.

"The rest of our team sees that, sees how hard she plays on defense, and emulates it. We try to make someone make a different pass than they might want, try to make a tip, a deflection or a steal. The way Katie plays has become contagious within our team."

And the way she plays has put her near (last year) and likely at (this season) the top of the national leaders for steals.

"I couldn't do it without my teammates," said Sheahin, modestly. "I know if I go for a steal and don't get it my teammates are there to cover for me.

"It was nice to be recognized as our league's top defensive player last season. It was definitely a boost of confidence. But, to be honest, I usually don't have any idea about my statistics. We're just trying to win games."

Siena's Overlooked Hymes Is Noticed Now

The MAAC's second-leading scorer among men's players might not only be the smallest starting player in the conference, but was all but unrecruited by Division I programs and might not have joined his current team were it not for a late transfer that opened up a scholarship spot.

Meet Siena's Evan Hymes, generously listed at 5-foot-8, 147 pounds, who was brought in to back up returning starter Rakeem Brookins and, suddenly, got thrust into the starting lineup when Brookins was lost for the season with a preseason back injury.

All Hymes has done through three games has been to score 10 points in his college debut, 30 in the Saints' second game and, then, 18 against Saint Bonaventure on Monday night. That adds up to a 19.3 points-per-game average, second so far in the conference only to the 21.0 ppg. average of Harold Washington, a junior guard at Canisius.

Hymes' 30-point performance that came in a Siena win at Mount Saint Mary's last week, was the first time a Saints' freshman hit the 30-mark in a game since Jack McClinton did it late in the 2004-05 season. The freshman record for a Siena player since the program moved to the Division I level was turned in by Jim Secretarski, who had a 36-point effort against Iona during the 1994-95 season.

Both Secretarski and McClinton, though, were prized recruits, highly-touted incoming players.

Siena didn't even have a scholarship to offer Hymes until this past spring when former reserve point guard Jonathan Breeden opted to leave the program, and Siena didn't offer the scholarship until late June at which time Hymes accepted it. By then the perceived "quality" recruits have all signed to play at college program and what's left is, basically, left-overs or players Division I programs don't perceive as being able to have an impact at that level.

Until Siena became interested the slender guard's only offer was from UC-Davis, and it was one he turned down with the intention of attending prep school in hopes of showcasing his ability to attract more interest in the coming season.

"Then, Siena made the offer," Hymes said. "They had the open scholarship (when Breeden departed), and my high school coach reached out to coach (Craig) Carter (a Siena assistant), and I guess that's how it happened."

Still Hymes got no playing-time promises other than he would compete for the back-up point-guard role behind Brookins.

"I hope Rakeem's rehab is going well and that he returns to us 100 percent for next year," Hymes said, after his 18-point effort against the Bonnies. "But when he went down, I realized that I had gone from almost being unrecruited to being a starting point guard for a good Division I program.

"What I've done so far feels pretty good. I just have to stay focused and keep improving."

His three-game start might be the best ever by a Siena freshman. The school's all-time leading scorer Marc Brown, who averaged 13.6 points in his first season, had 45 points (15.0 ppg. average) in his first three games. Secretarski averaged 8.7 point in his first three college games.

Hymes' 30-point effort was even better than any personal best. He said his best scoring effort in a high school game was a 28-pointer.

No one is saying that the precocious, undersized player's career will eventually resemble Brown's, but what he has done so far is a revelation, a combination of good three-point shooting and lightning-quick drives to the basket.

"His scoring is his biggest surprise to me so far," said Saints' coach Mitch Buonaguro, who had originally pencilled Hymes in for 10-to-12 minutes per game as the team's back-up point guard. "We knew he was extremely fast, and that he could run the team, but we didn't expect this kind of scoring."

No one really knew what to expect from Hymes, who might have been more highly recruited had he not missed most of his high school junior year after breaking both his tibula and fibula bones in his left leg.

"I came back for that summer's AAU season and played well enough to attract some interest, but the only offer came from UC-Davis," he said.

And, then, Breeden left Siena.

"When that happened, we started looking for someone we could bring in to back up the point guard position," added Buonaguro. "We were able to find Evan. I give all the credit to Craig Carter ... he's the one who found him."

And, through three games thus far, Hymes has been a real "find" for Siena.

Friday, November 18, 2011

More Newcomers Making Early Impact

And, two more newcomers from the women's side with big games of late ...

Loyola's freshman guard Kara Mitchell made her first college start a memorable one, scoring a team-high 19 points in the Greyhounds' 65-59 loss at Pittsburgh on Friday. Marshall had come off the bench previously, scoring five and four points in her first two contests.

And, there was also Ashley Wilkes of Canisius, a 5-11 junior forward, whose debut game was a 13-point, 7-rebound effort in the Golden Griffins' season-opener against Saint Bonaventure. Wilkes previously played at Miami Dade Junior College where she averaged 20.8 points and 10.5 rebounds per contest last season.

Let's not overlook the continued strong work by another women's newcomer, 6-2 sophomore center Lauren Gatto of Niagara, who dropped a game-high 21 points in Niagara's 67-52 loss to Yale tonight (Friday). Gatto, a sophomore, is playing her first season with the Purple Eagles after transferring from the University of Illinois-Chicago, where she played as a freshman in 2009-10.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Iona Proves It Can Contend With Purdue

Midway through the second half of Iona's game against Purdue in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament, ESPN3's color commentator Doug Gottlieb attempted to put the competitiveness of the game in context.

"This is like a 5 (seed) playing a 12 (seed) in a first-round NCAA tournament game," said Gottlieb.

The guess here is that Gottlieb meant the analogy to be complimentary to Iona. In truth, though, it was more like a snub. By the time it was over it looked a lot closer than that, like a No. 8 vs. a No. 9.

Purdue, expected to contend in the high-major Big 10 Conference and rated 27th nationally in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll, snuck past the Gaels, 91-90, and needed a big play on its part and a mistake by Iona in the closing seconds to survive.

The Boilermaker led 88-84 wit two minnutes left, and the Gaels were playing without their superb senior point guard Scott Machado (14 points, 11 assists), who fouled out at the 2:51 mark.

And, then, Iona came back to take a 90-88 lead when LaMont "Momo" Jones converted a fast beak 12-footer with 33 seconds left.

Purdue countered with some solid screening that freed its All-America candidate Robbie Hummel for a three-point bucket that gave it a 91-90 edge with 15.1 seconds left.

Without Machado to run things, the ball went back to Jones for Iona's last chance. The junior transfer from Arizona drove the right side, hounded by a double-team of defenders. When his route to the basket was cut off, he made an off-balance and dangerous baseline pass from one side of the lane to the other.

It was an easy steal fo Purdue. Iona was forced to foul, and even though the resultant two foul shots were both missed, there were just 2.2 seconds remaining wen Iona in-bounded the ball, leaving just enough time to get it near half court where Kyle Smythe put up an under-pressure one-hander that was wide at the buzzer.

Mostly the Gaels did everything but win, proving themselves on par, on a neutral court, with an opponent that is on the cusp of a national Top 25 ranking.

On a local note, Doug Sherman, who does TV sports in the Albany area and also serves as the play-by-play voice of MAAC basketball, called the game for ESPN3 and exhibited an expert's grasp of the Gaels, as would have been expected.

Gottlieb, on the othe hand, made one noteable slip. Midway though the second half, after a successful pick-and-roll play from Machado to forward Mike Glover, Gottlieb said "They've made a living on that play in their previous three years together."

Although Machado and Glover are both seniors, this is only Glover's second season as a Gael after two years playing on the junior college level.

Sherman graciously waited several minutes before eventually noting that "Glover is playing just his second season at Iona."

ALSO OF NOTE: Machado's 11 assists against Purdue made him Iona's career leader in that statistic. He passed Iona Hall of Famer Rory Grimes (Class of 1985), who had been No. 1 on that list with 558 career assists. Machado, who finished second nationally in assists-per-game average (7.6) last season, now has 564 for his Iona career.

More 1st-year Players Have Nice Openers

Add three more names to the list of impressive starts by first year MAAC players, all from Siena's season-opening 65-56 victory over Navy at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., on Wednesday night.

Three Saints' freshmen were instumental in Wednesday's victory. Evan Hymes, a 5-foot-8 point guard pressed into stating duties due to back woes that will keep sophomore Rakeem Brookins out for the season, had 10 points and thee assists in 24 minutes before leg cramps forced him out of the game midway through the second half.

Another freshman, 6-2 guard Davonte Beard, took over for Hymes at the point and finished with seven points and four assists. And, 6-5 frosh swingman ob Poole had nine points and two assists, playing 32 minutes.

Saints' coach Mitch Buonaguro used the word "elated" over and over afterwards to describe the court debut of his freshmen players.

It was all much needed Wednesday by the Saints, who currently only have eight scholarship players, and lost senior starter Owen Wignot after just six minutes when he fell to the floor and suffered a cut on is head. And, then, Hymes went out with more than 10 minutes left to play leaving Siena with just six scholarship bodies, including three freshman (the other frosh, 6-7 forward Marcus Hopper had three points and two rebounds in seven minutes), for the remainder of the game.

For sure no conference team will need production from its freshmen more than Siena. And, for a night ... well, Buonaguro had good reason to be elated.


On the women's side, Kristina Danella had a nice debut game for Marist, getting 11 points and 9 rebounds in the Red Foxes' season-opening loss against Villanova on Wednesday night.

Danella is a junior transfer from UMass, where she averaged 12.7 points per game as a sophomore in the 2009-10 season before leaving that program for Marist. She came off the bench on Wednesday and still led Marist in rebounding and was its second-leading scorer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MAAC Newcomers Have Early Impact

While the turnover of players at the mid-major level isn't anywhere near what happens at elite program, where far too often key players are one-and-dones, the annual transition remains interesting. Players finish their four years of eligibility and roles change.

Usually, though, its understudies who have paid their proverbial dues before stepping into lead roles.

But the early games of a new season have indicated that a lot of newcomers, mostly on the men's side, will have significant impact on their respective teams this season. Not all the newcomers are freshmen, but they are newcomers nonetheless.

Here's an early look at first-time conference players having big games so far.

- Harold Washington of Canisius, a 6-1 junior guard who came to the Golden Griffins after two seasons at Cecil Junior College in Maryland, is the conference's top scorer thus far, averaging 26.5 points over two games. He had 23 in his Division I debut in a loss at James Madison, followed by 30 in a victory over Longwood College.

- Juan'ya Green of Niagara, a 6-3 guard and a true freshman, had 23 points in his college debut against Central Connecticut. He and sophomore teammate Marvin Jordan who also had 23 points against Central Connecticut, are tied for second among conference scorers to date.

- Rakim Sanders of Fairfield, a senior, is fourth in the league in scoring after producing point totals of 16 in a win over Quinnipiac in is first game playing for a conference team and, ten, 25 (along wit nine rebounds) in a loss to Providence. Sanders, a 6-5 forward played three seasons at Boston College where e accumulated more than 1,000 career points, before transferring to Fairfield.

- Another true freshman, point guard Isaiah Morton of Marist, had double figures in his first two college games, getting 13 against Kentucky and 11 against South Florida.

- Manattan's Roberto Colonette, a 6-7 redshirt freshman, has come off the bench in his first three games, with strong results in two of them ... an 11-point, 8-rebound effort in a win over NJIT and 7 points and 7 rebounds in a victory over Brown. Colonette looked good last preseason before an injury kept him out for all of 2010-11.

The women haven't yet had as many newcomers make an immediate impact, but one who did was 6-2 center Lauren Gatto of Niagara, who had 7 points and 10 rebounds in her team's opener, a loss to Buffalo. Gatto is a sophomore who transferred to Niagara after a season at Illinois-Chicago.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rider Women Off To Quick Beginning

Readers of this blog might remember that your hoopscribe picked the Rider women as a potential positive surprise team for this season, and the Broncs have made me look good so far.

Rider improved to 2-0 with a 63-43 win over Bucknell University on Sunday in Alumni Gymnasium. That came two days after a 64-56 victory over Lafayette.

It's the first 2-0 start by the program since the 1982-83 season.

Against Bucknell Rider got double-doubles from superlative sophomore swingperson MyNeshia McKenzie (16 points, 12 rebounds) and tough inside 6-3 junior center Caitlin Bopp (14 points, 10 rebounds).

"We truly 100 percent want to win," Bopp said, in a release issued by Rider's sports information office. "In previous years, we wanted to win but really didn't take the initiative to do it. I can honestly say to a player that we are all working together to win."

Trailing 38-34 three minutes into the second half against Bucknell, Rider went on a 27-1 run, nine points by senior Ali Heller as the Broncs opened up a 61-39 lead with 4:22 left in the game.

Heller finished with 14 points in the game, making four shots from three-point range. Last season, as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference 6th Player of the Year, Heller was 10th in the nation in three-point field goal percentage.

Rider held Bucknell to one field goal (1-for-21 shooting) and seven points in the second half and held the Bison without a three-point field goal in the game (0-for-8).

"I told the team in the locker room that I don't remember being more proud of a defensive effort in a half than I was today, in my 20-years of coaching," said Rider coach Kim Milligan. "We bought into a defensive adjustment in the second half and executed it perfectly. That level of perfection just doesn't happen. Holding a team to seven points is impressive."

Rider's bench out-scored the Bison 23-6.

"That means we finally have depth," Milligan said. "When you have Homan and Heller coming in off the bench and giving the team a spark, that's huge. They would be starting for most teams. Ali is about as confident you can be with her shot and Sarah came off a 20 point, nine rebound game Friday night. We have balance and players who understand their roles."

Rider tries to keep its early run going when it travels to the Palestra in Philadelphia on Saturday to face the Penn Quakers at 3:30pm.

"This is still just two wins," Milligan said. "We get to enjoy this until Monday at 3:15pm when we start preparing for Pennsylvania. We are getting right back at it and our eyes are forward onto that game. This is a long, long season and this is only second of many steps to come."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cooley's Game Vs. Stags An Emotional Tug

One of the most-emotional non-league games one can imagine takes place tomorrow (Monday) night at the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.

It's the night Providence comes to town to play Fairfield.

The emotions will be flowing with the return of Providence coach Ed Cooley to courtside, albeit the other end of the scorer's table from the seat he so capably occupied over the previous five seasons at the arena arena.

Cooley ran the Fairfield sideline from 2006-07 through the 2010-11 season, a tenure that will go down as one of the school's most-successful in its lengthy history. He took a team mostly mired in mediocrity for years, one with a 9-19 record before his arrival, and built the Stags into a unit that finished 25-8 last year, the program's single-season best victory total.

This year could be every bit as good, but Cooley's only first-hand look will come tonight when he's coaching Providence against his former team,, one made up almost exclusively of his former players.

Coaches are always grateful for their first chance to be a head coach, and Fairfield gave that to Cooley.

But once they move on coaches aren't so quick to bring their new team back to their former locale for a game.

John Beilein never brought any of his teams back to Buffalo to play Canisius, Tim Welsh never brought Providence back to Iona for a game and it took Paul Hewitt 11 years before he brought the Georgia Tech team he once coached back to the Albany, N.Y., area to play against Siena. And, even 11 years removed from being on the Saints' sideline, Hewitt emotions were tugged considerably when the Yellow Jackets played at the Times Union Center in Albany last season.

And so it is magnified all the more for Cooley, whose last game as Fairfield's coach was less than eight months ago, a March 20 loss to Kent State in the second round of the NIT.

Two days later Cooley was introduced as Providence's new coach.

And, now, in his second game coaching the Friars Cooley gets to deal with the fresh emotions of a game not only against his former team and players but on the Fairfield home court where he coached 80 games over the past five seasons.

No coach wants to return "home" that quickly, but Cooley had no choice.

To get Fairfield to agree to release Cooley from a contract that still had years remaining, Providence had to agree to play a game at Fairfield this season. So it is that Cooley returns home Monday night.

"To be perfectly honest, I didn't want this to happen," said Cooley, in a recent telephone interview. "Those kids ... I'm not even a year removed from being in their living rooms. It's tough ... I love those guys. I'll always have a life's relationship with them, and them with me.

"I'll be very happy to go back to Fairfield, and very happy afterwards. But, for those 40 minutes ... those will be tough."

Cooley said he has nothing but fond feelings for his former school.

"I have nothing but happy memories," he said. "You always look back fondly at the first place that allowed you to be a head coach."

Certainly no one begrudges Cooley, or any mid-major level coach, from moving on, particularly when a Big East program comes calling. And, most particularly, when the one calling is truly home.

Cooley was born and raised in Providence, and aspired to play there before attending college at Stonehill and, then, beginning the rise through the coaching ranks with a year at UMass-Dartmouth, a year at Stonehill, a year at Rhode Island and nine years as an assistant at Boston College before becoming Faifrield's head coach.

And, now, he's back home.

“I love Providence College,” he said. “I always wanted to be here as a player, but I wasn’t good enough. Hopefully, I do a great job as their head coach.”

If he can duplicate at Providence what he did at Fairfield he will indeed be doing a great job.

And while Cooley love for Providence is strong, his emotions for Fairfield are similar, which makes the return to his former home a difficult one.

At Fairfield he recruited every player but one on the current roster, convinced high-profile transfers Rakim Sanders (from Boston College) and Desmond Wade (Houston) to join him there. He developed relationships with players there, became their surrogate father and mentor, coached them every day in practice, became their advisor, their confidant. Their friend.

They are relationships hard to break, and certainly hard to forget less than eight months removed.

And, now, he has to coach against all of that. He is trying to do at Providence, what he did at Fairfield. Trying to take a program that has struggled in recent years (14-17 last season) and turn things around. In the second game of that project he has to go against his former team, one that he built into something grand, and one against which he'll have a tough time getting a victory.

His old program, he knows, is in good hands.

"Sydney Johnson (Cooley's successor) is a great coach ... one of the best in the country, and I'm very happy for him," said Cooley.

The old Fairfield coach is reminded that Johnson will probably have considerable success on the sideline this season because Cooley left plenty behind there.

And Cooley chuckled, the deep bass-timbered laugh coming through the telephone wires.

"They're a good group, and they're lucky, too, to have a coach of Sydney's caliber coaching them this season," added Cooley.

Cooley, now, gets to see just how good his former program remains, less than eight months after his move to Providence.

It should be a nice night all around, a reunion of sorts for Cooley, his former players and hundreds of others within the Fairfield community who became close to the former coach over the past five years.

Cooley will surely enjoy all the trappings ... except for those 40 minutes when he has to coach against his former players.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Men's Openers ... Inside The Boxscores

Opening night for MAAC men's basketball was Friday, and there were some interesting tidbits to be found within the boxscores ...

Here's a quick recap of the openers:

- Fairfield was a 72-60 winner over state rival Quinnipiac. And, an unexpected, unsung starter was the team's top scorer.

The Stags have plenty of star power in eligible transfers Rakim Sanders and Desmond Wade, along with all-league performer Derek Needham and 7-foot-0 center Ryan Olander.

But, on Friday, the best game by a Fairfield player was turned in by 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Maurice Barrow, who shot 8-of-11 from the floor and finished with a game-high 19 points while adding six rebounds.

- Kentucky turned in the expected rout of Marist, 108-58. But, the Red Foxes only trailed by nine, 45-36 at halftime. After that, Kentucky outscored Marist 63-22 in the second half. Freshman point guard Isaiah Morton led Marist with 13 points, but failed to record an assist.

- Loyola provided a good test for Wake Forest of the ACC before the Deacon Demons pulled away for a 75-63 victory. The Greyhounds had the game tied at 48 with 10:38 remaining before Wake went on a 7-0 run to pull away. Center Shane Walker and forward Justin Drummond each had 12 points and nine rebounds for Loyola.

- Buffalo knocked off Saint Peter's, 72-65, but Chris Prescott, a transfer from Saint Joseph's, had a nice debut in the Peacocks' lineup with 23 points, including 5-of-11 shooting from three-point territory. Prescott, though, only made 2-of-8 from inside the stripe.

- And Rider's challenging early season schedule got off to a rough start as the Broncs fell 83-57 at Robert Morris. A banged-up Rider team made the trip to Pittsburgh with only eight scholarship players. Junior swingman Anthony Miles, who averaged 5.9 points per game last season, led the Broncs with 20 points Friday. Rider stays in the Steel City to face Pittsburgh on Sunday night before taking a six-hour bus ride home for a 6 a.m. Tuesday contest at home vs. Drexel as part of ESPN's College Basketball Tip-Off 24-hour marathon.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Iona's Ford Backs Up Coach's Opinion

The first MAAC college basketball game of the 2011-12 season is now in the books, as of early Friday afternoon, and it makes Iona women's coach Tony Bozzella look like a prophet.

Bozzella's Gaels won with ease, 85-69, over a decent North Carolina A&T (15-14 last season with three of its top six players back) in a first-round tip-off tournament hosted by Iona that started at 11 a.m. Friday.

Bozzella, already widely recognized as a good coach, now looks like a master of the crystal ball, too.

At the MAAC's Preseason Awards Show a couple of weeks ago, Bozzella had this to say about his standout senior forward Kristina Ford: "She's going to be the best player in the league this season," Bozzella said. "I don't care if you quote me as saying that. She deserves to have people know what I think about her. She worked extremely hard in the off-season and the improvement in her game is dramatic."

It's only one game, but Ford backed up her coach's confidence with a career-high 34 points against North Carolina A&T on 13-of-18 shooting from the floor. Her previous single-game best had been 24 points.

It probably didn't hurt to have teammate and senior point guard Suzi Fregosi back in the lineup. Fregosi, one of the league's best true point guards, missed much of last season with hip issues. But she showed she was all the way back in Friday's game, posting a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

'Early' Games To Give Rider Men Good Test

It is a tough-enough home opener for the Rider men's basketball team, Tuesday's game against regional non-league rival Drexel, a team that won 21 games a year ago and is once again expected to be one of the better teams in the Colonial Athletic Association.

And, then, there is the 6 a.m. starting time as Rider serves as the host team for that time block's portion of ESPN's season-tip off's 24-hour basketball marathon.

But that only begins to hint at the early season challenges faced by the Broncs who, due to some early season injuries, are operating with only eight scholarship players right now.

Before the team even has to start worrying about how much coffee to drink to perk up the senses for basketball before the sun rises on Tuesday, there's the certain matter of two other games this weekend.

The Broncs, later today (Thursday) hit the road for a two-game trip to Pittsburgh to face Robert Morris Friday at 7 p.m. and, then, Pitt Sunday night at 6 p.m.

Nothing like a nice tune-up for Tuesday's eye-opener ... Pitt is widely acknowledged as a Top 10-team nationally.

"I thought that would have been an afternoon game," said Rider coach Tommy Dempsey.

Instead, to accomodate television (the game will be televised on ESPN3), it was recently scheduled for its 6 p.m. starting time.

The Broncs will get on a bus immediately following that game for a 330-mile/6-hour bus ride from Pittsburgh back to their Lawrenceville, N.J., campus.

"We'll probably get home about 2 a.m. Monday morning," noted Dempsey.

That gives the team all of about 28 hours before Tuesday morning's tip-off, time in which team players and coaches will be concerned with Monday classes, a Monday afternoon practice and a drastically altered pre-game schedule in an attempt to accomodate rest and proper nutrition before the 6 a.m. Tuesday contest with Drexel.

On top of everything else, the contest is Drexel's first of the year, meaning the Dragons will have the emotional charge of their season-opener.

"I'm a coffee drinker, and I'll be having some Tuesday morning ... but I'm not the one who has to be awake for the game," said Dempsey. "We have to be sure the players are ready.

"But the school is really embracing the game. There will be a lot of activities on our campus surrounding the game. Between those emotions, playing a regional rival and having a national TV audience watching, I'm sure our guys will get a lift from all of that."

Still, having to play 28 hours after getting back from a meeting with a physical, elite Pitt opponent ....

"It will be a challenge, and I don't have a magic formula for how to proceed," said Dempsey. "We'll just try to do what we think is best."

Dempsey will encourage his team to get as much rest upon its return from Pitt, attend classes on Monday and, then, will have a light walk-through late Monday afternoon. After that the team will have a big meal around 8 p.m. Monday night and, then, will stay off campus as it tries to get a little more sleep for Tuesday morning's game.

"We'll try to get them to bed at 10 p.m. (Monday), and up at 4 a.m. on Tuesday to let them have something real light ... oatmeal, maybe some eggs ... prior to the game," said Dempsey.

The Broncs are no strangers to early mornings on the court. Dempsey had his players arrange class schedules to facilitate twice-weekly 7 a.m. practices twice a week.

"But practicing at 7 a.m. isn't like playing a game at 6 a.m.," admitted the Rider coach

His team will be further hampered by some nagging preseason injuries, limiting it to eight scholarship players for the two-game trip to the Pittsburgh area. The only starter who won't play there, though, is point guard Jonathan Thompson, who is finishing a five-game suspension imnpossed late last season. Thompson will be able to play in Tuesday's morning contest with Drexel.

"We know it's a big thing for our university to get the national television exposure," said Dempsey. "And you look at the time slot. A lot of people are up getting ready for the day that early and turn on ESPN to watch SportsCenter. Instead, our game will be on. We'll get a lot of people watching who might not normally watch. If it's a good, exciting game maybe they'll keep watching. It's great publicity for our school."

But, it's a challenge that goes beyond just having to get up early for a game.

"Basically, we're on the road for two games and, then, home for the morning game ... three games in about four-and-a-half days," said Dempsey. "I told our guys that if we're ever going to win a MAAC tournament, we have to play three days in a row, so this is good preparation for us if we get into that post-season situation."

And, it might happen. Rider was picked to finish fourth in the coaches' preseason poll and has a strong returning cast from a year ago.

Just how good will Rider be? It's upcoming season-opening three games might tell plenty.

"These early games will test our team's toughness, our character and our resolve," said Dempsey. "I'll have a pretty good idea about our team very early ... by about 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Siena's PG Brookins To Miss Season

Must be too many black cats crossing in the path of the Siena men's basketball team, too many ladders gone under, too many mirrors broken.

What else can explain what's going on in Loudonville, N.Y., these days where the only luck the Saints have had this off-season has been of the bad-luck variety?

Early Wednesday afternoon the school disclosed that sophomore point guard Rakeem Brookins, who started the majority of the Saints' games as a freshman and was the team's leading scorer (9.0 per game) among returnees, would miss the entire upcoming season.

Brookins has been out of practice for close to a month with back issues. A recent examination by orthopedic surgeons at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania have diagnosed Brookins with a bulging disk at L3-L4, and a herniated disk at L4-L5. Based on the estimated recovery time for those injuries, it was determined that Brookins would not be able to participate in basketball related activities this season, according to a press release issued by the school.

Brookins will remain home in Philadelphia for the remainder of the fall semester where he continues to undergo physical therapy, and focus on his academic pursuits. No surgery is planned right now. He plans on returning to Siena in January, and taking a full academic course load in the spring semester as he continues his recovery.

"It's obviously disappointing news, but our focus is on Rahk returning to full health and enjoying a successful Siena career on and off the court," head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. "He has the complete support of our coaching staff, his teammates, and all of the great support services available to him as a Siena student athlete."

Brookins' loss means the Saints will be starting a freshman at point guard for the second straight season. Both the 6-2 Davonte Beard and the 5-8 Evan Hymes have been playing the position in practices since Brookins went down. Sources within the program indicated that it would probably Hymes in the starting lineup for the team's Nov. 16 opener against Navy.

Broookins' loss was just the latest setback in an unkind stretch for Siena since the end of last season that started when 6-9 junior Davis Martens, who might have started at forward this season, was loss for the year after August hip surgery.

Then came the double loss of much-hyped 6-8 freshmen forwards Lionel Gomis and Imoh Silas, both natives of Africa, who will sit out this season due to relatively new NCAA legislation that players must compete their high school playing careers within a specific time frame. Both players failed to attend high school for at least a year due to personal situations while in Africa.

And, then, sophomore forward Trenity Burdine, who had some strong efforts as a freshman, has battled foot issues since this past summer and has yet to get on the court.

And, now, Brookins.

Burdine, according to Siena coaches, is expected to begin working out with the team, possibly later this week.

But, for now, Siena is down to eight scholarship players, including four freshmen.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Quesions, Answers About Women's Teams

You've got questions, we've got answers, women's division.

Here are some burning questions as the MAAC women's season approaches, and your hoopscribe's attempt at answers.

What team will win the regular-season championship?

Hard to go against a team that has won every year since gas prices were under $1.50 a gallon. Of course that would be Marist, also the unanimous choice of league coaches in their annual preseason poll. But, it says here, Marist isn't quite as strong as it was when it went through the league season with a perfect 18-0 record last season. Not only did it lose Player of the Year Erica Allenspach, but suffered an unexpected loss with the transfer departure of 6-4 forward Kate Oliver. The Red Foxes replace Oliver with another transfer, 6-1 Kristina Danella from UMass, who had 22 points in the program's annual Red/White scrimmage recently.

The better question might be what team has the best chance to, potentially, end Marist's string of regular-season titles? The answer here is Loyola, with two all-league caliber players in junior point guard Katie Sheahin and senior swingperson Mariam McKenzie as well as emerging 6-1 forward junior Alyssa Southerland.

The thing Marist has over everyone else, though, is talented depth. The Red Foxes legitimately went nine or 10 players deep last season and appear to have that kind of bench firepower again this year.

Can the MAAC send two teams to the NCAA tournament?

Not likely, since it has only happened once. But, it could. Last year, for instance ... if Marist had lost in the conference tournament, the MAAC would have had an automatic qualifier other than Marist and, then, the Red Foxes would have been rated high enough in the Ratings Percentage Index to have gotten an at-large situation. Marist, by now, has a strong enough national reputation and plays a strong enough non-league schedule to ensure a high RPI rating that it would get strong consideration for an at-large berth provided it finishes something like 24-6 in regular-season play.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This original post mistakenly indicated that there has never been an at-large NCAA team from the MAAC. A loyal and educated follower, Mid-Major Fan, was kind enough to point out that the 2000-01 season's Fairfield team, which suffered a 70-68 loss to Siena in the conference tournament's championship game, also received a much-deserved at-large invitation that season.

Will there be a surprise team in the conference?

We'll go with two, Iona and Siena.

The Gaels had five straight seasons of at least 18 overall victories before finishing 11-20 last season. Place much of that on the early season loss of point guard Suzi Fregosi, for whom the program had no replacement. Fregosi is back at full strength this year, surrounded by a talented cast, and there's no discounting how important Fregosi is in terms of leadership and running the team on the floor.

As for Siena, it finished 11-7 in league play last year and lost three starters. But replacements are all but unknown around the conference, for now. Junior post player Lily Grinci has had an impact when healthy, but has rarely been at full strength her first two seasons. She's healthy now and has been exceptional in the preseason. Another post, 6-1 sophomore Clara Sole-Anglada, has also been a positive revelation in the preseason after getting limited minutes last season. The Saints have more depth and more athleticism than in recent years and should at least duplicate last season's record.

Best Player?

It's easy to pick Marist's Corielle Yarde, a senior guard who had a big-time breakout game in the NCAA tournament's second round last season when she scored 25 points and had 12 rebounds in a 71-66 loss to Duke. And, Yarde is the league's preseason Player of the Year.

Your hoopscribe, though, has a preference for Loyola's Sheahin, the do-everything point guard who not only led the conference in assists last seson but was No. 2 nationally in steals per game and, like Yarde, played her best late in the season against strong opponents.

Surprise Player?

We'll go with Fregosi, one of our favorites to watch. She is as good a true pass-first point guard as we've seen in the league in several years. In a recent exhibition game she had 11 assists against just two turnovers. She is often overlooked because she rarely scores, but all she does is run the offense and make teammates better. If Iona returns to 18+ victories again this season, Fregosi will be the primary reason.

Who makes the post-season all-star team?

Based on last-year's performances, this is pretty easy right now: Corielle Yarde of Marist, Katie Sheahin and Miriam McKenzie of Loyola, Taryn Johnson of Fairfield and Kristina Ford of Iona.

What transfer will have the most impact this season?

While men's teams in the conference have enough quality all stars to fill an all-star team, it's a relative rarity for women's teams to attract quality transfer players. But, Marist has a good one in Kristina Danella, a 6-1 forward who played two seasons as a starter at UMass where she averaged more than 12 points per game.

Top incoming freshman?

It would be easy to designate guard Kayla Hoohuli of Canisius, who is believed to be the first Parade Magazine All-American to attend a MAAC school. But, Hoohuli isn't all the way back from a high school injury and may be limited early in the season.

So, we'll go with Fairfield freshman Felicia DaCruz, a 5-7 point guard who not only has drawn raves so far for her passing ability but for a long-range shooting touch. DaCruz is expected to crack the Lady Stags' starting lineup and allow senior Desire Pina to move back to off-guard.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Questions, Answers For Upcoming Season

Can you believe college basketball season is upon us ... less than a week away?

As the season approaches, you've got questions and we've got answers. We'll start with the men, and give the ladies the same treatment in a future post.

Who will win the MAAC's regular-season championship this season?

The easy answer is Iona. And if all goes well, if playing styles mesh, the Gaels' season could be one for the ages. The talent assembled might account for a group that ranks only slightly behind the great La Salle teams of the late 1980's and pretty close to the Siena group of recent vintage.

That said ... it's not a foregone conclusion. Don't forget about Fairfield, which lost two solid players to graduation and bring in two transfers that, talent-wise, are better than their predecessors. And everyone else on the roster has an extra year's experience.

And, then, there's Loyola. In most years the talent Loyola has on this year's roster would be good enough to be considered a potential regular-season champion.

If you want an answer ... we'll go with Fairfield.

Is this the year the conference sends two teams to the NCAA tournament?

League commissioner Rich Ensor thinks it is. The only time it has happened in the 30-year history of the MAAC was 1995 when Manhattan (25-4) won the regular-season title and got beat by Saint Peter's in the post-season tournament's championship game. The Jaspers then went on to win a first-round NCAA tournament game to finish 26-5.

For that to happen one team would need to dominate in regular-season play and, then, get upset in the post-season tournament. Easy to say that could be the case with Iona this season.

But, the belief here is that there's not that significant a gap between Iona, Fairfield, Loyola, Rider and, potentially, Saint Peter's. This hoopscribe does not believe any one team will distance itself from the pack and finish regular-season conference play with just one, or two, losses.

If that doesn't happen, the MAAC won't get an at-large team to the NCAA event. Clearly, we hope that it happens, but the feeling here is that it won't.

Surprise team?

We'll go with two: Saint Peter's and Niagara.

The Peacocks lost four starters from last season's NCAA team, but bring in quality replacements. It's a matter of how well the newcomers mesh. If all goes well, Saint Peter's could be a dangerous team by season's end.

The Purple Eagles have most of their roster back, along with two highly touted freshmen, Ja'Juan Green and Josh Turner. Green, according to sources who have seen practices, might be the team's best guard. Turner, who won't be eligible to play until the second semester, is a 6-5 swingman who drew recruiting interest from higher-level programs. Like Saint Peter's, Niagara should be at its best by season's end and capable of doing some late-season damage.

Surprise Player?

It's always fun to watch the maturation process as young players blossom into talented standouts.

That should have been the progression of current Siena senior guard Kyle Downey, who had some flashes as a freshman that indicated he would eventually become a solid contributor, at the very least.

And, then, the 6-3 guard battled a series of foot, ankle and leg injuries through his sophomore and junior season but continued to play at far less than 100 percent.

For the first time since his freshman season Downey is now completely healthy and has even lost 10 pounds, in an effort to be quicker, since last season.

He is likely to start at off-guard for the Saints, and head coach Mitch Buonaguro believes Downey might wind up as Siena's leading scorer this season and gain post-season all-star honors.

Post-season all stars?

Forward Mike Glover and Scott Machado of Iona, guard Derek Needham of Fairfield, forward Novar Gadson of Rider and guard George Beamon of Manhattan.

Toughest to omit; Center Ryan Olander of Fairfield.

Biggest non-league game?

Two stand out. Iona meets Purdue on Nov. 17, on a neutral court in Puerto Rico. A Gaels' victory over the Boilermakers would add considerable credibility to Iona's hopes for a post-season tournament berth should it not be the conference's automatic entrant to the NCAA's.

The other might have the potential for a similar impact, but is more attractive based on past connections. That would be when Providence plays Fairfield in Bridgeport, Conn., on Nov. 14. Providence's coach is Ed Cooley, who coached the Stags for the past five seasons.

Top incoming freshman?

We'll go with three here: Niagara's Green, Marist's 6-5 swingman Chevauagn Lewis and Siena's 6-5 swingman Rob Poole.

All three will get significant playing time, and all three, according to a variety of sources, have had outstanding preseasons.

Top incoming transfer?

The memory banks cannot recall so many talented transfers all becoming eligible at once. The best of the bunch might be Fairfield's Rakim Sanders, a 6-5 swingman who already has more than 1,000 career points from three seasons at Boston College. But, the transfer with the most impact could easily be Chris Prescott (previously at St. Joseph's) at Saint Peter's. The Peacocks lost plenty of offense since last year, and Prescott can score, and will probably do plenty of that this season.

MAAC Tournament expectations?

You're on your own for figuring out the eventual winner. The debate here is whether the event will be a success, operating on a neutral court for the first time since 1989.

The tournament will be in Springfield, Mass. (the MassMutual Center) for the first time this year, the first on a three-year contract. Closest MAAC school? About 90 miles away, which means lengthy day trips for schools like Fairfield Marist and Siena, and, likely, overnight stays for fans of any other program.

This, though, is what administrators ... those above athletic departments ... at conference schools wanted. The publicity and prestige gained from having a school participate in the NCAA tournament goes far beyond athletic benefits. The interest generated by an NCAA team results in larger alumni donations, larger application pools and any number of other benefits.

The bottom line is that league administrators wanted the proverbial level playing field. The perception is that a neutral court gives everyone a better chance in the post-season than they would have by playing on one team's home court.

So, back to the question of whether it will succeed?

League commissioner Ensor indicates the best judgment probably can't be made until at least after the second year of the marriage with Springfield. It will take time for the event to be established there.

Will crowds rival the big nights of more than 10,000 that traditionally came to Albany's Times Union Center? That can't happen, since the MassMutual Center's capacity is approximately 7,400. But, crowds of, say, 4,500 in that facility will create a far better atmosphere than when a similar number turned out a year ago in the 12,000-seat Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.

And, there's much more than mere basketball now to attract fans. Downtown Springfield appears better suited in terms of very proximitous hotels, restaurants and pubs than either Albany or Bridgeport.

And, then, there's the Basketball Hall of Fame in downtown Springfield, a wonderful way to spend a day examining the sport's history. The league has seized upon the connection, using the Hall's facility's for its preseason Awards Show, and also for the announcement of the post-season award winners just prior to the tournament.

Those who purchase all-session passes for the MAAC tournament will also receive free admission to the Hall.

The build up for the event's move to Springfield began even before last season's tournament. Marketing and promotion has been heavy since then. The preseason Awards Show last month in Springfield was the best of its kind that your hoopscribe has ever attended, dating back to 1989. Not that a preseason event will be any indication of how successful the post-season tournament will be, but the organizational/promotional skills required for success are clearly in place.

The guess here is that the eventual crowd count will more closely resemble the mid-20,000 total of last year's tournament in Bridgeport than the 50,000-plus count from 2010 in Albany.

But, considering the neutral site and the need to establish itself as a presence in Springfield, those type crowds should be considered a success.

The feeling here is similar to Ensor's, that the best judgment will come after the event's second year in Springfield. But, based on the type effort we've already seen within that community, your blogger thinks the tournament will be just fine in its new neutral setting.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

MAAC Teams Have Key Non-League Games

Although there is probably no way to chart this definitively, the opinion here is that non-league schedules facing conference teams this season are among the most-demanding your hoopscribe can remember ... and, I've been covering the MAAC in some form since 1989.

Is that a good thing? Coaches will universally speak about the benefits of playing "up" once or twice in non-league games, opportunities for their respective teams to play tougher competition and, theoretically better themselves in preparation for conference play.

But we've been seeing more times when mid-major teams, MAAC teams included, have snuck away with a victory when playing "up."

It's a by-product of mid-major teams getting better, lessening the gap between themselves and the high majors.

And, that gap has probably never been smaller between some of the better opponents facing certain MAAC teams this season and more than a few teams from our favored conference.

Realistically, even the best MAAC teams would struggle to match up with the true elite of college basketball. But, the outcome isn't so certain when teams below, say, the top 10 or 15 nationally meet the best conference teams.

How good will some MAAC teams be this season?

Consider this ... the preseason favorite, Iona, not only has a preseason Wooden Award candidate (senior forward Mike Glover), a list limited to 50 players nationally, but also has an immediately eligible transfer (junior guard LaMont "Momo" Jones) who started for Arizona last year, a team that advanced to the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight round. And the team's best player just might be senior guard Scott Machado, who was No. 2 nationally in assists last season. Iona is truly loaded this year, and has two or three reserves who would be starters, potentially standouts, for just about any other conference team.

And, then, there's Fairfield, the defending regular-season league champion. The Stags lost two players to graduation from a year ago but the replacements, incoming transfers, are both arguably better than the departees.

The team picked to finish third this year? It's Loyola, which has four returning starters and an incoming immediately eligible transfer from a higher-level conference. In most years, that kind of firepower would get a team preseason consideration to be the conference winner.

Let's not forget Rider, which knocked off two "up" opponents last season and should be every bit as good this season.

How important is it to have success against higher-rated opponents? It's probably as important as it has ever been for MAAC teams this season.

League commissioner Rich Ensor has speculated that this might be the year a conference team gets at-large consideration for the NCAA tournament (the only time that ever happened was in 1995 when Manhattan was awarded an at-large berth).

That kind of consideration gets a significant boost with a victory over an "up" opponent, and one of the conference's teams with a real chance for an at-large berth, if it doesn't get the league's automatic spot in the NCAA's, gets that kind of opportunity immediately.

Iona's first game is Nov. 17 when it meets Purdue in a tournament in Puerto Rico. The Boilermakers, a perennial NCAA participant, coincidentally has knocked MAAC teams (Siena in 2010, Saint Peter's in 2011) out of the NCAA's first round in the past two seasons.

"That would be a great boost for us," said Glover, about the potential of beating Purdue. "We know they're a real good team, but we think we've got a real chance."

While Purdue has racked up 55 total victories over the past two seasons, it lost its two best players from a year ago -- center JaJuan Johnson and guard ETwaun Moore, the first- and second-round picks, respectively, of the Boston Celtics in this past spring's NBA draft.

Still, Purdue has All-American candidate 6-8 forward Robbie Hummel, whose knee injury forced him to miss last season.

"He's terrific ... he'll be tough for us," said Iona's Glover, who is likely to spend a lot of time in Hummel's vicinity when the teams meet.

Here's a look at some other non-league games of note on the schedules of MAAC teams this season:

- Siena meets two opponents with familiar faces on the opposing sidelines. On Nov. 19 the Saints travel to Mount Saint Mary's of Emmitsburg, Md., coached by Robert Burke, who not only was a Siena assistant during Paul Hewitt's tenure there in the late 1990's, but was a serious candidate in Siena's search for a coach that resulted in its hiring of Fran McCaffery. Siena also plays at Florida Atlantic on Dec. 28, a program coached by Mike Jarvis, whose Boston University teams were a league rival of Siena's when both programs were members of the old Northeast Athletic Conference (NAC) before Siena joined the MAAC.

- Canisius opens its season on Nov. 13 when it travels to James Madison University, whose coach is former Marist College head coach Matt Brady, whose playing career took place at Siena. The Golden Griffins also have a tough contest on Nov. 17 at UNLV, a team picked to finish second (by The Sporting News) in the Mountain West Conference.

- Fairfield has a Dec. 22 meeting with defending national champion UConn, the preseason favorite to win the Big East this year. UConn has five players back who started games at various times last season, including forward Jeremy Lamb, who averaged 16.2 points per game in last season's NCAA tournament. But, an even more-intriguing Fairfield game takes place on Nov. 14 when Providence comes to Bridgeport, Conn., to play the Stags at the Arena at Harbor Yard. The Friars are coached by former Fairfield coach Ed Cooley.

- Both Marist (No. 11) and Loyola (Dec. 22) play games at Kentucky this season. The Wildcats got to last season's NCAA Final Four, and are likely to have a legitimate opportunity to get that far again behind sophomore forward Terrence Jones (15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds per game). Kentucky also brings in 6-10 freshman forward Anthony Davis, the top-rated recruit nationally according to several scouting services.

- Manhattan plays at Syracuse on Nov. 14 in a preseason NIT contest. The Orangemen are ranked behind only UConn in the Big East and have four starters returning from last year's team that finished 27-8 overall. The Jaspers also have a Dec. 23 game at George Mason, a program now directed by former Siena coach Paul Hewitt.

- Rider gets tested early when it travels to Pitt for a Nov. 13 game. The Panthers are picked to finish third in the Big East this season. Pitt's top player is 6-2 senior guard Ashton Gibbs, who has led the team in scoring the past two seasons.The Panthers also bring in 6-9 freshman forward Khem Birch, a consensus top-10 recruit. The Broncs also see a familiar faces on Nov. 25 at James Madison (coached by Matt Brady), and face another elite-level foe on Dec. 9 when it plays at Florida, the No. 2-rated team in the SEC.

- Niagara gets a look at a high-powered foe when it plays at Missouri on Nov. 17. The Tigers have all five starters back from a team that won 23 games last season.

And those games feature merely the cream-of-the-crop non-league opponents facing MAAC teams this season. It seems that every conference team's non-conference schedule includes more than a couple games against higher-level opponents.

It means good early season basketball for MAAC teams and, theoretically, good preparation for the upcoming league season.