Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Men's Quarterfinal Match: Manhattan vs. Siena

Here's another preview of men's teams and games in the upcoming MAAC tournament.

MANHATTAN (No. 3 seed) vs. SIENA (No. 6)
Saturday, 9:30 p.m.

WHAT MANHATTAN HAS: Enough to win 20 games overall, a 14-game turnaround from last season's 6-victory production and the best one-year improvement in Division I. It starts with George Beamon, the league's leading scorer who was a lightly used player as a freshman and, two years later, averages 18.4 ppg. There's a new attitude and a new playing style here and all that paid dividends. The team legitimately went 10 players deep (10 players got in at least 28 games and averaged at least 9.5 minutes per appearance), and used that depth for an up-tempo style that bothered teams. The Jaspers proved they could play with anyone, beating Iona and Fairfield during the regular season. The Jaspers rebounded by committee, doing enough overall work on the boards to outrebound opponents by an average of 3.0 per game.

WHAT SIENA HAS: Outstaning chemistry, a team that works well together. And, it needed to since there was a six-man rotation, due to injuries and ineligibilities, for almost the entire season. No Division I program's starters played more minutes than Siena's. Freshman Evan Hymes was a real find as a late point-guard recruit, and is currently the highest-scoring freshman in the program's history. Senior Kyle Downey finally got healthy after two injury marred seasons and probably should have been a third-team all-league pick. And, then, there's Ol' Mr. Reliable, 6-8 junior forward O.D. Anosike, who not only had a nation's best 22 double-doubles, but became just the second MAAC player in history to lead the nation in rebounding. Siena even has a regular-season victory over Manhattan as a confidence booster.

WHAT MANHATTAN DOESN'T HAVE: The Jaspers might not have their standout sophomore point guard Mike Alvarado, who suffered an eye injury in a game on Feb. 14 and has yet to return. Earlier this week, Manhattan coach Steve Masiello called Alvarado's return for this game 50-50. Without him, Manhattan has used Kadani Brutus at point guard, and he has looked out of place there. While the team has great balance behind Beamon on offense, there really isn't a sure-thing No. 2 offense. If Beamon doesn't score, Manhattan's offense could struggle ... particularly if Alvarado is out or at less than 100 percent.

WHAT SIENA DOESN'T HAVE: The Saints, too, have a point guard issue. Hymes ran into a basket support late in a win over Canisius on Sunday, suffered a knee bruise and hasn't practiced since. His status for Saturday's game is also up in the air and if he doesn't play, Siena is down to five players who saw any meaningful minutes this season ... none seemingly capable of playing the point ... and will almost assuredly be looking at a quick exit in the tournament. The Saints also lack depth, quite obviously, but get around that by playing an effective zone defense and not pushing the issue on offense without a clear-cut advantage. Only two teams have really been able to push the pace against Siena, but one of those was Manhattan, which won an early season meeting by 19 points.

HOW MANHATTAN CAN WIN: It's not hard to envision Manhattan causing some damage in the tournament, as long as Alvarado plays and is effective. Without him, the Jaspers are still capable of beating Siena but not likely to advance far beyond that. If Manhattan is at full strength, though, regular-season victories over Iona and Fairfield show what the team is capable of on a given night. The depth, theoretically, should keep Manhattan fresh for three games if it can continue to advance.

HOW SIENA CAN WIN: Expecting Siena to win three games in three nights, with a six-man roster, might be a little too much to ask. But, on a given night ... victories over Manhattan, Fairfield and Iona during the regular season show just what the Saints can do when they inflict their playing style on an opponent. For the Saints to beat Manhattan and cause any damage in this event, Hymes' knee has to be reasonably healthy and Downey needs to shoot well. Anosike also needs to turn in big numbers while recording his traditional double-double. But, by now, that's almost a given.

MAAC "Gives Back" Includes Physical Fitness Aspect

A quick break from previewing the MAAC tournament for this message ...

The MAAC's "Gives Back" program will include a physical fitness/healthy lifestyle challege this season in which students from Springfield, Mass., area schools can earn a Presidential Active Lifestyle Award as well as tickets and transportation to Monday's women's championship game at the MassMutual Center.

Here's the press release, as issued by the conference:

The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s “Gives Back” program will give students in the Springfield, MA area a chance to connect to the conference and attend its post-season basketball tournament through a healthy lifestyle challenge.

The MAAC has joined forces with President’s Challenge program of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition to offer students from around the city known as the “Birthplace of Basketball” an opportunity to earn a Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA).

The PALA+ Challenge, a supported by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, requires students to participate in a six-week program designed to facilitate more physical activity and better and healthier eating habits.

Students who complete the program will qualify to be part of the “Bus Brigade” that will bring them to the women’s conference tournament championship game on Monday, March 6 at noon.

“We always strive to create a connection between the league and students in the area that hosts the tournament,” said Meghan Bertovich, the conference’s assistant commissioner for women’s basketball operations.

The “MAAC Gives Back” program traditionally provides curriculum in which students learn and sharpen math, science and history skills through lessons associated with basketball. This year, though, the program has added the healthy lifestyle component.

The PALA challenge requires students to not only participate in a physical activity for at least 60 minutes five days for six weeks, but also encourages students to eat healthy food, including fruits, vegetables, fish and chicken.

Matt Hollander, the general manager of the MassMutual Center, the venue for this year’s MAAC tournament, organized the program, which students from elementary through high school are eligible. Hollander also serves as the chairman of the tournament’s educational committee, which oversees the program.

In all 1,043 students signed up for the challenge and those who complete it not only get free admission and transportation via the Bus Brigade to the women’s championship contest but also a certificate signed by President Barack Obama to commemorate their achievement.

“The area students are very excited about the challenge,” said Bertovich. “They’ll also get to witness a ceremonial tip-off that will feature WWE wrestling star David Otunga.”

The program is designed to get youth to commit to daily physical activity and to stick with it, while also making healthier eating habits for a lifetime.

Almost every type of physical activity is allowed, including playing sports, walking the dog, running with your family, and even gardening in the yard, all while fueling one’s body with nutritious foods.

Through the MAAC Gives Back campaign, participants receive a Presidential certificate, a trip to the MAAC tournament for the women’s championship game and, hopefully, the beginning of an active and healthy lifestyle that will last a lifetime.

Men's Quarterfinal Round Preview: Fairfield vs. Rider

Here's another in the series previewing men's teams and games in the upcoming MAAC tournament.

FAIRFIELD (No. 4 Seed) vs. RIDER (No. 5)
Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

WHAT FAIRFIELD HAS: A tough-to-defend, so-called "Princeton" offensive style that the team seemed to get more comfortable with as the season progressed. Rakim Sanders (50.3 percent) and Maurice Barrow (51.7) both shot over 50 percent from the field. The team played defense well enough to rank first in fewest points allowed among conference teams (61.2) and third in field-goal-against percentage (41.0). Sanders is one of the top players in the conference, finishing fourth in scoring and third in rebounding. Overall the team had the conference's second-best assist-to-turnover ratio.

WHAT RIDER HAS: Certainly momentum. The Broncs defeated No. 2 seeded Loyola and No. 4 Fairfield, its quarterfinal-round foe, in back-to-back games this past weekend. Rider has improved as much as any team as the season progressed, suffering through a 1-10 start to finish 12-8 overall after that including a 10-5 mark in MAAC play over its final 15 contests. Rider has done it with more balance than any team, with five players averaging double figures (none more than Jeff Jones' 13.2 ppg. average) with three more bench players averaging between 7.7 and 3.9 ppg. It has helped that 6-7 forward Novar Gadson is as healthy as he has been this year, coming off off-season knee surgery, and has been the team's leading scorer in four of its last six games. Rider has been making better offensive decisions as the year progressed, shooting 45.1 percent from the field, second-best in the conference.

WHAT FAIRFIELD DOESN'T HAVE: Derek Needham, the junior guard who was averaging 11.8 points was leading the team in steals and was its best long-range shooting threat. Needham suffered a broken bone in a foot this past weekend and is done for the season. And, that's a a huge loss. Take away the player considered either the best, or second-best player from any team and it's a major setback. The Stags have an adequate replacement for handling the ball in point guard Desmond Wade, but can't replace Needham's court sense and scoring ability. The Stags also lack momentum, having dropped its last two games, albeit to first-place Iona and to Rider.

WHAT RIDER DOESN'T HAVE: A consistent go-to offensive point-scorer, although Gadson seems to be embracing that role of late. And, is a negative to have five almost equally capable scorers on the floor together? The Broncs lost a first-rate point guard through graduation (Justin Robinson) after last season, but Justin Thompson has made dramatic strides and averages 4.8 assists, second-best in the conference. Right now there don't appear to be a lot of weaknesses.

HOW FAIRFIELD CAN WIN: Despite Needham's absence there remains a lot of talent here. Sanders is  one of the top three or four players in the conference. Wade is a good-enough point guard. Maurice Barrow, an undersized forward, provides some inside toughness and 7-footer Ryan Olander causes match-up problems. Needham's replacements ... Colin Nickerson, Jamel Fields and Sean Crawford ... are capable of splitting time and being productive. If those three can be solid, Fairfield has as good a chance as anyone to make a deep run in the tournament.

HOW RIDER CAN WIN: Just by playing the way it has been playing of late. If nothing, the team is resilient. A 1-10 start could easily have caused players to coast in after that, but that wasn't the case here as things came together in a big way. Players got healthy and improved. The Broncs have enough size, play enough defense and have enough offensive fire power to be the dark horse pick here to do well in this event.

First-Round Men's Match: Marist vs. Saint Peter's

Here's another in the series previewing teams and games for the upcoming MAAC men's tournament.

SAINT PETER'S (No. 9 seed) vs MARIST (No. 8)
Friday, 7:30 p.m.

WHAT MARIST HAS: Momentum with six wins in its last eight games, and the losses coming by 9 against Iona and by 11 against Fairfield. Suddenly a youthful Marist team has begun maturing. The future is bright, but the future might have started a little earlier than expected for the Red Foxes. Much is in place, including an above-average big man in 6-9 Adam Kemp (8.6 points, 7.3 rebounds), a good-scoring small forward/slasher in Chavaughn Lewis (13.9 ppg.) and two guards who both value ball protection. Devin Price, who also averages 13.9 points, has more assists than turnovers and Isaiah Morton only has four more turnovers than assists, good work by a frosh point guard.

WHAT SAINT PETER'S HAS: A little left over from last year's tournament championship team, including bruising post player Darius Conley (11.3 points, 7.1 rebounds), a superb defender; and swingman Yvon Raymond (7.8, 4.0). Although both played extensively a year ago, Conley was a role player in the championship run and Raymond was a reserve. Still, there's certainly a lot of pride in the program, particularly on the defensive end. The few times the Peacocks have given a full 40 minutes of intelligent play they have one well. There's also some perimeter scoring, most notably from guards Chris Prescott and freshman Lamin Fulton, but not consistent enough.

WHAT MARIST DOESN'T HAVE: Experience. Two freshmen (Lewis, Morton) and a sophomore (Kemp, who only played 16 games as a frosh) make up three of the top four players. There's also not a lot of inside help for Kemp.

WHAT SAINT PETER'S DOESN'T HAVE: Two key forwards, Jack Hill and Karee Ferguson, both expected to get a lot of time this season and both hurt early and lost for the season. It has left the team lacking much inside other than Conley, and short on depth. Also, the prime decision-maker, Fulton, is a freshman and is being asked to score more than he was accustomed to on the high school level.

HOW MARIST CAN WIN: The Red Foxes appear to be the team most likely to do some damage out of the play-in round portion of the bracket, as the 6-2 record of late attests. Teams aspire to be at their best right now, and that's where Marist is. They have enough pieces in place to challenge just about any team in the MAAC. It's just that the pieces remain young. Give them some experience, and physical maturity and the future looks bright.

HOW SAINT PETER'S CAN WIN: Play like it did a year ago ... bruising, physical defense since fewer fouls seem to get called at tournament time. Even then, though, one wonders if the Peacocks have anywhere near enough firepower to even think about duplicating last year's run in this event. Saint Peter's is capable of winning a game, but probably won't advance too far this year. But, with a relatively youthful roster, good things are ahead for the program.

First-Round Men's Match: Niagara vs. Canisius

Here's the first in the series previewing men's games and teams in the upcoming MAAC tournament.

NIAGARA (No. 7 Seed) vs. CANISIUS (No. 10)
Friday, 9:30 p.m.

NOTE: Arguably the most-attractive of any first-round or quarterfinal round game merely because it's a proverbial "Border War" when these two programs, separated only by a few miles, play ... even when its nearly 400 miles removed from their Western New York home turf. Niagara won both regular-season meetings, but only by three points in overtime in the most-recent contest between the two. Niagara coach Joe Miahlich says it best: "This game ... you love it, and you hate it. It's a great rivalry. When we play, nothing matters but this game between the two schools. You love to play it, but you also hate it."

WHAT NIAGARA HAS: Some momentum with four wins in its last five MAAC games, although the loss came Sunday at Marist, 89-77, when a victory would have pushed Niagara to the No. 6 seeding position enabling it to avoid this play-in round situation. There is also much talent, particularly on the offensive end. Guard Juan'ya Green is third in the league in scoring and fourth in assists and is as productive a freshman to come into the conference since former Saint Peter's standout Keydren Clark in the 2002-03 season. Green is the second-highest freshman scorer nationally on the Division I level, and teammate Antoine Mason is 11th among all freshmen in scoring.

WHAT CANISIUS HAS: A potent perimeter trio in juniors Harold Washington, Alshwan Hymes and Gaby Belardo. Hymes averages 15.3 points and leads the conference with 82 three-pointers made. Washington leads the Golden Griffins in scoring at 16.7 and Belardo averages 11.7 points per game. Chris Manhertz, a 6-6 forward, had a nice sophomore season.

WHAT NIAGARA DOESN'T HAVE: Experience. The top two scorers are freshmen as are three of the top four. And, the third-leading scorer is a sophomore. That type of youth rarely does well in tournament play against veteran teams, But, the future is definitely bright for the Purple Eagles, who look to be a team capable of developing into a contender within the very near future. There's also a lack of inside production. The team's tallest starter, 6-7 Scooter Gillette, only averages 2.7 rebounds per game. As a team Niagara gets beat by an average of 4.0 per game on the boards.

WHAT CANISIUS DOESN'T HAVE: The big blow this year has been the back woes of junior point guard Gaby Belardo, who has played through the issue but is not much more than a shell of what he was last season. Manhertz, at 6-6, is the team's only consistent post player. Kevin Bleeker and Josiah Heath, 6-10 and 6-9 respectively, have both had strong games but both are freshmen and often play like first-year players. Canisius also doesn't have many wins ...just one in league play this season, a mid-January victory over Marist.

HOW NIAGARA CAN WIN: Niagara will certainly be the favorite to win this game, and could do some damage if all the youth suddenly figures things out for a few days. Realistically, though, that usually doesn't happen. Still, if a couple of shooters get hot and Niagara figures out a way to overcome its rebounding woes ....

HOW CANISIUS CAN WIN: It could be competitive in this game, but to expect a team with one conference victory all season to suddenly win four straight and the tournament title ... well, that's a little too much to expect. And, Belardo, according to head coach Tom Parrotta, is only about 50 percent. If Hymes gets hot, anything can happen in a game, but still. Better days are definitely ahead, though. Three very talented transfers are in the program, ready to revitalize the Griffs a year from now.

Women's Tournament: Taking a Look at Marist

Here's another preview of women's teams as the MAAC tournament approaches.

MARIST (No. 1 seed)
Plays Friday at 1:30 p.m. vs. the winner of Thursday's Canisius-Saint Peter's game

WHAT MARIST HAS: A little bit of everything. Start with Player of the Year candidate Corielle Yarde, a 5-8 senior guard who leads the team in points, rebounds and assists. Another senior, forward Brandy Gang, has been playing her best down the stretch, averaging 19.7 points in the team's last three games. On a given night, though, nearly anyone can be featured. Five different players have led the team in scoring in a game. Marist has a former Atlantic 10 Conference starter, Kristina Danella, coming off the bench. Marist is the league's highest scoring team, and has the best field goal defense percentage in the conference. It also takes care of the ball (441 assists, 397 turnovers) and has the MAAC's best assist-to-turnover ratio by far. The team just knows how to win games, and that's testimony to the work of head coach Brian Giorgis who, somehow, creates something special out of his basketball laboratory every season. And, this season, considering the graduation/transfer/injury losses since the end of last year, might have been his best work.

WHAT MARIST DOESN'T HAVE: You almost have to go searching for possible weaknesses. For instance ... it "only" outscores conference opponents by an average of 14.4 points per game. But, that comes after it had a margin of 26.3 points per game the previous year. The team's last three games have been won by "just" two, 14 and seven points. Marist doesn't rebound exceptionally well. Its top rebounder is a guard (Yarde), and it has the second-worst rebound margin in the MAAC. If an opponent can get Marist's offense out of sync and, then, rebound the Red Foxes' missed shots it has a chance. But, that's still a tall order, much easier said than done. Marist will also be tested in its semi-final round contest against the winner of the Loyola-Niagara quarterfinal-round contest. Niagara took the Red Foxes to double overtime in their last meeting, and Loyola's losses to Marist have been by 7 and 8 points.

HOW MARIST CAN WIN? Just by being itself. It played its worst game in recent memory earlier this season in its only setback in conference play, and still only lost by four points to a good Manhattan team. There's a reason Marist has now won or shared nine straight league titles. It's because the Red Foxes are better than everyone else. It would be a surprise if Marist doesn't win what would be its seventh straight tournament title. The rest of the league has narrowed the gap a little this year, but it's still there.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Women's Tournament: A Look at Faifrield

Here's another in the series previewing women's teams for the MAAC tournament.

FAIRFIELD (No. 2 seed)
Plays Friday at 9:30 a.m. vs. the winner of Thursday's Iona-Rider game

WHAT FAIRFIELD HAS: A good deal of talent, particularly in first-team all-league pick Taryn Johnson, who is certainly a strong candidate for Player of the Year; and point guard Desiree Pina, a third-team selection. Those two, the Stags' best players, are both experienced seniors. Then, there's terrific outside shooters in Katelynn Linney (59 3's) and sophomore Alexys Vazquez (57), whose shooting percentage from three-point range is No. 1 nationally. The offense, with its myriad of set plays, is tough to defense. The Stags are also tough to score on. The 51.9 per-game average by opponents is 20th best nationally. Of course, the team's slow-down style limits opponents' possessions and precipitates lower scoring games.

WHAT FAIRFIELD DOESN'T HAVE: A particularly strong inside game, although that's where Johnson does her best work. The senior forward never takes a bad shot (she shoots a conference best 54.4 percent from the field) and is a good rebounder. But, the team's only players over 5-11 are, basically, role players. The Stags also have limited depth. Only six players average more than 11.6 minutes per game. But, the walk-it-up-the-court style helps keep the core players fresh.

HOW FAIRFIELD CAN WIN: It's not hard to envision Fairfield advancing to the championship game, and if it meets Marist there ... well, the Stags have had some success against the Red Foxes, beating the conference's dominant team in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons and losing by just two points in a game in 2010-11. Its closest game with Marist this year was a six-point loss. Fairfield has beaten everyone else in the league twice except for its split with Loyola. Fairfield can advance and, even, win the tournament by inflicting its slow-down style on opponents and making intelligent decisions in the half court. Pina has become an above average floor-leader, Johnson is a solid inside scorer and the team has plenty of outside shooters.

Women's Quarterfinal Match: Loyola vs. Niagara

Here's another in the series previewing women's teams for the upcoming MAAC tournament.

LOYOLA (No. 4 SEED) vs. NIAGARA (No. 5)
Friday, 3:30 p.m.

WHAT LOYOLA HAS: Arguably the best perimeter group in the league, and the Greyhounds are the only team with two players to earn first-team all-league honors. Those are 5-10 guards senior Miriam McKenzie (5th in the league in scoring, 2nd in rebounding) and junior Katie Sheahin (3rd in scoring, 7th in assists and 1st in steals). Add to that group freshman Kara Marshall, who averaged 14.1 points over the last 16 games and is an all-Rookie team member, and the perimeter group is far above average.

WHAT NIAGARA HAS: For one, momentum having won its last two games (over Siena and Manhattan) and going 7-5 in its last 12 games, quite a turnaround for a team that finished 0-18 in league play last season. The Purple Eagles also have all the necessities covered. A post player? 6-2 Lauren Gatto averages 9.9 points and 5.6 rebounds. Point guard? That's Kayla Stroman (10.7 points and 3.9 assists, fourth best in the MAAC). Shooting? Among others, freshman sniper Meghan McGuinness (51 treys), whose 45.5 shooting percentage from beyond the bonus stripe is the best in the conference.

WHAT LOYOLA DOESN'T HAVE: Much of an inside game. The program's "bigs," Alyssa Sutherland (6.6 points, 5.1 rebounds) and Nneka Offodile (4.9, 4.7) are both decent defenders but don't instill fear in opponents with their production. As much as Sheahin does for the team, her shooting percentage (35.4 percent) is sub-par for a player of her abilities. And, there's not much depth.

WHAT NIAGARA DOESN'T HAVE: Experience. Its top two players, Gatto and Stroman, are sophomores. In fact, seven of the eight players getting the most playing time of late are either freshmen or sophomores. Only senior "glue" player Ali Morris is an upperclassman in the current playing group. The Purple Eagles also lack much inside beyond Gatto, an consistently are outrebounded.

HOW LOYOLA CAN WIN: There's a reason why the Greyhounds were picked to finish second in the preseason, and it's because of the talent of McKenzie and Sheahin. If the perimeter group, which includes Marshall, performs well Loyola can beat any conference team on a given night. If Sutherland and Offodile contribute even a little more than usual, it's not hard to envision Loyola advancing far in the tournament.

HOW NIAGARA CAN WIN: By playing beyond its years, as it did this past weekend with a 21-point victory over Siena and a 12-point decision over Manhattan. But ... both games were on Niagara's home court. Still, Niagara was 4-5 in MAAC play away from home. The way Niagara has played of late has stamped it as a clear dark horse choice, the team no one wants to play, in the tournament. If it can keep its poise, it could cause some damage in the tournament. If not, it will most certainly be a significant contender in the future.

Women's Quarterfinal Match: Manhattan vs. Siena

Here's a look at one of the quarterfinal round women's games in the upcoming MAAC tournament.

Friday, 11:30 a.m.

WHAT MANHATTAN HAS: A hard-to-figure-out 1-3-1 zone defense that causes opponents problems. How much so? Manhattan allows just 53.9 points per game, the 27th-best nationally. It also ranks 21st nationally in steals and 21st in turnover margin. Much of the defense, though, is predicated on a deliberate style that results in fewer possessions. It also has some talent, starting with 6-foot-0 forward Lindsey Loutsenhizer, who averages 12.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game. Shyanne Halfkenny, a forward, might be the league's most-improved player since last season and averages 10.9 points. Monica Roeder is a good long-range shooter, and forward Nadia Peters is an athletic, productive forward. The Jaspers also have much experience. Halfkenny, Loutsenhizer, Peters and point guard Alyssa Herrington are all seniors.

WHAT SIENA HAS: Some strong play of late, discount a blowout loss at Niagara on Friday. The Saints are 7-4 in their last 11 games, to get to a 9-9 conference record that's good for a three-way share of fourth place (tie-breakers have Siena seeded sixth). It also has one of the top two or three players in the MAAC in 6-1 junior post Lily Grenci, the only player to score in double figures in every conference game this season. It had its own point-guard issues when its starter, Allie Mullings, blew out a knee eight minutes into the team's first game, but senior Cristina Centeno has moved over well enough to have earned third-team all-star honors. There's also much depth. The team legitimately has been going eight deep in its recent run. And, there's also a little confidence about the opponent. Siena had a 3-pointer that would have tied the game go off the rim in the first meeting with Manhattan, and won the second meeting.

WHAT MANHATTAN DOESN'T HAVE: A prototypical point guard. When Allison Skrec went down with a broken collarbone in early February, it left the position to be run by former shooting specialist Alyssa Herrington and she has been hit or miss with 23 assists against 26 turnovers in the past six games. Manhattan also lacks height, and it shows in the rebounding stats where it has a minus-5.7 rebounding differential vs. opponents, the worst rate in the league.

WHAT SIENA DOESN'T HAVE: Year-long consistency. When it plays well, it plays very well. But, that doesn't happen every game. The Saints also struggle with perimeter defense, allowing opponents to shoot 37 percent from three-point territory, the second-worst percentage nationally.

HOW MANHATTAN CAN WIN: Continue its strong defense and take care of the ball. Skrec's loss, though, is noticeable. Without her, the Jaspers are 5-3, but none of the five wins came against a team with a better than .500 record and the three losses came to Niagara (2) and Siena, teams with 9-9 conference marks. Manhattan, though, certainly has the potential to win this matchup and, give a semifinal-round opponent problems.

HOW SIENA CAN WIN: By playing to its potential, by playing with energy and by moving the ball quickly on the perimeter on offense against Manhattan's effective zone. A repeat of the way it played in a 61-56 victory over the Jaspers' in the last meeting, when eight different Siena players scored, would be good enough to win this. The Saints, too, can cause some problems in the semifinal round if they get there.

Key Injuries Could Affect MAAC Event Outcomes

Every team wants to have 100 percent health entering post-season play, but that's not always the case.

As we approach the MAAC's post-season tournament, here's a list of injuries (men first, followed by women) that might affect the chances of conference teams.

- Siena's Evan Hymes: The 5-foot-8 freshman point guard has been the team's indispensable performer, averaging 37.1 minutes per game as its only point guard. He suffered a knee injury in Sunday's victory over Canisius when he ran into the basket support trying to chase down a Canisius player on a fast break. The injuries has been diagnosed as a bad bruise, but Hymes told reporters on Monday that he's uncertain whether he'll play in Saturday's quarterfinal-round game against Manhattan.

- Manhattan's Mike Alvarado: The Jaspers have similar woes at the point guard spot as its standout sophomore has missed the last four three after catching an errant elbow near an eye in a game at Siena on Feb. 14.  On Monday, Jaspers' head coach Steve Masiello said Alvarado would be examined by doctors this week. "Hopefully, we'll get some better news but we're still waiting for the swelling to go down," said Masiello. "He's 50-50 right now. I don't know how many teams want to play without their starting point guard ... it's not fun. He's the heart and soul of our team. Can we win without him? Yes, and we're 2-1 since we lost him, with the loss a buzzer-beater. One of our team's strengths is depth, but at his position we're not very deep."

- Canisius' Gaby Belardo: Yet another point guard dealing with physical woes, this one a season-long back issue through which he has continued to play, but rarely practices. "If I had to throw a percentage on him, he's probably 50 or 55 percent," said Canisius coach Tom Parrotta. "I have to put an arm around him just about every day to keep him going ... he just doesn't practice. And, I didn't realize how bad shape he's in because of that. He chases good players up and down the court for 30 minutes every game and that's probably not fair for him. But, that's the situation we're in. We'll gear him up, get him some ice baths, have him see a chiropractor and his stretch guru and he'll get out there on Friday (in a first-round game) and give it a whirl."

- Fairfield's Derek Needham: And, yet, another injured point guard, and this one won't play again this season. Needham recently suffered a foot injury that has been diagnosed as a broken bone. Needham, a junior, is Fairfield's second-leading scorer and leads the team in assists. "We miss him because he's a guy who helps us do what we want to do in terms of our game plan. He's a really tough kid, but we've had to shut him down for the year. He's in a walking boot right now but that will get transferred over to a cast, although there are no plans for surgery."


- Rider Players: Junior forward Shereen Lightbourne suffered a preseason knee injury and is out until next season. Guards Ali Heller suffered a mid-season knee injury and Alyssa Parsons suffered a knee injury in a game on Friday, and the two seniors will not play again.

- Allison Braun, Canisius: The 5-foot-8 junior guard (4.8 points, 3.6 rebounds) suffered a mid-season shin stress fracture and has missed the team's last 12 games. Her return for tournament play is questionable. While her statistics are merely solid, she is the team's prototypical "glue" player as well as its most-experienced performer on a team without a senior.

- Corielle Yarde, Marist: The first-team all-league selection suffered an ankle sprain in Friday's game and, then, sat out Sunday's contest at Loyola. Yarde, though, wanted to play on Sunday but Marist coach Brian Giorgis kept her out to ensure that his standout guard would be ready to play in Friday's quarterfinal round contest of the MAAC tournament. Yarde is a certainty to play, but it remains to be seen if she'll be at full strength. The Red Foxes have also played most of the season without point guard Kristine Best, who suffered a knee injury in late November.

- Manhattan's Allison Skrec: The sophomore point guard, the fourth player to start at the position for the Jaspers this season, suffered a season-ending broken collarbone in a game against Siena on Feb. 2. She won't play in the MAAC tournament. The team has gone to point guard No. 5, senior Alyssa Herrington, since then and Herrington has been effective at the position.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Women's First-Round Match: Canisius vs St. Peter's

Here's a look at the women's teams playing in one of the two first-round (play-in) games in the MAAC tournament.

CANISIUS (No. 8 Seed) vs. SAINT PETER's (No. 9)
Thursday, 2 p.m.

WHAT SAINT PETER'S HAS: A very good player in 5-9 senior swingperson Jynae Judson (13.5, 5.6), who probably deserved a spot as a third-team all-league pick. The Peahens are the league's best-rebounding team in the rebound-margin vs. opponent statistic (a plus 0.3 per game). Quiana Porter, who barely played early in her career, has developed into a nice low-post player (7.5, 6.6) who turned in a solid senior season. The Peahens also have a little momentum for a team that only won four games (4-25 overall) all season, winning two of their last five including a 66-51 victory over first-round opponent Canisius the last time the two teams met.

WHAT CANISIUS HAS: One of the best, albeit still-developing, young teams in the league. Jamie Ruttle, a 6-3 forward who plays with great court sense, is a third-team all-league pick and was the previous season's Rookie of the Year. It has a good point guard in junior Ashley Durham, who finished second in the league in assists (4.3 per game), a couple of long-range snipers in sophomore Jen Morabito (63 treys) and freshman Kayla Hoohuli (54, the most by any frosh) and an athletic complimentary forward in Ashley Wilkes (7.0, 4.1), along with height off the bench.

WHAT SAINT PETER'S DOESN'T HAVE: Shooters. The team's 53.5 points per game and 33.5 field-goal percentage were both last by considerable margins among the 10 MAAC teams. Despite the rebound margin, the Peahens aren't very tall but that they rebound relatively well is an indication of how hard players work. The team also didn't have a lot of success this year, but its recent win over Canisius probably creates some confidence.

WHAT CANISIUS DOESN'T HAVE: Experience. Every team in the league has at least two seniors on the roster, except the Golden Griffins, who don't have a single senior. Three of the top four scorers are either freshmen or sophomores and Wilkes, the fifth-leading scorer, is a junior college transfer playing her first season in the program. It also will probably be without junior "glue" player Allison Braun, a do-everything forward who has been out more than a month with a shin stress fracture.

HOW CANISIUS CAN WIN: By shooting well. The Griffs are the MAAC's second-best long-range shooting squad overall and Morabito and Hoohuli can both heat up quickly from beyond the stripe. Durham, who has been in and out of the starting lineup (the team had 10 different players start this season) needs to be efficient at the point. The Griffs can win this game, but it would be a surprise if it won the tournament. But, that will likely change in the very near future.

HOW SAINT PETER'S CAN WIN: Make some shots, but that's been its weakness all year and isn't likely to change. Still, on a given night... The Peahens can also win by inflicting their will on an opponent. They are relentless with pressure defense and on the boards. They, too, can win this game. After all they beat Canisius once this year and played close (59-54) in the other meeting. But, it's too much to expect the team to advance very far this year.

First-Round Women's Match: Iona vs. Rider

It's tournament time ... "March Madness" ... the march to the "Big Dance."

If you're a fan of college basketball, it's otherwise known as the "Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

It's also time to begin looking at each men's and women's team as the MAAC tournament approaches.

We'll start with women's teams, since the women's event begins first.

In the case of the first-round (play-in round) games, we'll feature both teams in the match up in the same blog posting. So, here we go, all games at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.

IONA (No. 7 Seed) vs. RIDER (No. 10)
Thursday, noon

WHAT IONA HAS: The sure-thing Rookie of the Year in dynamic freshman 5-foot-7 guard Damika Martinez, who not only became the first freshman in conference history to lead the MAAC in scoring in its 31-year history (16.1 points per game), but the first to finish higher than fifth in the scoring race at the end of the regular season. Iona has several other solid players, including an early season first-team all-star candidate in Kristina Ford (14.4 pp., 6.8 rebounds), who somehow did not even make one of the three all-star teams, probably because she missed five games. Another freshman guard, Aleesha Powell (7.6, 3.3) was another all-Rookie team pick and point guard Suzi Fregosi leads the conference in assists (4.5).

WHAT RIDER HAS: Third-team all-MAAC player sophomore forward MyNeshia McKenzie (10.9 points, 9.0 rebounds), who also probably should have been a second-teamer after leading the MAAC in rebounding. Junior center Caitlin Bopp (9.0, 7.0) adds another strong rebounder as is forward Carleigh Brown (4.9 rebounds per game). Freshman guard Emily Fazzini (7.0) is a nice first-year shooting threat.

WHAT IONA DOESN'T HAVE: It looks like chemistry is lacking. After a strong first half, a portion of it played without Ford, things fell apart in the second half either when Ford returned. The Gaels finished 2-8 in their last 10 games. Certainly momentum is lacking.

WHAT RIDER DOESN'T HAVE: Good luck. Last year's leading scorer, Shereen Lightbourne, was lost in the preseason with a knee injury. Junior college transfer and athletic guard Sironda Chambers (10.0 ppg.) was lost after the first semester due to academics. Also at midseason the Broncs lost Ali Heller, last season's Sixth Player of the Year and one of the best long-distance shooters in the league, with a knee injury. And, on Friday, the program lost its senior point guard Alyssa Parsons to a knee injury, the third of her college career. That's five good players, so it's no surprise that the Broncs finished last in the conference.

HOW IONA CAN WIN: It can win this game just by playing solidly. The Gaels have much more talent on the court than the Broncs. Iona could also be the surprise team of the tournament. There's plenty of firepower, enough height and enough depth. If the Gaels can somehow find the blueprint for their first-half success, they can be a dark horse team in this event.

HOW RIDER CAN WIN: If the injuries didn't happen we could legitimately be talking about Rider having a real chance to do some damage in the post-season event. But, after an 8-3 non-league start that was the best of any MAAC team, the injuries took their toll. On a given night ... maybe Rider can beat Iona. But to expect it to cause serious damage in its depleted state is just expecting far too much.

Coming Up: Previews, Much Tournament Coverage

Call this a preview of coming attractions ...

Keep reading the MAAC blog in coming days and throughout the tournament ... and, forever, actually.

But, in coming days this spot is "Tournament Central."

Your MAAC blogger will not only cover the conference's post-season event for the 23rd consecutive season, but will attend and report on every game for both men and women, but will also do as-merited features and notebooks throughout the event.

In fact, the coverage beings right now. There are already two post-season topical blogs (below), featuring your Hoopscribe's selections for the top individual honors.

Coming later today, tomorrow and Wednesday will be team-by-team pre-tournament reports ... strengths, weaknesses and tournament possibilities ... on every men's and women's team.

Much information ... hopefully informative, entertaining, insightful and, even, of some value ... coming as the tournament approaches.

So, read early and often.

One Opinion on Women's Individual Award Picks

Here are one person's picks for the top individual award winners for women.


THE CONTENDERS: Iona's freshman guard Damika Martinez, Niagara's freshman guard Meghan McGuinness and Loyola's Kara Marshall. Martinez averaged 16.1 points per game. McGuinness is the league's top long-range shooting threat (45.5 percent on three-pointers) and Marshall finished 13th in the league in scoring (11.0 ppg.) and fifth in steals (2.0).

THE PICK: Martinez, no doubt about it. She not only became the first freshman to lead the MAAC in scoring on the women's side in the league's 31-year history after no other freshman previously finished higher than fifth in the final scoring race.


THE CONTENDERS: Fairifield's Joe Frager, Manhattan's John Olenowski, Marist's Brian Giorgis and Niagara's Kendra Faustin. Frager's team finished second and had just three losses (two to Marist) in league play; Olenowski's Manhattan team handed Marist its only conference loss and, between injuries and ineffectiveness, used five different players at point guard this season and still finished third in the final standings; Giorgis' Marist team won its ninth straight regular-season conference title; Faustin's Naigara team, after an 0-18 conference record last season, finished in the upper half of the league standings (tied for fifth with a 9-9 record) and went 7-5 down the stretch.

THE PICK: OK, let's see how most league teams would handle this scenario: Last season's Player of the Year guard graduates, as does the starting point guard. In the off season, an emerging 6-4 standout transfers out. And, a few games into the season, this year's starting point guard suffers a season-ending knee injury. That's what happened to Marist since the end of last season and the Red Foxes still dominated the conference, once again, with a 17-1 record. Giorgis should be a clear-cut winner.


THE CONTENDERS: Siena's Lily Grenci, Fairfield's Taryn Johnson, Marist's Corielle Yarde and Loyola's Katie Sheahin. Clearly the toughest choice of any individual category for either men or women. There is no individual here who pulled away from the pack statistically. So, you look for even the slightest deficiencies. Yarde, the preseason Player of the Year choice, led her team in scoring, rebounding and assists. But, she only shot 40.4 percent from the field, 15th-best in the conference. Sheahin, who led Loyola in scoring and assists, was No. 9 in the country in steals but only shot 35.4 percent from the floor. Grenci finished second in the league in scoring as the MAAC's only women's player to score in double figures in all 18 conference games and was the No. 4 rebounder. Johnson led the league in blocks and had an astronomical shooting percentage (54.4), 12th-best nationally had she taken enough shots to qualify.

THE PICK: There won't be much debate here if any of the four are selected. But this blogger's choice, by the very slimmest of considerations, is Fairfield's Taryn Johnson. The senior forward never takes a bad shot, ranks third in the league in rebounding (8.1), first in field goal percentage, first in blocks and even fifth in steals for the team that finished in second place.

One Opinion on Men's Individual Award Picks

You can find the league all-star and all-rookie teams for both men and women at the conference's on-line site,

Those were announced earlier today, and your Hoopscribe has very little argument with any of the coaches' choices.

League individual honors, however, won't be revealed until the envelopes are opened at the conference's post-season awards' ceremony in Springfield, Mass., on Thursday night.

Here's one opinion on who should win the men's top awards:


THE CONTENDERS:  Really, only two: Siena's Evan Hymes, the highest-scoring freshman in the program's history; and Niagara's Juan'ya Green, who not only lead his team in scoring but finished third in the conference.

THE PICK: Fairly close, but Green should get it. Hymes' teammate, Kyle Downey, said Siena might not have won a game this season were it not for Hymes. And, if the award went to the most valuable freshman, the decision here might have been reverse. But, the award is meant to go to the best freshman player, and Green scored more points than Hymes (17.5 ppg. to 13.9), had more rebounds (3.2 to 1.6), more assists (135 to 100) and more steals (57 to 33).


THE CONTENDERS: Tim Cluess of Iona, Steve Masiello of Manhattan, Jimmy Patsos of Loyola, Those are the coaches of the teams that earned the top three seeds for the post-season tournament. Tommy Dempsey, whose Rider team started 1-10 and, then, went 12-8 down the stretch (including victories over Loyola and Fairfield on the league's final weekend); and Siena's Mitch Buonaguro, who team basically used just six players the whole season but beat Iona, Fairfield and Manhattan during the regular season and far exceeded expectations, should also gain some consideration.

THE PICK: Manhattan's Masiello in a close call over Loyola's Patsos. Masiello's team finished the regular season with a 20-11 record, a 14-victory improvement over last season which was the greatest positive upswing of all Division I programs this season. Masiello brought enthusiasm and an up-tempo playing style to restore some luster that had been lost within the Jasper program in recent years.


THE CONTENDERS: Siena's junior forward O.D. Anosike, Iona's senior guard Scott Machado and Manhattan's junior swingman George Beamon. We could see Beamon's emergence coming and, in the preseason, predicted he would lead the league in scoring. And, he did. Anosike, though, leads the nation in rebounding (12.9) and Machado leads the nation in assists (10.1).

THE PICK: In just about any other season, the second MAAC player to ever lead the country in rebounding (Fairfield's Darren Phillip in 1996-97 was the other) would be an overwhelming choice. But, this year is different. Machado was a very good player at this level in the past, but became more of a facilitator and a leader this season. In the process he pushed himself into the upper echelon of point guards nationally at any level of play and a potential NBA first-round draft choice. Machado should be a relatively clear choice as this year's Player of the Year.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Story about Gathers' Nephew Stirs Memories

Our blog almost always seeks to provide original material, but while visiting the Buffalo area and reading the always strong Buffalo News' sports section today, we came across an article (link below) that stirred some memories ... and those are only marginally attached to the MAAC, but certainly touch the emotions of all college basketball fans.

It's a story about Jordan Gathers, a freshman on St. Bonaventure's team. If the last name is familiar it's because Jordan is the nephew of former Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers.

Hank Gathers, a prototypical power forward who was surely one of the best college players of his era and destined for a successful NBA career, instead collapsed on the court in a game on March 4, 1990 and died shortly thereafter at age 23.

The connection to the MAAC?

One of Gathers' best friends was former La Salle standout Lionel Simmons, arguably the best player ever to grace a MAAC roster (La Salle was a MAAC member until it moved to the Atlantic 10 conference after the 1990-91 season). Gathers, like Simmons, grew up in Philadelphia and the two grew up playing together and against each other until each went their separate ways for college.

We remember watching La Salle play during the 1990 MAAC's post-season tournament in Albany, N.Y., that year (which it won), and Simmons just breaking down on the bench with tears clearly visible late in one of that tournament's games.

At the time there was no immediate indication of why the La Salle star was suddenly so disconsolate. It was only a few minutes later that word became public that Gathers had collapsed in the game he was playing in that same day and, then, passed away.

Somehow Simmons had received word, while on the La Salle bench, of his friend's death.

It all happened nearly 22 years ago.

For those who recall that time, or even would enjoy a glimpse into a sad bit of college basketball history through the eyes of Hank Gathers' nephew who, born two years after his uncle's death still knows the legacy, the below link provides a nice story.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Niagara Women Make Strong Late-Season Strides

The last time your Hoopscribe saw the Niagara women's basketball team in mid-January, Siena earned a with-ease 62-49 victory and the Purple Eagles looked like a work in progress, one that was in need of a whole lot of progress.

Exactly six weeks later the Niagara women not only have made significant progress but, now, look like the team no one should want to face in the upcoming MAAC post-season tournament that begins with play-in round games Thursday.

The Purple Eagles certainly reversed things against the Saints on Friday night with an 87-66 victory that wasn't even as close as the score indicated. Niagara had a 43-11 lead late in the first half and that lead grew to a 36-point spread, 63-27, early in the second half.

Niagara has now won six of its last 11 games and, now, who wants to play the Purple Eagles in the MAAC tournament?

Probably not first-place Marist, which needed double overtime to survive with a 79-77 victory this past Sunday. And, probably not second-place Fairfield, which only was able to defeat Niagara by six, 56-50, in their most-recent meeting. And, certainly not third-place Manhattan, which dropped a 61-55 decision to the Purple Eagles on Feb. 10.

So, how did Niagara, which went through all of the 2010-11 season without a conference victory (0-18 in the MAAC, 1-29 overall) to its current status of an 8-9 MAAC mark (tied for fifth place)?

"Players have listened to what we've described as their roles, and they're fulfilling those roles," said Niagara coach Kendra Faustin, prior to Friday's victory over Siena. "We've very specifically told our players what their roles are, and they've listened. Our post players are scoring from the post, our drivers are driving, our shooters are taking the shots they're supposed to take."

Kendra didn't say it, but it's also a matter of talent.

A year ago Niagara didn't have point guard Kayla Stroman, who only played a few games before suffering a season-ending injury. It didn't have 6-foot-2 center Lauren Gatto, who had to sit out after transferring into the program. And, it didn't have current freshman Meghan McGuinnes, who was playing in high school a year ago.

Gatto currently averages 9.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, Stroman averages 10.7 points and 3.7 assists per game. And McGuinness has averaged 15.4 points in her last seven games and has suddenly become the conference's best long-range shooter (her 44.8 percent accuracy from 3-point range is the best in the conference).

And, a crew of Niagara's other players -- sophomores Chanel Johnson (4.7 ppg.), Shy Britton (5.4 ppg.) -- have stepped up considerably since their freshman seasons.

Two other freshmen, forward  Val McQuade and guard Kelly VanLeeuven, have also played well off the bench. And, then, there's the steadying influence of senior Ali Morris (6.0 points, 3.9 rebounds), the proverbial "glue" player.

It makes for a deep, versatile playing group that is playing its best at the right time of the year and probably can't play too much better than it did against Siena on Friday.

It makes for a very dangerous Niagara team next week at the MAAC tournament.

And, then, there's a bright future ahead for the program. Of the eight players currently getting the most minutes, seven are either sophomores or freshmen. Of the current playing group, only Morris won't return next season.

Niagara suddenly looks like a team to be reckowned with in future years. But, maybe, that bright future has come right now.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Iona Seems To Have Case for NCAA At-Large Bid

The Iona men's basketball team has a 22-6 record, entering play this weekend, with two remaining games, both at home. If it can win both and, then, win all the way to the MAAC's post-season tournament's championship game, it would have 26 victories.

It has the highest scoring average (83.1 points) of any team nationally, the national assist leader in Scott Machado (10.1 per game) and quality non-conference victories over Nevada (No. 58 nationally in the Ratings Percentage Index), Denver (No. 74), Maryland (16-11 overall), Vermont (19-11), St. Joseph's (18-11), LIU (21-7) and Richmond (15-14).

Is it all enough for the Gaels to get an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament, provided it doesn't win the conference's post-season event and the MAAC's automatic qualifying berth to the national championship tournament?

At the very least, Iona is currently very strongly on the proverbial tournament bubble.

In all, 68 teams either earn automatic berths or are picked as at-large entrants to the so-called "Big Dance."

The Gaels are currently rated No. 44 nationally in the RPI's, and 52nd in the KenPom and Sagarin ratings.

Those numbers would indicate that Iona is a probable at-large team for the NCAA's, should it not capture the MAAC's automatic berth.

The Gaels would likely need to win their final two regular-season games (over Fairfield and Saint Peter's) and, then, their first two MAAC tournament games to do so. But in winning those games Iona's rating would likely move up at least a few spots in the national polls.

And, currently, two of the top "bracketologists" who operate internet sites, Joe Linardi for ESPN, and Shawn Siegel for collegehoopnets, both currently project Iona to be a No. 13 seed in a 16-team bracket. Both those projections, though, are made based on the Gaels capturing the MAAC's post-season event and the conference's automatic bid.

Working against Iona is history. In the MAAC's previous 30 years only the 1995 Manhattan team has been at large berth to the NCAA event.

And, the Gaels' current relatively high rating , or one slightly higher, isn't a guarantee that they will get in.

A year ago Harvard was rated 36th nationally in the RPI's, and did not get an at-large berth. And, there are several teams every year rated in the top 50 nationally in the RPI's that don't get into the NCAA event.

But Iona certainly ranks favorably with more than a half-dozen teams getting mentioned prominently as tournament teams in the bracketology projects.

Let's take a look at some:

- Seton Hall (picked as high as a 12th seed) has a 19-9 record, is in eighth place in the Big East standings and has lost seven of its last 11 games.

- Xavier (picked as high as a 12th seed) has a 17-10 record and is in fourth place in the Atlantic 10.

- Northwestern (picked as high as a 12th seed) has a 16-11 record and stands eighth in the Big 10.

- Miami (picked as high as a 12th seed) has a 16-10 record and is sixth in the ACC.

- North Carolina Statge (picked as high as a 13th seed) has an 18-10 record and is fifth in the ACC.

All five of the teams mentioned above aren't likely to win conference tournaments, so they're picked in the bracket predictions as at-large teams.

It would seem that Iona has a better case than those five, and several other potential at-large teams.

And, it would seem, that the Gaels have a legitimate case to be the MAAC's second-ever at-large team should it not decide the issue on its own by capturing the conference's post-season tournament and an automatic bid to the Big Dance.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Loyola's 20th Win Creates Program History

Time, once again, to recognize what a strong season this has been for the Loyola men's basketball team.

When the Greyhounds defeated a decent Boston University team in a BracketBusters series contest on Sunday, they improved their overall record to 20-7.

How significant is that?

Within the context of the season, it snapped a two-game losing streak and got the team back on the positive track with the start of the MAAC's post-season tournament slightly more than a week away.

Within the context of the Loyola program, it's historical.

The 20th victory established a school Division I record for victories in a season, since the program moved to that level in 1981. The previous best came from 19-win seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08.

It's no shock that all three of the program's season's best totals for victories have come during the era of coach Jimmy Patsos, as colorful a sideline character as there is in the conference and, quite possibly, one of the best overall coaches in the conference, too.

The only other Loyola teams with more than 20 victories were coached by Emil "Lefty" Reitz (for whom the school's basketball facility is named), who had 20 or more from 1945-46 through 1948-49. The 1948-49 team is the school's all-time winner with 25.

"Twenty wins means a lot to this program to this school," Patsos was quoted, by the school's sports information department, as saying after the game. "It is something that hadn't been accomplished before in Division I history, and it was a goal ... one of many."

Loyola will almost certainly add to its current victory total and, potentially, approach the program's all-time single-season best of 25 victories.

The Greyhounds have regular-season games remaining Friday at Rider (in an ESPN2 nationally televised contest), and at Manhattan on Sunday.

After that, Loyola could play as many as three games in the league's post-season tournament, provided it advances to the event's championship game. And, as a 20-plus victory program the likelihood is that there's a national post-season tournament in the team's future too, whether it's the NCAA event or a lesser tournament.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Top Honor Likely Won't Go To Freshmen

When Iona's Damika Martinez poured in a career-high 34 points in her team's loss Friday against Rider, the 5-foot-7 freshman guard took a commanding lead in the race to be the league's top scorer in women's play this season.

The dynamic Martinez now averages 16.5 points per game nearly a full point ahead of the MAAC's second-leading scorer, Siena's junior post player Lily Grenci (15.6 ppg.).

If Martinez holds on, she will become the first freshmen to lead the women's conference in scoring in the MAAC's 31-year history.

Martinez also ranks fourth nationally among all freshmen in scoring, and her strong season to date is just one of several strong campaigns by first-year players in the MAAC.

On the men's side Niagara's 6-3 freshman guard Juan'ya Green averages 17.1 points per game and is the second-leading scorer among freshmen nationally.

And while Martinez is all but a shoe-in to be the women's Rookie of the Year in the league, Green's grasp on that award isn't quite as strong.

It looks like two other players will get consideration as the top freshman, including one of his own teammates.

That would be Niagara's 6-3 freshman Antoine Mason (15.0 points, 4.6 rebounds per game) although Mason isn't a true freshman. He did play three games a year ago before foot injuries kept him out the rest of the way and a medical-redshirt enabled him to remain a freshman, in terms of eligibility this season.

The other prime contender for Rookie of the Year honors for men is Siena's 5-8 guard Evan Hymes, literally an afterthought as a recruit who only started to draw interest from the Saints' coaching staff when another player (Jonathan Breeden) left the program last May and the need for a back-up point guard was created.

Hymes' role was expected to be as a lightly used reserve backing up expected starter Rakeem Brookins. But when Brookins was lost for the year with a back issue just prior to the start of regular-season play Hymes was thrust into the starting lineup and has thrived.

He averages 14.3 points per game and his 37.3 minutes-per-game average is 10th-best nationally.

For now, though, the spectacular seasons of Niagara's Green and Iona's Martinez would appear to make them the front-runners for top rookie honors.

And, then, the question becomes how coaches rate them for overall post-season honors.

The very strong guess is that neither will be a first-team all-star selection, although a strong case can be made for both.

But, coaches (who vote for award winners) almost universally discard freshmen from consideration for that particular honor.

In the previous 30 seasons, only Lionel Simmons of La Salle (1986-87) has been a first-team MAAC all-star as a freshman. And, all Simmons did in his career was score 3,217 points, still the third-highest career total of all Division I players ever.

Amazingly, the league also produced a player who ranks No. 6 on the all-time Division I career scoring list, and he was left off the league's first team of all stars as a freshman.

That was Saint Peter's Keydren Clark, who not only led the conference in scoring (24.9 points per game) as a freshman in the 2002-03 season, but was sixth nationally among all Division I players that season.

Imagine a MAAC player leading the league in scoring and ranking sixth nationally in that statistic and not honored as a first-team all star? But, it happened.

On the women's side, there has never been a freshman named a first-team all star.

The closest was former Marist standout Rachele Fitz in 2006-07 who was a second-team pick. That season she averaged 14.9 points per game and finished fifth overall in the scoring race. Her point-per-game average, until now, is the highest ever by a freshman women's player.

But, neither Fitz nor Clark were first-team all-star selections as players.

Which doesn't leave a lot of hope for Martinez or Green to join Simmons as the only freshman in the league's past 30 seasons to be named to the MAAC's top all-star squad.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Marist Men Start Winning Ahead of Schedule

Even though Marist suffered a 66-55 defeat when it played at Siena on Jan. 27, your Hoopscribe was impressed enough to remark to Red Foxes' coach Chuck Martin that his team looked like a team with a future, that brighter years were ahead.

Martin took slight offense with the observation, immediately remarking that he thought his team was capable of doing some good work in the remainder of current season.

As is almost always the case, coaches have a better grasp of any situation than a sideline observer.

And, Martin certainly was right as it didn't take his team much longer after that loss to Siena to start finding some success.

After losing to Siena, the Red Foxes then dropped contests at Fairfield and at Manhattan, teams currently in third and fourth place, respectively, in the conference standings.

And then, the turnaround began.

Marist has won three of its last four games with the only loss in the last two weeks an 83-74 setback against first-place Iona in which the Red Foxes played well and held a five-point lead early in the second half before the Gaels took over.

It pushed Marist's overall record to 10-16 and 5-10 in conference play. The league wins are already the most for the program since the 2007-08 season and the non-conference victory total matches the best of any of the past three seasons.

What Marist did not have while getting the first nine of its 10 overall victories was one against a quality opponent, a "signature" win, if you will.

That came Wednesday night when Marist knocked off Loyola, 72-54, and the Greyhounds were just two games removed from a victory over Iona that, at the time, put them in sole possession of first place in the MAAC standings.

Loyola still had a share of the top spot in the conference standings before Wednesday's setback.

Marist not only got a victory over a quality opponent, but did so in a quality manner. The Red Foxes trailed by two with a little over seven minutes left to play when sophomore center Adam Kemp (17 points, 11 rebounds, 8 blocked shots) tied the score on a dunk.

Then junior guard Devin Price made back-to-back three-pointers, and the Red Foxes were on their way to outscoring Loyola, 25-5, down the stretch to win the game.

"We had closed out a couple of other games earlier this year, but hadn't closed one out against a real good opponent," said Martin, when reached by phone Thursday afternoon.

"We had been playing pretty well lately ... our group has really been developing. But you also need to have some tangible results. When you start getting some wins, the kids start to believe in all the things our coaching staff preaches every day. They start believing in hard work. They start believing all the stuff we say because they see the effects on the court. Now, they're really believing in what we're trying to do."

And, now, Marist is getting hot at the right time: late in the season. The Red Foxes are still two games out of sixth place with just three remaining conference contests, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that it could finish sixth and avoid the post-season tournament's play-in round.

Marist has Fairfield, Siena and Niagara remaining on its league schedule, with all three games at the McCann Arena where it has an 8-3 record so far.

It remains to be seen how well Marist can finish. But, for now, a very youthful team is starting to play beyond its years.

Still, its best players will all be back next season. Kemp, who only played 16 games a year ago, is only a sophomore. Price is a junior. Jay Bowie (13 points vs. Loyola) is a sophomore. Chavaughn Lewis (12 vs. Loyola) is a freshman, as is starting point guard Isaiah Morton.

It looks like better years are ahead for the Marist program. But, now, it looks like better days are starting to arrive this season, too.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

McCaffery's Iowa outburst creates auction item

For two seasons your Hoopscribe had the pleasure of sitting at the scorer's table for home Siena men's games, immediately next to the team bench, which meant immediately next to then-Saints' coach Fran McCaffery.

It was an eye-opening experience, particularly because one in that position truly had to keep eyes open.

McCaffery is known for his passion, and maybe some emotions that went beyond that description.

The end of the scorers' table was the perfect target for McCaffery, on those semi-regular occasions when he would lose it, who often banged his plastic clipboard on the side of the table. More than one was shattered, and it was a running joke that the company that provided clipboards for the Siena coach was doing a brisk business.

Little did anyone know that, maybe, those clipboards might have been valuable.

Another inanimate object the now-Iowa basketball coach treated with similar disdain earlier this season proved to be a valuable piece of merchandise.

That would be one of his bench's chairs that, during an Iowa game at Michigan State, McCaffery slammed to the floor in an effort to fire up his team in a lopsided loss, an act of "passion" captured by TV cameras and widely viewed over the internet.

McCaffery's actions weren't viewed as favorable by Big Ten officials.

Reports indicated that league commissioner Jim Delaney said the league communicated its concern to Iowa's athletic departments about McCaffery's outburst.

McCaffery, according to an ESPN report, was largely defiant, saying he wasn't going to sit on his hands and watch his players get blown out by 40 points without "fight" and "coaching with passion."

The mini-controversy appeared to die out quickly until the infamous chair found another use recently ... as a fund-raising device.

Iowa officials recently disclosed that the chair was sold at an auction/steak fry benefiting the school's baseball program.

The chair included McCaffery's signature along with two hand-written messages "Go Hawks!" and "Coach with passion."

The price for the chair was $2,100.

Iowa's baseball coach Jack Dahm, according to reports, came up with the idea to auction off the chair so he called his counterpart at Michigan State for help in securing it. Michigan State officials agreed to mail a bench chair to Dahm, asking only that Iowa pay the $50 shipping fee.

The only catch to the arrangement was that Iowa cannot be sure the chair auctioned was the actual one McCaffery hurled to the ground in his attempt to get his team's attention. (Editor's note: Maybe he should have some real damage to it).

Still, McCaffery's autograph and hand-written messages on the chairback made it a unique, fun piece of memorabilia. Proceeds from the chair's sale will help pay for equipment and travel costs for the Iowa baseball program.

Credit McCaffery for having enough of a sense of humor about the incident to agree to the auction and autograph the chair.

But, that's a trait the coach showed regularly at Siena. Several incidents of similar "passionate" coaching that took place when he was with the Saints always quickly became fodder for his good humor once games ended.

Now, if only Siena had the foresight to have retained a couple of those shattered clipboards...

Monday, February 13, 2012

After Big Victory, Loyola Has Fall vs. Fairfield

Apres moi, le deluge ....

The phrase, with origins back to the mid-1700s, was first used by a French monarch to warn "After me, the flood," or that things would take a downturn after his reign.

The phrase, to stretch its meaning more than a little, fits the Loyola men's basketball team right now for after an inspirational victory over first-place Iona on Friday night came the deluge of poor play: Sunday's 68-51 letdown loss against suddenly resurgent Fairfield.

The outcome left the Stags as the hottest team in the conference with a five-game winning streak and helped get them back into contention for the regular-season title with a 10-4 conference record.

Loyola's loss along with Iona's victory at Marist on Sunday left those two programs tied for the top spot with 12-3 records. Manhattan is next at 11-4.

The loss ended a seven-game winning streak for the Greyhounds, and left even Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos scratching his head.

"I was surprised at our lack of effort," said an obviously frustrated Patsos after the game. "We usually win all of the 'hustle stats.' Today, we didn't win any of them."

The Greyhounds, coming off an emotional win over conference-power Iona on Friday, fell behind early and spent a good part of the first half clawing and scratching to catch up. When Fairfield's Derek Needham hit two free throws, Loyola found itself trailing 25-19 with 7:01 left in the half. Loyola scored seven of the next nine points to cut the deficit to 27-26 with 1:46 left to play. The 'Hounds had a few opportunities to tie the game or take the lead, but came up empty each time. The Stags got a field goal from Sanders and free throws from Jamel Fields to take a 31-27 lead at the break.

The second half was all Fairfield. On the first play, Sanders stole the ball from Etherly and hit Ryan Olander in stride for a 3-pointer for a seven-point lead. From there, the rout was on. Loyola scored four of the next 21 points to trail 51-31 with 11:03 left in the game.

Loyola shot just 4-for-23 from the field in the second half.

"I've been coaching for 23 years, and I've learned that when you play bad, that's just how it goes," Patsos said. "I'd call timeout and draw up a play, and we'd go out and do the exact opposite. I take responsibility for the loss, because I didn't prepare them well enough. Success is new to these kids, so it's my fault."

"We threw a lot of things at them [defensively]," said Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson, in a homecoming of sorts (he is a graduate of Baltimore's Towson Catholic High School).

Asked if he would have his players watch film of the game, Patsos paused.

"That's a good question," he said. "Yeah, I think we probably will. Monday is our normal day off, and we will be off tomorrow (Monday). "Rest assured, things will be different on Tuesday, though."

Iona's Machado, Mr. Versatility, Gets Triple-Double

The Iona men's basketball team, which has produced more than its share of individual statistical accomplishments this season, got another one Sunday in its 83-74 victory over Marist.

In that contest the Gaels' Scott Machado recorded his first career triple-double, the hallmark of versatility.

Machado had 10 points, 10 assists and a career-high 11 rebounds.

How rare is a triple-double at the college level ... or, at least within the MAAC?

The last time it happened at Iona was nearly 12 years ago when the program's front-court standout Nakiea Miller accumulated 14 points, 10 rebounds and 11 blocked shots in a semifinal-round game of the 2000 MAAC post-season tournament.

And Miller was among the first to recognize Machado's triple-double Sunday night when he tweeted his congratulations to Machado from Singapore where he is currently playing professionally.

“It feels amazing,” Machado said after the game. “It’s an accomplishment that I always wanted to get and I’m just thankful that I was able to get it tonight and that I got to get it before my career was over here. I’m thankful and blessed.”

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Marist Women (Who Else?) Win Battle of Top Teams

The "Showdown in Po-town" became the likely coronation for another Marist women's team as the Red Foxes dispatched the last real challenger to its string of regular-season conference crowns that appears all-but-certain now to reach nine straight outright or shared.

Marist knocked off Fairfield, 60-54, in the battle of teams tied for the top spot in the women's standings with 11-1 records entering the contest at the McCann Center in Poughkeepsie.

Marist won a game that went nearly the first four-and-a-half minutes without a field goal by either team in typical style: team play and defense.

The Stags entered play as the conference's top defensive team in the points-allowed category, but it was Marist that looked to be the better defensive team on Friday night, rarely allowing Fairfield to get open looks at the basket.

The six-point final margin did not begin to measure Marist's relative domination in the contest. The winners held a 52-40 advantage with 6:51 remaining, which was more indicative of how things went.

While Marist still only holds a one-game edge in the standings (12-1 to Fairfield's 11-2) over the Stags, the Red Foxes have won both meetings giving it the edge in the first tie-breaker should the teams wind up the regular-season tied for the top spot.

No other MAAC team is close to the top two, but there is considerable scrambling below them.

Six of the other eight teams have either six or seven losses in league play.

Loyola Takes Steps Beyond Being Respectable

It was within just a few minutes after his team's 70-60 loss to Saint Peter's in the quarterfinal round of last season's conference post-season tournament that Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos addressed the state of his program.

"We've reached respectability," said Patsos. "Now, we have to take the next step."

A year ago Loyola finished 10-8 in MAAC play and 15-15 overall. Yes, that's respectability. Particularly for a program that had a 1-27 overall record, the worst in Division I in 2003-04, the year before Patsos took over.

Even in his first year (a 5-13 finish in MAAC play), Patsos acknowledged some fan abuse at a road game by turning and yelling back to the hecklers: "Wait until I get my own players in here."

Patsos now has his own players, and how about this for taking the next step?

The Greyhounds are alone atop the MAAC standings with a 12-2 record after an 87-81 victory over Iona in the battle of the conference's top two teams. And the score doesn't begin to measure Loyola's game-long dominance.

Loyola led by as many as 25 early in the second half, and only some late-game scoring punch by the Gaels' Mike Glover (22 points, 16 rebounds) and Sean Armand (25 points in the game), enabled Iona to et within five with 1:07 left. But, the Gaels never truly threatened.

And, how about this for taking the next step?

A sell-out crowd of 2,100 was on hand for the contest, the second straight packed house for a Loyola home game. It was the first time there were back-to-back sell-out crowds for Loyola home games since its on-campus Reitz Arena was built in 1984.

The Greyhounds rewarded the faithful with a strong display of team play against an opponent that, in the coaches' preseason poll, was the clear-cut choice to claim this year's championship.

Forward Erik Etherly and guard Dylon Cormier each finished with 22 points for Loyola.

Of course there's one more step for Patsos' program to take, even if it winds up as this season's regular-season champion. That would be winning the MAAC's post-season tournament and the resultant automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

If it can do that, it would be the program's first trip to the NCAA's since 1994 when the late Skip Prosser was the team's coach.

After Friday's victory over Iona, Patsos spoke about his team's recent steps.

"I left a program (Maryland, where he was an assistant coach) where we cut down the nets in 2004 in the ACC tournament," Patsos said. "To come here was a bit of a risk. But this is a great school, so I knew I could build here.

"Gary Williams (then the Maryland coach) and I talked about this a lot. Climbing Mount Everest isn't that bad for the first half (of the climb). The next 25 percent is attainable. The last 25 percent, you don't know till you get there."

All that's left for Patsos' team to get to the summit of its MAAC mountain is winning the MAAC tournament.

His program, now, is way beyond just being respectable and well on its way to taking the next step.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Big Night And Historical Numbers for Anosike

The string of consecutive double-doubles ended at 17 for Siena's junior forward O.D. Anosiki, but the 6-foot-8 post player continues to put up some impressive numbers, including a 22-rebound effort in a game Sunday at Fairfield.

That total was the third-highest single-game rebounding effort in Siena's Division I history, behind only a 26-rebound game by Nelson Richardson in the 1976-77 season and a 23-carom mark (in a triple overtime contest) during the 1977-78 season.

It is also the second-highest one-game rebounding total this season by any Division I player, trailing only a 24-rebound effort by Cameron Moore of UAB earlier this season.

The research comes from Siena's standout sports information director Jason Rich, and also included this tidbit:

Anosike's 12-point, 22-rebound, 3-steal, 2-assist, 2-block performance against Fairfield marks only the second time since 1996 -- a span of over 80,000 games -- that any Division I player had at least those numbers in those five categories.

The only other player to reach those thresholds was Brad Nuckles of Eastern Tennessee State University who had 15 points, 22 rebounds, four steals, three blocks and two assists on Jan. 7, 2006 in a game against Campbell.

Anosike continues to lead the nation in rebounding at 13.3 per game and holds a substantial edge over runner-up Thomas Robinson of Kansas, who is at 12.0 per contest.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Siena's Centeno Reaches Versatility Milestone

When Siena's senior guard Cristina Centeno recently recorded the 100th three-point shot of her career she joined some impressive and versatile talent from throughout the conference.

According to information that comes from the research of conference sports information and compiled by my friend Mike Demos, the Siena assistant sports information director, Centeno is the latest to join a short list of conference women's players with at least these career totals: 800 points, 400 rebounds, 300 assists, 100 steals and 100 three-pointers made.

Centeno now has career totals of 885 points, 432 rebounds, 315 assists, 122 steals and 100 3-pointers.

In all just 11 players have reached that five-category milestone.

Besides Centeno, here are the other 10, with their point-rebound-assist-steals-three-pointer totals::

- Erica Allenspach of Marist (2007-11): 1,416-532-371-207-187

-Brittane Russell of Canisius (2006-10): 1,419-594-4244-334-191.

- Eva Cunningham of Niagara (2001-05): 1,753-447-552-276-158.

- Gunta Basko of Siena (1999-03): 1,833-1,027-322-265-121.

- Megan Light of Fairfield (1998-02): 1,168-404-418-134-115.

-Sacha Baker of Siena (1997-01): 1,264-400-351-158-107.

- Holli Tapley of Fairfield (1997-01): 1,207-544-388-201-209.

- Jessica Grossarth of Fairfield (1994-98): 1,677-568-343-226-180.

- Heather Fiore of Canisius (1993-97): 1,949-486-586-273-260.

- Mimi LaMagna of Canisius (1993-97): 1107-442-493-347-140.

There are also three other current players on the cusp of joining the group:

- Desire Pina, a Fairfield senior: 1,241-427-319-137-95.

- Katie Sheahin, a Loyola junior: 992-456-251-250-101.

- Corielle Yarde, a Marist senior: 1,339-624-280-145-150.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Historical Possibilities in Women's Scoring Race

The closest scoring race in recent memory for women's basketball players in the MAAC is in full bloom right now, made all the more noticeable by the meeting of the top two contenders in a game Saturday afternoon.

That was when Iona played at Siena. At the time, the Gaels' dynamic freshman guard Damika Martinez entered play just four one-hundredths of a point ahead of the Saints' potent junior post player Lily Grenci.

Siena earned an 83-59 victory over Iona as Grenci outscored Martinez, 20-15.

It moved Grenci back into the top spot with a scoring average of 15.57 points per game. Martinez is close behind at 15.36 ppg.

Both players are back at it in the individual chase for the scoring lead when their teams play again Friday. Siena is at Saint Peter's, while Iona is at Loyola.

The chase is somewhat remarkable since neither player has much, if any, of a history of strong consistent scoring prior to this season.

Until this season, Grenci battled foot and ankle injuries over her first two season that severely limited her court time. She only got into 18 games as a freshman and 25 games, averaging just 13.6 minutes of playing time last season. Her career scoring average entering play this year was 3.2 points per game.

The slender 5-foot-7 Martinez was a high school senior at this time a year ago.

And, now, they lead a very close chase  ... possibly the closest in league history ... atop the league's scoring chart. Not far behind are Marist's senior guard Corielle Yarde (14.8 ppg.), and Loyola standouts junior guard Katie Sheahin (14.5) and senior forward Miriam McKenzie (14.3).

Grenci is on pace to become the second Siena player to lead the league in scoring in the past two seasons. Former teammate Serena Moore led the MAAC with a 14.8 ppg. average last season. Overall, Siena players have led the conference in scoring four times since 1997-98 (Melanie Halker in 1997-98 and '98-99; Laura Menty in 2007-08 and Moore last season). No other program has had as many scoring leaders over that time.

Martinez, though, is in range of a historical achievement.

No freshman has ever led the conference in scoring in its 30-year history. In fact, no freshman has ever finished higher than fifth in the final scoring standings. The highest finish ever by a freshman came in the 2006-07 season with Rachele Fitz of Marist finished fifth with a per-game average of 14.9.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Recent MAAC Happenings Qualify as "Super"

Today is February 5, otherwise known throughout the land as "Super Bowl Sunday."

Around the MAAC, though, some very "Super" results have taken place in recent days. Here are some ...


The last conference team to defeat the dynastic Marist women's team was Manhattan on Feb. 28, 2010. Since then the Red Foxes won three MAAC tournament games that season, ran up a perfect 18-0 mark in regular-season play in 2010-11 and followed up with three more tournament victories and, then, opened this year with a 10-0 league record.

It added up to 34 straight, within one of the conference's all-time best string of success only to the Red Foxes' own 35 in a row (from late in the 2006-07 season through nearly midway through the 2008-09 season).

But the recent streak came to an end against the same program that last beat Marist ... Manhattan in a game Saturday night at Draddy Gymnasium's on the Jaspers' Riverdale, N.Y., campus.

It happened on a night when Kelsey Beynnon, a starting forward averaging 7.2 points per game, had to sit out due to a foot injury.

Beynnon was replaced in the opening lineup by 6-1 Kristina Danella, who had nearly half of the team's points in the contest. Danella, a transfer from UMass, had her best game to date with 21 points and 12 rebounds in what turned out to be a 48-44 Manhattan victory.

The point total was the second-lowest by Marist this season (it scored 36 in a loss to Boston University), but good defense is nothing new to Manhattan. The Jaspers allow just 54.3 points per game, 32nd-best nationally.

Marist led 44-40 late in the game, but didn't score in the final 3:27. Manhattan's 6-1 senior post player Lindsey Loutsenhizer led the winners with 17 points and 12 rebounds.


Siena's junior forward O.D. Anosike had his 17-game streak of double-doubles come to an end Friday night in a 63-58 home-court loss against Saint Peter's.

Anosike completed the rebounding end with 13, but fell a single point short of the double-double, missing the opportunity to continue the streak by going 1-for-4 at the foul line.

The double-double string is believed to be the second-longest in MAAC history, as well as the second-longest in all of Division I basketball over the last 15 year. Both those milestones are held by former Fairfield standout Darren Phillip, who had 19 in a row in the 1999-00 season.

Not surprising that Saint Peter's, despite its struggles (4-8 in MAAC play, 5-18 overall) after losing four starters from last season's conference representative to the NCAA tournament, would be the team that would stop the streak.

A year ago the Peacocks were one of the best teams nationally defensively, allowing opponents to shoot just .376 percent on field goals (second-best defense in Division I) and score just 60.9 points (12th best).

This year isn't quite as good as Saint Peter's allows 68.3 points per game and opponents to shoot at a .405 percent clip.

But against Siena, John Dunne's team looked like its old self on the defensive end, battling with and bruising Siena for every spot on the court, and denying Anosike his usual set-up spot on the blocks.

The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Darius Conley of Saint Peter's was more than a physical match-up for Anosike on this night, using his strength and bulk to push the Siena player several feet outside his comfort zone on offense. And, then, once Anosike received a pass, Conley got help to ensure Anosike didn't have driving room to the basket.

"We forced him (Anosike) to catch the ball three feet outside the lane rather than with a foot in the post like he usually does," said Dunne. "We got him to take a couple of jump hooks a little outside his range and we were fortunate that they didn't go in.. We concentrated on stopping him ... we didn't want him to hurt us.

"The key for us is that we played with a lot of confidence. We stressed that we needed to compete for the full 40 minutes, something we hadn't always done this year, and we did that."


One of the closest late-season races for the men's regular-season title had been that way, in no small part, due to Manhattan's upset victory over Manhattan on Jan. 12. It meant that entering Saturday's games three teams -- Iona, Manhattan and Loyola -- all shared a tie for the conference lead with 10-2 records.

Iona got some revenge, and sole possession of first place for now, Saturday night with an 85-73 victory over the Jaspers in Manhattan's sold-out Draddy Gymnasium.

Iona is now 11-2 in MAAC play while Manhattan fell to 10-3. Loyola, which did not play on Saturday, is a half-game behind the Gaels with a 10-2.

Iona's "Big Three" of Mike Glover, Scott Machado and Momo Jones combined for 55 points, and the Gaels' defense shut down Manhattan's George Beamon in the second half to secure the win.

Beamon had 19 of his game-high 26 points at halftime, but struggled to find open shots after the intermission.

"They were all over me," said Beamon, a junior, who went over the 1,000-point plateau for his career, after the game. "They got out in their transition on offense, and that's their game. It's hard to beat them like that."

What did knocking off Manhattan mean to Iona?

"It meant the world," Iona's Jones told New York Daily News sportswriter Sean Brennan after the game. "We want to come into every game and try to make a statement. The last time they beat us at our home, so we wanted to get some payback.

Iona coach Tim Cluess claims there had been almost no mention of the previous loss to Manhattan until after his team's Thursdaynight victory over Canisius.

"Right in the locker room after (Thursday's game), it became, `OK guys, now it's our time to go back and tamke something that we feel was stolen from us, but we kind of gave away at the same time," Cluess said. "So, we wanted to go back and show we're not that team."

Cluess agreed that this season's reemergence of Manhattan will make for some classic battles between the two proximitous programs, much like Saturday's game at Draddy Gym.

"He's done a terrific job there," said Cluess, about Manhattan coach Steve Masiello. "He has re-energized the program there, and I think this is a great rivalry that has been going on for ever. This game was a great environment for both teams to be part of. This is what New York basketball is supposed to be about."

If there is to be a third meeting of the two programs this year, it would come in the MAAC's post-season tournament.

"I definitely want to see them again," said Beamon.

But, a cooler head prevailed as Masiello jumped into the conversation, laughing.

"I don't (want to see Iona again)," said Masiello. "I've had enough."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Iona's "Superman" Jones Hits 43 Against Canisius

If you haven't checked the MAAC boxscores yet this morning, this statistic, from Iona's 105-86 victory over Canisius on Thursday night, will jump out at you: The Gaels' junior guard Lamont "Momo" Jones scored 43 points on 16-of-23 shooting from the floor, including 7-of-12 from three-point range.

The output makes him the first Gael to score at least 40 points in a game in 20 years, and broke Steve Burtt's Hynes Center record of 40 set on Feb. 1, 1984, nearly 28 years to the fay. Coincidentally, Burtt and another former Iona standout, Gary Springer, were on the Iona campus Thursday and spoke with Jones prior to the game.

The last Iona player to score as many points was Sean Green, who hit 43 against Siena in the 1991 MAAC championship game. The only higher single-game total by an Iona player is Warren Isaac's school record of 50 that came against Bates on Dec. 18, 1964.

Jones' mark also approached the conference's all-time one-game best, at least in MAAC play. That standard of 46 points is held by Jim McCaffrey of Holy Cross (1984-85 season).

Others with at least 43 points against a MAAC opponent: Charron Fisher of Niagara, 45, 2007-08 season; Luis Flores of Manhattan, 2002-03 season, Alvin Young of Niagara, 1998-99 season, Marc Brown of Siena, 1990-91 season and Kevin Houston of Army, 1986-87 season, all with 44; and, three others with 43: McCaffery in the 1984-85 season, Houston in the 1986-87 season and Keydren Clark of Saint Peter's in the 2005-06 season.

Those totals, though, do not include single-game outbursts in non-conference games, and your Hoopscribe immediately recalls one, the 51 points scored by Siena's Doremus Bennerman against Kansas State in the consolation game of the 1993-94 NIT.

"I felt like Superman," Jones said to Sean Brennan of the New York Daily News, afterwards. "There are no other words to describe that. It's a feeling that's indescribable, especially in the college game. It's very rare that college athletes have 40 in games or 50 in games.

Jones told Brennan that his performance was something of a `Thank You' to his teammates. He said they hounded him all week in practice, telling him they needed more from him to help Iona get on a run to an NCAA Tournament date.

"All week in practice they rode me, every teammate," Jones said. "(They) screamed at me, yelled at me, pushed me around. They told me that if we want to make an NCAA run (I) had to step it up. (They told me) I'm a person that's been there. It was a nag. It's something I can say I never want to go through again. But it was great to see my teammates had a lot of confidence in me. For them to do that, to come to me personally and say `Look man, we want to get there and you have to go do it tonight,' this was my thanks to them."

Jones has indeed been to NCAA Tournament territory that the Gaels aspire to this season. As a starter at Arizona last season he helped that program advance to the Elite Eight of post-season tournament play.

Thursday's victory pushed Iona's overall record to 18-5 and a 10-2 conference record, and enabled it to remain in a tie for the top spot in the MAAC standings heading into Saturday's show-down game with Manhattan, which also has a 10-2 league mark.