Thursday, November 29, 2012

ATM: MAAC presence at Seton Hall, Machado, Opener

First installment of the season of the semi-regular feature "ATM," otherwise known as "Around The MAAC.


A recent trip to the South Orange, N.J., campus reminded your Hoopscribe about just how strong a MAAC connection there is within the Seton Hall men's program.

Start with head coach Kevin Willard, now in his third season at the helm of the Pirates. Before moving to Seton Hall, Willard coached three years at Iona, a program that went through a 2-28 overall record the year before he took over.

Under Willard, Iona went 12-20 in 2007-08, 12-19 in 2008-09 and 21-10 in 2009-10.

Willard came to Seton Hall after the school opted to end the reign of error of controversial coach Bobby Gonzalez in 2010. His first team there finished 13-18 and his second team, last season, was 21-13. The 21 victories were the most by the Pirates since a 21-victory season in 2003-04.

Seton Hall could be even better this year, and is off to a 5-1 start through Wednesday's games.

Seton Hall assistants include Shaheen Holloway and Dan McHale, both on Willard's Iona staff for three years prior to following the head coach to the Pirates.

And, the program's director of basketball operations is veteran MAAC presence Stephen Sauers, who was an assistant at Marist under Dave Magarity for 15 seasons and also for two seasons at Iona during Willard's time there.

One of Seton Hall's key players is former Iona standout Kyle Smyth, a fifth-year player. Smyth redshirted a season at Iona, and did not have to sit out a year after leaving the Gaels after last season because he earned his undergraduate degree. The NCAA allows graduate students immediate eligibility if they move to a school to take a masters-degree program not offered at their previous school.

Smyth, one of the better long-range shooters the MAAC has ever seen, has continued his deep accuracy in the Big East, hitting 12-of-25 three pointers (48.0 percent) through the team's first six games. He is currently averaging 7.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game for Seton Hall, and his 26.0 minutes-per-game is third highest on the team.


The earliest regular-season conference game in recent memory took place on Wednesday night when Iona knocked off Niagara, 83-72, in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Gaels' junior guard Sean Armand, known primarily as a long-range shooter, showed he has more than that in his game with his first career double-double. Armand had 18 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

"The tougher team won," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich told reporters after the game. "They're men, and we're not."


Former Iona point guard and last season's NCAA assist leader Scott Machado saw the first NBA action of his career Wednesday night during his Houston Rockets' 120-98 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Machado played three minutes, was 2-for-2 on free throws and had one assist without a turnover.

The former Gael is trying to beat out Toney Douglas as the primary back-up to Rockets' starting point guard Jeremy Lin. Douglas played 11 minutes Wednesday, was 0-for-4 from the field and had one assist and one turnover.

Machado played two games in the NBA's Developmental League before his activation earlier this week by the Rockets, and averaged 16.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Former Gael Machado Acttivated By NBA Rockets

Former Iona standout Scott Machado is officially on the NBA Houston Rockets' active roster.

Machado, a 6-foot-1 point guard who did enough in the preseason to earn a non-guaranteed three-year deal with the Rockets, did not play for the team in its initial early season games and was sent to the Rio Grande team in the NBA's Developmental League. There, in two games, he averaged 16.0 points and 8.0 assists per contest.

Machado, whose 9.9 assist-per-game average at Iona last year led all Division I players, was recalled to Houston in time for Tuesday night's 117-101 victory over Toronto, but did not see action.

Former New York Knicks' standout Jeremy Lin is entrenched as the Rockets' starting point guard, but his backup, Toney Douglas, reportedly hasn't been overly effective thus far. Douglas is averaging 5.9 points per game, but only shooting 30 percent from the field. He is averaging 1.8 assists against 1.6 turnovers per game thus far.

Reports from a variety of sources indicate that Machado's activation indicates he might get a chance to replace Douglas as Lin's primary back-up.

Men's Preview: Loyola Poised To Win League Title

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 13-5 in MAAC play, 24-9 overall. Won the conference post-season tournament, lost to Ohio State, 78-59, in first round of NCAA tournament.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-2 junior guard Dylon Cormier (13.4 points, 3.3 rebounds per game last season), 6-7 senior forward Erik Etherly (13.7, 7.5), 6-4 senior guard Robert Olson (11.1, 3.4).

KEY LOSSES: 6-10 forward Shane Walker (9.0, 6.3).

KEY NEWCOMER: 6-1 freshman guard Tyler Hubbard.

NOTES: Loyola finished in second place in last season's conference standings, but got better as the season went on and was at its best at the end, capturing the league's post-season tournament and an automatic berth in the NCAA event. And, the Greyhounds appear to be picking up where where they left off with a 6-1 start in non-conference games thus far ...Veteran teams traditionally have success at this level, and Loyola's top seven scores thus far include four seniors and two juniors. No other conference team has that much experience, and it's a good reason why Loyola has a good chance to add a regular-season title in its last year in the conference. The Greyhounds move to the Patriot League in all sports for next season ... Etherly, a versatile forward, was the coaches' choice for preseason Player of the Year, and hasn't disappointed (15.7 points, 8.0 rebounds so far) ... Cormier, now a junior, has progressed nicely and, now, is among the league's elite shooting guards (17.1, 4.7, 2.3 assists so far ... Head coach Jimmy Patsos, now in his ninth season, took over a moribund program and turned it around in dramatic fashion. The year before his arrival the Greyhounds won just a single game and, now, have moved into MAAC elite territory ... It's not only talent that has made the difference, but Patsos' ability to get the Greyhounds to play team-oriented ball. Loyola, thus far, is committing just 10.7 turnovers per game, a very acceptable rate ... It's a team that shares the wealth offensively. Although Cormier and Etherly are both very good scorers, neither one will likely finish near the top of the conference's individual scoring list ... and, Olson is a good third option (12.4 ppg. thus far) and is one of the conference's hardest-working players at both ends of the court ... Senior forward Anthony Winbush (7.0, 6.3 so far) has stepped up nicely, as has senior forward Julius Brooks (4.7, 3.3, after averaging just 4.7 minutes per game last year ... Junior big man Jordan Latham (6-8, 250 pounds), helps anchor the middle and leads the MAAC in blocks (1.7) so far .... and 6-1 redshirt freshman Tyler Hubbard has contributed (7.3 ppg.) ... it means the team goes at least seven deep, and it adds an eighth when sophomore 5-8 point guard R.J. Williams, the starter at the position last year, returns to action in mid-January ... Williams is suspended, until then, for an unspecified violation of team rules and has yet to play this season. He was the team's leader in assists a year ago.

LOYOLA'S STRENGTHS: A nice combination of talent and experience. The only loss from a year ago was 6-10 forward Shane Walker, whose intangibles were just as important as his stats. But, there's still more than enough height still on the roster. There might be a couple of  teams in the MAAC with a little more man-for-man talent, but there isn't a conference team that plays better together right now. The Greyhounds' versatility is a positive, too. There are three significant point producers. Opponents can't just shut down a single player.

LOYOLA'S WEAKNESSES: Not many, although the loss of Walker is a significant one. Latham gives the team a different look ... a bruiser in the middle. Plus, the team is playing well so far without its expected point guard, Williams, and will have to ensure his return goes smoothly.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Loyola was your Hoopscribe's early preseason pick to win the regular-season title, and league coaches agreed in their preseason poll. The Greyhounds have done nothing in the non-conference season to lower those expectations. Loyola remains the favorite to capture a regular-season league title.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Men's Preview; Siena Has Talent, Needs Experience

Here's another in the series previewing MAAC teams.

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2011-12 RESULT: 8-10 in MAAC play, 14-17 overall. Defeated Manhattan, 82-80, in overtime of the MAAC tournament's quarterfinal round. Lost to Loyola, 70-60, in the semifinal round.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-8 senior forward O.D. Anosike (15.0 points, 12.5 rebounds per game last season), 5-8 sophomore guard Evan Hymes (13.4), 6-5 sophomore forward Rob Poole (7.0, 3.3), 5-9 sophomore guard Rakeem Brookins (9.0 in the 2010-11 season; sat out last season with a back injury).

KEY LOSSES: Guard Kyle Downey (13.3), forward Owen Wignot (7.3), forward Brandon Walters (6.8, 6.0).

KEY NEWCOMERS: 6-8 forward Imoh Silas, 6-8 forward Lionel Gomis, 6-7 forward Brett Bisping, 6-5 guard Ryan Oliver, 6-4 guard Rich Adu.

NOTES: Siena observers perceive this as a crucial year in terms of third-year head coach Mitch Buonaguro's continued employment at the school, but the veteran mentor has already shown an ability to succeed, at least in a relative sense, with a 14-17 overall finish a year ago with a roster that included just six serviceable players. Those six saw 95 percent of the on-court minutes, and nearly 98 percent of available minutes after first-semester games. No MAAC coach has ever done more with less ... Siena is off to a 2-3 start this year, somewhat expected when one of the team's starting guards (Brookins) and the top small-forward reserve (Trenity Burdine, a 6-6 sophomore) were suspended for the season's first three games (academic-related issues) ... The team is not only re-acclimating itself with them (both missed last season with injuries), but is still relatively young. Silas and Gomis are both first-year players after both had to sit out last season at Siena due to a new NCAA rule related to finishing high school within a specific period of time ...And, three key reserves are freshmen ... Right now, Siena only has three players who saw significant minutes last year, and two of them are sophomores ... The team, though, has a requisite "star" in Anosike, who led the nation in rebounding last year (12.5), and has an even higher average (13.2) through five games this season. But, he comes with a proverbial Achilles' heel, 43.6 percent accuracy (or, lack thereof) from the foul line ... Sophomore guard Evan Hymes, who had more assists than turnovers (115-105) as the team's point guard last year, is having problems taking care of the ball so far (28 turnovers, 15 assists). But, he and Brookins form undoubtedly the quickest backcourt in the MAAC and, in theory, should cause match-up difficulties at both ends. And, both are capable of handling the ball ... The team's third scoring option has become Rob Poole, who has stepped up nicely (11.4, 5.6 so far), producing significantly better than last year's numbers ... Anosike, Hymes, Poole and Brookins are a nice "core four," although the later three are all sophomores and young teams often have more than their share of inconsistencies ... Anosike is the only senior on the roster, and the only junior is Davis Martens, who hasn't yet fully recovered from hip surgery that kept him out last season ... Bisping, right now, looks like the most-ready-to-play of the freshmen and his development will be interesting to watch ... Despite all the youth, there's much talent in place and Siena's future looks bright for the next few years after this one.

SIENA'S STRENGTHS: Clearly, the best big man in the conference in Anosike. Although he's not an overly gifted scorer, he gets enough points while controlling the boards as well as any MAAC player in many, many years. Hymes, Poole and Brookins are all capable scorers. And, there's enough talent in place for the team to legitimately go four or five deep into the bench, a year after the team had a one-man bench.

SIENA'S WEAKNESSES: Experience. Four of the team's top five scorers are sophomores, and two of them (Brookins and Burdine) didn't play last year. After that, the next four leading scorers are freshmen. Anosike is the team's only senior and, right now, there's no junior in the playing group.

REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: Season-long progress. The sophomores, at least, have a year's playing experience. And, the two "big" freshmen, Silas and Gomis, were able to practice with the team last season. It's clearly possible that the Saints could grow up fast and become very competitive by the time league play rolls around. And, Buonaguro clearly showed he knew how to coach last season. Don't expect a 20-win season overall. But, a better than .500 finish in the MAAC is well within reach, and that would be good enough for the Saints to finish somewhere from third to sixth this season.

Mihalich's Mom Loses Lengthy Bout With Cancer

Say a prayer in remembrance of Dolores Mihalich, the mom of Niagara coach Joe Mihalich, who passed away at age 88 on Wednesday after a lengthy bout with colon cancer.

Mrs. Mihalich became a wonderful story line in 2005 when her son revealed that she was battling the disease and that he hoped to give her an emotional lift with his team's success.

Mrs. Mihalich had been first diagnosed with cancer in December of 2003 and, at the time, was told by doctors that she might only have a year left to live.

Back then Mihalich spoke emotionally about how much she wanted his team to have success and to watch her son realize his dream with a trip to the NCAA tournament.

And, he did, winning the MAAC tournament to advance to the NCAA event that season.

Two years later, the Mihalich story was told again at the MAAC tournament when Niagara met Siena in the 2007 post-season event's championship game.

The mom of Fran McCaffery, the Siena coach at the time, was also battling cancer. McCaffery and Mihalich grew up together in Philadelphia and played on the same high school team.

And, then, in the mid-2000's, their moms became even closer when they often accompanied each other for their respective cancer treatments. McCaffery's mom, Shirely, passed away in September of 2007.

Mrs. Mihalich, though, continued to beat the odds related to her cancer survival, and was on hand not only for Niagara's two NCAA tournament appearance but also in 2009 when the program set the school's modern record for single-season victories and advanced to the National Invitational Tournament.

Dolores Mihalich used basketball to help brighten her days in recent years and became one of Niagara's most-loyal supporters.

"She loved Niagara basketball, and she loved Niagara University," Joe Mihalich told the Niagara Gazette earlier this week. "She answered the phone every day with `Go Purple Eagles.' "

Mrs. Mihalich's diminishing health meant that Joe Mihalich spent much of the week leading up to his team's game against Little 3 rival St. Bonaventure on Saturday traveling back and forth between Western New York and his mom's Philadelphia home.

But, Mihalich was on the sideline on Saturday for his team's spirited 80-75 loss to the Bonnies, just three days after his mom's passing.

"In some respects, it's the easiest thing to do because she wouldn't want it any other way," Mihalich told the Niagara newspaper. "Whe wouldn't want anyone sitting around feeling sorry for her and she cares about this team. She wouldn't want this team not to be at full strength."

A hospice caregiver told Mihalich recently that his mother's positive spirit had waned and she was losing interest in most daily activities.

"They asked her what she was still interested in," added Mihalich, "and she told them `my kids and Niagara basketball.' "

Friday, November 23, 2012

Women's Preview: Guard Play A Key For Siena

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

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2011-12 RECORD: 9-9 in the MAAC, 12-17 overall. Won a first-round MAAC tournament game, 34-33, over Manhattan. Lost in the semifinals, 63-48, to Fairfield.

KEY LOSSES: Guard Cristina Centeno (10.1 points per game), guard Maja Gerlyng (9.6 ppg.), 5-8 guard Janine Davis (transferred to Fisk University).

KEY RETURNEES: 6-1 senior forward Lily Grenci (15.2 points, 7.8 rebounds per game last season), 6-1 junior forward Clara Sole-Anglada (7.9, 6.1), 5-9 sophomore guard Tehresa Coles (4.6, 2.6), 5-9 junior guard Kanika Cummings (4.4), 6-1 junior forward Kate Zarotney (3.7, 3.4), 6-1 sophomore forward Kelsey Booth (2.3), 5-6 junior guard Ciara Stewart (0.5, 0.6).

KEY NEWCOMER: 6-0 redshirt freshman guard Ida Krogh, 6-2 freshman center Symone Kelly.

NOTES: The Saints finished fourth in the MAAC standings in each of the past two seasons, and won a league tournament games both years, and still fired 22-year head coach Gina Castelli (now on the staff at Rhode Island) ... That move, in no small part, was made because the team hasn't had similar success in non-league play. The previous eight years have resulted in sub-.500 overall records, although never with fewer than 10 wins ... The current team is off to a 1-3 non-league start under new coach Ali Jaques, formerly an assistant at Northwestern ... This year's team seemed poised for improvement until Janine Davis, a transfer from George Washington University who might have been one of the league's better point guards, made a late-summer decision to transfer to Fisk, an NAIA program ... It leaves the current team shorthanded at the point, a position currently entrusted to previously lightly used junior Stewart, and without a legitimate back-up ... Through four games, the Saints are averaging an abnormally high 24.8 turnovers per contest ... If Siena can begin taking better care of the ball, it has a chance to be at least solid. It has one of the league's best players in Grenci (15.0, 10.0 so far this season), and one of the deepest front courts in the league. Zarotney (6.5, 5.5) has been effective off the bench. Sole-Anglada (6.3, 4.5) is capable at both ends and Booth (4.5) is one of the league's best long-range shooters (40.7 percent on 3-pointers last season) ... Sophomore Coles (6.3, 4.8, 3.0 steals) has made progress after a solid freshman year, particularly on her outside shot. Defensively, she uses rare quickness and desire to be one of the league's top "disruptive forces" ... Without effective guard play so far, though, the offense has struggled. After a 75-point season-opening effort against a weak Fairleigh Dickinson opponent, Siena has averaged 45.3 points over the last three contests ... But, there's certainly reason to believe the backcourt will improve with experience. Stewart hasn't played much in the past and Cummings, limited by knee issues the past two seasons, is healthier. Krogh, a multi-talented player, only got into five games and rarely practiced last year due to foot issues (and ended up a medical redshirt), is still shaking off some proverbial rust. The backcourt also could get a lift from sophomore Allison Mullings, who won the starting point guard spot last year but suffered a torn ACL in the team's first game a year ago and has only been lightly used thus far this year.

SIENA'S STRENGTH: A go-to player inside with Grenci, and a talented and deep front court. Grenci is a legitimate conference Player of the Year candidate. The team has four legitimate forwards all about 6-1, plus a promising freshman in 6-2 Kelly. Siena has been solid, at least, on the defensive end so far. Particularly Coles, who gives the Saints several extra possessions each game based on her defensive play.

SIENA'S WEAKNESS: Inexperienced guard play. Coles, a sophomore, is the backcourt's most-experienced player, but she doesn't handle the ball well enough to play at the point. The team had solid veterans in the backcourt last year with Centeno and Gerlyng, and clearly misses that sort of upperclass poise and experience so far.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: There doesn't appear to be a clear-cut second-place finisher (to Marist) right now, but Siena would have to make considerable strides to reach that level this season. Still, the upper half of the league standings is a possibility. The best guess here is somewhere between fourth and seventh in the MAAC.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Women's Preview: Canisius Set For Improvement

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

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2011-12 RECORD: 6-12 in MAAC play, 12-18 overall. Lost to Saint Peter's, 62-57, in play-in round of MAAC Tournament.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-3 junior center Jamie Ruttle (11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds last season), 5-11 senior forward Ashley Wilkes (7.0, 4.5), 5-9 junior guard Jen Morabito (9.0, 2.4), 6-3 junior center Jen Lennox (3.5, 2.1), 5-7 sophomore guard Kayla Hoohuli (8.6, 3.8), 5-10 senior swingperson Allison Braun (4.6, 3.6), 5-5 senior guard Ashley Durham (9.6, 3.7).


KEY NEWCOMERS: 5-10 freshman forward Crystal Porter, 5-5 freshman guard Tiahana Mills.

NOTES: Canisius has ever player back who averaged more than 1.3 points per game last season, but it's still a young team with only one senior in the top seven scorers so far ... Head coach Terry Zeh brought in a recruiting class for the 2010-11 season that saw four freshmen win conference Player of the Week awards, but that group is still maturing. Of the four, Ruttle has become one of the league's better inside players, and Morabito a solid guard. Lennox is a reserve and Courtney VandeBovenkamp, a 6-1 forward, has a knee injury and is out for the season ... The Griffs are off to a 1-3 start, but one of the losses (to Oakland) was by a point, and the other two came against solid opponents Detroit and Bucknell ... Wilkes, a 5-11 senior, is a talented player but is also the team's second-tallest starter. The only true front-cour depth comes from Porter, a freshman (6.3, 3.5 thus far) and Lennox. It might mean that senior Allison Braun, who missed the second half of last season with an injury, might also get some minutes up front, maybe even at the power forward spot ... The Griffs were young last year, and will be again this season. Freshman Tiahana Mills (4.5, 3.5, 4.3 assists) has displaced Ashley Durham, a senior, at the point ... As usual, the team will put up its share of 3-pointers, and already has seven players through four games make a bonus shot, including the 6-3 Ruttle, who has two. The Griffs are averaging six made three-pointers per contest thus far ... It wasn't that long ago when Canisius looked like the program that could challenge Marist for conference supremecy. The Griffs were 14-4 in MAAC play and 24-9 overall in the 2008-09 season. Since then, there have been three straight 6-12 conference finishes and at least 18 overall losses each year. But, with a roster that goes legitimately nine deep this year, things should start turning around.

CANISIUS STRENGTHS: Ruttle is a multi-talented "big," who can put up big numbers in any game. The guard position is strong with Morabito, Hoohuli, Mills and Braun. While the Griffs remain relatively young, players already have considerable experience other than the current freshmen. And, there's depth. As always, there's also far above-average outside shooting ability throughout the roster.

CANISIUS WEANKESSES: Beyond Ruttle, there's not much in the post unless Lennox can produce off the bench. Also, while Mills has enough talent, it's always difficult for a freshman point guard to make the transition from high school to college.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Something better than the three-year streak of 6-12 league records, but the best is probably to come next year. Still, there's a chance for a .500 conference record or, possibly, even a little better. Expect a finish somewhere between fourth and seventh.

Men's Preview: Excitement Building Around Canisius

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

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2011-12 RECORD: 1-17 in MAAC play, 5-25 overall. Lost to Niagara, 80-70, in MAAC tournament play-in round.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-1 senior guard Harold Washington (17.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists per game last season), 6-2 senior guard Alshwan Hymes (15.4, 3.2, 84 3-pointers), 6-6 junior forward Chris Manhert (7.0, 7.4), 6-2 junior guard Reggie Groves (5.8, 2.3), 6-9 sophomore forward Josiah Heath (4.5, 6.0).

KEY LOSSES: Guard Gaby Belardo (12.0).

KEY NEWCOMERS: 6-10 senior center Freddy Asprilla, transfer from Kansas State; 6-10 junior center Jordan Heath, transfer from Roberts Wesleyan; 6-3 senior guard Isaac Sosa, transfer from Central Florida; 6-2 junior guard Billy Baron, transfer from Rhode Island.

NOTES: Nothing like a complete re-make to turn things around at Canisius ... Three of the four now-eligible transfers are starters, and a fourth (Asprilla, the 6-10, 280-pounder) comes aboard right now, after serving a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules last year, and he'll get significant minutes, too. Plus, senior returnee Washington is among the top guards in the league ...The Golden Griffins are designed to win right now with four seniors and four juniors among the team's top nine players ... And the program is poised to regain the type of interest that hasn't been seen around the downtown Buffalo campus in many years. In fact, it already has. The past two games have brought back-to-back sellout crowds (2,196) to the on-campus Koessler Athletic Center, the first time that has happened since the 2002-03 season ... And, the crowds are seeing good basketball. The Griffs have started 3-0, the fastest start since a 4-0 beginning to the 2000-01 season, which is also the last time the program had a winning record for an entire season. It's also just the fifth time in the past 50 years Canisius has started 3-0, and just the third time in the past 30 years ... Clearly, it's a good year to be a Canisius fan ... The revitalization will bring much credit to new coach Jim Baron, who had varying degrees at success in 11 seasons at Rhode Island. Baron is a native son, of sorts, having played at St. Bonaventure and also having coached there for nine seasons before moving on to Rhode Island, so his presence brings instant credibility ... Of course, Baron is the director of the current sounds of sweet music, but he's also got considerably more talent on hand than predecessor Tom Parrotta ... The talent includes four eligible transfers, three of them (Asprilla, Jordan Heath and Sosa) were brought in by Parrotta. The fourth, Baron's son Billy (16.0 ppg., 6.0 assists so far), a transfer from Rhode Island, has had the biggest impact so far. He joins talented holdover Harold Washington (19.0 ppg. through three games) to form one of the top backcourts in the MAAC ... Manhertz, another returnee (8.3, 3.7 so far) is contributing, and Jordan Heath (8.0, 5.7) is providing enough in the post so far. And, the post gets a "big" lift now that Asprilla has served his three-game suspension ... There's also plenty of depth with Hymes, one of the league's best long-range shooters, coming off the bench along with Sosa (9.7 ppg. so far). Another returnee, 6-2 Reggie Groves (2.0 ppg. so far), is probably the team's No. 5 guard, and would start for a few MAAC teams. More depth up front comes from 6-9 sophomore Josiah Heath (3.7, 3.7 so far) ... And, as if the winning hasn't gotten the fan base enthused, two of the first three victories have come against regional rivals St. Bonaventure and Buffalo.

CANISIUS STRENGTHS: Talent, depth (the team goes legitimately nine deep), outside shooting in Washington and Hymes, inside play with Jordan Heath and, eventually, Asprilla. A strong point guard (Baron) who had success in the Atlantic 10. And, the type of fast start that builds confidence quickly. Give Baron credit, too, for bringing a lot of pieces together quickly.

CANISIUS WEAKNESSES: Having to adjust to so many new players. But, three of them (Asprilla, Heath and Sosa) were in place last year and able to practice with the Griffs. And, the fourth, Baron, filled a specific need at point guard. Questions about chemistry issues, for now, have been answered positively. But, there's another coming up with the impending return of Asprilla. Plus, we'll need to see how the Griffs can do on the road. All three wins so far have at the cozy confines of the Koessler Athletic Center.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: League coaches, in their preseason poll, picked Canisius to finish ninth, and we're finding out that's not reasonable. With the talent in place ... if things mesh ... the Griffs have as much potential as anyone. Why not contend for the league title? It's not out of the realm of possibility. Reasonably, Canisius is likely to finish in the upper half of the league standings.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Men's Preview: Talented Iona Needs Time To Mesh

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

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2011-12 RECORD: 15-3 in MAAC play, 25-8 overall. Lost in the MAAC tournament's semifinal round, 85-75, to Fairfield. Received an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament and lost a first-round game, 78-72, to BYU.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-0 senior guard Lamont "Momo" Jones (15.7 points per game), 6-4 junior guard Sean Armond (9.5), 6-7 senior forward Taj Ridley (6.7, 4.0).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Mike Glover (18.3, 9.0), guard Scott Machado (13.7, 9.9 assists), guard Kyle Smyth (5.5), guard Jermel Jenkins (5.5).

KEY ADDITIONS: 6-5 junior guard Tre Bowman, transfer from Midland Junior College, Tex.; 5-9 sophomore guard Tavon Sledge, transfer from Iowa State; 6-5 senior guard Curtis Dennis, transfer from Toledo; 6-9 junior center Shawn Jackson, transfer from Northwest Florida Junior College.

NOTES: Game programs should be a big seller at Iona games until fans get familiar with a roster that includes an unprecedented (within the MAAC) nine new players this year: two traditional freshmen, four from junior college programs, two transfers from four-year schools and a graduate student (Dennis) ... In "reloading," the program is likely to avoid the traditional drop mid-major level teams have after losing two first-team all-conference players (Glover, Machado), but it's still likely to have some growing pains at least for the early part of the season. So far, Iona has beaten Denver (an NCAA team last season) and Wake Forest of the ACC, but has lost to Quinnipiac (picked for fourth in the Northeast Conference) and Illinois-Chicago (picked for 8th in the 9-team Horizon League) ...No one, though, doubts that there's considerable talent in place, led by senior guard Lamont "Momo" Jones, whose college career began at Arizona. He's currently the MAAC's leading scorer (25.8 ppg.). Joining him in the backcourt is Sean Armond (21.3 ppg. thus far), and they might wind up being the nation's highest-scoring backcourt this season. Add Tre Bowman, a 6-5 swingman (14.3 ppg. so far), and that's considerable firepower on the perimeter ... Iona, though, won't be the same team as last year, not after losing Machado, who led the nation in assists a year ago. Although Jones is averaging 4.0 assists per game, he's more of a shoot-first point guard. Sledge is closer to the traditional pass-first point guard, but he's only started one of the team's first four games thus far ... The parts seemed to fit better together last year. But, they also had some time to develop together. If coach Tim Cluess can get this group's chemistry in smooth-running order, Iona could be more than a handful at some point ... But, there's another transition to come. After first semester games end, 6-8, 240-pound multi-talented forward David Laury (a transfer from Lamar State) becomes eligible and is likely to get big minutes right away ... For now, the Gaels are mostly going seven deep, but Laury gives them a strong eight-man rotation when he returns. And, even players who haven't gotten a lot of minutes thus far are capable of contributing at this level. Plus, between Laury and 6-9 front-courter Shawn Jackson, the Gaels will have the type height it lacked a year ago.

IONA'S STRENGTHS: Talent, as much of it top-to-bottom as any MAAC team. Jones, Dennis and Sledge all come from higher-level programs, and both Laury and, probably, Armand, could play at a higher level, too. The height deficiency (last season's "big" man Glover was all of about 6-6 1/2) that came into play, particularly against BYU, won't be so pronounced this year. Plus, Iona has an ability to put points on the board that's rare at this level, particularly from the perimeter players.

IONA'S WEAKNESSES: Chemistry. With so many new players joining the program all at once, and another coming aboard for the second semester, there are naturally questions about how quickly things can fall into place. Plus, the team needs to adjust from having the nation's best passer (Machado) running things a year ago to not having that luxury any longer. The belief here, though, is that head coach Tim Cluess is good enough at these things to have his team sharp by later this season.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: On talent alone, one might rate the Gaels the best team in the MAAC. But, Iona does have issues, mostly the adjustment to the newcomers and playing a style that doesn't involve a pass-first point guard like it had in Machado a year ago. League coaches picked Iona to third in the regular-season standings this season, and there won't be any argument here on that prediction. Iona could challenge for the top spot, but the guess here is that it will finish second or third in the final standings.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Women's Preview: Iona Is Young, But Very Talented

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 8-10 in the MAAC, 13-18 overall. Won a MAAC tournament play-in round game, 61-60 in overtime against Rider; lost in the quarterfinal round, 61-45, to Fairfield.

KEY RETURNEES: 5-7 sophomore guard Damika Martinez (16.0 points, 4.9 rebounds per game last season), 5-6 sophomore guard Aleesha Powell (8.4, 3.5), 6-3 junior center Sabrina Jeridore (3.2, 3.6, 1.4 blocks), 5-7 senior guard Diana Hubbard (4.4), 5-6 senior guard Haley D'angelo (1.4, 1.1).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Kristina Ford (13.9, 7.0), forward Tomica Bacic (8.2, 6.6), guard Suzi Fregosi (4.9, 122 assists).

KEY ADDITIONS: 5-11 freshman forward Joy Adams, 5-8 freshman guard Kadesia Johnson.

NOTES: After a 4-2 start last year the Gaels faltered down the stretch going 9-16 after that. Much of the team's woes came when Kristina Ford, a strong Player of the Year candidate a year ago, got hurt in the team's 10th game (she was averaging 18.4 points and 7.9 rebounds through the first nine), missed several games and never was close to 100 percent after that ... The team also lost a solid forward in Bacic and a pass-first point guard in Fregosi ... This year's team is extremely young with just two seniors (Hubbard and D'Angelo) among the first seven, and two freshmen and two sophomores among the top five scorers so far ... But, there's plenty of talent in place. Sophomore guard Martinez led the MAAC in scoring last season, the first-ever freshman to do that. And, she's off to another strong start, averaging 17.8 points and 6.3 rebounds so far, clearly projecting herself into the Player of the Year chase. Sophomore Aleesha Powell was another strong frosh guard a year ago, and has moved to the point this year and is averaging 4.0 assists per night ... Head coach Tony Bozzella appears to have found more good freshmen for this season. Joy Adams, a 5-11 forward, might be the early leader for this season's Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 10.5 points and 9.0 points through four games, and 5-8 freshman guard Kadesia Johnson (3.5, 1.5) is in the playing group ... The team also has an inside presence in 6-3 junior center Sabrina Jeridore (3.8, 4.5, 1.8 blocks) and a calming veteran influence in the backcourt in 5-6 senior Haley D'angelo (2.3, 1.8, 2.3 assists), who joined the program as a walk-on and has progressed into a starter this season ...Bozzella is certainly unafraid of early season challenges, having played No. 3 Duke (a 100-31 loss) already and meeting No. 18 St. John's on Wednesday. Providence, another Big East program, is also on the non-league schedule ... About the only thing the team lacks is more of a veteran presence. Teams that rely heavily on upperclassmen traditionally have the most success, and the Gaels will need to buck that trend this season to have success.

IONA'S STRENGTHS: Talent. Martinez, although just a sophomore, is obviously as good a scorer as there is in the league, and Powell is a very good running mate. Adams provides considerable help around the basket, as her 9.0 rebounds to date thus far would indicate. And, Jeridore is a presence inside on the defensive end. The tough early season schedule, too, should help the youngsters develop.

IONA'S WEAKNESSES: Experience, or lack thereof. It's easy to look at this team and to dismiss them as being too young to be competitive. That could be ... or, the talent in place could grow up fast and win more games than expected.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: League coaches picked the Gaels, in the annual preseason poll, to finish eighth this season, but they could easily better that prediction. Martinez is capable of winning games almost on her own when she has big offensive nights. Iona probably won't contend for the league title and probably won't finish in the top three, but somewhere between fourth and seventh seems reasonable.

Men's Preview: Young Marist Set To Move Forward

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams for this season.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 7-11 in MAAC play, 14-18 overall. Won a play-in round conference tournament game, 64-52, over Saint Peter's; lost a quarterfinal-round contest, 87-63, against Iona.

KEY LOSSES: Guard R.J. Hall (4.2 ppg.).

KEY RETURNEES: 6-1 senior guard Devin Price (13.6 points, 4.7 rebounds per game last season), 6-10 junior center Ada Kemp (5.5, 7.2), 6-5 sophomore swingman Chavaughn Lewis (14.4, 4.7), 6-5 junior swingman Jay Bowie (7.3, 4.3), 6-1 sophomore guard T.J. Curry (2.0, 0.7), 5-8 sophomore guard Isaiah Morton (7.8, 1.7), 6-5 sophomore guard Many Thomas (2.7, 1.7).

KEY NEWCOMER: 6-10, 240-pound freshman center Eric Truog.

NOTES: There had been considerable turnover on the roster in recent years, but a very young squad seemed to turn things around late last season with a 7-3 record in its last 10 games ...  a 1-2 start so far in non-league play this year, the losses to decent mid-majors Colgate and Stony Brook (by three points), and the victory over Columbia ... Not too many changes since a year ago, except at the point guard spot where sophomore T.J. Curry has supplanted another sophomore, Isaiah Morton, in the starting lineup ... It appears to be a case of Curry taking care of the ball better. He has a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio so far (12-3), while Morton only has two assists and five turnovers to date and had more turnovers (84) than assists (83) last season. Morton, though, is the first guard off the bench and is still getting considerable minutes (18.3 per contest)...Other than Dorvell Carter, who only played three games a year ago, the top six scorers are back from last season, yet the Red Foxes are still relatively young. The only senior in the playing group is Devin Price, who struggled somewhat earlier in his career after head coach Chuck Martin came aboard, but became one of the league's better guards last year and has picked up where he left off this year (14.3 ppg.) ... Of the top eight players, only two others are juniors, four are sophomores and one is a freshman ... Kemp, who had foot issues late last season, appears back to full health and is averaging 11.0 points and 10.0 rebounds thus far ... Lewis's numbers are down a little (he's averaging 10.7 ppg. so far), but he's one of the best young players in the conference ... Lewis and Bowie (5.7, 5.3) make a nice wing duo ... The top three subs are Morton at guard, Manny Thomas on the wing and 6-10, 240-pound freshman Eric Truog (2.0, 3.0) in the post ... There seems to be enough talent in place for Marist to take another step forward this season.

MARIST'S STRENGTHS: There's good young talent at every position, and at least three strong reserves so depth, barring future injuries, won't be an issue ... The Red Foxes, though, have to maintain the progress they made late last season. Was that a result of surprising some teams late, or a young team finally starting to mature? Price is a certified sniper (6 treys in three games, thus far). Kemp is as good a true "center" as there is in the league, particularly if he continues to score in double figures ... Truog looks like a good back up for Kemp ... Curry is an efficient point guard, although not as flashy as Morton.

MARIST'S WEAKNESSES: Other than Kemp and Truog, both centers (and, they won't likely be together on the court very often), there isn't another "big" getting minutes thus far; there's no true power forward. Marist has to make due with a center and two "wing" players as its front court, so rebounding might become an issue. And, the team is still relatively young. MAAC teams that rely mostly on upperclassmen traditionally have the most success. Marist has only one senior and two juniors among its top eight players.

REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: That 7-3 finish a year ago was nice, but it might be too much to ask for the team to extend that through a full season and produce something like a 21-9 record. The Red Foxes are probably a year away from being able to contend for a spot in the top three of four standing positions. But, there's a good chance Marist can finish out of the play-in round of the MAAC's post-season tournament. Figure Marist to finish somewhere between fourth and eighth.

Women's Previews: Early Injuries Won't Derail Marist

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams for this season.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 17-1 in MAAC play, 26-8 overall. Advanced to second round of the NCAA tournament before losing, 66-63, to St. Bonaventure.

KEY LOSSES: Guard Corielle Yarde (14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists per game), forward Brandy Gang (12.6 ppg.).

KEY RETURNEES: 6-2 senior forward Elizabeth Beynnon (8.6 ppg. last season), 6-1 senior forward Kristina Danella (6.5, 3.4), 5-10 junior guard Casey Dulin (9.4, 4.1, 3.3 assists), 5-10 junior guard Leanne Ockenden (8.8, 3.5).

KEY NEWCOMERS: 6-3 sophomore center Tori Jarosz, transfer from Vanderbilt; 6-5 freshman center Delaney Hollenbeck, 6-0 freshman guard Sydney Coffey.

NOTES: Here we go again, more Marist domination of MAAC women's basketball. The Red Foxes have won at least 25 games overall for the past six seasons. They've won outright (eight) or shared (once) the regular-season league title for the past nine years ... But, Marist will have to do it with a little adversity this season. Sophomore post player Tori Jarosz, who had a game-high 14 points in the team's season opener, suffered a broken wrist in that game and will be out until at least mid-February , if not the rest of the season. And, highly regarded 6-5 freshman Delaney Hollenback has some still-to-be-diagnosed leg issues that appear likely to keep her out for an extended period ... it leaves Marist without a legitimate post player, but that was an issue last season, too, and the team was still dominant ... Still, Marist has been outbrebounded by an average of 11.3 per contest, a seeming recipe for disaster. But, somehow, the team rolls on, to a 2-1 start with the loss coming to a very good Hartford squad and one of the victories over Princeton which, at the time, was rated the No. 4 mid-major level program nationally ... Somehow? With defense, the program's trademark for the past decade. In the team's two victories it held both opponents to 45 points and a combined 26.9 percent shooting from the field ... And, Marist isn't entirely devoid of height. Elizabeth Beynnon, who had a solid year last year and has been even better to date this season, is 6-foot 2. Emma O'Connor, previously a reserve, is a 6-footer now in the starting lineup. Kristina Danella, who mostly comes off the bench is 6-1. Freshman Sydney Coffey, who had 13 points vs. Princeton and has a reputation for strong defense, is 6-0. Guards Casey Dulin and Leanne Ockenden are both 5-10 ... Still, there isn't a true post player available without Jarosz and Hollenbeck ... But, Marist head coach Brian Giorgis always recruits so well that the program's depth is more than good enough to survive a couple of injuries. Players out? Just move O'Connor (6.7, 4.0 so far) into the starting lineup and give Coffey more playing time ... For now, Beynnon, O'Connor, Ockenden and Dulin look like the constants in the starting lineup, although Dulin had some back spasms and didn't start against Princeton ... Danella provides offense off the bench, and fifth-year senior point guard Kristine Best, a former starter, and 5-7 guard Natalie Gomez are solid reserves, too. It's just that with the expected depth moving into more significant roles, the usual Marist depth, for now, isn't quite as pronounced.

MARIST STRENGTHS: If anyone thinks, by now, that Giorgis isn't one of the best mid-major level coaches nationally they haven't been paying attention. Heck, Giorgis is one of the best women's coaches at any level ... he preaches defense, and his players by into that system. The offense is a complicated yet instinctive motion attack that is extremely difficult to defend, particularly when it has as many legitimate scoring options as Marist always seems to put on the court ... Dulin is certainly among the league's better point guards, and both Beynnon and Ockenden have developed into status as some of the league's better players ... Coffey looks like she is going to provide help this year and O'Connor, who never started a game in her first two seasons, has stepped up to be a solid contributor.

MARIST'S WEAKNESSES: The big one is the lack of legitimate post play. The 11.3 per-game rebound disadvantage so far has to be cut considerably, or Marist will lose some games it otherwise should win. To date, though, the Red Foxes have been able to overcome giving opponents more possessions with stingy defense. But, being a post-challenged team isn't anything new for Marist and the very strong guess here is that they'll find a way to compensate.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: If you're a Marist fan, you're certainly spoiled by now. This is the MAAC-version of the New York Yankees ... they expect to win every year. The difference is that baseball's Yankees don't win a championship every year, and Marist does. There is absolutely no reason, for now, to expect Marist to be anything but a first-place team again this season. Still, this team, with Jarosz and Hollenbeck, was built for success beyond the league level. With the promise of height, Marist seemed equipped to do some real damage in national post-season play. Now, though, the expectation of competing against big national-level teams might not be so realistic.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ex-Siena Coach Castelli's New Team Beats Old One

It certainly was more than a little unusual late Saturday morning, on a brief visit with former Siena women's basketball coach Gina Castelli during the Saints' day-of-game shootaround, to see her wearing a Rhode Island sweat suit.

After all, Castelli previously spent about half her life wearing Siena green, as an assistant in that program for a season followed by 22 more seasons as its head coach.

But, Siena opted to go in a different direction with its program after last season and Castelli was brought aboard the Rhode Island staff as its director of player development.

And, coincidentally, a home-and-home series that Castelli set up (Rhode Island was at Siena last season) wound up being the third game on Siena's non-league schedule this year and Castelli wound up on the opposing bench.

She wasn't without a considerable amount of support. About 40 Siena "connected" fans, including a half-dozen former players, made the trek to Kingston, R.I., for the game and sat behind the Rhode Island bench as Castelli's personal rooting section.

It's not the first time a MAAC program's former head coach had to play against his or her former team, but it is somewhat unusual.

Because this was a Siena game, I researched the past times it happened for that program and could only come up with three former Siena head coaches meeting their former team.

The first came in the 1997-98 season when one-time Siena men's head coach Bob Beyer was on the staff of Northwestern and the Saints (then under Paul Hewitt) made the trip there for a game.

Then, former Siena women's coach Jim Jabir, who was at Providence at the time, saw his former team when the Saints played Providence in the 2001-02 season. Coincidentally, Jabir will play against Siena again this season, a Dec. 22nd game at the Saints' Alumni Recreation Center, when his current Dayton team comes to Loudonville, N.Y., for a game.

And, Paul Hewitt, when he was at Georgia Tech, twice went against Siena, those times coming in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.

Assuredly, it has happened elsewhere. The most-recent that comes to memory was last season when former Fairfield coach Ed Cooley played against the Stags as the head coach at Providence.

On Saturday, Rhode Island rallied from a five-point halftime deficit to earn a 47-39 victory over Siena, and Castelli assuredlycontributed a few pre-game strategy points about playing her former team, currently comprised entirely of players she recruited.

It was Rhode Island's second straight victory after a 27-game losing streak and the Rams, featuring four freshmen among their top six players, seemed poised for some future success in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Rhode Island head coach Cathy Inglese was effusive in her praise for Castelli.

"She is an extremely compassionate individual who truly cares about the best interests of our players both on and off the court," said Inglese. "Personally, she is just the nicest person you could ever meet. And, she brings a wealth of basketball knowledge to our staff."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Marist's Jarosz Breaks Wrist, Could Miss Season

The Marist women's basketball team is facing, literally, a big loss.

During the Red Foxes' season-opening 66-45 victory against Vermont its new 6-3 center Tori Jarosz, a transfer from Vanderbilt who sat out last season as per transfer rules, suffered a wrist injury that has since been diagnosed as a fracture.

According to the Poughkeepsie Journal newspaper, the injury could keep Jarosz off the court for three months or, even, the remainder of the season.

"Everybody takes it hard," head coach Brian Giorgis told the Poughkeepsie newspaper. "But, they know it's the next man up, and everyone has to step up."

Jarosz did not start in the game against Vermont, but scored a team-high 14 points.

Without her in the Red Foxes second game of the season against Hartford, Marist suffered a 64-53 loss.

Women's Preview: Peahens Hope For A Little More

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...,


2011-12 RESULTS: 4-14 in MAAC play, 5-26 overall. Won a play-in round game of the MAAC tournament, 62-57, over Canisius before losing in the quarterfinal round to Marist, 74-49.

KEY LOSSES: Forward Jynae Judson (13.4 points, 5.6 rebounds per game), center Quiana Porter (7.5, 6.5).

KEY  RETURNEES: 5-11 senior forward Kristal Edwards (6.5, 4.5), 5-3 junior guard Aziza May (5.2, 3.0 assists), 6-1 senior forward Bent (4.8, 3.4), 5-2 junior guard Khadijah Young (4.7).

KEY ADDITIONS: 5-7 freshman guard Bridget Whitfield, 6-1 freshman forward Hala Mostafa El Shaarawy.

NOTES: Saint Peter's was once one of the conference's premier programs, but that seems like ancient history right now and the program is coming off one of the worst three-year stretches (22-70) in its history ... Optimism? Despite an 0-15 start last year, the Peahens never threw in the proverbial towel. It won its next two after that 0-fer start and, then finished strong, too, with a 3-4 record in its final seven games, including a MAAC tournament play-in round upset over Canisius ... But, the team's top two scorers and rebounders (Judson and Porter) both graduated and not a single returnee averaged more than 6.5 points per game a year ago ... The leading returning scorer, though, is Kristal Edwards (6.5, 4.5), who battled through some minor injury situations a year ago. She is off to a blazing start, averaging 17.6 points and 5.0 rebounds through two games ... The team is off to another slow start (0-2), but the second of those two losses, to Lehigh, was by just two points ... This year's team is currently playing without expected starting point guard Aziza May (5.2 points, 3.0 assists). There is no item on the team's website about her absence, and head coach Stephanie DeWolfe did not return calls for preseason information ... In May's absence thus far, 5-2 junior Khadijah Young has stepped in and has played well (10.0 ppg.) thus far .. The team has some upperclass experience with Edwards, 6-1 senior forward Kaydine Bent (8.5, 6.5 through two games) and 6-0 reserve Jesika Holmes. Plus, there appear to be some solid freshmen capable of contributing, including ridget Whitfield, a 5-7 guard (2.0, 2.0), who has started both games, and 6-1 center Hala Mostafa El Shaarawy, who figutes to be in the playing group.

SAINT PETER'S STRENGTHS: If she can stay healthy, Edwards is capable of being one of the MAAC's better players. And, considering that there don't appear to be many other true scorers, she could wind up with exceptional numbers. May, if she returns soon, will be a factor, and Young is also more than capable at the point. Both are juniors, so the trials and tribulations of using young point guards, which the Peahens did the past two seasons, should be over. Bent is a solid inside player. And, Antonia Smith (5.5, 2.5 so far), a 5-5 sophomore guard, looks ready to contribute. The Peahens have a well-earned reputation for hard play, particularly on the defensive end. And, last year's late season success despite the 0-15 start is indicative that DeWolfe has a knack for ensuring her players continue to play hard through adversity.

SAINT PETER'S WEAKNESSES: Other than Edwards, there probably isn't a player on the team who will average double figures. And, the youngsters will get considerable playing time since there isn't an overabundance of returning depth. As has been the case in recent years, the team is likely to need to work harder than most teams to score points.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Despite its recent woes, the Peahens have avoided the cellar in the MAAC, finishing ninth last season and eighth in each of the two years before that. If Edwards can be the big-time contributor she looks to be early, and some of the solid returnees continue to make progress ... it's more than possible the team can avoid last place, but it probably won't finish higher than seventh.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Former Loyola Coach Pat Coyle Helping Rebuild Pitt

From the 1980-81 season through 1992-92 the Loyola women's basketball program failed to record a winning season. That's a 13-year stretch in which 10 seasons produced single-digit victory totals.

Enter Pat Coyle, formerly a standout player at Rutgers who had been an assistant at three different colleges before being named head coach at Loyola.

Under Coyle the Greyhounds immediately became a winner, finishing 18-11 in her first season. In six years at Loyola she had one losing season, a 9-19 finish in 1996-97 and, then, followed that with back-to-back 20-victory totals the following two years.

After six years at Loyola Coyle moved on to the professional ranks, first as an assistant with the New York Liberty and, eventually, to nearly five years as that team's head coach before she was fired in May of 2009. In all, she had nearly 11 seasons on the professional ranks.

Where is she now?

Coyle is back in the college ranks, hired at the University of Pittsburgh prior to the 2010-11 season. She is now that program's associate head coach under well-regarded program director Agnus Berenato.

Your Hoopscribe had time for a short visit with Coyle prior to Pitt's game against Siena Tuesday afternoon, a 75-50 Pitt victory, at Pittsburgh's Fitzgerald Center.

Coyle said she could have pursued opportunities to remain in the professional ranks, but wanted to back dealing with younger athletes in college.

"I got back to college and discovered the athletes have really changed over the years," she said. "Now, they're so much more connected with everything, with all the social media opportunities and everything else."

Pitt has been rebuilding in recent years, having finished 14-17 two years ago and 8-22 last season but seems to be turning the corner, certainly in no small part to Coyle's work as a staff member.

After beating Siena, the Panthers are 2-1 overall and have the type athleticism that one would expect from a Big East program.

The team also has a requisite standout in Asia Logan, a gifted 6-foot forward who is averaging 20.7 points through three games, and a standout point guard in sophomore Brianna Kiesel. And, there's not a senior on the roster so the program not only will make strides this year but have everyone back a year from now.

Next year's roster will also include current freshman redshirt Marvadene Anderson, a 6-foot-11 center who, according to Pitt game notes, is the tallest teenager in the world.

"We;re really young, but our goal is to get better every game," said Coyle. "Then, by January, we'll be ready for the Big East season."

Coyle said she still has fond memories of her six seasons at Loyola and in the MAAC.

"What I miss the most is the people from the school and around the league that I had good relationships with," she said. "The MAAC is a very good league, and that all starts with the leadership, We had some battles with some good programs when I was at Loyola, and I always enjoyed them."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Much To Note From Season-Opening Contests

Opening night (or, morning in one case) has come and gone. And, with it, some interesting happenings.

A recap, women first ...

IONA 74, NAVY 64: The Gaels were picked to finish eighth in the coaches' preseason poll, but will probably finish higher if they can match this effort. Damika Martinez, who became the first freshman ever to lead the conference in scoring last season, picked up right where she left off with 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting.

FLORIDA 61, FAIRFIELD 49: The Stags stayed relatively close against a high-major program, and the good news is that 6-foot-1 junior forward Brittany Obi-Tabot, who averaged 3.8 minutes per game a year ago, had a team-high 14 points.

RIDER 62, STONY BROOK 50: A program that seems on the rise got off to a nice start. Sironda Chambers, a senior guard who missed the second semester last season, had 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.

MARIST 66, VERMONT 45: The Red Foxes actually trailed by seven at halftime, but opened the second half with an 18-0 run that was expanded to a 29-2 burst to put things away. Sophomore Vanderbilt transfer 6-3 center Tori Jarosz came off the bench to score 14 points in 18 minutes. In a typical Marist balanced attack, 10 players scored.

HARTFORD 64, LOYOLA 50: The Greyhounds are picked in the coaches' poll to finish third, but they'll need more than two offensive weapons to fulfill that expectation. Preseason Player of the Year Katie Sheahin had 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 steals and sophomore teammate Kara Marshall added 14 points. No other
team member had more than five.

CANISIUS 73, BUFFALO 59: Senior swinperson Ashley Wilkes had 12 points and 13 rebounds and four players scored between 10 and 12 points for the Golden Griffins.

NIAGARA 63, ROBERT MORRIS 59: Senior forward Jessica Flamm, who only averaged 2.1 points per game a year ago, led the way for the Purple Eagles with 14 points and 6 rebounds.

SIENA 76, FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON: Siena got its first season-opening win in nine years, but FDU isn't exactly a powerhouse (picked for 10th in the NEC), and past Siena openers included two against Maryland, one when it won the national championship. A healthy, deep roster enabled first-year coach Ali Jaques to use nine players for at least 11 minutes each, and senior forward Lily Grenci, a strong post-season Player of the Year candidate, had 19 points and 12 rebounds.


RIDER 79, ROBERT MORRIS 54: A double dose of successful debuts. New head coach Kevin Baggett, previously a Broncs' assistant, got a victory in his first game as program director. And, guard Nurideen Lindsey, a highly touted transfer from St. John's, gave a glimpse of what all the hype is about with 26 points and five assists.

SAINT PETER'S 56, RUTGERS 52: Arguably the biggest opening-night surprise. Saint Peter's played like anything but a team picked for 10th in the coaches' preseason poll, upsetting the Scarlet Knights, and rallying from a seven-point second-half deficit. Newcomer Desi Washington (transfer from Delaware State) led the way for the Peacocks with 18 points, while teammates Markese Tucker had 11 and Darius Conley had 10.

LOYOLA 71, BINGHAMTON 45: The Greyhounds got off to a good start against a team directed by former Rider coach Tommy Dempsey. Junior guard Dylon Cormier had a game-high 21 points while preseason Player of the Year pick Erik Etherly, a senior forward, had 11 points and  rebounds.

OREGON STATE 102, NIAGARA 82: A little undersized in the paint for now, Niagara was outrebounded 52-37. Junior guard Marvin Jordan led the scoring for the Purple Eagles with 17, while 6-8 freshman forward T.J. Cline had a nice debut with 11 points and 7 rebounds off the bench.

IONA 65, DENVER 58: It wasn't the high point total that Gael fans got used to last season, but it was still a nice season-opening victory. Senior guard Momo Jones played the full 40 minutes as point guard and had 20 points and 7 assists. Backcourt mate Sean Armand, arguably the best perimeter shooter in the conference, added 19 on 8-of-11 shooting.

STONY BROOK 60, MARIST 57: The Red Foxes were down by 12 late in the first half and got close enough at the end to be in position to tie it had Devin Price's open 3-pointer with just seconds remaining gone down. One encouraging note: Junior center Adam Kemp, who was recovering from an off-season foot injury, had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore guard T.J. Curry got the start at point guard and had seven points and eight assists in 29 minutes.

VERMONT 53, SIENA 52. The America East's predicted top team rallied from a 20-4 early deficit, getting the game-winning basket on guard Sandro Carissimo's drive to the basket that split two interior Siena defenders. The Saints had a chance to win, but an errant pass meant for senior forward O.D. Anosike didn't connect. Anosike looked like he intends to lead the nation in rebounding again (he had 17 boards), but also looked like his career-long woes at the foul line (2-of-11) will continue.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Issues Facing Women's Teams As Season Starts

Here's a look at "issues" surrounding women's programs as the start of college basketball season approaches ...

CANISIUS: Time to show that two seasons of growth will finally pay dividends. The current junior class includes three players taller than 6-1 and a standout guard. Last year's recruiting class brought Kayla Hoohuli, who was one of the league's top freshmen. Still, last season's results didn't quite live up to expectations. If the experience gained by a talented group begins paying dividends, this could be a very good season for the Golden Griffins. But ... at least one more "youngster' might have to grow up fast. Freshman Tiahana Mills is listed as the starter at that position right now.
OPENING GAME: Canisius at the University of Buffalo, tonight.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Canisius at St. Bonaventure, Dec. 16.

FAIRFIELD: Replacing key losses. The Stags graduated players from, arguably, the two most-important positions ... point guard (Desiree Pina) and high-scoring forward (Taryn Johnson). Replacements are Felicia DaCruz, who didn't play a lot last season as Pina's back-up, and senior forward Brittany MacFarlane who was the conference's Sixth Player of the Year award winner last year. MacFarlane, though, won't need to duplicate Johnson's scoring ... there are plenty of other offensive weapons on the team. And, freshman Lizzie Ball might get significant minutes at the point.
OPENING GAME: Fairfield at Florida, tonight.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Fairfield at Iowa State, Dec. 9.

IONA: Find some youngsters as good as the ones who came in last year. Guard Damika Martinez became the first freshman to lead the conference in scoring last season, and Aleesha Powell had a strong first season, too. Can the Gaels find that kind of talent in first-year players once again?  They might need to as three of last year's top five scorers are gone and the current roster includes seven freshmen, several of which will almost assuredly be asked to play big minutes right away. But, if an exhibition game is any indication, Joy Adams, a 5-11 freshman forward, and Aaliyah Robinson, a 5-9 freshman guard, aren't far from being ready. Adams had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the exhibition contest, and had a stellar high school career at Evans H.S. in Orlando, Fla., where she finished with 1,541 career points and 1,081 rebounds. Robinson had 13 points in the exhibition contest, and she averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds per game last year at Wilbur Cross H.S. in Connecticut.
SEASON OPENER: Navy at Iona, tonight.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Iona at Duke, Nov. 18.

LOYOLA: Ensure that do-everything guard Katie Sheahin doesn't need to be the proverbial one-person band. Sheahin is either the best, or second-best player in the league, but she led the team in almost every category a year ago, and that was when she had a strong "second fiddle" in forward Miriam McKenzie. With McKenzie gone, someone has to step up and help out. Sophomore Kara Marshall, who had a solid freshman year, is a likely candidate, as is forward Alyssa Sutherland, who played hurt for a good portion of last season.
SEASON OPENER: Loyola at Hartford, tonight.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Maryland at Loyola, Nov. 11.

MANHATTAN: Two issues here, both of which head coach John Olenowski has capably handled in past seasons: Find a point guard, handle the boards without much height. The Jaspers, whether through trial and error or injuries, used five different players at the point last year and several of them are gone. Returnees are Allison Skrec, who started five games last season before an injury derailed her season, and Maggie Blair, who didn't contribute much else (1.7 points per game) on the offensive end. Both, though, recorded more assists than turnovers last season. Inside? There's only one 6-footer with considerable experience, Monica Roeder. And, she's basically a long-range shooter.
SEASON OPENER: Towson at Manhattan, Saturday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Oakland at Manhattan, Dec. 8.

MARIST: Issue? What issue? Maybe finding room in the McCann Arena facility to hang another MAAC championship banner. OK, the Red Foxes lost MAAC Player of the Year Corielle Yarde, but there are three strong starters returning, a point guard (Kristine Best) coming back after being lost early last season through injury, an impact 6-foot-3 transfer (Tori Jarosz from Vanderbilt) and as strong a freshman class of any in the league. Issue? Maybe finding enough playing time for a roster that legitimately goes at least 10 deep.
SEASON OPENER: Vermont at Marist, tonight.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: UConn, Nov. 23, in the Paradise Jam Tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

NIAGARA: Take the next step. The Purple Eagles did take a major step forward a year ago, turning around a slow start (5-13 in their first 18 games) into a fast finish (8-6 down the stretch). Included in the lat-season run was two losses to Marist, both in overtime. The second of those came in the MAAC tournament's semifinal round. Eight of the team's top nine players return, including the four leading scorers. Still, Niagara was only 9-9 in league play a year ago. It's poised for much better this season.
SEASON OPENER: Niagara at Robert Morris, tonight.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Niagara at Michigan, Dec. 29.

RIDER: Like Niagara, Rider is also poised to take the next step. But, a key in doing so will be to keep its players on the court. It lost standout forward Shereen Lightbourne in the preseason a year ago with a knee injury, then lost guards Ali Heller (knee) and Sironda Chambers (academics) in midseason. This year, Lightbourne is already out again for the season with more knee woes. And, another issue ... develop a point guard. The candidates are a redshirt freshman and an inexperienced sophomore.
SEASON OPENER: Rider at Stony Brook, tonight.
KEY GAME OF NOTE: Rider at Pittsburgh, Dec. 16.

SAINT PETER'S: Find some offense. The Peahens averaged 53.6 points per game last season, the lowest total of the 10 MAAC teams. And, the top two scorers from a year ago are gone. Returning swingplayer Kristal Edwards and point guard Aziza May, who had a strong freshman season but didn't show much improvement off that as a sophomore, are both capable of taking on bigger scoring roles.
SEASON OPENER: Saint Peter's at Brown, Saturday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Saint Peter's at Sacred Heart, Nov. 20.

SIENA: Find a point guard. It's an issue that has bothered the Saints for the past several years. First-year head coach Ali Jaques seems to have settled on Ciera Stewart, a junior who only averaged 0.5 points per game last season. The other candidate is Ida Krogh, a redshirt freshman who is already in the starting lineup and is probably the team's best passer. The Saints have everyone back up front, but will need its inexperienced guards to step up to have a successful season.
SEASON OPENER: Fairleigh Dickinson at Siena, tonight.
KEY NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Siena at Pittsburgh, Nov. 13.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Issues Facing Teams As Season Approaches

The college basketball season is here, tipping off tomorrow (Friday) for first-allowed games.

As teams get ready for their initial contests, let's take a look at one interesting issue within each program, a look at each team's opener and one other non-league contest of note. We'll start with the men.

CANISIUS: The key issue is the infusion of so much new talent at once and whether it can all fit together. Quality newcomers include four transfers, all eligible for this season and all potential starters or reserves who will get big minutes. They include 6-10, 280-pound senior center Freddie Asprilla (from Kansas St;ate), 6-2 junior guard Billy Baron (Rhode Island), 6-3 senior guard Isaac Sosa (Central Florida) and 6-10 junior center Jordan Heath (Robert Weslyan). Baron had 22 points in the team's exhibition game, while Heath had 9 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocked shots. Asprilla, though, will miss the first three games while on suspension for a violation of school policy that occurred last year.
SEASON OPENER: Boston University at Canisius, Nov. 12.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Canisius at Syracuse, Dec. 15, first round of the Gotham Classic.

FAIRFIELD: The Stags need to find an inside game. Its guard trio of Desmond Wade, Derek Needham and Colin Nickerson is as talented as any league program's. But, no one on its roster taller than 6-foot-5 has previous college-level experience. Junior forwards Keith Matthews and Maurice Barrow are both solid front-court players, but each is only 6-5. The Stags will either play small, or hope someone emerges in the middle. It might be 6-10 freshman center Josip Mikulic, who had eight rebounds in the team's exhibition game, or 6-8 freshman forward Amadou Sidibe, who had seven points (3-of-3 shooting) in the exhibition contest. Mikulic is a native of Croatia, who came to the U.S. to play two seasons at North Broward (Fla.) Prep School where he averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds per game last season. Sidibe comes in from Cardinal Hayes H.S. in the Bronx, where he averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds per game last season.
SEASON OPENER: Fairfield vs. Central Connecticut State, Saturday in Hartford.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Fairfield at Providence (coached by former Stags' coach Ed Cooley), Nov. 23.

IONA: Trying to keep track of everyone without a scorecard. Much like Canisius, it will be interesting to see how chemistry develops here, but there is no doubt that there is as much talent on hand as any team in the league has at its disposal. Nine new players join the program for this season, including four from the junior college ranks, two via transfer from four-year schools, two "traditional" freshmen and a graduate student who already played three seasons at a four-year program. One of the new players ... and, maybe the best one ... 6-8 multi-talented forward David Laury, isn't eligible until after first-semester games are over. One more transition from a returnee: guard Momo Jones takes over at the point with the graduation of last season's NCAA assist leader Scott Machado. As one "astute" observer of Iona basketball relayed, the Gaels will benefit more if Jones is an 18-point, 6-assist guy rather than a 24-point, 4-assist player. But, he's more than capable.
SEASON OPENER: Denver at Iona, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: A potential Iona vs. Connecticut meeting in the U.S. Virgin Islands Classic, Nov. 17. For that to happen, Iona would need to beat Quinnipiac and UConn would need to beat Wake Forest in first-round tournament games.

LOYOLA: The Greyhounds will need to match the intensity, particularly on the defensive end, that carried them to last season's NCAA tournament, while finding suitable replacements for underrated 6-10 center Shane Walker (graduation) and key reserve Justin Drummond (transfer). And Loyola also needs to get through its first 18 games without sophomore point guard R.J. Williams, suspended due to a violation of team rules. Williams will not be permitted to play until January 17 against Marist, the Greyhounds' 19th game of the season.
SEASON OPENER: Binghamton at Loyola, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Loyola at Memphis (picked to win Conference USA), Dec. 30.

MANHATTAN: The Jaspers matched the most improvement (a positive 15-game swing) of any team nationally last season. Now, they just have to maintain without being a "surprise" any longer. To do so, the program likely needs to find just a little more help in the paint. Rhamel Brown, Roberto Colonette and Emmy Andujar make up a talented front-court, but Brown and Colonette are both 6-7 and Andujar is 6-6. Maybe freshman Adam Lacey (6-10, 230 pounds) can help out quickly. He averaged 14 points and nine rebounds per game at San Diego H.S. last season.
SEASON OPENER: Manhattan at Louisville, Nov. 11.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Hard to dispute Manhattan at Louisville (Nov. 11) when Manhattan coach Steve Masiello meets his mentor, Louisville coach Rick Pitino. Louisville won 30 games last season and could be even better this year.

MARIST: Marist needs continued improvement/maturation from its young players. The Red Foxes are definitely a team of the future ... it's just a matter of how quickly the future gets here. Two starters (6-5 swingman Chavaugn Lewis and 5-8 point guard Isaiah Morton) and a top reserve (6-5 forward Manny Thomas) are all sophomores. Lewis is going to be one of the MAAC's best players at some point. How fast he gets there, and the continued progress of some young teammates will dictate the Red Foxes' degree of success this season.
SEASON OPENER: Stony Brook at Marist, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Marist at Army, Dec. 4, in a meeting of proximitous programs. Only about 30 miles separate the two schools.

NIAGARA: Very simple situation here: avoid being a "donut" team, i.e. having a hole in the middle. Incoming transfer from La Salle Devon White, a rugged 6-8 post player, was expected to literally be a "big" answer. Instead, he ruptured an Achilles tendon in June and isn't expected back on the court until late December. Without him, the Purple Eagles' front court includes 6-7 sophomore Joe Thomas, slender 6-8 senior Scooter Gillette and 6-8 freshman T.J. Cline. If White can get back by late December, there's still the bulk of MAAC games to play and things should be fine by the MAAC tournament. If not, Niagara is still capable of scoring a lot of points, but will have a "big" weakness inside both defensively and on the boards.
SEASON OPENER: Niagara at Oregon State, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Niagara vs. St. Bonaventure, Nov. 24 at the Blue Cross Arena in downtown Rochester, N.Y.

RIDER: Can the Broncs deal with some transition at, arguably, the program's two most-important positions? Former head coach Tommy Dempsey is gone (to Binghamton), replaced by six-year assistant Kevin Baggett, who makes the not-always-easy 18-inch move from an assistant's seat to the head spot. But, there's familiarity between him and players, so the expectation is for a smooth move. The other transition is fitting in potentially prolific scorer Nurideen Lindsey, a 6-3 junior guard from St. John's, where he started nine games last season before transferring. He had 10 points in the Broncs' exhibition game, and could be among the conference's leading scorers this season.
SEASON OPENER: Robert Morris at Rider, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Rider at South Carolina, November 19, first round of the Hoops for Hope Classic.

SAINT PETER'S: To be something more than than a last-place team as is the general consensus in the preseason polls, and the Peacocks seem to have the manpower to creep up several spots from that expectation in the MAAC standings. To do so, though, the team will have to find some offensive fire power beyond incoming guard Desi Washington, who averaged 13.1 points per game at Delaware State two years ago as a freshmen. The likelihood is that points will come by committee. What Saint Peter's has, unlike last year, is plenty of depth ... an ability to go nine or 10 deep ... plus the personnel to get back to playing quality defense.
SEASON OPENER: Saint Peter's at Rutgers, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Saint Peter's at Seton Hall, Nov. 25.

SIENA:  A year ago it was depth as Siena only had six players it could rely on. This season the depth is definitely there, but the question now is the team's experience level. Siena could take dramatic steps forward, and could be on the verge of another nice multi-year run  But, that will only begin this season if a large group of young players develop and mature quickly.And, the depth diminished for the first three games with the recent announcement that expected off-guard starter Rakeem Brookins and reserve forward Trenity Burdine would be suspended for the team's first three games due to an unspecified violation of the team's academic policies. It means the team opens with only three players who saw any significant minutes last year, will use a freshman as a back-court starter and freshmen as top reserves.
SEASON OPENER: Vermont at Siena, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: UAlbany at Siena, Dec. 1.                                                                         

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Men's Preview: Saint Peter's Poised For Improvement

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams for the coming season.

Up now ...


2011-12 SEASON: 4-14 in MAAC play, 5-26 overall and a 64-57 loss to Marist in the play-in round of the MAAC tournament.

KEY LOSS: Guard Lamin Fulton (8.9 ppg.).

KEY RETURNEES: Darius Conley, 6-7 senior forward (11.6 points, 7.4 rebounds per game), 6-2 senior guard Chris Prescott (10.1, 2.1), 6-3 senior guard Yvon Raymond (7.5, 3.9), 6-4 senior guard Chris Burke (6.2, 4.0), 6-5 sophomore forward Markese Tucker (5.4, 3.0), 6-2 senior guard Blaise Ffrench (4.4, 2.5, 2.9 assists), 6-7 senior forward Karee Ferguson (4.1, 3.3).

KEY ADDITIONS: Desi Washington, 6-2 sophomore guard, transfer from Delaware State, Patrick Jackson, 6-6 senior forward, transfer from Kent State, Elias Desport, 6-7 freshman forward, Chazz Patterson, 6-3 freshman forward.

NOTES: It was only two years ago, 2010-11, that Saint Peter's had one of its best season in recent memory, capturing the league's post-season tournament and making an appearance in the NCAA's. But, with four key senior starters lost after that year ... well, there had to be the proverbial morning after. It came last season when the Peacocks fell all the way to 4-14 in league play and 5-26 overall, yet the program's foundation ... hard play and defense ... remained in place. There just wasn't enough talent to do much better. This season? There's some additional talent coming in, plus seven of the top eight scorers from a year ago also return and should benefit from going through  last season ... Still, Saint Peter's is almost universally picked to finish at the bottom of the league standings again. But, one opposing coach had this to say about the team: "If Saint Peter's finishes last, it will be the best last-place team in the history of the league."... head coach John Dunne says the current team reminds him of the 2009-10 squad, the one that began turning the corner leading up to the 2010-11 season's NCAA berth. In other words, this team is probably a long shot to challenge for the top couple of spots in the league, but it could very well be solid enough to at least double last season's win total.... The only key loss from last year was freshman guard Lamin Fulton, who averaged 8.9 points per game but really never seemed to get comfortable ... The loss of his scoring will be more than picked up by incoming transfer Desi Washington, who averaged 13.1 points per game as a freshman at Delaware State two years ago and is eligible to play for the Peacocks this season. St. Peter's was also a little undermanned in the frontcourt last season, but that will be less of an issue this year thanks to another incoming transfer, rugged 6-6 forward Patrick Jackson who started his career at Rutgers, transferred to Kent State and, then, comes to Saint Peter's as a senior in eligibility and able to play right away due to rules that allow graduate students to switch programs without the traditional year's penalty (provided the new school offers a graduate degree not offered by the previous school) ... Jackson probably won't score a lot, but is a prototypical blue-collar player who can particularly help on the defensive end ... other newcomers are freshmen Elias Desport, a 6-7 forward from Sweden; and 6-3 guard Chazz Patterson, who has a fundamentally sound all-around game. Both frosh are expected to be in this year's playing group.... Desport backs up rugged post player Darius Conley, whose defensive play ended Siena O.D. Anosike's streak of 17-straight double-doubles last season ... Point guard Blaise Ffrench returns with a year's experience running the team ... Chris Burke, a senior guard will also see key minutes ... Yvon Raymond, a 6-3 swingman, who played some key minutes on the NCAA tournament team two years ago, is likely to be the fifth starter with additional depth coming from 6-2 senior Chris Prescott and hard-working 6-5 sophomore Markese Tucker.

SAINT PETER'S STRENGTHS: As usual, defense and effort. Jackson is a key and he and Conley is as strong a defensive tandem as there will be in the league this season. Plus, there's considerable quality depth that is likely to have three seniors (Prescott, Burke and Karee Ferguson), and a sophomore (Tucker) who played a lot last season will be coming off the bench. It will enable Desport and Patterson, both who look to be eventual contributors, to break in without getting thrown into things too soon ... Although offensive won't necessarily be a strength, the Peacocks' ability to score points should be better than last year. Ferguson, a good scorer on the junior college level before coming to Saint Peter's, might eventually help on that end, but he's still not 100 percent recovered from a torn Achilles tendon suffered midway through last season  and might not be a factor early. For sure, Saint Peter's defense will be vastly improved from a year ago. And, the depth will be a positive, too. It should ensure the team will almost always have five solid players on the court.

SAINT PETER'S WEAKNESSES: Look to the offensive end. Conley's offensive skills have improved since he arrived, but he's still not an offensive force inside. And, neither is Jackson. While those two will get some "hard-work" points, most of the team's scoring will have to come from the perimeter. It makes Washington, a good outside shooter, a key figure this season. Otherwise, though, there's not a clear-cut second offensive option. The team will have to find points from wherever else it can. But, Prescott and Burke can ensure the second unit has some decent offensive weapons and Patterson might contribute on the offensive end as well.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Hard to believe that with so much depth Saint Peter's is being overlooked by so many prognosticators. It's just indicative of how balanced the conference will be this season. There's certainly enough in place for a solid season, but probably not enough for the Peacocks to crack the top three or four spots in the standings. Still, it's not out of the realm of possibility for the team to finish as high as fifth if things go well, or fulfill the predictions of finishing last if things don't mesh. But, if things don't get drastically better this season, it appears they will next year.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Team Preview: Rider Women Poised for Big Season

Here's another in the series previewing conference programs for the upcoming season.

Up now ...


2011-12 SEASON: 3-15 in league play, 11-19 overall. Lost to Iona, 61-60, in overtime in a play-in round game of the MAAC's post-season tournament.

KEY LOSSES: Guard Ali Heller (8.8 points per game), guard Alyssa Parsons (4.3 points, 3.0 assists), center Sarah Homan (4.5 points, 3.4 rebounds).

KEY RETURNEES: MyNeshia McKenzie, 5-11 junior guard/forward (10.8 points, 9.1 rebounds), 5-7 senior guard Sironda Chambers (10.0, 4.7), 6-2 senior center Caitlin Bopp (9.2, 7.3), 5-10 sophomore guard Emily Fazzini (7.1, 3.9), 6-0 senior center Carleigh Brown 96.4, 4.9)..

KEY ADDITIONS: Manon Pellet, 5-7 freshman guard (medical redshirt last season).

NOTES: A 10-5 start last season was the program's best in 18 years, but the Broncs couldn't keep that up after losing Ali Heller, the league's top long-range shooter, for the final 13 games after she suffered a knee injury, and Sironda Chambers to academics for the second semester. It meant Rider went 1-14 in its last 15 games. Still, the 11-19 overall record was progress after 5-25 and 4-26 finishes the previous two years. And, last season marked the first time the program lost fewer than 20 games since the 1999-00 season ... this year should be much better. Five of the top six scorers return. Another key player could have been 5-10 junior swingperson Shereen Lightbourne, but she recently suffered her second preseason ACL tear in two seasons and will be lost, again, for the upcoming season....McKenzie is definitely one of the league's better players, an athletic performer who led the league in rebounds last season ... The team should have little trouble on the boards. Besides McKenzie, Bopp was fifth in the MAAC in rebounds last year. Chambers is a good rebounder from the backcourt and Carliegh Brown, a 6-foot-0 center, is also capable on the boards. The team lost its leaders, guards Heller and Parsons, to graduation. Heller had 32 three-pointers in the 17 games she played. Parsons, who suffered a third major knee injury just before the MAAC tournament, was a gritty leader whose intangibles were invaluable ... The team, though, has capable replacements in 5-7 freshman Manon Pellet, a native of France who was scheduled to become eligible for last season's second semester before she suffered a knee injury. Pellet has considerable international experience and is expected to be a significant contributor. She sat out last season as a transfer and is eligible for this season. The backcourt also has sophomore Emily Fazzsini, who stopped in after Heller was hurt and averaged 7.1 ppg. as a freshman. And, then, there's Kornelija Valiuiskyte, a sophomore who is a native of Lithuania, who barely played for most of the season but got thrust into the starting lineup when Parsons went down prior to the MAAC tournament. She responded with 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 37 minutes, a harbinger of what could come. She also has considerable international experience, including eight games this summer as a member of Lithuania's under-20 national team that played in the European World Cup (she averaged 6.9 ppg.).

RIDER'S STRENGTH: Rebounding, athleticism, experience and depth. The team could go 10 deep this year, and that depth doesn't include three freshmen with good credentials. The Broncs could also throw a variety of styles at teams ... it could go big, using Bopp and Brown as a tandem up front, or go smaller and athletic ... That it didn't quit down the stretch, despite the personnel losses, and played so well in its one-point overtime loss in the MAAC tournament could have a positive impact on this season. Last year's 10-5 start was an indication that the Broncs can indeed turn around a long-suffering program should it maintain good health. Even with the recent loss of Lightbourne, the Broncs have some good athletic wing players in McKenzie and Chambers, and Fazzini is an emerging young player who showed the ability to be a good long-range sniper.

RIDER'S WEAKNESSES: While the backcourt is as deep and as talented as any in the league, there's inexperience at point guard. Valiuskyte and Pellet are the likely options there. Valiuskyte only played 19 games last season, and only averaged 8.5 per contest before she was on the court for 37 minutes in the MAAC tournament game. Pellet didn't play at all last year and is coming off a knee injury. The other situation that at least deserves watching is developing players' roles and distributing playing time.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: The easy "out" is to look at Rider's history and automatically expect it to finish near the bottom of the standings once again. But, that would be a mistake. The Broncs' fast start last season showed they had turned the corner toward respectability. The program should take the next step this year, and the potential there is for a big step forward. As usual, Marist will almost assuredly be the conference's dominant team this season. But, no one else has more talent than Rider. If the point guard situation doesn't become a major issue, Rider should come closer to 20 wins than to 20 losses. A finish somewhere between second and fifth should happen.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Team Preview: Rider Men Poised For Solid Season

The start of basketball season, an "early Christmas," if you will, not only for coaches and players but fans, too, is only a week away.

And, that means it's preview time.

We'll take a look at each conference program, men's and women's, individually and provide (we hope) as informative, as comprehensive and as up-to-date material as can be found anywhere. So, read early, read often and pass along to family and friends the news that previews on their favorite MAAC teams can be found right here.

We'll do the previews in no particular order, other than if a school's men's preview appears then the next post will be on its women's program (or, vice versa).

So, first up ...


2011-12 RECORD: 10-8 in the MAAC, 13-19 overall and a 65-63 loss to eventual tournament champion Loyola in the first round of the conference tournament.

KEY LOSSES: Guard Jeff Jones (13.4 points, 2.6 rebounds per game), forward Brandon Penn (12.0, 6.5), forward Novar Gadson (10.7, 2.5), guard Eddie Mitchell (4.2, 1.9).

KEY RETURNEES: Daniel Stewart, 6-7 junior forward (11.1, 6.6), Anthony Miles, 6-5 junior guard/forward (10.1, 4.5), Jonathan Thompson, 6-4 senior guard (8.1, 3.5, 4.7 assists), Junior Fortunat, 6-9 sophomore center (3.8, 2.9).

KEY ADDITIONS: Nurideen Lindsey, 6-3 junior guard, transfer from St. John's (11.8, 4.9), Khalil Alford, 6-4 freshman guard), Derrick Stewart, 6-5 freshman forward).

NOTES: Three of the team's top four scorers (Jones, Penn and Gadson) are gone, but Jones never seemed to mesh into a team concept and Gadson wasn't anywhere near 100 percent as he recovered from off-season knee surgery ... Back are the team's top-rebounder in Stewart, who somehow was overlooked by coaches in picking preseason all-star teams, but appears poised to have even a greater impact this season. The front-court should be well-manned with Stewart and 6-9 sophomore Junior Fortunat, who wasn't cleared until the second semester a year ago by the NCAA but showed flashes of being an effective big man in the 20 games he did play ... There's also two strong perimter players returning in senior point guard Thompson, the league's leader in assists among returnees; and, junior guard Anthony Myles. And, the two returning perimeter players are big -- Myles is 6-5 and Thompson is 6-4. Myles will probably end up on the wing, giving the Broncs three perimeter players, but both he and Thompson are above-average perimeter rebounders ... There's also a new coach in place in Kevin Baggett, who takes over from good guy Tommy Dempsey (who took over the program at Binghamton), but the transition should be relatively easy since Baggett had been one of Dempsey's assistants for the past six seasons ... There's also considerable optimism about incoming players, particularly Nurideen Lindsey, a transfer from St. John's where he averaged 11.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists in nine games there last season. And, Lindsey, who could have a major impact (think poor-man's Allen Iverson) at this level, got an NCAA waiver and is eligible right away rather than at the start of the second semester. Prior to St. John's, he averaged 22.3 ppg in a junior college season and 35.8 ppg. at Overbrook H.S. in Philadelphia over two seasons there. There are also five incoming freshmen, probably much of the team's bench strength for the upcoming season. Hard to tell how much impact first-year players will have, but 6-5 forward Derrick Stewart, the younger brother of Daniel Stewart; and Khalil Alford, a 6-4 guard who averaged 15.8 ppg. at Fishburne Military School in Virginia last season, appear to have the best chance to contribute right away.

RIDER STRENGTHS: Despite three key graduation losses, returnees include a center, a power forward, a point guard and a wing man, and all are solid players. Then, Lindsey comes in with the potential to put up big numbers and the Broncs should be good again this season. Stewart could be among the best front-court players in the league, and should play with a chip on his shoulder after being slighted by league coaches for preseason all-star recognition. And, Lindsey could wind up leading the MAAC in scoring, particularly playing alongside Thompson, who will be one of the league's best point guards this season. Fortunat, who weighs about 230 pounds, is a true big man inside and there aren't a lot of those at this level. Plus, the four returnees (Stewart, Fortunat, Thompson and Myles) have been together for a year, which could ease some of the chemistry issues the team faced a year ago when it started with just one win in its first 11 games.

RIDER WEAKNESSES: Ensuring there aren't chemistry problems if Lindsey does indeed do most of the scoring, but that's probably not going to be a problem as long as he's not overly selfish and his scoring helps lead to wins.. Then, there's bound to be an adjustment to having a new head coach in Baggett, but at least players and he are familiar with each other based on his previous six years in the program. The other issue might be experienced depth.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: We'll say this over and over: There doesn't appear to be a dominant team in the conference this year but there are plenty of solid ones. Rider is certainly one of those. We'd be somewhat surprised if the Broncs competed for one of the top two spots, but not overly so. A more likely finish would be somewhere from third to sixth.