Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Big" Happenings Highlight A Look Around The MAAC

News and notes from the here and there ... otherwise known as "ATM," or Around The MAAC.


The Connecticut Post is reporting that sophomore center Malcolm Gilbert will be transferring from Pittsburgh to Fairfield.

If Gilbert completes the transfer before the start of college's second semester, he'll be eligible after the conclusion of first-semester games next season.

The 6-foot-11 Gilbert was planning to redshirt this season after playing limited minutes in 19 games last season. He would have the second semester of next season and two full subsequent seasons of eligibility at Fairfield.

Gilbert, according to a statement released by Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, indicated he wants to join the Fairfield program to play alongside his brother, Marcus.

Marcus Gilbert is a 6-foot-6 freshman swingman who is averaging 6.0 points and 2.7 rebounds in 18.4 minutes pr game thus far this season.

"(Malcolm) is a great kid, a hard worker and good player," said Dixon, in a statement issued through Pitt's sports information office. "We thank Malcolm for his contribution over the last year and a half and wish him much success in the future."

The 2011 graduate of the Academy of the New Church Boys School in Bryn Athyn, Pa., averaged 6.3 points, 4.0 blocks and 4.8 rebounds as a senior. Sports Illustrated rated him the No. 34 recruit coming out of high school in 2011.

The Stags recently had a scholarship open up when 7-footer Vince Van Nes opted to leave the program due to continued foot issues that were not corrected through surgery over the summer. Van Nes was a sophomore, but never appeared in a game for the Stags.


Iona is the ninth-highest scoring team nationally (81.9 ppg.), but has been even better at putting up points in its last two games, scoring 91 in a 96-96 setback against St. Joseph's on Friday and 100 in a 100-72 victory over Norfolk State on Dec. 23.

Trace that increased production to the addition of 6-8, 240-pound do-everything power forward David Laury, who became eligible in time for the Norfolk State contest.

Laury averages 20.7 points and 11.7 rebounds over his first two games with the Gaels.

Laury began his college career at Lamar State, a junior college, where he averaged 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in the 2010-11 season. He sat out this year and missed the first semester of games while taking classes at Iona before he gained his eligibility.

Laury has two more years of eligibility after the current season.


Siena's 6-8 forward O.D. Anosike was leading all Division I players in rebounding with 12.4 per game entering the Saints' contest against La Salle on Saturday night.

But, that's nothing new for the Saints' inside force, who also led the country in rebounds last season with 12.5 per game.

Anosike currently leads rebound runner-up Jamelle Hagins of Delaware by two-tenths of a rebound per game.

If Anosike can finish out the season as the national rebound leader he will become just the sixth player since 1950 to win back-to-back rebound titles.

The others have been Leroy White of Pacific University (1958-59, 1959-60), Jerry Lucas of Ohio State (1960-61, 1961-62), Artis Gilmore of Jacksonville (1969-70, 1970-71), Kermit Washington of American University (1971-72, 1972-73) and Paul Milsap of Louisiana Tech, who led over three straight seasons (2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06).

Only one other player in MAAC history has previously led the nation in rebounding for a single season. Fairfield's Darren Phillip was the rebound leader in the 1999-00 season.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jabir Brings Top Team, Good Will To Game at Siena

It's not often that a nationally ranked opponent comes to play in one of cozy confines of a MAAC school's home court, but we got to see one just before Christmas when the Dayton women's team came to Loudonville, N.Y., to play Siena at the Saints' on-campus Alumni Recreation Center on Dec. 22.

The Flyers are currently ranked 14th nationally, and we could see why. They beat Siena handily, 91-53, to remain one of six unbeaten women's teams nationally with a 12-0 record.

Dayton has height, speed, strong perimeter play and legitimately goes nine deep with players who would all be all-star candidates at the MAAC level. Keep an eye on them this season and in post-season play.

Dayton is coached by Jim Jabir, a MAAC connection from long ago. He coached three seasons (to a 50-29 record) at Siena from the 1987-88 through the 1989-90 seasons.

While at Siena, he brought Gina Castelli in as an assistant coach (1989-90). When Jabir left Siena to move on to coach at Marquette, Castelli was promoted and served as Siena's head coach for 22 seasons before her firing this past spring.

Her successor, current Siena coach Ali Jacques, is a continuation of Jabir's Siena influence. Jacques was an assistant coach under Jabir for a season at Dayton (2005-06 season) and has retained a close friendship with Jabir.

In fact, Siena administrators reached out to Jabir for his input on coaching candidates during the search to replace Castelli this past spring, and Jabir gave Jacques a positive review.

Jabir isn't the only former MAAC connection on the Dayton staff.

When he had an opening for an assistant this past spring, he hired Shauna Green, who was serving as an assistant coach at Providence

MAAC fans know Green better by her maiden name of Shauna Geronzin, a former standout at Canisius (1998-99 through 2001-02). There, she scored 2,012 career points which still is the most all-time by a Canisius women's player and sixth-best all-time among all MAAC women's players.

It might have been 23 years since Jabir last roamed the sidelines at Siena, but there were still a few Siena administrators and athletic department staff members around from Jabir's days, and dozens of fans.

Jabir graciously spent close to an hour prior to the game renewing acquaintances with old friends while his team was warming up prior to the recent contest.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Canisius Men Making Strong "We're Back" Statement

The terminology for a break-through victory over a favored opponent, these days, is a "Signature Win."

Canisius got that with its 72-62 victory over Temple (which entered the game with an 8-1 record) on Tuesday at the Owls' on-campus Liacouras Center.

The Buffalo News trumpeted the result as a "We're Back" performance by the Golden Griffins.

They're back, for sure.

The win ended Temple's 11-game home-court winning streak and a stretch in which the Owls had won 36 of 37 games at their on-campus facility.

And, it was a signature outcome for the first-year Canisius coach Jim Baron, who had coached against Temple teams for the previous 20 seasons (nine at St. Bonaventure, followed by 11 at Rhode Island) and had a 1-19 record to show for it on Temple's home courts.

But by this past Tuesday, Canisius had already done more than enough to show that it was back.

Back? The win over Temple pushed the Griffs' start to the 2012-13 season to an 8-2 record, not only the best among all Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference teams, but the program's fastest progression to eight victories since an 8-1 start to the 1966-67 season.

And, a 2-0 start to league play makes the Canisius the lone conference team with a perfect MAAC record, and it's also the first 2-0 start against league opponents for the Griffs since the 1997-98 season.

Early season victories over regional foes St. Bonaventure and Buffalo helped show that the Griffs were back. So, too, did the recent conference victories over Fairfield and Marist, both teams picked to finish higher, in the coaches' preseason poll, than the ninth-place finish predicted for Canisius.

And, so too did an 85-61 loss at No. 4-ranked Syracuse on December 15 in which Canisius trailed by just three at halftime and eventually outrebounded the Orange, 37-34, for the contest.

"Yeah, that game was a confidence boost, too," admitted Baron, in a recent phone interview, about being competitive at Syracuse. "But for this team anything is a confidence boost. I took over a program that only had five wins last season (and, a 1-17 conference record). Winning the two league openers (road victories at Fairfield and Marist) were confidence boosters, too."

It has all helped to emphasize that Canisius is back, indeed.

Yet, back from what?

How about from this:

- The program hasn't had a winning record in league play since an 11-7 finish to the 1998-99 season. Things had been so bad that a .500 result (9-9) in 2010-11 was considered a wild success.

- The program hadn't had a winning record overall since 2000-01 when it finished 20-11.

- Beginning with the 2001-02 season, Canisius had been 60-138 in league play and 115-216 overall. Both marks were the worst among the 10 current conference teams over that span.

There was plenty to come back from.

"We've been talking about doing this since I got here (this past spring)," said the 58-year old Baron. "This is the fourth program that I turned around (Rhode Island, St. Bona's and St. Francis, Pa. had all been struggling before Baron took them over).

"But I don't want to get excited. Any time you take over a program it's a fragile situation. You bring it back bit by bit. It's one step at a time. We've got two more tough non-league games coming up (Saturday against UNLV and Thursday against Alcorn State). And, then, we get into league play.

"Winning at Temple was a special thing. Any time you beat a team like Temple, that entered the game with an 8-1 record, on its home court it's a special game and a special win. But, now, we have to carry it over. We've got big games coming up. We've got to carry it over."

And, that's the thing about having a veteran hand like Baron on the sidelines. His team might indeed be back, but that's only for now; only for as long as it can continue to match the fast start.

Baron knows that being back through 10 games doesn't mean much in the scheme of a full season.

Still, the program is far enough back to create the feeling in the Canisius community that something special is brewing. Earlier this season there were back-to-back sell-out crowds of 2,196 for the Buffalo and St. Bonaventure games at the on-campus Koessler Athletic Center, the first back-to-back sell-outs since the facility's renovation prior to the 2002-03 season.

The question, though, remains just how Canisius did get back.

It didn't hurt that previous coach Tom Parrotta brought in three talented transfers in guard Isaac Sosa (the team's third-leading scorer), forward Jordan Heath (the team's fourth-leading scorer) and center Freddie Asprilla, all of whom became eligible this season.

And, the team got another boost when Baron's son, 6-3 point guard Billy Baron (the team's leading scorer who is second in the conference in assists), followed his father from Rhode Island to Canisius and got an NCAA waiver to play this year without having to sit out the traditional transfer season.

And, it didn't hurt that there were some talented pieces already in place. Players like 6-6 junior forward Chris Manhertz (8.2 rebounds including 18 against Marist and 13 against Temple), senior guard Harold Washington (the team's second-leading scorer) and strong perimeter reserves in Alshwan Hymes and Reggie Groves.

But, it's one thing to do the proverbial shopping and another to know how to mesh the ingredients into a sporting delicacy.

"We've got a team with so many newcomers," said Baron, who goes out of his way to deflect personal praise for the turnaround so far. "The key is guys have to work to prepare. They've been listening to the game plan. That's my thing ... to make sure they're all on the same page and that they all know what to prepare for in every game. That's the biggest thing in taking over a new program ... do the players understand what you're trying to do?"

Of course, players understand better and listen more to a veteran coach with a successful resume like Baron's.

"That's not for me to say," said Baron.

But, the difference from just a year ago says plenty.

"I don't know where to begin with that," added Baron, about reasons for the Canisius revival. "I don't want to get into any soap opera (about the program before his arrival). I just know these kids want to win, that they want to execute a game plan and that they're hungry to get better. I don't want to bury the past. I just wanted to give this team a direction, a plan and an infrastructure ... a playing style. We're playing up tempo and the guys love playing that way.

"Our players were on board as soon as I stepped in and met with them for the first time. People always ask me, when I take over a program, about how important it is to bring in my own players. But, I don't need that. One of the things I want to do is to utilize what's already there. I don't want to toot my own horn, but that's just coaching.

"I tell the guys that I'm coming in to help you be successful ... that you are my team and I'll coach you to the best of my ability. As a coach, I try to embrace what's in front of me. The players know that I'm on their side, and that I want them to be successful. But, I'm also honest with them in getting them to understand the price they have to pay to be a successful student-athlete. That's my background, it's how I grew up in the projects of Brooklyn, and I'm not afraid to tell my players like I see it."

It has all resulted in this year's version of the "Perfect Storm" within the MAAC: A solid returning nucleus, some good transfers becoming eligible and a veteran, knowledgeable new head coach.

Through six weeks it has become one of the great "feel good" stories of college basketball, a downtrodden college program that, suddenly, can say "We're Back."

At least for now.

"I'm really happy for the players, the fans, our community and our administration," said Baron. "But, I know we still have a long way to go. We'll be  back playing league opponents soon. We've still got to take things one step at a time."

But the steps taken so far have been positive ones, ones almost no one expected the team to take so quickly.

Yes, it's early. But the "We're Back" sentiment around the Canisius program appears well-founded.

MAAC Set to Make Changes For 11-Team Structure

In moves that make perfect sense, the MAAC has made the necessary adjustments both to regular-season scheduling and its post-season tournament that reflect the change to an 11-team league for next season.

League athletic directors unanimously approved a 20-game double round-robing schedule (each league team plays every other one in a home-and-home series)..

That regular-season schedule gives each team an additional two league games, above the 18-game conference schedule while the MAAC had a 10-team structure.

For men's basketball, each school will play two league games during the early December weekend already allotted for MAAC games, followed by nine more weeks of conference play after Jan. 1. The women's teams will play all 20 conference games starting on Dec. 27 (2013). In both sports, each team will play two games per week.

While approval is needed for the proposal to restructure the MAAC tournament, that is expected to happen shortly after the holiday season.

The proposal would give first-round byes for teams that finish first-through-fifth in the final regular-season standings and have teams finishing sixth-through-11th play a preliminary round game.

The three winners of the preliminary round contests would advance to join the top five in the quarter-final round.

Here's what the MAAC's post-season schedule would look like, if it is approved:

Game Times
Women’s Opening Round
9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m.

Men’s Opening Round
5 p.m., 7 p.m., 9 p.m.
Women’s Quarterfinals
12 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
Men’s Quarterfinals
12 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 8:30 p.m.
Women’s Semifinals
11 a.m., 1:30 p.m.

Men’s Semifinals
4:30 p.m., 7 p.m.
Women’s Championship Final
12 p.m.

Men’s Championship Final
7 or 9 p.m.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Men's Preview: Niagara's Perimeter Play A Big Plus

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 8-10 in MAAC play, 14-19 overall. Lost to Loyola, 86-73, in the quarterfinal round of the conference's post-season tournament.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-3 sophomore guard Antoine Mason (15.1 points, 3.2 rebounds per game last season), 6-3 sophomore guard Juan'ya Green (17.7, 4.6 assists), 6-6 sophomore swingman Ameen Tanksley (8.7, 5.9), 5-11 junior guard Marvin Jordan (10.4, 3.3), 6-3 junior guard Malcolm Lemmons (8.3, 4.3).

KEY LOSSES: 6-5 forward Josh Turner (3.4, 1.8).

KEY NEWCOMERS: 6-8 freshman forward T.J. Cline, 6-8 senior center Devon White (transfer from La Salle), 6-4 freshman guard Tahjere McCall.

NOTES: Last year was just the third losing season in the past 14 under head coach Joe Mihalich and, despite a 5-6 start so far this year, don't expect anything other than a return to the program's winning ways ... This is a team that Mihalich must love to coach. It's young enough to still need some guidance and development, but more than athletic enough to play the coach's preferred up-tempo style. There's also more depth in the program than in many years with the team going at least 10 deep ... Niagara has won three of its last four contests, including a major upset over preseason league favorite Loyola in Baltimore. The Purple Eagles have also beaten Vermont, the America East Conference's preseason favorite ... Iona's backcourt pair of Momo Jones and Sean Armand (a combined 42.3 points per game) might be the conference's most-dynamic, but Niagara's tandem of sophomores Antoine Mason and Juan'ya Green (35.1 ppg. combined) isn't far behind and is clearly the next wave ...Add to that duo junior guard Jordan (9.2 ppg. so far), Lemmons and good-looking newcomer McCall and the Purple Eagles have as much talent, albeit still young talent, in the backcourt as any MAAC team ... Niagara's concern, entering the season, was its inside game. But, freshman Cline (7.3, 5.5) has been good enough to push returnees Scooter Gillette and Joe Thomas deeper back in the playing rotation. And, La Salle transfer Devon White, a rugged 240-pound redshirt senior, is back after recovering from off-season Achilles tendon surgery. He's played in three games (4.7, 4.7) and is getting close to being at full strength. More height comes from 6-6 sophomore Ameen Tanksley (10.3, 5.5), who is listed as a guard but also plays in the front court ... Niagara isn't yet dynamic in the paint, but White will be an upgrade when he's back at full strength.

NIAGARA's STRENGTHS: As much talented depth as any conference team, going 10 deep. Outstanding perimeter play. An eventual "rock" inside with White, who along with fast-developing Cline, gives the team enough height around the post. Plus, they have Mihalich. And, if he isn't the conference's best coach then someone will have to convince me otherwise.

NIAGARA's WEAKNESSES: Until White is at full strength, there's still some concern in the middle. Plus, the team is one of the youngest in the conference. Of the top eight scorers so far this season, the only senior is White who, so far, has only been in a Niagara uniform for three games.

REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: Like any young team, Niagara will have its share of ups and downs. But, it has already shown improvement since the start of the season and will likely to continue to progress. Loyola still looks like the favorite to win the conference, but Niagara has already knocked off the Greyhounds. Can Niagara contend for the regular-season title? Maybe, but the thought here is that the team might be a year away. Still, someplace between second and fifth is the Purple Eagles' likely destination.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Talking a Look at MAAC's Decision To Add 2 Schools

The rumors that began a couple weeks ago were accurate and the confirmation came Friday out of a meeting of MAAC school presidents at a meeting in New York City on Friday.

Quinnipiac and Monmouth, current members of the Northeast Conference, were invited to join the MAAC and both universities accepted by later in the day.

So, what does it mean?

It means the MAAC won't drop to just nine members (with the impeding departure of Loyola for the Patriot League), but instead will expand to 11.

There had been some thought that a third school (rumors swirled that it would be either Wagner or Bryant) would also get an invitation to increase membership to an even-numbered 12, but that won't happen.

A number of league officials have confirmed that the addition of the two new members beginning this September (the 2013-14 season) will be it for now.

But, it might still come in the not-so-distant future.

MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor indicated that the league is indeed contemplating adding a 12th member, but not for 2013-14. The league presidents meet next on May 28.

"I think the 12th spot is still on the table (to be considered at the May 28 meeting)," Ensor said.

Siena athletic director John D'Argenio told the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union that conference athletic directors will be discussing scheduling for next season and whether the league wants to go to a 20-game conference slate (each league program playing every other one twice during regular-season play).

Eventually, if the league does add a 12th team, it's not a certainty that membership would be split into two divisions.

The additional teams for the 2013-14 season also means a change in the post-season tournament's structure.

League officials speculated that it's likely the 2013-14 post season brackets will include  early round byes for higher-finishing teams.

In an e-mail, Ensor indicated that there could be three teams receiving byes ("but, still to be determined.")

However, if three teams received first round byes, one team would also have to receive a second bye (through the quarterfinals) to facilitate four teams for the semifinals.

Or, teams finishing first through fifth would receive a preliminary round bye with teams finishing sixth through 11th participating in a play-in round to sen three of those teams to join the top five in the quarterfinal round.

Ensor indicated that in seeking out Monmouth and Quinnipiac for membership, the conference's Council of Presidents sought to add private schools that:

Are compatible (to current membership) in academics and athletics, that emphasize basketball; are like-minded in enrollment target markets and provide an alumni base that will assist in the maintenance of a neutral-site basketball championship venue through ticket sales, attendance and hotel room reservations.

Will provide visibility in additional major metro markets and the opportunity to manage travel considerations for member schools; will assist with the MAAC's partnership with ESPN by providing exposure in large metropolitan areas of the country; and, provide the MAAC with state-of-the-art playing facilities that include high-tech broadcast capabilities and fan amenities.

Ensor noted that the two incoming programs both have new playing facilities for basketball that will move to the top of the list of league on-campus facilities.

Monmouth, West Long Branch, N.J., plays in a 4,100-seat Multipurpose Activities Center which opened in August, 2009.

Quinnipiac, located in Hamden, Conn., plays in the TD Bank Sports Center, a five-year-old arena that accomodates 3,570 for basketball.

Published reports indicate the two new MAAC programs  will each pay a $250,000 exit fee to leave the NEC.

Ensor said current MAAC members have committed to remain in the league for at least the next three years, with varying buyouts based on notice provided.

"Not expecting changes (departures)," said Ensor, in an e-mail. "but it is a fluid period in conference alignment that is constantly evolving."

The addition of Monmouth creates a natural geographic rivalry with current conference member Rider. The two schools are about 60 miles apart.

Quinnipiac gives the conference a second New England presence, as well as a geographic rivalry with Fairfield. Those two schools are about 25 miles apart.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Women's Preview: Niagara Poised For More Success

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2011-12 RESULTS: 9-9 in MAAC play, 13-19 overall. Lost to Marist, 68-54 in overtime in the MAAC tournament's championship game.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-2 junior center Lauren Gatto (10.3 points, 5.7 rebounds per game last season), 5-10 junior guard Chanel Johnson (5.5, 3.0), 5-5 junior guard Kayla Stroman (10.8, 3.9), Meghan McGuinness (6.8, 2.9), Kelly VanLeeuwen (1.7, 1.2), Jessica Flam (2.1, 1.0).

KEY LOSSES: Guard Ali Morris (5.8, 3.8).

KEY NEWCOMERS: 5-7 freshman guard Vanessa Neal.

NOTES: The Purple Eagles are clearly the conference's "up and coming" program, having risen from an 0-18 league record (1-28 overall) just two years ago to a 9-9/13-19 record last year that included an 8-6 run down the stretch as the team seemed to mesh ... This year looks like it should be a carry over from last season's late run as the team lost only Morris, last year's fifth-leading scorer, from its top seven players ... Niagara certainly showed itself to be capable of contending, even against perennial league power Marist as it took the Red Foxes into double overtime in a late-season game and, then, into overtime in the championship contest ... Gatto, a strong 6-2 post player, provides the type of quality post presence most MAAC teams don't have, and she had 19 points and 10 rebounds against Marist in last season's conference tournament championship game ... Also in place is a fourth-year junior point guard in Kayla Stroman, who does a little of everything, and both overall team athleticism (which also bothered Marist last season) and depth ... Niagara has eight legitimate contributors (all averaging at least 4.3 points per game this year) back from a year ago, as well as a freshman (Neal) who is getting 10 minutes of playing time. That 9-member playing group makes Niagara as deep, if not deeper, than any conference team ... More than a few returnees have made significant progress from a year ago, most noticeably junior guard Chanel Johnson, who has nearly doubled last year's scoring average (10.0 ppg. this year), senior forward Flamm (6.5, 3.1 this year after 2.1, 1.0 last season), and sophomore guard VanLeeuwen (up to 7.0, 3.1 this year after 1.7, 1.2 last season) ... McGuinness provides another aspect, long-range shooting. Her 46.1 percentage from bonus territory last year would have led all Division I players had she made enough treys to qualify.

NIAGARA'S STRENGTHS: There's a little bit of everything here, more than enough to be optimistic about the league season. Gatto provides an inside presence, players like Johnson, Stroman, Britton provide quickness. Stroman is the requisite standout point guard. There are good shooters in place. The top eight players all got significant minutes a year ago and, theoretically, know how to play together by now. Gatto provides the type inside game that bothers Marist, in particular.

NIAGARA'S WEAKNESSES: So far, albeit against a solid non-league schedule, Niagara has a 2.7 rebound-per-game disadvantage. Gatto is the only contributor taller than six feet, but five other contributors are at least 5-9, which gives Niagara good overall height. Then there's the psychological aspect. Many of Niagara's players aren't that far removed from a 1-28 season and while the team had some late season success last season it still has the final hurdle ... beating Marist ... to get over.

REASONABLE  EXPECTATIONS: Barring injuries or other unforeseen occurrences, Niagara looks to be one of the league's top three teams. And, certainly, contending for the league title isn't out of the question. If Marist fulfills expectations to add another league title to its growing collection, Niagara won't be far behind and will likely finish either second or third this season.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Men's Preview: Fairfield Could Have Another Late Run

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now...


2011-12 RECORD: 12-6 in MAAC play, 22-15 overall. Lost to Loyola, 48-44, in the MAAC championship game. Advanced to the championship game of the Tournament, losing to Mercer, 64-59.

KEY RETURNEES: 5-11 senior guard Derek Needham (11.8 points, 2.7 rebounds per game last season), 6-5 junior forward Keith Matthews (3.7, 1.9), 6-5 junior forward Maurice Barrow (9.3, 6.0), 6-3 senior guard Colin Nickerson (4.7, 2.2), 5-8 senior guard Desmond Wade (6.3, 2.9 assists).

KEY LOSSES: 6-5 forward Rakim Sanders (16.5, 8.2), 7-0 center Ryan Olander (8.6, 4..4).

KEY NEWCOMERS: 6-6 freshman forward Marcus Gilbert, 7-0 freshman center Josip Mikulic, 6-8 freshman forward Amadou Sidibe.

NOTES: Last season was the program's third straight with 20+ victories overall. This year, Fairfield is off to a 5-5 start overall ... Sanders was a major loss. The one-year transfer from Boston College was the first player in program history to record at least 600 points and 300 rebounds in a season ... And, the loss of 7-footer Olander left the program without a single returning player taller than 6-5 ... That, though, has been addressed by a strong freshman class of big men, including Josip Mikulic, a 7-footer from Croatia (5.7 points, 3.1 rebounds so far), 6-6 forward Marcus Gilbert (5.8, 2.6) and 6-8 rebounding specialist Amadou Sidibe (5.5, 5.3), whose rebound average leads the Stags, despite getting just 18.9 minutes per contest ... The youthful front-courters have good mentors in poised upperclassmen, 6-5 juniors Maurice Barrow (7.8, 3.4 so far) and Keith Matthews (7.8, 4.0) ... The perimeter has a trio that ranks among the better outside groups in the MAAC, led by 5-11 senior Derek Needham (14.0, 3.1), who is once again the primary point producer. He's joined by do-everything 6-3 senior Colin Nickerson (6.8, 3.2) and 5-8 senior point guard Desmond Wade (6.6, 3.0, 4.6 assists) ... It means that as long as the freshmen continue to contribute, the Stags go legitimately eight deep ... Second-year head coach Sydney Johnson's "Princeton" style offense is further ingrained, and a dedication to defense (Fairfield was 26th nationally in steals last year and 34th in scoring-average against) remains strong.

FAIRFIELD'S STRENGTHS: An outstanding perimeter trio in Needham, Nickerson and Wade, good veteran presence up front in Matthews and Barrow and good height on the front line, albeit provided by freshmen. That three first-year players are contributing right away should ensure they'll mature as the season goes on.

FAIRFIELD'S WEAKNESSES: A reliance on three freshmen to do much of the rebounding. Also, a lack of a second offensive contributor right now. Only Needham averages in double figures. Next is Matthews and Barrow at 7.8 ppg.

REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: A season not that dissimilar from a year ago when the team started 8-9 before things kicked in and it went 14-6 down the stretch. The freshmen will be year-long works in progress, but will improve as the season progresses and so too will Fairfield. The likelihood is that by mid-to-late January things will be even better than they were now and the Stags will be a dangerous opponent over the last five or six weeks of the regular season and into the league's post-season tournament. It certainly has the potential to challenge for the regular-season title, but more likely will finish somewhere in the third, fourth or fifth range.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Surprising Results in Early MAAC Men's Contests

In case you hadn't noticed, the men's conference season began in full force earlier this week and produced more than a couple eye-opening, head-shaking results.

Among those:


The Peacocks were just about universally picked to finish in last place in this year's MAAC standings, but to a 1-1 league start (4-5 overall) that includes this confidence-building victory over Iona, a team acknowledged to have as much talent as any in the league and picked in most quarters to finish in the top three or four.

Saint Peter's senior guard Blaise Ffrench capped off a big night (17 points, eight assists) with a tie-breaking, game-winning jumper with four seconds remaining, setting off an exuberant and much-understood on-court celebration when the final seconds ticked off.

Senior forward Darius Conley added 17 points and nine rebounds to help the Peacocks overcome a 31-21 halftime deficit with 43 second-half points.

Iona's senior guard Momo Jones, who entered the game as the nation's fifth-leading scorer, was held to 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting.

"Our guys were not passing the ball to each other," Iona coach Tim Cluess told an internet site after the game. "There was way too much one-on-one. When you play selfish like that good things are not going to happen. We've alternated from being selfish and being a team from one game to the next and (against Saint Peter's) we were very, very selfish."


The defending conference tournament champion and widely regarded favorite to win this season's regular-season crown (Loyola) got outplayed on its home court by a smaller, scrappy Niagara squad.

Late heroics were turned in by the Purple Eagles' Juan'ya Green, who stole a Loyola pass with six seconds left, was fouled and made both free throws to give his team a four-point edge. that enabled the winners to survive a last-second three-pointer made by Loyola's Robert Olson.

"Don't mistake this for us losing by one late in the game," Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos told reporters after the game this past Wednesday. "We lost this because they (Niagara) was the better team for 40 minutes ... we stopped having energy on defense, and they took advantage of that."


Last season's worst MAAC team by far, Canisius, is far removed from that description this season with a 5-1 overall start and Wednesday's conference-opening victory over a Fairfield program that has been among the league's upper crust in recent years.

But, a double-digit victory on an opponent's home court is cause for the continued rise of enthusiasm within the Buffalo program.

The outcome ended the Golden Griffins' nine-game losing streak in meetings with the Stags.

And, the winners' backcourt of Billy Baron and Harold Washington continued to make a case for being among the best in the MAAC as each scored 19 points in the contest.


If the prognosticators weren't picking Saint Peter's to finish last among men's teams this year, then the choice was Marist.

And, those not predicting Loyola as this year's best MAAC team likely leaned toward Manhattan.

But, Wednesday's games had yet enough up-from-the-depths squad upending a perceived "elite" as Marist rallied from a 58-55 deficit with three minutes remaining to score the game's last six points and secure a victory.

The Jaspers, playing without defending conference scoring champion George Beamon (ankle issues), missed their final five shots after holding that three-point advantage.

Marist used a balanced scoring attack with four players in double figures, led by sophomore swingman standout Chavaughn Lewis' 17.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Women's Preview: Despite Losses, Stags Good Again

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 15-3 in MAAC play, 24-9 overall; lost to Marist, 61-36, in the MAAC tournament's championship game; lost, 57-41, to Drexel in the first round of the WNIT.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-2 junior forward Katie Cizynski (5.6 points, 2.7 rebounds per game last season), 5-9 senior guard Katelyn Linney (8.3, 2.2, 65 3-pointers), 5-10 junior guard Alexys Vazquez (7.3, 2.8, 61 3's), 6-1 sophomore guard Felicia DaCruz (1.2, 0.7), 6-1 senior forward Brittany MacFarlane (5.3, 5.3).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Taryn Johnson (12.4, 7.7), guard Desiree Pina (11.0, 3.8, 3.3 assists).

KEY NEWCOMER: 6-0 freshman guard Kristin Schatzlein.

NOTES: After a 24-win season a year ago (second most in program history), the loss of the team's two best players indicated the Stags wouldn't be anywhere near as good this season. Oops ... Fairfield, with a 5-1 non-league start (the only loss was to Florida) looks ready to take on its traditional role as one of the leading contenders in the chase to catch perennial league power Marist ... More than a few of last year's role players have made dramatic improvements, maybe none more than Cizynski, who has more than doubled her ppg. average from last year (she averages 11.8 ppg. so far), and is averaging 9.0 rebounds per game after getting just 3.7 per a year ago ... Next on the much-improved list is sophomore point guard DaCruz, who rarely played after struggling early last season. Now, she's the team's most-indispensable player, averaging a team-high 35 minutes per contest. She isn't the offensive threat that Pina was a year ago at the point, but she's every bit as good a distributor (3.8 assists per game to date) ... As usual for the program, it's new faces but the same old playing style. Under Joe Frager, the team almost entirely eschews fast-break opportunities, unless it's a sure breakaway. Instead, the Stags grab a defensive rebound, walk it up court and run a precision offense out of a playbook that rivals the size of any NBA team's. It means that Fairfield doesn't score a lot of points (51.2 per game, so far, 317th of 343 Division I teams), but it also doesn't give up a lot (48.2, 9th best). A year ago, it was fifth-best nationally in fewest points allowed per contest ... The offense quite often produces open looks on the perimeter, and Fairfield has two of the best long-range sniper sin the league in Linney and Vazquez. In fact, Vazquez led the country in three-point shooting percentage for a portion of last season, and would have ranked second nationally at season's end had she made enough treys to qualify for the national leaders ... And, the top reserve, forward Brittany MacFarlane, was the conference's Sixth Player of the Year last season.

FAIRFIELD'S STRENGTHS: Outstanding perimeter shooting in Linney and Vazquez. Cizynski appears to be a more-than-adequate rebounder to replace Johnson's production in that statistic, and DaCruz, so far, is doing the job as Pina's replacement at the point. Brittany Obi-Tabot, a 6-1 junior forward who was lightly used last season, has also stepped up nicely and gives Fairfield a second post presence with MacFarlane able to come in to play the post off the bench with no noticeable drop. Plus, that precision offense is tough to defend and consistently produces open looks.

FAIRFIELD'S WEAKNESSES: Some youth (DaCruz is a soph who didn't play much last year), and depth. Only six players are averaging more than 7.5 minutes per game thus far, and that will take its toll on the top six unless that starts to change. Plus, more than a few players (Cizynski, Obi-Tabot, DaCruz in particular) are being asked to take on vastly increased roles from a year ago, but they have handled that so far.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: So far the Stags look like the league's second-best team, and Frager-coached teams have been known to upset the Red Foxes on occasion. Look for Fairfield to stay in contention for much of the season, but to probably finish second or third in the final standings.

MAAC To Consider Expansion at Upcoming Meeting

The MAAC might be replacing departing league member Loyola (off to the Patriot League after the current academic year) not only sooner than later, but with at least two and, maybe, three new members.

A report that first surfaced in the Connecticut Post newspaper, as reported by Bill Paxton, who is as credible and knowledgeable a conference beat reporter (he covers Fairfield primarily) as there is, indicates that Quinnipiac University and Monmouth could be joining the conference.

The loss of Loyola would have the MAAC down to nine teams, but conference commissioner Rich Ensor has been empowered, for several years, to try to increase membership to as many as 12.

If the speculation proves to be true, the addition of Quinnipiac (Hamden, Ct.) and Monmouth (West Long Branch, N.J.) would bring membership up to 11. For scheduling purposes, an even number of schools would likely be preferred, so don't discount the possibility of yet another school also coming aboard.

Paxton's reports indicates that Wagner College has also been linked to the MAAC in the past, but does not cite a source.

Your Hoopscribe, through very second-hand sources within the conference (although employed by the MAAC, league officials reveal no more to your correspondent than they would to any other "reporter"), has heard that Bryant University (Smithfield, R.I.) might also be under consideration.

Then again, bringing both Bryant and Quinnipiac in might create an inbalance of New England territory schools (current league member Fairfield is the third).

Wagner (Staten Island) makes for an easy travel partner with several other New York Metropolitan area MAAC members.

Monmouth, meanwhile, recently opened a brand new 4,100-seat on-campus facility for basketball and could be a nice and near-by site for league post-season play.

Our second-half source has indicated that there has been some very preliminary inquiries made about the potential of the Barclay Center in Brooklyn as a potential future neutral site for the men's post-season basketball tournament. If indeed that comes to pass, the theory is that Monmouth would be a near-enough site to simultaneously host the women's post-season event.

Quinnipiac, Wagner, Monmouth and Bryant are all current members of the Northeast Conference (NEC).

MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor has indicated that the conference has yet to extend any invitations. But, that could happen after the MAAC presidents meet in New York City on Dec. 14.

Ensor, according to published reports, said expansion will be discussed at that meeting, although he declined to identify potential new members.

Paxton, in his Connecticut Post report, indicated that Fairfield athletic director Gene Doris confirmed that conference presidents formed a committee and have looked at multiple schools as potential new members, but was that he was not aware that a decision had been reached on expansion.

Tragedy Helps Put Sports In Proper Perspective

We'll take a break from basketball, at least directly, to bring to your attention a story of tragedy in upstate New York, the subsequent outpouring of support (in some ways via MAAC connections), and how adversity can, and should, put our enjoyment of sports in proper perspective.

What began as an enjoyable evening out for four New York Capital Region high school students who attended this past Saturday's Siena-UAlbany men's/women's double-header at Albany's Times Union Center ended in the death of two of them in an auto accident.

According to local reports, their SUV was struck from behind by a driver who was allegedly under the influence of alcohol. Their vehicle careened into a highway's median, flipped over and left two Shenedehowa High School students dead and two others, another Shen student and a Shaker High School student, seriously injured.

It left four families grieving, and two communities in mourning, as well.

A sign outside Shaker High School posted there yesterday said much: "Shaker-Shenendehowa ... Together."

The outpouring of support included many posts via available social media outlets.

We'll note just a few, coming from Siena's senior forward O.D. Anosike, who once again showed himself to be as caring and responsible a young man as I have encountered in many years.

Here are three posts via Twitter from Anosike in recent days ...

"I get upset about losing games and remember kids died on their way home from watching my games. What's more important? Pray 4 their families."

"Car the kids crashed in subsequent to my game. Life is more important than wins & losses. Count your blessings."

"While you're stressing over Christmas gifts, games and other minuscule things, pray for the families of these kids."

Anosike also posted several times imploring others to support an effort to encourage New York Jets' quarterback Tim Tebow to call one of the crash's survivors, a Shenendehowa football player.

Several thousand similar tweets did indeed produce the intended result as Tebow called crash survivor Matt Hardy Monday night.

Tebow later tweeted "Thanks to everyone who got (the tweet request) trending and helped connect us. Matt truly inspired me. God bless y'all."

There were more than 50,000 Twitter users who retweeted the request to Tebow, and close to 17,000 more who tweeted in support of having Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin to call the other crash survivor, Bailey Wind, a standout diver at Shaker H.S.

Franklin called Wind, but wasn't able to directly connect Monday night. She did, though, leave a voicemail message.

But what resonates through it all is how a young adult, in this case Siena's Anosike, can put sports and real life issues in their proper perspective.

As someone who lost lost someone very, very close far too soon and at far too young an age not that long ago, I can personally attest to how personal tragedy does indeed minimize sporting events.

Suddenly mid-major level basketball gets put in its proper place. It becomes nothing more than what it was always meant to be, an entertainment and a diversion. The realization becomes that it surely pales in comparison to what truly is important in life. And, that's life itself.

It reminds us all ... .or, at least, it should ... that the hue and cry to fire a coach whose team is off to a slow start is misplaced. That the angst over a star player having a bad night, or over a team losing to a local rival just pales in comparison to what should be meaningful in all our lives.

It is indeed unfortunate that, often, it takes personal tragedy to remind us of those lessons.

Or, that it takes a caring young man like O.D. Anosike to remind us that yes indeed, "Life is more important than wins and losses."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Women's Preview: Sheahin-Led Loyola Looks Solid

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 9-9 in MAAC play, 13-17 overall. Lost in the MAAC Tournament's quarterfinal round to Niagara, 77-63.

KEY RETURNEES: 5-10 senior guard Katie Sheahin (15.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 3.4 steals per game last season), 5-8 sophomore guard Kara Marshall (11.0, 2.3), 6-1 senior forward Alyssa Sutherland (6.0, 5.0), 6-0 junior guard Nicole Krusen (3.9, 1.4), 6-1 junior forward Nneka Offodile (5.8, 4.9).

KEY LOSS: Forward Miriam McKenzie (14.4, 8.4).

KEY ADDITION: 5-11 freshman guard Diana Logan.

NOTES: Off to a 3-4 start with three of the losses to strong local opponents Howard, Navy and Maryland and the fourth to always solid Hartford ... Sheahin was the coaches' choice for preseason Player of the Year, and has done nothing, so far, to indicate she isn't a strong contender for that award in the post-season, too, averaging 15.0, 5.4, 3.7 assists and 2.5 steals per game so far ... Still, when a guard (Sheahin) is the team's leading rebounder, it signifies trouble in the paint, and Loyola has it, having been outrebounded by 5.4 per game through its first seven contests ... Sutherland (7.6, 5.0 so far) is more of a finesse forward, while Offodile (4.9, 5.1) is still developing. But, neither one is going to come close to the rebounding average of graduated Miriam McKenzie (8.4 last season), and that's the team's biggest weakness to date ... Much of the team's strength, and its offense, is on the perimeter and teams can concentrate on guarding the shooters without a lot of fear of getting overwhelmed in the paint ... The team's fourth-leading scorer, Krusen has taken only seven shots from inside the three-point arc so far ... The Greyhounds were a 21-win team in 2010-11, but have slipped some since then ... Loyola's most-recent game, though, was a nice 55-53 victory over reigning Patriot League champion American, and the Greyhounds move to that league for next season ... Sheahin had 22 points in that contest, and Offodile had nine rebounds, the type production Loyola could use on a regular basis ... Sheahin has been the MAAC's Defensive Player of the Year for the past two seasons, and is one of the most-versatile performers ever to play in the conference.

LOYOLA'S STRENGTHS: Sheahin's all-around play at both ends makes Loyola competitive on any night. Marshall, Krusen and even Sutherland are capable long-range shooters. Offodile is an emerging post player, and Loyola will be well served if she can give it a consistently strong inside performance.

LOYOLA'S WEAKNESSES: Right now, other than Offodile's 9-rebound effort vs. American, a lack of consistent inside play. It needs to cut its 5.4 rebound-per-game deficiency considerably and rely less on its perimeter game. There's also a bit of a depth concern early on. Only seven players average at least 10 minutes per game.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Loyola was picked for third in the coaches' preseason poll, but had at least as good personnel a year ago and finished in a three-way tie for fourth. Still, there isn't a clear-cut second-best team (although Fairfield seems to be emerging in non-league play), and Loyola could certainly contend to battle for second (behind Marist). The likelihood, though, is somewhere between third and sixth.