Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Iona First To 300, Has MAAC's Top Winning Pct.

When the Iona men's basketball team earned a 79-71 victory over Loyola this past Sunday, it was widely reported to be the 300th victory in the program's history, the most of any MAAC program.

What exactly does that mean?

It means the Gaels have been around awhile, as an original league member when the conference was formed prior to the 1981-82 season.

But, only three other programs have been in the MAAC since its beginning. Comparing Iona's overall victory total against a 10-team league in which only three others have been around as long as the Gaels is like making the proverbial comparison between apples and oranges.

The better measure of how Iona's program measures up is overall winning percentage.

And, in that measurement, Iona comes out on top, too.

The Gaels have 202 losses against those 300 victories, a winning percentage of 59.76 percent, best of all the 10 current conference teams.

Siena, which joined the league in 1989, is next with a 233-165 record as a MAAC member, a winning percentage of 58.54%.

Here's how the rest of the MAAC's men's teams rank, in order, for winning percentage (league games only) over their respective time in the conference.

- Rider (157-123) 56.07%
- Niagara (218-180) 54.77%
- Fairfield (240-262) 47.81%
- Manhattan (238-264) 47.41%
- Saint Peter's (227-275) 45.22%
- Marist (123-157) 43.93%
- Canisius (158-240) 39.70%
- Loyola (144-254) 36.18%

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

MAAC Men's All-Star Picks at Season's Mid-Point

Wasn't season-openers about two weeks ago? It sure feels that way.

Yet, suddenly, the halfway point of the conference men's season has come and gone. Teams have already played 10 of their 18 league contests.

So, it's as good a time as any for the Hoopscribe's mid-season all-star selections for me. Women will come within the next few days.

So, without further interruption ...


- Lamont "Momo" Joes, 6-1 guard, Iona: The transfer from Arizona has shown why he initially started his career at a higher level. His 22.3 points per game not only leads the conference, but is fourth-best nationally. His 3.8 assist-per-game average is fifth-best in the league.

- Juan'ya Green, 6-3 sophomore guard, Niagara: He might be young, but he also might be the most talented perimeter player in the conference. He doesn't score quite as much as Jones, averaging 16.0, but he could score more if needed. His 5.0 assist-per-game average is third-best in the conference.

- O.D. Anosike, 6-8 senior forward, Siena: Leads the country in rebounds at 12.0 per game, on his way to becoming the first conference player to ever capture the national rebound title in back-to-back seasons. Also averages 13.1 points per contest.

- Billy Baron, 6-2 junior guard, Canisius: Followed his dad, Canisius coach Jim Baron, from Rhode Island to Buffalo, and has helped the Golden Griffins to their best start in more than a decade. He averages 16.0 points and his 5.6 assist-per-game average leads the conference.

- Dylon Cormier, 6-2 junior guard, Loyola: A smooth-playing off-guard who is effective at both ends of the court. His 17.0 ppg. average is fourth in the confertence, while he ranks third in the league in steals with 1.8.


- Sean Armand, 6-4 junior guard, Iona.
- Antoine Mason, 6-3 sophomore guard, Niagara
- Erik Etherly, 6-7 senior forward, Loyola
- Rhamel Brown, 6-6 junior forward, Manhattan
- Chris Manhertz, 6-6 senior forward, Canisius

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Green, Niagara.
It could just as easily be Jones of Iona, but Green is the best player on the best team (so far), and his assist total shows he's more than just a scorer.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Amadou Sidibe, 6-8 freshman forward, Fairfield.
He averages 6.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 60-percent shooting from the floor. Very difficult selection, considering Niagara's freshman forward T.J. Cline's numbers are very comparable.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Joe Mihalich, Niagara.
Three sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup, but Mihalich's team has won nine straight conference games and sits atop the league standings. He's the award's run-away choice at this point.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Bridgeport Steps Up To Host Women's NCAA Event

When the NCAA ruled, this fall, that it would prohibit states with legal single-game betting on sports from hosting its post-season events it meant that Trenton, N.J., could no longer host regional-round games of this season's Division I women's basketball tournament.

The MAAC was to be the co-host for those games, but the ruling only meant a quick shift of sites to the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn., a facility with a proven success record of hosting past NCAA women's tournament games.

Games in Bridgeport will be co-hosted by the MAAC and Fairfield and will take place on March 30 at noon and 2 p.m. with the regional championship game on April 1 at 7:30 p.m. The winner of the regional will advance to the 2013 women's Final Four in New Orleans that begins on April 7.

"Bridgeport has proven to be a great host for our championship in the past and we are excited to be making a return this March," said Carolayne Henry, chair of the Division I women's basketball committee, in a statement released by the MAAC. "We appreciate both the MAAC and Fairfield stepping forward to host because of this special circumstance, and know our student-athletes and fans will enjoy a first-class experience.

The move is one of six NCAA tournaments (the other five from sports other than basketball) moved from New Jersey because of a new state law there allowing sports wagering on professional and college games. Refunds have been provided to individuals who had already purchased tickets to the women's basketball regionals originally scheduled at the Trenton site.

The NCAA said its policy that prohibits its tournaments from being held in states that does permit legal gambling on pro and college games is in place to ensure the integrity of the game, provide consistency in awarding NCAA championships and to address concerns for student-athlete well-being.

"The move of the regional site to Bridgeport made sense for a number of reasons," said MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor. "Bridgeport and Webster Bank Arena have a long history of hosting NCAA championship events, while maintaining a regional host site on the East coast is good for the championship and for the legion of fans living in the area that will now be able to be part of this unique championship experience.

"The MAAC regularly seeks out opportunities to host NCAA championship events because it allows us to showcase high-level college sports to our fans, and it brings economic benefits to our partner arena, hotels and local communities.

"In this case the Webster Bank Arena staff and hoteliers stepped up at the last minute to work with us as hosts ... it was a great team effort by some very committed individuals on the arena, Fairfield University, hotels and MAAC staffs. Kudos to ll involved in the process as 2,300 all-session tickets sold to date is one of the highest among the 2013 1st and 2nd round and regional sites."

The 2013 Bridgeport Regional will be the fifth NCAA Division I basketball tournament hosted at the Arena at Harbor Yard. The facility also hosted regional round play in 2006 and first- and second-round contests in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Men's Transfers Having Big Impact For MAAC Teams

Twelve years ago it was a rare occurrence when a player transferred into the MAAC.

But, it was also a beneficial one.

Luis Flores wasn't the first player to come from a high-major program (Rutgers) to join a MAAC team (Manhattan), but even 12 years ago when the 6-foot-2 guard made that move after not getting a lot of playing time as a freshmen with the Scarlet Knights his transfer was a relatively rare one.

And, his contributions to Manhattan showed just how important it could be to conference programs to bring in a quality transfer.

The year before Flores became eligible to play for Manhattan the Jaspers had a 14-15 record. His play (2,046 points over just three seasons, the eighth-highest total in league history) helped turned Manhattan into a three-year mid-major level powerhouse.

Behind Flores Manhattan had three straight 20-victory seasons (68-21 overall) and won MAAC regular-season titles in his last two seasons.

But, in Flores' first season of eligibility there was only one other player in the MAAC (Eric Siegrist of Marist, who began his college career at St. Bonaventure) who had transferred down from a higher-level program.

Today, nearly every MAAC program has at least one transfer, and usually more.

This season there are only three conference men's programs without an active transfer, and those three (Siena and Marist, both 5-14; and Manhattan at 5-13) have the worst overall won-loss records of the 10 MAAC teams.

Niagara, the conference's top team (7-1) got its missing piece, a solid post player, when 6-8, 240-pound center Devon White became eligible this year after transferring in from La Salle.

Loyola won the conference's post-season tournament last year behind two transfers (forward Erik Etherly from Northeastern) and Jordan Latham (Xavier). This year, Etherly was voted by league coaches as the league's preseason Player of the Year and Latham, a reserve a year ago, has moved into the starting lineup. The Greyhounds are currently tied for second in the MAAC standings with a 6-2 conference record.

Iona won the MAAC's regular-season title last year with the help of Arizona transfer Momo Jones, who not only leads the conference in scoring this season but is third nationally on the scoring list this season.

The Gaels, after losing all-league caliber forward Mike Glover and conference Player of the Year Scott Machado from last season's team, reloaded by bringing in forward David Laury (who committed to two previous Division I programs, Western Kentucky and UMass, but played at neither), point guard Tevon Sledge (from Iowa State) and swingman Curtis Dennis (Toledo).

Laury is Iona's leading rebounder. Sledge leads the team in assists, and Dennis comes off the bench for Iona, which is tied for second with a 6-2 conference record so far.

No MAAC team has improved more than Canisius, which finished 1-17 in league play last season but is 5-3 so far this year.

The Golden Griffins could start nearly an entire team of players who began their college career elsewhere, including four brought in by previous coach Tom Parrotta.

Guard Isaac Sosa came in from Central Florida, post players Jordan Heath started his career at Robert Weslyan and Freddie Asprilla began at Kansas State and another guard, Harold Washington, transferred in from a junior college. A fifth transfer, point guard Billy Baron, followed his father and current Canisius coach Jim Baron, over from Rhode Island.

Baron is the team's leading scorer and leads the conference in assists. Washington, Sosa and Heath are the second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers for Canisius while Asprilla is a key post reserve.

Rider, one of three teams currently holding a share of second place in the league standings with a 6-2 record, also has a key transfer in guard Nurideen Lindsey (from St. John's), the Broncs' third-leading scorer.

A year ago Fairfield finished second in the conference standings behind two key transfers, forward Rakiim Sanders (Boston College), who led the Stags in scoring and rebounding; and guard Desmond Wade. Sanders has graduated, but Wade is still with Fairfield and he leads the team in assists this season.

And Saint Peter's also has two starters that began their respective college playing days elsewhere. Guard Desi Washington (a transfer from Delaware State) leads the Peacocks in scoring, while forward Patrick Jackson (Rutgers) has made 11 starts and is a solid role player.

In all, by unofficial count, there are at least 15 players throughout the MAAC who came into the conference after first playing at another four-year school. The top five positions in the current conference standings are occupied by schools with at least one key transfer.

"It definitely is becoming a league of transfers," said Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro, who said he prefers to bring in recruits directly from high school or prep school programs. "It (bringing in transfers) is a different way of doing things. For sure the transfer element has made some programs better."

The programs most likely to bring in recruits are those close to the large metropolitan areas that produce more high-level Division I programs. Often, when one of those players finds playing time difficult to come by at the high-major level, he transfers down to a mid-major program close to home.

That helps explain why Siena and Marist, whose upstate New York areas produce relatively few high-major level players, rarely get a drop-down transfer while schools like Iona, Manhattan (which has 6-10 forward Ashton Pankey from Maryland, who becomes eligible next season, on its roster) and Loyola more likely to attract returning-home transfers.

"Transfers are certainly hit or miss," said Saint Peter's coach John Dunne. "Sometimes you're not 100 percent sure of what you're getting. But, if you get the right one ....

"It's great if you can get a good transfer," said Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos, who during his nine-year tenure at the Baltimore school has brought in more transfers, many of them from the University of Maryland, where he was once an assistant coach, than any other MAAC program.

"With us it's been about one out of two (in terms of getting the desired on-court results. We've had, probably, 10 over my nine years. Five have done great on the court, and the others not so well.

"Etherly has been unbelievable. (Shane) Walker (a transfer from Maryland, who graduated after last season) was very functional for us. This is a great drop-down league with schools located in the New York Metropolitan area and Baltimore. A lot of guys want to come home.if they don't have the experience they expected at the higher level. And, that's only logical considering the location of some of our schools and the reputation of our league.

"We got Latham (a Maryland native) in from Xavier and Etherly from the middle of Virginia, areas close to us. But, you can't be afraid to stick your nose in there recruiting (higher-level players from a program's "home" region). It helped us get Latham, who was a top-100 rated player coming out of high school, the type player we don't usually get.

"The other thing is that you can't be a pound-it-out, grind-it-out program. If you run, and you have strong academics ... those things combined are attractive. The MAAC has always done a good job in terms of its teams being willing to play up tempo. As far back as Lionel Simmons (at La Salle in the late 1980s), the league has always had scorers. The kids see that, and that makes our league attractive, too."

Attractive enough for more drop-down transfer than ever before to come into the MAAC, a place where transfers rarely landed just a little more than a decade ago.

But, they're coming to the MAAC in big numbers in recent years and the benefits are as evident as this year's regular-season standings.

Monday, January 21, 2013

ATM: News, Notes, Opinions From Around The MAAC

News, notes and comments .... otherwise known as "ATM," or Around The MAAC.

- Coaches say it every year without fail: "The league has never been more balanced .... any team can beat any other on a given night."

Usually, is purely promotional; almost always pure stretch-the-truth praise to make the conference look good, an attempt to generate interest.

This year? It seems true, particularly if one starts at the bottom of the current standings.

Your Hoopscribe had occasion to watch both the men's and women's teams from Saint Peter's in recent days. Both were picked to finish last by coaches in the preseason poll to predict the final regular-season standings, and both appear to be fulfilling those predictions.

The Saint Peter's women are currently 0-6 in league play and 0-17 overall. The men are 1-7 and 6-12. Both occupy the bottom of the MAAC standings.

But, after seeing both in recent days, the opinion here is this: If these are the the conference's worst teams, then they might both be the best last-place teams the MAAC has had in many years.

Ask Iona how good the Saint Peter's men's team can be this year. The Gaels are currently 6-2 in MAAC play, good for second place. One of those two setbacks came at the hands of the Peacocks, 64-62, in a December meeting.

Coach John Dunne's team, at least visually, is improved from a year ago. Since last season it added rugged 6-foot-6 forward Patrick Jackson, a grad-school transfer from Rutgers; and, sharp-shooting guard Desi Washington, a transfer from Delaware State whose 2.5 made three-pointers per contest place him third in the conference for that statistic.

Already in place were another blue-collar inside player in 6-7 Darius Conley, off-guard Yvon Raymond and point guard Blaise Ffrench, who averages 5.2 assists per game (second-best in the MAAC) and is among the conference's most-improved players from a year ago.

Dunne's team probably is one offensive-minded player short of getting to the upper half of the league standings. But, it remains the grind-it-out, rugged-defense playing team it has been in recent years.

And, on any given night ....

It might be a little harder to make a case for the Saint Peter's women's team, which hasn't beaten anyone yet.

But, it's coming close. Of its six league losses, four have been by 10 points or fewer and the Peacocks held a halftime lead in two of those contests. Add to the team's struggles this year is that head coach Stephanie DeWolfe is out on maternity leave and isn't expected to return to the sidelines until  early February.

Still, the Peacocks are not without some individual talent.

Aziza May, who had a nice freshman season but struggled as a sophomore, appears to have improved significantly and is among the conference's better point guards. Forward Jessika Holmes leads the MAAC in steals. Senior swingperson Kristal Edwards is a potent scorer (12.9 ppg.) and Kaydine Bent is a rugged inside player.

The team, though, lacks depth and a true in-the-paint force. Saint Peter's is getting outrebounded by 8.3 per game, the second-largest difference among the 10 conference teams, a statistic that emphasizes the team's relative weakness in the post.

But, the Peacocks are close and their stretch of winless games won't continue much longer.

It truly does appear that, for once, the coaches are right with the annual refrain that on a given night any team could beat any other one this season.

- The Loyola women's team was picked to finish third, according to conference coaches in their preseason poll. But the Greyhounds are currently second-from-the-bottom in the league standings, are 1-5 in MAAC play, 6-11 overall and riding a four-game losing streak.

The team's recent woes are more than partially related to playing the last two games without its do-everything guard Katie Sheahin, who is currently out with flu-like symptoms. Coach Joe Logan hopes his top player returns for games this weekends, which would go a long way toward curing what ails Loyola right now.

After all, Sheahin is the only women's player to lead her team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals and was one of just two in the conference a year ago (Corielle Yarde of Marist was the other) to lead her team, in those statistical categories.

Without Sheahin, though, Loyola is not only without its only true offensive weapon but without, arguably, its best ball-handler, too. It also leaves the Greyhounds young with freshmen guard Diana Logan and forward Tiffany Padgett in the starting lineup.

Still, Loyola played well for 32 minutes at Siena on Sunday, moving into a 45-45 tie at that point before its lack of depth appeared to leave it a half-step slow down the stretch. Siena went on to take a 62-52 victory.

- Hottest women's teams right now? Marist has won six straight and Fairfield has taken four in a row (since a five-point loss to Marist).

Next is Siena, with a three-game winning streak.

Still ... the Saints' victories have come against Manhattan, Saint Peter's and Loyola, the three bottom teams in the conference standings.

A better gauge of Siena's potential this season is coming up when the Saints are at Fairfield on Friday and at Marist on Monday.

- The surprise men's team this season?

That would be Niagara, picked in the coaches' preseason poll to finish fifth.

But, the Purple Eagles are alone in first place in the conference standings with a 7-1 record, ahead of Iona and Rider (both 6-2) and preseason favorite Loyola (5-2).

It's not that much of a shock, considering Niagara's talent. But, things seem to have fallen into place earlier than expected for a team that starts four perimeter players, a freshmen and three sophomores.

“Are we ahead of schedule? I don’t know what the schedule is,” Niagara coach Joe Mihalich told the Buffalo News after a recent victory by his team. “But the team is coming together.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Marist Still Rolling, Despite Injuries to Post Players

It only took the first four games of women's regular-season play for nine of the MAAC's 10 teams to suffer at least one loss.

The remaining unbeaten team in league play?

That would be Marist.

Who would have guessed, right?

After all, the Red Foxes have "only"won the last nine regular-season titles, putting up a 145-17 regular-season won-loss record against MAAC opponents over that time.

Death, taxes and the Marist women's team.

So, what's so noteworthy about a 4-0 start this year?

After all, coach Brian Giorgis had three returning starters and a bench full of solid role players waiting their turn to become featured performers. On top of that, it looked like he finally had the type inside strength, with Vanderbilt transfer 6-3 Tori Jarosz and highly touted 6-5 freshman Delaney Hollenbeck, that not only ensured continued success in the MAAC but, maybe, against higher-level opponents, too.

And, then, Jarosz suffered a broken wrist in Marist's first game and Hollenbeck only got into six games before leg issues forced her out. Both front-court players are out for the season, according to Giorgis.

It's hard enough for a coach to adjust to the expected losses of key players from year to year. But, Giorgis not only lost two key players unexpectedly early this season, but they were his only real post players.

Suddenly, with a season already underway, Giorgis had to make drastic changes to his team's playing style.

"We're very different now (than at the beginning of the season)," said Giorgis. "The worst part is that, now, we're very thin up front.  It was weird to lose both centers. This was going to be the first year in some time that we had good height. And, then, we lost both of them. We had 6-5 and 6-3 up front. Now, we have to go with 6-2 (Elizabeth Beynnon, who is more a swing player than a post) and a couple of 6-footers."

Now, Giorgis goes with a roster whose leading rebounder averages just 4.9 per game, and find ways to win games despite a rebounding disadvantage of 6.6 per game so far.

"We've just gone back to doing what we do best, and that's to play defense." said Giorgis. "That's nothing different for us. But we have had to do some things differently on defense."

Defense? Even without a true post player, Marist is giving up an average of just 49 points over its first four league games, against opponents expected to be the Red Foxes' primary competition this year.

Loyola, picked to finish third in the coaches' preseason poll, only scored 38 points against Marist and, early in the second half, trailed 49-14. Its standout, senior guard Katie Sheahin, who was the coaches' choice for Preseason Player of the Year, was held scoreless in that contest.

"We've got probably the best on-the-ball defender in the league in Leanne Ockenden," said Giorgis, "but that was more of a team effort. It was good, solid team defense. When Katie would get by Leanne on a screen, we had someone else stepping up."

It doesn't hurt that those stepping up are often experienced returnees from a team that finished 17-1 in league play and 26-8 overall a year ago, players like Elizabeth Beynnon, Emma O'Connor, Ockenden, Casey Dulin, Kristina Danella and Kristine Best. Beynnon, Danella and Best are seniors. The other three are juniors.

It also doesn't hurt that the team is as balanced as any Marist team ever with the top five scorers averaging between 11 and 8.8 points per game.

"This is probably as balanced a team as we've ever had," admitted Giorgis. "We're in a situation in which anyone can step up and make a big play. When you get to the end of a close game and have to run a play, you just go to whoever has been hot and run a play for her.

"We don't have that one superstar player. It makes what were doing this year a little more rewarding, at least for me."

And, it also doesn't hurt that Marist gets ready for MAAC play by playing as difficult a non-conference schedule as Giorgis can arrange.

Last year Marist's slate of non-league opponents was rated the sixth most-difficult nationally. This year, it was rated the third most-difficult. The Red Foxes played four teams rated in the top 15 nationally earlier this year.

"I'm a big believer in playing a tough non-league schedule," said Giorgis. "We see things from those teams that we don't see from teams in our league. Now, when we see pressure, for instance, it isn't as good a pressure as we've seen from Kentucky."

So far, Marist has seen the best of the MAAC in its early games, already beating Fairfield and Iona (both 3-1 in conference play), Rider (2-2) and Loyola (the coaches' choice for third in their preseason poll).

The next showdowns come this weekend when the Red Foxes are at 3-1 Canisius on Friday and at 2-2 Niagara (picked for second in the preseason poll) on Sunday.

Giorgis knows that, as always, his team has the proverbial league-favorite's target on its back.

"You'd rather have it that way than the other way," he said. "But the conference is interesting this year that it's a lot more closer in terms of top-to-bottom competitiveness as we've seen in the past. This is a year where if you don't come to play our best you're going to go down."

So far, so good for Marist. But, it's not business as usual for the Red Foxes, not after losing its only two true post players, a situation no other MAAC team would likely be able to endure and continue to rack up wins as if almost nothing ever happened.

"I've been extremely pleased with how we've been playing," added Giorgis. "This group is extremely fun to coach. But, we need each other to be successful. It has to be the ultimate team effort. So far, we've certainly exceeded my expectations."

The result is more of the same from the Marist women's program, but this year with some unexpected adversity to overcome along the way.

After nine consecutive regular-season conference titles, expectations are always for more of the same at Marist.

And, then, comes the early season losses of the team's two tallest players, both talented post performers.

Suddenly Marist seemed vulnerable. Yet, somehow, Marist remains the MAAC's top team right now.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hoop Odyssey: Siena Women Earn 1st League Win

Game 3 in the four-games-in-four days Hoop Odyssey in New York's Capital Region.

Manhattan women at Siena, noon on Sunday at Albany's Times Union Center.

Siena uses its advantages both in size and quickness to full advantage, particularly early in the  second half as it runs out to a 20-point, 59-39, lead over the Jaspers with just 3:39 remaining in the game.

And, then, Manhattan made things interesting down the stretch, scoring on eight of its next 10 possessions in a "scramble" mode.

Siena did a poor job of running the shot clock late in the game, getting sped up by an effective Manhattan pressure defense in the final minutes and taking ... and missing ... quick shots or committing turnovers.

It enabled the Jaspers to get within five on Allison Skrec's driving basket with 28 seconds remaining.

Were it not for two made free throws by Siena's Ciera Stewart (on a one-and-one opportunity), after a quick Manhattan foul, the Jaspers might have made things even more interesting.

Instead, Siena held on for a 62-55 victory.


- Siena had started 0-3 in MAAC play, it's first 0-3 start to a women's league season since the school joined the conference in 1989.

- Siena entered the game shooting only 32.2 percent from the field, 11th-worst nationally of 343 Division I teams. On Sunday, though, it made 40 percent of its shots (20-of-50) for the first time this season. Key field-goal contributor was junior forward Kate Zarotney, who went a perfect 7-of-7 from the floor.

- Siena's sophomore guard Ida Krogh had a game-high 10 assists, the first double-figure assist total by a Siena player in six seasons.

- Manhattan's junior guard Monica Roeder had a game-high 19 points, but needed to take 22 shots (6-of-22) to get her points.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Baron About to Join Others from MAAC with 400 Wins

When Canisius lost to Siena Friday night in Albany, N.Y., its head coach Jim Baron just missed out on becoming the second coach in recent days to have worked MAAC sidelines to reach 400 career victories on the Division I level.

Baron, who has 399 career D-I victories, will get there very soon.

But he got edged in the race to 400 by another coach with ties to Canisius. That would be John Beilein (at Canisius from 1992-93 through 1996-97), who recently hit that milestone and currently has a 400-252 record in Division I games.

Beilein now serves as the head coach at Michigan where his team is 16-0 and one of just two remaining men's programs still unbeaten (Duke is the other) this season.

But neither Beilen nor Baron are near the top of the victory list for coaches who, at one point, served as the head coach of a MAAC program.

The all-time leader for that is Tom Penders, who coached in the MAAC at Fordham during the conference's first five years of existence (1981-82 season through 1985-86). Penders also coached at Columbia, Rhode Island, Texas, George Washington and Houston.

No longer active as a coach, he has 595 career Division I victories.

Next is Pat Kennedy, a Penders' contemporary who coached at Iona, also in the MAAC's first five years of existence (1981-82 through 1985-86).  Kennedy also coached at Florida State, DePaul, Montana and Towson.

Kennedy, also no longer an active coach, has 483 career Division I victories.

And, third is former Siena coach Mike Deane (1986-97 through 1993-94), who also coached at Marquette, Lamar and Wagner.

Deane is still on the coaching sidelines, currently an assistant at James Madison University. He has 412 career victories as a Division I head coach.

And, then, comes Beilein and Baron.

Many thanks for much of this information to the research done by estimable Canisius sports information director Matt Reitnour, with some help from that program's standout play-by-play radio voice Jay Moran.

Hoop Odyssey: Buonaguro Justifiably Jumps For Joy

And, Game 2 of a four-games-in-four-days Basketball Odyssey in New York's Capital Region ...

Friday night, Canisius men at Siena at the Times Union Center in Albany.

When this one was officially declared over, Siena fans saw their coach pump fists in the air, and twice jump as high as, probably, he ever did in his own playing career at Boston College some 40 years ago. They saw their coach's physical "animation" leave his shirt out of his pants and light green tie very much askew.

Yes, Mitch Buonaguro looked he was dancing to the song of the loon, and had every right to do so after a stunning 57-54 upset victory over Canisius.

Stunning? Surprising?

Siena came into the game with a 2-13 overall record and riding an 11-game losing streak.

Canisius came in with a share of the conference's top spot with a 3-1 MAAC record and a 10-5 overall mark.

Not long before the game, Buonaguro learned that one of his starters, and second-leading scorer and  rebounder Rob Poole would not suit up due the flu. If left Siena with seven player Buonaguro trusted in game competition, two of them sophomores and four others freshmen.

Somehow, though, Siena rallied from a 10-point deficit with less than 10 minutes remaining, held an opponent that had been averaging 74.5 points per game to just seven points over the final 11 minutes and to just 54 for the entire game.

It enabled the Saints to pull into a tie at 54 when sophomore guard Rakeem Brookins made one of two free throws with just over a minute left.

Junior guard Billy Baron missed a three-point attempt with 12 seconds left that would have given Canisius a lead, Ryan Oliver grabbed the rebound for Siena and threw an outlet pass that seemed intended for teammate and Saints' point guard Evan Hymes.

Instead, Brookins reached up to grab the pass from Oliver and began pushing the ball up the sideline watching the Siena bench for an indication Buonaguro wanted a time out to set up a last-second play.

Instead, Buonaguro kept waving Brookins forward, and the sophomore guard pushed it up to within about 22 feet away just in front of the Siena bench and launched a fall-away three-point shot over the outstretched defense of Canisius' Isaac Sosa that fell through at the buzzer.

But, did it? Game officials took well over a minute to check video replays to confirm that the shot was released with eight-tenths of a second still on the clock.

"Actually, when they were pushing the ball up court (for Brookins' last shot), I thought they were calling for a time out," said Canisius coach Jim Baron.

"I usually do call one in that situation," said Buonaguro. "But `Rock' (Brookins) is a really good late-game player. Tonight wasn't the night for a time out. It was more of a gut feeling that he was going to do something really good."

"By far, that's the biggest shot I've hit in my life," said Brookins.

And it prompted the type of post-game celebration by the Siena coach that might have rivaled his gyrations after Villanova upset Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship game, at which time the Siena head man was a Villanova assistant coach who designed the game plan for that legendary result.

"Yeah, I was animated because of the circumstances," said Buonaguro. "We've had a lot of adversity. A coach should be able to do that once in a while. It was more than personal elation, though. It was for the kids ... they've been through a lot.

"But we came into this game with an 11-game losing streak and had to play arguably the best team in our league. We had our backs to the wall when we were down 10, and we get an unbelievable shot at the end.. We played against a team that came in averaging 75 points per game and held them to 54. It was an unbelievable defensive effort. We could not have been better at that tonight."

Yes, Buonaguro had plenty to be jumping for joy about on this night.

Observations ...

- Siena played a zone defense almost exclusively, not only as a recipe to make perimeter shots tough to come by for the Golden Griffins' talented guard group, but to give a short-handed playing group time to catch their collective breath during the game. It was reminiscent of a year ago when the Saints were down to six trusted bodies for the second half of the season and found success playing that way.

- It also reinforced just how close things are between MAAC teams this year. Coaches everywhere within the conference are quick to point out overall parity from top to bottom and, for once, it's more than lip service. Of Siena's 13 losses so far, two have been by a single point, two others by four points, one by five points and three by six points.

- Siena's sophomore guard Evan Hymes, who entered play shooting just 30.1 percent from the floor and 26.9 percent on three-pointers, was 8-of-12 overall and 4-of-6 from beyond the stripe with several of them from way beyond the stripe, for a game-high 20 points.

- We knew coming in that it was going to be a battle," said Canisius coach Jim Baron. "We didn't step up and make shots like we normally do. And, you look at their shots ... Hymes stepped up big time for them.. We just got caught up in playing a slow-down game with them, and we'd rather play and up-and-down tempo."

Friday, January 11, 2013

Another Odyssey: Fairfield Women Shoot Past Siena

Last week we trekked out to Western New York to report on five games over four days.

This week, we have the benefit of staying within our upstate New York home base to watch and report on four games (two men's, two women's) over four days, so we'll continue with game-by-game reports/observations.

Starting with ..,

Thursday, 11:30 a.m. Kids' Day Game with Fairfield women at Siena.

The game was at Siena's on-campus Alumni Recreation Center. The announced crowd count of 2,368 (almost exclusively elementary school-aged children) was reportedly the second largest to ever witness a Saints' women's game at the ARC. The all-time attendance-setter was a 2005 contest against Maryland (3,780), the year Maryland won the national title.

In this one, Siena had a 10-point lead (20-10) early, and still had a nine-point edge (30-21) late in the first half.

And, then, Fairfield's always solid defense took over. At one stretch early in the second half Siena committed turnovers on seven consecutive possessions.

Still, the Saints were tied at 49 with about three minutes remaining when Fairfield's standout long-range shooter Alexys Vazquez went to work. She drained three three pointers on the Stags next four possessions to give her team a 58-53 lead with about 1;40 remaining and Siena never got closer than three again in what turned into a 66-59 victory for the Stags.

Observations ...

- If there is a better long-range shooter at any mid-major program nationally than Vazquez, I'd have to be convinced.

As a sophomore she made 61-of-143 3-point tries a year ago. That 42.7 percent accuracy would have ranked her 2nd nationally if she qualified (by making two per game) for the national leadership. Fairfield played 35 games a year ago, so she would have had to have made nine more three-pointers to qualify for the national leader board.

This year she's connecting on a 41.3 percent rate (38-of-92) and, yes, it's hard to imagine that an opponent wouldn't key on her in a late-game situation. But, two of her late-game threes on this day were wide-open, take-all-the-time-you-need looks, and the third got released just before a Siena defender arrived.

- Fourth straight setback for Siena after it held a sizeable lead. On Thursday, it was a nine-point lead with just over a  minute left in the first half. Prior to that, the Saints held leads of 6 (at Sacred Heart with 1:30 remaining), of 6 at Canisius (with 2:20 remaining) and 8 at Niagara (with 5:30 remaining) before losing all three.

- In the early speculation about the opponent most-likely to be a challenge to the long-time domination of Marist in the conference standings, Fairfield is most definitely in the picture.

The Stags only lost by five at Marist four days earlier and had been within a point, 57-56 and in possession of the ball with under a minute remaining.

But two Fairfield turnovers in the final 51 seconds, coupled with points by Marist on its final two possessions enabled the Red Foxes to hold off the Stags.

Fairfield is now 2-1 in league play and if it's not the Stags who will challenge Marist, then maybe it will be Iona, which is off to a 3-0 start and has beaten its three opponents by scores of 11 (against Niagara), 14 (Canisius) and 30 (Manhattan).

- If there were an award for "Most Improved Player" in the conference, Fairfield would have two strong candidates.

Their 6-1 junior center Brittany Obi-Tabot only played an average of 3.8 minutes per game, and only scored 20 total points a year ago.

This year, though, she had a 24-point, 10-rebound performance against Marist on Sunday and followed that up with Thursday's 20-point, 4-rebound effort against Siena.

On the year, she averages 10.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest.

The other candidate would be 5-10 junior guard Christelle Akon-Akech, who only averaged 11.7 minutes per game a year ago.

Akon-Akech was off to a slow start this year, too, playing behind sophomore teammate Felicia DaCruz until Thursday.

DaCruz appeared to struggle against Siena's back-court quickness early and only played 7 minutes before giving way to Akon-Akech, who contributed 6 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 4 steals in a career-high 33 minutes of playing time.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Manhattan's Beamon Could Be Out For The Season

The best tidbit of news (or, worst, if you're a Manhattan basketball fan) that came out of a conference call Wednesday with league coaches and reporters who cover the conference  is that the Jaspers' senior swingman George Beamon, the leading scorer in the MAAC last season, might be done for the season.

Beamon missed his team's first two games with an ankle sprain, came back for the next four and, then, suffered a blow to the ankle late in the team's sixth game and has been out since.

With Beamon on the court, Manhattan was 2-2 with the swingman averaging a team-best 16.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Without him, the Jaspers are 2-8.

"George's injury is in a very unique spot," said Manhattan coach Steve Masiello. "He had swelling in the ankle since November and, then, it got hit again in the George Washington game (the team's sixth game of the year. It's actually a new injury on top of an old injury.

"We're not sure when he's coming back, but the young man's future is at stake and we're not going to take any chances."

Since Beamon has only played in four games, a medical red-shirt is still an option and Beamon could come back and play again next season.

"Those conversations have taken place," said Masiello. "It's definitely an option."

The loss of Beamon, who averaged a MAAC-best 19.0 ppg. last season, isn't the only reason that Manhattan (2-2 in conference play, 4-10 overall, is off to a relatively slow start after it was picked, in the preseason coaches' poll, to finish second in this year's regular-season standings.

Its standout junior point guard Michael Alvarado (8.4 points, 2.3 assists per game) has also missed the last two games with an ankle injury.

"Michael's injury is healing much faster (than Beamon's)," said Masiello.

But the Jaspers aren't sure about when Alvarado will be back.

"When you lose guys like that, particularly George ... it helps your approach when you step on the court and you know you have that guy with you," added Masiello. "Now we don't have that guy to take the game over and make that play. Then, you lose Michael, too, and we're without our starting backcourt.

"But, if we can be resilient, it can help us down the road,"

The loss of Beamon and Alvarado has meant the team has had to rely more on 5-11 sophomore RaShawn Stores and 6-0 freshman C.J. Jones at the point and 6-5 freshman Shane Richards in Beamon's spot.

"It might turn out to be a great blessing, if we can get those guys (Beamon and Alvarado) back at some point and the young guys pick up things quickly based on the experience they're getting."

But, it also means Manhattan is playing at a considerably slower pace than a year ago.

"We've had to," said Masiello. "Last year we tried to play to get the score into the 80's (Manhattan averaged 71.2 ppg. last season, while scoring just 57.6 ppg. thus far this season).

"This year we're playing more possession basketball and trying to slow it down. One reason is, because of the injuries, we don't have the depth. The other reason is that it's harder to play fast with young people. If we play a little slower, we can control things a little better. That's what we need to do right now based on personnel and our roster. If we had a full arsenal of guys it would be different. But we don't, and that's OK."

Monday, January 7, 2013

WNY Odyssey: Emotions Contrast Niagara-Siena

Last stop on the Western New York Hoop Junkie's Odyssey ...

Sunday, 2 p.m., Siena women at Niagara at the Taps Gallagher Center.

Two sides to every occurrence, one good and one bad.

We'll start with the "good news" first ...

Niagara entered the game on a three-game losing streak, including a home court setback two days earlier to Iona.

Against the Saints, the Purple Eagles fell behind 13-0 and, by then, their coach Kendra Faustin had not only called a time-out slightly over a minute into the contest but pulled starting all-conference level point guard Kayla Stroman.

"Not everyone was ready to play ... our focus wasn't there," said Faustin. "And, when that's our emphasis ... I needed to prove a point there."

Point proven.

Niagara quickly got back into it, yet still trailed, 56-48, with 5:32 remaining.

And, then, the other side ... Siena didn't score another field goal in the contest, not in regulation or five minutes of overtime, a stretch of 10:32 on the game clock.

Niagara tied it in regulation when Stroman made a free throw with nine seconds left (and, Siena threw a pass out of bounds as time ran out).

And, then, the Purple Eagles outscored the Saints 10-2 in overtime to take a 70-62 victory.

More "bad news" for the Saints: It was their third straight devastating, demoralizing setback.

It lost its final non-conference game of the season, 61-60, at Sacred heart after holding a 58-52 lead with 1:30 left to play. In that one Siena made just two-of-six free throws down the stretch after making 22-of-23 prior to that.

And, then, in its first MAAC game, Friday at Canisius, the Saints lost another late-game six-point advantage (58-52) with 3:31 remaining. Again, missed free throws late were an issue, with the Saints missing their last three after making 20-of-25 prior to the closing seconds.

It enabled Canisius to pull away from a tie game with three seconds left when the Golden Griffins in-bounded the ball to freshman point guard Tiahana Mills, who took three dribbles to mid court and swished home the game-winner at the buzzer.

The shot became No. 1 on ESPN's Top 10 Highlight videos for the day, as much for Canisius radio play-by-play man Mike Scott's very enthusiastic call (which included a vague pro wrestling reference which your Hoopscribe doesn't claim to understand) as for the play.

Observations ...

- Some terrific individual performances from both teams. For Niagara, junior forward Shy Britton came off the bench to score 20 points (9-of-16 shooting) and grab seven rebounds in 27 minutes.

"Shy is capable of playing that way, but she's more content not to force the issue," said Faustin. "We usually have to keep on her, even in practice, to play like that.

Britton, though, took over late, getting six of her team's 10 points in the overtime session.

For Siena, junior forward Clara Sole Anglada had a career 26-point, 10-rebound performance.

But, she fouled out with nine seconds left in regulation, and her teammate, Tehresa Coles, fouled out with 1:42 left in regulation.

Those two are, arguably, two of Siena's top three players and teams perform best when their best players are on the court.

Coles only played 23 of the game's 45 minutes and Sole Anglada only 32 of 45. The difference, when those two were forced to the bench with foul trouble and, eventually, after picking up their respective fifth fouls was obvious.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

WNY Hoops Odyssey: Cansius Guards Look Strong

Another stop on the Western New York Hoop Junkie's Odyssey:

Marist men at Canisius at 7 p.m.

After making the quick 30-minute jaunt from Monteagle Ridge to downtown Buffalo and the Koessler Athletic Center, we watched two teams with much to prove.

Canisius was trying to show it was as good as its 9-5 record prior to the game, and not as bad as it looked in a 66-45 setback two days earlier at the hands of Fairfield.

And Marist wanted to start showing that a nice late-season run a year ago wasn't a fluke and that it was better than its 94-72 loss at Niagara two days earlier.

Mission accomplished for both.

Canisius did enough to show why it has enough pieces to stay in, or close, to the hunt for a regular-season title while securing a 73-64 victory.

And, Marist showed it was only a few late-game plays (it got within five twice in the closing 4:45) from putting a real scare into the Golden Griffins.

But, something else was on display, too: One side of a debate about the league's best three-man backcourt.

Iona (Momo Jones, Sean Armand and, maybe, freshman A.J. English) and Fairfield (Derek Needham, Colin Nickerson and Desmond Wade) can both make a case.

But, for now, we think the best arguments can be made for the backcourts in the land of the chicken wing and beef-on-wick sandwiches.

That would be in Western New York where Niagara can put up Antoine Mason, Juan'ya Green and Ameen Tanksley (45.3 points per game) and Canisius can counter with Billy Baron, Isaac Sosa and Harold Washington (42.2 ppg.).

Niagara's trio might hold a slight edge in points produced, but the Canisius threesome is better at distributing the ball (8.6 assists per game to 7.4 for Niagara).

On Saturday night, Baron put on a text-book display of point guard play with 17 points, 10 assists and just three turnovers. More than a few of his passes helped produce baskets by Sosa (22 points), who sank long-range three pointers on four consecutive possessions early in the second half.

And while Washington only had six points Thursday, he added three assists. He is also the team's second-leading scorer (13.6 ppg.) and led the Griffs in scoring a year ago (17.0).

Washington was the only one of the three to play against MAAC competition a year ago. Baron, who played at Rhode Island last season, got a hardship waiver to play immediately after his transfer to Canisius, while Sosa sat out the traditional transfer season after coming over from Central Florida.

So, it was logical to ask Washington his thoughts about the conference's top guard trio.

And, then, Baron jumped in ...

"Do we have the best guard trio? I'd like to think so," said Baron. "We don't come out in any game thinking the other guards are better than us. We approach every day and every game with that type of confidence. If you don't have that confidence you might as well not play the game."

"What he said," added Washington, about Baron's answer.

- Canisius forward Chris Manhertz, one of the team's few bright spots in a 1-17 league season a year ago, continues to open eyes with his play this season.

Manhertz, a 6-6, 235-pounder, entered Saturday's game averaging 6.6 points and 8.3 rebounds. He opened the eyes of Marist coach Chuck Martin with a 9-point, 14-rebound effort on Saturday.

"He just plays hard all the time," said Martin. "If a team had all of its players play with the force of his will, they it would have a heck of a team."

- Marist did indeed show signs of better play ahead (the Red Foxes are currently 4-11 overall).

Marist had a similarly slow start a year ago and, in fact, had an 0-7 record for the month of January, 2012. After that they finished out 7-3.

"We're right there (on the verge of better play) now," said Martin. "We have to start doing the little things better. But, I'm glad this isn't February right now. The fact that we have eight more weeks of the regular season, and knowing what's ahead for us, has me feeling good."

Marist has also been playing lately without 6-5 junior forward Jay Bowie (7.5 points, 4.7 rebounds per game), who missed his fifth game with what the team is calling a "head injury."

"Right now he's day to day," added Martin. "When we don't have him in the starting lineup ... it hurts."

WNY Hoops Odyssey: Green, Niagara Feast At Line

And, another day on the Western New York Hoop Junkie's Odyssey ...

Saturday, 3 p.m. game: Fairfield men at Niagara.

Four men's teams were in WNY for the weekend. Two nights earlier the Stags and Niagara both earned lopsided victories over Canisius and Marist, respectively.

So, this afternoon, in this mini-tournament, of sorts, the winners met.

Final score: Niagara 71, Fairfield 67.

It was hardly a decisive, conclusive outcome. But the Purple Eagles, now 3-1 in MAAC play (7-7 overall) are clearly better than some preseason prognosticators expected.

It doesn't hurt to have sophomore guard Juan'ya Green (9-of-14 shooting, 31 points) who was the best guard, in this observer's eyes, among the four programs in the area over the past three days.

Two nights earlier, in the victory over Marist, Green had 21 points (10-of-15 shooting) in 29 minutes.

On Saturday, after things were tied at 51 with 8:55 remaining, Green scored 15 of Niagara's final 20 points to seal the outcome.

"I'm just trying to do what coach tells me, and that's to be aggressive from the start," said Green,.

Observations ...

- This was as rough and physical a game as one could see without a brawl breaking out. There was one flagrant foul and at least four other occasions when game officials pulled players aside to ensure tempers didn't flare out of control.

And, if there is any remaining bad blood it will boil again in just eight days when Niagara is at Fairfield on Jan. 13.

"I wish we didn't have to see them again in seven or eight days," said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich.

Fairfield guard Derek Needham, on both the receiving and giving end of physical play, was asked if he'd be circling the date with Niagara on his calendar.

"No ... just another league game," said Needham, whose post-game remarks were delivered with uncharacteristic brevity.

Another game on Jan. 13? Yeah, right.

- Niagara big man Devn White continued his progress after off-season Achilles tendon surgery, playing a season-high 29 minutes while scoring eight points, getting eight rebounds, making three steals and blocking a shot.

"I'm just doing what I have to do to impress coach," said White.

"I'm already impressed," responded Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. "He continues to get in better shape.and is starting to show us what he'll be like down the road."

- Oddly enough, Fairfield connected on eight more field goals throws in the game (28 to 21) than Niagara.

But the winners made 27-of-37 free throws (Fairfield made just 6-of-15) while benefiting on 27 fouls called against Fairfield. Only 15 whistles went against Niagara.

"The free-throw discrepancy was almost insurmountable," said Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson.

Did Johnson want to comment on the reason for the discrepancy?

"I don't think so," he said. "We'll leave it at that."

Friday, January 4, 2013

WNY Odyssey: Canisius Hands Siena A Heartbreaker

The MAAC Western New York Odyssey of five games over four days continues ...

Siena women at Canisius at the Koessler Athletic Center.

Friday morning, 11 a.m. start for a standing-room only "Kids Day" game at which a crowd of 2,196, mostly elementary school-aged kids with loud, shrill voices, make it difficult to think let alone hear.

Afterwards, one player remarked that it was hard to hear their coaches giving assignments during timeouts.

This one ended with a shot for the ages, and one that Canisius' freshman point guard Tiahana Mills will certainly remember for a long time.

With the game tied at 62 after Siena's Kanika Cummings scores on a driving layup with three seconds remaining, Canisius in-bounds to Mills. She takes two dribbles to half court and lets loose with a one-hander from straight on at half court that swished at the buzzer.

The result was pandemonium by Canisius with players running on the court, swarming Mills and all of them falling to the hardwood.

"I was just concerned that someone was going to get hurt," said Canisius coach Terry Zeh, who came off the court pumping his fist and supported that with a smile that one associates with big-jackpot lottery winners.

Afterwards, Zeh was more than happy to joke around about what a win like this one means to a program that, to date, had been struggling a little (the Golden Griffins are now 4-8 overall).

"I'm hard enough to deal with at practice," said Zeh. "And, after a loss ... my players not only have to deal with me, but they're also down after a loss. This makes it a little easier for them to put up with me at the next practices."

This was the second-straight emotional victory for the Griffs, who held off Vermont, 56-55, in their previous game.

Those are the type outcomes that often ignite a team's confidence.

Observations ...

- Siena's resiliency will definitely be tested.

Five days earlier Siena seemed to have a victory over a good Sacred Heat team in hand with a six-point lead and just 1:30 remaining. And, then, the Saints missed four of their final free throws and Sacred Heart made everything, including two game-winning free throws on a foul call with a two seconds remaining. Instead of holding on, Siena lost that one, 61-60.

And, then, this one today. Once again Siena had a late six-point lead (3:30 remaining).

Then, it's top defensive player, Tehresa Coles fouled out. The Griffs' Ashley Durham immediately drove nearly uncontested to the basket, a move she probably can't make if Coles is still on the court.

Canisius outscores Siena 10-2 to grab a 62-60 edge before Siena's Kanika Cummings makes a tough drive to tie it with three seconds remaining to seemingly force it into overtime.

Mills, though, ensured the OT never happened with her half-court game-winner.

For sure, teams would rather lose by 40 points than lose on last-second plays. And, now, Siena has dropped two straight in the closing seconds after holding leads down the stretch in both.

We'll see how Siena bounces back two days from now in a 2 p.m. contest at Niagara.

- Mills said the half-court shot was the first one she has ever made in a game.

"I used to practice them when I was in high school, but I never hit one in a game," she said, afterwards.

- Mills is another nice piece to the Canisius perimeter game. She had 12 points, six rebounds, six assists (just three turnovers) and three steals in 27 minutes against Siena and plays like a player beyond her freshman status.

She entered Friday's game as the MAAC's assist leader with 3.9 per contest.

Her performance at the point has allowed Durham to move over to play more shooting guard, and Durham also delivered against Siena with 16 points (5-of-7 shooting). Between those two, sophomore Kayla Hoohuli and junior off-the-bench player Jen Morabito, Canisius has as good a perimeter foursome, likely, as any other MAAC women's team.

- Siena certainly caused many of its own problems, falling behind 17-3 early as it appears Canisius came out with a little more intensity for the first five minutes. Or, maybe, the Golden Griffins' coffee was a little more potent.

The Saints shot an abysmal 17.9 percent (5-of-28) in the first half, but still only trailed by six at the intermission, based on good defense after that slow start and by pressing the issue inside, drawing fouls and making 9-of-10 from the line in the first half.

But, Siena couldn't keep that up from the foul line(it entered play making 75% of its free throws, 27th best nationally) and missed its last three free throws in the game's final 16 seconds.

- Coles is certainly Siena's most-indispensable player, a contributor at both ends. She leads the MAAC in steals (3.2 entering Friday's game), 33rd-best nationally. Had she been on the court down the stretch, things would have been considerably more difficult for Canisius.

- Canisius is now 4-8 overall, but hasn't exactly played a cream-puff early schedule. Its losses were to (records entering today's games) Detroit (7-5), Bucknell (8-5), Oakland (7-7), Akron (8-4), St. Bonaventure (7-7), Long Beach State (7-5) and two losses to UAlbany (10-3).

- In the interest of full disclosure, your Hoopscribe could fit in another game today: The Iona women's team is playing at Niagara this evening.

But the chicken wings from the Anchor Bar are beckoning instead.

Still ... a double-header tomorrow, both men's games: Fairfield at Niagara at 3 p.m., Marist at Canisius at 7 p.m.

So, check in early and often for reports.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

WNY Hoops Odyssey: Niagara Men Make Statement

The Western New York Basketball Odyssey continues ...

Thursday night, Marist men at Niagara at the Taps Gallagher Center on Monteagle Ridge.

No contest here. Niagara ran out to a 13-0 start before the Red Foxes got their first basket after a scoreless first 7:20 of the contest.

It didn't get much better after that for the Red Foxes. The last time Marist was within double digits was at 20-11. The winners' lead got as big as 30, 84-54, at 5:23 in the second half.

Marist, a team built to play a slower, half-court game, never got the runnin' Purple Eagles under control.

Niagara had 51 points at the intermission, finished with a season-high 94 points and looked like the type team that certainly could cause considerable problems for any MAAC opponent if it can play like it did Thursday.

The outcome enabled Niagara to take a share of the early lead in the conference standings, the first time since the 2008-09 season that it has been in that position after three games.

"The non-conference portion of our season was for us to see what we could get out of it," said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. "But, now it's MAAC time ... it's time to go.

"It's a well-balanced league. Hey, we could all finish 9-9 this season. But, right now, we're in first place ... one of eight teams in first."

Actually, Niagara is 2-1 and one of three teams statistically in first along with 2-1 Canisius and Fairfield. Five other teams also have a single loss, but have yet to play their third league game.

Observations ...

- Nancy Lieberman, the mother of Niagara freshman T.J. Cline, was on hand to watch her son, one of the top reserves for the Purple Eagles.

And, it wasn't an easy trek to get there. Lieberman was in Oklahoma City to do study work for an NBA game on Tuesday night, back in her Dallas home on Wednesday to conduct her own basketball camp and, then, was up early Thursday morning for a lengthy flight into the Buffalo area.

Lieberman, got a scheduling break with an assignment in Toronto (for a Sunday Raptors' NBA game) and can stay in the area to also watch her son's 3 p.m. Saturday contest against Fairfield.

Lieberman, a basketball Hall of Famer, is one of the sport's all-time great distaff performers and helped the U.S. win Olympic gold in both 1976 and 1980.

Her son, a 6-foot-8 freshman, is young enough to be a high school senior rather than a college player.

"We thought he'd go to prep school for a year, but he had a big senior year in high school and some mid-major schools offered scholarships (UC Riverside, LIU, Air Force and Niagara, among others)," said Lieberman, who is also the general manager for the Dallas Mavericks' D-League team, the Texas Legends.

- Niagara, ran a game-long up-tempo offense to near perfection, shooting 35-of-67 from the floor (52.2%), while recording 18 assists against just nine turnovers.

"I believe in positive turnovers  ... when you push it up the floor you commit more turnovers," said Mihalich. "But only nine turnvers against 18 assists ... I'll take that."

On the year, Niagara has more assists (181) to turnovers (162) and entered Thursday's game second, among MAAC teams, in assist-to-turnover ratio.

Niagara plays fast, but does not play out of control.

- Niagara's 6-foot-8, 240-pound post-player Devon White, a transfer from La Salle, continues to round into  condition after off-season Achilles tendon surgery. White, mostly due to foul difficulty, only played 14 minutes Thursday (six points, six rebounds), but is truly the missing piece in Niagara's game.

He made plays not often seen by a player his size at this level. But, Niagara coach Mihalich said White isn't yet at 100 percent.

"But, he's ahead of schedule," said Mihalich. "Initially we thought we might not get him back until January. Now, he's already gotten five games in."

Otherwise, the Purple Eagles basically play four guard. Three of them (Juan'ya Green, Ameen Tanksley and Antoine Mason) combined for 60 points on Thursday. Tanksley, who entered the game averaging 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds, more than doubled those numbers with 22 points and 12 rebounds.

Junior Marvin Jordan is the first guard off the bench (5 points, 5 assists in 26 minutes) And, Malcolm Lemmons (11 points on 5-of-6 shooting in 15 minutes) is, basically, the team's sixth guard. There might not be a better "sixth" guard on any team nationally than Lemmons who looks like he could start for a few MAAC teams.

- Even while it struggled, Marist got nice performances, particularly from sophomores 6-6 swingman Chavaughn Lewis (17 points on 8-of-12 shooting) and 5-8 point guard Isaiah Morton (8 assists against just two turnovers).

There might not be a better-passing point guard in the MAAC than Morton, who delivered at least another 10 passes to wide-open teammates who missed shots. He could easily have had 12-to-15 assists had some of his teammates' shots fell. And Lewis uses a rare blend athleticism, height and an ability to contort his body on drives to get to the hoop and finish.

- A few miles to the south the news wasn't nearly as good. Canisius, which had been 2-0 in MAAC play prior to Thursday, saw a red-hot Fairfield team come to the Koessler Athletic Center in Buffalo and take a very lopsided 66-45 victory.

Your scribe didn't see the game, but none of the statistics looked good for the Golden Griffins, who trained by a two-to-one ratio at halftime (34-17) and for the first few minutes of the second half, too.

Earlier in the day, ESPN, on its website, "revised" its predictions for mid-major conferences.

Said ESPN: "Rhode Island transfer Billy Baron and his dad, first-year coach Jim Baron, have already led Canisius to a 9-4 (overall) start that includes road wins over Temple and MAAC contender Fairfield. So ...  go with the Golden Griffins."

Not long after those words were published, Farifield go a strong measure of revenge for a 67-55 home loss to Canisius on Dec. 7.

The Stags entered the game second among MAAC teams for fewest points allowed (61.6), so its work in holding Canisius to 45 points on 14-of-46 shooting (30.4 percent) was no surprise.

And, ESPN might want to revise its prediction and give Fairfield a mention as a strong contender in this year's MAAC regular-season title race.

Mihalich Restores Niagara's Luster with Wins, Class

After an overnight on the Canada side of Niagara Falls, your Hoopscribe made the requisite stop at the border crossing on the way to interview Niagara men's coach Joe Mihalich and watch his team practice Wednesday afternoon.

During the brief give-and-take with the security guard at the border, I was asked my purpose for my trip.

I explained that I was a sportswriter and was on my way to interview the Niagara men's basketball coach.

"Have you interviewed him before?" I was asked.

"Many times," I responded.

"I know coach Mihalich pretty well," added the border security guard. "He is just a class act."

Class act, indeed.

Mihalich, over the years, has become one of Western New York's most-revered sporting personalities. He is a gregarious, well-spoken ambassador not only for Niagara University but for mid-major level basketball in general.

And, that he has only three losing seasons of the past 14 (Niagara failed to get over .500 in 16 of the 22 seasons prior to the hiring of Mihalich) and is the MAAC's all-time winningest coach (251-196) in the conference's 32-year history doesn't hurt the perception of him.

Most importantly, Mihalich has restored more than a little respectability to a program that once had plenty of that. But most of that positive history dates back to when Frank Layden coached the program more than 40 years ago, when Hubie Brown played in it more than 50 years ago or when Calvin Murphy electrified Niagara with his play in the late 1960's/early 1970's.

Since Murphy's days the program has had more than its share of ups and downs, and there were more valleys than peaks.

Between Layden (1976) and Mihalich (who took over in 1998), the program's record was 272-344. It was enough to get the all four of the coaches who came between Layden and Mihalich fired.

Mihalich, though, has helped restore the luster to a program whose way-back-when tradition he uses as a selling point to recruits.

These days, though, that Mihalich has added to the tradition with his record of success, and his a never-wavering devotion to an up-tempo style of play preferred by players, has made him arguably the program's strongest selling point.

Class act, yes. But with what Mihalich has done with Niagara basketball he could likely run for political office in his community and win in a landslide.

Past history shows it's not easy to win at Niagara, a place where, Mihalich acknowledges, people perceive as having two seasons: Winter, and July.

"But, that's not the case," said the Niagara coach. "This is a beautiful place. It's not easy to convince kids to come up and take a visit, but once they do they discover what a great area we're in here."

Mihalich has sold enough good basketball players about the virtues of attending Niagara over the years to have become the conference's all-time winningest coach.

"Fifteen years here ... I'm the luckiest guy in the world," said Mihalich. "What does being the winningest conference coach say to me? The answer is a cliche: I've been here a long time.

"But, the greatest compliment I've ever received is when someone pointed out that I've averaged 17 or 18 wins a year over my time at Niagara, and that' it's not easy to win that many games here every year."

It's a feat that hasn't gone unnoticed by peers.

"Two-fifty (wins) in 14 years; that is a remarkable feat, said Hartford coach John Gallager, who was on the losing end of Mihalich's 250th career victory.

Like Mihalich, Gallagher is a Philadelphia native who has known Mihalich since he was 10.

"He's got to be considered one of the best coaches," Gallagher told the Buffalo News earlier this year. "He really knows how to get his guys to play hard. He does a phenomenal job recruiting. His plans are very, very -- in my opinion -- detailed. His guys know what they're doing.

"So to put in perspective, first how many guys stay in one place 15 years? He's been offered five or six other jobs, we all know that. He loves the Niagara area. He turned down La Salle, his alma mater ... He grew up in Philadelphia, but he's from Niagara Falls."

Indeed, Mihalich's office reflects that. While one of assistants, another Philly native, displays a Philadelphia Phillies' hat on his desk, the only hat on a shelf behind Mihalich's desk supports a Buffalo Bills' logo.

Mihalich's tenure as a MAAC coach, though, almost started elsewhere.

Back in 1994, when he was an assistant at La Salle, Siena College came calling.

Mihalich went through the interview process and was one of the final two candidates to take over the Saints' program to succeed Mike Deane.

Mihalich was so sure he was going to get the Siena job that he sought out advice from an Albany area sportswriter about school district options for his children.

"It came down to Bob Beyer and me," said Mihalich. "They went with Beyer. Those things happen. I'm pretty happy with how things turned out."

After losing out at Siena, Mihalich remained at La Salle for four more seasons (he was an assistant there for 17 years) before Niagara reached out.

The Niagara basketball community, for sure, is pretty happy with how things turned out, too.

It found the right coach to rebuild a program whose best days were long ago, a coach who continues to add to his own legacy as a rightful part of Niagara's strong basketball tradition.

It found a coach who is indeed a class act.

Hoop Junkie's Delight: Trip To WNY For Games Wings

The calendar has turned; it's a new year.

And that means the MAAC either resumes (for men), or begins (for women) league play, the most-exciting part of the season.

Your Hoopscribe is taking a rare opportunity to watch a lot of games over the next few days on a trip to beautiful, snowy (and, yes, cold) Western New York.

But, that's the benefit of indoor sports. It's always warm in the gym. And, usually, the on-court action warms things up a little more.

Here is your blogger's upcoming schedule ....

We actually arrived yesterday (Wednesday) and was graciously allowed, by Niagara men's coach Joe Mihalich, to attend his team's practice. Joe is a master of having his players improve, and it's no surprise as to why that happens. This was just a single viewing of one of many, many practices during a long season. But, this one gave a great amount of concentration on individual skill development which is how players get better.

And, here's the rest of the schedule:

We'll get over to Niagara again tonight (Thursday) to watch the Marist men take on the Purple Eagles. Friday we'll be up bright and early for a coffee-and-donuts 11 a.m. women's game with Siena playing at Canisius.

We'll do a double-header on Saturday, going north to Niagara once again to watch the Fairfield men take on the Purple Eagles in a 3 p.m. game and, then, go a little south to view the Marist men playing at Canisius in a 7 p.m. contest.

And, finally, we'll rejoin the Siena women for a 2 p.m. game at Niagara on Sunday.

There could have been one more game on the agenda ... a Friday night women's game (Iona at Niagara) could have fit into the schedule.

But, culinary concerns will take precedence. When in the Buffalo area, one does have to fit in a trip to the home of the chicken wing, the venerable Anchor Bar, so that will be Friday night's activity.

Through it all, your scribe will provide insights and details on all the games.

Yes, the holiday season might be over ... but, for basketball fans the league season is the most wonderful time of the year.

It all begins right now. So, we hope you'll check the blog early and often for updates from Western New York.