Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Early Picks for Men's Individual Post-Season Honors

The women had their turn, now it's time for your Hoopscribe to make his picks for individual post-season honors for men ... just in time for league coaches to take a look (if, indeed, they do).


Two truly legitimate choices, both from the league's western region.

Veteran coach Joe Mihalich of Niagara has done a terrific job not only with one of the youngest lineups nationally (three sophs and a freshman were in the starting most of the year), but has also had to survive a four-game ankle-injury loss of leading scorer Antoine Mason. Through all of that, the Purple Eagles are 12-4 in league play with two games remaining and maintain a slight edge on the top spot in the league standings.

First-year MAAC coach Jim Baron has transformed a team that was 1-17 in conference play last season into a true year-long competitor. The Golden Griffins are 10-6 in MAAC play, currently in third place in the regular-season standings.

THE CHOICE: Mihalich, in a runaway. No one expected this out of the Purple Eagles. Not even league coaches who predicted, in their preseason poll, that Niagara would finish fifth this year. Baron's team has had a nice turnaround season, but he's also been the beneficiary of a terrific infusion of transfer talent since a year ago, including his own son, Billy, who came over with his father from Rhode Island.


Two legitimate candidates.

Iona senior guard Lamont "Momo" Jones averages 23.0 points per game, second-best nationally. It's the highest position of any player on the national scoring list since Keydren Clark's 25.8 ppg. average led hte country in 2004-05 season.

Niagara sophomore guard Juan'ya Green averages 16.8 ppg. overall, is second in the league in assists (first in conference-only games) and third in steals.

THE CHOICE: We went with Green of Niagara at midseason and see no reason to change now. And, it's more than the "best player on the best team" argument, although that's a factor (Jones' Iona team is tied for fifth and hasn't yet matched expectations). But, Green has come up big seemingly whenever Niagara needed him, scoring the game-winning points inside of the final six seconds of three MAAC games this year. His coach, Joe Mihalich, on Green's consistent late-game heroics: "Maybe we should call him `Win'ya' instead of Juan'ya."


(Note: Conference-only statistics are considered due to the disparity in the strength of conference teams' non-league schedules).

- Juan'ya Green, Niagara sophomore guard (17.1 points, 5.3 assists, 2.1 steals).
- Lamont "Momo" Jones, Iona junior guard (21.9 points, 44.8 field goal percentage).
- Dylan Cormier, Loyola junior guard (16.5 points, 2.1 steals).
- Billy Baron, Canisius junior guard (15.9 points, 5.0 assists).
- O.D. Anosike (12.4 points, 10.6 rebounds).

Toughest to omit: Niagara's sophomore guard Antoine Mason, who is second in the conference in scoring (19.3). But, Mason missed four recent games due to an ankle injury, 25 percent of the league schedule to date.


There might not be an overwhelming standout as there often is, but there are plenty of solid freshmen scattered around the league.

The best are Shane Richards and RaShawn Stores, both of Manhattan; T.J. Cline of Niagara; and Amadou Sidibe and Marcus Gilbert, both of Fairfield. All average around 20 minutes per game. Sidibe is the best rebounder of the bunch (6.2 in MAAC games), and Richards is the best scorer (9.7). There might not be a more-difficult choice for any of the individual awards.

THE CHOICE: Shane Richards, the 6-foot-5 forward from Manhattan. The Jaspers, after losing leading scorer George Beamon early in the season, had a desperate need for quality play from youngsters, and have gotten much of it from Richards, whose 9.7 ppg. average in league play is the best among conference freshmen. Richards also ranks fourth in league games in 3-pointers made per game (2.6) and fourth in field-goal percentage (42.0).


Absolutely no debate here.

THE CHOICE: Although a little undersized (6-foot-6) in the post, Manhattan's junior forward Rhamel Brown continues to come up big inside. His 3.8 block-per-game average in MAAC games only is almost double the total of the next best shot-blocker. His 3.04 blocks per game overall ranks eighth nationally. And, he does more than block shots. His physical play inside makes post play difficult for opposing front-court performers.

Early Picks for Top Individual Post-Season Honors

A number of sources claim that this particular forum, while meant to be a place for MAAC followers to read about a variety of entertaining topics from around the league, is also read by more than a few coaches.

And, for some reason, the belief is that some of the opinions delivered in this particular corner of cyberspace might influence those coaches who vote on the very meaningful post-season awards.

This forum is influential? C'mon.

But, on the slim chance that it is ... and with the knowledge that some of the voting is done before the last weekend of league play, here are your correspondent's choices for those post-season honors. Just in case.

Women's awards first, followed soon by men's:


A three-person race.

Lynn Milligan's Rider team is 9-7 headed into its final two games. One win in the last two will enable the program to equal its all-time single-season best victory total (10, 1999-00 season) since entering the MAAC in 1997. Its current victory total of nine is the best since then. If Rider wins its last two (home games vs. Siena and Iona), Milligan will have a strong case in the coaches' picks.

Tony Bozzella's Iona team is 11-5 and tied for second place in the conference standings, far surpassing expectations of league coaches who picked the Gaels to finish eighth in the preseason poll. Iona's core group is also relatively young (only one senior in the first eight), and has progressed noticeably throughout the season, winning six of its last seven games. If his team wins its last two (games at Manhattan and at Rider), Bozzella will be a very strong candidate.

Brian Giorgis' Marist team is 16-0, has already clinched its 10th consecutive regular-season title (and, that's not a misprint) several games ago and might finish out with its third unbeaten record in league play in the last six years. Typical Marist? Not this year, not after the team lost its only two post players to injuries after two games, requiring Giorgis to readjust his team's playing style during an ongoing season.

THE CHOICE: Giorgis of Marist, particularly if his team avoids a late-season "slip" (home against Saint Peter's, at Fairfield) and finishes 18-0 in league play for the third time in six seasons. Considering the loss of his team's only two post players after this season's second game, this has been his best work.


Probably a two-person race.

Siena's senior forward Lily Grenci, Siena's only consistent offensive force, has faced a steady diet of defensive double-teams, triple-teams and, at times, quadruple-teams. Still, her 16.4 ppg. average in MAAC-only games is second best in the league and her rebound average of 9.3 is third. She is the only player in the league in the top three in those two major statistical categories.

Iona's sophomore guard Damika Martinez leads the league in scoring at 17.8 in MAAC-only games. A year ago she became the first freshman in league history to lead all conference scorers. After some early season inconsistencies, she has speaheaded Iona's in-season turnaround and is shooting 45.9 percent from the field (eighth in the league) and 51,4 percent during the team's recent 6-1 run.

THE CHOICE: This one is so close that your blogger really would like to hold off on a decision until after the final two games. If Siena were to avoid the play-in round of the league tournament, that would bolster Grenci's chances. Iona, though, looks like it will either finish second or third. Knowing how coaches tend to favor players from higher-finishing teams, the choice could easily be Martinez. But, also knowing how coaches tend to vote for seniors over underclasswomen, the choice could easily be Grenci. I'm still supporting Grenci, primarily because she has been consistent throughout the season while Martinez had some mid-season struggles. But that's subject to change after the coming weekend.


NOTE: We're only considering stats in league play,since it's next to impossible to interpret, say, non-league stats of a Marist program that played four teams ranked in the top 15 nationally compared to several other league teams that play significantly easier non-conference schedules.

- Lily Grenci, Siena's 6-1 senior forward (16.4 ppg., 9.3 rebounds).
- Damika Martinez, Iona's 5-7 sophomore guard (17.8 ppg.)
- MyNeshia McKenzie, Rider's 5-11 junior forward (14.1 ppg., 10.1 rebounds)
- Lauren Gatto, Niagara's 6-2 junior center (15.2 ppg., 6.7 rebounds)
- Ashley Durham, Canisius' 5-6 senior guard (15.2 ppg., 90.3 FT percentage)

Toughest omission: Iona's 5-11 freshman forward Joy Adams (14.3 ppg., 9.4 rebounds)


Two serious contenders.

Kristina Danella, a 6-1 forward from Marist, averages 9.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and makes 90.9 percent of her free throws.

Meghan McGuinness, a 5-11 guard from Niagara, averages 11.3 points per contest.

THE CHOICE: Danella, who is a true "Sixth Player." She only started three times in the Red Foxes' 27 overall games this season. McGuinness, on the other hand, has 13 starts in Niagara's first 27 games and is as much a "starter" as a "sixth player."


No need for discussion here.

THE CHOICE: Iona's 5-foot-11 freshman forward Joy Adams. She is a borderline choice for all-conference first-team honors. She already has been the league's Rookie of the Week 11 times this season, matching the all-time best for most times winning that award (only Marist's Rachele Fitz also won 11 times), and there's one more week of play for her to get No. 12.


Two serious contenders.

Siena's 5-9 sophomore guard Tehresa Coles, who has ranked in the top 20 for steals nationally for most of the season and is a disruptive full-court force, not only making steals but getting deflections, tie-ups, and getting to more loose balls than any player your blogger has seen in a few years.

Marist's 5-10 junior guard Leanne Ockenden, arguably the league's best on-ball defender for the league's top defensive team.

Amazingly, a mid-season assessment that Coles was the front-runner for the award (at that point) drew more debate than any single topic in recent memory in this forum. Which led us to take an even closer look.

While it's true that Coles is among the national  leaders in steals, she is not the league's top "thief." In league play, Kristal Edwards of Saint Peter's averages more steals than Coles. And, Siena's so-called "Blizzard" defense is primarily a zone (although first-year coach Ali Jaques doesn't like the "zone" label for it) which allows Coles significant freedom to roam since she's not assigned a specific player to guard. In her position at the top of the key on defense, she's well covered by teammates if she gambles for a steal and misses.. Still, your blogger hasn't seen a more-disruptive force on the defensive end in recent years. Even without getting a steal, her play alone often prohibits opposing offenses from even looking at the basket until the shot clock is running down. Her quickness and game-long hustle gives Siena more "extra" possessions than any player in the league for any other team.

Ockenden is a different defender. Marist plays almost exclusively man-to-man and Ockenden always is assigned the opponent's highest perimeter scorer. Her job is to prohibit her "opposite number" from scoring, and there's a reason why she's known as "Lockdown Leanne" by followers of the Marist program. While it's difficult to identify who she spends the most time guarding every game, the observation is that it's almost always the opponent's off-guard, or the team's top backcourt scorer. Through 16 MAAC games so far, only four of her most-likely defensive assignments have scored more than 11 points against Marist this season, and Iona's Damika Martinez, the league's leading scorer, has done it twice (17 both times). In all, opposing off-guards shoot 28.8 percent against Marist and average just 7.4 points per game. Preseason Player of the Year Katie Sheahin is a combined 1-for-18 shooting in two games with Ockenden as the primary defender. Ockenden's steal average is still noteworthy (2.3, fifth best in the conference), and she has 14 blocked shots (9th best) in 16 games. Plus, she is the best defender on a team whose defense is No. 1 in the league in every measurable statistic. Marist allows just 47.2 points per game (next is Fairfield at 54.1) and holds opponents to 32.6 percent on field goal attempts. Siena ranks ninth in both those statistics.

THE CHOICE: Proverbial apples and oranges. A pick-pocket thief and full-court disruptive force (Coles) or a brick-wall defender (Ockenden). This one might be as difficult as the Player of the Year choice, not only for coaches but for your humble correspondent. But, we're finally leaning toward Ockenden, slightly, as the choice for this award..

Monday, February 25, 2013

Young, Talented Iona Women's Team Is Red Hot

Your humble correspondent sees every conference women's team at least twice during regular-season play, and the first viewing of Iona, at the exact midway point of the MAAC season (a loss, which dropped Iona to a 5-4 league record at that point) didn't leave an overly positive perception of the Gaels.

There was tentative play on both ends and a lack of overall effort getting back on defense ... the type maladies that often affect a young team. And, make no mistake, Iona is still a young team. Its best player is a sophomore. Its next best player is a freshman. There's only one senior in the playing group, and she's the team's eighth-leading scorer.

Good coaches, though, get young teams to develop as seasons progress, and head coach Tony Bozzella's team, of late, is playing like a group of mature veterans.

Since that midseason viewing and a 5-4 conference record, the Gaels have been 6-1 to move into a tie for second place in the MAAC standings with an 11-5 record. The only loss in that stretch has come against still-perfect Marist (16-0 in league play), and the wins have come against some of the other better teams in the conference, including co-second place Fairfield, fourth-place Rider and sixth-place occupants Siena and Canisius.

So, what happened?

"This is the most-resilient group I've had in my 11 seasons here," said Bozzella, who has 302 career coaching victories (120 at Division II Southampton, 34 at Division I LIU and the rest at Iona).

"That and Damika Martinez has started making shots ... and she's making tough shots," added Bozzella, speaking before his team's very impressive 71-47 victory over Siena on Sunday.

And, just as impressive was the class shown by Bozzella in pregame ceremonies Sunday honoring departing seniors. Bozzella not only personally handed a flower arrangements to his own senior class members, but also one to Siena's lone senior player, Lily Grenci.

Bozzella's team also delivered on the court, too, notably with a defensive effort that held Siena to just 23.3 percent shooting (14-of-60) in the game.

And, the Gaels' offense has been even better of late, with a three-game run of 88, 84 and 84 points recently, and an average of 77.8 points per game in its last six victories.

"It has been a product of Damika making a lot of shots and our defense giving us some easy hoops in transition," added Bozzella.

All of that was on display in Sunday's win, and Martinez, the conference's leading scorer, wasn't alone on the offensive end. Against the Saints, four Gaels were in double figures for points, led by Martinez and freshman standout Joy Adams (16 each), sophomore guard Aleesha Powell (15) and senior guard Diana Hubbard (10).

Adams, a sturdy 5-foot-11 freshman power forward, has been a terrific addition to a team that was talented but a little too small a year ago. She averages 13.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game and is almost certain to the the MAAC's Rookie of the Year. She has won the league's weekly top rookie honors 11 times already, matching the most by any MAAC player (Rachele Fitz of Marist also won 11 weekly top rookie honors in the 2006-07 season).

But Martinez, who last season became the first freshman to ever lead the MAAC in scoring, has turned around a slow start in early league games into a hot streak that lifted her into serious consideration for the conference's Player of the Year award.

In Iona's last seven games (its 6-1 streak), the 5-7 sophomore guard has has made 51.4 percent of her shots (55-of-107), while averaging 21.9 points per contest.

Sunday's viewing all but convinced this Hoopscribe that Iona is the conference's second-best team (behind Marist), and that even better things are ahead. Iona's top seven scorers will return next season, it has a strong current freshman class and what appears to be three solid recruits joining next season's team.

The team's recent success (16-11 overall this season) is a continuation of strong performances under Bozzella, who was taking over arguably the most-downtrodden program when he came aboard in 2002-03.

Prior to his arrival, Iona's women's team had one winning record in its first 21 years in the MAAC, that a 14-13 overall record in 1981-82, the conference's first year of existence. Since then there were 20 straight losing seasons (a 152-404 record).

Bozzella endured two more losing seasons before a five-year stretch during which his team averaged 18.8 wins per season, the best five-year run in the past 32 years of its MAAC affiliation.

Then, though, came back-to-back records of 11-20 (2010-11) and 13-18 (last season when his expected top player, Kristina Ford, suffered a knee injury early,  missed five weeks and was limited physically upon her return).

The good times are back, now, for the Iona women's team. And, considering the talent in place and the fact that much of it will be back for the next two seasons, it looks like Iona will once again be one of the MAAC's better women's programs for the foreseeable future.

BracketBusters Ends, Despite Benefits For MAAC

The annual BracketBusters series of games, which bring together non-league opponents for a late February meeting originally designed to help teams on the proverbial "bubble" for national post-season tournament appearances to spruce up a resume.

The series, for the past several years, has involved all 10 MAAC men's teams, and five or six of them every season have already had their at-large post-season invitations dashed by sub .500 records.

Of late it has become fashionable for coaches to bemoan having to play in the BracketBusters series (which is being discontinued by its sponsor, ESPN, after this season). They almost universally would prefer not to play a late-February non-league game barely two weeks removed from the start of their own conference's post-season event.

The theory is time off at this juncture of the season would serve teams better by allowing a little extra rest for injured players, and more time for teams to actually prepare for the own league tournament. And, an extra game at this late stage in the season creates fear that more injuries could occur. Sentiment these days is that the BracketBuster, for most, is a very meaningless game.

But, is it?

First, the MAAC has done very well in the series. A 7-3 record by conference teams in the games this past weekend is admirable. Last year's series saw the MAAC go 5-5 in BracketBuster games while the league had a 9-1 ledger two years ago.

And, many of the games are hardly meaningless.

Of late ... would Iona have gotten an at-large invitation to last season's NCAA tournament without a BracketBusters victory over a very good Nevada team?

Even this year's results will be beneficial for some teams. Niagara's win over a good Northwestern State opponent pushes its overall record to 17-11 and significantly increases its chance for an invitation to, likely, the NIT (the second-best of national post-season events) should it fail to make it to the NCAA's.

Same for Loyola (a winner over Tennessee State) and Rider (a winner over Charleston Southern). Loyola is now 20-9, marking the first time that program has had back-to-back 20-victory seasons on the Division I level. And, Canisius is now 16-13.

Historically, the series has also allowed for some big-name opponents to match up against MAAC teams. In 2009-10 Siena played against eventual NCAA championship-game participant Butler at the historical Hinkle Fieldhouse. The following season, as per BracketBusters rules that require a return game the following year, Butler came to Albany, N.Y., to play Siena at the Times Union Center.

Do match-ups like that occur without the BracketBusters' parings? Obviously not.

OK, the games for the bottom half of the league standings are indeed of little meaning. There wasn't anything to be gained, say, in Siena's meeting with Radford, a contest of two sub-.500 teams, for instance. Except that Siena rallied from an eight-point deficit with under a minute remaining and earned a 65-57 victory in overtime. It was a much-needed confidence boost for the Saints, if nothing else.

And, we can similarly guess that Marist, which has been playing well late in the season, is feeling even better about itself after a 112-74 victory over VMI on Saturday.

Maybe the solution is to involve fewer teams. But, that decision would have to be made prior to the season, creating a scheduling inequity as teams not receiving a mid-season invite would wind up a game short on their non-league schedules.

But there is surely some way to resurrect BracketBusters, which began in 2003 with 18 participating teams and grew to its current field of 122 teams.

ESPN, though, has announced that it will discontinue the series ... for now. Network officials have agreed that BracketBuster games could come back at some pint, possibly in a different format with fewer teams involved.

The feeling here is that the event has been beneficial to MAAC teams, and the hope is that the series returns in some form the very near future.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saint Peter's Whitfield Has Long-Range Record Night

The nice thing about sports is that on any given night you might see something you've never seen before.

So, there was Siena women's basketball coach Ali Jaques, with a number written large and in bright red on her left hand during her team's home game at the Alumni Recreation Center Friday night.

The number was "50," the uniform identification of Saint Peter's freshman swingperson Bridget Whitfield.

"I tried everything else," said Jaques. "I yelled her number during the whole first half, I wrote it in large numbers on our chalkboard at halftime ... I figured I needed to write it on my hand, too, to show my players every time they looked at me on the sidelines."

For sure, a coach with an opposing player's number written on her hand is something relatively unique.

But, that's only because Whitfield's performance in a 70-67 Siena victory that very nearly was the Peacocks' third victory of the season was unique in MAAC annals and very nearly for women's college basketball.

Whitefield, a 5-foot-7 freshman, was in the proverbial zone against Siena on this night, particularly from long range. She started making 3-pointers early, and her high-arcing attempts were so "pure" that they seemed to go throughh the hoop while barely even rippling the net.

After Siena grabbed an early 5-4 lead, Whitfield began her barrage this night with back-to-back treys. She followed that with four more in the first half as Saint Peter's ran out to a 38-24 advantage. As Siena began its comeback, another Whitfield three-pointer early in the second half kept her team ahead by nine, 50-41.

And, with a little over four minutes remaining, she hit one more to give the Peacocks a 65-60 advantage.

But, the Saints seemed finally to be heeding their coach's pleadings to guard Whitfield after that. The Peacocks made just one more basket in the final four minutes and Whitfield was guarded closely enough to keep her from getting another shot as Siena managed to rally for the win.

When it was over, though, Whitfield was a perfect 8-for-8 from three-point range.

In women's basketball history only one player has made more treys without a miss in a game. That was Keri Farley of Cornell, who went 9-for-9 in a Dec. 12, 1993 meeting with Georgetown.

It is a record for the most three's made without a miss in a MAAC game, and also ranks second for most treys even made in a conference women's game. trailing only the 10 made by Kim Kuhn for Niagara in a game late in the 1989-90 season against Holy Cross.

Whitfield, though, does have a chance at another conference record: most consecutive treys made. That mark currently stands at nine, set by Heather Donlon of Fairfield over two games in the 1989-90 season.

Whitfield, who missed the last bonus shot attempt she took in Saint Peter's game prior to her big night against Siena, could tie that mark if she makes her first trey when Saint Peter's hosts Rider on Sunday.

What also makes Whitfield's big night so rare is that she showed no indication to date that she was capable of that type of performance. Until Friday, she had scored a year-long total of 31 points, including just 8-of-23 from three point range. On Friday, she came very close to matching her totals of the entire season to date in a single game.

Amazingly, though, Whitfield's record doesn't approach a men's standard for consecutive three-pointers made at Siena's on-campus Alumni Recreation Center, the site of Friday's contest.

That came in a men's game (your Hoopscribe was a first-hand witness) on Jan. 7, 1987, the first year in which the three-point shot was part of college basketball.

On that night, a slender 5-foot-9 guard from Niagara, Gary Bossert, made 11 consecutive three pointers in the contest (he shot 12-of-14 overall in the game) in a Purple Eagles' victory over Siena.

We recall then-Siena coach Mike Deane's displeasure about the new 3-point rule, bemoaning the fact that a player could almost single-handedly so affect the outcome of a game merely by shooting from long range, a strategy that counter to everything coaches stressed, i.e., getting good, in-close shots.

But, the 3-point shot is often a great equalizer for underdogs to remain competitive against higher-ranked opponents.

And, so it was on Friday night as the MAAC's last-place team nearly upset sixth-place Siena behind a long-range shooting display by Whitfield that created a place for the Peacocks' freshman in the record books.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Rambling Thoughts, Opinions As Season Winds Down

Thoughts as the MAAC season heads for its final games of regular-season play:

- The Iona men look to have more individual talent than any team in the conference, but relative struggles (the Gaels have lost four of their last five games) have to be somewhat attributable to team chemistry issues with nine new players joining the program since the end of last season. Basketball is the ultimate team game, and it takes time for players to learn how to play together. Still time, though, and Iona will definitely be dangerous in the league's post-season tournament.

- Favorite quote of the year, coming after someone asked Niagara coach Joe Mihalich about if there was a surprise that his team has held on to first place in the men's standings despite a starting lineup that includes three sophomores and a freshman. "Is this team ahead of schedule?" Mihalich was asked. "I wasn't aware that there was any schedule," responded Mihalich.

- I'm not a big fan of the recent trend of MAAC programs bringing in a slew of transfers to quickly rebuild a team, and I'm not alone. One of the best pieces I've seen advocating new rules to reign in the ever-growing number of players transferring was done recently by Bob DiCasare of the Buffalo News. Here it is: http://www.buffalonews.com/Article/20130215/SPORTS/130219523

- What has gotten into the Marist men's team? After struggling for much of the season, the Red Foxes turned their season around lately, thanks in no small part to the return of junior do-everything swingman Jay Bowie after he missed 13 games with a concussion. In the last three games Marist has beaten Iona and Loyola, and it took a last-second three-pointer from Juan'ya Green for first-place Niagara to escape with a 57-54 victory over Marist on Friday.

- ESPN national broadcast color commentator Jay Bilas, in his "Weekly Report" feature, recently identified his Top 6 rebounders nationally, and put Siena's O.D. Anosike No. 1 on the list. "This guy is a relentless rebounder," said Bilas, about Anosike. "Put him on any Big East or ACC team and he's still a double-figure rebounder." OK ... I'll take some exception. First, I've never been a proponent of trying to rank college players from the sport's various levels. And, I've also never a fan of the national media making "expert" opinions on mid-major level players/teams. The very strong guess here is that Bilas has never (or, rarely) seen Anosike play in person. And, it's next to impossible to try to project how Anosike would do were he playing for a high-major level program. But, there's usually good reason why players wind up at our level and not the next level of college basketball. Suffice to say, though, that Anosike is very good at rebounding the ball. Good enough to be in position to be the nation's leading rebounder for the second straight season.

- I've always rooted for underdogs, so it's nice to see the Rider women's program having success (7-6 in MAAC play thus far, already the most conference victories it has had in a season since 1999-00). This might have happened for the Broncs a year ago, were it not for a variety of injuries. Much credit goes to head coach Lynn Milligan. It's not easy to bring in talent to a long downtrodden program, let alone trying to change the proverbial "culture of losing," but Milligan has brought in talent and her team believes it can continue producing even more success this year.

- Can anyone even begin to identify a better mid-major level women's program than Marist over the past 10 1/2 seasons? And, I mean anywhere in the country? No need to bring up the numbers ... they're out there for anyone to see. Suffice to say that what Marist has done under head coach Brian Giorgis is absolutely astounding. And, this season, after the team lost its only two post players after two games (yet is currently 13-0 in league play) is as remarkable as any in the program's run of success.

- I've never been a proponent of firing a head coach, unless the individual is clearly over his head or there are other extenuating circumstances. Siena fans, though, have been clamoring for the dismissal of third-year head coach Mitch Buonaguro almost since he lost his first game after replacing Fran McCaffery for the 2010-11 season. His team already has 20 losses this season, but it says here that he's been more than a little bit of a victim of circumstances. First, it was next to impossible to recruit while Siena had an iron-clad group of starters during McCaffery's tenure, relegating at least three incoming years of recruits to mostly role players. And, this season's team has been heavily victimized by injuries (as was last year's). This year's team has already seen five of its top nine players miss between three and nine games with injuries or academic issues. And, a lack of experience has also hurt. Age-wise, Siena has the eighth-youngest team nationally. Buonaguro, though, is the same guy now as he was when he devised the scouting report that resulted in college basketball's all-time greatest upset, Villanova's victory over Georgetown in the 1985 national championship game (Buonaguro was a Villanova assistant that year). In this era of must-win, even at the mid-major level, I'll certainly understand if Siena opts for a post-season coaching change. But, I would like to see what Buonaguro could do under better circumstances than he's had since taking over the program.

- By now, every opponent knows the way to best defend the Siena women's team is to double- and triple-team the Saints senior forward Lily Grenci. Yet Grenci still finds ways to produce. She had 24 points and 14 rebound against suffocating defense against Rider on Friday, shooting 8-of-15 from the floor, while the rest of the Saints shot 8-of-44 (18.2%) from the floor. Grenci is the MAAC's only player to rank in the top three in both scoring (15.2, 2nd) and rebounding (9.2, 3rd). In a year when no other player is a particular standout, this should be the first time in many years when a player from a losing team (Siena is currently 5-8 in conference play) is the MAAC's Player of the Year.

- Marist's 6-foot-10 junior center Adam Kemp had a game of note recently when he had 29 points, 16 rebounds and 7 blocks in a victory over Iona last week. He became the first Division I player with at least 7 blocks and more than 25 points and 15 rebounds in the same game in six years. The last player to surpass those numbers in a game? Rider's former standout Jason Thompson, who had 31 points, 16 rebounds and 7 blocks late in the 2006-07 season. And, here's another interesting note on Kemp: He played high school basketball at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill H.S. in central New York. His coach there was Al Knapp, who is the dad of former Siena standout Scott Knapp.

- I wish there were more statistics to measure defensive play beyond just the steal category, because I've never gotten more feedback (mostly from Marist fans in support of that team's top defender, Leanne Ockenden) than after my pick of Siena's Tehresa Coles as my mid-season pick for Defensive Player of the Year among women's players a couple of weeks ago. Coles is still among the top 20 nationally in steals (3.1 per game), and is as disruptive a defender anywhere on the court as I've seen in many MAAC season. Yet, Ockenden is a good an on-ball defender as there is in the MAAC this season, and she regularly holds opponents far below their per-game averages. Apples and oranges on this award. It will be interesting to see how the coaches vote when the season is over.

- I'm not looking forward to Loyola's departure from the MAAC and the loss of regular contact with its coach Jimmy Patsos, who can intelligently discourse on a variety of non-basketball issues. As a coach, he took over a program that had a single victory in the year prior to his arrival and elevated it to an NCAA tournament team last year and one that could easily repeat again this year, its last one in the MAAC. Plus, he is one of the league's all-time nice guys. While his sideline histrionics (toned down in recent years) are legendary, he is nothing like that when the games end.

Manhattan Making a Late, And Unexpected, Surge

There weren't many who expected the Manhattan men's team, prior to the 2011-12 season, to be as good as it was when its 21 victories matched the greatest improvement over the previous year (6-25) of any team nationally.

After that, even more was expected this year.

No one expected the Jaspers to struggle this season. Not with just about every player of importance returning. But, Manhattan had been playing far below expectations, slipping to a 3-6 conference record and at 5-14 overall after a loss to Loyola on Jan. 25.

Yet, that type of slippage was more than understandable for any team that basically has played the season without its signature standout, 6-foot-4 senior swingman George Beamon, who led the conference in scoring a year ago. A severe series of ankle injuries, though, only allowed Beamon to play four games before he was shut down as a medical redshirt to set up a return to the program next season.

And, then, suddenly Manhattan has turned things around in a manner no one expected.

Since the Jan. 25 loss to Loyola the Jaspers have won five of their last six games. Wins in their past four contests makes Manhattan the hottest team in the MAAC.

And, the victories haven't exactly come against weak opposition. Of the last five wins, only one (against Saint Peter's) has come against an opponent with a losing record.

The others have come against Rider, Canisius, Fairfield and Iona, all teams that had been ahead of the Jaspers in the conference standings when those games were played.

The latest came Friiday night, a double-overtime 74-73 victory against Iona.

A year ago Manhattan succeeded with a pressure defense and an uptempo style of play that produced a per-game scoring average of 71.2. This year that scoring average (predictable, considering the loss of Beamon) is down more than 12 points per game, to 59.1.

Now, Manhattan is finding success predicated strongly on its defensive work.

"Basically, I just try to come out and focus on defense," junior center Rhamel Brown told the New York Daily News, after Friday's victory. "That's how we try to come in every single game. We try to lock the other team down and when we do that we're successful."

Successful? In the current four-game winning streak, Manhattan has held opponents to 49, 54 and 40 points before allowing 72 to the Gaels. But, that's still 10 points below Iona's per-game average, and it took Iona an additional 10 minutes (two overtime sessions) to even reach 72 against Manhattan. The Gaels only had 58 points, 24 below their season average, after regulation.

Brown has been a big part of Manhattan's defensive success, and came up huge against the Gaels on Friday with 21 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocked shots. He currently ranks 10th nationally in blocks per game (3.08).

And, on Friday, he helped produce the game-winning basket when he rebounded a missed free throw by teammate Mike Alvarado in the closing seconds of the second overtime, passed the ball back to Alvarado, who then delivered it to Emmy Andujar for a game-winning drive to the basket.

Afterwards, Masiello admitted that Brown had to talk his way into position to get that particular offensive rebound.

"The game is on the line, Mike Alvarado is shooting and (Rhamel) grabs me ...  and I don't believe in having big guys on the foul line (for rebounds) because they foul," Masiello told the Daily News. "But he (Brown) says, `Coach, put me at the line. If Mike misses I'll get the rebound.' "

And, he did.

"The kid (Brown) is going to be one of the greatest players to ever put on a Manhattan uniform," Masiello said of Brown. "He is a joy to coach and I couldn't be more proud of a player."

The loss continues a surprising late-season slide by Iona, which has as much talent as any team in the conference. The Gaels are now 1-4 in their last five games with two of those setbacks in double overtime and another after a single OT session.

Manhattan's recent run pushed it into a two-way tie for sixth place (with Fairfield) with an 8-7 conference record. And the Jaspers are just a single game behind the three-way tie for third place with Iona, Canisius and Rider all at 9-6.

It's been a remarkable resurgence by Manhattan, now in a position most expected from the team this season ... accomplished in a most-unexpected manner.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Rider Women Playing Meaningful February Games

Last season looked like the one in which the Rider women's basketball team would finally turn its program around.

The fuel for that optimism was an 8-3 start against non-conference opponents, the Broncs' best start to a season since 1982-83.

And, then, as if Rider couldn't stand prosperity, things started going the wrong direction.

Ali Heller, one of the league's best long-range shooters, suffered a career-ending knee injury in the Broncs' 17th game of the season. Two games later, the team's other starting guard and second-leading scorer, Sironda Chambers, was out for the remainder of the season to straighten out her academics. Its best inside player, center Caitlin Bopp, was bothered by nagging knee issues for much of the season and its best player, then-sophomore MyNeshia McKenzie, played with the inconsistency of youth and lost her starting job for six games.

It all led to a 3-15 MAAC record after that 8-3 beginning and yet another last-place finish for the Broncs.

It was far too easy, though, to chalk 2011-12 up as "typical" Rider, because there's nothing typical about losing key players and battling through injuries and an academic loss.

But, it meant the the program's turnaround got delayed by a year.

Finally healthy and with a playing group that goes 10 deep with the requisite upper-class court smarts (five of the top 10 players are seniors and juniors), Rider is currently 7-6 in conference play and 12-12 overall. The conference record already matches the program's best (7-11 in 2008-09) of the past 13 seasons. Only a 10-8 finish in 1999-00 is better since Rider joined the conference in 1997-98.

And, Rider has never finished with a better-than-.500 overall record in all its time in the MAAC.

That could change this year, and what a change it would be.

How difficult had things been for the school's women's team?

In scientific terms, for every action there's a reaction.

Over the past 12 years, basically, the reaction to the "action" that has been the conference's domination by Marist has been Rider.

While Marist has all but clinched its 10th straight regular-season title, Rider has been at the other end of the MAAC standings for all of that time and then some.

Prior to this year, Rider has finished in last place seven times in the past 12 seasons, in ninth three times and in eighth twice. Over those past 12 seasons, Rider had a 44-172 conference record, the worst of any of the 10 league members.

The Broncs, though, have a legitimate chance to finish as high as third place this season. They're 7-6, tied for fourth, and trail third-place Iona (8-5) by a single game in the conference standings.

The sure sign of a decent team is that it can win when it doesn't play at its best, and Rider got one Friday night, 73-61, at Siena without playing anywhere near its capabilities.

But the Broncs did everything necessary down the stretch, pulling away from a three-point advantage with 13:30 remaining by limiting the Saints to 4-of-18 shooting after that. For the game, Rider couldn't have played much better defense, holding Siena to a game-long shooting percentage of just 27.1 percent.

Observers, though, could almost see this type of success coming for the Broncs. The talent was in place. It all just needed to stay healthy, stay on the court and, maybe, mature just a little more.

Chambers has become one of the league's better guards (she had 23 points against Siena) and is one of the league's few players capable of creating offense on her own, either from the perimeter or with a quick first step to the basket. Bopp is a superior interior defender, a relentless rebounder (10 vs. Siena) and more proficient on the offensive end than in past years. And, the program has the requisite standout in McKenzie, who entered Friday's game as the league's second-best rebounder (9.6) and was fifth in scoring (13.8).

"This year we've got a group that really `gets' it," said coach Lynn Milligan. "We're still having some inconsistencies as any .500 team has ... when you're .500 it means you're good some nights and not so good on other nights.

"But I've been telling the girls that all the work they've put in is to get them ready to do something in February and March. All I know is that it feels good, finally, to still be playing meaningful games in mid-February."

Meaningful games, indeed. With five regular-season contests left, they're all meaningful now for Rider as it tries for its best MAAC record since joining the league.

"The kids are a little older ... we've got a veteran core," added Milligan. "These kids were ready to take that next step this season. Our players have been through a lot. A lot of them have been with me the last four years, and, now, they're ready to play important games in February."

Against Siena, the Broncs also showed the resiliency of a mature team. Six days earlier, in its last game, Rider lost to Iona by 30 points, 88-58.

"This was a big bounce-back game for us," admitted Milligan. "This was a big test for us."

And, Rider bounced back in a big way, running out to a 21-9 lead in the game's first eight minutes and, then, never allowing Siena to get closer than three again afterwards.

"Our situation (an above-.500 conference record) makes things a little more intense," added Milligan. "But, we stress all year that you want to play for a banner."

Rider might not get a regular-season banner this year, but it appears as capable as anyone of pulling off the usually unthinkable upset ... beating Marist in the league's post-season tournament.

And, if nothing else, Rider is still playing meaningful games in the second half of February, something it hadn't done in many, many years.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Anosike Joins MAAC's Elite List Of Rebounders

Numbers are often a good measure of one's ability, and in college basketball the number 1,000 has always carried a sense of special accomplishment.

We still recognize players who score 1,000 points over a career, but that scoring number, particularly in light of the increased number of games teams can play in the current era, has become a measure of being very good but no longer great.

In the MAAC record book there are 50 players listed with more than 1,580 career points. An informal estimate is that there are close to 200 men's players with more than 1,000 career points from the conference in its 32-year history.

But, 1,000 rebounds ... that indeed remains a special number, particularly entering this season when there were only eight conference players to ever surpass that number.

On Sunday, a ninth name was added to the list when Siena's senior forward O.D. Anosike had 16 rebounds against Saint Peter's. It pushed Anosike's career total to 1,010 rebounds. With a minimum of six remaining games, Anosike could wind up No. 4 on the league's all-time rebound list (if he averages 12 per game down the stretch), and almost assuredly No. 5.

What makes Anosike's achievement even more impressive is that he was 12-minute-per-game reserve as a freshman, and had Ryan Rossiter (13.2 rpg.) grabbing the majority of missed shots for Siena as a teammate when Anosike was a sophomore.

The past two seasons, though, have been very good ones for Anosike in terms of retrieving missed shots. Last season he led all Division I players nationally in rebounding (12.5 per game), becoming the second conference player in MAAC history (Darren Phillip of Fairfield, who averaged 14,0 per game in the 1999-00 season is the other) to top the Division I rebound list for a single season.

Anosike is once again atop the national rebound list this season, averaging 11.92 per contest. That's just slightly ahead of current No. 2 Andre Roberson of Colorado (11.61).

If Anosike can maintain his national lead in rebounding he would become just the sixth player since the NCAA began keeping rebound statistics in 1950 to lead in that statistical category in back-to-back seasons.

The others are Leroy Wright (1958-59 and 1959-60), Jerry Lucas (1960-61, 1961-62), Artis Gilmore (1969-70, 1970-71), Kermit Washington (1972-73 and 1973-74)  and Paul Milsap (2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-06).

And, for those wondering, here's the list of other MAAC players who have eclipsed the 1,000 mark for career rebounds: La Salle's Lionel Simmons (1986-90) 1,429, Rider's Jason Thompson (2005-08) 1,171, Siena's Ryan Rossiter (2007-11) 1,151, Fairfield's Drew Henderson (1989-93) 1,080, Niagara's Juan Mendez (2001-05) 1,053, Siena's Lee Matthews (1989-93) 1,037, Niagara's James Reaves (2000-04) 1,020, and Manhattan's Keith Bullock (1989-93) 1,012.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Domination By Marist Women Continues To Impress

It is always a pleasure to watch the pure basketball the Marist women's team plays, and your Hoopscribe feels fortunate to have the opportunity to get a first-hand look at the Red Foxes at least five times annually.

The latest viewing came today (Sunday) when Marist came to Siena.

The result? Typical ... Marist 66, Siena 48.

Siena stayed close for about the first 30 minutes, trailing at that point by only four (44-40). And, then, Marist stopped making turnovers (13 in the first 30 minutes, only three afterwards), started getting good shots and making them (12 of its last 15) and steadily pulled away.

This observer strongly believes that this is head coach Brian Giorgis' best work, and that's saying something since his winning percentage since taking over the program in 2002 is the fourth-best of any active coach behind only UConn's Gino Auriemma, Stanford's Tara Vanderveer and Baylor's Kim Mulkey.

Marist, though, was expected to be good once again this year, a strong favorite for a 10th consecutive regular-season title. That, though, was until the program lost its only two post players, 6-3 Vanderbilt transfer Tori Jarosz and 6-5 freshman Delaney Hollenbeck two games into the season.

Coaches expect to lose players annually to graduation, and get the entire off-season and preseason practices to adjust. But Giorgis, due to the early season losses of his post players, had to restructure this year's playing style during an on-going season.

The losses left Marist without the singular star it has often had in past season, but with as balanced a team (six players average between 6.9 and 11.6 points per game) as Giorgis has ever coached.

"This year's team is definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts," said Giorgis, prior to Sunday's game at Siena. "It has gelled very well. We have different people step up on the offensive end almost every game. Defensively, we've been consistent."

Defensively, Marist is better than ever even if it doesn't have a player over 6-2 in its playing group.

Against MAAC opponents, Marist allows just 47.6 points per game, far ahead of the next-best defensive team, Fairfield, which allows 55.5 ppg. against league foes.

Offensively, the Red Foxes' "read" offense, in which players move to areas predicated on how the opposition's defense is playing, is tied for the top spot in field goal percentage (41.6 percent) in conference games.

And, Marist does all the "little" things. Its free-throw percentage, for instance, was 78.2 percent entering Sunday's game which was fifth-best of all Division I teams nationally.

Somehow, Marist continues to do it without height, and with only one real forward (the 6-2 Emma O'Connor.

"When she comes out of the game, we're basically playing with five guards," said Giorgis.

But, somehow ....

How about these numbers:

- Since Marist lost to Manhattan on Feb. 28, 2010 the Red Foxes have a 56-1 won-loss record against MAAC opponents, including conference tournament games. The only loss in that stretch was again against Marist (Feb. 4 of last season).

- Marist has had perfect 18-0 league records in two of the past five seasons, and it wouldn't shock anyone if it added another one this year.

- Since the start of the 2004-05 season Marist has a 129-9 won-loss record (including league-tournament games) against MAAC opponents, an incredible .935 winning percentage.

- Marist has won, or shared the last nine conference regular-season titles and has won the last seven league post-season tournaments and the resultant trip to the NCAA's.

- Under Giorgis, Marist has started league play with a 12-0 record in four seasons, including this one.

- The current 12-game winning streak is the 11th of at least 10 wins in a row under Giorgis.

It is all unprecedented in the league's 32-year history for either women or men.

And, there's no end in sight. This year's team will lose starters point guard Kristine Best and Elizabeth Beynnon, along with top reserve Kristina Danella, who recently eclipsed the 1,000-point career mark (does any other team nationally have a reserve with over 1,000 career points?).

But, everyone else is back, along with healthy post players Jarosz and Hollenbeck. On top of that, the current active freshmen, particularly swingperson Madeline Blais and guard Sydney Coffey, look like they'll eventually be impact players.

And, Giorgis, at age 57 and a Poughkeepsie-area resident for more than 30 years, continues to maintain he's not going anywhere (proving it by turning down an opportunity to interview at Georgetown this past off season).

It all means the a program that already ranks with any nationally at the mid-major level over the past decade of Giorgis' leadership is only going to continue to be difficult to beat for years to come.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Marist Shocks Iona, Biggest Win For Coach Martin

On a night when three of the four men's conference games were won by decisive underdogs, none was a more surprising result han Marist's victory over Iona.

Tough enough to have to travel to the home court of the favored Gaels, one of the highest-scoring teams nationally. And, then, it got tougher when the Red Foxes' top guard, Devin Price, had to sit out the game with an ankle sprain.

On the surface it looked like the proverbial mismatch. Iona entered the contest in a three-way tie for second place in the league standings with an 8-4 record. Marist entered in a two-way tie for last at 2-10 in MAAC play.

But, the higher the mountain the greater the feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the summit.

Marist had plenty to feel good about Thursday night after earning a 105-104 victory over Iona in double overtime.

The good feelings, and likely the sense that something special indeed was brewing, began when it looked like Iona was going to hold on, holding a three-point lead with seconds left in the first overtime session.

But, Marist's standout sophomore swingman Chavaughn Lewis (who finished with 21 points) took an in-bounds pass, took three dribbles up court and let loose with a 60-foot desperation attempt that fell through at the buzzer to send the contest into the second extra session.

To even get to within range for that shot to be meaningful the Red Foxes had to overcome a 12-point, 52-40, deficit with 16 minutes left in regulation.

And, then, Marist had to survive a late turnover with just seconds remaining in the second overtime while holding a one-point advantage and, then, survive a last-tick three-pointer by the Gaels' Sean Armand (blocked by Lewis) as time ran out.

But all of that happened on a night when everything fell into place for a program that has struggled for much of Martin's tenure since taking over at Marist prior to the 2008-09 season.

Things appeared to be turning around for Martin's team when it won seven of its final 11 games a year ago and returned much of its playing group.

And, then, the team lost 6-5 junior forward Jay Bowie with a concussion early in the season, and Bowie missed 13 games.

"People who kept asking me how much we missed Bowie must not have seen us a lot," said Martin, via phone from the team bus on its return to Poughkeepsie Thursday night. "Because we missed him plenty."

Not coincidentally, Bowie made his return on Thursday, made two three-pointers early, made five in the game and scored five of his 21 points in the second overtime period. The outside play of Bowie and Lewis opened things up inside for junior center Adam Kemp, who had one of the top games of his career with a team-high 29 points.

The victory won't get Marist into the race for the regular-season title. After all, the Red Foxes are still only 3-10 in league play, although they're no longer in last place.

But, it's likely to be a significant boost, a confidence builder, for a still-young team that likely desperately needed something like Thursday night's victory.

"I hope this helps energize the guys," said Martin. "I'm proud of the kids. They played well. They fought through a lot. This game says a lot about them."

Typical of a coach to defer credit while expressing the sentiment that he was happier for his players than for himself.

But, Martin surely felt more than a little joy over Thursday's outcome, enough to rate it his most-rewarding victory since taking over Marist.

"It's probably one of the top five or six victories I've ever been associated with," said the coach, who had been part of some pretty big wins as an assistant coach at Memphis where that program went to the NCAA championship game in 2006-07 and to the Elite Eight round the following season.

"This was just a fun game to be part of," added Martin. "A double-overtime game ... a three-quarter-court shot at the end of the first overtime ... a game with the score in the 100's ...

"It was just a great game to be part of."

MAAC Has History Of National Scoring Leaders

Iona's Lamont "Momo" Jones currently ranks third nationally in scoring on the Division I level, averaging 21.9 points per game.

But the Gaels' senior guard isn't likely to catch Erick Green, a senior guard at Virginia Tech (who currently averages 25.0 ppg.) and become the fourth player from the MAAC to lead all college scorers.

Surprisingly, that elite group does not include former La Salle standout Lionel Simmons, whose career total of 3,217 points still ranks third all time, behind only Pete Maravich (3,667) and Freeman Williams (3,249).

Simmons had season averages of 20.3 points per game in 1986-87, 22.3 in 1987-88, 28.4 in 88-89 and 26.5 in 1989-90.

The seasonal scoring leaders in those seasons were, in order starting in 1986-87, Kevin Houston of Army (32.9), Hersey Hawkins of Bradley (36.3 ppg.), Hank Gathers of Loyola-Marymount (32.7) and Bo Kimble, also of Loyola-Marymount (35.3).

But that list includes the first of the three MAAC players to lead all national scorers. That would be Kevin Houston of Army when that program was still a conference member.

That 1986-87 was memorable for one other bit of trivia. David Robinson of Navy topped the national rebounding list (13.0) that season. It was the only time in college basketball history that players from military academies led the country in one of those two major statistical categories, and both did it in the same season.

The other MAAC players to win a single-season scoring title were Niagara's Alvin Young, who averaged 25.1 ppg. in the 1998-99 season; and, Keydren Clark, who actually led the nation in scoring twice ... 26.7 in 2003-04 and 35.8 n 2004-05.

One other bit of MAAC scoring trivia/history: Only seven players in Division I history have ever scored more than 3,000 points over their career, and two of them came from the MAAC.

They are Simmons (3,217, third all-time), and Clark (3,058, sixth all-time).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Look at MAAC Opponents in BracketBuster Games

Matchups for the final "BracketBusters" series, in which all 10 MAAC teams will be involved, were announced earlier this week.

More than a few coaches involved in the BracketBusters series would prefer not to play a non-league game so late in the season.

But, the event has been beneficial in getting an additional non-league opponent on the schedule in an era when scheduling is becoming increasingly difficult. And, for the better teams, the result of a BracketBusters' contest can be the difference between an eventual bid in a national post-season tournament, or staying home.

A year ago, for instance, Iona's case for an eventual at-large berth in the NCAA tournament got a significant boost with a BracketBusters' victory over Nevada.

Here's a look at who is playing who, and some information on opponents of conference teams; three league teams will be involved in televised games (as noted below)...

- Iona at Indian State University, Saturday, Feb. 23, 11 a.m. at the Hulman Center in Terre Haute, Ind (ESPNU).

Indiana State, of the Mountain Valley Conference, has a 14-8 overall record (through Tuesday night's games). Its top players are 6-4 junior guard Jake Odum (13.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game) and 6-6 junior forward Manny Arop (12.9 points, 5.0 rebounds per game).

- Canisius at Vermont, Feb. 23 at 1 p.m. at Patrick Gymnasium in Burlington, Vt. (ESPN3).

Vermont, a member of the America East Conference, has a 14-7 overall record. Its top players are 6-8 junior forward Clancy Rugg ((11.1 points, 5.8 rebounds), 6-7 junior forward Luke Apfeld (10.1, 3.9) and 6-2 junior guard Sandro Carissimo (10.1, 3.0). The Catamounts have an early season 54-53 victory over Siena and a 68-58 loss to Niagara.

- Niagara will host Northwestern State University, Feb. 23 at 3 p.m. at the Gallagher Center (ESPN 3).

Northwestern State, of the Southland Conference, has a 14-6 overall record.  Its best players are 6-7 junior forward DeQuan Hicks (15.1, 6.8), 6-0 senior guard Shamir Davis (12.7, 2.4), and 6-8 senior forward James Hulbin (12.4, 6.6). The Demons are the highest-scoring team nationally (83.56 points per game) and have five players averaging double figures.

- Fairfield will host UAlbany, Feb. 23.

The Great Danes are 17-7 overall playing in the America East Conference. Its top players are senior guards Mike Black (15.2, 3.4) and Jacob Iati (12.7). Albany, this season, has beaten Siena, 69-56 and lost to Loyola, 67-64.

- Loyola will be at Tennessee State, Feb. 23

The Tigers, of the Ohio Valley Conference, are 13-10 overall.   ... Its best players are 6-8 senior forward Kellen Thornton (14.6, 7.8) and 6-1 junior guard Patrick Miller (13.8, 5.3 assists).

- Manhattan will be at Buffalo, Feb. 23

Buffalo, of the Mid-American Conference, has an 8-14 overall record. Its best players are 6-7 junior forward Javon McCrea (17.3, 7.5) and 6-8 sophomore forward Will Regan (10.2, 4.5). The Bulls lost to Canisius, 71-64, and defeated Niagara, 77-67.

- VMI will be at Marist, Feb. 23

VMI, of the Big South Conference, has a 10-10 overall record. Its best players are 6-6 senior forward Stan Okoye (20.4, 9.1) and 6-9 junior center D.J. Covington (12.9, 7.0).

- Charleston Southern will be at Rider, Feb. 23

Charleston Southern, of the Big South Conference, has an overall record of 12-7. Its best players are 5-8 sophomore guard Saah Nimley (16.1, 5.0, 5.5 assists), and 6-1 sophomore guard Arion Harper (14.6, 3.8).

- Saint Peter's will be at Hampton, Feb. 23

Hampton, of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, have an 8-13 overall record. Its top players are 5-11 freshman guard Deron Powers (12.1, 4.8 assists) and 6-10 junior center David Bruce (9.1, 5.9).

- Radford will be at Siena, Feb. 24

Radford, of the Big South Conference, has a 10-14 overall record. Its best players are 6-0 sophomore guard R.J. Price (14.4, 2.3) 6-4 sophomore guard Javonte Green (14.1, 8.0).

Monday, February 4, 2013

Beilein Third Former MAAC Coach To Reach No. 1

MAAC-related trivia.

The Michigan men's basketball team recently spent a week as the nation's top-ranked team before it suffered a loss Saturday at Indiana.

But, the Wolverine's No. 1 rating was rare time at the top for a program directed by a former MAAC men's coach.

In this case it's John Beilein, now in his sixth season in Ann Arbor, Mich. Beilein was in Buffalo directing the Canisius program for five seasons (1992-93 through 1996-97).

There have been two other former MAAC men's coaches who later took other programs to the top of the college basketball ratings, both from the same MAAC program and both at the same No. 1 program.

Those were Dino Gaudio, whose 2008-09 team at Wake Forest got off to a 16-0 start and spent a week at the No. 1 spot; and, the late Skip Prosser, who also had the Demon Deacons atop the national polls early in the 2003-04 season.

Both Gaudio and Prosser spent pre-Wake Forest years as the head coach at Loyola.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Mid-Season All-Star Selections For MAAC Women

The women's season has just about hit its mid-way point, so time to take a look at one observer's opinions for mid-season all-stars.


- LILI GRENCI, 6-foot-1 senior forward, Siena.  
Arguably the top post player in the conference. She is the league's top scorer in conference-only games and her 15.4 ppg. overall average is second in the league and her 9.2 rebounds per game average us third-best in the league. It makes her the only player to rank in the top three in those two major statistical categories.

= LAUREN GATTO, 6-2 junior forward, Niagara.
Her 14.9 ppg. average is fourth best in the conference and her 6.3 rebounds per outing is 10th. She is the primary scoring threat for one of the conference's better teams, and rarely takes a bad shot. Her 50.5% shooting accuracy is second-best in the MAAC.

- MyNESHIA McKENZIE, 5-11 junior forward, Rider.
She is the league's leading rebounder with 9.8 per contest and is athletic enough to defend any player on the court. Her 14.3 point-per-game average is fifth-best among conference players. She is the top player on a Broncs' team that is on its way to its best season in many years.

- KATIE SHEAHIN, 5-11 senior guard, Loyola.
She was the coaches' choice, in their preseason poll, to be the MAAC's Player of the Year, but didn't play that way for much of the early season particularly when she tried to play through flu-like symptoms that eventually forced her to sit out four games. Still, she is the MAAC's only player to lead her team in points, rebounds, assists and steals and is healthy again (24 and 21 points in back-to-back wins).

- KATIE CIZYNSKI, 6-2 junior forward, Fairfield.
Has successfully moved from being a role player last season to the Stags' primary focus this year. Her 12.5 ppg. average ninth-best in the conference, while her 8.1 rebounds per game ranks her fifth. She is also a solid post defender.

- Brittany Obi-Tabot, 6-1 junior forward, Fairfield
- Ashley Durham, 5-5 senior guard, Canisius
- Damika Martinez, 5-7 sophomore guard, Iona
- Elizabeth Beynnon, 6-2 senior forward, Marist.
- Joy Adams, 5-11 freshman forward, Iona

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grenci, Siena.


DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tehresa Coles of Siena, whose 3.2 steals-per-game average is 20th-best nationally.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Brian Giorgis, Marist. His team lost its only two post players for the season after its first two games, requiring him to entirely change his team's style of play at both ends while the season was on-going. And, the Red Foxes are still unbeaten in league play.