Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Team Report: Marist Men Need Quick Development

Here's another in the series "Team Report" series taking a look back at this past season and a crystal-ball look at what might be ahead for conference teams.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 9-11 in MAAC play, tied for 6th place; 12-19 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A lot of intestinal fortitude and overall resiliency shown by players under the guiding hand of first-year head coach Jeff Bower. The Marist coach had been in the NBA in a variety of capacities for the previous 15 years, and there's no doubt his past experience earned him considerable respect and the belief, within the team, that what he was trying to do would eventually work. Signs of that came after a horrendous 0-9 start to the season, a stretch that could have tested the will to keep plugging away within a lot of programs. But, Marist bounced back with five straight victories and an 11-6 stretch after the poor beginning. The Red Foxes then lost three more times in succession, but finished off regular-season play with a stirring 103-72 victory over a strong Quinnipiac team ... There was considerable player improvement, too. Chavaughn Lewis, a 6-5 junior swingman, continued to provide versatile excellence (17.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, and team-best totals of 88 assists and 60 steals). Khalil Hart, who missed 2012-13 after a preseason knee injury, was the MAAC's Rookie of the Year (14.7 points, 2.3 assists) and should be among the conference's best guards for the next three seasons. Jay Bowie (12.1, 5.2) was an above-average "glue player." Adam Kemp, the 6-10 big man, was solid (10.1, 7.6, 58 total blocks). And, there was some addition by subtraction when point guard Isaiah Morton (6-for-46 from the field, 13.0 percent) left the program after the first semester. It moved junior T.J. Curry into the starting lineup. Curry was hardly a star (5.1 ppg, 65 assists vs. 40 turnovers), but a steadying factor who played within himself and, at times, added a long-range shot, or two. The regular-season victories included ones over Canisius and Quinnipiac, teams that finished tied for third in the MAAC standings this past season. And, there was a dramatic closing-seconds victory over Siena in which Bowie stole a Saints' in-bounds pass with 2.1 seconds remaining and drained an off-balance three-pointer that gave the Red Foxes a late-season 65-64 victory.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Marist got everything it could out of its roster, but the talent level just didn't match up with the five teams that finished ahead of the Red Foxes this past season. Plus, there was a considerable absence of inside play, other than Kemp. Marist got outrebounded by an average 2.9 per game. And, with mostly a lineup of perimeter players, its field goal percentage was below an effective rate (40.8), while opponents took advantage of the team's relatively soft middle to shoot 44.6 percent from the field ... There also wasn't a lot of depth. The top four players (Lewis, Hart, Bowie and Kemp) comprised a nice core, but the team really only went one deep (Manny Thomas) off the bench. Beyond the top six, only Peter Prinslo, a 6-10 senior forward, averaged more than 10 minutes per game. It didn't help that touted incoming freshman shooter Nick Colletta, who missed much high school time with back issues, only played three games this past season with Marist due to a foot issue. And, despite the nice second half and the season-ending statement victory over Quinnipiac, the Red Foxes got a surprise ouster in the play-in round of the MAAC tournament, losing 78-76 to Niagara when it couldn't stop the Purple Eagles' standout guard Antoine Mason, who scored 38 points in the contest.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Bower showed he knows how to coach at this level, despite being away from the college game for 15 years. Now, he needs some talent. Unfortunately, he loses, to graduation, his only dependable "big" in Kemp, and the team's "glue," in Bowie, a combined loss of 22.2 points and 12.8 rebounds. Lewis and Hart, which could be one of the best perimeter duos in the league, are the only returning sure things. Curry also returns, as does 6-5 senior swingman Manny Thomas (3.8), who hasn't yet had a real significant role. The team's top post reserve Peter Prinslo (2.2, 2.2) is also gone. It leaves very lightly used rising junior 6-10 Eric Truog (65 total minutes last season), and a pair of slender forwards, 6-8 Kentrall Brooks (1.0, 1.3) and 6-7 Phillip Lawrence (1.6, 1.1) as returning contenders for the power positions. There's a solid recruiting class coming in, including 6-7 power forward Obi Momah (who was the Player of the Year in the Hartford area as a high school senior), 6-9 post R.J. Coil and 6-4 point guard K.J. Lee. But, freshmen rarely make strong initial impacts.

REASON EXPECTATION: Lewis and Hart, almost by themselves, give Marist a chance in almost any game. But, to expect the program's first .500 season since 2007-08 ... that might be expecting a little too much. Bower will need big and unexpected contributions from the likes of Colletta, Brooks, Truog and freshmen Momah and Coil to have any chance of approaching this past season's 9-11 MAAC record. The likelihood is a a solid season with, potentially, a finish as high as seventh ... but, probably no higher than that. But if the incoming players develop as expected, this could be the real beginning of the program's turnaround.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Team Report: More Rebuilding For Siena Women

Here's another in the "Team Report" series looking back at the 2013-14 season and taking a crystal-ball look ahead at conference programs.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 3-17 in MAAC play, 10th place; 9-22 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Not a lot, as evidenced by the record. Tehresa Coles, a 5-9 junior guard, had her typical do-everything season, leading the team in points (10.8 per game), rebounds (5.7) and steals (2.1). Another junior, 6-foot-0 Ida Krough, who barely played due to foot issues the previous year, added more versatility. The team's best passer (a team-high 62 assists), she was also forced to play in the post due to some injuries. Meghan Donohue, a 6-2 freshmen, played at times like one of the better young post players in the league and finished by averaging 8.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and shooting 51 percent from the floor. Kelsey Booth, a 6-1 junior forward who was lightly used in the past, did improve dramatically as the season went on. She had a huge 25/12 game at midseason vs. Rider, and was one of the Saints' most-productive players late, averaging 10.6 points and 5.7 rebounds over Siena's last seven games. Another forward, sophomore Simone Kelly averaged 4.6 points and 3.4 rebounds (with a 14-point effort vs. Buffalo) before a knee injury knocked her out for the season. A pressuring zone-type defense did have some effect, producing 9.9 steals per outing, 29th best nationally. The team did have a better-than-.500 record (5-4 vs. non-conference foes), and did have some strong play in league competition, but too often not consistently. It played its best game of the season in the play-in round of the MAAC tournament, upsetting higher-seeded Manhattan, 87-66.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Start with injuries to post players. Expected returnee, rugged 6-1 Kate Zarotney's shoulder issues forced her to miss the entire season, and Kelly, who seemed to be on the verge of emerging in the post, suffered a torn ACL in December and was lost for the remainder of the season. One of the other senior posts, Clara Sole Anglada, did not play up to expectations and rarely got on the court after midseason. It left Siena, basically, with only Donohue in the post. After she had some strong early play, teams consistently double- and triple-teamed her, limiting her contributions ... While the defense forced a high number of steals, the offense was very proficient at taking advantage of the few extra possesions. Siena's field-goal percentage of 35.4 percent was 15th-worst nationally. The Saints did outrebound teams on its offensive end, but that was a product of all those missed shots. When the team's gambling defense didn't produce a turnover, opponents had little trouble scoring against Siena.  The opposition's combined 45.0 percent field goal accuracy was the 17th-highest allowed by a Division I team. And Siena's zone found it difficult to defend on the perimeter. Only three teams nationally allowed a higher shooting percentage from beyond the stripe. That 5-4 non-conference record came against one of the weakest non-league schedules in program history. Four of those wins came against teams that finished with a combined 25-89 record. Two of the league victories came against Saint Peter's, the bottom team in the final standings, and the other came against Canisius. It all added up to the worst finish in conference play in the program's Division I history, and the first season without double-digit victories in 18 years.

WHAT'S AHEAD: A deep look ahead can see some better days, but it won't happen quickly. The team loses its best outside shooter (Kanika Cummings) and its starting point guard Ciara Stewart to graduation. Coles, who relies on quickness, won't ever be a big scorer. Neither will Donohue unless she either develops a mid-range game or gets enough help elsewhere so teams won't consistently double team her in the post. Kelly can be a nice addition in the post, if she has quick recovery from the knee injury. If Booth can build on her late-season play, she is another nice piece. The key players -- Coles, Donohue, Krough and Booth -- form a nice-enough foursome, but don't come close to the core groups of the better MAAC teams. There's a big hole at point guard, and next-to-no outside shooting threat. The Saints are still firmly in the rebuilding stage at both ends of the court as they enter Year 3 under head coach Ali Jaques. There appears to be a strong five-player recruiting class coming in, and that's the primary hope for future years.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Siena will be relying on veteran players who haven't done enough to date to suggest a major jump forward, and an incoming freshman class coming into a league where young players rarely make significant contributions. To ask that combination to propel Siena into competing for the upper half of the standings is a real reach for the coming season. Expect a bottom-three finish, and hope the youngsters start developing enough to create optimism for future years.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Team Report: Siena Men Set To Compete For Crown

Here's another in the "Team Report" series looking back at the just-concluded season with a crystal-ball look at what might happen in the upcoming season.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 11-9 in MAAC play, 5th place; 20-18 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Plenty, including a fifth-place finish after being picked in the coaches' preseason poll to finish 10th in the 11-team league. But early expectations were understandably low for a team that was going through considerable transition, including a change at the head coach position. But the new coach was MAAC veteran Jimmy Patsos, who resuscitated and rebuilt Loyola's program over the previous nine seasons. Patsos took a group of former role players and four contributing freshmen and got to 20 victories. Only 15 of those, though, were accomplished by the time Siena was eliminated in the MAAC's postseason tournament. The next five came when the Saints captured the championship of the College Basketball Insider's post-season tournament that included two games in the friendly confines of the school's on-campus Alumni Recreation Center, the first ones played there since 1997. The entire season was truly a blast from the past in terms of success, too, the program's first winning season since 2009-10. As would be expected from a young team with a veteran guiding hand at the helm in Patsos, Siena made noticeable improvements as the season went on. After a 2-7 start Siena went 18-11 the rest of the way. That included a 9-2 record in the final 11 games. And, that late string of success started after back-to-back losses -- at Marist on a buzzer-beating shot by the Red Foxes, and in triple OT against Canisius. Those could have been devastating. Instead, it seemed to revitalize the team. After that the Saints won their last four MAAC regular-season games to vault into the fifth spot in the final standings. Junior wing Rob Poole became as much a go-to player as the Saints had, averaging 14.6 points per game. Sophomore 6-foot-8 Brett Bisping was the league's most-improved player and one of its better big men (11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds), and frosh Marquis Wright was among the best point guards in the league (199 total assists) almost from his first day on the court. Freshman Lavon Long, versatile enough to play both forward spots (9.5, 4.9) was also a season-long starter and contributor. And, the team got important contributions from a variety of others.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Expected things, like the slow start as chemistry developed within a group of so many new parts and roles. There were early growing pains, and some at midseason too, including two losses by four points (one of those in the triple OT setback vs. Canisius), one by one point (to Marist) and, yet, another OT loss (to Quinnipiac). It showed how close Siena was to being even better. There were other issues often related to being young. The team was over aggressive at times, exhibiting the need to play that way without committing fouls. Only 15 teams nationally were whistled for more than Siena's 22.5 fouls per game. And, freshman Long committed 148 fouls himself, more than any player nationally. But those issues lessened as the year went on, as the parts fit better together and as the young players got experience. At the end, Siena was the last team from the conference to have its season end.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Good things for sure, as every scholarship player who saw significant time returns. And, the only seniors will be Poole and reserve guard Evan Hymes. Four freshmen were in the playing group, at times, this season and there's a strong group coming in including eligible transfer 6-5 swingman Patrick Cole, who averaged 10.3 ppg. as a freshman at Coppin State in 2012-13 and, in some of this season's practices, looked like Siena's best player on the court. Rising junior Ryan Oliver also grew into an off-the-bench/instant-offense role this season, rising soph guard Maurice White delivered effort plays off the bench and rising senior "big" Imoh Silas had some strong, albeit inconsistent, play (63 blocks). The talent level is reminiscent of Fran McCaffery's glory years when the team went to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Hard to outright predict another run like that, but the team is certainly poised for more success in the immediate future. It also doesn't hurt to have Patsos in place. He is among the league's best coaches (and, this scribe's choice for THE best). The only concern is that another strong season is likely to attract significant interest from the next level.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: No conference team has as many players returning. Of course, those players only took Siena to a fifth-place finish this past season. Patsos has already been delivering the message that if his cast thinks it can compete for the title merely because everyone returns ... well, that won't be done without the type of work that went into this past season. On paper, though, with the returnees as well as the addition of Cole, this does look like a team that should be predicted to finish no lower than third, probably second and with a reasonable chance to compete for the regular-season title.

Team Report: Niagara Women Poised for Improvement

Here's another in the "Team Report" series, looking back at the just-concluded season and doing a crystal-ball look ahead at conference programs.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 8-12 in the MAAC, 7th place; 10-20 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Getting up to a tie for seventh place in league play was a relative success, considering the program unexpectedly lost three key starters with remaining eligibility in the spring/summer months prior to the just-concluded season. It left the team without experienced inside play, but that issue was resolved as the season progressed and as 6-foot-2 frosh forward Victoria Rampado got acclimated to college play. She was the best of a strong crop of first-year "bigs" in the league, capturing the MAAC's Rookie of the Year Award. She averaged 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds, but was at her best down the stretch, averaging 13.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in the team's final eight games, surely a sign of things to come. Reserve forwards 6-1 Gabby Baldasare and 6-3 Sam Lapszynski contributed inside off the bench (Baldasare, a rising senior, had a double-double, 11/11, effort in January against Iona), but mostly the Purple Eagles played with one post and four perimeter players. Graduating senior Chanel Johnson, a small forward, actually led the team in rebounding and scoring. Offense also came from second-team all-MAAC pick Meghan McGuinness (12.9 ppg., including a superlative 29-point outburst that included 7-of-11 shooting from three-point range against Siena in mid-January). She made 84-of-196 treys on the season, her 42.9 percent long-range accuracy fourth-best in the conference. Another rising senior, 6-foot-0 Val McQuade (8.5 ppg.) was also proficient from long range (46 of 113). Rising senior guard Kelly Van Leeuwen provided steady play at the point (5.2 points, 4.5 assists), as did another rising senior, 5-10 Taylor McKay (6.0 ppg.). Things could have been a lot worse, particularly after a tough non-league schedule and a 2-9 start. But, Niagara went 8-11 overall after that and won three of its last five regular-season games.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Not enough inside play particularly early which precipitated the slow start. When Rampado got acclimated, though, the team got much better and despite the inside woes only got outrebounded by an average of 1.1 per contest ... There were also ball-handling issues. The Purple Eagles committed 4.1 turnovers more per game than opponents, which ranked them 10th of the 11 MAAC teams. Offensively, Johnson was an effective inside-outside player, but when McGuinness' shot wasn't falling there wasn't much else for scoring on a consistent basis until Rampado went on her late-season surge. The 3-2 regular-season finish seemed to provide some momentum, but the season ended abruptly with a 66-62 MAAC Tournament loss in the play-in round against Monmouth, an opponent Niagara had beaten in both regular-season meetings.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Johnson is gone, and that's a significant loss but not so much of one that Niagara can't overcome it. Every other player of significance returns, theoretically improved. McGuinness, a true gym rat, should build off a very good season and be a candidate for all-MAAC first-team honors in the upcoming season. Rampado is a effective post at both ends of the court, a piece not all teams in the league possess. McQuade, McKay, Van Leeuwen and Baldasare will all be seniors next season. Another member of the playing group, reserve guard Sylvia Maxwell, will be a junior. Teams with experienced upperclass players traditionally have the most success. What the 2013-14 Niagara team needed was just a little more help inside and a little better success at taking care of the ball. It's hard to expect freshmen to make big contributions, but signed recruits 5-11 power forward Kaylee Stroemple and 5-7 point guard Jamie Sherburne could help alleviate those issues.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: No team had more off-season losses, particularly unexpected ones, than Niagara did at this time a year ago. Yet, somehow, coach Kendra Faustin coaxed a respectable season out of a team expected to finish last. With so many returnees, things should be at least as good next season. Expect Niagara to be no worse than middle of the pack, somewhere between fourth and seventh in 2014-15.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Team Report: Niagara Men Searching For Post Play

Here's another in the "Team Report" series taking a look back at the just-concluded season with a crystal-ball look at what might be ahead.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 3-17, 11th place, in MAAC play; 7-26 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: In a season of much transition, there was play that belied the record. The team was competitive almost from day one, as evidenced with a 92-81 victory over a decent Buffalo team in Niagara's second game. Not much later came a very good four-game stretch: wins over Saint Peter's and Davidson, a two-point loss to St. Bonaventure and, then, a win over Brown ... The team was close more often than would have been expected, losing twice by a single point, four times by two points and 12 times overall by six points or less ... Individually, Anthony Mason came up big as was both required and expected. The lone remaining real standout in the program after four eligible players transferred out when former coach Joe Mihalich left the team for Hofstra, Mason averaged 25.6 points per game, the second-best average nationally. Mason played as hard as anyone in the conference, as evidenced by drawing more fouls (opponents fouled him an average of eight times per game) than any player nationally ... Other solid seasons were turned in by senior guard Marvin Jordan (9.7 ppg.), senior forward Marcus Ware (8.5, and a team-best 5.7 rebounds), freshmen forward Ramone Snowden (8.1, 5.5), guard Wesley Myers (6.7) and sophomore Ravon Harris (6.2, 4.2) ... And, there was certainly no quit on the part of the Purple Eagles. After just two victories in their final 18 regular-season games, Niagara rode a superlative 38-point, 6-rebound, 4-assist performance by Mason to upset Marist, 78-76, in the play-in round of the MAAC's post-season tournament before losing a well-played 89-80 contest in the quarterfinal round to Quinnipiac.

WHAT WENT WRONG: First-year coach Chris Casey drew a difficult assignment at the school, not only trying to replace the "legend," (Mihalich), but trying to do so with four of the team's best players opting to transfer elsewhere (two joining Mihalich at Hofstra). It left Niagara with one legitimate scoring threat in Mason, and almost no inside game outside of Ware, whose 5.7 rebounds per contest was the lowest average to lead any conference team. Overall Niagara was outrebounded by 3.5 per contest ... More telling, though, was the team's deficiency on the defensive end. With no true inside defensive presence, opponents pounded the ball inside. Niagara's per-game average of 82.1 points allowed was 342nd of 345 Division I teams nationally ... Despite all of that, Niagara remained competitively close all season, a credit to Casey and the mental toughness of his players. But, even that wasn't enough to stem the rising tide of losses, a 2-16 finish to the regular season and the program's worst record since a 2-12/5-25 finish to the 1994-95 season ... And, shortly after the season ended, once-promising sophomore point guard Tahjere McCall (7.5 ppg.) opted to transfer, apparently after seeing his role diminish in the latter half of the season.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Probably more of the same unless Casey can either find, or develop some post play. Mid-major level teams always struggle to find good post play, but that search seems to be more difficult, right now, for Niagara. There is some hope for the future with the additions of 6-8 Dominique Reid, who redshirted last season, but he's still a slender 200 pounds. Also joining the program is 6-7 freshman-to-be DayJar Dickson. And, there's also rising senior Joe Thomas, a 6-7, 220-pounder (3.4, 2.6), but he only averaged 13.7 minutes per game last season and has rarely been a factor yet ... The rebounding chores will probably fall heavily on 6-5 wing players rising junior Rayvon Harris (4.2 rebounds per game last season) and rising soph Ramone Snowden (5.5) ... Some other intriguing players are also coming aboard to help out on the perimeter. They include 6-2 frosh Karon Davis, who redshirted last season, LIU-Post Division II transfer Emile Blackmon, who averaged 12.7 ppg. there playing for Casey in the 2012-13 season, and 6-4 Matt Scott, who averaged 28.4 ppg. at small-school Brooklyn High School for Law & Technology last season. And, there's the return of Mason, who appears set to stay at Niagara despite rumors that he would consider transferring. His presence will help ensure the team remains respectable in the coming season and he'll surely contend for the national scoring lead once again.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Until proven otherwise, Niagara is the classic hole-in-the-middle "donut" team, and that could mean another season of weak interior defense and overall rebounding. If either Dominique or Dickerson are ready to contribute in a big way, and that's a lot to ask of freshmen, then Niagara could exceed expectations. For sure the program will have some of the best perimeter play in the conference. But, like this past season, that's not likely to move it up too far in the standings. We foresee Niagara being competitive once again, but not enough so to get higher than the eighth-to-tenth range in the final MAAC standings.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Team Report: Canisius Women Need Post-Play Help

Here's another in the "Team Report" series, taking a look back and a crystal-ball look ahead at conference teams.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 9-11 in MAAC play, sixth place; 13-17 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A one-game improvement over the previous season's 8-10 MAAC record, the best conference record since a 14-4 finish in the 2008-09 season and the highest finish (fifth, by virtue of tie-breakers) in the league standings since '08-09 ... All of that was accomplished with an impressive late-season flourish, a 4-1 record that began in mid-February through the end of regular-season play. Included was a showdown 66-63 victory over Rider in the final game of regular-season play that captured the fifth seed (and a first-round tournament bye) for Canisius and relegated the Broncs to sixth place ... Rising junior point guard Tiahana Mills turned in arguably her best game of the season in that win over Rider, scoring 19 points (7-of-8 shooting), and getting five rebounds and five assists. She had at least six assists nine times during the year, the second-most six-assist games in program history ... Rising 5-10 junior forward Crystal Porter was also at her best late, averaging 12.2 pints and 6.4 rebounds in the team's last five regular-season games. She had a big 23-point explosion in one of those games, against regular-season champion Iona ...  Rising senior guard Kayla Hoohuli had a nice season, leading the team in scoring (10.8 ppg.), in steals (33 overall) and in three-pointers made (48). She also had one of her best performances late, scoring 23 points in the MAAC Tournament loss to Quinnipiac ... Graduating senior 6-3 post Jamie Ruttle finished off a solid career with 1,180 career points ... Rising senior 6-1 forward Courtney VandeBovenkamp (3.9 points, 3.9 rebounds) came back from missing the previous season with a knee injury, got back into the starting lineup by midseason and provide solid play after that.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Despite some slight improvement over the previous year, it was the program's fifth-straight sub-.500 finish, a 35-57 record in MAAC play (60-93 overall) during that stretch. And, despite the nice late season surge, the season came to a resounding stop with a 72-61 setback to Quinnipiac in the quarterfinal round of the MAAC Tournament, a game in which the the winners had a 44-21 lead at halftime and were never threatened ... This looked like it might be the season in which the Griffs really challenged for better. The roster included four fourth-year players, all of whom had won MAAC Rookie of the Week awards as freshmen. But, none of the four made dramatic improvements off their freshmen seasons ... Also lacking was the team's traditional three-point barrage. At one time the program held the national record for consecutive games with a made three-pointer (a string that ended a couple of years ago). This year, though, its 154 made three-pointers was only ninth-best in the 11-team MAAC ... Injuries also played a minor role as VandeBovenkamp wasn't 100 percent early, Porter played through some injury issues most of the year and one of the team's best outside shooters, reserve guard Emily Weber, (3.5 ppg.) only got into 16 games because of recurring injury issues ... Rebounding was also an issue. Despite two 6-3 players and another at 6-1 in the playing group, the Griffs were outrebounded by 2.3 per contest.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Some rebuilding, and probably a restructuring of how the team plays. Ruttle and 6-3 reserve Jen Lennox are done, leaving only VandeBovenkamp and rising 6-1 sophomore Laniere Coleman, who only got into three games this season, as the only forwards on the roster taller than 5-10. The team also got an early signing period commitment from another 6-1 player, forward Abby Schwenk of Ohio. If the team can get some contributions from the post, it could approach this past season's record. Porter, a 5-10 forward, will also help. She led the team in rebounding (4.9) this past season. Its top perimeter players are all returning. With Hoohuli at off-guard and Mills at the point, the Griffs has one of the better starting backcourts in the MAAC. There should be good depth, as well. rising sophomore Lauren D'Hont is deadly from long range (23-of-47 on treys this season), and Weber has the potential to be just as good from the perimeter.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: The lack of both height and experience in the front court will cause issues in 2014-15. A likely greater emphasis on perimeter play could surprise some opponents on specific nights. But, there doesn't seem to be a strong enough inside game to expect the string of sub-.500 seasons to end. Most prognostications will have Canisius finishing near the bottom of next season's standings, as will this one. A bottom-four finish seems likely at this point.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Team Report: Canisius Men Face Rebuilding Season

And, now, begins the annual series of off-season team reports.

Each report will be a combination of looking back at the past season with an early crystal-ball glimpse of the future as best we can figure it.

We've decided to start in the west and, then, move eastward in some semblance of order.

So, we'll start with ...


2013-14 RECORD: 14-6 in MAAC play, tied for third; 21-13 overall that included a post-season trip to the Postseason Tournament (CIT) where the Griffs dropped a 111-100 decision.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Year 2 of the Baron era pretty much mirrored the first. Head coach Jim Baron directed a team spearheaded by his son, 6-foot-2 guard Billy, to a 20-14 record in 2012-13 and, then, went a game better this past season. It marked the first time in school history that a Canisius men's coach won 20 games in each of his first two seasons ... It was also the second straight year the Griffs went to the CIT. Last year's appearance was the program's first in national post-season play in 17 years ... Baron, the son, was the MAAC's Player of the Year and arguably the conference's best perimeter player since Luis Flores played at Manhattan. He finished fourth nationally in scoring (24.1 ppg.) and 41st nationally in assists (5.3, which led the MAAC). He also led the MAAC in three-pointers made (3.1 per contest). Individually, he might have been at his best when he played every minute of a triple overtime victory at Siena, scoring 40 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out five assists. And, his 821 points scored this season is the second-best single-season total in program history, trailing only Larry Fogle's 835 set 40 years ago ... He got some help from talented teammates, including senior guard Chris Perez (12.9 ppg.) and 6-11 senior center Jordan Heath (10.5, 5.5 rebounds and 72 blocks. Freshman Zach Lewis was one of the better young perimeter playes in the league (8.5 ppg, 63 made three-pointers), and Chris Manhertz was his typically tough inside force, averaging 6.9 rebounds per contest.

WHAT WENT WRONG: To many close losses. The Griffs lost MAAC games by one to Monmouth, by three to Marist, by five to Manhattan and by seven to Quinnipiac. Reverse two of those and they would have been strong contenders for the regular-season title ... Then, there was a three-point loss to Iona in the semifinal round of the conference's post-season tournament when a clearly tired Baron misfired on a pretty decent look on a game-tying three pointer. Instead, Iona held on for a 75-72 victory ... Manhertz also suffered a late-season broken nose, missed three games and wasn't 100 percent for a few games after that. It robbed the Griffs of their lone true inside toughness and they went 4-4 in their final eight regular-season games, a stretch that coincided with Manhertz' injury ... Otherwise, there just wasn't enough inside play. Canisius got outrebounded by 3.0 per contest ... And, its defense wasn't exactly a brick wall. Canisius allowed 75.6 points per game, and only 45 Division I teams allowed more ... That was never more evident than when the Griffs hosted their lone CIT game. Canisius scored 100 points in that contest, but gave up 111.

WHAT'S AHEAD: A major rebuilding process. Losing Baron, the player, is more than enough to set any program back a few notches. The team also loses its next two leading scorers in Heath and Perez and its leading rebounder in Manhertz. That's the program's top four players. Whew. But, the cupboard isn't totally empty, particularly on the perimeter. Rising 6-4 junior guard Dominique Raney (5.5 ppg.) and rising soph Lewis (9.5) are back, but neither is a true point guard. Neither is 6-4 Adam Weir, who redshirted this past season and who could get into the playing group. Your guess as to the Griffs' next point guard is as good as anyone's. It might be incoming JC transfer 6-5 Jamal Reynolds, who played the last two seasons at Mott (Mich.) CC. He was a highly touted floor general during his pre-college days in Canada. The front court, though, is really thin. Phil Valenti, a 6-7 forward, did come on as the season progressed and had a late-season 15-point/9-rebound effort against Iona. If he adds about 10 or 15 pounds of off-season muscle, he can be on his way to being one of the better front-court players in the league. Rising senior Josiah Heath, a 6-9 forward, also needs to step up. He only averaged 11 minutes per contest last season. The roster also includes 6-10 rising junior center Kevin Bleeker, the least-used player on this year's roster who is likely to get key minutes next season.

REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: Any program with so many significant losses can't maintain what Canisius has done of late. Plus, there's plenty of inexperience at every position. If Canisius can approach .500 next season it will be a significant accomplishment. Most preseason predictions will see the Griffs picked near the bottom, and that's the thought here, too. Expect something in the bottom three, maybe even last, in a season of growth leading to better things in coming seasons.

Monday, April 21, 2014

ATM: News and Notes From Around The MAAC

Here's a feature we like to call "ATM," an acronym for "Around The MAAC."


Although nothing has been officially announced, it appears that former Manhattan men's basketball coach Barry Rohrssen will be joining John Calipari's staff with national champion Kentucky.

Rohrssen, universally known by his nickname "Slice," is one of the all-time nice guys to have come through the MAAC.

He was at Manhattan for five seasons and had a 52-98 record there, precipitating his firing after the 2010-11 season.

Three seasons later, his replacement, Steve Masiello, had Manhattan in the NCAA Tournament this year. But, even Masiello has regularly credited Rohrssen for the players he brought in that had significant impact in the program's recent turnaround.

Rohrssen is widely recognized as one of the better recruiters nationally. At Manhattan, he brought in George Beamon, Mike Alvarado and Rhamel Brown, the team's top three players this past season.

For the past two years Rohrssen has been an assistant at Pittsburgh, the position he also held prior to becoming Manhattan's head coach.


A couple of weeks ago it looked like Aleesha Powell of the Iona women's team would be part of a strong returning group expected to help the Gaels contend for the 2014-15 regular-season's championship.

Instead, it now appears that she is transferring to Seton Hall, according to one internet source that tracks women's players who are changing schools.

Powell, a 5-foot-6 rising junior guard, was the team's third-leading scorer (11.7 points) this past season and was No. 2 on the Gaels in total assists (122).

Her move to Seton Hall reunites her with former Iona coach Tony Bozzella, who recruited Powell to play at Iona and coached her there when she was a freshman.


Iona's senior guard Sean Armand was the only player from the MAAC who participated in last week's Portsmouth Invitational, a showcase event for strong college players not expected to be drafted by the NBA.

The 6-foot-4 Armand averaged 12.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and seven assists per game in three contests.

Players are divided between six teams that play three games each in a round-robin format to determine squads that advance to the event's championship game.

Canisius guard Billy Baron had also been invited to the event, but opted not to participate.


As has been the case in every post season since Keepin' Track of the MAAC's humble beginnings, we've produced "team reports," and will do so again in coming weeks.

The reports take a look back at regular season play from the just-concluded season as well as a crystal-ball look at what might be ahead.

We give the full treatment to every men's and every women's program. The reports will begin within a few days, so keep checking in early and often.

There won't be any order to when reports appear. But, when we do a report on a men's team, that school's women's report will immediately follow ... or, vice versa.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Iona, Marist Early Women's Picks for 2014-15 Season

Time to take a very early look at how things could turn out in 2014-15 season for women.

And, with a caveat. Again, it's very early. Much good happen between now and then. Teams are still going through the late recruiting period, so very little consideration, for now, is given to incoming freshmen/transfers.

We will make two initial judgments.

1) The women's league will be stronger overall next season. This year's bottom two teams, Siena and Saint Peter's, both have outstanding additions joining their programs and both will be significantly more competitive in 2014-15. Otherwise, there isn't another league team suffering so many graduation losses to think they'll fall very far.

2) Here's something we've never written since the blog's beginning prior to the 2008-09 season, and never harbored a thought about for the past decade: When you get to the bottom of this post (we're rating teams in reverse order), there will be a team other than Marist as the early preseason favorite.

That's not to say the Red Foxes are suddenly coming back to the pack. They'll still finish as one of the top two teams and, in all likelihood, will compete strongly for the regular-season title.

And, that's not to say that Marist won't once again be the conference's representative to the NCAA Tournament.

No league coach knows how to win key games better than Marist's Brian Giorgis. And, no team in the league, over the years, has played better defense than Marist for more than a decade.

There's a correlation. Defense wins big games, and defense wins in the MAAC Tournament. Marist will play defense.

But, for the first time in close to a decade, there's a real threat to Marist's domination.

So, here we go ... the very early 2014-15 predictions ...


Competitive at times last season, the sign that the team played hard for first-year program coach Pat Coyle, who has five seasons of coaching in the WNBA on her resume. The team loses one player of real significance, third-team all-MAAC pick post player Kaydine Bent. But, Coyle will rebuild quickly. Coming in are two eligible and very good transfers, point guard Rebecca Sparks from St. Francis, and 6-2 center Imani Martinez from Tennessee State, and Coyle thinks both will help right away. There's also some good recruits coming in. Always hard to judge incoming freshmen, but the pieces mean the program will start turning around in the not-so-distant future.


The team's best player, Jamie Ruttle is graduating, along with the team's height, Ruttle and reserve Jen Lennox, both 6-3. The Golden Griffins have some good perimeter players returning in Kayla Hoohuli, who could be one of the better off-guards in the MAAC this season, point guard Tiahana Mills and sniper Lauren D'Hont. Chrystal Porter also had a nice season, and Courtney VandeBovenkamp, at 6-1, gives the team at least something inside. But, the Griffs struggled with rebounding even with Ruttle and Lennox on the roster.


The coaching switch two years ago hasn't helped yet, as the program endured its worst conference record in its Division I history in any league (3-17) in 2013-14. And, two starters and a key reserve are graduating. Soph-to-be post player Megan Donohue and the return of another tough forward Simone Kelly (a December knee injury) will give the Saints some strong play in the post. Tehresa Coles is a superior defender on the perimeter, and swingperson Ida Krough provides a little bit of everything. But, a influx of talent is needed. The incoming freshmen class is reputed to be a good one, but freshmen rarely make major contributions at this level. The future will be better, but this year is likely to just be a step towards that.


Meghan McGuinness is an emerging standout out the perimeter, already one of the league's better scoring threats who should be even better as a senior in the coming season; and, 6-2 Victoria Rampado was the MAAC's top rookie this past season. Val McQuade also provides perimeter scoring and good ball-handling. The team does lose its most athletic player in Chanel Johnson. And, it had rebounding issues this past season. If 6-3 Sam Lapszynski and/or 6-1 Gabby Baldasare can step up, the Purple Eagles have the potential to move up a few spot in the standings.


Two players graduate, and two good replacements step in. Gone is one of the league's all-time best long-range shooters in Monica Roeder, along with solid point guard Allison Skrec. But, Kayla Grimme, a 6-2 post who might have been the best rookie early before a season ending injury, returns. And, Skrec's role at the point should be adequately filled by eligible Wagner transfer Jacqui Thompson, a two-year starter there. Otherwise, everyone else is back, including forward Ashley Stec, snipers Shauna Erickson and Nicole Isaacs and emerging Blake Underhill.


They lose MyNeshia McKenzia, one of the MAAC's best players in recent memory. And, Shereen Lightbourne will also be missed for her inspirational leadership. But, everyone else returns, along with two prospective starters who missed just about all of last season, guards Taylor Wentzel and Emily Fazzini. The Broncs will legitimately go five or six deep on the perimeter with returning point guard Manon Pellet, off-guard Kornelija Valiuskyte and freshman sniper Stephanie Mason, who had two huge games in the MAAC tournament. Swingplayer Lashay Banks should also be better after playing much of last year with an ankle issue. And, 6-1 post Julia Duggan was one of the league's top young players this past season. Rider is probably one more good rebounder away from seriously contending for a top-five position.


This is your scribe's pick as the team most likely to be a positive surprise this season, and picking it fifth might be a little low. The Hawks will have the biggest front-line rotation not only in the MAAC, but maybe of just about any mid-major level team anywhere. It has three 6-foot-4 post players, and all of them are above average in terms of ability. Sarah Olson is returning senior-to-be starter in the post and she'll be joined by rising sophomores Christina Mitchell and Sophie Beaudry. The two 6-4 youngsters both are fairly athletic and talented, and head coach Jenny Palmateer often used two of the three together last season. There's also a emerging point guard in rising soph Helena Kurt, an all-Rookie team pick from this past season. The Hawks lose glue-senior Chevannah Paalvast, but have rising senior Jasmine Walker back, along with soph-to-be Mia Hopkins, who showed some signs last season.


The Stags are always tough with a thick offensive playbook that is hard to defend, particularly with a good point guard in charge. And, they have a good one in senior-to-be Felicia DaCruz. There are significant losses, though, in all-MAAC player Katie Cizynski and solid Brittany Obi-Tabot, as well as long-range bomber Alexys Vazquez. But Samantha Cooper, a very promising 6-2 post who only played three games as a freshman before a season-ending injury, should help up front. She'll get support from 6-2 Casey Smith, an eligible transfer from St. Joseph's. And, another returnee, Kristin Schatzlein should step into a bigger role as a capable scorer. Coach Joe Frager's "system" usually brings good results, and there's enough talent here to finish this high, at least.


Losing a post presence like Brittany McQuain is a sizable setback. But four other key players are back from the team that gave Marist all it could handle in this season's MAAC Tournament championship game. The Bobcats had a 17-point lead late in the first half in that contest, and still had a late-game three-point shot to tie the contest that fell short. Rising senior point guard Gillian Abshire was among the national leaders in assists this past season and is as good at the position as it gets in the conference. Jasmine Martin is an effective perimeter scorer and returning forwards Samantha Guastella and Nikoline Ostergaard will help ensure Quinnipiac stays close to the top of the upcoming season's standings.


Point guard Casey Dulin, do-everything guard Leanne Ockenden and first-team all-MAAC forward Emma O'Connor are gone, and they were probably Marist's top three players from this past season. Tough to endure losses like that and maintain. But, Marist has done it before, and there are reasons to believe they'll endure it again. Back are emerging all-stars Madeline Blais and Sydney Coffey, both capable of major offensive contributions. And, 6-3 center Tori Jarosz, who was never 100 percent this year after suffering a preseason Achilles injury, should be better in the coming season. Then, Giorgis has a knack for having young players make major strides, meaning the expectations will be high for rising sophs forward Kat Fogarty, guards Brittni Laiy and Sydney Rosales. Then, there appears to be a solid freshman class coming in, led by Maine's Player of the Year, guard Allie Clement. And, Giorgis is still head and shoulders the top coach in the conference, and that counts for something.


The Gaels became the first team to displace Marist as the top seeded team entering the MAAC's post-season tournament in nine seasons, after sharing the regular-season title with the Red Foxes and earning the No. 1 seed on tiebreakers. Iona had every starter from the previous year still in place for 2013-14, and first-year head coach Billi Godsey knew the team didn't need a lot of change, just a few tweaks which she capable installed. It will be much of the same in the coming season with three key starters still around. The biggest loss is defensive-minded post player/shot-blocker Sabrina Jeridore, and there's a replacement on hand in 6-4 eligible transfer Karynda Dupree, a part-time starter as a freshman at La Salle where she blocked four shots in three different games. Also back are arguably the league's top two players for 2014-15 in two-time Player of the Year guard Damika Martinez and reigning rebound leader forward Joy Adams. Also gone is steady point guard Haley D'Angelo, but Aleesha Powell is capable of moving into that role and Aaliyah Robinson, who has been instant perimeter offense off the bench in the past, is likely to join the starting lineup.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Iona, Siena Top The Early Ratings For Next Season

One season ends and, it seems, it's time to start looking ahead to the next one.

It's probably a little early for that. MAAC programs are still in the middle of the late recruiting period so incoming recruits and transfers could have subsequent changes on our league's basketball landscape in the time between now and the season's start in November.

But, we'll give it a try anyway. For now, here's one scribe's view of how teams will finish for the coming season, in reverse order.

The analysis will be relatively short, for now. We will say that it looks like a long, cold basketball winter in Western New York, that there appears to be a top-heavy, two-team race for the regular-season title, that two others seem strong bets for the top five spots and that everything below the top four is anyone's guess.

One last reminder: As I have done for at least a dozen years, I will once again be providing the MAAC's seasonal preview for The Sporting News' annual College Basketball preview issue, which traditionally hits newsstands in late September/early October.

The magazine is the best-of-its-kind national publication available through traditional outlets, and while the mid- and low-major leagues don't get quite as much space in the magazines as the high-level leagues, there's still enough to provide a concise and complete look at our league. Hope you'll check it out.

So, this year's "early" predictions for men. Women's predictions to follow within a few days...


It looks like, at least right now, that guard Antoine Mason will return for his senior season. The nation's No. 2 scorer this past season will at least help the Purple Eagles remain competitive. But, the team's top big man (Marcus Ware) and second-best scorer (guard Marvin Jordan) are both graduating, and back-up point guard Tahjere McCall is leaving the program. Mason, 6-5 forward Ramone Snowden and point guard Wesley Myers is a nice trio, but there's not much else there for now. Incoming freshmen, or redshirts from this past season, will likely join the starting lineup and would have to make huge strides to move Niagara up in the conference standings.


Losing Billy Baron, the league's top perimeter player in at least a decade, is bad enough. But, the program also loses its next two leading scorers (Chris Perez, Jordan Heath) and its best rebounder (Chris Manhertz). The Griffs start out with some backcourt potential in Zach Lewis and Dominique Raney, but without a point guard. Phil Valenti is becoming a very good MAAC forward, and  Josiah Heath, who averaged just 11 minutes per game last season, probably moves into the starting rotation. But, the team will be extremely inexperienced and will struggle to maintain the success of the past two seasons.


Could be another rebuilding year for the Stags, who faced inexperience issues in the backcourt this past season and will again this year, due to reported transfers. Guards Justin Jenkins, Sean Grennan and Lincoln Davis all appear to be leaving Fairfield. And, the team's best player, Maurice Barrow, is graduating. It leaves talented 6-6 forward Marcus Gilbert, bruising forward Amadou Sidibe and promising sophomores-to-be K.J. Rose and Doug Chappell as four likely starters. The rest of the playing group is a question mark.


The Broncs usually figure out a way to be competitive, but they're losing four-year stalwarts guard Anthony Myles and Daniel Stewart, their top two players. There's still a very good guard trio returning in Zedric Taylor, Kahlil Thomas and Jimmy Taylor, one of the league's emerging point guard standouts. Brusing post Junior Fortunat is also back. And, there's the addition of 7-foot-0 center Matt Lopez, who is very talented but has already been at two schools (La Salle, Utah State) in his first two seasons of college play. If Lopez works out, Rider has the potential to move up.


The very effective front-court duo of Adam Kemp and Jay Bowie is gone, and there don't appear to be step-in replacements. Still, the Red Foxes have one of the top perimeter tandems in the MAAC in 6-5 senior swingman Chavaughn Lewis and Rookie of the Year point guard Khalil Hart, who is a real good one. And Lewis is an early Player of the Year candidate. Another guard, T.J. Curry, was effective when he got into the starting lineup. But, lightly used freshmen, ones like Kentrall Brooks and Nick Colletta, and sophomore Eric Truog will have to step up for Marist to continue building on the solid foundation coach Jeff Bower put in place in his first season.


Probably the biggest team in the MAAC with 6-10 post players Chris Brady and Zac Tillman having contributed this season as freshmen, as did 6-8 Greg Noack. The perimeter is well-stocked with bookend 6-6 forwards Deon Jones and Andrew Nicholas, the team's top two scorers from this past season. Guards Max DiLeo and Josh Jones give the team a good backcourt tandem as scorers and Justin Robinson, in his freshman season, showed he's one of the conference's better young point guards.  Basically, everyone is back and that could mean the Hawks could challenge for the top five.


The fallout from the Steve Masiello mess probably won't be felt this season, but his credibility took a hit in recent weeks and the question about whether his players will be as receptive to him in the future remains. Plus, the program lost as much via graduation as anyone with the departures of scoring swingman George Beamon, Defensive Player of the Year post player Rhamel Brown and gritty point guard Michael Alvarado. Returning is talented swingman Emmy Andujar, sniper Shane Richards and post player Ashton Pankey, who flashed some strong signs late in the season. But there are questions in the backcourt, enough to ensure Manhattan is on the bubble for finishing in the top five in the coming season.


The graduation losses of big man Ike Azotam and the two Shannons, Shaq and Umar, are considerable ones. But, there's a wealth of returning talent starting with one of the league's most-gifted inside players in Ousmane Drame and do-everything/hard-playing guard Zaid Hearst. Add to that group two very strong freshmen of this past season, guard Kasim Chandler and forward A.J. Sumbry, who will be a reasonable replacement for Azotam. Senior-to-be guard Evan Conti provides much versatility and experience to the backcourt and swingman James Ford provided off-the-bench production this past season.


Everyone of significance returns, with the exception of fourth-leading scorer Chris Burke, and a redshirt sophomore, Chaz Patterson, could be a more-than-adequate replacement. Senior-to-be guard Desi Washington (just ask Fairfield about him) and forward Marvin Dominique are among the top 10, or so, players in the league. Bruising post Quadir Welton and point guard Trevis Wyche both had strong freshman seasons and should step up even more. Kris Rolle had some big contributions in the MAAC tournament, and could play a bigger role this coming season. The Peacocks are probably either one more quality big man, or scorer, short of truly contending for the regular-season title. But, John Dunne is one of the league's top coaches and always seems to get his teams playing like the proverbial junk-yard dogs, particularly late in the season.


Every scholarship player returns from a 20-victory team, albeit one whose win total got a significant boost from playing, and winning the title of, the CBI post-season tournament. Still, Siena got better as the season went on and went 9-2 in its last 11 games. The extra games (Siena played a program high 38 this season) helped it develop. Two freshmen were starters this past season, and two more were in the playing group. One frosh, Marquis Wright, is already among the best floor generals in the league. Senior-to-be Rob Poole is one of the MAAC's better players and 6-8 junior-to-be Brett Bisping emerged as a future all-conference candidate and probably improved, off the previous season, more than any other player in the league. Add to that mix eligible talented transfer swingman Patrick Cole and a couple of promising incoming freshmen and Siena is clearly in the mix for the top spot in the coming season. And, it doesn't hurt to have the league's best coach in Jimmy Patsos.


Tough to lose three starters in swingman Mike Poole and guards Trey Bowman and Sean Armand, the league's second most-proficient three-point shooter (to Canisius' Billy Baron this past season). But, two starters return in point guard A.J. English and forward Isaiah Williams. English is an early candidate for Player of the Year a year from now, and Williams is one of the league's most-talented performers. Plus, big man David Laury was an early season starter and lost that role through some lackluster midseason effort. But, at his best he's as good as it gets in the post in the MAAC. Then, there's Marshall transfer Kelvin Amayo, a redshirt last season, who adds more gifted offense to the Gaels. The fifth starter might be Tavon Sledge, a feisty point guard who has held that role in the past. And, as always, expect an off-season's infusion of more talented transfers/JC players to come aboard to help out. If offense meant everything Iona would be the runaway favorite for next season. But, because defense is an equal part of the equation, the Gaels look to be only a very slight favorite over Siena.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Top MAAC Women's Stories of 2013-14 Hoops Season

Earlier this week we identified the Top 10 stories of the 2013-14 season for men. Time, now, for the ladies, in reverse order ...


This story is almost predicated on good things to come for the first-year entrant to the MAAC, but that's a product of what we saw from the Hawks this past season.

Despite just a 6-14 league record, we're picking Monmouth as the surprise team of next season. The team has some of the best young talent we've seen (and we saw every women's team play at least three times), including a pair of 6-foot-4 skilled and talented "bigs" in Christina Mitchell and Sophie Beaudry and point Helena Kurt. All three will be sophomores next season and all three are very talented.

And, there's a strong third 6-4 player on the scene in senior-to-be Sara English. Monmouth's team this season, and next, might be the tallest the MAAC has ever seen. And head coach Jenny Palmateer isn't adverse to using two of her "trees" at the same time. And, it's not that Monmouth didn't show some signs this season. It beat third-place Fairfield during the regular season and finished strong with a regular-season ending demolition of Siena (80-57) and a play-in MAAC Tournament round victory over Niagara (66-62), before a tournament-ending loss to Iona.


If Monmouth's play this year was a harbinger of future team success, then the indications of an emerging standout were on display by Rider's Stephanie Mason in the MAAC Tournament.

Mason, a 5-foot-9 freshman guard, was a lightly used reserve (11.5 minute-per-game average) for much of the regular season. And, in the MAAC event's play-in round she played just three minutes, had a turnover, a foul and did not score.

And, then, she didn't play much in the first half of the tournament's quarterfinal-round contest against Fairfield. But, with the Stags holding a 43-34 advantage midway through the second half, Mason became the event's emerging star.

Against a Fairfield zone, she made four consecutive three-pointers, the final one giving her team a 50-46 lead on its way to a 63-56 upset over the tournament's No. 3 seed.

As if to show that wasn't a fluke, she scored a career-high 18 points in 23 minutes of playing time in the semifinal round, a surprisingly close 70-59 loss to Marist.


For the first time in 10 years a team other than Marist was the regular-season champion. That was Iona, coached by Billi Godsey.

The Gaels actually tied for the top spot with the Red Foxes, both with 18-2 conference records. But, by virtue of tie-breakers, Iona was the top seed for the MAAC Tournament.


Godsey was recently named the WBCA Spalding Maggie Dixon Division I Rookie Coach of the Year, with the announcement coming in Nashville, Tenn., the night prior to the NCAA tournament's women's championship game. She becomes the first coach in conference history to claim the honor.

In her first season as a head coach she led Iona to a program record 26 victories and an in-season 18-game winning streak, the longest in school history.

The award is named in honor of the late Maggie Dixon, the former Army head coach, whose inaugural year with that program resulted in a 2006 Patriot League title. Dixon tragically passed away on April 6, 2006, just a few weeks following her team's appearance in the NCAA tournament.


The Stags played longer into the 2013-14 season than any MAAC women's program, advancing to the semifinal round of the WBI Tournament before losing to Illinois-Chicago.

Fairfield finished with a 22-11 record and, during the regular season, handed Marist one of its two losses.

It was just the continuation of a strong run of success under coach Joe Frager, whose team has participated in national post-season play four times (three WBI events, one WNIT berth) in the past five years.


While MyNeshia McKenzie, the talented 6-foot-0 senor forward was putting up big numbers all year for Rider, she was also chasing history.

Her 19.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per-game average this past season was the latest run by a player that fell just short of averaging a historic 20/10 for a full season.

No MAAC women's player has ever recorded a 20/10 season average. The closest was former Loyola standout Patty Stoffey, who was five total rebounds short of the achievement in the mid-1990's.


We're seeing history in the making by two Iona players, junior guard Damika Martinez and sophomore forward Joy Adams.

Martinez, through three seasons, already has 1,866 career points which is 11th all-time on the league's career list. When she scores 10 more points next season she'll move up to eighth. And, before the season is out, she is almost assured of becoming the MAAC's all-time leading scorer. Loyola's Patty Stoffey currently tops the league's career scoring list with 2,467 points.

Martinez had 771 points last season (her 24.9 ppg. average was eighth-best nationally), so a duplication of that would push her to 2.,637.

Adams, in just two seasons, has moved into the No. 31 spot among the league's career rebounders with a total of 794. Her 13.8 rebound-per-game average this past season was third-best nationally.

She needs just 423 more rebounds to become the conference's all-time leader in grabbing missed shots, a mark currently held by former Manhattan standout Rosalee Mason (1,217). Adams had 442 rebounds this past season, and still has two more seasons of eligibility.

Adams is also chasing national historical marks. If she duplicates this past season with her next two years, she'll finish with close to 1,700 career rebounds. That would be enough to lift her into the No. 3 spot of all-time rebounders in NCAA Division I history, behind only Courtney Parks (2,034) of Oklahoma and Wanda Ford (1,887) of Drake.


It isn't often that top-25 ranked opponents even take a game against a MAAC team, let alone travel to play on the home court of one of our conference's programs.

But, Oklahoma (ranked 19th nationally at the time of the game), came to the McCann Recreation Center for a December non-league game and Marist showed why ranked teams are loath to come to Poughkeepsie.

The Red Foxes earned a 76-69 victory. Sophomore guard Sydney Coffey poured in a game-high 25 points for the winners.

It was Marist's first-ever home-court victory over a nationally ranked opponent.


There was a new challenge for the Marist women this year in the form of Iona.

Iona won the first of the two regular-season meetings with the Red Foxes, 73-71, in Poughkeepsie (Jan. 13) on Damika Martinez' dramatic 17-foot shot with three seconds remaining.

The outcome broke a 42-game home winning streak by Marist and a 36-game string of victories over MAAC opponents in games played anywhere.

Marist, though, got revenge in a big way when the two teams met again in the final game of the regular season, on the Gaels' home court.

The Red Foxes came away with a start-to-finish demolition of Iona, winning by a 79-67 score that wasn't anywhere near as close as the final score indicated.


Marist entered this season's MAAC tournament with an eight-year run as the event's winner and automatic entrant to the NCAA tournament. Under the superb direction of coach Brian Giorgis, it had been nine NCAA trips in the past 10 seasons.

It looked very much like that string would end as Quinnipiac, which entered the MAAC this season after winning the championship of its former league (the Northeast Conference) the previous season, held a 17-point lead late in the first half if this year's MAAC Tournament championship game.

But, then, Marist started chipping its way back in, getting to within 11 at halftime and kept the pressure on after that.

Sophomore guard Sydney Coffey had 16 of her team-high 23 points in the second half for Marist and gave her team its first second-half lead with a bucket with 5:45 remaining.

Quinnipiac, though, didn't falter, and a basket by its superb post player Brittany McQuain followed by two free throws by guard Jasmine Martin tied the score at 64-64 with 2:18 remaining.

Junior center Tori Jarosz, though, followed with a layup and a free thow to give Marist a 67-64 lead with 1:43 remaining. McQuain than made another inside shot to pull the Bobcats to within one with a minute left.

Coffee then made two free throws with 14 seconds remaining to give the Red Foxes a 69-66 lead, and a subsequent three-point attempt to tie the game for Quinnipiac bounced off the rim.

Marist secured another MAAC championship game victory and its ninth straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

Although it lost, 87-65, in a first-round NCAA game against Iowa (on Iowa's home court), the MAAC tournament victory proved once again that the only certainties seem to be death, taxes and conference domination by the Marist women's basketball team.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Looking Back at MAAC'S Top Stories For 2013-14

College basketball season, at least for men (the women's NCAA championship contest is tonight), is over. So, what better time to reflect on what we've seen.

Here, in reverse order, are one person's opinion on the Top 10 stories in the MAAC this season. We'll do men first. The ladies will get their chance ... when their season ends.


The decisions to add the two programs was visionary. Each brings nice mid-sized facilities to the league, true "small arenas," if you will, that instantly became the best two on-campus buildings in the league.

And, both brought pretty good teams. Quinnipiac contended for the league title most of the season, while Monmouth, despite a less-than-stellar won-loss record, exhibited one of the better stables of young players and figures to be a solid program in the coming year and even better going forward.


Quinnipiac was the best rebounding team in the country, its 11.8 rebound-per-game positive differential over opponents was No. 1 nationally.

There was little surprise about that, not after watching the bruising inside tandem of junior Ousmane Drame and senior Ike Azotam do their tough work inside all season. Drame's 10.5 rebound-per-game average is ninth-best nationally, while Azotam's 10.2 average is 12th best.


He was the head coach at Loyola for the previous nine seasons, but clearly didn't want to be part of that program's move to the Patriot League. When Siena's position opened up last March, Patsos was interested. And, credit Siena for being interested in him.

In truth, it was a no-brainer of a decision. Patsos had a strong resume as both a program-builder (Loyola won a single game the year before he took over and, then, had the MAAC's best record over his final two seasons) and for bringing out the best in his players.

At Siena, he turned 6-8 sophomore forward Brett Bisping, a virtual non-entity the previous season, into one of the most-improved performers nationally. He fit together a playing group of four freshmen, two sophomores who barely played last season and three juniors who all had bigger roles than in the past and, somehow, turned in a 20-victory season (more on that later).

It's no stretch to consider Patsos the best coach in the MAAC.


The 6-foot-3 junior guard at Niagara led the country in scoring for a good portion of the season before winding up No. 2 (to Doug McDermott) with his 25.6 ppg. average.

And, somehow, he was omitted, by league coaches (shame on you!) from the conference's top post-season all-star team.

Still, he was the rare bright light for a Purple Eagles' program that was decimated by defections last spring and summer of former head coach Joe Mihalich and three of its best expected returnees who opted to play elsewhere.


After finishing fourth the previous year, the Gaels reloaded and came as close to dominating the regular season, with a 17-3 record, as we've seen since Siena's three-peat series of titles a few years back.

As usual, Tim Cluess' team made a living with its offense, scoring 83.6 points per game that ranked nearly five points per contest better than the next-best scoring average by a conference squad.

If nothing else, Iona was the league's most-exciting team to watch, particularly with its all-league backcourt pairing of senior Sean Armand and sophomore A.J. English.


The offensive-minded junior guard from Saint Peter's ended Fairfield's season with a 28-foot three-pointer from the right side as time was running down in overtime, giving the Peacocks an overtime victory in the quarterfinal round of the MAAC tournament.

By then, Fairfield had already seen far more of that than it wanted. The buzzer-beater marked the third time this year Washington beat the Stags on a last-second shot. All three were three-pointers, and all three were virtually from the same exact spot ... right hand side ... of the court.

At Saint Peter's, they called that "thrice as nice."


The 6-2 senior guard was a do-everything performer who helped lift his team to its best season since the days when John Beilein prowled the Buffalo school's sidelines.

Baron averaged 24.1 points per game (1,405 total points over two years since transferring from Rhode Island to continue playing for his father, Jim Baron) AND, he led the MAAC in assists.

The statistics he accumulated, creating a place in school history and, even, reaching some rare national milestones, are too wide-reaching to mention them all. It's sufficient to just say he was the top perimeter talent these eyes have seen in the MAAC since Luis Flores played at Manhattan more than a decade ago.


The regular season didn't go as expected. The Jaspers were the universal preseason pick to win the regular-season crown and, then, went 15-5 to finish second to Iona. But Manhattan got things right after that, advancing to the NCAA's via a MAAC tournament title that included a 71-68 victory over Iona (holding the Gaels to more than 15 points below their per-game average).

Once in the national event, Manhattan drew the unenviable match-up with Louisville, the previous season's national championship. And, it was an even less-enviable pairing for the coaches of the two schools. Rick Pitino is Louisville's head coach, and Manhattan coach Steve Masiello not only played a season for Pitino (at Kentucky), but served under Pitino as a Louisville assistant for the six seasons prior to his hiring at Manhattan.

And, then, Masiello's team nearly pulled off what would have been one of the top upsets of the tournament, leading Louisville with only a few minutes remaining before Pitino's team made a final surge to earn a 71-64 victory.


Not long after Manhattan's NCAA Tournament appearance, it appeared Masiello was making the inevitable move to bigger and better ... a five-year deal for more than $6 million total was agreed on for the Jaspers' coach to move to the University of South Florida.

And, then, a background check turned up the previously overlooked fact that Masiello had never graduated from Kentucky, despite having claimed, on his official resume, to have earned a degree in communications from that school.

Once the fabrication was discovered, USF opted to withdraw its agreement with Masiello, and the coach was left in limbo for several weeks while Manhattan (which also has a policy of not hiring coaches without a degree) decided whether or not to allow him to return.

In a recent decision, Manhattan announced that Masiello would be on unpaid suspension, but would be permitted to return to his position as head coach upon completion of degree work (reportedly, he needs to complete 10 credit hours), presumably this summer.


It might only be No. 4 in the proverbial pecking order of the four national post-season tournaments, but it's a national event, nonetheless, and Siena won it this season. It is believed to be the first championship of a national post-season tournament ever by a MAAC team since the league's formation in the early 1980's.

Siena did it with a back-to-the-future there, playing the final two games of the unusual best-of-three championship series with Fresno State on its on-campus, 3,500-capacity Alumni Recreation Center gymnasium.

It's the first time the ARC was used, due to conflicts at Siena's usual Times Union Center home, for a regular-season men's game since Feb. 18, 1997.

Siena did its best work there on Saturday, leading every second of the way after the game's first play (a Brett Bisping three-pointer). The Saints had a 17-point lead by halftime against a very good opponent, a 22-point lead early in the second half and, then, held off a late-game challenge (the Bulldogs got to within nine with 1:31 remaining).

Bisping, who Siena coach Jimmy Patsos called "one of the most-improved players in the country," was the event's MVP.

Column Describes Post-CBI Win Scene at Siena

In my other professional capacity as a columnist for The Troy (N.Y.) Record newspaper, there often comes opportunities to write about MAAC-related teams. And, when that happens, your Hoopscribe will share that work in this space.

Here's a column that appeared recently following Siena's finishing off Fresno State in the championship round of the CBI Tournament ...

Monday, April 7, 2014

Manhattan To Reinstate Masiello After He Gets Degree

Saying that he is "grateful and humbled," Steve Masiello will be back as the Manhattan men's basketball coach.

Administrators at the school opted to retain Masiello, who has been with the Jaspers the last three seasons before opting to move on and accept a sizable raise to coach at the University of South Florida last month.

But, mere days after he accepted a five-year contract for more than $6 million to coach there, it was discovered that Masiello's claim to have an undergraduate degree from Kentucky wasn't true. USF officials, who require coaches to have completed college degree work, withdrew its agreement with Masiello.

Manhattan, which according to one report also has a similar policy, opted to suspend Masiello pending an investigation.

Its decision, released via a statement issued today, is to reinstate Masiello once he completes his undergraduate degree.

Masiello will be placed on unpaid leave until that course work is completed. Associate head coach Matt Grady will serve as interim head coach during Masiello's absence.

"I made a mistake that could have cost me my job at an institution I love," said Masiello, in a statement released by Manhattan's public relations office. "Details matter. Manhattan College has shown me a great deal of compassion and trust during this process and I will do everything in my power to uphold that trust. I understand that I am very fortunate to have the chance to remain here at Manhattan.

According to multiple sources, Masiello is about 10 credits short of a degree and will take classes to get one in upcoming months.

"After an extensive review of the situation and extenuating circumstances, we determined that Mr. Masiello executed poor judgment but did not intentionally misrepresent himself in applying to the college," according to the Manhattan statement issued by school president Brennan O'Donnell.

"After (his) participation in graduate ceremonies at the University of Kentucky, he enrolled in summer courses with the intention of completing his degree, but never followed through to make sure the degree was awarded.

"We appreciate the counsel of all involved in assessing this complex situation. our policy was always that the coach must have at least a four-year undergraduate degree. We are confident that Mr. Masiello will be able to complete his degree this summer and return soon thereafter to resume his duties."

Masiello's three seasons at Manhattan have resulted in a 60-39 record, including a 25-8 finish this past season and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Siena Finishes Surpise Season With CBI Crown

It was nearly an hour after Siena finished off Fresno State in impressive 81-68 fashion to capture the third and final game, and the championship of the CBI Tournament on its on-campus Alumni Recreation Center court.

By then, the crowd that rushed the court had dissipated, the photo-taking had ended, the trophy ceremony concluded. A private locker-room talk was complete.

And, then, Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos met with a sizable contingent of media types.

He brought with him a visual aid, one he wanted front and center enough to have the gaudy CBI championship trophy pushed to the far end of the press-conference's tale where he sat with two of his players.

Patsos brought with him words from Ghandi, in large bold print and framed. He spoke about how it was a gift from his one-time agent, Rob Ades, who passed away not long ago. Ades presented the framed Ghandi quote to Patsos when he first became a head coach at Loyola 10 years ago.

The words:
"First they ignore you,
Then they laugh at you,
Then they fight with you,
then you win."

They are words that fit his time with the Greyhounds, and surely fit in his first season at Siena.

Patsos' team in Loudonville this season was all but ignored, expected to do little more than trying to build for the future.

He spoke about how the league ignored Siena as league coaches predicted his team to finish 10th in the 11-team MAAC.

And, then, he noted about how hard opponents had to fight to hold Siena from even better than its unexpected fifth-place finish in the league standings.

And, then, the Saints won.

They won the CBI championship Saturday. It's all relative, of course. The CBI is hardly the NCAA Tournament. Nor is it even the NIT. It's even considered a little below the CIT event.

But, it is a national tournament. And, Siena now can say they both won a national tournament, and did so on the Saturday of the NCAA's Final Four weekend.

It didn't seem to matter on Saturday the level of the event. It was the first national post-season event title of any kind for the program since it won the National Catholic Invitation Tournament in 1950.

On Saturday, two members of that 1950 team were on hand, all-time great Billy Harrell and key teammate Bill Healey. Well over a dozen other former Siena players where at the 40-year old facility where Siena hadn't played a regular-season game since Feb. 18, 1997

Conflicts with its Times Union Center home court, though, brought Games 2 and 3 of the CBI back to the ARC.

Siena lost Game 2 on Wednesday night, falling behind by 22 late in the first half before winding up an 89-75 loser.

On Saturday, though, Patsos appealed to his team's sense of history, reacquainted them with the banners of the old Catholic tournament, and of NCAA and NIT appearances and victories over the years.

He spoke about how the ARC is truly his team's home (it conducts all its practices there), and that it better protect it.

So, protect it Siena did, jumping out immediately on sophomore forward Brett Bisping's three-pointer on the first play of the game and never trailing.

This time it was Siena that took a 22-point lead, early in the second half. Siena had to hold off a Bulldogs' rally that got them to within nine with 1:31 remaining, but it never got closer than that.

Siena's junior swing man Rob Poole led his team's offense with 23 points, while sophomore forward Brett Bisping added 20 points, nine rebounds and was named the CBI's Most Valuable Player.

Siena finishes with a 20-18 overall record, just a year removed from an 8-24 finish.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Siena Gets One Last Chance For Home Court Magic

Home court advantage? What home court advantage?

Siena failed to take advantage of its blast-from-the-past return to its on-campus Alumni Recreation Center gymnasium, dropping Game 2 of its CBI Championship Round series with Fresno State by a very decisive 89-75 margin that wasn't even as close at the final score indicated.

The Bulldogs had built up a 22-point lead just prior to the halftime break, and were never truly threatened in the second half despite playing before a loud, enthusiastic Siena-supportive crowd of 3,177 although that wasn't quite a sell-out (crowd limit was 3,500).

The Saints get another chance to wake the echoes of the type of success they regularly displayed in their on-campus gym from the days of former coaches John Griffin and Mike Deane.

Those were the good old days, before the program moved its entire slate of home games to the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., after playing its last home game at the ARC on Feb. 18, 1997.

But, home court edge?

Despite having only been inside the Loudonville facility for a two-hour workout the day prior to Wednesday's Game 2 of the best-of-three series, the Bulldogs took to it like they had been there forever.

Fresno State shot 76.2 percent in the first half, 63.9 percent over the entire game and made 53.3 percent of its three-point shots.

It looked like it had a talent advantage at every position in earning a split of the first two games and setting up the final game to determine the event's champion Saturday at 11:30 a.m. (thanks to TV scheduling), again at the ARC.

Siena won the first game at Fresno State, 61-57, but the Bulldogs looked like the better team for much of that game, too, particularly while building a 12-point advantage early in the second half.

A surprise full-court pressure defense applied by Siena seemed to ambush Fresno State and allowed the Saints to get out of California with a surprising victory in the opener.

Forewarned with the knowledge that Siena would once again employ the pressure again on Wednesday, the Bulldogs seemed considerably more prepared for it and rarely made a mistake against it until the game was well in hand.

Siena is chasing its first national tournament championship in its Division I era, and since the school's 1949-50 team won the National Catholic Invitational Tournament.

No matter the outcome, it has still been a highly successful and unexpected season for Siena. Its 11-game improvement thus far (a 19-18 record thus far after eight victories the previous season) is the sixth-best improvement nationally over the 2012-13 season.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Siena Tops Fresno State, 61-57, In CBI Event Opener

And, the basketball season continues for the Siena men's team, the last MAAC team still playing and one of just 10 teams still active as the 2013-14 season comes to a close.

The Saints, very late Monday night/Tuesday morning, won the first game in the best-of-three championship-round series at Fresno State, 61-57. Attendance was 5,284 at the Bulldogs' on-campus 15,000-plus seat Save Mart Center.

The outcome sends the series to Siena where the Saints will host Game 2 at their on-campus Alumni Recreation Center for a 7 p.m. contest on Wednesday. Game 3, if necessary, will also be played at the ARC on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.

Other than exhibition games, Siena has not played a game at its on-campus ARC since Feb. 19, 1997, having moved to the more-spacious Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., for its games since then.

Seating capacity for the CBI games is being limited to 3,500, and there was a decent line of fans waiting to purchase tickets (priced at $36 each) for the games when ticket windows opened on Monday.

You can read a column about Siena's history in the ARC that will appear in Wednesday's edition of the Troy Record, which can be found at

From the living room seat in front of the 46-inch TV, it appeared the Saints were, by far, the more-physical team in Game 1, particularly in the second half when they rallied from a 40-28 deficit midway through the second half.

When Siena's freshman forward Lavon Long scored six straight points later in the half Siena had a 56-53 edge.

Fresno State got within one before Saints' sophomore forward Brett Bisping made two foul shots to give Siena a 58-55 advantage with 5:09 remaining and Siena led the rest of the way.

The hosts did have a chance to tie, or take a lead, trailing 59-57 and in possession. But, Bisping drew a charging foul on Fresno State's Marvelle Harris with 2.6 seconds remaining to secure the victory.

Siena held a 39-29 edge in overall rebounding and a 17-5 advantage on offensive rebounds. Siena's 6-foot-0 point guard Marquis Wright led all offensive rebounders with five, while reserve freshman forward Javion Ogunyemi grabbed four missed shots on Siena's offensive end.

The victory was Siena's eighth in its last nine games. The Saints are now 19-17 overall with a 17-10 record after a 2-7 start.

The program is going through its longest basketball season in school history, both in terms of length and number of games played.

A column your Hoopscribe wrote that appeared in a recent edition of The Troy Record looked at how being together for extra games and practices has helped accelerate the team's improvement.

Here's a link to that column: