Monday, January 26, 2009

Siena Stays Perfect ... Barely

Siena won its 10th game without a loss in MAAC play Monday night at Albany's Times Union Center, but not without some very anxious moments.

The Saints escaped with a 69-68 victory over Iona, needing an under-pressure 10-footer from the baseline from junior forward Edwin Ubiles with 4.2 seconds remaining to get the winning points, and, then, hold on courtesy of sophomore center Ryan Rossiter's deflected in-bounds pass that disrupted the Gaels' attempt for a game-winning play.

The Saints now have eight remaining conference games to win to become the first MAAC team to ever finish 18-0 and be the first team to go undefeated through conference play since the 1989-90 La Salle team finished 16-0.

Some observations from Monday's game:

- Having had a look, either in person or on TV, of every MAAC team ... Iona, right now, might be the conference's second-best team. And, that humble opinion is predicated on more than the close call it gave Siena.

The Gaels had won five of their previous six contests entering Monday's affair, and its play against Siena was the latest indication of the maturation process of a young, but talented team. And, they were forced to play without their top front-court reserve, sophomore forward Alejo Rodriguez, who had to sit out Monday's game as the result of his role in an altercation against Manhattan in Iona's previous game.

The Gaels, with Rodriguez, legitimately go 10 deep, and that playing group includes just two seniors. The others are two juniors, two sophomores and four freshmen. Iona is set up to be very good for a few years, at least.

- Iona's freshman point guard Scott Machado is clearly the best freshman in the league. He had 16 points and eight assists (against three turnovers) against Siena in 33 minutes.

Said Iona coach Kevin Willard, about Machado: "He's not just one of the best freshmen, he's one of the best players in the league, period. There are a lot of good point guards in our league, and I put Siena's Ronald Moore (7 points, 6 assists, 2 turnovers Monday) up there. And, (David) Devizin (of Marist) is a really good point guard. But, I have the best one (Machad0), to be honest. He has brought it every game. Whatever his numbers are are irrelevant. He just continues to bring passion and continues to learn and he's doing it with a very inexperienced team."

Numbers? Through Monday's games ...
Machado averages 9.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and has 96 assists against 67 turnovers.
Moore averages 9.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and has 125 assists against 51 turnovers.
Devezin averages 11.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and has 77 assists against 49 turnovers.

Top point guard?
By definition, that accolade falls to the player who best runs his team.
Considering that he has the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league (2.5) by far ... this humble blogger considers Moore to be the MAAC's best point guard.

- Clearly, Siena's attempt at finishing unbeaten in league play won't be easy. After hosting Canisius this coming Thursday, the Saints play five of their last seven games on the road, including potentially stumbling blocks at Iona (Feb. 16) and at Niagara (Feb. 27).

"They're the best team in the league," said Willard, about Siena. "No offense to the other nine of us, but they're the best. If people are talking about an at-large berth (to the NCAA's) for them (if they don't win the league's post-season tournament), then they should be.

"Whether they'll go unbeaten (through league play) ... anyone can have an off-night. But they have a good chance at doing it."

- Monday, though, might have been Siena's "off-night." After building a 49-35 lead early in the second half, Siena got outscored 33-18 as it fell behind, 68-67, before Ubiles' game-winning shot.

"Once Iona started making its run, I think we tightened up a little," said Siena coach Fran McCaffery.

But Siena got it done when it counted. After the Gaels tied the score at 61-61 with 4:40 remaining, senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck scored on three straight possessions and, then Ubiles hit his clutch jumper to win it.

- Saints' sophomore Ryan Rossiter continues to exhibit play that makes him one of the most-improved players in the MAAC. He had his second straight double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds along with three blocks on Monday), and made the key deflection of Iona's in-bounds pass on the Gaels' last possession.

Fairfield Women Hope For More

Fairfield women's team coach Joe Frager calls the Lady Stags' victory over Marist on Friday night a "big win."

Which is like calling Moby Dick a big fish.

It's natural for coaches to avoid excess celebrating over a mid-season victory, no matter who the opponent. There are other games to play, and standing positions to be determined, and looking back too fondly can too often disrupt the present.

Still, Fairfield has plenty to to be proud about after knocking off a team rated No. 20 nationally with its 73-65 overtime victory over the Red Foxes in Poughkeepsie.

Marist, which was a perfect 18-0 in MAAC regular-season play last year, entered the contest riding a 35-game winning streak against conference opponents and had won 37 in a row on its home court.

Fairfield is now 12-8 overall and 7-2 in MAAC play and showed that Marist isn't invicible, creating a glimmer of optimism not only for itself but for a few other conference teams when the league's post-season tournament rolls around.

Fairfield played like the upperclass-laden team that it is, making big plays down the stretch and, then, taking over in the overtime session.

Senior forward Baendu Lowenthal led the way with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and was supported by two other seniors, Lauren Groom (14 points) and Shiryell Moore (8 points) and junior Stephanie Geehan (14 points).

Lowenthal is a particularly tough match-up for anyone this year, averaging 16.0 points and 7.6 rebounds. Always an inside presence, she has expanded her game far beyond the paint and has even made four three-pointers this season.

In terms of veteran leadearship, Fairfield has more than any other MAAC team.

"We're starting to respond with solid play from our veterans on a more-consistent basis," said Frager. "We got behind in the first half and didn't fold, which made me very happy. We're starting to grow as a team, but we need to continue to progress."

Progress is coming, though, for a program that at one time was one of the strongest in the conference annually. But, prior to the 2007-08 season the Lady Stags had six straight seasons without a winning overall record.

After the 2006-07 season, school officials made a coaching change bringing in Frager, who spent the previous nine years at Southern Connecticut State University, turning that program into a Division II powerhouse and winning that level's national championship in 2007.

In Frager's first season at Fairfield, last season, the team finished 22-9 overall including a victory over Big East opponent Boston College.

And, now, a victory over Marist.

"Clearly, this is the biggest win since I've been here," said Frager. "It's something we can build on.

"But Marist is as good a team as there is in our league. We want to cherish the victory, but you don't want to hang on to it for too long because we've got another league game coming up (Thursday when the Lady Stags host Siena)."

New Post-Season Tournament Set

And, now, there are four post-season tournaments.

In addition to the NCAA event and the National Invitation Tournament, there are now two other events that take the leftovers of Division I basketball after those two fields are filled.

The College Basketball Invitational made its debut with a 16-team field (including Rider) last year, and the event is set to run again this year.

On Monday, yet another post-season event was announced.

It's the Postseason Tournament, which will also feature 16 teams not invited to the NCAA's or the NIT.

The field will be determined after the official lannouncements of the those two events and, presumably, will compete for teams with the College Basketball Invitational.

The Postseason Tournament will be a single-elimination event consisting of four rounds, with the first three rounds being played at on-campus sites, which will be determined by seeding.The inaugural championship game will be played at an on-campus site also determined by seeding.

The tournament consists of 15 games: Eight first-round games, four second-round games, two semi-final games and a championship game. In an effort to minimize travel and limit class time missed, teams will be bracketed geographically.

The opening round games will be played on Monday, March 17 and Tuesday, March 18 (the first round of the NCAA Tournament will begin on March 19). Quarterfinal games will be played on Monday, March 23. Semifinal games will be played on Wednesday, March 25. The championship game will be played on Tuesday, March 31.

The official tournament website can be found at:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

MAAC Tourney Tickets on Sale Soon

The league announced this weekend that individual session tickets for the 2009 Citizens Bank MAAC Basketball Championship tournament, at Albany's Times Union Center, will go on sale Monday, Feb. 2.

But it's clear that savvy shoppers looking for a bargain should be more interested in the event's all-session passes.

All-session passes can be purchased for $104 for adults, or $60 for students.

That means that an all-session adult pass comes at a price of under $12 per session. Or, considering that there are 18 games overall (both men and women) over five days ... the price comes in at a very reasonable cost of under $6 per game.

Individual tickets range from $45 per session for men's games, and $30 per session for women's games (for lower level, center-court seats)for adults to a low of $18.50.

Students can purchase individual session tickets for $8.

Those interested in purchasing tickets to the league's post-season event can do so by visiting the Times Union Center's box office, via the internet by visiting or, by calling 1-800-30-EVENT, or at select Price Chopper outlets.

Further information, including a complete schedule of sessions can be found at the conference's website,

The event on Thursday, March 5 and continues with 18 games over nine sessions through Monday, March 9.

Time to Start Talking About Perfection

The Siena men's team hit the halfway mark of the MAAC season in impressive style, finishing off a perfect half-season (9-0 to date against conference foes) with a clear-cut 82-65 victory Saturday afternoon at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., over Niaagara, which entered the game with the league's second-best record.

The margin of victory marked the fifth time that the Saints have beaten a MAAC foe by double digits.

The 9-0 beginning also accounts for the fastest start to a MAAC season since the 1989-90 La Salle team not only opened that fast, but finished just as fast with a 16-0 regular season.

The MAAC expanded to a 10-team league for the 1997-98 season, accounting for 18 league games annually and no team has ever rung up a perfect 18-0 record.

The halfway point to that seems like as good an opportunity as any to start wondering if Siena can be the conference's first 18-0 men's team and just the second overall (the Marist women finished 18-0 last season).

Coincidentally, the last men's team to run the table in league play not only had one of its architects in the building on Saturday but on the opposing bench.

Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich was an assistant coach on the 1989-90 La Salle team that finished 16-0.

"They're halfway there, and if anyone can do it they can," said Mihalich, afterwards. "Clearly 9-0 hasn't happened for a long time ... I was there for that (the last time it happened).

"They (Siena) just don't have a weak link. That's why when you play them you don't have any room for error. They get whatever they need. When the have to get an open shot, they get it, when they need a dribble drive they make it."

Siena's dominance Saturday was all the more impressive since senior preseason Player of the Year choice Kenny Hasbrouck played just eight first-half minutes due to foul trouble, and junior point guard Ronald Moore had, probably, his worst game of the year (1-for-7 shooting for two points, and five turnovers in 32 minutes).

Hasbrouck responded with a strong second half (he finished with 13 points), Siena shot 60 percent from the field overall, and the Saints got arguably a career-best game from rapidly developing 6-foot-9 sophomore center Ryan Rossiter (18 points on 7-of-7 shooting, 12 rebounds and five blocks in 36 minutes).

Weaknesses? It appeared the inside game would be one for the Saints this season, after injuries have all but kept the two returnees who played the most minutes at the center spot a year ago out for almost all of this season.

Senior Josh Duell, last season's starter in the post, was injured in the preseason, ineffective early in his return (he played 14 games) and, then, just as he started to be a contributor suffered strained knee ligaments and isn't due back again until mid-February. Corey Magee, Duell's back-up last season, has yet to play after suffering a concussion in the preseason.

The center spot has fallen to Rossiter, who as a too-slender freshman was easy to move off the blocks. The addition of 15 pounds since last season, and a year's experience has turned him into an asset as a sophomore.

Rossiter is averaging 28 minutes of playing time per contest, shooting a league best 61.3 percent from the field and averaging 9.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.

It has turned the one potential Siena weak spot into another strong point, and has let the talk about a perfect season begin.

Not that the Saints won't be tested in the second half. A big test comes Monday when Iona comes to Albany. And, Siena still has to go on the road for five games in its final eight in conference play, with the primary stumbling blocks on Feb. 16 at Iona and Feb. 27 at Iona.

Then, too, Siena's need to rally from a 13-point deficit late in its Jan. 15th game at Marist before earning an overtime victory proved that on any given night ...

But, for now, Siena has the fastest start to conference play in 19 years, with a three-game lead over its closest pursuer in the league standings.

It's enough distance to start thinking Siena is in full control for the league's regular-season championship. So, let the debate begin about whether an 18-0 record is possible.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Marist Women's Streak Ends

After a difficult win at Siena on Sunday, Marist women's coach Brian Giorgis reasoned that maybe that was just the kind of game, the kind of wake-up call, his team needed.

But, the Lady Red Foxes didn't need what came next: a 73-65 loss in overtime to Fairfield Friday afternoon on their home court before a crowd of 2,205 in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

The outcome ended Marist's streak of 35 consecutive victories against MAAC opponents, a streak of 37 straight home-court victories, an 14-game winning streak against all opponents this season, surely will drop the No. 20-ranked program out of the Top 25 poll, and created at least a little optimism around the league that the Red Foxes might be vulnerable in this season's league post-season tournament.

It's not as is Marist's recent play has come against bad teams. Siena, which won at Manhattan Friday night, has won four of its last five games with its only loss in that stretch against Marist.

And, Fairfield, right now, holds sole possession of second place in the conference with a 6-2 record and stands 11-8 overall. The Lady Stags' victory Friday ended a streak of 11 straight losses in the series with Marist, dating back to Feb. 7, 2003.

Friday's game, according to reports, was competitive throughout as neither team could earn more than a three-point edge in the second half. Marist needed a basket by its 6-foot-1 junior center Rachele Fitz with 59 seconds left to tie the game at 62. Fairfield took the only shot in the remainder of regulation, and missed.

But the winners scored the first two buckets in the extra session on a jumper by Stephanie Geehan and a layup by Shireyll Moore for a 66-62 advantage.

Two free throws by Elise Caron brought Marist to within 66-64 with 1:43 left, but Lauren Groom answered with a layup to give the winners a four-point lead with 1:17 left and Marist never got closer than three again.

Fairfield forward Baendu Lowenthal led the winners with 21 points and 10 rebounds, while teammates Geehan and Groom added 15 and 14, respectively.

Fitz's 23 points led all scorers, while Marist teammate Julianne Viani added 17 points, but was only 6-of-18 shooting.

2009 Old Spice Classic Field Completed

The Old Spice Classic, one of the top early season tournaments, completed its field for the 2009 event by adding Florida State.

Iona will be the MAAC representative in next season's event which will be played Thanksgiving weekend at the Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla. All games will be televised over the ESPN network.

Florida State rounds out the eight-team field for the fourth annual Old Spice Classic. The other teams, announced previously: Alabama, No. 21 Baylor, Creighton, Iona, No. 14 Marquette, No. 24 Michigan and No. 16 Xavier. Florida State received votes last week in The Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Three of the seven teams announced reached the 2007-08 NCAA Tournament: Xavier, Baylor, and Marquette. Xavier advanced to the Elite Eight. Creighton and Florida State participated in the National Invitation Tournament.

The 2009 Old Spice Classic, a bracket-format tournament, will feature 12 games in three days, Nov. 26, 27 and 29. Sponsors include Old Spice, ESPNU and Disney’s Wide World of Sports. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) will serve as the event’s sponsoring conference for the fourth straight year.

"Once again a stellar field in the nation's most competitive exempt contest tournament," Richard J. Ensor, Commissioner of the MAAC, said.

Each team will compete in one game per day, advancing through a bracket-tournament format. The two teams that remain undefeated throughout will face off in a championship match Sunday, Nov. 29.

The tournament is a weekend-long affair at the Walt Disney World Resort, and participating teams are invited to the Walt Disney World Resort Theme Parks and other event functions.

Last November at the Milk House, then-No. 10 Gonzaga won the 2008 Old Spice Classic with an 83-74 victory over then-No. 12 Tennessee in the championship game. Previous winners were North Carolina State in 2007 and Arkansas in 2006.

Additional information, including travel packages, can be found on the Old Spice Classic Web site at For more information on Disney’s Wide World of Sports, visit

BracketBuster Speculation: Siena vs. Butler?

Siena, after meetings with national Top 25 programs Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Kansas might get another chance this season at a highly ranked opponent.

And, after playing in one of college basketball's most-storied venues, Kansas' Phog Allen Fieldhouse this season, the Saints might make another appearance in a venerable and historical facility, although that would come next season.

It all very well could happen if Siena gets matched up with Butler for a "BracketBusters" game that would be played on either Feb. 20 or 21.

If that match-up comes about, it would be played at the Saints' Albany, N.Y., home court, the Times Union Center, and would most likely be one of the featured nationally televised games on ESPN.

Under the BracketBusters format, Siena would then be obligated to play a non-league contest at Butler next season. That would have the Saints playing at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse on the Butler campus in Indianapolis.

The facility, constructed in 1928 and formerly known as Butler Fieldhouse, was prominently featured in the movie "Hoosiers."

The BracketBusters format, designed in 2003 for the dual purpose of setting up attractive non-league games for mid-major level programs as well as creating additional opportunities for ESPN to televise games, matches teams of similar ranking.

Match-ups for ESPN-televised games will be announced on or about Feb. 2.

According to, which issues the official report used to make the BracketBusters selections, Siena has an RPI ranking of 24 (of 343 Division I teams nationall) as of Friday morning (Jan. 23), the highest of any team that would host a BracketBusters game. Davidson is next at No. 39.

Siena would likely retain its top rating in the BracketBusters' pool of potential home teams with victories over Niagara (Saturday at noon) and Iona (Monday at 7 p.m.), both games in Albany. Siena is currently 14-5 overall and 8-0 in MAAC play.

Butler, which is ranked No. 16 nationally in the lastest Associated Press Top 25 poll, is No. 8 in the RPI's, tops among all teams (Miami of Ohio is next at 33) that will be on the road for this year's BracketBusters contests.

Butler is 17-1 overall (its only loss is to Ohio St.) with a nine-game winning streak and has an abundance of young talent with three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior in its starting lineup. Its best players are 6-foot-8, 230-pound sophomore forward matt Howard (13.9 points, 6.7 rebounds per game), the Horizon League's Newcomer of the Year last season; and freshmen 6-8, 200-pound forward Gordon Haywood (13.1, 6.6) and 6-3 guard Shelvin Mack (13.0, 3.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists).

Other potential opponents for Siena would appear to be Miami of Ohio, Utah St. (rated 46th), George Mason (51), Illinois St., (56) and Northeastern (64).

The BracketBusters formet currently includes 102 teams in its pool with half playing at home and half away. Twenty-six of the teams will play in one of 13 games televised on an ESPN network. The rest are paired in non-conference games this year and, then, meeting the same opponent in a "return game" next season in the other team’s building.

Dates and times of non-televised games will be announced a week later than after the televised match-ups are revealed.

Of other MAAC teams ... Fairfield (77 in the RPI as of Friday morning), Niagara (90), Rider (168) and Marist (223) will also host BracketBusters games.

Iona (154), Loyola (178), Manhattan (199), Canisius (231) and Saint Peter's (305) will be on the road for BracketBusters contests.

Fairfield, the fifth-highest rated team that will host a BracketBusters game, and Niagara (seventh-highest among hosts) would also appear in contention to get television exposure.

Those two appear to have a field of potential opponents from the likes of George Mason, Illinois State, Boise State, Virginia Commonwealth, UW-Green Bay, Cleveland State, Bradley, Northeastern Buffalo Northern Iowa and Ohio ... all teams rated between No. 46 and No. 94 in the RPI's.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dominance, Thy Name is Marist (women)

The Marist women's basketball team wasn't anywhere near its best for this humble blogger's first view of it this season, a 65-55 victory at Siena Sunday afternoon.

But, it's easy to see why the Lady Red Foxes win games. The last five minutes of play provided the perfect example.

During that stretch, when poise and the experience of having "been there" before came into play, Marist scored points on nine of its final 10 possessions, did not commit a single turnover, made 10 of 11 free throws, and put a defensive clamp on Siena that forced the Saints into 1-of-6 shooting over the final five minutes.

"I love this win became this is a game we didn't deserve to win, yet still found a way to get a win," said Marist coach Brian Giorgis.

"We have to learn from this ... I think we needed a game like this."

Clearly, Siena brought more energy to the contest than Marist, and therein lies the lesson Giorgis hopes his team learned Sunday.

As for what Marist, under Giorgis, has done in the overall scheme of things ... where does one begin?

- Marist, now, has won its last 35 games against MAAC opponents, results that include the conference's post-season tournament, a streak which is believed to a league record.

- Despite the loss of standout players annually, Marist is currently riding a 14-game overall winning streak. Entering Sunday's game, it was tied with Duke for the sixth-longest winning streak nationally.

- Marist is now 17-1 overall this season, the program's best start to a season ever.

- Since the start of the 2007-08 season, Marist's record is 49-4. Starting with the 2003-04 season, Marist's overall record is 143-35.

- Last year's team swept the MAAC's regular season, finishing 18-0, becoming the first 18-0 team in conference history and joining Saint Peter's (14-0 in 1996-97, and 5-0 in the league's inaugural 1981-82 season) as the only teams to go through league play without a loss.

- Over the previous three seasons Marist has a 51-3 record in MAAC play, the best three-year run in league history. Including this year, Marist is 59-3 over the past four seasons in conference play. Including the 2004-05 season, Marist 74-6 in regular-season MAAC play. If you include its final four games of the 2003-04 season, the record becomes 78-6.

Did anyone say "Phenomenal?"

And, it doesn't appear as if there's an end in sight. The only contributing senior is guard Julianne Viani, although she might be this season's most-important piece. The other nine players to get time against Siena on Sunday include two juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen.

Looks like what has already become a MAAC dynasty will continue on for the foreseeable future.

No wonder that, around Poughkeepsie, the program has earned the nickname of "Girlzaga," for its apt comparison to mid-major men's program Gonzaga which has a fixture in the national top 25 polls in recent years.

Marist Women Roll On (Barely)

For the first 35 minutes of its game at Siena on Sunday afternoon it looked like the extended MAAC dominance of the Marist women's basketball team would come to an end.

Siena led nearly the entire way until that point, and held a 51-48 advantage after getting a basket with five minutes remaining.

And, then, the Lady Red Foxes begain playing like the team that, now, has won 35 consecutive games against conference opponents to emerge with a 65-55 victory.

Mostly, senior guard Julianne Viani began playing like, possibly, the best backcourt player in the league.

Viani erased Siena's late lead with a 3-pointer, and added a driving layup at the 1:27 mark to extend a 3-point advantage to a 58-53 lead. Thirty-four seconds later, she swished a pair of free throws to make it 61-53 and sew things up. Viani finished with a game-high 23 points that included a perfect 9-for-9 from the foul line (more about foul shooting later).

Viani, as one astute courtside observer opined, might be more important to Marist's fortunes than her 6-1 junior teammate Rachele Fitz, last season's conference Player of the Year and the league's top scorer (21.4 points per game) this year, and there's no debate about that here.

Marist showed its poise when it needed down the stretch and did one other thing extremely well ... it made its free throws. The Red Foxes made 21-0f-26 (80.8 percent), including 10-of-11 in the final five minutes, which is par for the course.

Marist entered the game shooting a phenomenal 79.2 percent of its free throws, fifth-best nationally.

And, those free throws ...

Despite Marist's physical inside defense that appeared to precipitate contact most times when Siena got the ball into the post, the Saints didn't take a free throw until there was 1:50 remaining in the game.

When it was over, Siena took just three free throws to 26 for Marist. Siena got whistled for 22 fouls while only 13 were called on Marist.

I'll let someone else make this editorial statement about that discrepancy ... a former Siena men's coach liked to say that game officials are well aware of which is the better team entering the game.

All this humble blogger will say is that a more "equitable" whistle might have meant the end of Marist's streak against MAAC opponents on this particular day.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dominance, Thy Name is Siena (so far)

If there was ever a situation where the Siena College runaway train could have been expected to derail, it would have been Saturday afternoon at Fairfield.

The Saints, about 41 hours earlier, had just finished off an emotional, potentially draining overtime victory at Marist, rallying from a 13-point deficit with under four minutes remaining to pull out an improbable win in overtime.

And, then, Siena had to travel to Fairfield, an opponent that had been living up to expectations for it to finish second in conference play (according to the coaches' preseason poll). The Stags entered the contest with the Saints with a 5-2 league record, a 12-5 overall mark and a perfect 6-0 ledger on its home court at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.

The result? The train cruises on, full speed ahead.

Siena dominated Saturday's proceedings, running out to a 20-4 lead early, and holding a 16-point lead at halftime. Fairfield crept back to within four, 39-35, early in the second half, but Siena ran away again after that, grabbing a 47-36 lead with 12:49 remaining and never relinquishing its double-digit edge after that.


Siena is now off to an 8-0 start. It equals the best beginning to league play since the MAAC realigned to its current 10-team format in the 1997-98 season. Only the 2003-04 Manhattan team also started league play with an 8-0 record. The Jaspers followed that 8-0 strt with a loss in its ninth league contest.

In fact, further research indicates that the last time a MAAC team started better than 8-0 was in 1989-90 when the Lionel Simmons-led La Salle team swept conference play with a 16-0 regular season.

Siena now actually has a 13-game winning streak against MAAC opponents ... the eight wins this year, three in last season's conference post-season tournament and its final two regular-season contests of the 2007-08 season. The last MAAC team to beat the Saints was Manhattan, in a 73-72 decision on Feb. 18, 2008.

Against all opponents, Siena has won 12 of its last 14 games since losing three straight at the Old Spice Classic in late November. The only losses have come at nationally top-ranked Pittsburgh, and at defending national champion Kansas.

Saturday's Siena victory capped off a nine-game, 21-day stretch that saw the Saints play in seven cities. Siena finished 8-1 over that span (the one loss coming at Kansas), despite playing six of those games on the road.

Siena's 8-0 league start this season includes four road victories (at Loyola, Manhattan, Marist and Fairfield).

And, now, the Saints get some time off. Their next game is next Saturday (Jan. 24). But upcoming games should provide a significant test.

Those are against Niagara (Jan. 24, noon) and Iona (Jan. 26, 7 p.m.).

Niagara currently holds second place in the MAAC with a 5-2 conference record and is 14-5 overall record.

Iona is 4-4 in MAAC play (9-10 overall), but has been hot of late with all four MAAC wins in its last five games, including a sweep on its Western New York trip this weekend including a 71-65 victory at Niagara on Thursday and a 78-77 win in double overtime over Canisius on Saturday.

Friday, January 16, 2009

There's Another Downey in Town

One of this humble blogger's all-time favorite MAAC players was former Canisius standout Kevin Downey.

The multi-talented 6-foot-3 guard, who graduated after the 2005-06 season not only was easy to like on the court ... he could do just about everything, from providing scoring to often serving as a point guard ... but just as likeable off it.

And, now, his younger brother, 6-2 freshman Kyle Downey is on the scene, beginning to make his mark on MAAC basketball at Siena College.

There often is a breakout game early in the career of players, a sign of better things to come. And, that game, for Kyle Downey, came in Siena's stunning 91-85 overtime victory at Marist College on Thursday night.

Downey finished with 15 points, his career-high effort to date. But 12 of those came in the game's final six minutes, including a pair of icewater-in-the-veins three-pointers in the final 47 seconds of regulation play that enabled the Saints to force the overtime after facing what had appeared to be an insurmountable 67-53 deficit with just 3:16 left to play in regulation.

The victory pushed Siena's league record to 7-0, the program's fastest start in conference play (it opened the 1999-00 season with six straight victories before its first league loss) since it joined the MAAC in 1989. It also enabled the Saints to push their lead in the conference standings to two full games over Niagara and Rider, both of which lost for the second time in league play, on Thursday.

And, Downey played a huge rule in making that happen, along with far too many foul-line misfires from the Red Foxes.

Facing that 14-point defiicity late in the game, Siena made Marist try to get its points from the foul line on its last 10 possessions of regulation. The Red Foxes made only 9-of-18 free throws in that stretch, including two misses on the front ends of one-and-ones.

Siena made the hosts pay for the misses, scoring on each of its final 10 possessions.

It helped Siena get within 60-54 with under a minute left when Downey made a trey with 47 seconds lft and, then, another with 20 seconds remaining to pull the Saints within 75-74. Both bonus shots were a step or two beyond the stripe, and both were of the catch-and-shoot (fast) variety with defenders rushing at him.

Marist made one-of-two from the line on its next possession to push its lead to 76-74 before Siena's Edwin Ubiles got loose inside for a layup with seven seconds remaining to force the extra session.

Once there, Siena took a 77-76 lead on a free throw by Alex Franklin and, then, Downey went to work again scoring on a driving reverse layup and, then, a coup-de-gras, vintange 1950's running hook shot from about 10 feet out that dropped in to give the Saints an 81-76 edge.

Oddly enough, the younger Downey was lightly recruited coming out of Fairport (near Rochester) High School, despite averaging 26 points and 11 rebounds per game as a senior last season.

Siena showed interest, but initially filled its quota of scholarships without giving one to Downey last spring. At that point, it appeared that Downey would head to prep school for a year and hope some Division I offers would come after that.

But, when a reserve Siena guard opted to transfer elsewhere, it opened up the opportunity for Downey to come to the Loudonville, N.Y., school.

Kyle Downey doesn't yet have the all-around court skills of his standout older brother, but he has already exhibted a better long-range shooting ability. The younger Downey also has a proclivity for scoring around the basket and successfully scrapping for rebounds amidst the tall timber.

At Canisius, Kevin Downey remains that program's sixth-best all-time scorer (1,583 career points), and is one of just three players in that program's history to finish with 1,000 career points, 400 rebounds and 300 assists.

Like his older brother, Kyle plays with a lack of visible emotion, a style that says "this is what I'm supposed to do," and doesn't require arm-waving or loud vocal proclamations after every successful play. He just goes about his business.

Kyle, through 18 games in a Siena uniform, is averaging 5.1 points per game on 31-of-56 shooting (.554 percent) thus far.

Not surprisingly, both play like the sons of a highly regarded coach.

Their late father, Tom Downey, was a longtime coach at Livonia High School (south of Rochester), who passed away after a battle with cancer several years ago.

Kevin Downey is now following in dad's footsteps, serving as an assistant coach at Nazareth College in Rochester, and has been a regular attendee at Siena home games at Albany, N.Y.'s Times Union Center to watch his younger brother continue the family's college basketball tradition.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Random Observations of Early Play

Random observations about MAAC basketball from a cluttered mind ...

- In case you didn't notice ... the Marist women's team has won 12 games in a row, is 6-0 in MAAC play, 15-1 overall (only loss to fourth-ranked Oklahoma) and checks in at No. 21 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll released on Monday, Jan. 12. The Red Foxes are one of just 12 teams nationally with fewer than two losses thus far.

- Junior forward Rachele Fitz isn't far away from becoming the leading scorer in the history of the Marist women's program. She currently has 1,510 points, only 77 away from matching the career total of 1,587 of Ursala Winter (1981-85). Fitz has scored in double figures for 49 straight games. With a season and a half of play left, needless to say that she'll shatter most records in the Marist record book.

- There is only one remaining unbeaten men's team in conference play. Siena's 68-64 victory at Manhattan on Sunday pushed its league record to 6-0. It matches the fastest start to MAAC play since the Saints joined the league in 1989. The 1999-00 team also started 6-0 before losing in its seventh game of conference play that season. Siena's next game is Thursday at Marist at 7:30 p.m.

However, it is rarely an easy trip to Poughkeepsie for the Siena men. The Saints won there last season, 97-88, in overtime. Prior to that, Siena lost its last four outings in Marist's on-campus McCann Center.

- And, speaking of the Marist men ... the Red Foxes toppled the only other conference unbeaten prior to Sunday, soundly defeating Niagara (now 4-1), 86-68 Sunday afternoon at the McCann Center. Point guard David Devezin had a career high 23 points for the winners, who had a 19-point lead at intermission and never led by less than 13 points afterwards. Niagara, now 13-4 overall, shot just 30.4 percent (17-of-56) from the field.

Marist is now 3-3 in MAAC play. And, let's see ... who was it that picked Marist to finish last in league play in preseason voting?
That would be league coaches.

And, who was it, after watching Marist play once (its MAAC opener vs. Siena) opined in this forum that Marist would NOT finish last in the conference?
That would be this "humble" blogger.

- The Canisius women's team has won nine games in a row, including Sunday's decisive 68-51 victory at Iona. It marks the Golden Griffins' longest winning streak since it won 10 straight in the 1989-90 season. Sunday's win was also the sixth straight on the road for Canisius, matching its best away-from-home winning streak since 1995.

- The Canisius women now have made a three-point shot in 437 consecutive games, which is an NCAA record for women's programs.

- There is no player, either for men or women, shooting the ball better from the field right now than the Siena women's team's 6-foot-2 Heather Stec. The senior center made 6-of-7 shots from the floor against Niagara Sunday to run a 3-game streak of accuracy to 21-of-24 from the field (9-0f-11 vs. Rider, and 6-of-6 vs. Saint Peter's), which is an astronomical 87.5 percent shooting rate. In five conference games this season Stec has made 33-of-47 shots (70.2 percent) and has yet to make fewer than half her shots in a league game.

Only one other women's player is shooting over 60 percent this year. Brandy Gang of Marist (22-of-35) is making 62.8 per cent of her shots in MAAC play thus far. Teammate Rachele Fitz is third in the league in FG accuracy at 59.2 percent (45-of-76).

- Wake Forest nipped North Caolina, 92-89, on Sunday to remain one of three unbeaten Division I teams nationally and, yes, there's a MAAC connection.

The Demon Deacons are coached by Dino Gaudio, who was the head coach of Loyola of the MAAC for two seasons (1998-99, 1999-00). Gaudio became the associate head coach under Skip Prosser (another former Loyola head coach) in 2001 and, then, took over at Wake after Prosser's death in the summer of 2007.

Under Gaudio this season the Deacons are 14-0, and entered Sunday's game against UNC ranked No. 4 nationally. Only national No. 1 Pittsburgh (15-0) and Clemson (16-0) are also unbeaten through Sunday's games.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Observations from an Impressive Siena Win

Your humble blogger was on hand for the Friday night (Jan. 9) game between previously league unbeatens Siena and Rider for the first rematch of the 2007-08 season's MAAC tournament title game (won by Siena), and not much has changed.

The result leaves no doubt tht, for now, Siena is still the better team.

Of course, things can change between now and the early March 2008-09 conference post-season tournament, and Rider has potential for growth with a nine-man playing group that has just one senior (Harris Mansell).

Then again, while Siena's starting five has more on-court experience, it too has just one senior. And the Saints' top four reserves against the Broncs were two sophomores and two freshmen.

Siena won the early season showdown, 91-81. Rider hung tough for most of the contest, holding a 47-46 lead early in the second half, but never led again after Siena got the next score and never got closer than four in the game's final 10 minutes.

Observations ...

- Siena took over right after Rider held its last lead. The Saints impressively scored on their next eight possessions to run off to a 64-51 advantage with 13:47 remaining and, despite Rider getting to within four three more in the game, never truly appeared threatened.

- Scouts representing four NBA teams (Celtics, Spurs, Nuggets and Thunder) were courtside, surely to get the latest look at Rider's superlative 6-foot-6 Ryan Thompson, who, since late December, has been playing as his team's point guard.

Although Thompson didn't have one of his best games, he was effective enough with 16 points (7-of-12 shooting, including 2-of-2 from bonus land), six assists, five rebounds and four steals in a full 40 minutes of court time. It's not a reach to envision this Thompson following his big brother, 6-11 Jason (now a Sacramento Kings' rookie), to the NBA.

But he wasn't necessarily the best player on the court this night. That honor just as easily could have gone to the Saints' 6-6 junior swingman Edwin Ubiles, who appeared particularly inspired either by the opportunity to go head-to-head (he drew the assignment of guarding Thompson) or the presence of NBA scouts.

Ubiles has the type athleticism and court ability that will also attract the eye of pro scouts, and on this night had a game-high 19 points (7-of-12 shooting), five rebounds, four assists, one block (of a Thompson shot), and two spectacular dunks.

One throw-down was on an alley-oop play with 6:05 left and Rider still within four points. The other was of the highlight-film variety when he got loose on a breakaway and finished with a 360-degree spin and emphatic dunk in the closing minute.

- Preseason Player of the Year choice senior Kenny Hasbrouck of Siena continued to climb out of early season woes with 18 points (6-of-14 shooting), with four three-pointers, all in the second half. And all four came on absolutely wide-open looks as Rider's defense just seemed to lose focus and lose track of the 6-3 Siena senior.

Hasbrouck, who recently went through a 7-game stretch in which he averaged just 6.4 points per game, has scored 18, 17 and 19 (19-of-42, 45.2 percent shooting) in Siena's last three outings.

- Siena, showing the difference in overall experience between the two teams, just made more big plays on both ends for most of the second half. The Saints scored on 21 of their final 32 possessions after Rider took its 47-46 lead. The Broncs only scored on 15 of their final 32 possession.

And, with Siena holding an 85-79 edge with 2:50 remaining, Rider's next four possessions resulted in three misses from three-point land (all acknowledged as ill-advised attempts by Rider coach Tommy Dempsey when the game was still close enough to require good shots, rather than long-distance tries), and two turnovers. After that stretch Siena had a 91-79 lead.

- "I thought we matched their talent level, but they (Siena) made more plays down the stretch," admitted Rider coach Dempsey. "Down the stretch, we took some quick shots (from trey land) when we needed better shots. On the other hand, the right players took the right shots on almost every position for Siena while we answered with a couple of empty possessions. Those are things that we'll learn from."

- Siena coach Fran McCaffery correctly pointed out that his team's two victories against other expected challengers thus far (Rider and Fairfield) have both come on the Saints' home court. "We still have to go to those places," said McCaffery.

- And, the Saints' coach also noted that the league is as balanced as he has seen it in his four seasons with Siena.

It's almost a standard refrain from league coaches to make that assessment every year, but it appears to be as true this season as this blogger can remember over 19 years of closely watching the MAAC.

Traditionally there are at least two programs experiencing difficult years almost every season. But Saint Peter's and Marist, the teams picked to finish ninth and 10th, are both far better than the usually MAAC bottom dwellers. And, as the saying goes, on any given night it wouldn't be a shock to see any of the other eight beat anyone.

Siena, followed by, in order for now, Niagara, Rider and Fairfield look to be the top four. But Manhattan has a strong returning cast from a year ago, Iona appears much improved as does Canisius. Loyola (which only lost by seven to Siena on Dec. 3) appears solid, too.

It is looking to be an enjoyably competitive season of MAAC play.

Siena Win Sets Up Another Showdown

While it's still relatively early in the season of conference play, it appears that the top four teams might be Siena, Niagara, Rider and Fairfield.

So far, Siena had handled, with relative ease, two of the other three, defeating Fairfield (87-81) on Jan., 1, and Rider (91-81) on Friday, Jan. 9.

Which, of course, sets up another showdown when Niagara comes to Albany to play the Saints at Albany's Times Union Center at noon on Saturday, Jan. 24th.

Right now, the Saints and the Purple Eagles are the final two unbeaten teams in MAAC play. Siena is 5-0 (11-5 overall) and Niagara is 4-0 (13-3 overall).

Siena is off to its fastest start in league play since a 6-0 beginning to the 1999-00 season, the last year of former coach Paul Hewitt's time at the Loudonville, N.Y., school.

Niagara's 13-3 overall start is the best in the lengthy history of that program.

The Purple Eagles' play thus far might be coming as somewhat as a surprise. League coaches picked Niagara, in their preseason poll, to finish fourth in the final standings.

But this blogger will take a bow for predicting, in a season preview written for The Sporting News' College Basketball annual, that Niagara will finish second.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Big Game is Title Contest Rematch

A new season is shaping up to be very similar to the old season.

A year ago Siena and Rider not only finished tied atop the final regular-season standings but met in the championship game of the MAAC's post-season tournament.

Siena romped in the title game, 74-53, but the score surely would have been much closer and, possibly, the outcome different had the Broncs been at full strength. Standout swingman Ryan Thompson (concussion) missed that game, and the effective starting backcourt of point guard Justin Robinson and two-guard Hansell Mansell were both severely and noticeably limited with ankle injuries.

The first rematch comes on Friday (Jan. 9), an early regular-season contest at Albany's Times Union Center. Siena (4-0 in MAAC play) and Rider (3-0) are two of three teams (Niagara at 3-0 is the other) still unbeaten in conference play. No other MAAC team has fewer than two losses in league play thus far.

In terms of an early season measuring stick, this is about as good as it gets, at least until Niagara gets involved in a game with Friday's winner.

But, that's about it.

Rider coach Tommy Dempsey was asked, in a recent conference call, if a win Friday would avenge the loss to Siena in last season's MAAC tournament championship game.

"We haven't even talked about that," said Dempsey. "The only way for us to avenge last year's loss is in (this coming) March. We won't be able to avenge anything Friday night. It hasn't even creeped into our discussion."

Both teams are similar to a year ago, although the Broncs suffered, literally, a big loss with the graduation and move to the NBA of its 6-foot-11 2007-08 Player of the Year Jason Thompson.

Siena lost just one solid contributor, reserve guard Tay Fisher, off last season's team. But the Saints have been bothered with injuries this year. Its starting center from a year ago, 6-7 Josh Duell, has been banged up and less than 100 percent for most of the season. And, in the Saints' 91-84 loss at Kansas on Tuesday, Duell suffered a still-to-be diagnosed knee injury and likely won't play on Friday. A key front-court reserve, 6-7 Corey Magee (concussion) has yet to play this season.

Rider has also been hit by some injuries this season. Mansell injured an elbow early in the season and has missed four games so far. Robinson and freshman forward Jermaine Jackson both had knee problems in November and both are just rounding into form.

The Broncs are also extremely young with only two seniors and a junior among their top 10 players.

The 6-foot-6 Ryan Thompson, a junior, is Rider's top player leading the team in scoring (16.8), rebounding (6.7) and assists (3.1), while shooting 51 % from the floor.

Thompson might be the best player in the MAAC, and among the top two or three at the very least.

"He's one of the best, and he might be the most versatile in the league," said Dempsey.

Proof of that came when Dempsey moved Thompson to the point in late December.

"It has been a good move for us," said the Rider coach. "We felt we needed to get the ball in his hands more. He creates a lot of matchup problems, and sees over the defense. He's a very willing passer, almost to a fault. Against Marist (a 76-65 Rider victory on Jan. 4) he only took seven shots, and we're not comfortable with that. We need him to take 15-to-18 shots per game. He's worried that he's not averaging enough assists."

Thompson's move to the point has allowed Robinson, who was effective there as a freshman a year ago, to become more of a shooting threat.

Dempsey envisions Friday's game as a good test for his still-developing team.

"We're not in a must-win situation," he said. "We're in a must-improve situation. We've taken a step forward in the last few weeks. This is good chance against a great team to see where we stand. If we lose, it's not the end of the world and if we win it won't mean anything other than we're 4-0 in the league and, then, we'll have to get ready to play Iona (on Sunday).

"Our focus is on improving and becoming a dangerous team as the season goes on. I'm not sure we're where we need to go yet, but this will be a good gauge for us."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Blog Curse, and More Big Numbers

There's nothing like the "Curse of Sports Illustrated," where, if you believe in such things, you can find an illogical number of athletes who appeared on the cover of that national publication and, then, soon after suffered debilitating injuries or career downturns.

And, then, barely days after this blog featured the 25-rebound performance by Canisius center Chris Gadley against the University of Maine on Dec. 30, the big man suffered a reported back injury midway through the Jan. 3 game against Loyola.

Gadley did not return in that game and, then, did not play on Jan. 5 in the Golden Griffins' loss to Manhattan.

Gadley's presence might not have helped much had he continued to play against Loyola, which won that Jan. 3 meeting, 86-62 behind one of the top individual performances of the season.

The Greyhounds' sophomore guard Jamel Barney poured in 41 points, matching the single-game record for points at the venerable Canisius on-campus home court, the Koessler Athletic Center. Barney's performance actually accounted for the highest regulation-game point total by an individual. Only former Manhattan player Bruce Seals matched that number, scoring 41 points in a four-overtime contest on Jan. 31, 2000.

Two nights later there was another record-setting effort at the Koessler when Griffs' 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Tomas Vazquez-Simmons blocked eight shots in his team's 59-57 loss against Manhattan.

Vazquez-Simmons' block total set a Koessler record, and matched his program's single-game best mark of Darnell Wilson in a Feb. 21, 2006 game at Loyola.

Prior to his "block party" Vazquez-Simmons was leading all MAAC players with 2.7 blocks per contest.

Monday, January 5, 2009

MAAC Has own "Cradle of Coaches"

At home Siena games, a Saints' related trivia question is offered on the team's home-court jumbo scoreboard at the Times Union Center.

The question at Siena's game Sunday against Saint Peter's, as formulated by the Saints' proficient sports information director Jason Rich, was a good one.

The question: How many former Siena head coaches or assistant coaches are currently head coaches at Division I men's basketball programs?

The answer given the night of the game was six, which is pretty strong representation.

And, actually, the correct number -- as pointed out by a very astute Siena fan (Jerry Sherry) -- is actually one more than originally thought.

Considering that there are 343 Division I schools, having seven of them directed by individuals who formerly roamed the Siena sidelines is indeed impressive. Siena's contributions of its former personnel is even more impressive after identifying some others who serve in other capacities in the sport.

Anyway, here's the answer to the trivia question, the six announced at the recent game that currently serve as head coaches, with their past Siena affiliations:
- Mike Deane, a former Siena head coach from the 1986-87 through the 1993-94 seasons. Deane is now the head coach at Wagner College.
- Paul Hewitt, Siena's head coach from the 1997-98 through the 1999-00 seasons. Hewitt is the head coach at Georgia Tech.
- Louis Orr, Siena's head coach in the 2000-01 season. Orr is the head coach at Bowling Green.
- Cliff Warren, a Siena assistant coach from the 1997-98 through the 1999-00 seasons, is the head coach at Jacksonville.
- John Dunne, a Siena assistant coach for the 2000-01 and '01-02 seasons, is the head coach at Saint Peter's.
- Brian Nash, a Siena assistant coach for the 2000-01 season, is the head coach at Saint Francis of New York.

And, here's No. 7:
- Matt Kilcullen, a Siena assistant coach from the 1982-83 season through the 1984-85 season, is in his 11th year as head coach at the University of North Florida.

There's also one former Siena player serving as a D-I head coach. Former standout point guard Matt Brady (1983-84 through 1986-87) is the first-year head coach at James Madison University after four seasons as the Marist head coach.

And, there are plenty of others with Siena connections scattered throughout various levels of basketball. A sometimes faltering memory comes up with the following. If you remember others, please pass them along...

Two other former Siena assistants are college head coaches at other levels of college basketball.
- Steve Evans, a Siena assistant from 1998-99 through 2000-01, is the head coach at LeMoyne College, a Division II program.
- Brad McAlester, a Siena assistant from 1991-92 through 1993-94, is the head coach at Lebanon Valley (Pa.) College, a Division III program.

And, one other former Siena player, all-time leading scorer Marc Brown (1987-88 through 1990-91 seasons) is the had coach at New Jersey City University.

- Former Siena head coach Bob Beyer (1994-95 through 1996-97) and former Siena assistant Steve Clifford (1994-95) are both assistant coaches with the NBA's Orlando Magic. Clifford, twice a candidate to become Siena's head coach (he was perceived as the likely choice in 2001 before withdrawing from consideration to remain in the NBA), has been an assistant NBA coach for eight seasons, after serving three seasons as a scout.
- Former Siena assistant coach Rob Jackson (20001-02, '02-03) is a scout for the Sacramento Kings.
- Former Siena assistant coach Tim Capstraw (1987-88 through 1991-92) is the color commentator for the NBA New Jersey Nets' radio network's broadcasts.
- Former Siena head coach Rob Lanier (2001-02 through the 2004-05 season) is an assistant coach at the University of Florida.
- Former Siena assistant coach Steve Seymour (2001-02 through the 2004-05 season) is an assistant coach at the University of Virginia.
- Former Siena assistant coach Robert Burke (1997-98 through the 1999-00 season) is an assistant coach at Georgetown University.
- Former Siena player Brian Bidlingmyer (1991-92 through the 1994-95 season) is an assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
- Former Siena assistant coach Craig Carter (2005-06) is an assistant coach at Rutgers University.

Apologies to any this blogger might have overlooked.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Big Numbers for Canisius' Big Man

It was easy to overlook ... a Dec. 30th non-league game for Canisius at the University of Maine.

But it's not easy to overlook the big numbers turned in by the Golden Griffin's 6-foot-9 center Chris Gadley.

The Canisius big man, a junior playing his first season at a MAAC school after transferring from Hofstra, pulled down 25 rebounds.

Big number? How about matching the biggest in MAAC history?

The only other MAAC player ever to record 25 rebounds in a game was former Fairfield standout Darren Phillip, who had 25 in the 1999-00 season.

Phillip also had 24 rebounds in a game in the 1998-99 season. Former Rider big man Jason Thompson also had 24 in a game last season. Thompson, who now plays for the NBA's Sacramento Kings, is the only MAAC player to go over 20 rebounds in a game three times in his career. Oddly enough, he went over the 20-carom mark twice in a nine-day span last season, both times against Siena. He grabbed 21 against the Saints on Feb. 2, 2008 and, then, 24 against Siena on Feb. 10, 2008.

Gadley's 25-rebound effort this year was the best by a Division I player so far this season, and made him the 12th player in the country to record 20 or more rebounds in a game this season.

His peformance was the first 20-plus rebound night for a Griff since Darren Fenn had 22 against Manhattan on Jan. 31, 2000, and Fenn's work came in a four-overtime victory. The last Canisius player to have more than 20 rebounds in a regulation 40-rebound game was Ron Peaks who had 21 against Seton Hall on Feb. 4, 1978. Larry Fogle holds the program's single-game mark with 26 rebounds in a 104-61 rout of Catholic University on Dec. 8, 1973.

Gadley grew up in Amherst, N.Y., about 10 miles from the Canisius campus. This blogger recalls that he was heavily recruited by Fran McCaffery in the Siena coach's early days on the job there in spring of 2005. Gadley, though, chose Hofstra over Siena. At Hofstra, he played sparringly as a freshman and was still a reserve in 2006-07, although he averaged 4.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in 2006-07.

He then transferred to Canisius where he had to sit out the mandatory season required of transfers last season. After a relatively slow start to this year, he has had 25 and 11 rebounds in his last two games. On the year he is averaging 11.7 points and 8.8 rebounds and is filling a role as a big man for Canisius that has been lacking in recent years.

Gadley is truly a big man, and was listed at 320 pounds on his program's preseason roster. Purely a guess here, but it's not a reach to think that Gadley has worked himself into better physical condition as the season has progressed.

No surprise about who's No. 1

This blogger witnessed the New Year's Day meeting of Siena and Fairfield at Albany's Times-Union Center, the teams picked in the coaches' preseason poll to finish first and second, respectively, in this year's final standings.

Siena left little doubt about who's No. 1 right now with an 87-81 victory over the Stags. The contest was a meeting of two teams which, combined, had just two losses in the month of December. Both were 6-1 in that month, with Siena's only loss against then-No. 3 ranked Pittsburgh and Fairfield's against No. 2-rated UConn.

The up-tempo Saints inflicted their will on the game, scoring the second-highest number of points against usually defensive-minded Fairfield as any opponent to date. Only last season's national championship runner-up Memphis (a 90-63 winner over the Stags on Nov. 15) had scored more points against Fairfield than Siena.

Fairfield entered Thursday's contest allowing an average of 68.2 points per contest. Subtract its three games against higher caliber opponents (Memphis, Missouri and UConn), and the Stags, prior to meeting Siena, had allowed an average of a measley 63 points per contest against mid-major level foes.

Fairfield coach Ed Cooley, though, spent much of the game imploring his team to get back and stop the ball on Siena's constant quick transitions from defense to offense, but those demands mostly went unheeded.

No wonder, when he was asked about his team's defensive work against Siena, Cooley's best description was a four-letter expletive.

"I thought defensively we played like (bleep)," said Cooley, afterwards.

Does the outcome mean much? With final league standings traditionally decided by the slimmest of margins, every game is meaningful. But the teams meet again at Fairfield (Jan. 17, 3:30 p.m. at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.). And, the Stags, with just about everyone back from last year, did split last season's regular-season series with the Saints (winning 53-52 at the T-U Center a year ago, although Siena's forward Alex Franklin missed that game).

Mostly this early season meeting helped confirm the coaches' preseason opinion that these two teams might well be the best in the MAAC ... although Niagara (with the MAAC's best non-league record, 10-3, thus far) and Rider (7-5 in non-conference play) are both likely to contest that assumption.

And, this blogger did pick Niagara to finish second in the MAAC this season in selections made for the preseason College Basketball Preview magazine published by "The Sporting News."

But in an attractive early season meeting (enough to draw an enthusiastic crowd of 6,469), Siena lived up to its preseason billing. The Saints got double-figure scoring from it's "Big Four," of forward Edwin Ubiles (22 points, 11 rebounds, four assists), point guard Ronald Moore (20 points, nine assists), guard Kenny Hasbrouck (17 points, four assists) and Franklin (15 points, eight rebounds). Senior center Josh Duell, a starter last season who comes off the bench for now, was an effective fifth presence with three points, five rebounds, two blocks and tough inside defense.

Fairfield countered with strong efforts from point guard Jonathan Han (22 points, 7 assists), and forwards Greg Nero (21 points, 12 rebounds) and Anthony Johnson (12 points, eight rebounds, three blocks).

The Stags played a strong first 18 minutes, holding a 40-38 edge before Siena scored the final seven points of the first half. Fairfield nosed in front 62-59 with 12 minutes left, but after Siena scored the next nine points the Stags never led again.

The difference was that Siena rendered the usually tough Fairfield defense ineffective for much of the game.

The Saints scored 49 points in the game's 21:48 to take control, leaving no surprise that Stags' coach Cooley needed an expletive to describe his team's defensive effort on this day.