Thursday, March 26, 2009

MAAC Has Strong History of Hosting

Let's give some well-deserved credit where credit is due.

The MAAC is hosting the next two rounds of the women's NCAA Tournament ... the "Sweet 16" round and, then, the event's next round which will determine one of the four Final Four teams ... at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, N.J. this Sunday and Tuesday.

There should be some terrific action with No. 1 seed UConn meeting California and the bracket's No. 2 seed Texas A&M taking on Arizona State this Sunday with the winners advancing to Tuesday's regional-round championship game and the right to advance to the Final Four.

But, what goes on off the court, if history is any indication, will be first-rate, too.

This blogger's history with MAAC-operated events goes back to the 1989-90 season when the conference's first tournament was played in Albany, N.Y., at the downtown facility then known as the Knickerbocker Arena.

Construction of the facility was barely finished in time for the event. The paint was barely dry for a late January grand opening for a Frank Sinatra concert in 1990 and, then, more finishing touches were added prior to the MAAC tournament, which was the first sporting event played there.

In fact, the bid to host the tournament was given long before the arena's construction was complete, a first for that.

It meant that the MAAC didn't have the traditional blocks of time inside the building to aid its preparatory work involving overall logistics. But, if memory serves, the MAAC's first-ever post-season tournament in Albany went as smooth as every other one since. And, as a reporter back then with the type of access that allows one to see all the warts ... well, there weren't any.

Subsequently, the MAAC has earned a well-deserved reputation as being able to host big-time events. And, that was once again seen in Albany when the NCAA committee's faith in the MAAC and the staff at the Albany arena resulted in the facility hosting the 2003 Sweet 16 round and subsequent quarterfinal-round game for the men's tournament.

And, the MAAC-Albany combination hadn't even applied for that level of the tournament. Officials still speak about their surprise about applying for the earlier rounds of the tournament and, then, being awarded the more-prestigious next rounds.

Tickets for that event sold out faster than at any other tournament site that year.

Obviously, good work like that begets more tournament appearances not only for men's and women's basketball but other events, too.

The primary beneficiaries are sports fans proximitous to the facilities that host those events. One doesn't have to go too far back in the memory bank to recall when there wasn't a big-time arena in Albany, or in Buffalo, or in Bridgeport, Conn., or in Trenton, N.J. ... the primary facilities at the MAAC's disposal for hosting basketball tournaments.

Before those places existed, those areas were virtual wastelands for big-time college basketball events.

Now? In Albany, we've had the excitement of post-season basketball ranging from the MAAC's own post-season event to being able to watch, in 2003, eventual national champion Syracuse get through games in the NCAA' tournament's round of 16 and round of 8 to get to that season's Final Four and beyond.

And, now, Trenton, N.J., has that same opportunity on the women's side. You can be sure exciting basketball will be played ... and, you might even see the eventual national champion take the next steps toward earning its crown.

And, you can be equally sure that the experience will be a good one not only for the teams involved but for the spectators that come to watch.

To refresh the memory, your blogger requested a list of NCAA Tournament events hosted by the MAAC, and the list is impressive. Here it is:

-- Men's Basketball, 1995, first and second rounds in Albany.
-- Men's Basketball, 2000 first and second rounds in Buffalo.
-- Men's Basketball, 2003, Sweet 16 and round of 8 in Albany.
-- Men's Basketball, 2004, first and second rounds in Buffalo.
-- Men's Basketball, 2007, first and second rounds in Buffalo.
And, the men's basketball event returns to Buffalo for first and second-round games next season.

-- Women's Basketball, 2006 first and second rounds in Buffalo.

-- Ice Hockey, 2003 Frozen Four in Buffalo.

-- Wrestling, 2002 national championship in Albany.

-- Cross Country, Northeast Regional meet in 1998, 2000, '02, '04 and '06 in Van Cortlandt Park in New York City.

MAAC officials indicate that applications for future events of that magnitide have been, or will be made during the NCAA-mandated time frames.

So, expect more of the same to come.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Opinions on Siena Team, NCAA Victory

Since everyone likes lists, this humble blogger will submit two, both short.

1) How does the 2008-09 Siena team rank against past Siena teams (Division I era only)?

2) Where does Siena's double-overtime victory over Ohio State in the first round of this year's NCAA Tournament rank among all-time Siena victories?

This blogger has been watching Siena basketball since his high school days. And, no, that wasn't before the invention of the wheel ... although it was back in the late 1960's, early 1970s. And, yours truly has covered Siena basketball, in some form or other, since 1985. So, hopefully, these rankings carry some perspective, expertise and objectivity.

OK, Question No. 1 ... all-time Siena teams of the Division I era:

1) Siena's 1988-89 team.

Its head coach Mike Deane called it a "Top 30" level team, and it might have been even a little better than that.

Its 25-5 overall record remains the program's all-time best winning percentage (.833) in 33 years of Division I play. Regular-season victories included one over a very good Pittsburgh team, at Pitt.

Point guard Marc Brown, then a sophomore, is the best player in Siena's D-I history. Power forward Steve McCoy and swingman Jeff Robinson are both in Siena's top 10. The team had everything covered ... good shooting, good ball-handling, depth and inside play that included a pair of capable 7-footers off the bench (Steve Downey, Eric Fleury).

Not only the first Siena team to make it to the NCAA's, but the only one to advance to the second round prior to last season's squad.

There, it earned a victory over Stanford, ranked No. 13 nationally and a No. 3 seed in a 16-team bracket.

2) The 2008-09 team.

The 27 victories matches the program's single-season record of all time (the 1949-50 team finished 27-5). A second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament's second round with arguably the event's most-exciting game, the 2OT effort vs. Ohio State, thus far.

Although the team doesn't have the singular talent of a Brown, it did have five starters all of whom, it says here, were among the conference's top 15 players this past season as well as contributors off the bench.

The combination of talent and results clearly makes it among the program's all-time best..

3) The 1998-99 team.

Very close call over the 1999-00 team which had a better conference record (15-3, compared to the 1998-99 team's 13-5 record). But, the 1998-99 team made it to the NCAA Tournament, and the subsequent season's team didn't.

Paul Hewitt, in this blogger's opinion, was the best coach in Siena's D-I history ... until now.

Make a case for Fran McCaffery, and there won't be any debate here. Tough call between those two, but McCaffery's back-to-back NCAA appearances with a team comprised entirely of players he brought here ...

OK, McCaffery is No. 1, and Hewitt No. 1A.

Hewitt's 1998-99 team was the trailblazer for up-tempo play at Siena, employing a style even faster than the current squad's.

The talent level was similar to this year's. Hewitt's team had four players who still rank in the program's top 20 in career scoring (Marcus Faison, Jim Cantamessa, Corey Osinski and Scott Knapp), size (an effective 6-10 center in Dave Deters) and depth.

But, the current season's team had something Hewitt's team didn't have: An NCAA Tournament victory.

Question No. 2 ... where does the double-overtime victory over Ohio State rank on Siena's list of greatest single-game accomplishments?

Times Union columnist Mark McGuire, in an on-line blog, calls it "arguably the greatest win in Siena's history."

This blogger, though, doesn't agree, ranking victories in this order:

1) Siena's 1989 NCAA Tournament victory over Stanford.

This was the outcome that brought Siena its first national publicity for reasons beyond a measles' outbreak on campus that season.

As a No. 14 seed knocking off a No. 3 seed, it was the upset of that year's tournament.

Ranked 13th nationally at the time, that Stanford team remains the highest-rated opponent Siena has ever beaten away from home.

And, that Stanford team, at least to these eyes, was considerably better than the Ohio State team Siena beat in this year's NCAA's.

2) Siena's victory over Boston University in the championship game of the old North Atlantic Conference's Tournament.

The victory gave Siena the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the first ever for the Saints. The first time always seems the sweetest, and the first time wouldn't have come for many more years were it not for this game.

Siena trailed, 67-66, with time running out. Tom Huerter launched a 20-foot jumper as the final seconds ticked. The shot barely grazed iron, but Steve McCoy came from under the basket, grabbed Huerter's missed shot and flipped up a one-hander from the side of the basket that fell through with two seconds left for the victory.

3) Siena's victory over Ohio State in two overtimes on Friday.

Close call over the team's demolition of Vanderbilt in last season's first-round NCAA Tournament game. But, even though Vandy (a No. 4 seed) was rated higher than this year's Buckeyes (a No. 8 seed), it did appear that Ohio State was a considerably more formidable opponent ... particularly since the playing venue in Dayton was a virtual home game for the Buckeyes.

If nothing else, it surely was the most-exciting performance in a big-game setting in the Division I era of Siena basketball.

The game carries consequence, too, beyond its own scope. The victory, taken as the second NCAA Tournament advancement in consecutive seasons, stamps Siena as being on the verge of a small-school program seemingly ready to stretch the upper boundries of the mid-major level tag.

Siena isn't yet the Gonzaga of the East, but NCAA Tournament victories in back-to-back years has people thinking about the possibility of reaching that status.

Slotting this Siena Squad in its Place ... and Plotting a Route to Sweet 16 in 2010

Earlier this season my good friend, Pete Iorizzo of the Albany Times Union newspaper, subjectively identified the five best teams in the history of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

The list was pretty accurate in my mind, particularly since I provided some help in determining Pete’s picks.

Because the just-concluded season was still on-going, though, the 2008-09 Siena team was not considered.

With Siena’s results in, though, it’s a good time to revisit the debate.

It says here that the 2008-09 Siena team ranks behind only the 1989-90 La Salle team that featured Lionel Simmons, Randy Woods and Doug Overton (16-0 in MAAC play, 30-2 overall).

This year’s Siena team finished 27-8 overall, and its 16 regular-season conference victories matched the league’s all-time best also held by the 1989-90 Exporers and the 2003-04 Manhattan (16-2) squad.

Siena’s current “era” also rivals La Salle’s glory years (1987-88 through 1989-90), a three-year run when the Explorers finished 43-1 in MAAC play and 80-18 overall.

But, in one respect, the current Siena era surpasses even those La Salle teams.

Siena became the first MAAC men’s team since the league was formed in 1981 to win a first-round NCAA Tournament game in consecutive seasons.

In sports, where we often look ahead as much as look behind, the talk about whether Siena can advance beyond the second round of the NCAA’s is already a topic of debate.

Although no MAAC men's team has ever won a second-round game, why not Siena a year from now?

Only one productive senior, senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck, leaves this year’s team.

Hasbrouck was the conference’s Player of the Year this season. But, he wasn’t the season’s unique talent like Simmons was for La Salle, or Luis Flores was as a senior at Manhattan when that program won 16 conference regular-season games in the 2003-04 season.

Hasbrouck will be sorely missed, but not to the point that Siena’s program will return to the pack without him like La Salle and Manhattan did when their respective singular stars moved on.

There is a solid replacement in current sophomore Clarence Jackson, the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year Award winner for this season, ready to step in.

Siena’s other four starters? All four will be among the conference’s top players a year from now.

Back, too, will be all-Rookie team member guard Kyle Downey and another productive first-year player, forward Owen Wignot. Siena’s incoming recruits are reportedly strong and all three could play roles on next season’s team.

Right now, Siena is likely to be a unanimous choice as the conference’s team to beat in next season’s preseason poll of coaches.

And, then, the conference’s post-season tournament will again be played at the Times Union Center, Siena’s home court.

If all that holds up, and Siena gets to its third straight NCAA tournament next season, its chances to advance to that event’s Sweet 16 round, where no MAAC team has ever gone, depends on one thing: A good seeding position.

The Saints were flattered to be a No. 9 seed in a 16-team bracket this season. It gave them a first-round match against an opponent of equal ability in the minds of the NCAA Selection Committee.

But the seeding gave Siena a second-round match with the bracket’s No. 1 seed, Louisville.

Siena’s quest to advance past the second round of a future NCAA tournament would likely require a No. 6 seed, bringing about a second-round meeting with a No. 3, or a No. 5 seed bringing a second-round game against a No. 4.

Lofty expectations? For sure.

But, not unprecedented. The 1989-90 La Salle team was a No. 4 seed in a 16-team bracket. So, it can happen.

If the Siena “era” is indeed among the best ever experienced by a MAAC program, then it could secure a No. 4, 5 or 6 seed a year from now by living up to that particular accolade.

Needless to say that it won’t be easy.

Siena would need to get a win or two on the road against big-time opponents, something it didn’t get this year in losing to Pittsburgh, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Wichita State and Tennessee in games away from home this season.

It probably needs to improve on its 16-2 MAAC record from this season, too.

Siena went 7-5 in non-league games this season and 16-2 in MAAC play.

Give the Saints one more non-league win, and one more in the conference … that’s 25-5 entering the MAAC tournament. Win three games there, and it’s a 28-5 record going into Selection Sunday, probably good enough for a No. 5 or a No. 6 seed, as long as the non-league schedule includes games against Top 50 opponents, and Siena wins one of those.

Add another victory somewhere along the way and, then, it's a 29-4 record and, potentially a No. 4 seed.

Sounds easy, but it’s not. As good as the MAAC was this season, it might be even better a year from now.

But, that’s probably what Siena has to reach for if it hopes to advance beyond the NCAA Tournament’s second round.

Here’s a good comparison of another so-called mid-major program’s recent plight in the NCAA’s.
Xavier, a No. 4 this season, has advanced to the Sweet 16. Last year, as a No. 3 seed, it advanced to the round of eight. Two years ago, as a No. 9 seed in 2007, Xavier won a first-round contest and, then, was ousted by a No. 1, the same situation Siena faced this season.

Easier said than done. But, it's what Siena will likely have to do to advance beyond the second round of NCAA Tournament play.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pitino Knows Plenty About Siena

As Siena was preparing for its first-round NCAA Tournament game against Ohio State, it discovered that the Buckeyes knew so much about the Saints that players even knew the high school nickname of Siena's head coach Fran McCaffery.

And, it has been more than 30 years since McCaffery was known as "White Magic," while a clever point guard in his high school days.

You can be sure that Louisville, and particularly its head coach Rick Pitino, will also know plenty about Siena as the teams prepared for Sunday's meeting in the second-round.

Pitino won't have to search far for some perspective about Siena. His own memory banks will suffice.

Pitino began his career as a head coach on the mid-major level, coaching five seasons at Boston University (1978-79 through 1982-83) before moving up in the college ranks with two seasons at Providence (1985-86, 1986-87). Between those two stops, he was an assistant coach with the NBA New York Knicks.

Subsequently, Pitino has also coached in the college ranks at Kentucky. He is the only coach in history to bring three college programs to the NCAA's Final Four, doing so with Providence, Kentucky and Louisville.

In Pitino's early days as a college coach his teams played Siena four times. Pitinos teams came out on top all four times.

In the 1978-79 season Boston U. nipped Siena, 72-66; In 1979-80, BU was a 98-89 winner; and, in 1982-83 the Terriers topped Siena, 78-65.

Siena met Providence once in Pitino's two seasons, a 75-64 Providence victory in the 1986-87 season. The Friars ultimately advanced to the Final Four that season, led there by a scrappy point guard named Billy Donovan, who, in recent years, has taken the University of Florida to a pair of national championships.

The starters for the 1986-87 Siena team included Matt Brady (now the head coach at James Madison University, after a successful four-year stay at Marist), Dwight Walton, Rick Williams, Steve McCoy and Jeff Robinson.

That crew gave the Pitino-coached Providence squad a solid challenge in a Dec. 11, 1986 game played at the Providence Civic Center. Siena was within seven, 38-31, at halftime, and still within eight with about three minutes remaining.

And, it gave the 5,127 in attendance for that game a memorable and humorous moment.

With Siena trying to rally from an eight-point deficit late in the game, coach Mike Deane had his team using a full-court pressure defense.

At one point, 7-foot-0 reserve center Eric Fleury was in the game, at the point of the press.

Fleury was waving his long arms and trying to district Providence's attempt to in-bound the ball on a particular possession.

Fleury got his hands on a pass, gained possession and, then, immediately went up and made a lay-up basket.

Problem was that Fleury put the ball in the Providence basket, recording an easy two points for the Friars.

It gave Providence a 10-point lead, and Siena didn't really threaten afterwards.

Afterwards, Siena coach Mike Deane was delicately approached about Fleury's play.

To which Deane displayed his best sense of humor.

"The guy is 7-feet tall," said Deane, a big smile on his face. "When you're that tall, and that close to the basket ... you don't lay it in. You dunk it."

Pitino, afterwards, had plenty of respectful things to say about a tough Siena opponent that day.

Twenty-two year later, Pitino probably still has a healthy respect for Siena's program, and likely has spent the two days leading up to today's NCAA match-up instilling that sentiment in his Lousville players.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Moore-led Siena gets to 2nd Round

Conference coaches left Siena's junior point guard Ronald Moore off the 2008-09 preseason all-star teams, picking 15 players ahead of the 5-foot-11 floor general.

They probably won't make the same mistake next season, not after the year Moore had in leading the conference in assists-to-turnover ratio, and not after the clutch performance Moore turned in to lift the Saints to a 74-72 double-overtime victory over Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night (into Saturday morning) in Dayton, Ohio.

Moore had six assists against a single turnover while pushing the ball quickly into the Buckeyes' defense all night.

But, with the game on the line on two different occassions, Moore called his own number to ensure the Saints would move on.

With Siena trailing by three in the closing seconds of the first extra session, Moore created some room with his dribble, enough to get off a three-pointer that tied it with 2.5 seconds left to force the second overtime.

Again, Siena needed a late basket to overcome a deficit in the second overtime and, again, Moore delivered.

He took a pass, set himself and popped in another three-pointer with 3.5 seconds left to turn a 72-71 Siena deficit into a 74-72 lead.

Ohio State standout Even Turner got off a contested 15-footer at the buzzer that bounced off the side of the rim, and the Siena celebration began.

And, now, it wouldn't be out of line to call Moore "Mr. Clutch."

Some perspective on what Siena has done: The victory marked the second straight season the Sants have advanced into the NCAA event's second round (they beat Vanderbilt, 83-62, last season).

Since the MAAC was formed in 1981, no conference team had previously won an NCAA Tournament game in back-to-back seasons.

Moore's game-saving and, then, game-winning shots at the end of the two overtimes, respectively surely will rank as the most-important field goals ever made by a Siena player.

In this blogger's 35 years watching the program, only one other shot immediately comes to mind that matches the importance of Moore's against Ohio State.

That was a put back after an offensive rebound by Steve McCoy at the buzzer of the championship game of the old North Atlantic Conference tournament in 1989, the basket that sent the team to its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament.

There, Siena pulled off the upset of the tournament, knocking off Stanford, ranked 13th nationally that season, in the first round of the NCAA event.

Until now, that game was unquestionably the most-significant contest, the greatest victory, since the program moved to the Division I level in 1976.

The immediate reaction is to rank the current team's victory over Ohio State higher than the 1989 result.

It most certainly ranks as, maybe, the most-exciting outcome to a nationally significant game in the program's history.

And, at worst, it ranks among the top two all-time as the most-rewarding victory, along with the 1989 team's victory over Stanford, in the program's Division I history.

"These guys believe in each other and never gave up," said Saints coach Fran McCaffery, immediately after his team beat Ohio State.

Said Moore, about his game-winning shot: "I struggled shooting all night (4-of-13 from the field overall), but I was going to shoot that shot, and it went in. We're going to the second round again as a mid-major program. We've got a great coach, and a great team."

The reward? Siena advances to meet Louisville, the top-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament, on Sunday.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Some Notes from Tournament Fields

This blogger was listening to ESPN radio Thursday morning to hear college football analyst Beano Cook talking about the NCAA basketball tournament. Mr. Cook doesn't like the fact that some teams are playing in, basically, home-court venues.

Cook specifically mentioned Ohio State playing against Siena in Dayton, about 70 miles away from the Buckeyes' campus.

"It's not necessarily their home court, but it's like Notre Dame playing in the Vatican," said Cook. "It's not the court, it's the crowd support, and the crowd for the game will definitely be rooting for Ohio State.

"Ask any coach which he'd rather have ... a familiar court and no crowd support, or crowd support and an unfamiliar court. They'll all tell you they'd rather have the crowd support.

"Ohio State is basically playing a home game (against Siena Friday night). It's not fair."

Elsewhere ... a bunch of MAAC-related personalities are involved in post-season play.

FORMER Siena College standout Jack McClinton (he was a freshman for the Saints in the 2004-05 season) has helped his Miami (Fla.) team advance to the second round of the NIT with a 78-66 victory over Providence on Wednesday night.

McClinton had a game-high 25 points, 21 of them coming on a career-high matching seven three-pointers. McClinton has a single-season school record 98 treys so far this season, as well as holding the program's career record for bonus shots made with 283.

Providence's team includes former Manhattan guard Jeff Xavier, who had six points in the game.

McCLINTON'S next game, ironically enough, will enable him to renew acquaintances with his former Siena coach, Rob Lanier. Miami meets Florida in the second round of the NIT Friday at 7 p.m. in Gainsville, Fla., (ESPNU).

Lanier, who recruited McClinton to Siena and was the coach there for the player's freshman season, is now an assistant at Florida. Siena fired Lanier after the 2004-05 season, and McClinton opted to transfer after Lanier's dismissal.

MICHIGAN, a No. 10 seed which plays Clemson today (Thursday), is coached by former Canisius head man John Beilein, who directed the Golden Griffins' program from the 1992-93 season through 1996-97.

WAKE FOREST, a No. 4 seed in the NCAA event which plays Friday against Cleveland State, is coached by former Loyola head man Dino Gaudio.

NIAGARA of the MAAC was an NIT participant, dropping a 66-62 first-round game to Rhode Island in a contest played at the Taps Gallagher Center on Niagara's campus.

ANOTHER first-round casualty in the NIT was Jacksonville (an 84-62 loss to Florida on Wednesday). The Dolphins are coached by Cliff Warren, who was a Siena assistant for three seasons. Warren worked at Siena under Paul Hewitt, and followed Hewitt to Georgia Tech where he was also an assistant for four seasons before becoming the head man at Jacksonville in 2005.

ON THE WOMEN'S side of things, conference member Marist plays its first-round NCAA Tournament game Saturday (10:30 p.m. eastern time, ESPN2) against Virginia, where Angel Elderkin serves as an assistant. Elderkin spent four seasons as an assistant coach at Siena, prior to becoming a part-time assistant coach at Tennessee. There, the Volunteers won the national title in 2007 with Elderkin on the staff. After that season, she became a full-time assistant coach at Virginia.

IN THE WOMEN'S NIT, Canisius lost its first-round game Wednesday, dropping a 90-65 decision to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Golden Griffin seniors Amanda Cavo and Marie Warner had 15 and 13 points, respectively.

The coaching staff at Syracuse has a strong Siena flavor. Head coach Quintin Hillsman and associate head coach Matt Luneau were both previously assistants at Siena, while another Syracuse assistant coach, Mary McKissack-Grimes, played at Siena in the late 1990's and early 2000's.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Michigan St.'s Izzo Likes Ohio State

Siena's first-round NCAA Tournament foe Ohio State knocked off Michigan State, 82-70, in the finals of the Big 10 Tournament on Saturday.

So, it only seems natural that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo thinks the Buckeyes will advance past the Saints in their game Friday night.

"They're a very tough team," said Izzo, about Ohio State, in an interview on ESPN radio Wednesday morning.

"They've been getting better point guard play with Hill (P.J. Hill) in the starting lineup. Turner (swingman Evan Turner) is a very good player. Buford (shooting guard William Buford) is very good ... he's a guy that we recruited. (B.J.) Mullens is 7-foot-1 and he's tough inside.

"Ohio State is a team that can do some damage. The do some things that I really like. They play a zone defense, and if they're playing against a team that doesn't shoot very well, then that really helps them."

Siena isn't terrific from beyond the perimeter. And, Ohio State's tall lineup makes it tough to shoot over its zone.

But, Siena does much of its damage in transition. The Saints, it says here, need to force turnovers and get some points before the Buckeyes set up in their half-court defense.

One last thought, admittedly about 700 miles removed from Friday night's game.

The NCAA Tournament committee did Siena no favors by creating the Saints' matchup with the Buckeyes at Dayton, about 75 miles away from Ohio State's campus.

The contest will assuredly take on all the trappings of being a Buckeyes' home game.

Monday, March 16, 2009

For Marist Women ... Far-away Site, Tough Foe

The Marist women's basketball learned its NCAA situation Monday night, and other than the actual berth, which the Red Foxes qualified for by virtue of winning the recent MAAC tournament, it's probably cause for some disappointment in Poughkeepsie.

A year ago Marist was the No. 7 seeded team in a 16-team bracket after a 31-2 regular season.

This year the Red Foxes enter the tournament with a 29-3 record and got a No. 12 seed.

The rest of the bad news is the opponent and the site.

Marist draws tough Virginia (23-9) of the Atlantic Coast Conference, one of the top conferences for the women's sport.

The playing site for the first-round game is the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles.

The game will be played Saturday at approximately 10:30 p.m. eastern time and will be televised on ESPN2.

Yours truly, though, will be the first to admit that his knowledge of women's basketball outside the confines of the MAAC isn't as strong as my knowledge of the men's sport.

But a good friend, who works at the University of Virginia and has seen the women's team there on multiple occassions, offers this brief, succinct scouting report: Big, good, athletic and smart."

Beyond that, all this blogger knows about Virginia is what he reads.

The Cavaliers start a lineup that includes 6-foot-4 sophomore center Kelly Hartiq (1.4 points, 2.7 rebounds), 6-3 senior forward Alisha Mohammed (13.0, 10.1) and 6-1 senior forward Lyndra Littles (20.5, 6.4).

Their guards are 5-11 junior Monica Wright (20.5, 5.5) and 5-10 senior Britnee Millner (3.9, 3.0).

The top front-court sub is 6-2 senior Chelsea Shine (5.7, 5.4), and the top back-court reserve is 5-7 freshman Ariana Morer (7.0, 3.5).

The Caves have 10 players who averaged at least 12.4 minutes of playing time per contest.

They have played eight teams rated in the Top 25 this year, finishing with a 3-5 record at that level.

Their best victory was an 89-81 decision over then No. 8 Maryland at midseason.

Virginia was rated No. 20 nationally, prior to its most-recent game, a loss to No. 8 Duke in the ACC tournament. At one point earlier in the season, Virginia was rated as high as No. 11.

Marist has won its first round game in the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Niagara Gets its Reward: NIT Host

The MAAC's other men's team in a post-season tournament, Niagara, can't be unhappy about its fate.

The Purple Eagles will not only play in the NIT, but will host a first-round game.

Niagara is 26-8 overall, and will host 22-10 Rhode Island on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

This marks the 13th NIT berth for the Purple Eagles and second for 11-year head coach Joe Mihalich. The 2004 Niagara squad defeated Troy State in the first round.

The game will be played in the Taps Gallagher Center on Niagara's campus, a cozy gymnasium where fans are extremely close to the court. It is one of the most-daunting home-court atmospheres in the conference. Anyone who doubts that can ask Siena's opinion. Niagara beat the Saints, 100-85, there late in the regular season.

Rhode Island is coached by Jim Baron, who knows all about playing at Niagara, having done so several times while coaching at Saint Bonaventure.

Niagara is a No. 3 seed in one of four eight-team brackets in the 32-team event.

Games in the first three rounds are held at home-court sites. After three rounds, the final four teams move on to the semifinal and final round at New York City's Madison Square Garden.

The winner of the Niagara-Rhode Island game will advance to meet the winner of a first-round game between Penn State and George Mason.

Siena's seed: Good ... and, then, Bad

Charles Dickens began his classic novel "A Tale of Two Cities" this way:

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times..."

It's probably an apt description, now, for Siena's draw in the NCAA tournament.

Siena, making its fifth trip to the "Big Dance" got its highest-ever seeding, a No. 9 in a 16-team bracket.

It draws No. 8 Ohio State in a first-round game Friday (time to be announced) at Dayton.

That's the best of times. More on that later.

And, then, if Siena gets past its first-round game, the event's overall No. 1 team, Louisville, will be awaiting on Sunday.

Which, of course, is the worst of times.

A No. 9 seed has only upset a No. 1 seed 3 times in 52 games since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Louisville isn't only a No. 1 seed, but the tournament's overall No. 1.

(NOTE: The seeding committee rates the field from No. 1 to No. 65 in order to determine matchups.)

An overall No. 1 seed has never lost a second-round game since 1985.

Best not to look that far ahead.

The perception of the first-round match by this humble blogger is that it's a great match for Siena.

The Saints' best chance against teams from so-called "power conferences" is to go against a team that doesn't play the same up-tempo style as Siena, only with bigger, stronger, faster athletes.

This blogger has seen Ohio State a couple of times from his seat in front of the 42-inch TV screen, and the Buckeyes look like Woody Hayes' old three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football teams at that school.

In otherwords, Ohio State doesn't move real fast.

But, it does have talent, and it's a good thing Siena won't meet Ohio State a year from now, because the Buckeyes don't have a senior on their roster, and their best six players include two freshmen, three sophomores and a junior.

Size-wise, Ohio State's starters won't overwhelm Siena's.

The starting five are:
6-foot-8, 255-pound sophomore post man Dallas Lauderdale (4.6 points, 3.6 rebounds).
6-7 sophomore swingman Evan Turner (17.1 points, 7.0 rebounds).
6-5 freshman forward William Buford (11.3 points, 3.7 rebounds).
6-6 sophomore forward Jon Diebler (11.4 points, 3.5 rebounds)
6-2 junior guard Jermaine Simmons (6.9 points, 1.4 rebounds)

The first player off the bench is freshman 7-foot, 275-pounder B.J. Mullens (8.5 points, 4.7 rebounds).

From personal observations, Ohio State is similar to Northern Iowa, Siena's BracketBusters' opponent from earlier this year, only a little better.

But the playing style, mostly in the half court, is similar.

Here's the supportive statistic: Ohio State averages 66.7 points per game. Siena averages 77.7.

In that respect, Ohio State might also be compared to last year's NCAA tournament first-round matchup for Siena, Vanderbilt.

Here's more good news for Siena. The Buckeyes' primary ball-handler is Turner, who has 123 assists but 112 turnovers.

By comparison, Siena's point guard Ronald Moore has 208 assists against 74 turnovers.

Siena's pressure defense forces turnovers. Opponents turn it over an average of 18 times per contest.

Ohio State, though, only commits 15 turnovers per game. But, much of that statistic is influenced by playing in the Big 10 where teams traditionally play a half-court style in which there are less turnovers.

Just a guess here, but Siena will likely try to get Ohio State playing at an unfamiliarily fast tempo, and that the Buckeyes won't handle it well.

If Ohio State gets into its half-court offense, it does most of its best work from the perimeter. Diebler has made 94 three-pointers this season, and makes 42.7 percent of his bonus attempts. Simmons is 44-of-122 (36.1 percent) from beyond the stripe, while Buford is 42-of-114 (36.8 percent).

Here's some bad news: The game's site, Dayton, is about 70 miles away from Ohio State's campus, so the Buckeyes are likely to be the crowd's favorite team.

Playing at Dayton, though, ensures that at least one attendee will be rooting for the Saints.

The women's basketball coach at Dayton is Jim Jabir, who coached three seasons at Siena before moving on after the 1989-90 season. Jabir remains close to several Siena administrators, including current women's coach Gina Castelli and athletic director John D'Argenio.

A prediction? It says here that Siena will add a second-straight first-round tournament victory and, then ...

Once again, Dickens' beginning to "A Tale of Two Cities" is an apt description of what Siena is facing if it plays two games in Dayton: "It was the season of hope. It was the season of despair.”

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing ... Too Much?

Remember the old saying: "Be careful what you wish for?"

It probably applies pretty well to Siena's hopes for a good seeding position in the NCAA Tournament.

Siena supporters want the Saints to get as favorable a seed as possible.

Conventional wisdom (such as it is concerning anything this speculative) has the Saints getting as good a seeding as a No. 9 (according to ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi) in a 16-team bracket, and a No. 10, 11 or 12 nearly everywhere else.

One of this blogger's favorite sites, and one of the traditionally most-accurate, is Jerry Palm's (, which figures Siena for a No. 11 seed.

But, is better actually better?

Here's another cliche response concerning this situation: A good seed is the proverbial "double-edged sword."

It's understood that a good seed brings recognition and respect.

Does a good seed mean a better chance for a first-round victory?

A resounding "Yes" to that.

Does a good seed mean a good chance for a second-round victory?

A resounding "No" to that.

If a team in Siena's situation wants to win a second tournament game, the evidence is clear that it's easier to do so from a lesser seeded position than a better one.

Let's say Siena is seeded No. 9, as Lunardi currently projects. Lunardi's bracket has Siena matched up with Oklahoma State, coincidentally a team already played (in the Old Spice Classic) and would have beaten had the Saints shot better than 12-of-28 from the foul line that day.

The reward? A second-round match with a No. 1 seed.

Lunardi projects those to be North Carolina, Louisville, Pitt and UConn.

The likelihood of that scenario, though, seems slim here.

This blogger envisions Siena getting a No. 10, 11 or 12 seed.

In either of those spots, the Saints have a "win-able" first-round game. But, the chances of a second-round victory are better if Siena gets a 12 seed than if they do a 10.

At a No. 10, Siena would face a second-round contest against a No. 2 seed.

Here are some likely No. 2 seeds, according to several "mock" brackets: Kansas, Memphis, Michigan State, Duke, Oklahoma and Lousville.

At a No. 11, Siena would face a second-round game against a No. 3 seed, a group that could include: Wake Forest, Syracuse, Villanova, Kansas, Washington, Oklahoma.

At a No. 12, Siena would face a second-round game against a No. 4 seed, a group that could include: Missouri, Xavier, UCLA, Gonzaga.

(NOTE: Siena does have a victory over a No. 3 seed in its history. The 1988-89 team, as a No. 14 seed, knocked off Stanford, a No. 3 seed, in a first-round game.

(Last year's tournament saw Siena, as a No. 13 seed knock off Vanderbilt, a No. 4, in the first round).

The 1989 sceneario, though, shows the benefits of being an overlooked, underrated lower-seeded team. After Siena defeated Stanford, it faced off with Minnesota. The Saints led the contest midway through the second half before ultimately falling, 80-67.

Still, one never knows.

Davidson was a No. 1o seed last season and advanced to the NCAA Tournament's round of eight, earning unlikely victories over Georgetown (a No. 2 seed) in its second-round contest, and Wisconsin (a No. 3 seed) in its third-round game before losing to eventual national champion Kansas.

This blogger knows that most Siena fans are hoping for the best-possible seed, which gives the team a better chance at a first-round victory.

But, being seeded No. 9 or 10 severely lessens the chance of a second-round victory.

It says here that a No. 11 or No. 12 seed would actually be better if Siena hopes to advance beyond a first-round game in the tournament.

In truth, the opportunities for tournament upsets are usually a result of favorable matchups.

Last year, for example, the uptempo, athletic Saints matched favorably with half-court, less-athletic Vanderbit to earn a first-round victory.

Same thing in 1989 when Siena was athletic (Marc Brown, Jeff Robinson, etc.) and Stanford was a team of plodders by comparison.

In 1999, an uptempo Siena team that ranks with any in the program's history was a No. 13 seed. But that squad had the misfortune of a first-round match with Arkansas and its Nolan Richardson-coached "40 Minutes of Hell" style.

Arkansas played the exact same style as Siena, only with bigger, stronger, quicker athletes. The result was a predictable 94-80 Arkansas victory that wasn't anywhere near as close as the final score would indicate.

On the women's side ... this humble blogger won't begin to claim to know enough about how the MAAC's representative, Marist, stacks up against its potential tournament opponents.

Lunardi's mock bracket for women's projects Marist as an No. 11 seed facing off against Notre Dame.

Selection Show Parties Set for MAAC Teams

Want to share the experience of the nationally televised Selection Show not only with members of the MAAC teams headed to the NCAA Tournaments, but with a few thousand other fans?

You can by attending organized parties for the Siena men's and Marist women's teams.

Siena will hold an NCAA Basketball Selection Show Party on Sunday from 5:30 until 7 p.m. in its on-campus Alumni Recreation Center. The event is open to the general public at no charge. The entire team and coaching staff will attend.

The Times Union Center's public address announcer Scott Noel will host the event, which will feature performances from Siena's spirit groups, special prizes and giveaways and the introduction of the 2008-09 MAAC championship team along with student-athlete and coaching staff interviews.

The telecast of the selection show, aired on CBS from 6-7 p.m., will be shown on a big screen.

In Poughkeepsie, the Marist women's team will hold its NCAA Selection Show gathering on Monday night at the Shadows on the Hudson, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The event is open to the public.

The women's tournament field will be revealed on an ESPN broadcast that begins at 7 p.m. on Monday night.

Those wishing to have dinner at Shadows on the Hudson prior to or following the selection show can do so by making reservations by calling 845-486-9500. However, dinner is not required and there is no charge to attend the event.

Shadows on the Hudson is located at 176 Rinaldi Blvd. in Poughkeepsie.

Friday, March 13, 2009

McCaffery's ESPN Visit Boost for Siena

When does the head coach of a college basketball team miss practice?

When one is so ill he can't get out of bed, maybe.

Or, when one has the rare opportunity to bring national recognition to one's program with a day-long series of interviews conducted at ESPN.

It was the latter that caused McCaffery to turn the team's Wednesday afternoon practice over to his assistants on a day he took the two-and-a-half-hour drive to ESPN's Bristol, Conn., studios where he spent about three-and-a-half hours interviewing at and touring the facility.

While there McCaffery did an interview with "ESPN First Take," another with "ESPN Rise," a web site devoted to high school sports, answered fan questions on an chat, appeared on ESPN Radio with Scott Van Pelt and Mike Tirico, and did an interview live on ESPNews.

Whew ... no wonder that McCaffery was sucking on throat lozenges on the return trip to Siena.

It was an opportunity created by Siena's upcoming berth in the NCAA tournament, by virtue of winning the conference's tournament, and the belief by some that the Saints could be this year's mid-major level "Cinderella" team, capable of slaying a few high-major giants like George Mason or Davidson of the recent past.

And, McCaffery's appearance does more than bring recognition to his program. It gives a significant boost to the school, too, in a variety of ways.

"Any time you can put a representative of the college on a national stage like that it's great for the college," said Siena athletic director John 'Argenio. "Obviously, we've had cameo appearances, if you will, before in settings like that. But, never over a full day."

D'Argenio knows as well as anyone in the Siena community the benefits that come from the type of publicity Siena is currently generated.

He has been at the Loudonville, N.Y., school since 1985, and was involved on the publcity side of things as the school's sports information director when the program made its first trip to the NCAA's in 1989.

There, the Saints knocked off heavily favored Stanford in a first-round game and drew considerable recognition particularly in print-media circles. Siena was not only a feel-good story on the court that season, but off it as well because of an on-campus measles outbreak that prohibited fans from attending games for nearly a month.

The "fan ban" was lifted for the NCAA tournament, and the outpouring of support, after an absence, was not only tangible but a noticeable sidelight that only created another reason for recognition beyond Siena's usual base of followers.

But, the program ESPN wasn't the national presence back in 1989 that it is today, and Siena has never gotten the type of "big-stage" forum before that it did with McCaffery's trip to the network's studios on Wednesday

"Right now it's a positive feeling around here," said D'Argenio. "A lot of people are talking about it."

The likelihood is that the recognition will also fuel increases not only in future ticket sales, but admissions to the student population that gives the school a wider pool of students to consider for admissions in subsequent years.

"That's the general belief ... that the kind of name recognition we're getting right now creates more interest in your school and helps boost application numbers," said D'Argenio.

In any other economic environment it would also likely result in an increase in donations to the school.

But, maybe not now.

"That's a funny thing to measure," said D'Argenio. "The way the economy is now has an affect on donations."

D'Argenio said last year's NCAA appearance by the program didn't have much of an affect on season-ticket sales, although the sales of "premium" seats was boosted.

General attendance, though, rose from a year ago. This year's average crowd for Siena home games was 7,144 compared to 6,471 a year ago. This season also marked just the second time the program has averaged more than 7,000 fans per home game for a full season of games at the Albany arena since average crowds of 7,362 turned out in the 2002-03 season. And that year's attendance figures were boosted by three "home" games in the NIT.

D'Argenio said he hopes this year's success and recognition continue to boost attendance figures.

"Usually when the team plays better more people get interested," he said. "We've seen a steady increase in recent years."

And, there might be more to come. If it does, the type of recognition gained from the publicity generated from McCaffery's day at ESPN on Wednesday certainly doesn't hurt.

The Times Union's terrific Siena beat reporter Pete Iorizzo made the trip to ESPN with McCaffery to provide some insight.

For those of you without access to that paper, here's a link to Pete's story:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Did I Miss Something on Rossiter?

Did this humble blogger miss something on Siena's sophomore forward Ryan Rossiter?

Was there some memo distributed that we were supposed to overlook the 6-foot-9 sophomore center?

Did someone inform those who decide all-star honors that Rossiter was somehow designated as Slight of the Year award winner?

It sure seems that way.

This humble blogger took some minor offense when Rossiter was omitted from the conference's post-season all-star team, as voted on by the league's 10 coaches.

Rossiter was the only MAAC player who finished in the top four in four different statistical categories (first in field goal percentage, second in blocked shots, and fourth in rebounds and free throw percentage) not to make one of three post-season all-star teams.

OK, a minor slight. Rossiter is a sophomore, and league coaches traditionally reward seniority, figuring the younger guys will get their rewards later. And, only two other sophomores were picked. Loyola's Jamal Barney, who led the league in scoring, was a second-team pick; Wesley Jenkins, the top scorer for a solid Saint Peter's team was a third-team pick.

Rossiter probably also deserved to be a third-team pick. But, all four of Siena's other starters were either first- or second-team picks. The omission of Rossiter is an excusable absence.

And, then, Rossiter averaged 13.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, shot 65.4 percent from the field, blocked five shots and led his team in minutes played during the three games of the MAAC Tournament.

Siena won the tournament championship, and Rossiter led his team in rebounds, minutes played, blocks, field-goal percentage and was its third-leading scorer (his 41 points were only three behind tournament MVP Kenny Hasbrouck's 44 points).

A pretty good case could be made that Rossiter, and not Hasbrouck, deserved the tournament's top individual award.

OK, Hasbrouck is a team leader, hit big shots when necessary particularly in the championship game victory over Niagara, and was an inspiration to teammates by playing 37 minutes Monday night after suffering a severe calf contusion the night before that put in doubt his availability for Monday night's contest.

There won't be any debate here over Hasbrouck's MVP award.

But Rossiter, in a vote by my former peers (media covering the event), failed even to gain an all-tournament team mention, getting beat out by Niagara's Bilal Benn and Tyrone Lewis, and his own teammates Hasbrouck, Ronald Moore, and Alex Franklin.

Hasbrouck and Moore absolutely deserved first-team honors, Hasbrouck for being Siena's top scorer in the tournament and for his inspirational play, Moore for a tournament-record 14 assists in the semifinal round and for a spectacular 26-7 assist-to-turnover total over the tournament.

As for a comparison between Rossiter and Franklin in the tournament ...

Rossiter: 41 points, 32 rebounds, 5 blocks, 17-of-26 shooting (65.4 percent).
Franklin: 34 points, 21 rebounds, 3 blocks, 15-of-24 shooting (62.5 percent).

If one of those two is going to be left off an all-star team, the least likely omission should have been Rossiter.

In truth, a strong debate can be made that four Siena players should have made the all-tournament team with Rossiter replacing one of two Niagara players, Bilal Benn or Tyrone Lewis, who were named.

(Rider's Ryan Thompson was the other all-tournament team choice, and he absolutely deserved it with a tournament high 57 points in just two games).

Here's that breakdown of statistics for Rossiter and the two Niagara players from the tournament:

Rossiter: 41 points, 32 rebounds, 5 blocks, 27-of-26 shooting (65.4 percent).
Benn: 35 points, 37 rebounds, 2 blocks, 13-of-45 shooting (28.9 percent).
Lewis: 38 points, 18 rebounds, 1 block, 14-of-54 shooting (25.9 percent).

To the tournament-weary eyes of this humble blogger ... that comparison isn't even close.

Rossiter should have been a landslide selection to the all-tournament team over either Benn or Lewis.

But, my guess is that Rossiter would much rather have the tournament championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament than be an all-tournament team selection without having won the league's championship.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Where Do Top Teams Go Now?

ALBANY, N.Y. - We know Siena is going to the NCAA tournament, but their destination, seeding and opponent won't be decided until that tournament's field is revealed Sunday evening.

And, we can expect that Niagara will be going someplace.

But, that's as definite as we can get right now.

So, let the speculation begin ...

Siena was a 13 seed in a 16-team NCAA bracket a year ago with a 22-10 record after winning the 2008 MAAC tournament crown. Once there, it earned a first-round victory with an 83-62 upset over Vanderbilt.

"I'm no bracketologist, but I think we'll get a higher seed than last year," said Saints' coach Fran McCaffery.

Siena, currently 26-7 (its most victories in a season since it became a Division I program) entered Monday's game as No. 24 nationally (of 343 Division I teams) in the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index.

At worst, that should translate into a No. 12 seeding position and, more probably a No. 11.

One "bracketologist," Joe Lunardi of ESPN, believes Siena could be a No. 10 seed.

"I feel good about our chances (to win a first-round game)," said McCaffery late Monday night. "It's not like we snuck in. We've proven over a period of time that we're a real good team.

"That said, what we get (in a first-round game) will be another very good team. But, at least we'll go into the game believing that we have a legitimate shot if we have a good seed.

"We went into this season with the idea of playing a difficult non-league schedule so that if we did get in it would help us get a good seed and have a win-able game.

"I feel good about going in. Having been through everything involved, from the media attention and everything else ... it can only help."

And, what about Niagara?

With a 26-8 overall record, Niagara appears to be a lock for an NIT berth.

But Purple Eagles' coach Joe Mihalich was hoping for more.

"I would hope that we still have a chance for the NCAA's (with an at-large berth)," said the Niagara coach. "We won 26 games ... we should at least be on the board."

That, though, might a longshot wish.

Niagara entered Monday's championship game with Siena ranked No. 51 in the RPI's, territory that traditionally doesn't get mid-major level teams an at-large berth.

Still, by losing to a higher-rated team on the opponent's home court might move the Purple Eagles up a few notches on the RPI ladder.

Whether that's good enough for them to get serious consideration for the NCAA's ....

Well, this humble blogger will echo McCaffery's sentiments about NCAA tournament expertise. I'm no bracketologist, either.

Siena Tops Niagara, Heads to Dance

ALBANY, N.Y. - A group of well over 1,000 students and supporters, most wearing Siena gold, were poised just beyond one baseline with more than two minutes left to play ready to storm the court to celebrate their team's second straight conference tournament championshiop and resultant trip to the NCAA's.

Siena's 77-70 victory over Niagara enabled the throng to head for the court and begin running, hugging, jumping and, in some cases, dancing to celebrate their team's inclusion in the NCAA's "Big Dance."

Siena becomes the first team since the 2003 and '04 Manhattan teams to earn back-to-back berths to the national championship event, and the fifth team in MAAC history to accomplish that.

Iona (2001, '00), La Salle (1990, '89, '88) and Iona (1985, '84) also went in consecutive seasons.

Siena's senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck hardly seemed slowed by a severe right calf contusion suffered when he was kneed there in a mid-court collision in Sunday's semifinal-round contest.

The 6-foot-3 Hasbrouck followed up his regular-season Player of the Year award by claiming the Most Valuable Player trophy for the post-season tournament. He played 37 minutes on Monday night, produced a team-high 19 points and added six assists.

Teammates Alex Franklin and Ryan Rossiter added 16 points apiece, while Rossiter also had 14 rebounds and three blocked shots.

"How does my leg feel? It feels great right now," said Hasbrouck, afterwards.

And, he wasn't alone.

But as Saints' coach Fran McCaffery stood outside the entrance of his team's lockerroom with one of the game's nets draped around his neck, he spoke of the pressures of expectation that came with the return of every starter from a team that also earned an NCAA berth a year ago.

I had to stress all season, and I did, that it was OK for them to enjoy what they were doing," said McCaffery. "There were games that the players felt like this was a job. It was like they were thinking, `Well, there's another one behind us.' It was like that after pretty much every game at home.

"But, we were playing and beating some relaly good team, and our team deserved the right to enjoy the victories."

And, there were plenty, especially at home where the this team became the first one in the program's history to win every game it played at its Albany arena home court since it began playing here in the 1990-91 season.

The Saints went 14-0 in regular-season games at the Times Union Center and, then, added all three MAAC tournament games here.

Its first two wins came in undramatic fashion with beating Canisius by 23 points in its opener and Fairfield by 15 in its semifinal-round contest.

Niagara, though, might have been battle weary after having to go through two overtime sessions in Sunday night's late semifinal-round victory over Rider that didn't end until 21 hours before Monday's championship game tip-off.

"We might have been a little tired," admitted Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. "It's not only the physical wear, but it's the emotional aspect, too. And, Sunday's was an emotional game."

Tournament Sets Attendance Record

ALBANY, N.Y - A loud, enthusiastic crowd of 9,744 turned out to Monday night's nationally televised tournament championshipo game, helping set a record for total attendance for the event.

In all, 50,820 went through the Times Union Center turnstiles over the five days of the tournament, surpassing the previous mark of 50,087 in 2000 when the event was also held here.

Monday's crowd was the highest single-game turnout since a crowd of 11,844 came to see the 2000 championship game.

League officials say they remain open about other venues when they'll ultimately pick a single site for a three-year block (2012-through-2014).

But, this humble blogger has just one question ... if the tournament thrives here, and sets attendance records ... why go anywhere else?

Speculating about the Post Season

Tonight's MAAC tournament championship game will determine the conference's representative to the NCAA tournament.

If top-seeded Siena wins, the Saints could get a favorable seeding in the national title tournament.

The Saints, currently 25-7 overall, are rated 24th nationally in Jerry Palm's computer approximation of the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index. Palm claims to use the same formula as the NCAA uses for its own RPI that serves as a tool to help decide at-large teams and seeding positions.

Palm figures Siena would be a No. 12 team in a 16-team bracket, if it beats Niagara in tonight's conference final game.

Meanwhile, ESPN's resident "Bracketologist" Joe Lunardi figures Siena could be a No. 10 seed.

Niagara, currently No. 51 in Palm's RPI approximation, would probably be a 14th or 15th seed should it knock off the Saints tonight.

If the Purple Eagles lose tonight, then they'll almost certainly move to the NIT field.

And, if Siena loses?

The Saints would drop a few spots in the RPI, probably into the high 20's or low 30's. In that range, they'd probably still get consideration for an at-large NCAA berth.

But that doesn't guarantee anything.

In 2006 Missouri State finished its season rated No. 21 nationally (in the RPI's), and was snubbed by the NCAA selection process. It remains the only team ever with an RPI better than No. 30 not to be invited to join the NCAA tournament field.

This humble blogger can't begin to speculate on Siena's chances should it fail to win tonight's championship game and has to rely on the "wisdom" of the NCAA selection committee for its post-season fate.

All we can be certain is that the Saints will assuredly be on the board, on the proverbial bubble, when the selection committee makes its at-large choices.

Better to take all doubt out of the equation, though, and win tonight.

At worst, though, Siena would head to the men's NIT if it loses tonight. That tournament takes any conference's regular-season champion tht does not move on to the NCAA's.

Rider, meanwhile, hopes its season isn't over.

Broncs' coach Tommy Dempsey began campaigning for a post-season opportunity for his team shortly after it lost a "one for the ages" double-overtime decision to Niagara in Sunday's MAAC tournament semifinal round.

These days there are 129 teams that will continue on in a national post-season event ... 65 in the NCAA's, 32 in the NIT and 16 each in the College Basketball Invitational and the Tournament.

Does Rider belong?

As of Monday morning, the Broncs were No. 124 in Jerry Palm's RPI, which might wind up being on the wrong side of the bubble.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Niagara Men Survive in 2 OT Classic

ALBANY, N.Y. - Call Niagara's 93-89 double-overtime victory over Rider Sunday night in the semifinal round of conference tournament an Instant Classic.

Purple Eagles' coach Joe Mihalich called it "One for the Ages."

It was all of that.

The winners needed plenty to make it one from their perspective, though.

They needed a 30-foot desparation three-pointer from junior guard Tyrone Lewis with 1.7 seconds remaining that banked to tie things up and force the first overtime.

Then, they allowed a six-point advantage to slip away in the first extra session as Rider's standout junior guard Ryan Thompson scored five points in the final 30 seconds.

And, then, the Purple Eagles had to rally from a three-point deficit of their own with 2:20 left to play in the second overtime.

After all of that, things weren't fully decided until Thompson lost his dribble bringing the ball into the front court with under four seconds remaining before he could attempt a shot that would have either tied it again or given Rider a lead.

Rider then was forced to follow and Niagara's Bilal Benn sank two free throws with 1.6 seconds left to create the final margin.

"We found a way to win," said Mihalich, about his team that has found plenty of ways to win this season on its way to a 26-7 record.

"We won tonight when things weren't clicking for us. Guys didn't have good shooting nights ... and we still found a way to win."

Niagara got 22 points from 6-10 senior center Benson Egemoyne and 20 points and a game-high 19 rebounds from 6-5 junior forward Bilal Benn, whose rebound total matched the second-highest single-game mark in the history of the conference tournament. Only Todd Mattson of Army's 24 rebounds in a 1990 tournament game accounted for more.

Thompson finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds.

"Just a very tough outcome to swallow," said Rider coach Tommy Dempsey. "Our guys were very determined not get sent home tonight. But in the second overtime we just didn't get it done."

Niagara advances to tonight's 9 p.m. championship game with an NCAA berth on the line against Siena.

The Saints have won their first two games in this event with ease, romping over Canisius, 77-52, on Saturday and, then, by an 80-65 score over Fairfield on Sunday.

"We had a tough game to night, but I think it's going to help us becaus Siena had a couple of laughers," said Mihalich. "But who knows? Maybe that's wishful thinking."

Niagara would seem to be facing nearly every disadvantage in Monday's title contest ... an opponent that has yet to be tested on Siena's home court before a crowd expected to approach 10,000 with most of those rooting for the Saints.

"We want to play in an environment like this," said Mihalich. "who wouldn't? We won 15 road gmes this year. We're used to it. We've done it before.

"We're road tested. Maybe we're road weary, too, but that's what it is. We'll go out and play and give it everything we've got."

NOTES: Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said he believes his team should still get a post-season invitation to one of three national post-season events for which teams will be selected after the NCAA field is finalized.

"We just played a 26-win team (Niagara), and I couldn't see much difference between the two," said Dempsey. "This team deserves to be in the post season."

The Broncs are currently 19-12 and beat both Siena (25-7) and Niagara (26-7) during regular-season play ...

Attendance for Sunday's session of two semifinal-round games was 8,011.

Total attendance for the tournament thus far is 41,062, already the fourth-highest turnout in the event's history.

If a crowd of 5,193 or more turns out for tonight's championship game, then this year's event will have drawn the second-highest turnout in the event's history. If tonight's crowd surpasses 9,025, then this year's event will set an attendance record.

Siena Men, Moore Run Past Fairfield

ALBANY, N.Y. - Siena point guard Ronald Moore's nickname is "The Maestro" and, now, Fairfield, a large Times Union Center crowd and the television viewing audience knows why.

Moore, a 5-foot-11 junior, was magical Sunday night, dishing out assists Siena's first six baskets.

The helping hand didn't stop feeding teammates after that, either, as Moore finished with a MAAC Tournament single-game record of 14, surpassing the previous mark of 13 set by another Siena player, Doremus Bennerman on March 5, 1994 also against Fairfield.

Moore's work, and the uptempo full-court attack by the Saints was something Fairfield couldn't begin to match up with Sunday night in a semifinal-round contest here as Siena romped, 80-65.

Moore finished with 10 first-half assists and by then the winners had a 48-24 advantage.

The Stags finally got the margin under 20 late in the second half, but by then Moore had already tied the single-game record for assists and, then, broke it with 2:47 remaining on a pass that resulted in an Alex Franklin basket.

About the only suspense in the contest came at the 17:16 mark of the second half when Siena's senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck, the conference's Player of the Year, stole a pass at midcourt and took a hit to his right leg. Hasbrouck left the court limping and didn't return.

Saints' coach Fran McCaffery said that Hasbrouck was in pain immediately after the game, and his status for Monday's championship game was not yet certain.

Clarence Jackson, the MAAC's Sixth Player of the Year, led the Saints with 16 points, followed by junior forwards Edwin Ubiles and Fraklin (15 and 13 each), sophomore forward Ryan Rossiter and Moore (12 each).

Moore recorded his 14 assists against just four turnovers.

Fairfield senior Herbie Allen led the Stags, who finish 17-15 overall, with 19 points.

Siena is now 25-7.

Big Crowds Might Not Keep Tournament Here

ALBANY, N.Y. - Imagine that the Times Union Center, which is hosing the MAAC tournament for the 13th time since the arena first opened its doors in 1990, might go without the event for a four-year stretch.

That's the scenario that will be on the agenda when placing the tournament in future years is next considered by conference officials.

The event will be here again a year from now and, then, move to the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn., for 2001.

After that the MAAC has expressed a desire to place the tournament at one site for a three-year (2012-through-2014) run.

"I can imagine it happening," said MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor. "I've got a vivid imagination."

It might not even matter if this year's event surpasses the existing attendance record for the tournanent of 50,087 in 2000.

Ensor indicated the primary reason for an extended move away from the Times Union Center would be perceived competitive balance.

The league has even sought to do that here, replacing Siena related floor signs with those of the league and creating courtside premium seating that was made available in equal blocks to all 10 conference schools.

"In this conference there's a lot of competition to be the team that can control its own destine, to some extent, (by being the home team) to win the event," said Ensor.

Ensor said that the home teams wins 60 percent of conference tournament games, but in the 19 previous seasons the "home" men's team has only emerged as the tournament champion three times.

Administrators from arenas in Baltimore, Bridgeport, Conn., and the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., have been here this weekend to view operations.

"We don't mind that they're here," said Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber. "It won't help them. They can see the things we get done, but they don't see anything that goes on to get to this point in terms of meetings, preparation and organization."

Ensor said facilities at The Meadowlands and the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut are also interested in making a bid to host the event.

Bids must be submitted this spring, and the league's council of presidents will ultimate decide in December where to hold the tournament when its current contract is up.

"Can I envision it not being here for a four-year stretch? No, I can't," said Belber.

“Nobody thinks there’s a problem in Albany with the attendance,” Ensor said. “It’s really singly about neutrality.”

Observations from the Women's Tournament

ALBANY, N.Y. - Want to bring a few tears to the eyes of Marist coach Brian Giorgis?

Just get him to start talking about his fifth-year senior guard Julianne Viani.

It worked at post-game press conference after Marist captured its fourth straight MAAC tournament title here Sunday afternoon.

"I know I have at least one more game with Julianne, but ..."

And, then, Giorgis had to stop for several minutes to regain his composure, while using a championship T-shirt given to the team's players and coaches, to wipe the moisture from his eyes.

"After 10 years of Viani ... her dad is my dentist," said Giorgis. "But, it's not true that I recruited Julianne to come to Lourdes (high school) when I was in the dentist's chair."

Giorgis coached Viani for two seasons at Poughkeepsie's Our Lady of Lourdes High School, where he worked prior to becoming Marist's coach.

Viani joined her former coach two years later, spent a season as a freshman red shirt and, then, has played the past four years.

She currently has 1,436 career points, the fourth-highest in school history.


The Marist women know their tournament victory sends them to the NCAA's for the fourth straight season, where they have already done some damage in the past.

In 2007 the Red Foxes became the MAAC's first program, either men or women, to win two NCAA tournament games. Last season's team won a first-round game.

Marist is currently 29-3 overall and entered Sunday's game rated 37th nationally in the Ratings Percentage Index. That's probably high enough to get Marist seeded at least 12th in a 16-team bracket.

"You have to see who else gets in," said MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor. "I guess they could get as high as a No. 11, or get a No. 12."

Canisius, because of its second-place finish, is the conference's highest-finishing team not going to the NCAA tournament, will head to the Women's NIT.


- Canisius made six three-pointers against Marist, extending is streak of consecutive games with at least one made three-pointer to an NCAA women's record 453 contests.

- Canisius senior guard Amanda Cavo did not make a shot from beyond the bonus stripe against Marist and only finished with five points, but that doesn't diminish a standout career in which she currently has 1,314 points and ranks as the all-time MAAC leader with 265 career made three-pointers.

- Canisius' junior guard Brittane Russell went over the 1,000-point total for her career Sunday. She now has 1,008 career points.

- Marist has six consecutive 20-victory seasons.

- Attendance for Sunday's women's championship contest was 3,882, the largest crowd for the women's title contest since 3,949 turned out in 2000. It was the fourth-highest turnout for a women's game in the tournament's history. The top women's tournament crowd came in 1999 when 4,447 turned out for Saint Peter's 64-62 victory over Siena at the Marine Midland Arena in Buffalo.

- Siena coach Gina Castelli brought her entire team to Sunday's championship game and, then, drew them into a huddle to say a few words to her players at the game's conclusion.

"I like them to see this," said Castelli. "I spoke to them of the hard work and effort required to get here. Kids like Julianne Viani (of Marist). They are in the gym every single day in the off-season. That's what it takes to get here."

Marist Sets Bar, Reaches Historical Heights

ALBANY, N.Y. - Even on a day when some of its key players weren't at their best physically the Marist women's basketball team continued to make the rest of the league sick - or, at least sick with envy - by winning the MAAC tournament championship with relative ease earning a 78-63 victory over Canisius in Sunday's championship game.

The outcome sends the Red Foxes to the NCAA's for the fourth consecutive season and makes Marist the first program, either men's or women's, to win the tournamant title that many times in succession.

Sunday Marist did it with key reserve forward Lynzee Johnson (16 points, eight rebounds in a semifinal-round game a day earlier) unable to play, starting point guard Elise Caron limited to 21 minutes and another top reserve, forward Brandy Gang limited as well, all due to virus-like symptoms.

But that adversity hardly affected Marist on Sunday as senior guard Julianne Viani and sophomore guard Erica Allenspach each stepped up with 22-point efforts, and junior forward Rachele Fitz, the conference's two-time Player of the Year, had a typical 18-point, 14-rebound performance.

Instead, it's the rest of the league that must be getting sick of Marist's continued domination.

"They have definitely raised the bar for everyone else," said Canisius coach Terry Zeh, whose team is now 24-8 and will participate in the Women's NIT. "It's to the point that when you're recruiting you're thinking if the players you bring in are capable of beating Marist.

"They are good. If you want to win this league you know you have to go through them. Some things are certain ... in the winter it's going to snow in Buffalo, and in March you have to go through Marist in the MAAC tournament."

Coincidentally, Canisius is the last team to stop Marist in the tournament, beating the Red Foxes, 60-59, in the 2005 event.

And even that memory helped fuel Marist's incentive on Sunday.

"I was in the program as a red-shirt that season," said Viani. "So, I remembered that game. And, Nikki Flores (a Marist guard who graduated last year) visited us last night (Saturday) and reminded. I think it did give us some more incentive. I know id did for me. I didn't want a repeat of that."

There was one other thing Marist didn't want a repeat of, and that was its 68-60 loss to Canisius on Feb. 6, one of two conference games the Red Foxes lost this season.

"The other loss was to Fairfield, coming the first time we played them," said Marist coach Brian Giorgis. "So, we had a chance to get them back (in the second regular-season meeting).

"But, I was kind of glad that our the loss to Canisius came the second time we played them, so our kids had that to respond to (on Sunday)."

Marist also didn't want a repeat of 11-for-20 shooting from 3-point range from Canisius that occurred in the last meeting, and prevented that, too.

Canisius managed to make just 6-of-23 shots from 3-point territory, and the last five made treys came after the winners already had built a 15-point lead late in the first half.

Canisius cut its deficit to six with 13:30 remaining in the first half, but Marist then took a proverbial page from its opponent's game plan when Viani and Allenspach each made two treys in the next four minutes to push the lead back to 14, 61-47, with 9:33 left.

"Like I told the girls in the lockerroom after the game ... out of all the championships that we've won this one was probably the most rewarding," said Giorgis. "If people knew the adversities with the illnesses and things we've had all year .... and, then, to wake up the morning of the championship game with our trainer outside my door to tell me that we have three kids throwing up and that one's the first player off the bench, another is the second player off the bench and the other is our starting point guard ...

"But these kids have gutted it out all year, and gutted it out today. The siggn of a great team is how that team handles adversity. We handled it with grit and determination and I have never been so proud of these young ladies."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tournament Continues to Put Up Numbers

ALBANY, N.Y. - Attendance through the first three days of this year's MAAC tournament is 27,151, the second-highest figure through six sessions since the event has been contested at a single site, dating back to 1990.

It puts this year's event on pace to challenge its all-time attendance figure of 50,087 set in 2000 when the Albany arena also hosted the tournament, and ahead of the second all-time attendance mark of 46,254 in 1998 when the tournament was also in Albany.

Those marks, though, will only be challenged or surpassed if hometown favorite Siena advances into Monday's championship game.

Yesterday's crowd of 9,656 for an early evening session that included Siena's victory over Canisius, accounted for the highest session attendance since a crowd of 11,844 turned out for the championship game of the 2000 tournament.

Rider's Thompson Steps Up in Win

ALBANY, N.Y. - Rider coach Tommy Dempsey did some heavy late-season campaigning for his junior guard Ryan Thompson to be the conference's Player of the Year.

Thompson didn't win it, losing out to Siena's Kenny Hasbrouck.

But, in the Broncs' 67-58 victory over Saint Peter's here in Saturday's "Late Night With the MAAC" game, the 6-foot-6 Thompson made his own case.

The junior guard, who made game-winning shots in the last 10 seconds of four games this year, did enough damage throughout against the Peacocks to make the final seconds inconsequential on this night.

Thompson finished with a career-high 30 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the floor and 10-of-12 from the foul line while also racking up four steals.

His play was consistent throughout with 16 points in the first half and 14 in the second.

When his team fell behind, 48-46, with 11:15 remaining, Thompson answered with an old-fashioned three-point play, a 16-foot jumper and, later, two free throws. The one-man run gave the winners a 53-48 edge with 7:32 remaining and St. Pete's never closer than two again.

Thompson made sure of that by adding six of the winners' final nine points in the final three minutes.

Ryan Bacon, a 6-7 sophomore forward, gave an indication of big things to come for Saint Peter's with an 18-point, 11-rebound effort.

The Broncs, now 19-11 overall, advance to Sunday's semifinal round against Niagara.

Niagara Too Much for Marist

ALBANY, N.Y. - Marist only needed to score 43 points to win its opening-round game on Friday, but the 50 it got in Saturday's quarterfinal round contest wasn't even close to being enough.

Not against a highly charged Niagara team that not only scores with seeming effortlessness, but did so efficiently for much of the contest.

In running out to a 39-23 lead at the half the Purple Eagles only committed three turnovers.

The second half was more of the same as Niagara cruised in with a 79-50 victory over the Red Foxes to advance to Sunday's semifinal round.

Guard Rob Garrison led the way for the winners, now 25-7, with 21 points while junior guard Tyrone Lewis added 13.

The winners also held a 51-34 advantage on the boards, with 6-10 senior center Benson Egemonye leading the way with nine.

Marist's senior forward Ryan Schneider finished his career with a 12-point, 12-rebound effort.

And, despite the lopsided loss, he got to leave the court on a positive note.

Schneider entered play with 990 career points, getting 324 of them in two seasons at Vermont before transferring to Marist after the 2005-06 season. After sitting out a mandatory season, he played two years at Vermont.

Schneider, though, struggled with his offense much of Saturday's contest, but scored 11 of his points in the second half, including eight in the final six minutes.

His milestone basket came with 1:45 left to play when the slender 6-foot-7, 200-pounder hit a 22-foot three-pointer that hit nothing but net. He finishes with 1,002 career points.

"The first game (of a tournament) is always the toughest," said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. "And, they had given us our worst loss of conference play this season."

Marist defeated Niagara (14-4 in MAAC play), 86-68, in a Jan. 11th game. Niagara won the regular-season rematch, 80-72.

Siena Men Flex Muscles Early

ALBANY, N.Y. - Siena matched the conference's all-time record for regular-season wins (16), so you really didn't expect it to have too much of a struggle on its hands in its quarterfinal-round contest of the MAAC tournament.

It did for for about 15 minutes, though, as No. 9 seed Canisius stayed within 27-24.

And, then, the Saints took over.

Over the next 17 minutes, until there were just over eight minutes remainning, Siena showed exactly how it won the regular-season crown with a combination of stiffling, pressure defense and up-tempo offense.

It was enough to fuel a 41-19 stretch that built a 68-43 addvantage. The Griffs never got it closer than 23 points again.

Saints junior forward Edwin Ubiles led the winners with 18 points, 16 of them coming in the second half.

The MAAC's Player of the Year, senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck, had 16 points, all of them in the first half.

Sophomore forward Ryan Rossiter added 13 points and a game-high 10 assists, while freshman reserve Owen Wignot had 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the floor.

Julius Coles and Elton Frazier each had 13 points for Canisius, which finishes 11-20 on the season.

Siena is now 24-7 overall.

The Saints advance to meet Fairfield in a semifinal-round contest Sunday at 6 p.m.

Fairfield Men: Battered, Bruised, Still Breathing

ALBANY, N.Y. - Fairfield coach Ed Cooley calls this the most grueling season he has ever been through as a coach.

For sure, it also has to be one of the most-rewarding.

The Stags, due to injury and attrition, finished the season without three players who started most of the team's games this year, and a fourth starter, junior forward Greg Nero, who has continued on despite back problems.

And, Cooley's team remains alive in the conference tournament, advancing to Sunday's semifinal round after a bruising 68-61 victory over Manhattan.

The winners got a team-high 18 points from senior Mike Evanovich, includling nine of those in the final 5:45.

Senior guard Herbie Allen added 17 points for the winners, while forward Yorel Hawkins added 12 and 11 rbounds and Nero chipped in with 11 points.

Darryl Crawford led Manhattan with 21 points, but the Jaspers only managed to shoot 36.5 percent (19-of-52) against a tenacious Fairfield defense.

The Stags shot 24-of-48 from the field (50 percent).

Form Holds Up in Women's Event

ALBANY, N.Y. - It will be No. 1 vs. No. 2 in Sunday's women's championship game.

Canisius didn't have its usual accuracy from three-point territory in its 62-55 victory over Fairfield in its semifinal contest, but, instead, got some strong inside play to make up the difference.

Marist got dominating games from its top two players, as well as some other strong play off the bench, in its 76-69 semifinal round victory over Iona.

The Gonden Griffins are now 24-7 overall, while Marist is 28-3. And, it only seems fitting that the conference's only two teams with more than 20 victories this season will meet in Sunday's championship game.

Canisius did get some strong perimeter play, particularly from senior guard Amanda Cavo, whose 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the bonus arc accounted for 15 of her team-high 18 points and all but two of the winners' seven three-pointers.

Cavo now has 265 career three-points, the second highest total of any active player nationally. Only Maryland's Kristi Tolliver has more (284 entering this weekend's play).

And, Canisius holds the NCAA record of consecutive games with at least one three-pointer, now at 451.

But the Griffs on Saturday also got strong inside play from the MAAC's Sixth Player of the Year, 6-1 forward Ellie Radke, who added 14 points and six rebounds.

Canisius coach Terry Zeh, though, says there's much more to his team than its ability to make long-range shots,

"Everyone always talks about our three-point shooting, but the 57.9 points per game we've allowed this season is the lowest average for our program on the Division I level," said the Canisius coach. "We've scored in different ways when we needed to. That's a veteran team that does that."

Canisius will need to play like a veteran team if it hopes to deny the Red Foxes a fourth straight tournament victory and resultant trip to the NCAA tournament.

By virtue of finishing second in the regular-season standings, though, Canisius can do no worst than get an automatic berth in the WNIT if it loses on Sunday, but it would be the conference's NCAA tournament representative if it upsets Marist.

Coincidentally, the last team other than Marist to win the conference tournament was Canisius, a 60-59 winner over the Red Foxes in the championship game of the 2005 event.

Marist, though, showed why it has dominated the MAAC in recent years with its victory over Iona.

Although the Red Foxes might not have been as much in control of the game as many expected, they made the requisite big plays to hold on for their berth in the finals.

Iona made things tight at the end, getting to within six, 73-67, with 1:10 remaining but could get no closer.

"That's why they call this survive and advance," said Marist coach Brian Giorgis. "We started slow and finished slow, but we played well in between.

"We got some great contributions from (forward) Lynzee Johnson (16 points, eight rebounds) to get us going and, our two first-team all stars showed why they were Player of the Year and a first-team pick."

Marist's Player of the Year, junior forward Rachele Fitz, had game-high totals of 29 points and 18 rebounds. First-team honoree senior guard Julianne Viani had 19 points.

Fitz was particularly impressive down the stretch, scoring 11 points in the final 6:15 to ensure Iona didn't pull off an upset.

Afterwards, Giorgis was asked what he needed to do to motivate his team for Sunday's championship contest.

"It's for the MAAC title ... if that's not enough to motivate anyone, then they shouldn't be here," said the Marist coach. "These kids know what it takes. We know Canisius will come to play, and after that it's just a matter of how well we execute."

Friday, March 6, 2009

Marist Men Hold on in Defensive Battle

ALBANY, N.Y. - The late game of Friday's schedule of tournament game here featured shooting performances that made it appear that both teams had gone to sleep early.

The Marist men held off Iona, 43-40, in a first-round contest in which points were at a definite premium.

Marist's 43 points were the lowest margin ever by a winning team in a men's tournament game since the league was formed in 1981.

The combined 83 points scored by the two squads also accounted for the lowest combined total in a single game in the league's tournament history as well.

Senior forward Ryan Schneider and junior guard David Devezin had 14 each for the winners, the 10th-seeded team. Freshman guard Scott Machado's 14 points accounted for the only double-figure total for Iona.

The victory sends Marist into Saturday's quarterfinal-round contest against No. 2-seeded Niagara.

Marist, the league's last-place team in regular-season play, joined ninth-place finisher Canisius as men's teams that advanced in first-round play on Friday.

A day earlier, the two lowest-seeded women's teams (Loyola and Niagara) also won first-round games on Thursday.

It is believed to be the first time in the tournament's history that the two lowest seeded teams on both the men's and women's side all won a first-round contest.

Canisius Men to See Siena Again

ALBANY, N.Y. - The Canisius men, who gave top-seeded Siena a scare five days ago in their last regular-season contest (losing by four points), get another shot at the Saints on Saturday at 5 p.m. in a tournament quarterfinal-round contest.

The 9th-seeded Golden Griffins advanced by virtue of their 74-68 victory over No. 8 seed Loyola in an opening-round contest, easily the most-physical contest to date.

Whether the physicality of play a day earlier will have an adverse affect on the Griffs remains to be seen, but Canisius coach Tom Parrotta looks forward to today's rematch with the regular-season champs.

"We came pretty close (this past Sunday)," said the Canisius coach. "If we tighten some things up, I think we can beat them."

So far the only two MAAC teams to beat Siena in regular-season play were second-place finisher Niagara and third-place team Rider.

"Siena just had a great season," said Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos. "I think the league is terrific this year, so for Siena to get through with a 16-2 record is really special."

Loyola's hopes to advance past Friday's game were hindered by the ineffectivness of sophomore guard Jamal Barney, who finished regular-season play as the MAAC's leading scorer.

But Barney, battling sore knees for the past several weeks, did not start against Canisius, only played 19 total minutes and managed just four points on 2-of-7 shooting.

"He's just not what he was earlier in the season," said Patsos. "But, I'm glad I've got him for two more years."

Canisius' junior point guard Frank Turner made things difficult for Loyola all night with 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Forward Greg Loggins added 19 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, while guard Julius Coles added 18 points.

Canisius shot 53.3 percent from the field (24-of-45), while Loyola misfired to the tune of 32.0 percent (24-of-75), including just 20.8 percent (5-of-24) from three-point terriitory.

Iona Women hold off Saint Peter's

ALBANY, N.Y. - The Iona women broke away from a 49-49 tie with seven minutes remaining withg good, tough play down the stretch to hold off Saint Peter's, 63-57.

All-league selection junior guard Thazina Cook led the winners with 18 points and eight rebounds.

The Gaels also did some damage on the boards, holding a 48-39 rebounding edge.

Sophomore Sue Fregosi, one of the top up and coming point guards in the league, had nine points and five assists against just a single turnover.

Her steady play was a key for the Gaels, and she made a key play late.

With Iona holding a 54-51 edge with under three minutes left, Fregosi drove the lane made a short jumper, was fouled and added the resultant foul shot to give the winnes a 57-51 advantage with 2:48 remaining.

Saint Peter's never got its deficit under four points again.

Marist Women Off to Quick Start

ALBANY, N.Y. - The most-dominating women's program the conference has ever had turned in the most-dominating quarterfinal-round performance here Friday.

Marist had its first 10-point lead 11 minutes into the contest, a 21-point advantage with five minutes left in the first half, a 30-point lead with 17:12 remaining in the game ...

Well, you get the point.

Final score: Top-seeded Marist 81, No. 9 seed Loyola 27. And, the game was every bit as lopsided as the final score indicates.

The early margin enabled head coach Brian Giorgis to give his players plenty of rest. In all 10 players saw action for the Red Foxes, all getting between 14 and 28 minutes of action.

Five players scored in double figures, led by junior forward and Player of the Year Rachele Fitz's 15 points. Senior guard Julianne Viani, a first-team all-league player, had 12 points.

The winners shot 54.4 percent from the field and held a 44-27 edge on the boards.

But we saved the most-impressive part of Marist's game for last: Loyola shot just 15.4 percent (8-of-52) from the field in the contest.

And, the 27 points allowed by Marist accounts for the fewest the program has ever allowed since moving to the Division I level. The Red Foxes’ previous low came on Dec. 10, 2006 when they allowed Manhattan to score 30 in a 70-30 win at the McCann Center.

The final tally also accounts for the fewest points allowed and largest margin of victory in a MAAC women's tournament game.

Numbers Game Looks Good for MAAC

While the numbers on the scoreboard are important for the teams competing here, numbers elsewhere are important to the success of this tournament.

Good attendance numbers here not only provide something to the conference's financial bottom line, but also help bolster Albany's case of retaining the event for future years.

The Times Union Center is already set to host the conference tournament again a year from now. In 2011, it will be played at the Arena at Harbor Yards in Bridgeport, Conn.

And, then, from 2012 through 2014 the MAAC would like to pick a single venue to host its post-season tournament for a three-year run.

The Albany arena would love to be the chosen site.

Representatives of arenas in Bridgeport, Conn., the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., and the Baltimore Arena are all here to watch operations this weekend and begin discussion the paremeters involved in bidding for the available three-year block from 2012-through-2014.

League officials also believe the Mohegan Sun, a Connecticut casino venue that has a suitable arena venue, will also bid for the event but representatives fro that facility could not be here this weekend.

Through early Friday afternoon more than 37,000 tickets had already been sold for games here.

Already ticket sales will surpass all but one of the last eight MAAC tournaments.

And, this year's number will assuredly increase dramatically if the hometown Siena men's team advances into Monday's championship game.

Based on early figures and the usually large day-of-game sales for Siena appearances, it's not a stretch to think this year's tournament could surpass the 50,087 that attended the event here in 2000, which remains the largest turnout in its history.

Fairfield Women Stop Valiant Siena

ALBANY, N.Y. - The best game by far of the tournament thus far ... and, it will be hard to imagine a better one happening too often ... came when the third-seeded Fairfield women held on against No. 6 Siena for a 61-55 overtime decision in a women's first-round contest.

Those who closely followed Siena this season know the team faced some adversity, and had more of that on its hands Friday.

The Saints dismissed their best player from the program prior to the season due to an undisclosed violation and, then, had to enter Friday's game without their starting point guard, junior Merrick Volpe, who suffered a concussion in a recent practice.

And, then, the Lady Stags seemed to break the game open early with a 34-18 advantage with 5:15 remaining in the first half.

But Siena's defense stiffened, holding Fairfield to just 19 points over the next 25 minutes.

The Saints even gained a 55-53 advantage with nine seconds remaining when sophomore forward Serena Moore spun into the lane for a bucket.

Fairfield called a time out with 5.6 ticks left, inbounded the ball from just inside of half court into the hands of first-team all-league forward Beandu Lowenthal, who turned around and dropped in a short jumper to tie things up and force the extra session.

Once there, Siena missed all six shots from the field, and all three free throws it took while failing to score in the final five minutes.

Lowenthal made a basket early in the extra session, added a free throw for a 58-55 Fairfield edge with 1:59 and the winners held on and moved on.

Lowenthal finished with a 18 poi8nts and eight rebounds, while point guard Megan Caskin had eight assists and five turnovers.

Siena's 6-foot-2 senior center Heather Stec (who this blogger firmly believes should have been a first-team all league pick instead of a second-team selection) finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds.

Moore added 16 points and eight rebounds, whole freshman guard Cristina Centano, starting in place of Volpe, played 43 minutes and scored eight points while picking up eight assists.