Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Siena Finalists Set, Other Coaching News

Rumors swirl ...

Your blogger is hearing there are four candidates for the Siena head coaching position.

In no particular order:

- Mitch Buonaguro, the current top assistant there who was a major component in the program's most-successful era ever.

- Cliff Warren, the current head coach at Jacksonville who was a Siena assistant for three years during Paul Hewitt's tenure at the school.

- Bill Coen, the current head coach at Northeastern.

- Milan Brown, the current head coach at Mount Saint Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Md.

Some observations ...

Buonaguro had both success and failure as a head coach at Fairfield in the mid-to-late 1980s. Before that, he was an assistant at Villanova and owns an NCAA championship ring. He has been the an integral part of Siena's success during McCaffery's five years at the school. He is well-liked by the community, and his contacts within college basketball are almost without match. He would ensure continuity within the program and would likely view becoming head coach as a destination and not a stepping stone.

Warren has had considerable success at Jacksonville. and was well-liked during his time at Siena. But, that was 10 years ago and his recruiting contacts in the northeast, where Siena has traditionally found most of its players, might be somewhat lacking.

Coen seems to embrace a grind-it-out style offensively, and Siena athletic director John D'Argenio has indicated a preference for a coach with an up-tempo philosophy. Northeastern played nine games in which it scored 60 or fewer points this past season, and Coen's roster with the Huskies is comprised mostly of international players. Coen is also rumored to be a candidate for the vacant Boston College job.

Milan Brown just finished his eighth season at Mount Saint Mary's after taking over for the legendary Jim Phelan. His team was 16-15 this past season, but finished 19-15 two years ago when it also earned a trip to the NCAA's, winning the play-in round game over Coppin State before losing its next contest against eventual national champion North Carolina.

Nobody asked me, but ... Siena adminitrators should recognize that the best candidate is already on their payroll, and give the job to Buonaguro.


- A variety of internet sources indicate that Fran Fraschilla, who formerly coached at Manhattan and is now an analyst for ESPN, is the most-likely candidate to replace Kevin Willard at Iona.

Former Iona coach Tim Welsh was also reportedly about to be interviewed at Iona, but instead was hired earlier today (Wednesday) after a successful interview at Hofstra.

- And, it has been reported in a New York City paper that Barry Rohrssen will keep his position at Manhattan rather than join the staff at St. John's under new head coach Steve Lavin.

But, there are "reports" now that current Loyola head coach Jimmy Patsos might be considered for an assistant's position on Lavin's St. John's staff.

- Lastly, it is also being reported that Fairfield coach Ed Cooley has already been interviewed for the Boston College vacancy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Manhattan's Rohrssen Might Move On

Siena and Iona might not be the only MAAC men's basketball programs looking for a new coach in coming weeks.

The St. John's opening might well rob another conference team of its head coach.

The Boston Globe is reporting that Barry Rohrssen of Manhattan could wind up as a St. John's assistant if Steve Lavin, the former UCLA coach, takes over the Johnnies.

Here's the mention, from The Globe, which is following the St. John's process closely because Boston College coach Al Skinner is a candidate:

"So yesterday, sources familiar with the situation said St. John’s was preparing a deal with Lavin that would include him hiring among his assistants Dave Leitao, who has had head coaching stops at Northeastern, DePaul, and Virginia, and Manhattan head coach Barry Rohrssen, who has strong recruiting ties in the city."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Iona's Willard Leaves For Seton Hall

Siena won't be the only MAAC men's program looking for a new head coach this off-season.

New York City-area newspapers are reporting that Iona coach Kevin Willard will be named the next head coach at Seton Hall.

Here's a link to a story from the New York Daily News:

Your blogger can't profess to know Willard as well as Siena's Fran McCaffery.

But, I do know that Willard is highly regarded as a young coach with a bright future by most in college basketball. Louisville coach Rick Pitino has regularly designated Willard as the best assistant he ever had.

Willard has done a masterful job at Iona, taking a program that won just two games in the 2006-07 season and restocking it with a roster full of solid players that win 21 games this past season.

It marks the third straight time that Seton Hall reached into the MAAC ranks for a head coach. Neither of the last two, former Siena coach Louis Orr; and, former Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez, worked out very well for the program.

But the very strong guess by this blogger is that Willard will do a considerably better job than his two MAAC predecessors in the position.

Next coach? I'm not exactly in the proverbial loop on this, but ...

Tim Welsh, who had a very successful run at the school before moving on to Providence (which fired him after the 2008-09 season) is doing TV work right now and would likely be interested in a return to the coaching ranks.

Siena's McCaffery Moves On To Iowa

Last week your blogger wrote that Fran McCaffery wasn't going to take the Seton Hall job, and that Paul Hewitt wasn't going to leave Georgia Tech for St. John's.

Right on both counts ... it happens sometimes.

There had also been serious rumblings from the Siena campus that McCaffery was more interested in moving to the midwest than to Seton Hall, or even St. John's, where he got an initial interview this past week.

And, today (Sunday), those rumors proved correct as Iowa announced it had hired the Siena coach as its new head man.

Here's the link to the story on Iowa's school website:

Hopefully, the school will learn how to spell the name of its new head coch. It's "McCaffery," not "McCaffrey," as is currently the headline, and in the copy, on the Iowa site.

The former Iowa coach, Todd Lickliter, had been compensated at $1.2 million annually.

McCaffery is likely to receive at least that, if not a little more. He can hardly be blamed for taking an opportunity to probably triple the $500,000 annual salary he was getting at Siena.

Nor, can he be blamed for moving into a more-competitive level of college basketball, from the mid-major MAAC to the Big Ten, one of the so-called high-major coferences.

Fran also has some mid-west roots, having served as an assistant at Notre Dame for several years.

It certainly was the perfect time for McCaffery to move. His team had gone to the NCAA tournament for three consecutive years with, basically, the same core of players.

His core group is graduating this year, and the expectation is Siena is likely to be a middle-of-the-pack team next year, if not beyond that. Had McCaffery stayed and gone through a rebuilding/reloading process at Siena, he'd likely get to his mid-50's before recreating the type of success with the Saints that draws the attention of bigger schools.

What's next? His top assistant, Mitch Buonaguro, has already expressed an interest in becoming Siena's next head coach.

Buonaguro is not only recognized as one of the top assistant coaches in the MAAC, if not well beyond those bounds, but has head coaching experience from several years at Fairfield in the 1980s.

Buonaguro is well-liked in the Siena community and would likely make an easy transition to become the school's next head coach.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cory Magee's Blog Has Strong Final Entry

One of the best aspects of covering mid-major level college basketball, at least within the MAAC, is that most of the players remain unspoiled by the adulation and trappings related to the high-major level.

For a few years, early in my journalistic career, your blogger covered Army basketball. It was so long ago that Mike Krzyzewski was the coach at West Point. Dealing with the program there was a breeze. Every question drew a "Yes, sir" response and politeness.

And, then, I've spent the past 25 years around MAAC basketball thinking that my regular contact with coaches and players wasn't that far removed from those days around Army hoops.

The point of all of this is that one of my all-time favorites, someone who hasn't even been on the court for the past two years, will be moving on to post-collegiate life soon.

That would be Cory Magee who served as a Siena "student assistant" coach the past two years after suffering a variety of concussion-like symptoms from an elbow to the head during preseason drills prior to the 2008-09 season.

Magee, a hard-working 6-foot-7 post player, initially committed to Canisius and, then, opted out of that commitment after a coaching change to come to Siena.

Your blogger is honored to have been the first reporter to have written an extensive piece about Magee during his freshman season, writing about his thoughts about playing against Canisius for the first time in his college playing career.

The memory is of sitting in an airport talking for about 20 minutes with an articulate young man with a great sense of humor, and Magee's demeanor has gone unchanged over the years despite the premature end of his playing career.

But, maybe, another career will be the result. Magee, a true college basketball fan and historian, has a dream now of becoming an analyst some day.

If that ever happens, the foundation will have been his last season as a non-player when he wrote a weekly blog offering for the Albany Times Union. His pieces have been well-written, thought-provoking and offered a rare insight to the inner workings of a college basketball team.

There are a number of players throughout the league doing blogs for their respective college's web sites this year, but Magee's has been far and away the best this viewer has seen.

His most recent, and last, blog item about reflecting on his and his teammates' time at Siena, after their college basketball careers ended with the recent first-round NCAA tournament loss to Purdue, is outstanding and I hope you'll take a look.

Here's the link:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hewitt, McCaffery Rumors Are Unfounded

Coaches come and coaches go so quickly following the end of the regular season that those who like watching call the movement the "Coaching Carousel."

There will definitely be coaches both from the conference and with conference ties either moving, or considering possible moves.

The two "hottest" prospects for moves both have Siena ties.

Those would be current head coach Fran McCaffery, and current Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, who was at Siena for three seasons (1997-98 through 1999-2000).

The Bergen Record of New Jersey is reporting that McCaffery is the "leading candidate" for the vacancy at Seton Hall created, coincidentally, by the firing there of Bobby Gonzalez, who also has MAAC ties from his days as Manhattan's head coach.

But, not so fast.

McCaffery reportedly is currently receiving $500,000 annually to coach at Siena. Published reports indicate Seton Hall isn't likely to go higher than $700,000 annually. Considering the significant cost-of-living differences between bucolic upstate New York and trendy northern New Jersey ... that's not much of a difference.

Plus, McCaffery has three school-aged children, as well as a 3-year old. Those with families know how difficult it is to uproot that situation, and would wonder if it's worth doing so for a relatively minimal salary increase.

McCaffery has built a good thing at Siena, and isn't likely to be in the proverbial "hot seat" even if he had a couple of down seasons.

Then, there's the thought that Gonzalez didn't exactly leave the Seton Hall program in the best of shape. Would McCaffery be willing to step into that situation?

Tuesday's New York Post, which is widely acknowledged for its inclination to stretch the truth a little when it comes to news reporting, seems surprisingly accurate when it refers to McCaffery's interest in Seton Hall thusly:

"It is believed McCaffery ... is looking for a more lucrative contract elsewhere," the Post reports.

The "elsewhere" is not Seton Hall.

Still, the rumors concerning a potential McCaffery move are so prevalent that Siena athletic director John D'Argenio issued the following comment:

“Fran has had a tremendous amount of success at Siena both in the MAAC and at the national level. I would expect that other schools would be interested in him and his talents as a coach. I don’t think it is appropriate to comment on specific jobs or on another school’s search process," said D'Argenio, in a statement released by the school on Tuesday.

And, then, there are the strong rumors that Hewitt is headed for St. John's, ones again mostly being propagated by the New York Post, and other NYC media outlets that appear to be jumping on that particular reportorial bandwagon without much background.

The Post "reported" that St. John's would soon be requesting permission from Georgia Tech officials to talk to Hewitt, and that the former Siena coach has been identified as the Johnnies' "leading candidate."

Of course those suppositions are advanced without knowledge of Hewitt's current situation at Georgia Tech.

For those who perceive that Hewitt is on the "hot seat" at Georgia Tech, which is why he'd be interested in moving on, consider his contract.

In 2004, Hewitt signed a six-year contract with Georgia Tech that included a "roll-over" plan at the end of each season, meaning Hewitt always has six years remaining on the deal at the end of each season, provided the school does not notifiy him otherwise, which it has never done.

His contract, this season (according to tax documents available on the internet), called for compensation of $1.375 million. Next season his salary will go up to $1.425 million. Should Georgia Tech opt to dismiss Hewitt right now, it would owe him five years of salary at the $1.425 figure, or $7.125 million.

And, then, here's what it would cost Hewitt (or, another school) to leave on his own accord.

The contract has a "buy out" clause, to be paid to Georgia Tech by Hewitt (or another school) of $3.4 million.

Hewitt, according to published reports in the Atlanta area, is quoted as saying that it's "highly unlikely" that he'll leave Georgia Tech.

While your blogger hasn't had any contact with either McCaffery or Hewitt about the most-prominent rumors (neither is accepting inquiries from the media right now), I know both well enough to offer two educated opinions ...

1) McCaffery might be a strong candidate for a higher-level position, and might well leave Siena in coming weeks ... but, it won't be for Seton Hall.

2) Hewitt isn't going anywhere.

Post-Season Results for Fairfield, Iona

Here's how MAAC teams did in non-NCAA post-season tournaments, with some observations:

- The Iona women drew a most-difficult first-round opponent in the women's NIT, and suffered an 88-53 loss to Maryland this past Friday.

Sophomore forward Kristina Ford had 20 points for the Gaels, who finished second in the MAAC's regular-season standings and wind up 18-14 overall. it was Iona's third trip to a national post-season tournament in the past four seasons under coach Tony Borzella.

Although the Gaels lose first-team all-star guard Thazina Cook, and solid inside player Anna McLean, there is enough talent returning for Iona to be strong again next season.

If any team appears capable next season of finally ending Marist's lengthy run of success in recent years, it is likely to be Iona.

- Fairfield had both men's and women's teams play in the post season, and both squads won first-round games.

The men played in the Postseason Tournament. There, the Stags earned a 101-96 overtime victory in a first-round game against George Mason's in the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va. Senior center Anthony Johnson had 25 points and 11 rebounds, while freshman guard Derek Needham had 21 points and 7 assists. The game was played on March 16.

The Stags' season ended on Monday with a 73-55 loss to Creighton in the event's second round at Creighton's Omaha Civic Auditorium home court in Omaha, Neb. Johnson had 19 points and seven rebounds, while Needham had 15 points and five assists.

Fairfield finishes with a 23-11 record accounting for the highest single-season victory total in school history.

Johnson, the 6-8, 250-pound tower of inside power, will be tough to replace. But Needham, already an elite-level player at this level, could very well be the MAAC's top player next season. This blogger's early opinion is that Fairfield is next season's conference team to beat.

- The Fairfield women got that program's first-ever post-season victory when it earned a 69-55 Women's Basketball Invitational victory over Towson last Thursday in a game played at Fairfield's Alumni Gymnasiu. Senior center Stephanie Geehan finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots. Sophomore guard Desiree Pina added 14 points and four assists.

The Stags then lost the next round, dropping a 59-36 decision, at Appalachian State, the event's top-seeded team.

Geehan had 10 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. She finishes her career with 287 career blocks, the highest career total in MAAC history.

Fairfield finished with a 20-14 overall record, the second time in the past three seasons iit has won 20 games since coach Joe Frager took over the program. Overall, it was Fairfield's eighth 20-win season in the program's history.

The Stags then lost in

Marist Women's Run Ends in 1st Round

Time to catch up on how other MAAC teams did in post-season play, with the qualifier that your blogger saw none of the action.

I was looking forward to watching the Marist women's NCAA game on ESPN2 but, unfortunately, that coverage did not extend to the Capital Region and I only saw a few cut-ins.

Still, some observations ...

The Marist women did indeed appear a little more vulnerable than usual during the conference's regular-season play, losing games at Niagara, at Fairfield and at Manhattan. There was also a late-season overtime victory at Iona.

At season's end, when talking about Marist's slight "slip" this year, Fairfield coach Joe Frager was accurate in his perception that the other nine MAAC coaches would give anything to have finished 15-3 in league play this season.

Still, it was Marist's first three-loss season in conference play since the 2004-05 season.

All of which probably didn't make the Red Foxes' first-round 62-42 NCAA tournament loss to a very strong Georgetown squad in a game played at the Haas Pavilion on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley this past Saturday too much of a surprise.

The game wasn't that different than what the Siena men went through in its first round NCAA tournament contest (a loss to Purdue). Like the Siena men, the Marist women were in the game at halftime (trailing, 25-23) and, then, had no second-half answers.

The similarity to the Siena men goes beyond that. The two programs have been dominant in the conference in recent years (the Siena men for the past three seasons, the Marist women for the past seven), but both are likely to come back to the proverbial pack next season.

Marist loses its all-time standout Rachele Fitz, a 6-foot-0 forward, who coach Brian Giorgis recently pronounced as the all-time best player ever in the Marist women's program. Fitz's play transcends that, though. She is most certainly in the conversation about the top female player to ever appear in the MAAC.

Marist does return a pair of standout perimeter players in 5-8 senior-to-be Erica Allenspach (11 points, 7 rebounds in the NCAA game) and 5-8 junior-to-be Corielle Yard (15 and 8). The team also will have a developing 6-4 sophomore-to-be center Kate Oliver returning.

But, only Fitz, Allenspach, Yard and Oliver scored against Georgetown, underlying Marist's lack of quality depth compared to past seasons, a situation that will be further emphasized without Fitz next season.

Until then, though, there is much positive to reflect upon for the Marist women's program. The 2007-08 team finished with an 18-0 record, the only team to go through league play with 18 victories.

Over the past six seasons the team has been 97-12 (a winning percentage of 89.0), and has been 110-17 (.866 winning percentage) over the past seven years.

No program, either men's or women's, comes close to that type of extended success.

Safe to say that the Marist women's program of the past seven years epitomizes the term "dynasty" in this conference's history.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Purdue Ends Siena's Great 3-Year Ride

A wonderful three-year ride for the Siena men's basketball team came to an abrupt end Friday afternoon when Purdue earned a first-round 72-64 NCAA tournament victory over the Saints in Spokane, Wash.

Your blogger didn't get any closer than from in front of the 42-inch TV screen in upstate New York.

Still, some points to put things in perspective ...

- Despite playing without its best player, 6-foot-8 junior forward Robbie Hummel (knee injury), Purdue looked like the best first-round opponents Siena has faced in the past three years. The Saints had beaten Vanderbilt and Ohio State in first-round NCAA tournament games the past two years.

- Siena is one of just two MAAC men's teams to have played in three straight NCAA tournaments, joining the La Salle teams of 1987-88, 1988-89 and 1989-90.

- Siena led, 32-29, at halftime Friday but failed to counter some effective Purdue halftime adjustments. The Boilermakers started the second half on a 13-0 run that extended to 27-9. By then Purdue had a 56-41 advantage.

The Saints got it back to 66-63 with 1:05 remaining, but the winners made their last six foul shots down the stretch to clinch it.

- Purdue showed why defense wins games, and particularly why 6-3 swingman Chris Kramer was the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year. Siena shot under 30 percent in the second half, and forward Alex Franklin, who had 10 first-half points, was held scoreless in the second half and got off just two shots (one blocked) against Kramer's smothering defense.

- It certainly didn't help Siena that its best long-range shooting threat, Clarence Jackson, did not play. Jackson sprained an ankle in practice a week earlier, and did not get off the bench on Saturday. But, remember, Purdue was without its best player, Hummel.

- The graduating senior class of Franklin, Edwin Ubiles and Ronald Moore is one of the best groups ever to play in the MAAC. Over the last four seasons that group was part of 97 Siena victories, the most in school history and the second-best four-year total in MAAC history. only La Salle (1986-87 through 1989-90) with 100 won more.

- Just an opinion here, but the 1988-89 Siena team (a year before Siena joined the MAAC) remains the best ever to play at the school. That team beat a No. 13-ranked Stanford in the NCAA's first round, and had a regular-season victory at Pittsburgh. The current group was 0-for-6 against "quality" opponents this year, and its best victory was against Northeastern, whose RPI is in the 70's.

- Saturday surely marked the end of an era at Siena. Without the "Big Three," Moore, Franklin and Ubiles, Siena isn't likely to be as dominant in the foreseeable future. Right now, your blogger expects Siena to be picked no higher than No. 4 in next year's conference preseason poll.

And, then, there's the possibility that the architect of Siena's recent stretch of superlative performances, head coach Fran McCaffery, won't be back. There are already attractive jobs open elsewhere, most noteably at Seton Hall, and there are others sure to open in coming days.

Considering his recent success, and that Siena is likelyl to come back to the MAAC pack in the foreseeable future, there has never been a better time for McCaffery to consider other jobs.

If he does leave ... and, that is nothing more than pure speculation on the part of your blogger ... then Siena will be facing an even greater transition than what it will already face.

No matter what, though, there rarely has been a better time for Siena and its fans. It surely has been a great ride, even with such an abrupt ending.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Seton Hall's Luck with MAAC Coaches Poor

You'll probably see Siena coach Fran McCaffery's name featured prominently in speculation to replace Bobby Gonzalez at Seton Hall in coming days, and that conjecture will reach fever pitch if Siena wins a game in the upcoming NCAA tournament giving its coach's already strong resume another boost.

I can't begin to tell you whether McCaffery would be interested, or if Seton Hall is interested in him. McCaffery has always been extremely closed-mouthed about employment opportunities elsewhere, although there have been some confirmed discusions with other schools in recent years. Mostly, though, McCaffery has parlayed that interest elsewhere into a better deal at Siena where, according to published reports, his annual salary is north of $500,000.

But,, Seton Hall is similar to Siena in that it is a relatively small Catholic university. While its athletics dwarf Siena by virtue of its position in the Big East, its institutional goals, in many ways, mirror those at McCaffery's current location. Seton Hall, though, appears to be able to offer a financial situation that Siena couldn't compete with.

And, there's this: The last two Seton Hall hires have both been from the MAAC.

Your blogger will contend, though, that both of the past two Seton Hall hires were pretty much failures.

The first of those even came from Siena when, shortly after the 2000-01 season, Seton Hall hired Louis Orr away from the Saints' sidelines.

Orr, previously an assistant at Syracuse, was at Siena for all of 49 weeks. During that time his team, comprised mostly of significant talent assembled by his predecessor (Paul Hewitt), finished with a 20-11 record. One of those victories came against a Division II opponent. The schedule that year was so weak that NIT officials, after their field was decided, indicated Siena wasn't really a strong candidate for that tournament.

Orr's tenure at Siena was marked by his almost-daily tardy appearances at practices, and a lack of connectivity with many of his players. When his team was waiting to learn whether its season would continue via an NIT bid on a March, 2001, evening, Orr was home sleeping. His players were informed their season was over by reporters.

Three weeks later, Orr chose not to attend the team's post-season banquet. But, under similar circumstances the previous year, Hewitt returned to the Albany area at his own expense to participate in the program's post-season banquet several weeks after his hiring at Georgia Tech.

At Seton Hall, Orr compiled a an 80-69 record before he was fired. He sat out a year after that before landing at Bowling Green, where his three-year record stands at 46-47.

When Orr was dismissed, Seton Hall administrators reached out to Bobby Gonzalez, then at MAAC member Manhattan.

They did so, reportedly, without ever speaking to Manhattan administrators about that school's trials and tribulations during its time with Gonzalez in charge of the basketball program.

About the kindest thing anyone says about Gonzalez these days is that he is a "character." But, wherever Gonzalez has been he has alienated just about everyone he has had to deal with., according to reports quoting those left in his wake.

For those counting ... that's two strikes by Seton Hall officials in terms of filling its coaching position with someone from the MAAC.

Let's hope if it ever reaches into the conference again, possibly to replace Gonzalez in the near future, it makes a better-educated decision.

At Seton Hall: It's Gonzo, as in "Gone-Zo"

Former Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez got fired at Seton Hall today (Wednesday), and there won't be much surprise if one of the sport's most divisive individuals might be finished as a head coach.

Some might describe Gonzalez as "polarizing," but that would be too complimentary. To call him that would be interpreted that people either liked "Gonzo," or disliked him. By just about all accounts, nearly everyone gravitated toward the "dislike" side of that issue.

Manhattan had him for seven years. Here's what the Jaspers' athletic director Bob Byrnes told the New York Times recently, when asked about his former coach:

Byrnes was recently asked if he'd ever consider bring Gonzalez back if the Manhattan position opened up.

Byrnes quickly answered “no.”

Byrnes said that when he was informed that Gonzalez was leaving for Seton Hall, he said: “Good luck. I had him for seven years. I used to have a lot of hair. I’m almost bald now.”

He said he had seen Gonzalez only once since he left, at a dinner, but did receive a bobblehead of Gonzalez in the mail recently from him.

“I don’t talk to you for four years, and you send me a bobblehead?” Byrnes said. “Save the postage."

Gonzalez was the supreme micro-manager, believing it served him best to stay on top of everything ... maintenance men cleaning the gym, bus drivers, newspaper reporters ... everything.

“The guy who runs the bus company called me and said something to the effect of: ‘I have 131 drivers that drive for us. But we’re down to one guy that will drive for Bobby Gonzalez,’ ” Byrnes said.

Your blogger's time as a college basketball newspaper reporter overlapped Gonzalez's tenure at Manhattan, and required interviewing him at least three or four times annually. After each interview, Gonzalez asked that a copy of the resulting story sent to him. He made that request of every reporter he talked to.

I don't know how other reporters responded, but Gonzalez never received a copy of any of my stories unless he went to the newsstand and paid his 50 cents.

Just about everyone who ever covered Gonzalez has a story. Here's mine:

During Luis Flores' senior season at Manhattan, Siena was part of a double-header of games played at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, N.J. Manhattan played in the other game.

The two teams were scheduled to play each other in the next game on the conference schedule, so three Siena beat writers spoke to Flores, after Manhattan's contest that day, about the upcoming game with Siena.

Manhattan, at that time, was the MAAC's dominant team, but Siena was also near the top of the standings.

One question to Flores was very generic, as in "What are your impressions of Siena?"

Flores responded that he didn't worry about Siena, that his Manhattan team was the best team in the conference and would prove it when it played the Saints in the upcoming game.

So, we all used those quotes from Flores.

Manhattan did indeed beat Siena in the subsequent meeting, but instead of the traditional post-game question-and-answer give-and-take, Gonzalez opted to berate the Siena beat writers for misquoting Flores.

"Luis never said those things," Gonzalez yelled at us.

Yours truly responded that Flores did indeed say those things and that we should call him into the discussion and ask him.

We brought Flores out of the lockerroom into a hallway area at the Times Union Center and asked the Manhattan player if he was quoted properly.

Much to his credit, Flores told us and his coach that he did indeed make the statements that appeared in print.

Gonzalez then dismissed us and retreated to the sanctuary of his lockerroom. Flores quickly became one of my all-time favorite players, and Gonzalez probably my all-time least favorite coach to deal with.

The next day, I sent an e-mail to Gonzalez advising him to worry more about his job responsibilities, and less about mine.

And, I wrote that he owed me, and the other Siena beat writers at the time, a formal apology. I told him I expected it to come at the next time he played at Siena, in the same post-game setting in which he berated us.

That series of incidents happened late in the 2003-04 season. More than six years lagter, we're still waiting for Gonzo's apology.

Other MAAC Connections in the NCAA's

In a recent blog about former MAAC connections involved with this season's NCAA tournament we forgot a couple people with former MAAC connections. The reminder of that came right from the top, conference commissioner Rich Ensor, who is a devoted blog reader.

The additions to the list are:

- Tom Penders, who coached at Fordham from 1978-79 through 1985-86, the last five of those seasons when the Rams were still in the MAAC. Penders is now in his fourth season as head coach at Houston, and the Cougars are a No. 13 seed and meet Maryland in a first-round contest.

- Tim Welsch, the former head coach at Iona, is now an analyst at ESPN and has been prominent in that network's pre-tournament coverage in recent days.

- Steve Lappas, a former head coach at Manhattan, is now an analyst for CBS and is likely to turn up during that network's coverage of the tournament. Your blogger has also been hearing Lappas as a guest on numerous sports talk radio shows in recent days.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hasbrouck Latest from MAAC to NBA

The Associated Press is reporting that former Siena standout Kenny Hasbrouck, last season's MAAC Player of the Year, has signed a contract to play for the NBA's Miami Heat and he will be on the roster for Tuesday night's game against San Antonio.

Hasbrouck was with the Heat last summer and was in line for an invitation to training camp until breaking a rib. While recovering from that, he suffered a foot injury this fall while working out at Siena.

He recently signed with Rio Grande Valley of the NBA's Development League and played 10 games there averaginb 16.9 points per game.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Hasbrouck helped Siena win first-round games in the 2008 and 2009 NCAA tournaments. When he plays his first NBA game he will become the first former Siena player to appear in that league.

He will also become one of just a handful of former MAAC players to get into an NBA contest.

As best as this blogger can tell, the following list includes all conference players who appeared in a regular-season NBA contest. Please note that several programs sent other players on to NBA careers, probably the most significant of those being Niagara's Calvin Murphy and Iona's Jeff Ruland. But those two, and several others, played at their respective colleges before those schools were MAAC members.

Here's the list of MAAC players from current conference programs who have been in the NBA:

- Canisius: Mike Smrek, a 7-foot center who played six NBA seasons in the late 1980's through early 1990's.

- Fairfield: Deng Gai, a 6-9 forward, played two games with the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2005-06 season; and, A.J. Wynner, a guard, who played six games with the Boston Celtics in the 1990-91 season.

- Iona: Steve Burtt Sr., a 6-2 guard who played 101 games over four seasons, appearing in NBA games in the 1984-85, 1987-88, 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons; and, Sean Green, a 6-5 forward who played 84 games over three seasons (1991-92 through 1993-94) for three different teams.

- Loyola: Mike Morrison, a 6-4 guard who played 36 games for the Phoenix Suns in the 1989-90 season.

- Manhattan: Luis Flores, a 6-2 guard, who played 16 games for two teams during the 2004-05 season.

- Rider: Jason Thompson, a 6-11 center, who joined the NBA last season and is now playing his second season for the Sacramento Kings.

There are several others from former MAAC programs who have also appeared in NBA games. Those are:

- Fordham: Danny O'Sullivan, a 6-10 center, who appeared in 45 games for five teams over four seasons in the early 1990's.

- La Salle: Tim Legler, a 6-4 guard, played in 310 NBA games over 10 seasons for seven teams from 1989 through 2000; Ralph Lewis, a 6-6 guard, played 9n 99 NBA games for two teams over four seasons in the mid-1980s; Doug Overton, a 6-3 guard, played in 499 games over 11 seaons for nine teams from 1992 through 2004; Randy Woods, a 5-11 guard, played in 151 games over parts of four seasons for two teams in the early-to-mid 1990's; and, 6-7 forward Lionel Simmons played in 454 NBA games over seven seasons (1990-through 1997), all for the Sacramento Kings.

Marist Women Go West, Get Georgetown

The Marist women's basketball team will be making a cross-country trip for its NCAA tournament appearance, but the Red Foxes aren't likely to mind at all.

Marist, which finished 26-7 overall this season, goes to California to play against Georgietown (25-6) at the University of California at Berkley's Haas Pavilion Saturday in an 8:21 p.m. contest that will be televised by ESPN2.

It's a trip the program has made before for NCAA games, and one on which it has had success.

In 2007 the Red Foxes were sent west to play games at Stanford, and earned victories there over Ohio State in the first round and over Middle Tennessee State in the second round. That success remains the only time in the MAAC's 29-year history that one of its teams have won two NCAA tournament games in the same season.

"It really doesn't get any better than that," Marist coach Brian Giorgis told reporters, shortly after learning the Red Foxes' fate at a party at Shadows on the Hudson in Poughkeepsie. "There is so much anticipation, it's wonderful, it's ecstatic. The kids just jump around when they find out. You know you are playing, but sometimes you don't have who and where straight."

Marist is the No. 12 seed, while Georgetown is the No. 5 seed. Marist entered the 2007 tournament as the No. 13 seed and, then, won its first two tournament games.

As a No. 12 seed last year, the Red Foxes lost to Virginia 68-61 in the first round of the tournament in Los Angeles.

Marist is 3-5 in its previous five appearances in the NCAA tournament. The Red Foxes last played Georgetown in November 2000, losing 74-50.

Georgetown is ranked 13th in the final Associated Press national poll and was third in the Big East during the regular season at 13-3. Freshman guard Ta'Shauna "Sugar" Rodgers leads Georgetown in scoring with 18.2 points per game.

If Marist beats the Hoyas, it would play the winner of No. 4 Baylor against No. 13 Fresno State in the second round in Berkeley. Tennessee is the No. 1 seed in the region.

"It's going to be difficult, but we're going to be aggressive," Giorgis said. "We are going to go in with the attitude of the hunter, rather than the hunted, like we've been all year. We will see what we do."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

NCAA Field Has a Few MAAC Connections

A quick look at this year's NCAA tournament field results in more than a few MAAC connections, besides conference representative Siena's appearance. Here are some others:

- Georgia Tech, a No. 10 seed, is coached by former Siena head coach Paul Hewitt (1997-2000 at Siena). The Yellow Jackets have a first-round game against Oklahoma.

-Northern Iowa is a No. 9 seed (it matches up with No. 8 UNLV). Northern Iowa lost a BracketBusters game at Siena last season, and knocked off Siena in this season's return date.

- Florida is a No. 10 seed, matching up with a No. 7 BYU. Rob Lanier, a former Siena head coach (2001-2005) for four seasons.

- Wake Forest is a No. 9 seed, matching up with a No. 8 Texas. The Demon Deacons are coached by Dino Gaudio, who was the head coach for two seasons at Loyola (1998-2000).

Style Contrast Could Help Siena vs. Purdue

The best way to look ahead at Siena's chances to knock off Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tournament is to look back.

In 1989, 2008 and 2009 up-tempo Siena teams matched up with half-court teams Stanford ('89), Vanderbilt ('08) and Ohio State ('09). Siena won all three games.

In 1999, another up-tempo Siena team drew Arkansas in the first round of that year's NCAA tournament. Arkansas was a mirror image of Siena, an uptempo team but with bigger, better, faster athletes. The result was a predictable victory by the Razorbacks.

Most observers perceive this year's Purdue team to be more plodder than thoroughbred, more content to play a half-court game than to push the tempo.

Siena, we can be sure, will be trying to push the tempo.

If the score gets into the mid-to-high 70's, it won't be to Purdue's liking. The Boilermakers have only hit 80 points in six games this season, five of those against inferior mid-major level opponents.

College basketball is often a game of match-ups. In a match of contrasting styles, the team that can inflict its tempo on a game usually wins.

Purdue finished 27-5 in the tough Big Ten Conference this season, but lost its best player, 6-8 junior forward Robbie Hummel to a late-season knee injury.

The Boilermakers still have two players some observes perceive to have NBA futures in 6-4 junior guard T'waun Moore (16.6 points, 3.7 rebounds per game) and 6-10, 215-pound junior center JaJuan Johnson (15.2, 7.1).

But, no other player on Purdue's roster averages double figures. Purdue won't overwhelm Siena with size, either.

Its starting lineuup includes the slender 6-10 Johnson and four other players all 6-4 or shorter.

If Siena can get the game's tempo at a quicker style than Purdue would prefer, then this could be a significant first-round upset.

"Regardless of the loss of Hummel, they're still a tall task for us," said Siena student assistant coach Corey Magee, who has seen several of Purdue's televised games this season. "But, they're definitely a beatable team.

"They're similar, in terms of style, to both Vanderbilt two years ago and Ohio State last season. It's definitely going to be a game on contrasting styles, and something has to give."

"They looked like a No. 1 seed before Hummel went down," said Saints' coach Fran McCaffery, about Purdue. "Losing him changed some things, but they remain a very good team. They're terrific defensively. We know they'll really get into us.

"But, we'll be ready to play. We'll have a good game plan, and I'm confident that we'll play well."

The Saints are actually better positioned than ever to potentially advance to the Sweet 16 round. If they get there, they would be the first MAAC men's team in history to get that far.

As a No. 13 seed Siena gets a No. 4-seeded team in the first round and, then, probably a No. 5 (Texas A&M) in the second round.

It's a less-difficult route than last year's when, after a first-round victory over Ohio State, Siena had to match up with a No. 1-seeded Louisville.

This year's No. 1 seeds, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Syracuse, would be all but impossible opponents to defeat in a second-round game had Siena gotten through this year's first round as a No. 9 seed.

Siena's First-Round NCAA Foe Is Purdue

Siena gets Purdue in the first round of the men's NCAA basketball tournament.

The Saints get there as a No. 13 seed, while Purdue gets a No. 4. Their game will be be played Friday night in Spokane, Wash.

What are Siena chances? Check the next blog item for some thoughts on that.

Purdue, though, is big, talented and tied for first place in the tough Big Ten Conference. It finished 27-5 overall, but lost to Minnesota, 69-42, in the Big Ten tournament's semifinal round, almost assuredly costing itself a No. 2 or No. 3 seeding position.

Siena is 27-6 overall, but doesn't have a victory this season over a team in the top 70 nationally.

But, the Saints return four starters and its sixth man from last year's team that topped another Big Ten squad, Ohio State, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Siena's matchup drew loud cheers from a crowd of about 800 that joined the team at the Loudonville school's Alumni Recreation Center to watch the evening's selection show.

In truth, the roars probably would have been the same had Siena drawn a worst seed and a tougher opponent.

Team members and support staff wore tee-shirts commemorating the Saints' recent MAAC tournament championship on the front with the word "McCaff3" on the back, referring to its head coach, Fran McCaffery, and the program's three straight trips to the NCAA tournament under his direction.

Siena becomes just the second MAAC men's team in the conference's 29-year history to advance to the NCAA's in three consecutive seasons. La Salle's teams of 1987-88, 1988-89 and 1989-90, was the other.

Siena is already the conference's first men's teams to win first-round games in back-to-back seasons (Vanderbilt two years ago, Ohio State last season).

There's even more at stake than that. Xavier is the only mid-major level program ... if you consider Xavier, of the Atlantic 10 Conference, a mid-major program ... to win at least an NCAA tournament game in three straight seasons (2007, '08 and '09), and could stretch that to four straight as a No. 6 seed against Minnesota this year.

Siena would get into that lofty company with a tournament victory this season.

"All I'm worried about is this year's game," said Saints' coach McCaffery. "Whether there's any historical perspective involved, that's for other people to talk about."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Siena, Marist Await NCAA Seeding Spots

The blood-shot eyes have recovered from watching approximately 45 hours of basketball over the five days of this past weekend's MAAC tournament. So, hopefully, the look ahead is done with the clear vision renewed by three days of little more than rest.

What's next for still-active MAAC teams is to learn how they'll fall in the NCAA tournament brackets, and whether a couple of the conference's also-rans will continue their respective seasons.

Here's what we know about the men's and women's representatives to the NCAA's:

- The Siena men checked in this morning with a No. 31 RPI which, at best, would theoretically give them a No. 8 seeding position in a 16 team bracket.

But, not so fast ... last year the Saints were No. 18 in the RPI, a number that mathematically might have earned a No. 5 seed. Instead, Siena was slotted in as a No. 9.

This blogger's best guess is that this year's Siena team will get a No. 13 seed based on failing to get a single real "quality" victory. Its best win was over Northeastern in an early season non-league contest. Northeastern's RPI is in the 70 range.

Your blogger surveyed six fairly reputable bracket-predicting sites. Four have Siena getting a No. 12 seed, while two has the Saints at No. 13.

The two best at bracket predictions, Joe Lunardi of ESPN and Jerry Palm of, split on the issue. Lunardi projects Siena as a 12, Palm picks the Saints as a 13.

- The Marist women seem likely to get a similar slot. Probably the most-reputable women's bracket prediction, one done by ESPN, projects the Red Foxes as a No. 12.

Regular readers know this blogger's thoughts on the issue of seeding position, that better isn't necessarily better.

I wrote at this time a year ago that if a MAAC representative wants a legitimate chance of any real advancement in the NCAA event, i.e. getting to the Sweet 16 round, the odds are greatly increased by getting a 12 or a 13 seed over Siena's situation of a year ago when it was a No. 9 seed.

The reason is simple. While a No. 9 might have a decent first-round draw (like Siena getting a good matchup with Ohio State last season), its second-round contest becomes an all-but-certain loss to a No. 1 seed.

The Marist women proved that in 2007, getting a No. 13 seed and winning two NCAA tournament games before falling in the Sweet 16 round. That advancement remains the furthest by any MAAC team, men or women, in the conference's 29-year history.

Teams seeded No. 13 get a No. 4 in the first round and, if they advance, a No. 5 in the second round.

This year's first-round No. 1's coule be Kansas, Duke, Kentucy and Syracuse, teams Siena has almost no chance to beat, which is what it would face in a second-round game as a No. 9 seed.

But this year's No. 4's and No. 5's project to be Temple, Georgetown, Maryland, Butler, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt and Villanova. Very good teams all, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that Siena could beat one from that group (or a team of similar abilities) in the first round and another one in the second round to get to the Sweet 16.

The question then becomes is it more desireable for a MAAC team to have a better chance for a first-round victory, or a more-reasonable opportunity for a chance at the Sweet 16 round.

Your blogger remembers when the mere goal was just to get to the NCAA's. But, the evolution of the conference and the strength of its better teams in recent years has made first-round victories significantly more realistic.

The desire is always for more, and the possibility seems to be there that the more, in this case a trip to the Sweet 16 round, is attainable. But, the best way to get there is as a No. 12 or No. 13 seed and not as a No. 9.

What are the post-season's possibilities for the conference's non-NCAA teams?

The only certainty is that the Iona women, by virtue of their second-place finish in the regular season, will play in the women's NIT. It's an automatic qualifier for a conference's second-place team to go there, provided its regular-season champion (in this case, Marist) secures the league's berth in the NCAA's.

On the men's side, there isn't any certainty for the 32-team NIT field.

Fairfield, which finished second in the regular-season standings and, then, advanced to the MAAC tournament's championship game before losing there to Siena, appears to have the best chance for an NIT berth. Iona, the conference's third-place team in regular-season play, also appears to be on the board, according to one web site that attempts to predict the NIT field (yes, such a site exists).

However, the prediction is that both Fairfield and Iona are on the proverbial bubble for the NIT and appear more likely destined for lesser post-season events, either the CBI or the College Insider post-season tournaments.

For the men, it all gets decided on Sunday evening with the NCAA selections being announced starting at 6 p.m. Afterwards the fields for the NIT, the CBI and the College Insider events will be finalized later Sunday night or on Monday.

The NCAA selections for women take place on Monday evening.

Until then, everything is just speculation, but enjoyable speculation.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Much To Look Forward To for Fairfield

Had its last shot at the buzzer in regulation fallen, had it played with just a little more composure during a game-turning stretch in the second half or had any particular play at any juncture been less successful for Siena, then Fairfield would have been this year's MAAC tournament champion headed to the NCAA tournament.

That's how close the Stags came to completing the most-improbable of accomplishments. For sure, no one expected anything like this four months ago when the program learned that it would be playing the season without starting forwards Greg Nero and Warren Edney. Or, when it had to play the last five weeks of the season without starting swingman Yorel Hawkins.

Somehow, though, Fairfield patched together a lineup that saw freshmen and sophomores play 145 of the available 225 minutes in Monday night's tournament championship game 72-65 loss to Siena in overtime.

Think that doesn't bode well for how strong the Stags might be next year?

A little bit about this year, first.

The program unearthed a gem of a freshman in 5-foot-11 point guard Derek Needham, arguably one of the top three or four first-year players in the MAAC's 29-year history. This blogger ranks him No. 3 all-time among MAAC freshmen, behind only La Salle's Lionel Simmons and Saint Peter's Keydren Clark.

Another freshman, 6-4 guard Colin Nickerson, who averaged 10.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists in Fairfield's last seven games, looks like he could join Needham to become potentially the conference's best backcourt for the next three seasons they're together.

Senior big man Anthony Johnson, a 6-8, 250-pound mound of power inside overcame blood-clot issues that forced him to miss most of the previous year to become a force in the paint this season.

It was enough for Fairfield to somehow put together a 22-10 overall record that is likely to be good enough (the Stags ranked No. 82 in the Ratings Percentage Index prior to Monday's game) to get an invitation to the NIT.

But head coach Ed Cooley didn't sound like that would be a season-fulfilling opportunity.

"I don't know where the bracketologists have us in terms of some minor-league tournament," Cooley said not long after Monday's game. "I came here to get us to the big tournament (the NCAA's).

"Still, I'll be happy to play in one of the other tournaments if they allow us. Whoever wants us ... we'll play well and we'll represent the conference in a first-class manner."

For sure, though, it might have been the "big" tournament, the NCAA's, had the Stags just handled Siena's pressure defense a little better in the second half when it committed even turnovers in a 10-minute stretch that saw Siena come from 13 points behind to tie the game with 7:45 left to play.

"We had younger guys on the floor, that led to turnover mistakes, and they (Siena) took advantage of it," admitted Cooley."

Monday's game, though, was almost certainly a beginning rather than a culmination for what this blogger sees as the program best set up for Siena-like domination in the 2011-12 season and, maybe, beyond.

Players who filled 163 of the 225 available minutes in Monday's game return.

The biggest losses are Johnson and long-range shooting forward Mike Evanovich.

But, if Nero is healthy and can play next season, he is a reasonable replacement for Johnson.
Current sophomore Ryan Olander, a 6-11 post player, showed considerable improvement since his freshman season and should be even more of a factor next year.

Hawkins and Edney, along with the natural maturation of this year's freshmen, will make the Stags considerably more potent offensively a year from now.

"Having our young guys through something like this helps them tremendously in terms of experience," said Cooley.

The Stags' coach said he expects Hawkins and Edney to be at full strength next season. Nero's situation, though, isn't so certain.

"I know that I would love to coach a healthy team," he said.

Cooley has already proven what he can do with even a semi-healthy team.

"We will ... WE WILL ... be in this game again," said the Fairfield coach in emphatic fashion.

This game, next year, will even be on the Stags' home court at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.

When reminded of that shortly after Monday's championship game, Cooley's response was a resounding burst of laughter.

For sure, things should be fun for Fairfield next season.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Saints Call on Experience to Capture Title

For a long portion of Monday's MAAC tournament men's championship game it appeared as if Fairfield's time might have arrived early.

Instead, after facing a 15-point first-half deficit, and a 13-point disadvantage three minutes into the second half, Siena rallied back, captured its third consecutive conference tournament championship and showed why, now, it is clearly a team for the ages.

The Saints held off the Stags, 72-65, needing overtime to do so, but did it in characteristic fashion, going to its experienced players for key play after key play throughout the second half and into overtime.

Senior forward Edwin Ubiles scored a game-high 27 pints, senior forward Alex Frankilin added 22 points and 12 rebounds and junior center Ryan Rossiter had 10 points and 12 rebounds.

Those three scored all 12 of the Saints' overtime points.

The victory sends Siena to the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year, joining only the arguably best MAAC team of all-time, former conference member La Salle (1987-88, 1988-89 and 1989-90) to do so.

The Saints also became just the third conference team to play in the post-season event's championship game in four straight seasons, joining Manhattan teams of the mid-1990's and Iona teams of the early 1980's to do that.

Siena currently has 97 victories over the past four seasons, the second-best four-year total (La Salle's teams from 1986-87 through 1989-90 had 100) in the conference's 29-year history.

Still the Saints faced a daunting situation, trailing, 45-32 with under 18 minutes left to play.

And,m then, two minutes later it cut its deficit to 45-40, had the game tied at 53-53 with 7:45 remaining and, then, had to watch a last-second shot by Stags' freshman Colin Nickerson fail to fall at the end of regulation that would have won the contest for Fairfield.

Siena scored the first two baskets of overtime and, then, Fairfield never had a possession after that in which it could have tied the game.

"The thing we had going for us, when we faced that second-half deficit, is that we have tremendous experience and still had a lot of time," said Saints' coach Fran McCaffery. "The thing we didn't do was panic.

"We wanted to disrupt them and we did. When we were making our run the crowd got involved."

Crowd involvement from a highly partisan and loud assemblege of 10,679 seemed to have an effect on the outcome.

"The energy in the building helped turn the momentum," admitted Fairfield coach Ed Cooley. "Their team feeds off that. Did we get rattled? A little."

During Siena's second-half run of 21-8 that tied the score at 53 with 7:45 remaining, Fairfield committed nine turnovers against aggressive Siena pressure defense.

"I credit their team for creating some plays and causing some turnovers," said Cooley. "During that stretch ... they've got long guys. They're not the fastest team on their feet, but their length more than makes up for (a lack of ) speed."

"I'm going to tell you, I have been doing this for a long time and I have never had a group that loves one another, is so unselfish and has the ability to compete and remain composed against anyone and to win games.

"We've won 97 games in the past four years and didn't `buy' one of them. There's some talent here, but tonight what we saw was chemistry."

"We've got three seniors here who know what it takes to win a game like this," agreed Ubiles. "We've all been through it, and we know what it takes to win a game like this."

Title Game: Current No. 1 vs. Future Power

Tonight's MAAC tournament men's championship game will either be a continuation of a stretch of the best four-year run in conference history, or the beginning of, maybe, a new era of extended success.

Siena is the team trying to continue its domination of league play in tonight's 7 p.m. championship game against Fairfield, and a victory by the Saints tonight would confirm that program's position among the MAAC's all-time elite.

Here's what Siena has accomplished since the current senior class of forwards Alex Franklin, Edwin Ubiles and point guard Ronald Moore joined the program:

- Its overall record of 96-37 accounts for the second-highest victory total by a conference team over a four-year stretch. Only former conference member La Salle, which won 100 games (100-31) from 1986-87 through 1989-90, has won more games over a four-year stretch.

- Siena is one of three MAAC teams to reach the league's post-season tournament's championship game in four straight seasons. Manhattan (1991-92 through 1994-95) and Iona (1981-82 through 1984-85) are the only other teams to do that.

- If Siena wins tonight, it becomes only the second MAAC men's team to win the post-season tournament title (and an NCAA berth) in three consecutive seasons. Only former league member La Salle (1987-88, 1988-89 and 1989-90) has done that so far.

On the other hand, Fairfield's future looks bright no matter the outcome of tonight's game.

- The Stags have one of the all-time best freshmen on their roster, 5-foot-11 point guard Derek Needham whose 16.3 points-per-game average is fourth best among MAAC players this year. Needham is one of four players in conference history to average at least 15 ppg. as a freshman. The only others are Saint Peter's Keydren Clark, La Salle's Lionel Simmons and Rider's Jerry Johnson.

- Although Fairfield loses standout senior big man Anthony Johnson after this season, it has three expected starters recovering from injuries. Forwards Greg Nero and Warren Edney have missed all of the current season and swingman Yorel Hawkins has missed the last 13 games. All could play next season and if all three return the Stags will likely be the preseason pick to win the 2010-11 regular-season title.

It certainly makes for an interesting championship game tonight, and will answer this question:

Does the present prevail, or does the future begin a little early?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Unlikely Stags Vs. Siena For Men's Crown

Siena might have an active 37-game winning streak on its Times Union Center home court, the site of Monday night's MAAC tournament championship game with Fairfield, but that seeming advantage is meaningless to the Stags.

"We're just happy to be here," said Fairfield coach Ed Cooley, whose team earned its first championship game berth since the 2002-03 season. "We can play this game on the moon, on the streets ...we'll play hubcap to hubcap. They (Siena) want to host it, God bless them. We want to be the host busters."

Fairfield gets its chance Monday at 7 p.m. in a nationally televised contest (ESPN2), likely before a Siena-partial crowd of more than 10,000.

Siena got to Monday's championship contest with a 72-62 victory over Rider in Sunday's other semifinal-round contest.

The Saints' 37-game home winning streak dates back to midway through the 2007-08 season. They have won the MAAC tournament in each of the past two seasons with both events being played here.

But the Stags haven't exactly been devoid of success in this building.

Since Siena's current Siena class has been at the Loudonville school, Fairfield has won twice in Albany, a 72-67 victory during the 2006-07 season and a 53-53 victory during the 2007-08 season.

Since the second of those two Fairfield victories over Siena, only two other teams, Rider and Loyola later in the 20007-08 season, have beaten the Saints on their home court.

Fairfield nearly ended the Saints' home-court streak earlier this season, suffering a 69-67 loss at the Times Union Center on Feb. 8.

"We hope to do something different against Siena this time ... we lost to them in both meetings this year," said Cooley. "We know we're playing against a great team, but we felt we got a little closer each time we played them.

"We've got to pitch a perfect game to give ourselves a chance at the end. But, all we talked about this weekend was that we wanted an opportunity, and that was an opportunity to play on Monday night (in the event's championship game)."

The opportunity came to fruition after the Stags rallied from a 58-51 deficit with 7:16 remaining in the form of a 14-1 run that gave them a 64-59 advantage with 1:28 left to play. After that, Niagara never had a possession with a chance to tie the game up again.

Fairfield's 6-foot-9, 250-pound senior center Anthony Johnson literally came up the biggest Stag in the closing run with 11 points in the game's final 10 minutes. He finished with 21 points and eight rebounds.

"At one point we were down by eight points and I looked Anthony Johnson in the eye and told him it was time for him to be dominent," said Cooley. "I told him I wasn't ready to send him back to Lake Wales (Florida., Johnson's home) yet, and added a few other choice words.

"He looked me back in the eye and said `I got your back, coach'. When someone like him says he's got your back, you have to believe in him. When he says something like that he gives me energy."

No matter the championship game's outcome, Fairfield's season has been out of storybook with a morale of achieving success despite adversity.

The Stags played this season without two expected starters, forwards Greg Nero and Warren Edney, and lost a third starter when swingman Yorel Hawkins was lost at midseason with a knee injury.

In that respect, things this year weren't so different from a year ago when the program also suffered considerable injury losses, including losing Johnson at midseason with blood clot issues.

"What we went through last year definitely helped us grow as a coaching staff," said Cooley. "When things started happening again this year, it was like we've been there and have done that."

Having a healthy Johnson, though, gave the Stags one of the conference's best inside players and precocious freshman guard Derek Needham took over running the point and adding considerable offensive punch. Needham is one of just four freshman in MAAC history to average at least 15 points per game.

"I knew he was going to help us the first day I got on the court with him this summer," said Johnson.

It probably wasn't as easy to predict Fairfield would be this good as a team, though.

Fairfield is now 22-9 overall, posting its first 20-victory season since 1995-96.

In Siena, though, it faces an opponent making its fourth consecutive appearance in the MAAC title game. Only Iona, with teams in the mid-1980s; and Manhattan, with teams in the mid-1980s, has also done that. A victory on Monday would give the Saints their third straight NCAA berth, an accomplishment only La Salle teams of 1987-88, 1988-89 and 1989-90 has ever accomplished.

Siena earned its way to the championshipo game by overcoming a 48-44 deficit with 12:25 remaining with a 16-0 run over the next five minutes of play.

Point guard Ronald Moore's 3-pointer from the corner gave the Saints a 59-48 edge with 7:45 remaining and served well as the proverbial "dagger."

"That basket might have been the key," said Rider coach Tommy Dempsey. "Everyone knows he (Moore) hasn't been able to put the ball in the basket this year, especially from three-point range. But, he gets that big one down the stretch. He drainsthat and it energizes his team and everyone in the building."

Moore entered the contest shooting .306 percent from the floor and .197 percent from beyond the bonus stripe. But, in Sunday's contest, he had 15 pints on 5-of-10 shooting, including a perfect 2-for-2 on three-point attempts.

Teammates Alex Franklin and Clarence Jackson had 18 and 17 points, while Ryan Rossiter finished with 18 rebounds.


Last season's all-time tournament attendance record of 42,890 will likely be broken this season.

The crowd count through Sunday's games is currently at 42,890. A turnout of a little less than 8,000 would break last year's record of 50,806.

Marist's Depth a Key To Tourney Crown

It would be easy to theorize that the Marist women's victory in Sunday's MAAC tournament's championship game was greatly aided when Fairfield's standout senior center Stephanie Geehan drew her second foul with 10:15 left in the first half and didn't play again after the intermission.

At the time the Stags only trailed by three points. Before Geehan got back in the game in the second half her team faced a 10-point deficit.

But ... Marist's own standout, three-time Player of the Year Rachele Fitz also sat out the last eight minutes of the first half with foul woes.

Therein was a major difference between the two teams in the Red Foxes' 66-49 victory over Fairfield in Sunday afternoon's contest.

The winners got 16 points from its bench, while Fairfield got 25 minutes total (and no points) from its bench.

"Those last minutes of the first half weren't an easy thing for us," admitted Fairfield coach Joe Frager. "We don't have the depth that Marist has.

"Rachele Fitz is a very good player and she does a lot of great things for Marist, but Stephanie Geehan is a terrific player, too, and we don't play well without her."

Still, the Stags managed to get within four, 48-44, with 8:30 left in the second half on senior forward Tara Flahertys inside bucket.

But, Marist guard Erica Allenspach responded with a three-pointer to push the winners' lead to 51-44. Marist added six more points before Fairfield could score again and the Stags never got their deficit under double figures again.

"I'm so proud of our kids," said Marist coach Brian Giorgis. "We didn't have two great games in our first two games of this tournament, but we saved the best for last. That we lost our best player for a long stretch with foul trouble and extended our lead with our bench was tremendous.

"We just know how to win, what it takes to win and how to rise to the occassion."

Fitz finished with 15 points in the game, but the winners were lead by sophomore guard Corielle Yard, who had 17 points. Allenspach added 13 points for the Red Foxes, now 26-7 on the season.

Fairfield, which finishes at 19-13, got 16 points from sophomore guard Desiree Pina. Geehan added 10 points.


Immediately after Sunday's game, Marist coach Brian Giorgis received a text message from his good friend Tony Borzella, the head coach at Iona.

The Red Foxes' victory not only ensured that they would go to the NCAA tournament, but also kept Iona's season alive.

The Gaels, who finished second in regular-season conference play, will move on to the women's NIT via an agreement that the second-place conference team will go there, provided the confererence's regular-season champion wins the post-season tournament.


Marist's senior forward Rachele Fitz was named the MVP of the women's tournament.

Also named to the all-tournament team were Thazina Cook of Iona, Stephanie Geehan of Fairfield, Desiree Pina of Fairfield, Erica Allenspach of Marist and Corielle Yarde of Marist.

Giorgis Brought Success to Marist Women

Like the sun rising in the east, or the pleasant weather of spring following winter, the Marist women's basketball team is once again the champion of the MAAC's post-season tournament by virtue of a 66-49 victory over Fairield played before an enthusiastic crowd of 4,274 at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., Sunday afternoon.

But it wasn't that long ago that the program that is now the blueprint for success not only within its conference, but probably for mid-major level schools everywhere, had very little success.

That was before head coach Brian Giorgis came to town prior to the 2002-03 season. Or, more accurately, the year Giorgis stayed in town.

Now in his eighth season at the Poughkeepsie school, Giorgis had coached in the shadows of Marist at the city's Our Lady of Lourdes High School. In 19 seasons there he put up a 451-44 record, an incredible .911 winning percentage, and his teams competed for state-level honors annually.

But when Giorgis moved to the college level the program he took over had an active run of seven straight sub-.500 seasons.

Giorgis' first year there was losing season No. 8 in a row. And, then, the winning started. Marist is now 195-61 under Giorgis.

The program has won the last seven regular-season conference titles and Sunday's victory secured its fifth-straight trip to the NCAA tournament. Both strings are unprecendented not only on the women's side but for men's teams, too, in the 29-year history of the MAAC.

But, it was always like this in Poughkeepsie.

Alisa Kresge, now in her first year as an assistant coach in the program, was one of its best players, coming aboard in 2003 which, not coincidentally, was Marist's first winning season under Giorgis.

"When I first got here, crowds at games were smaller than for my high school games," said Kresge. "I wondered where everyone was. The answer was that this is how it is here."

How it is today is that the program had two regular-season sell-outs at its McCann Center facility and averaged close to 2,150 fans per home game. That attendance figure not only was far greater than its own men's program, but more than all but two of the 10 men's programs in the league.

"It didn't happen overnight," said Kresge. "It was kind of a gradual thing. But, now, there's a great atmosphere for all our home games."

Near sell-out crowds of red-clad spectators, a large, loud and very proficient pep band, an in-gym decible level that makes it hard for opposing teams to communicate on the court ... that's how it is at Marist now.

It is all, of course, a by-product of winning, of unprecedented success.

"It helped that I was local," said Giorgis. "It helped that players I coached at Lourdes like Kristen Vilardi and Maureen Magarity came here at first and, then, Julianne Viani."

And when the winning began, Marist became a school to look at for players looking to do just that at the college level.

"That's what you hope," said Giorgis. "Once things get rolling it becomes a snowball effect, and it has become a pretty big snowball."

Big enough to survive annual losses of standout players and continue the winning.

"The big thing is that the school went out and got a a coach who had always been a winner," said Kresge. "The players come here and really listen to him, really take to heart what he has to say.

"And, now that he's got things going here the hope is that it continues to attract quality players. That we go to the NCAA tournament every year is an attraction. As a player, that's what you envision for yourself, to be on that stage."

At Marist, there now seems a better chance of that happening than just about any other mid-major level school nationally.

And, this year is just the latest in the school's incredible run of success that was hard to envision eight years ago, and similarly hard to envision it will end any time soon.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Niagara, Fairfield Men Advance to Semis

Perennial contender Niagara's experienced talent core refused to see its season come to an end, while western New York's other conference representative, Canisius, saw similar aspirations come to an end on a bizarre circumstances that forced it to play without its top player for the last five minutes of its game.

Niagara rode senior standouts guard Tyrone Lewis (21 points) and forward Bilal Benn (16 points, 11 rebounds), particularly down the stretch to hold off No. 3 seed Iona, 68-64, in a late Saturday night game that went fairly deep into Sunday morning before it ended.

The winners rallied from a 51-48 deficit with 6:17 remaining. Lewis scored nine of Niagara's final 20 points.

The outcome could be the start of some vindication for a team predicted in preseason to finish second and, instead, finished sixth in the final standings. Niagara now has an 18-14 overall record.

"These guys hate to lose," said veteran Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. "They are the most competitive guys I've ever been around."

Sophomore point guard Scott Machado led the way for Iona with 17 points, while junior forward Alejo Rodriguez added 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Iona finishes with a 21-10 record, probably not good enough to continue playing in post season (the NIT), but still a strong season.

"If anyone told me we would get 21 victories at the start of the season, I'd have taken it," said Iona coach Kevin Willard. "This is disappointing, but I'm proud of my team."

Niagara advances to tangle with No. 2 seed Fairfield in Sunday's 6:30 p.m. semifinal-round contest.

The Stags held off an impressive second-half charge from Canisius to earn a 67-57 victory.

Canisius, which finishes at 15-17, trailed, 35-14 at halftime, but had rallied back to within 50-43 left on senior guard Frank Turner's driving layup with 5:13 left to play.

Turner got tangled among bodies around the baseline after making the shot, twisted around and one of his hands hit Fairfield guard Derek Needham in the stomach area.

Game officials viewed a replay of the play, ruled Turner's contact with Needham was intentional and ejected the Canisius guard from the contest.

"The kid played here four years and never did a thing wrong," said Canisius coach Tom Parrotta. "That was an unintentional contact. This is a shame."

Afterwards, game official John Hughes told a pool reporter that the replay indicated that Turner's contact with Needham was intentional.

"... as he (Turner) turns to play defense ... as he's running back, he hits him (Needham) in the testicles," said Hughes. "It was not an unintentional act."

When asked to clarify if "unintentional" meant on purpose, Hughes replied, "Absolutely."

Brad Tracy, the MAAC Supevisor of Men's Basketball Officials, explained that once the officials checked the game monitor, by rule, they had to call either a flagrant foul or no foul. A "common foul" cannot be called once replay is used.

Ejection is automatic iin the event of a flagrant foul, Tracy said.

Turner's departure ended what was shaping up as a spectacular one-on-one battle between him and Needham down the stretch.

Turner had 12 points in the second half run that got Canisius back in the game, while Needham responded in kind with 10 points in a five-minute mid-second half stretch that enabled his team to hold the league.

"We were having fun out there," said Needham. "The old guy (Turner is a senior) was trying to show the new kid (Needham is a freshman) something, and the new kid was trying to give it back to the old guy."

Needham even defended Turner, afterwards, on the call that resulted in the Canisius guard's ejection.

"I don't think he meant to hit me on purpose," said Needham. "He was off balance and it was one of those things."

Needham, the MAAC's Rookie of the Year, finished with a game-high 29 points, and teammate senior center Anthony Johnson added 16 points.

Fairfield is now 21-9 overall, only the sixth 20-victory season in its Division I history and first since the 1995-96 season.

Controversy Marks Siena's Path to Semis

Siena, as expected, advanced to the semifinals of the men’s MAAC tournament with a 78-61 victory over No. 9 seed Manhattan Saturday night, but not without a little first-half worry and a little second-half controversy.

The top-seeded Saints struggled early, falling behind by a 16-4 margin after seven minutes and were still behind by as many as five several minutes into the second half.

The controversial, though, began making its presence known when Manhattan’s standout junior guard Rico Pickett, a demonstrative performer even when on his best behavior, stole a pass near midcourt and began his route to an unobstructed dunk.

But, on his way there he veered closer to the Siena bench, turned in that direction and stuck his tongue out at the Saints before completing a 360-degree jam.

After that there was considerable woofing and rough play, punctuated by a decision by Saints’ coach Frank McCaffery, his team holding a 16-point lead, to lifted his starters and sent them directly to the lockerrom with 1:15 remaining in the contest.

One of his top reserves, Kyle Downey, attempted to remain on the bench but McCaffery walked the length of his sidelines to direct Downey to join his other departed mates in the lockerroom.

When the game ended and teams met at midcourt for the traditional post-game handshakes of sportsmanship, the Jaspers were greeted by Siena’s coaching staff and a the few remaining Siena reserves.

When asked about his decision afterwards, McCaffery opted for a no-comment.

“I’m not going to address it in any way,” said the Saints’ coach.

Manhattan coach Barry Rohrssen also opted to stay away from the potential controversy.

“My concern is for our team and our kids, and that’s here it is,” said the Jaspers’ coach. “That’s my believe and it’s where it needs to be. I can only coach one team at a time.”

Clearly neither coached was pleased about the contest’s extracurricular activities.

But, surely, McCaffery was pleased by the outcome that sets up a 4 p.m. semifinal-round meeting with No. 5 seed Rider, which earned its wan into that game with an impressive 69-57 victory.

The Broncs are now 16-14 overall (Siena is 25-6), but the Saints won both regular-season meetings with ease, by scores of 84-62 in an early-season game on Siena’s Times Union Center home court and by an 80-54 verdict last Friday at Rider.

Despite the two lopsided outcomes Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said he isn’t likely to change his team’s playing style for the third renewal.

“We are more a free-flowing, up-and-down team,” said Dempsey. “We tried to go up and down with them (in the two previous meetings) and they seem to do it better than us so far.
“We can adjust to whatever the game dictates, but if you ask my preference … I’d rather we get up and down.”

McCaffery said he remains impressed by Rider, despite his team’s two previous lopsided victories.

“They have a team with a multitude of offensive players,” said McCaffery. “What happened earlier this year doesn’t matter. All that matters is tomorrow (Sunday). They’ve got a solid substitute rotation built around guys who are stars in this league. Players of that caliber have our full attention.”

Fairfield vs. Marist for Women's Title

It's only fitting that the conference's perennial dominant team gets to face the league's hottest team in today's noon women's MAAC tournament championship game Sunday at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.

That would be Marist in its traditional role of prohibitive favorite and Fairfield as the eager, competent upstart that showed, in the second half of the current season, it comes in as a legitimate challenge.

Marist has won the last four conference tournaments and six of the last seven.

Fairfield hasn't even made it to the championship contest since the 2001 season and last won this event in 1998.

But the Stags come in riding a conference-best nine-game winning streak that includes a 61-60 victory over Marist on Feb. 9.

Marist earned its berth in the title contest with a business-as-usual 69-47 victory over Niagara in its semifinal-round contest Saturday. Fairfield got there with a 61-57 victory over second-seeded Iona.

Marist is currently 25-7 overall, while Fairfield enters Sunday's game with a 19-12 mark.

"We'll have our hands full with them," said Marist coach Brian Giorgis. "Then again I can't ever remember playing in a championship game when we didn't have our hands full."

Marist, too, is likely to have its cumulative mind full, as well ... full of its regular-season loss to Fairfield.

The Red Foxes' semifinal-round opponent, Niagara, had also earned a regular-season (69-59) victory in its most-recent meeting with Marist.

"I don't want to say this was revenge, but we certainly wanted to show them that it was wrong to lose by 10 to them at their place the last time we played," said Marist senior forward Rachele Fitz, who did most of her team's damage with 25 points and 12 rebounds against the Purple Eagles.

Marist is likely to have similar thoughts today against Fairfield, but it declined to say so.

But, Fairfield has been a developing work in progess since a 10-12 overall start to its season. It currently hasn't lost a game since Feb. 5.

On Saturday, it got strong efforts from 6-2 senior ofrward Stephanie Geehan (16 points, eight rebounds), sophomore point guard Desiree Pina (15 pitns, 5 assists) and 5-11 sophomore forward Taryn Johnson (8 points, 13 rebounds).

"I have to give credit to our players for our turnaround," said coach Joe Frager. "They never lost hope, never lost faith in each other and in our coaching staff."

The Stags also benefited from the return of 6-2 senior forward Tara Flaherty, who missed seven games midway through the season with an injury. Flaherty had eight points, seven rebounds and five assists in Saturday's semifinal-round contest.

"Marist is definitely the prohibitive favorite," admitted Frager. "It has been here before and has done it. Top stay at its level of excellence says plenty about ltheir team. Still, where else would we rather be than playing here on Sunday."

Iona coach Tony Borzella admitted he expected his Gaels to be playing today rather than Fairfield.

"The way we played against them (Fairfield on Saturday) was not Iona basketball," said Borzella. To say that this was a disappointing loss would be an undertatement. Fairfield played very intelligent basketball. We played OK, but very unintelligent.

"I think they've got a very good chance to beat Marist. They were 10-12 and at that point they could have packed it in. It's not easy coaching young ladies 18- to 22-years old when things are going bad. But, they kept it together. They're playing confidently now. They've got a good chance to win on Sunday."

Friday, March 5, 2010

Canisius Moves Past Marist into Quarters

Canisius got a balanced attack, getting at least seven points from seven different players, in earning a 72-54 victory over Marist in a first-round game of the men's MAAC tournament in Friday's late-night contest.

The winners advance to meet second-seeded Fairfield Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.

Although Fairfield finished 13-5 in league play and 20-9 overall, the Golden Griffins are sure to have a measure of optimism based on regular-season results.

While Canisius lost both meetings, both contests were close with Fairfield winning by scores of 58-52 and 76-74.

In Friday's game, Canisius got a game-high 17 points from forward Elton Frazier and 11 each form Greg Loggins and Alshwan Hymes.

Canisius is now 15-16 overall on the year.

Marist, which had 17 points from freshman guard Devin Price, finishes with a 1-29 record, completing one of the most-difficult seasons in MAAC history.

Manhattan Moves On to Face Siena

In what might be a very strong example of being careful what you wish for ...

The Manhattan men won their first round game with a 94-79 victory over Loyola Friday night in the MAAC tournament, and earn the right to face No. 1 seed and heavy favorite Siena in a semifinal round game Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

Are the Jaspers wary of the contest?

It doesn't seem that way.

"I'm foaming at the mouth (to play Siena)," said Manhattan's junior guard Rico Pickett. "I'm anxious to play them. They beat us twice during the regular season, and it's tough to beat a team three times, so we'll see."

What they'll see is an opponent that finished 17-1 in regular-season league play, establishing a MAAC mark for most conference victories in a season, and own a 35-game home winning streak on the Times Union Center court that hosts this year's MAAC tournament.

If Manhattan can play like it did Friday against Loyola, though ... well, based on that it's easy to see why Pickett is anxious to just play again no matter the opponent.

The 6-foot-3 Pickett had a career-high 33 points (10-of-18 shooting) to lead an energetic Manhattan team to a 19-point lead late in the first half. Loyola closed it to under double digits on numerous second-half occassions, but the winners (11-19 overall this season), was able to hold off the Greyhounds.

Manhattan played an up-tempo pace to produce its single-game high of 94 points this season. Manhattan entered the game averaging 64.7 points per outing, and hadn't scored more than 85 points in an previous game this season.

Loyola fell to a 13-17 overall record while getting a career-high 26 points from 6-10 sophomore center Shane Walker.

Niagara's Win Adds to Storybook Season

The last time the Marist women have lost in a MAAC tournament game happened at the end of the 2004-05 season.

Canisius was the upset winner of that game, and one of its former assistant coaches will be trying to derail the Red Foxes again Saturday in an 11:30 a.m. contest at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.

That would be Kendra Faustin, now the third-year head coach at Niagara who has directed a remarkable turnaround for the Purple Eagles that included a 66-54 victory over Manhattan in a quarterfinal round MAAC tournament contest

How remarkable?

A year ago Niagara finished 1-17 in conference play, and followed that up with a 3-12 overall record to begin the current season.

Since then, the Purple Eagles have been 10-5 in their last 15 contests. Included was handing Marist its first regular-season league loss of this season, a 69-59 decision on Jan. 31.

So, what would another win over Marist and a berth in this event's Sunday championship game mean to Niagara?

"We have done some remarkable things this season, but that would be the next step in the progression for us," said Faustin. "I really can't put into words what that would mean."

It would mean just another remarkable thing in a remarkable season for a program that, not so long ago, provided little more than token resistence as an opponent.

"We started doing the little things like blocking out, and we just began fulfilling our roles on the team," said Niagara senior center Jaclyn Konieczka, who epitomizes the team's turnaround.

A career-long reserve, Niagara's current 10-5 run over its last 15 contests began one game after she moved into the starting lineup.

On Friday, though, it was balanced scoring, including some long-range second-half shooting from junior forward Liz Flooks that carried the Purple Eagles.

Flooks had 14 of her game-high 17 points after the intermission, including hitting 4-of-6 from beyond the 3-point stripe.

One of those came on a shot-clock-beating 28-footer that hit nothing but net and gave Niagara a 50-34 advantage with 7:06 remaining.

"At halftime coach (Faustin) told me to stop thinking and to have fun," said Flooks. "She told me to forget about all that happened in the first half."

So, there was Flooks with a huge smile on her face after her 28-footer, clearly having fun.

"When she hit that `3' I thought that this could be our night," said Faustin.

Indeed it was. A remarkable night in a remarkable turn around that could only become better with a victory over Marist today.

Sluggish Marist Has Enought to Top Griffs

You probably can't blame Marist coach Brian Giorgis for bristling a little after being asked about his team's lacklustre early play in its quarterfinal-round game against Canisius.

"I guess people expect us to come out and score 100 points and shoot 50 percent from the field," said Giorgis.

Instead the Red Foxes began their quest for a fifth straight MAAC women's tournament title by only shooting 33.3 percent from the field and scoring just a little more than half of 100 points.

But, it was more than enough for Marist to earn a 57-38 victory over Canisius on Friday afternoon.

The low score wasn't that surprising against an opponent that also held Marist to its lowest point total of the season, a 54-45 Red Fox victory in regular-season play on Jan. 19.

And, in Friday's game Canisius was still within a point, 19-18, with slightly more than four minutes left in the first half.

For much o fthe second half, though, Marist got more than enough offense and a defensive effort that held Canisius without a point in the final 8:40 of the contest.

Guard Corielle Yard led the winners with 16 points and nine rebounds, while three-time Player of the Year Rachele Fitz added 12 and eight and point guard Kristine Best chipped in with 10 points.

Canisius also committed 14 turnovers, and Marist, among the national leaders in fewest turnovers per game, only gave it away seven times Friday.

Canisius got a game-high 17 points from senior point guard Brittane Russell to finish with a 12-19 overall mark.

Marist, now 24-7, faces off with Niagara in an 11:30 a.m. semifinal-round contest Saturday morning.

Fairfield Women's Size Helps top Loyola

After his team suffered a 70-56 loss to Fairfield in a women's quarterfinal round contest Friday, Loyola coach Joe Logan offered the opinion that the Stags' Stephanie Geehan might well be the conference's second-best player (behind Player of the Year winner Rachele Fitz of Marist).

But, on this day Geehan looked at least the equal of Fitz. The 6-foot-2 Fairfield senior center scored 22 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, blocked four shots and made four steals.

Geehan had 13 points and eight rebounds by halftime helping her team, the No. 3 seed in this event, to a 44-22 advantage.

Loyola pulled to within 10, 47-37, with 13:05 remaining but Geehan countered with an 18-foot jumper, a 3-pointer and a layup that helped extend the lead.

Loyola got to within nine with 4:24 remaining, but could no closer after that.

"I that first half we played about as well as we did all season," said Fairfield coach Joe Frager, whose team is now 18-12 overall.

The winners took advantage of a considerable size advantage to hod a 43-29 edge on the boards in the contest.

"Their height advantage was huge, and no pun intended," said Loyola's Logan. "We just didn't have an answer. Geehan has really developed for them. You watch films of her first few years at Fairfield and you see that she's only a small part of who she is today. That's a credit to the work Joe Frager has done with her and how hard she's worked on it."

Geehan got help from sophomore guard Desiree Pina (17 points), senior forward Tara Flaherty (12 points on 6-of-7 shooting) and freshman guard Katelyn Linney (12 points).

Junior guard Miriam McKenzie led Loyola with 20 points, while freshman guard Katie Sheahin added 14 points for Loyola (14-16 overall).

Fairfield advances to meet Iona in a 9:30 a.m. semifinal-round contest today.

No. 2 Iona's Defense Topples Siena, 59-43

In the first quarterfinal round game of the MAAC women's tournament Friday morning it took Iona about 18 minutes before it started looking like the No. 2 seed in its meeting with Siena.

At that point Siena, the No. 7 seed, was still within 21-19.

Iona then scored the last four points of the first half and went on a 10-3 run to start the second half to grab a 12-point lead at that point on its way to a 59-43 victory over the Saints.

Siena got it to within nine midway through the second half, but never got closer than that again.

The winners were well prepared to defend Siena's top two scorers, forward Serena Moore and guard Allie Lindemann, and did so with height inside and athleticism on the perimter.

Thazina Cook led the offense for Iona (18-12 overall) with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and forward Kristina Ford added 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Moore finished with 14 points for Siena, but had just three points without a field goal in the first half. Lindemann struggled to get a good look all night and finished with two points on 1-of-9 shooting.

"Serena Moore was definitely a point of emphasis for us," said Iona coach Tony Borzella. : We only allowed her to score three baskets, so we did well with that."

"They did a great job of defending our scorers," said Gina Castell, coach of Siena (which finishes 11-18 overall). "We had a hard time scoring. They keyed on Serena and Allie, and those are out two key players for us, the ones we need to score. They are a very good defensive team and they knew who we needed to go to to succeed."

Iona advances to today's 9:30 a.m. contest against No. 3 seed Fairfield.