Friday, April 30, 2010

Former Iona Coach Welsh Faces DWI

This blog is meant to pass along news related to the conference, whether that news is good or bad. And, the link below certainly qualifies as the latter.

It's a story about new Hofstra coach Tim Welsh being arrested for DWI, after having been found passed out at the wheel of his car Thursday night/Friday morning. Here's the link:

The reports indicates that Welsh, who had coached several years at conference member Iona, has been suspended without pay, pending a school investigation.

Your blogger has no inside information on this, but a guess is that Welsh could lose his job and Hofstra will be looking for another coach.

Welsh had been doing color commentary for televised games this past season, including several for the MAAC. Your blogger watched a Siena-at-Niagara telecast this past year with Welsh as the commentator, and he did a good, professional job.

Welsh also did some MAAC tournament games, and your blogger had an opportunity to spend a few minutes with Welsh who, as always, was friendly and gracious.

But, as a coach, there are high standards to be set. College coaches should indeed be role models for their student-athletes, setting a personal standard that team members can emulate.

Welsh, clearly, failed in that responsibility and it will be interesting to see how this turns out.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Off-Season Report: Siena Won't Fall Far

Here's the latest, and final, in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC mens teams. Up now ...

SIENA (17-1 in MAAC play, 27-7 overall last season)

FINAL 2009-10 RPI: No. 31 of 347 Division I teams nationally.

2009-10 RECAP: One almost has to look at a four-year window to appreciate what a talented trio of departing seniors accomplished at Siena. The program won three straight MAAC regular-season titles, earned three straight trips to the NCAA tournament and won first-round games in back-to-back seasons (2007-08, 2008-09), the conference's only men's program to do that. It recorded 97 victories over the past four years, the second-highest total ever for a league team, behind only the 100 of La Salle (1986-87 through 1989-90). Siena won 27 games in each of the past two seasons, the program's two-highest single-season victory totals in 33 years of Division I basketball. Senior forward Alex Franklin was the conference's Player of the Year. Senior guard Ronald Moore led the nation in assists. Moore's 823 career assists is the all-time best for MAAC players. The 17-1 record marked the first time in conference history that a team won 17 league contests. Siena rallied back from a 15-point deficit with 18 minutes left in the league tournament's championship game to beat Fairfield in overtime and, then, dropped a first-round NCAA game against Purdue. And, then, the program lost the coach who brought about all of that. After five seasons at Siena, Fran McCaffery accepted a position at Iowa.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Against league opponents, just about everything. Siena was 14-0 in conference play and threatening to complete the first undefeated league season since La Salle's 16-0 record in 1989-90 when it suffered its first and only MAAC loss at Niagara. The team had an all-league quality performer at every position. All five starters -- three on the first team, one on the second team and one on the third team -- got all-MAAC mention, the first time that has ever happened. The starting five of three seniors and two juniors appeared to take turns stepping up to make big plays. The experience of that group being together for three full seasons was evident. There is a still-active 38-game home-court winning streak in place. A third-straight NCAA tournament appearance and plenty of national publicity throughout the season ... plenty went right.

WHAT WENT WRONG: One almost has to look to find deficiencies in a 27-victory team, but they are there to be found. The Saints played five "up" non-conference games, and lost all five. In three of those games -- against Temple, St. John's and Butler -- they led by six, five and three points, respectively, at halftime. In the other two -- against Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa -- they trailed by just four and three points. But an overall lack of dept (Siena played five games without making a single substitution after halftime) appeared to wear on the team in those game. Those setbacks hurt the team's seeding position for the NCAA's, where it was a No. 13 seed and drew a first-round game against No. 4-seeded Purdue. Injuries also caused some minor difficulties. Senior forward Edwin Ubiles battled knee problems all year and was rarely at his best. Top reserve guard Kyle Downey was hurt (back, foot) from the season's start and was rarely 100 percent. Clarence Jackson suffered a badly sprained ankle in a post-season practice and did not play in the NCAA tournament game. Moore, despite his ability to run the offense, became a player opponents backed away from, and he only shot 31.8 percent from the field.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The program won't need much of a transition after McCaffery's loss. His long-time "right-hand man," Mitch Buonaguro takes over after five seasons as the team's top assistant, and no conference coach has ever had as much experience. Not only has Buonaguro been on the sidelines for more than 1,000 college games, but he was Fairfield's head coach for six seasons (1985-86 through 1990-91) and owns a national championship ring for his work as an assistant with the 1984-85 Villanova team. The program needs to add a couple of strong recruits, but Buonaguro, with his unrivaled list of contacts, appears on the verge of getting them. Rossiter will be the conference's best big man next season and might be the preseason's Player of the Year choice. Jackson is an explosive offensive player and will likely be among the league leaders in points next season. Freshman forward O.D. Anosike averaged 3.4 rebounds in just 12 minutes of playing time per game and looks capable of becoming an inside force. The team, though, is desparate for a point guard. Freshman Jonathan Breedan, recruited to eventually replace Moore, only played 55 total minutes this past season and doesn't yet look ready to fill that role. The rest of the returnees look like role players. McCaffery didn't do the program's future any favors by relying so heavily on his top five. That group got a league-high average of 152 minutes per night, leaving just 48 minutes per game for the rest of the squad. Brandon Walters, a 6-9, 245-pound center/forward transfer from Seton Hall (1.9 points, 2.1 rebounds there in 2008-09) becomes eligible, but doesn't appear to be an "impact" addition. The only signed recruit as of late April is 6-6 swingman Trenity Burdine, who appears ready to make early contributions.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: The return of Rossiter and Jackson, along with the expected improvement of Anosike, ensures the bottom won't fall out for Siena. The strong guess is that Buonaguro will fill the last two scholarships openings with strong recruits. Still, Siena's dominance of the MAAC is over, for now. Right now Siena is the fourth-best team in the conference, but could finish even higher, particularly if Buonaguro can bring in a good point guard.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Off-Season Report: Stags Early No. 1 Pick

Here's the latest in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC men's programs. Up now ...

FAIRFIELD (13-5 in the MAAC, 23-11 overall)

FINAL 2009-10 RPI: No. 81 of 347 Division I teams nationally.

RECAP: The season started poorly, with word that expected front-court starters 6-7 Greg Nero (back) and 6-4 Warren Edney (knee) would miss the season. Midway through the season, another key player, second-leading scorer Yorel Hawkins, a 6-5 forward, suffered a knee injury and missed the final 15 games. But, everything else was good. Center Anthony Johnson, who missed much of the 2008-09 season with a life-threatening blood-clot issue, returned to full health and became the conference's best post player. Freshman guard Derek Needham was handed the proverbial keys to the car and ran it like an veteran Indy driver. Needham was one of the league's all-time great freshmen. That one-two punch was supported by a solid group of role players. The result was the program's best record since a 24-7 finish in the 1985-86 season and just its fifth 20-victory season in 46 years on the Division I level. The Stags got to the MAAC championship game before losing and, then, won a first-round contest in the Tournament before its season ended.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The return to health of Johnson and the immediate impact of Needham, who became just the fourth freshman in league history to average at least 15 points per game, provided as good an inside-outside combo there was in the league. The team not only survived health issues for the second straight year, but actually thrived despite the personnel shortage as previously lightly used bench players moved into key supporting roles. It was enough for Fairfield to win a showdown late-season game with Iona to secure second place in the regular-season standings, and for the Stags to win two league tournament games and, then, hold a 13-point lead over Siena with 18 minutes remaining in the championship game before the Saints stormed back to force overtime and, eventually, win. Still, Siena had to survive a last-second shot by Colin Nickerson at the end of regulation that bounced off the rim at the buzzer. But that wasn't the end of the considerable excitement provided by the Stags. In the event, Fairfield fell behind by 27 points, 63-36, with 16 minutes left against George Mason, on the Patriots' home court. And, then, the Stags rallied to win in overtime. The result accounted for the greatest comeback in terms of overcoming a point deficit, in the history of Division I post-season play. And, then, the program had a nice off-season, retaining coach Ed Cooley who was a strong candidate in Boston College's search for a new coach.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Obviously, the injuries to three key players. Still, how much better could the won-loss record have been? And, a slew of younger players got valuable on-court experience. The Stags weren't likely to have beaten out Siena for the regular-season crown even if everyone was healthy. They still got their second-place finish and set themselves up very nicely for the coming season. What else went wrong? The team seemed to rattle under the pressure applied on-court by Siena's pressure and off-court by a loud crowd of 10,679 setting new decibel levels in the Saints' Times Union Center arena during the conference championship game. The result was eight of their 11 turnovers in the final 17 minutes of regulation play in that contest. After the season ended, 6-7 freshman forward Shimeek Johnson, a part-time starter, announced he was leaving the program. But, Fairfield can survive that loss.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Most teams might look back at last season and think what might have been. But, in truth, the Stags probably were a little too young to do more than they did and, surely, the focus is on what's next, which should be a terrific Needham-led era. Teams with the league's best player traditionally are strong contenders, and Needham, even as a sophomore, will arguably be the MAAC's best player for the next three seasons. Ryan Olander, a 6-11 sophomore center, showed signs of being a significant contributor. Hawkins and Edney are expected to be back by the start of next season. If Nero comes back, too, the Stags will have the conference's best front-court rotation as well as the best point guard. Nickerson, a freshman who averaged 9.7 points and 5.0 rebounds in the MAAC tournament, looks like a strong sidekick for Needham. Guards Lyndon Jordan and Sean Crawford also showed enough to compete for starting spots or, more likely, be productive bench players. Jamal Fields a 6-2 guard, appears to be the top incoming recruit, but the team won't need much, if anything, from next season's freshman class if everyone stays healthy. The only significant loss is Johnson, literally a big one, but the front-court will be well-stocked if everyone returns healthy. And, then, there's this: The MAAC tournament will be played at the Arena at Harbor Yard next season. Could there ever be a better time for the Stags to have the event on their home court.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: After losing to Siena in the MAAC championship game, third-year coach Ed Cooley had this to say: "Just once I'd like to coach a healthy team." Cooley has done pretty well with teams decimated by injury, well enough for his name to be strongly in the debate about the conference's top coach. And, then, when reminded that his home court will be the site of the tournament championship game this coming season, Cooley responded with a deep laugh. If Needham improves just a little, he will dominate this conference for the next three years. If the injury situations are resolved - and, there's no reason right now to think they won't be - Fairfield is the clear front-runner for a championship next season. Right now, the Stags are an easy choice as next season's top team.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Off-Season Report: Iona Moving Forward

Here's the latest in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC mens teams. Up now ...

IONA (12-6 in the MAAC this past season, 21-10 overall)

2009-10 FINAL RPI: No. 86 of 347 Division I teams nationally.

RECAP: An above-expectation season in nearly every way possible. It was just the 2006-07 season that the Gaels finished with just two overall victories (2-28). Progress was expected, but maybe not this much this soon. Instead, third-year coach Kevin Willard took an 11-member playing group (9 of those 11 started at least one game, 10 of the 11 averaged at least 11 minutes per contest) that included five freshmen and three sophomores and got it to play ahead of its experience level. It didn't hurt that the on-court director, sophomore Scott Machado (12.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists) was one of the top three or four point guards in the conference. The large playing group allowed players to play shorter shifts and stay fresh throughout games. The victory total was the most by any of the 14 Division I programs located within 30 miles of the New York metropolitan area. While team success "arrived" a year ahead of its time, so too did the departure of its coach. Willard moved on to Seton Hall in the 0ff-season, despite a 45-49 career record at Iona, no conference finish above this past season's third-place result and an 0-3 record in the conference's post-season tournament. But Willard has a strong pedigree (not only is he the son of well-respected coach Ralph Willard, but a protege of Rick Pitino, serving under him for several seasons at Lousville).

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Machado, the 2008-09 MAAC Rookie of the Year, elevated his game a little more and became a team leader as much as an individual talent. Junior forward Alejo Rodriguez shot a conference-best 67.9 percent from the floor, and was a force inside. Four of the five freshmen got significant minutes and made strong contributions, particularly 6-4 swingman Kyle Smyth, an all-Rookie Team selection. Mostly, Iona was a "get-it-done-by-committee" operation. And, for the most part, it worked. There were plenty of positive signs within the won-loss record. An early season victory over Providence was a harbinger. And, then, a mid-season eight-game winning streak against conference opponents pushed Iona's league record to 9-3 at that point and on the verge of contention in the MAAC standings. There might be some sentiment that the Gaels could have been even better, but with so much youth playing key roles ... well, no one should be complaining about the results.

WHAT WENT WRONG: How much could go wrong from a team with so much youth that finishes with a 21-victory season? Consider this more of a "What Might Have Been" list. There was indeed too much youth. After winning eight straight to get to its 9-3 conference record, it had a showdown game with Siena, losing 88-68. The Gaels just weren't mature enough, experienced enough to handle a good, veteran opponent. After that 9-3 start, Iona went 3-3 down the stretch against conference foes including another showdown game against Fairfield with second place on the line. The Stags won, 71-54, on Feb. 26. That outcome, along with its failure to win a conference tournament game, cost Iona any chance it had of being included in a national post-season tournament. Machado's 12.8 points per game led the team, and a consistent second option never emerged. Iona was also a little undersized, and got outrebounded by a per-game average of 2.3, an unusual discrepency for a 20-victory program.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Good years, plural. The next two years with Machado in charge should be very good, and this year's strong freshman class likely ensures another strong season post-Machado. While the roster won't change much (only role-playing forward Jonathan Huffman and lightly used guard Milan Prodanovic are gone), there will still be some transition here. Iona filled Willard's departure with Tim Cluess, who had a 98-23 record in four seasons at Division II C.W. Post. Before that he was 22-10 at Suffolk Community College and 264-78 in 15 seasons at St. Mary's High School in Manhasset. Cluess clearly can coach. Now, we'll see how he handles a veteran team and the myriad of other responsibilities associated with the Division I level. The likelihood is that this year's cast of freshmen and sophomores takes another step forward. And, there is some height in place, too. Freshman 6-10 center Chris Pelcher was hurt for much of the early portion of the season and never established himself. Now healthy, he could be another nice inside piece. The only recruit thus far is 6-2 guard Sean Armand, a big-time scorer in prep and high school and a long-range shooter. But the Gaels already have everything they need.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: There are some questions: Can enough young players begin performing like veterans? Can a couple of the returnees improve on the offensive end and provide addditional rebounding help? Will Cluess' coaching ability on the lower levels translate to Division I, and will a large group of returnees easily adjust to him? The guess here is that all those questions will have positive answers and that Iona should be even a little better than this past season. Look for the Gaels to contend all season and finish no worse than second or third in the conference.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Off-Season Report: Peacocks Are Primed

Here's the latest in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC men's teams. Up now ...

SAINT PETER'S (11-7 in MAAC play last season, 16-14 overall).

FINAL 2009-10 RPI: No. 180 of 347 Division I teams nationall.

RECAP: The past season was progress. Every key player from the previous year returned, but it was still a relatively young team. Its best three players, guards Wesley Jenkins and Nick Leon, and forward Ryan Bacon, were all juniors. Starting center Darius Conley was a red-shirt freshman and Jeron Belin, a small forward, was adjusting to the D-I level after coming in from a junior college. The 16-14 overall mark accounted for the first winning record since the 2005-06 season and just the fifth above .500 ledger in the past 16 years. The 11 conference victories accounted for the most since the Peacocks won 12 in the 2003-04 season and was just the fifth time it had won at least 11 conference games in its 29-year affiliation with the MAAC. Saint Peter's finished fourth in league play last year for a very good reason: the three teams ahead of it, Siena, Fairfield and Iona, were all better. Need proof? The Peacocks' regular-season record against those three was 0-6. It was 11-1 against the other six conference teams.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Jenkins and Leon continued to improve and become established as one of the conference's upper-echelon backcourts. Bacon remained an athletic force, particularly around the basket. Conley was an effective "banger," the type player the Peacocks lacked in recent years. Belin showed flashes of effectiveness, although not often enough. Some depth began developing. Defensively, St. Peter's made things tough for every opponent. Its 37.7 percent field-goal defense was second-best nationally. Only Florida State had a better defensive FG percentage.

WHAT WENT WRONG: If one can point at anything, it was a lack of experience. There wasn't a single senior contributor this past season. Conley and Belin were playing D-I for the first time. The team's top two reserves, swingman Steve Samuels and guard Yvon Raymond, were both freshmen. St. Peter's troubles showed up against veteran teams, and on the offensive end when it often went through lengthy periods struggling to score points. And, while the "Big 3"" of Jenkins, Leon and Bacon all had solid seasons, none of them moved into the league's "elite" group of players. Belin wasn't consistent, particularly on the defensive end. Teams with the league's better players usually compete for league titles. Teams with "solid" players finish, well, fourth which is where Saint Peter's wound up this past season.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Even better days. Saint Peter's is respectable again and on the precipice of challenging for the conference title. Every significant contributor from this past team is back. The playing group went nine deep most nights last year, so depth is there. Jenkins and Bacon, in particular, are each capable of stepping it up and carrying the team to a higher position in the standings. Leon isn't far behind those two. Conley and Belin will both benefit from a year's experience. Last year's youthful depth also returns with some experience. And, then, the team adds 6-1 guard Blaise Ffrench, a transfer from UTEP where he played 26 games but only scored eight total points two years ago.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: Saint Peter's three best players will be seniors, which is usually a recipe for success. It is more than capable of taking the next step forward. An 11-victory league season probably won't be considered a success. The Peacocks could approach a minimum of 20 overall victories and compete for the league championship. The early call is a second-, or third-place finish.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Niagara's Waheed Moves to Boston College

Not too many individuals had been in the MAAC longer than Akbar Waheed at Niagara, who is moving on and moving upwards.

Waheed, the lead assistant coach at Niagara, was hired earlier this week to join Steve Donahue's staff at Boston College of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Waheed played at Niagara from the 1995-96 through the 1998-99 seasons. After his playing career ended, he immediately joined the Purple Eagles' coaching staff and was head coach Joe Mihalich's top assistant for the past seven years.

That's 15 years at Niagara. Talk about paying your proverbial dues.

During Waheed's tenure both as a player and as a coach at Niagara he earned a reputation for being a hard worker and a good person.

It didn't take long for Donahue to hire Waheed. Two days after former BC assistant John Gallagher became Hartford's new head coach, Waheed joined Boston College's staff.

Off-Season Report: Rider Regrouping

Here's the latest in the series of "10 Teams in 10 Days," an off-season look back and ahead at MAAC men's programs. Up, now ...

RIDER (9-9 in the MAAC last season, 17-16 overall)

FINAL 2009-10 RPI: 139 of 347 Division I teams nationally.

2009-10 RECAP: Conference coaches picked Rider to finish third, and its own coach, Tommy Dempsey, optimistically cast a first-place ballot for his Broncs. It looked like they might have underestimated the Broncs, who opened up with a victory at 15th-ranked Mississippi State. But, after that, it looks like the predictions were overestimations for a team that underachieved almost all season long. The Broncs appeared to have everything in place, a potential Player of the Year pick in Ryan Thompson and a deep group of solid teammates. And, then, the team was mostly mediocre from start to finish. A tie for fifth place in the league certainly wasn't what was expected.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The season-opening victory over Mississippi State was among the best ever for the program. Thompson, among the MAAC's elite players, had some flashes of what everyone expected, including three 30-point plus outings. Junion guard Justin Robinson had a solid year. Forwards Mike Ringold and Novar Gadson remained among the conference's hardest-working big men. But, in truth, not enough went right as the Broncs struggled all season to get above the .500 mark.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Start with Thompson, the preseason pick for Player of the Year, who rarely played up to that expectation. He had three magnificant games during the season, accounting for 100 of his 566 points. Otherwise, he averaged a very pedestrial 15.5 points. On the year, he averaged 17.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists, all numbers below his junior season averages of 18.0, 6.4, 3.2. Instead of a step-up season, Thompson went the other way, barely earning first-team all-league honors. Maybe he was a "marked" man to opposing defenses, but it looked like he was more content to play within the flow of games rather than to take things over like top players are expected to do. Ringold and Gadson both had limitations. Ringold struggled away from the paint, and Gadson rarely went inside. Jhamar Younglood, a touted transfer from Monmouth, didn't have the expected impact.

WHAT'S AHEAD: It's hard to expect Rider to suddenly take a major step forward. Even though Thompson didn't have a great season, his presence alone forced opponents to concentrate more on him and less on his teammates. It should be interesting to see how Rider's returnees fare with Thompson no longer around to open things up for them. Ringold and Gadson need to step up a little, which is a possibility. Robinson is likely to be one of the conference's better guards next season. Brandon Penn, a 6-7 sophomore, showed some signs of being able to contribute more as did 6-4 freshman guard Jonathan Thompson (no relation to Ryan). The top incoming recruit appears to be 6-7 forward Daniel Stewart, who could get into the playing group. But, there have been some player defections of late, too. DeShawn Mitchell, a 6-2 guard and transfer from UNLV who might have had an impact, left the program recently without ever playing a game for Rider. Sophomore forward Jermaine Jackson and freshman guard Carl Johnson, players who would have been in next season's playing group, have also left the program.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: Not even its own coach will pick Rider to finish first next season. And, it's hard to envision the Broncs being better than they were this past season. The player defections will mean whatever depth the program will have will likely come from incoming freshmen, which is rarely a recipe for success. There is a core of solid players that will ensure they'll still be competitive, but the requisite go-to-player isn't here. The guess here is that Rider will finish either fifth or sixth next season.

Off-Season Report: Niagara Won't Slide

Here's the latest in the series of "10 Teams in 10 Days," an off-season look back and ahead at MAAC men's programs. Up, now ...

NIAGARA (9-9 in MAAC play, 18-15 overall)

FINAL 2009-10 RPI: No. 134 of 347 Division I teams nationally.

RECAP: The past season was not what Niagara was expecting. Returning were four starters from a team that set a program record with 27 victories the previous year. But the one loss, 6-10 center Benson Egemoyne, had an impact. The Purple Eagles' interior defense wasn't anywhere near as good without Egemoyne's presence. A variety of injuries, primaily to seniors forward Bilal Benn and guard Tyrone Lewis, also kept Niagara from being better. Still, it was a solid season for a program that has avoided the lows almost all mid-major level teams experience since coach Joe Mihalich has come aboard. During Mihalich's 12-year tenure the Purple Eagles have had just one sub-.500 finish.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: There was one "magical" night on Feb. 12. A sell-out crowd at the Taps Gallagher Center, a national television audience and the league's best team, Siena, not only as the opponent but trying to extend a 14-0 start to its season. For a night, everything came together for Niagara, which seemed a step faster and a lot more determined than Siena all night. The Purple Eagles put the only blemish on Siena's conference record, an 87-74 victory. It was the start of a four-game winning streak and a stretch in which it won five times in a six-game stretch before its season ended with a 69-63 loss to Fairfield in the conference tournament's semifinal round. When healthy, Benn and Lewis continued to be among the conference's best players. But, neither was truly 100 percent all year.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Primarily, the injuries. Benn missed three games, but struggled with knee pain most of the season. Lewis missed six games and rarely looked like the force he had been previously. There wasn't enough height. Niagara battled bigger teams all season. Still, it wasnt that far away from being much better. It lost three games in overtime, and two other games by one-point and 3-point margins. Had it won three of those ive games, it would have had a 12-6 MAAC record and finished 21-12 overall, more in line with what was expected. But, good teams win close games. Niagara was pretty much what its record indicated, a solid team that could have been better had its key players been healthy all year.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The program not only loses Benn and Lewis, but also Rob Garrison, its third-leading scorer, and fifth-leading score Demitrius Williams. Those four scored accounted for a per-game average of 50.5 points of the team's 72.2 per game and 22.9 of the team's 37.2 rebounds per outing. No MAAC team loses more production. That said, it's hard to envision the bottom falling out for any team Mihalich coaches. He has established himself as arguably the best coach in the conference. He employs an uptempo playing style that his players enjoy and causes problems for opponents. Still, the program has had "elite" level MAAC players almost annually, and don't appear to have one right now. Someone could step up, or a combination of a sold group could make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Point guard Anthony Nelson (9.9 points, 5.0 assists) is the top returnee, but sophomore forward Kashief Edwards (7.8 points, 3.6 rebounds) had a nice year, too. Freshman Scooter Gilette, a 6-8 center, improved as the season progressed and looked strong late. If he gets stronger in the off season, he could be the inside presence the team lacked this past season. A nice boost could also be coming from Kevon Moore, a 6-3 sophomore who becomes eligible this season after his transfer from UNC-Wilmington, where he averaged 9.1 points as a freshman. The top incoming recruit appears to be Antoine Mason, a 6-3 guard and the son of former NBA standout Anthony Mason.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: Solid, at the very least. Niagara won't fall far, if at all. But, how good it gets will depend on the progress of young players, the contributions Moore can make and whether any of its incoming freshmen can provide an impact. The guess here is Niagara will finish fifth, but could move into the top four if enough young players step up.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Off-Season Report: Griffs Solid Again

Here's the latest installment in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series. Up, now ...

CANISIUS (8-10 in the MAAC, 15-17 overall)

FINAL RPI: 206 of 347 teams nationally.

RECAP: The 15-17 final overall record marked progress. It was just two seasons ago that the Golden Griffins finished 6-25 overall. It was also the closest the program has come to a .500 season since it finished 20-11 in 2000-01. This past season was the beginning of a culmination of some good recruiting efforts that should continue on this season. It also firmly established 5-foot-10 point guard Frank Turner as one of the top backcourt performers in the program's history. But, the Griffs were pretty much a two-man team offensively (Turner and junior Julius Coles) and struggled against opponents that could limit those two. Some early season personnel losses and an early season injury also limited the team's depth. But, the Griffs were close, losing one league game by a point in overtime and another by two points.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Turner had a step-up season, playing like a senior leader and lifting the team back to respectability. Coles (13.6 points per game) began to emerge as one of the league's better small forwards. A group of hard-nosed players, led by Tomas Vazuez-Simmons (29th nationally in blocked shots), Elton Frazier and Robert Goldsberry gave opponents a battle every night. The season highlight was a 73-70 overtime victory against regional rival Niagara on Jan. 24 before a home crowd of 2,196, the largest turnout at the Griffs' Koessler Athletic Center since the facility was renovated in 2002.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Hulking center Chris Gadley was lost to the program due to academic issues and never played a game. Highly touted incoming guard freshman Rob Gagliardi also left the program for personal reasons without ever playing a game. And another freshman, guard Reggie Groves, tore his ACL in the team's seventh game after a promising start. That robbed the team of most of its depth. The team failed to find a legitimate third offensive option, and the injuries/defections pushed Goldsberry, whose talent doesn't come close to matching his enthusiasm, into a prominent role at guard. The team's hard-nosed style of play (some opponents accused the Griffs of being borderline "dirty" players) also brought some well-deserved criticism in that regard.

WHAT'S AHEAD: It should be interesting to see how a team that returns the majority of its contributing players can do without Turner, the program's backbone for the past four seasons. Clearly, a guard has to step up both with talent and with leadership skills. The best candidate might be 6-2 sophomore Gaby Belardo, a transfer from the University of South Florida, where he played sparingly as a freshman. Someone else, maybe Groves if he's healthy, also needs to supplant Goldsberry in the starting lineup. Chris Manhertz, a 6-6 forward, is the top incoming recruit, according to reports, and might provide some help.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: The program had win-total jumps of five (from six to 11) two years ago and four last season. Another move like that would get the Griffs to the 19/20-victory range, but that's too much to expect, particularly with the questions surrounding the replacement of Turner. The team now appears to have an abundance of solid players, but needs more than just Coles to be an offensive weapon. Points have been hard to come by for the Griffs in recent years, and probably will be again in the coming season. The team is likely to be pretty much what it was this past season ... solid, hard-nosed and right around the .500 level with its league and overall records.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Off-Season Report: Loyola Moves Forward

Here's another in the "10 teams in 10 days" look at MAAC men's programs.

Up now ...

LOYOLA (6-12 in the MAAC, 13-16 overall)

RECAP: The Greyhounds opened the season with a 13-point victory over Vermont, the America East's eventual representative to the NCAA tournament. Not long after that, it secured arguably the biggest win in program history with a 72-67 victory at Indiana. And, then, things started to go in the other direction. Senior guard Brett Harvey, its best guard, suffered a variety of injuries missed several games and played the second half of the season at less than full strength. Swingman Jamal Barney, the conference's 2008-09 leading scorer, missed five games with "family issues" and didn't approach his play of the previous year. Freshman forward Anthony Winbush missed the second half of the season with injuries. From midseason on the Greyhouunds were too often undermanned, but still managed to reach double-digits in victory totals for the fifth straight season, the longest stretch of at least 10-victory seasons in the program's Division I history. Loyola was close to being better, suffering seven losses by six points or fewer.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A core of young players stepped in effectively. Freshmen Robert Olsen (6.4 points, 3.6 assists) was named to the conference's all-Rookie team. Frosh forward Anthony Winbush (7.3, 3.9) was on his way to that honor before an injury forced him to miss the team's final 12 contests. Another freshman forward, 6-9 Julius Brooks, started 24 games. Sophomore Shane Walker, a 6-10 transfer from Maryland, showed improvement as the season went on and finished with averages of 8.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Harvey, despite injuries, was among the better backcourt performers in the conference.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Too many injuries, the Barney situation that had him step away from the program for several weeks (and, his absence led to season-long conditioning issues), and too many young players kept Loyola from being better.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Better days. Everyone of significance except Harvey returns. Olson, Brooks and Winbush all have a season of college experience. The team will be among the tallest in the conference, starting with the 6-10 Walker and 6-9 Brooks up front. If Harvey comes close to approximating his previous year's form, he'll provide another boost. Senior-to-be Brian Rudolph is an effective point guard, but needs to hone his shooting range to join the league's elite at that position. There's also depth, including 6-2 sophomore guard J'hared Hall, who averaged 5.7 points and just 14.5 minutes per outing. Erik Etherly, a 6-7 transfer from Northeastern where he was lightly used as a freshman, will also be eligible in the coming season. Head coach Jimmy Patsos demands much of his players, and gets plenty from them, Patsos has already signed three recruits _ 6-6 forward David Samuels and guards 6-4 Justin Drummond and 6-1 Dylan Cormier, all big-time scorers in high school.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: The only thing lacking is veteran experience. It should be fun to watch the team grow, and improve as the season progresses. The Greyhounds certainly have the talent to cause problems for any conference opponent. A .500, or better, finish in conference play seems likely. If all goes well, Loyola could easily find itself in the upper half of the league standings.

Off-Season Report: Jaspers Solid, At Best

Here's another in the "10 teams in 10 days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC men's teams.

Up, now ...

MANHATTAN (4-14 in MAAC play last season, 11-20 overall).

RECAP: The Jaspers might have been the best 9th place finisher the conference has seen in some time. Of its 20 overall losses, 13 were by single digits and six were by three points or less. It had an all-league quality backcourt in junior Rico Pickett, the league's leading scorer, and do-everything senior Darryl Crawford. What the Jaspers didn't have, though, was much offense from anywhere other than the perimeter. It was a good big man away from winning games, instead of losing by close margins. Overall, opponents only outscored Manhattan by an average of two points per contest.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Bringing in Pickett, who started his career at Alabama, moved on to a junior college for his second season and, then, stepped into an offensively challenged lineup to provide an offensive spark. Crawford was also his typical versatile self, finishing as the team leader in rebounds, assists and second in scoring. Brandon Adams was an effective defender and rebounder inside. Coach Barry Rohrssen, who has a strong reputation as a terrific recruiter of New York metropolitan players, will be back after flirting with an opportunity to move to St. John's as an assistant coach.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Let's start with the non-basketball antics. Crawford was a first-class (no-class?) trash talker, but he's not even in Pickett's league. In a MAAC tournament game loss to Siena, Pickett accentuated some early game pushing and shoving with Siena when he picked off a Siena pass, had a clear path to the basket and detoured toward the Saints' bench to stick his tongue out at Siena's coaches and bench players. Issues in that game, precipitated by Manhattan players, became so bad that now-gone Siena coach Fran McCaffery refused to allow his team to participate in the post-game handshake line. Clearly, Rohrssen has more to worry about in his progam than just basketball ... like on-court decorum. Players don't have to be polite on the court, but they should exhibit good sportsmanship. The team also lacked size and overall talent inside, aspects of the game often difficult to find at this level. There were also more than a few signs of selfish play, particularly on Pickett's part. Rohrssen regularly had this to say about the team-oriented style of play that he wanted from his team: "It's harder to guard five players than to guard one." Too bad the Jaspers didn't always listen.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Pickett, who did declare for the NBA draft (but did not retain an agent) will almost certainly return for his senior season, so the team will have an offensive force, although it remains to be seen if that makes the team better. Sophomore-to-be George Beamon, a 6-foot-4 swingman, had 13 points in a MAAC tournament play-in round victory over Loyola and looks capable of stepping into a significantly bigger role. Laurence Jolicoeur, a 6-9 center, and Andrew Gabriel, a 6-6 forward, will both be back. Both have been providing solid, hard-nosed play over the previous three seasons but neither ranks among the better front-court players in the conference. Mohamed Koita, another 6-4 swingman, became eligible in the second semester and scored 36 points in his first six games and, then, only three points in the last five games he played. Two guards have already signed for next year, 6-2 point guard Mike Alvarado and 6-0 shooting guard Kidani Brutus of Carl Albert State (Okla.) Junior College where he averaged 8.7 points per contest last season.

WHAT'S AHEAD FOR 2010-11: Expect more hard play and close games. It appears that Rohrssen can coach. Despite talent limitations, his teams have overachieved in each of his four seasons. But, his ability to recruit hasn't paid dividends here yet. Other than Pickett, whose presence in the program thus far has been the proverbial "mixed bag," Rohrssen has yet to bring in an all-league caliber player. A little more teamwork, and keeping the "personalities" in check is needed, too. The Jaspers will be competitive again, but will still finish near the bottom of the standings without an infusion of superior talent late in the recruiting process.

Former Stags' coach Cormier to Dartmouth

Veteran MAAC followers surely recall the days of Paul Cormier as the head coach at Fairfield. The cerebral, well-liked Cormier directed the Stags to the NCAA tournament at the end of the 1997-98 season, despite finishing regular-season play with a 9-14 record. But his team suffered a variety of debilitating injuries that season and got healthy in time for the conference tournament, which it swept. That was Fairfield's last trip to the NCAA's.

Cormier is back on a college sideline. It was announced this week that he will become Dartmouth's coach, returning to the Hanover, N.H., Ivy League school where he coached for seven seasons before he moved on to Fairfield.

Cormier had an 87-95 record at Dartmouth, but back-to-back seasons of 18-8 (1987-88) and 17-9 (1988-89) included consecutive second-place Ivy League finishes, the only time in 50 years that the program has finished as high as second in that leaugue in two straight seasons.

Cormier moved to Fairfield in 1991, coincidentally replacing Mitch Buonaguro who, earlier this month, was named Siena's new head coach.

Cormier had an 86-111 record at Fairfield in eight years, one 20-victory season (20-10 in 1995-96) and a reputation for having teams whose results belied their talent level. Under Cormier, the Stags were always solid and competitive, but after 11-19, 12-15 and 12-15 finishes his last three years the school parted ways with him.

Cormier, since, has had an active career as an NBA scout, serving a season with the New York Knicks, five seasons with the Boston Celtics, a year with the Memphis Grizzlies, two years with the New Jersey Nets and a year with the Golden State Warriors whre he had been its advance scout and director of college scouting.

In recent weeks, though, Cormier has been making inquiries about getting back into college coaching, even as an assistant coach.

Instead, he resurfaces as the head coach at Dartmouth, a good move for both sides.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Off-Season Report: Small Steps at Marist

The major league baseball network has its "30 Teams in 30 Days" reports. And, now, the MAAC blog has its own version.

Call it "10 Teams in 10 Days."

In coming weeks, we'll take a look at all 10 league programs, first men and, then, women. Each report will include a look back and a look ahead. Hope you'll be looking forward to reading it all. Please note, though, that the so-called late signing period for recruits is ongoing so the list of incoming recruits will grow in subsequent weeks. This blog will produce a full recruiting list after the signing period ends.

We'll do the "10 teams in 10 days" reports in reverse order of finish in this past season's standings. First up ...

MARIST (1-17 in MAAC play, 1-29 overall)

2009-10 FINAL RPI: 334 of 347 Division I teams nationally.

RECAP: The 1-17 finish matches the worst conference record in history. Only Loyola's teams of 2002-03 and 2003-04 also had 1-17 records. The 1-29 overall record is the worst ever recorded by a conference team. The only other MAAC team to go through a season with a single overall victory was the 2003-04 Loyola team, which finished 1-27. It is not a stretch to rank the 2009-10 Marist team as the worst ever in the conference's 29-year history. The team's only victory was on Jan. 2 over Manhattan. It enters the 2010-11 season with an 18-game losing streak.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The start of a building process. Freshman swingman Candon Rusin, a 6-foot-4 sharpshooter, averaged 9.5 points per game. Freshman point guard Devin Price averaged 9.1 points and 2.6 assists. Freshman Sam Prescott, a 6-3 guard, averaged 7.5 points in 18 games before he was declared academically ineligible for the second semester. Freshman 6-7 forward Rob Johnson averaged 6.6 points and 3.2 rebounds. Despite all the problems, coach Chuck Martin's team never stopped playing with enthusiasm and effort.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Let us count the ways ... Three players were academically suspended for portions of the season, including 6-10 Villanova transfer Casiem Drummond who was projected to be the standout piece that could have made the team respectable last season. Instead, Drummond never played a game for the Red Foxes and, after his academic issues, transferred to an NAIA school. Prescott (second semester) and sophomore guard R.J. Hall (first semester) also had academic issues. This past year's team was far too young, far too small and not yet talented enough to be competitive. The team averaged just 56.1 points per game and got outscored by an average of 14.4 per night. Two potential key pieces for next season are also gone. Daye Kaba, an athletic 6-3 guard and Boston College transfer who was this season's third-leading scorer, gave up his final season of eligibility to embark on a professional career overseas. And, Naofall Folahan, a 6-10, 220-pound recruit signed during last fall's early period, received his release from that commitment recently and will likely play at a higher level. Only one other team nationally, Bryant, had as poor an overall record as Marist's 1-29 mark.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Things can't get any worse, right? There will be progress, but don't expect championship contention. This year's freshmen will be sophomores next season in a league where veteran leadership/experience is invaluable, so don't look for much more than a small step forward. Rusin and Price should eventually become one of the league's better backcourts. Prescott adds an athletic perimeter presence. R.J. Hall and Dejuan Goodwin provide some backcourt depth. But while the perimeter group will be solid, the Red Foxes need much help up front. Senior-to-be 6-9 center Korey Bauer (7.8 points, 6.5 rebounds) is a "banger," but doesn't rank among the league's elite big men. Same with Johnson (6.6, 3.2). Freshman Manelik Watson, a 6-8, 270-pound forward who red-shirted this season, will likely get thrown into the inside mix. Adam Kemp, a 6-9 center, is a signed incoming recruit, but most scouting services rate him primarily as a "project" right now.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: A little better, but still way too young and not enough talent on the roster to expect an escape from the conference's cellar. It's hard to envision the Red Foxes winning more than four league games and even approaching eight-to-10 overall victories. But, that would be improvement in an on-going growing process that might start paying dividends the following season.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jaspers' Pickett Declares for Draft

In case you missed it, Manhattan guard Rico Pickett has "declared" for the NBA draft.

What's next ... William Hung (of American Idol infamy) declaring his intent to perform in the New York Metropolitan Opera?

Pickett becomes the first underclassman in conference history to declare for the draft. The good news for the 6-foot-4 guard is that he said he will not enlist the aid of an agent, thus retaining the option of taking his name out of consideration and returning to school.

Pickett is a talented player, but certainly not the most-talented in the league and far from being as good as the handful of those from the conference who have gotten NBA minutes.

From several viewings of Pickett this season this blogger doesn't doubt that the Manhattan guard has a professional future. But it won't be in the NBA.

Pickett has already shown a rare ability to taunt opponents and stick his tongue out at an opposing coach, as he did on his way to a breakaway layup in a MAAC tournament game against Siena last month.

But his basketball ability hasn't reached the heights of his taunting and tongue work yet (and, likely, never will ... he has set the bar too high for that).

The very strong guess here is that Pickett, who might be this blogger's least-favorite conference player, will be back in a Manhattan uniform next season.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Catching Up on MAAC Coaching Moves

Plenty of comings and goings on the coaching front and, maybe, the end of the off-season coaching carousel for conference teams.

Here's what's happening ...

- At Siena, it is all but certain that Mitch Buonaguro, the associate head coach under Fran McCaffery, will be named the Saints' new head coach at an on-campus press conference this afternoon (Thursday).

Buonaguro is a widely popular choice among players, fans, staffers at the school, and this blogger who has advocated for his hiring since McCaffery moved on to Iowa.

Buonaguro becomes the first assistant at Siena ever promoted to the head position, but he isn't exactly the typical assistant.

He is believed to be the school's first assistant to own a national championship ring (from his days as a Villanova assistant in 1985). Following that season, he became head coach at conference member Fairfield and took that program to back-to-back NCAA tournaments his first two seasons there. But, the next four seasons resulted in a 33-80 record and Buonaguro was fired there.

He subsequently worked as an assistant for five years at Texas A& M, for seven years at Cleveland State and, then, joined McCaffery for a season at UNC-Greensboro. Buonaguro came to Siena with McCaffery prior to the 2005-06 season. Over his career, he has been on the sidelines for more than 1,000 Division I games.

Reports indicate that Siena officials also interviewed current Northeastern coach Billy Coen, Jacksonville coach (and, former Siena assistant) Cliff Warren and former St. John's coach Norm Roberts at the Final Four. None of those coaches, though, were brought back to campus for a second interview.

Buonaguro's hiring should result in an atmosphere of continuity at Siena that rarely occurs during a coaching change.

Buonaguro's greatest challenge might be to replace himself. A tireless film-viewer, evaluator and creator of scouting reports, he will become more of an administrator and less of a nuts-and-bolts coach in his new role.

But, the candidates to take on Buonaguro's former role are already lining up and don't be surprised if a former MAAC head coach joins his staff.

- At Iona, Tim Cluess replaces Kevin Willard (who left for Seton Hall). Cluess moves to the Division I level after considerable success, most recently at Division II C.W. Post, where he had a 93-23 record over the past four seasons.

Prior to that, he coached one season at Suffolk Community College where his team finished 22-10, qualified for the National Junior College Division III's tournament and finished fourth in that event. It was the program's first-ever trip to the national JC tournament.

Cluess had also been the coach at St. Mary's High School in Manhasset, N.Y., where he compiled a 264-78 record from 1991-2005. By all accounts, he is highly regarded as a coach with strong ties to AAU and high school programs regionally.

Cluess is somewhat of a surprise choice, considering bigger names were involved in the search, including former Manhattan coach Fran Fraschilla and former St. John's coach Norm Roberts.

- At Fairfield, it looks like Ed Cooley will be back for another season. Cooley had reportedly been one of four candidates interviewed to fill the vacancy at Boston College that went to former Cornell coach Steve Donahue earlier this week.

That won't be the last time Cooley is involved with a higher-level program. His Stags will likely be the preseason favorite to win the MAAC next year.

And, this blogger perceives Cooley to have done the best coaching work in the MAAC - better than either Fran McCaffery or Kevin Willard, the last two Coach of the Year winners - over the past two seasons.

- Manhattan coach Barry Rohrssen looks like he will remain with that program. St. John's new head coach Steve Lavin had been persistently chasing Rohrssen to join the Johnnies' staff as an assistant. But, after conversations earlier this week, Rohrssen announced that he will not be moving and will stay on as Manhattan's head coach.

- OK ... things aren't entirely set in the MAAC just yet. Holy Cross is looking for a new basketball coach and central-Massachusetts TV station is reporting that Niagara's Joe Mihalich could get an interview there.

Holy Cross, according to reports, is also considering rehiring its former coach, Ralph Willard, who left the program to become an assistant at Kentucky this past season.

AND, MORE COACHING NEWS (with MAAC connections) ...

- Dino Gaudio was fired at Wake Forest on Wedneday. Gaudio had been in the MAAC for several years at Loyola, first as an assistant under the late Skip Prosser and, then, Loyola's head coach when Prosser left the program.

- Steve Nash has resigned at St. Francis (N.Y.), reportedly for personal reasons. Nash had formerly been an assistant coach at Siena. There are reports that Nash could wind up as an assistant at a higher-level program.

- Drexel Assistant Coach Tony Chiles became Steve Lavin’s first hire on the St. John’s coaching staff earlier this week. Chiles had been at Drexel for the past six seasons. Before that he was an assistant at Iona under Jeff Ruland and at Manhattan under Fran Fraschilla.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

MAAC Blog Still Active in Off-Season

A programing note ...

Please be aware that the MAAC blog is now a year-round operation.

Your blogger will continue to post through the off-season months, and there is always plenty to pass along.

Whether it's news about the proverbial coaching carousel, recruiting updates, a look back and a look ahead at each of the conference's programs, perspective, insight, opinion ... you can find it all here, and will find it here throughout the spring/summer and early fall months.

It's MAAC basketball, 12 months a year. Does it get any better than that.

The MAAC blog is an equal-opportunity site, too. If you're looking for reports on women's basketball, you'll find them here as well.

So, keep reading. Do it early, and often.

Many thanks for your continued interest.