Thursday, March 31, 2011

Iona's CIT Run Should Pay Off in 2011-12

It's not too often that a conference team is still playing basketball at the end of March, but the Iona men stretched their season out to the final possible day before a disappointing ending, a 76-69 setback against Santa Clara in the championship game of the CIT post-season event.

It was the second late-season disapppointment for the Gaels, who were also upset by Saint Peter's in the championship game of the MAAC's post-season tournament earlier in the month.

"We felt like we let the school and our fans down when we didn't win the MAAC," Iona's junior point guard Scott Machado told the New York Daily News before Wednesday night's CIT Championship game against Santa Clara. "The CIT gave us an opportunity to make up for that and for our seniors to hang a championship banner before they left."

Instead, Santa Clara controlled the boards, holding a 50-33 rebounding edge, to win the game played at Iona's Hynes Center.

The Gaels might be disappointed now, but the benefits will likely pay off a year from now. Not many teams nationally got to play four extra games after their respective regular-season and/or conference's post-season tournament was over, but Iona got, basically, an extra month of basketball games and practices during its CIT run.

The "disappointment" of this year ... if a 25-12 final record can be even remotely viewed as a disappointment ... should fuel some renewed goals a year from now. And, the Gaels return their top five scorers from this season and nine of the 11 players who scored points this season.

Among those are 6-7 junior forward Mike Glover and 6-1 junior point guard Scott Machado, the league's top one-two punch this past season. Sean Armond (14 points in the CIT championship game) is only a sophomore and looks to be ready to move to the starting lineup.

Swingman Kyle Smyth, out with a shoulder injury for the entire CIT event, will be back next year, too, along with 5-11 junior guard Jermel Jenkins. Smyth, Armand and Jenkins are all long-range shooting weapons and give the team court balance to go with Glover's dynamic inside game.

Iona certainly should be every bit as good, if not better, next season.

And, here's a sneak preview ... your blogging hoopscribe perceives the Gaels as the early favorite to win next season's regular-season title.

For sure, this year's regular-season champion Fairfield will also be a major factor in 2011-12. But, the Stags lost head coach Ed Cooley to Providence and will also be adjusting to transfers who will get significant court minutes next season.

Iona has the type of stability, both from a returning cast of players and a returning head coach, that bodes well for its chances in 2011-12.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Two Conference Teams Still in Post Season

And then there were two ....

As in two conference teams still actice in late March in post-season play even as major-league baseball season approaches.

Those would be the Iona men and the Manhattan women. Women first, mostly because the Lady Jaspers are on the court later today (Sunday, 2 p.m.) when they play host Wright State at the Ohio-Nutter Center, an 11,019-seat facility, in the quarterfinals of the Women's Basketball Invitationall tournament.

The game is available for viewing via streaming video over the internet, free of charge. Fans can connect through and following the prompts.

Manhattan is 23-9 so far this season. Wright State is 20-12. Manhattan beat Sacred Heart in its first-round game Thursday, while Wright State knocked off Buffalo earlier this week.

The winner of today's game faces either UAB or Elon in the WBI semifinals. If Manhttan wins it would hit the road again to travel for a next-round contest.

Meanwhile the Iona men are now 25-11 this season after earning an 83-80 victory over East Tennessee State (24-12) in a semifinal-round contest of the College Post Season Tournament played Saturday night.

The Gaels got big games from 6-foot-7 junior forward Michael Glover (33 points, 10 rebounds), junior point guard Scott Machado (8 points, 11 assists against 3 turnovers) and freshman off-guard Sean Armond (20 points, 6-of-11 shooting on 3-pointers).

The game was played on the home court of E. Tennessee State in Johnson, City, Tenn.

The victory propels the Gaels to the event's championship game when it will host Santa Clara Wednesday at the Hynes Center in New Rochelle, N.Y. Tip off time is 8 p.m. and the game will be televised on the Fox College Sports network.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fairfield Coach Cooley Off To Providence

It looks like Ed Cooley, who elevated Fairfield's program to new heights in his five seasons at that school, is moving on to Providence College of the Big East.

And, so begins another coaching search within the conference. Both Manhattan and Fairfield are now looking for new coaches. If your blogging hoopscribe had to recommend someone, the first name would be Paul Hewitt, a personal favorite.

Here's a report, filed by Providence Journal reporter Kevin McNamara, this afternoon about Cooley's move:

PROVIDENCE - Providence College has reached an agreement in principle to hire Fairfield coach Ed Cooley as its next basketball coach, according to people involved in the negotiations.

Cooley and his representatives met with PC officials on Monday when they apparently reached agreement on a deal, the terms of which are currently unavailable.

Cooley was at Fairfield on Tuesday morning where he met with his school president and then later spoke with his team.

Cooley will be switching from a program on top of its conference to one trying to gain a foothold in the deepest league in the country. The Friars finished 15-17 this past season but just 4-14 for the second straight year in the ultra-competitive Big East. PC fired coach Keno Davis after just three seasons on the job.

Marist Nearly Rocks Women's Hoop World

My local cable outlet in the Albany, N.Y., area did not carry last night's Marist-Duke women's NCAA tournament game, but your blogging hoopscribe listened in to the radio broadcast and did get a view via a few televised "cut-ins."

The thought here, based on all of that, is Marist showed once again that it should be considered among the better teams not only at the mid-major level but at any level; that a team can be more the sum of its individual parts.

Marist threw a big-time scare into a Duke team ranked in the top five or six nationally all season, holding an 11-point lead midway through the second half before the Blue Devils could rally for a 71-66 victory to earn a berth in the event's Sweet 16 round.

The Red Foxes played with one of the women's game's best teams despite the loss of MAAC Player of the Year senior guard Erica Allenspach, who suffered a severe ankle sprain after 13 minutes of the first half and never returned.

There are many points to be made, and Marist coach Brian Giorgis, who is very nearly as good a spokesman for his program as he is a coach (and, that's saying plenty), made them well.

- "To be able to play with the teams we did this year ... we played with everyone and beat most of them," said Giorgis, in Monday's post-game press conference. "To go in (to Duke) and outplay that team for 38 minutes before we ran out of gas ... We're not Baylor or UConn, but we showed people that we're a damned good basketball team and we almost pulled it out tonight."

- "If you told me that we'd lose Erica Allenspach after she played just 13 minutes and scored just two points ... most people would have thought we'd have gotten blown out by 35 points. If this (Marist) team is not a top 25 team, then I don't know what is."

- "Erica is everything to us. When she went down we were ahead by six and, then, at halftime we were still up by five. I told the kids that she carried us to here and now it's their turn to carry her. And, then, we opened up an 11-point lead. It was incredible to see these kids grow up today before we got worn down at the end and their athleticism took over."

- "We're Hickory (High School), guys. You watch 'Hoosiers' and we're Hickory. Erica Allenspach is Jimmy Chitwood, and she went down."

- "This was one of the best performances our kids have had in any game. To overcome the adversity of losing the straw that stirs our drink and not only stay in the game but extend the lead. We just ran out of gas. But I've never been more proud of a team To take a top 5 team in the country and give them all kinds of fits on their home court with players playing out of position ...

- "Some of us went to a chapel for mass the day before our game, and the priest talked about a mountain top moment. We wanted this to be our mountain top moment. We're a tough little team that almost rocked the women's basketball world. We showed them that we're a tough little team, a tough little team."

If anything, the game provided a glimpse of what could be Marist's future, and it certainly remains very bright.

Marist loses Allenspach, point guard Elise Caron (6 points, 5 assists against Duke) and reserve center Maria Laterza (4 points, 2 rebounds in 10 minutes vs. Duke). The six returning players who appeared in Monday's game scored 55 of the team's points. Junior guard Corielle Yard had 25 points and 12 rebounds and surely stamped herself as a major candidate for Player of the Year in the conference next season.

And, the program also adds the services of 6-1 forward Kristina Danella, who averaged more than 11 points per game as a sophomore at UMass of the Atlantic 10 Conference in the 2009-10 season.

"After the game I told the players to remember this feeling," said Giorgis.

Said Yarde: "I'm excited for next year."

As well the entire Marist team should be.

But, not before it takes some time to reflect on its just-concluded season when it had a mountain top moment and very nearly rocked the women's basketball world.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fairfield Men Fall, Interest High in Cooley

Thoughts while waiting for the Marist women's game against Duke, at the Blue Devils' Cameron Indoor Stadium home court, later tonight (Monday)...

The Fairfield men's team had its record-setting season come to an end with a 72-68 setback to Kent State in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.

Not even playing on its Arena at Harbor Yard homecourt facility could keep the Stags' season going.

Fairfield's standout sophomore guard Derek Needham had 18 first-half points on 7-0f-11 shooting, but only scored two more (1-of-8 shooting) after the intermission to finish with a game-high 20 points.

The Stags were still tied at 52-52 with 10:51 left, but Kent State scored the next four points and Fairfield trailed the remainder of the way.

A very disappointing crowd of 3,954 turned out for the contest. Just a thought here, but Fairfield basketball, based both on the turnout for an NIT contest as well as attendance figures for its two MAAC tournament games at the Bridgeport, Conn., arena, isn't exactly a big draw in Bridgeport. Those relatively small turnouts for post-season games should just about end any sentiment over whether the conference tournament should ever return to Bridgeport. Of course, I don't make those decisions, and the league doesn't consult me. So that's just the opinion of your blogging hoopscribe.

Anyway, Fairfield returns an extremely strong nucleus of players for next year and will most definitely be the preseason pick as conference favorites. Keep an eye on this blog. In the next few weeks we will begin the annual team-by-team analysis. Those reports will look back at each team's season and look ahead to future prospects for each program. We'll give that under-the-microscope treatment to every men's and women's teams, as we do after each season.

But, the biggest piece that might not be returning to the Fairfield bench is fifth-year head coach Ed Cooley, who elevated the program to new heights.

Cooley has already been granted permission to talk to Providence of the Big East about its coaching vacancy, and is expected to talk to administrators there later this week, according to published reports. It might be an attractive job for the Fairfield coach, who grew up in Providence.

But, there are also reports that North Carolina State of the Atlantic Coast Conference might be reaching out to Cooley and it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Georgia Tech, also of the ACC, will take a look at the Fairfield coach.

Why not? Cooley took a program that had not won a conference regular-season title since 1995-96 and tied the program record for victories last season (24) and, then, broke it this year with the Stags' 25-8 record and its first regular-season crown in 15 years.

Those seasons were the only time in Fairfield history that its men's team won at least 20 games in back-to-back seasons.

About the only blemish on Cooley's Fairfield resume is that his teams failed to win a conference tournament title to earn the league's automatic berth to the NCAA event.

But Cooley has done more than enough otherwise to be recognized as one of the top mid-major level coaches nationally, and is more than deserving of the attention from higher-level programs.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Marist Women Advance; Peacock Men Fall

After the first round of NCAA tournament play there is one conference team still alive.

And, to no one's surprise, it's the Marist women's basketball team.

The Red Foxes, a No. 10 seed in its 16-team bracket, handled 7th-seeded Iowa State with relative ease Saturday morning and into the early afternoon with a 74-64 victory over the Cyclones.

The game was close early with Iowa State holding a 16-15 lead at one point before Marist went on a 25-4 run to take a 40-20 lead late in the first half.

The Cyclones battled back to within six points late in the game, but could come no closer.

The victory was a nation's best 27 consecutive victory for Marist.

The Red Foxes have the unenviable task of facing No. 2-seeded Duke in the Blue Devils' home Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., it the next round on Monday night.

Kate Oliver, a 6-foot-4 sophomore center, led scorers for Marist with 16 points, but all five Marist starters scored in double figures and the team recorded assists on 21 of its 24 field goals made in the game, the perfect indication of the winners' teamwork.

In the other NCAA tournament game involving a conference team, Saint Peter's failed to produce much of an offense against a physical Purdue team as the Boilermakers, a No. 3 seed in a 16-team bracket, earned a 65-43 victory in a game played Friday night in Chicago.

Saint Peter's ran into an opponent that played the same style of bruising defense, only Purdue does so with bigger, faster and stronger athletes.

The Peacocks were making the school's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1995.

"We just went too fast,'' St. Peter's guard Nick Leon was quoted as saying afterwards. "They sped us up, and we didn't grab the momentum that we wanted to grab at the beginning of the game. That kept us from playing different basketball, the basketball that St. Peter's plays.

"We played defense, and we played hard, but they made some tough shots, and we missed shots. That's what happens sometimes. You don't plan to miss shots. We didn't give up. We played to the end.''

St. Peter's coach John Dunne pointed to Purdue's team defensive concept and Johnson's interior presence at the defensive end as the core of the Peacocks' offensive woes. They made only 5-of-21 shots from 3-point range and got to the free throw line only six times, making four.
"Their ball pressure is so good,'' Dunne said. "When you get by it and have a guy like Johnson waiting for you, it makes you a little more antsy. You end up thinking about him instead of just playing. We just didn't make disciplined plays.''


- Is it any surprise that Marist won a tournament game, and in impressive fashion, against a higher-rated team?

The victory was Marist's fourth in the national tournament, all coming since the Red Foxes won twice in the 2006-07 tournament. In the MAAC's 30-year history only one other women's team from the league, the 1988-89 La Salle team, has ever won an NCAA tournament game.

- By now Brian Giorgis' ability to coach isn't a secret in conference circles, but the Marist coach's reputation has to be stretching to national boundaries.

It's one thing to get to the NCAA tournament in seven of the past eight season, but quite another to win games there against teams from higher-level conferences. Marist's current team has few, if any, players recruited by higher-level programs.

And when the program wins four tournament games over a five-year span with a changing cast of players ... well, the one constant is the head coach.

- Even though the Saint Peter's men suffered a lopsided setback, its first trip to the national tournament in 16 years not only created a renewed sense of school spirit a the Jersey City, N.J., college but spoke volumes about a group of players as gritty as their community and a head coach (John Dunne) who found ways to succeed where others have failed.

And, Dunne has done it with class. Here's my favorite example.

After his team won the MAAC Tournament in Bridgeport, Conn., Dunne was asked how he dealt with the handicaps of lesser facilities located in the heart of an urban environment and if, indeed, he had one of the toughest jobs in college basketball.

"I don't buy into that `toughest job' thing," said Dunne. "At the end of the day sometimes you ... it's the people within the building, not the building that make the difference. I care about these guys. I'd go to war for these guys. We might have our differences but we stick together. These guys have always persevered and it just comes down to people. You don't have to have the nicest house on the block. I think our guys like Saint Peter's. I think we have great people."

Great people, and a great head coach. And, the likelihood is that some larger school looking for a new basketball coach has already noticed.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Purdue Injuries Could Help Saint Peter's

Your blogging hoopscribe anxiously awaits tonight's 7:20 p.m. start of Saint Peter's first-round NCAA tournament game against Purdue, nationally televised on TNT.

The recliner is in place. The 42-inch TV screen is checked and operational. The popcorn is set to go into the microwave.

And, just maybe, Saint Peter's is ready to pull off one of the biggest upsets of this year's tournament.

How big? Since 1994 Purdue is 12-0 in first-round NCAA tournament games. And, this is basically the same Purdue team that handled Siena, arguably the best team to come through the MAAC in more than a decade, in last year's first-round contest.

For sure the current Saint Peter's team is no Siena of recent vintage.

But, that might not be such a bad thing.

The Saints were much more of a finesse team a year ago than the current Peacocks' squad. And, remember, Siena wasn't overmatched against Purdue, getting to within three points with 1:07 remaining before eventually losing, 72-64. But, remember, that Siena team played that game without its primary long-range shooting threat Clarence Jackson (ankle injury).

Who knows what might have happened had Siena been at full strength.

Saint Peter's, by all accounts, is at full strength. And, the Peacocks play a decidedly different style than the Saints.

Saint Peter's employs a bruising defensive intensity style that would seem, at leat to this observer, to be a better match for a similarly physical Purdue squad.

Here's one other reason to hope, if you're a Saint Peter's fan: Purdue has only eight players who appear in at least 10 minutes per game. One of them will definitely miss tonight's game, and the status of two others is questionable.

Certain to miss tonight's game is 6-foot-5 guard Kelsey Barlow, suspended for disciplary reasons. He is Purdue's 5th-leading scorer (5.0 points per game).

Two other guards are questionable with injuries. 6-3 guar Ryne Smith, the team's fourth-leading scoer (6.0 ppg.) is recovering from a minor concussion suffered in practice this past Sunday but claims, in a published report, that he plans to play tonight; and 6-2 guard John Hart (his 4.0 ppg. average is 8th best on the team), suffered a foot injury in a recent practice and published reports indicate tht he has about a 50-50 chance of seeing action tonight.

It all would seem to add up to the Peacocks having a better chance of pulling an upset tonight than most would believe.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fairfield, Arena Work Out NIT Conflict

Good news came earlier today (Thursday) for the Fairfield men's basketball team.

The Stags were able to secure the Arena at Harbor Yard, their home-court facility, for an NIT second-round game Sunday at 12:30 p.m. when they'll host Kent State.

Because of a scheduling conflict (an AHL hockey game later that day), it was originally announced that Fairfield would not have access to the arena and would play in its on-campus Alumni Hall.

And, maybe that's not such good news. The Stags' best crowds since playing in the Bridgeport, Conn., facility have barely reached 5,000. Its first-round MAAC tournament game in the facility only drew slightly over 5,200 and its semifinal-round game in that event drew slightly more than 3,900. That's in a facility that can hold close to 10,000 spectators.

Alumni Hall might be an antiquated, small on-campus "barn," but it only holds about 3,000 (just an educated guess, since the Fairfield sports information department did not return calls on Thursday).

But, an on-campus NIT game for which students merely would have to walk a few hundred yards, at most, to attend a Sunday afternoon game ... the guess is the place would have been packed with enthusiastic support making it a better "home" facility than the Bridgeport, Arena.

Still, the demand for tickets is likely to surpass Alumni Hall's capacity, and the amenities in that facility far surpass Alumni Hall.

Fairfield isn't the first MAAC school to run into a home-arena's scheduling conflict for an NIT game.

Your blogging hoopscribe recalls a similar conflict at what was then the Pepsi Arena in Albany for a scheduled Siena home NIT second-round game against Penn State.

Because the arena was scheduled to host a Ricky Martin concert the night of the game in question, the site was instead shifted to Penn State.

Siena dropped a 105-103 decision, and the perception at the time was that had the Saints been able to play on their home court as originally scheduled it would have beaten the Nittany Lions and would have also hosted a third-round NIT contest.

Tickets for the Fairfield NIT contest are priced from $7 to $15 and through the school's website, or by calling the arena.

Three MAAC Women's Team Still Playing

Keepin' up with MAAC women's teams in post season, while anxiously awaiting Marist's first-round NCAA Tournament appearance Saturday at 11:15 a.m. against Iowa State...

- Sophomore guard Katie Sheahin drained a clutch three-point shot with just over three seconds left to lift the Loyola University Maryland women's basketball team to a 67-65 win over Old Dominion in the first round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament at the Ted Constant Convention Center in Norfolk, Virginia.

The victory was the first in a national post-season tournament ever for the Loyola program.

With the win, the Greyhounds (21-12) advance to the WNIT Second Round to meet the winner of Thursday's Morgan State-Virginia contest which is being played in Charlottesville, Va.

With 20 seconds remaining in the first-round game Sheahin dribbled around two Lady Monarch defenders and knocked down a fade away three-pointer to give Loyola a two point lead, 67-65, with just 3.1 seconds left on the clock.

Old Dominion had one more opportunity to score and senior Jasmine Parker launched a desperation shot from midcourt. Parker's shot was too strong and bounced off the backboard to seal the first ever postseason victory for the Greyhounds. of the game.

In addition to scoring a game-high 27 points, Sheahin led all rebounders with nine and tied for game-high honors with six assists.

The victory gave Loyola its 21st of the season, matching the program's all-time best for a single season. The only other team to reach 21 wins in a single-season was in 1998-1999 when the Greyhounds went 21-7.

- Manhattan (22-9) makes its first postseason appearance in eight years with tonight's Women's Basketball Invitational first round game against Sacred Heart (18-12) at Draddy Gymnasium.

The Lady Jaspers last played on March 5, when they dropped a 50-47 decision to Loyola in the semifinals of the MAAC Tournament. The Pioneers have also been off since March 5, when they lost to Central Connecticut, 54-49, in the quarterfinals of the Northeast Conference Tournament.

Three MAAC Men's Teams Remain Active

Time to check in on how MAAC men's teams have done so far in national post-season play, while anxiously awaiting Friday night's Saint Peter's-Purdue NCAA first-round contest.

- Fairfield got a 62-60 victory over homestanding Colorado State in a first-round National Invitation Tournament contest.

It was the Stags' second NIT game in program history with the last coming in 1973.

Fairfield is scheduled to host a second-round game against Kent State, Sunday at 12:30 p.m., but at a site to be determined.

The Stags' homecort facility at the Arena at Harbor Yard is occupied that day. School officials initially announced the game would be played in the on-campus Alumni Hall, which Fairfield hasn't used for men's games in several years.

Fairfield's first-round NIT victory gave it 25 wins on the season, the program's all-time best for a single season.

In other Fairfield news, school officials confirmed they had granted their current head coach Ed Cooley permission to interview for the vacancy at Providence. No interview, though, is expected to take place until Fairfield's season is over.

- A short-handed Rider team had its otherwise strong season end with an 84-50 loss to Northern Iowa in the Postseason Tournament.

UNI jumped out to a 15-0 lead and was never truly threatened by the Broncs, who had just eight players available for the contest.

Rider's second-leading scorer and rebounder junior forward Novar Gadson missed the game after having knee surgery last week. And senior forward Mike Ringold was still hindered by a badly sprained ankle suffered during the MAAC tournament.

Senior guard Justin Robinson finishes his Rider career with 1,480 points, the 10th highest total ever in the program; and with 394 assists, sixth most-ever at the school.

Ringold finishes with 1,386 career points (14th on the career list) and 789 rebounds (5th all time).

Rider's senior class set a four-year program record of 82 victories.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Marist Women Face Tall Task vs. Iowa St.

Going to the NCAA tournament has become an annual affair for Marist and its ninth-year head coach Brian Giorgis, but that doesn't mean the thrill is lessened any.

It just means that Giorgis and his players have the experience to handle the experience and that he has an educated perspective.

His seniors have been to the so-called Big Dance every year they've played. His team is heading to its sixth straight NCAA tournament and its seventh in the past eight years. Past Marist teams have have won some games, including two in the 2007 event to become the only conference team for either men or women to advance to the NCAA's Sweet 16 round.

It has lost first-round games in the past two seasons, last season as a No. 13 seed (losing to Georgetown) and two years ago as a No. 12 losing to Virginia.

This year's No. 10 seeding is its highest since it was a No. 7 in 2008 when it won a first-round game before losing to No. 2 seed LSU.

It faces that same scenerio this season, only in the reverse role: A No. 10 seed having to go up against a No. 7 (Iowa State) with the winner likely to have to go up against a No. 2 (Duke) in the second round.

"I'm fine with the seeding position," said Giorgis. "We know if we get past the first game, we'll have to play a No. 2 (on Duke's home court, no less). We know wherever we're seeded we're going to have a good opponent.

"The best position to get to the Sweet 16 round is as a No. 12 or a No. 13 seed so you can avoid one of the top eight teams if you get to the second round."

Marist's Sweet 16 run in 2007 came from a No. 13 seeding position when it knocked off No. 4 Ohio State in the first round and No. 5 Middle Tennessee that year before losing to top-seeded Tennessee in the third round.

"The only other way is to get a No. 3 or a No. 4 seeding position, and we're not getting that coming out of the MAAC."

So, what Giorgis and Marist get this year is what appears to be a competitive first-round game and, then, a near-impossible task for the team that advances to the second round.

For now, though, the Marist coach is thinking only about his first-round game Saturday at 11:15 a.m. (ESPN2) against the Cyclones at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Duke's campus in Durham, N.C.

"Iowa State is a different type opponent than what we have had in past years," said Giorgis. "Mostly we've gone up against quick, athletic teams. This time we're seeing a bigger team. What they are is a bigger, better version of Fairfield."

The comparison is to Iowa State's inclination to walk the ball up court and rely on dozens (hundreds?) of offensive sets to either pound the ball inside or create openings for its 3-point shooters.

"We all think Joe Frager (Fairfield's coach) runs a lot of set plays, but he's not even close in that regard to the number of plays that Iowa State has," said Giorgis.

The precision offense has worked for the Cyclones, who not only have been to the NCAA tournament every year since a 2005-06 WNIT appearance but has won at least one national tournament game in each of those appearances. Iowa State made it to last season's Sweet 16 round and, two years ago, won three games to advance to the quarterfinal round.

"Our experience helps us ... our girls won't be awed by the situation," said Giorgis. "But it's not an advantage because Iowa State is in it every year, too."

But, this year hasn't matched the recent past as the Cyclones' 22-10 record to date is the program's worst since the 2005-06 season.

"But, they play big-time opponents every game ... it's not like their losses have come against weak opponents," added the Marist coach.

Iowa State is as big a team as Marist has seen in some time. The Cyclones front line includes 6-foot-7 sophomore Anna Prins, 6-3 freshman Hallie Christofferson and 6-2 sophomore Chelsea Poppens. Its backcourt, and best player, is 6-1 senior guard kelsey Bolte, who averages 16.8 points per game and has made 86-of-200 3-pointers (.430 percent).

Marist, the MAAC's tallest team, counters with 6-4 sophomore Kate Oliver and 6-2 junior Brandy Gang up front with 6-3 senior Maria Laterza an effective reserve.

"This is a different thing for us now," said Giorgis. "The target is off our back. We go in there as the underdog."

The match-up?

"They do have a strong inside game with the 6-7 kid (Prinso and the power forward (Poppens), the type height we haven't seen in our conference," added Giorgis. "And, we haven't seen the quick releases (on jump shots) that some of their players have. Bolte ... she's 6-1 and shoots 43 percent from the `three' with an extremely quick release.

"This definitely will be a tough one for us."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No Respect for Marist Women in NCAA's

The Marist women's basketball team has all of this:

- An active 26-game winning streak, the longest in the country.

- A 30-2 overall record, fifth-best nationally. Only 32-1 UConn, 31-2 Tennessee, 31-2 Baylor and 32-1 Green Bay have better winning percentages.

- The nation's best defense in terms of points allowed (48.6).

- The nation's best turnover total (11.1 turnovers per game).

- Marist has now been to the NCAA tournament for six straight years and seven times in the last eight seasons.

And, then, there's this: A No. 10 seeding position in a 16-team bracket.

Does anyone else think that the Red Foxes got the proverbial short end of the stick here?

Marist plays its first-round game Saturday at 11:15 a.m. against 22-11 No. 7 seed Iowa State (22-11) at Cameron Indoor Stadium on the campus of Duke University in Durham, N.C.

Good News? The weather will be great. Iowa State is 6-5 in its last 11 games and 10-8 in its last 18. It appears to be a winnable game.

Bad News? If Marist wins, it gets a No. 2 seed in Duke in the second round, and Duke will be playing on its home court.

Can you say "No Respect?" for Marist.

Marist is rated No. 17 nationally in the most-recent USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll.

Let's be honest. The ranking is based on achievement and not necessarily a placement of where Marist belongs among the best in the sport, discounting won-loss records.

In other words, Marist isn't the 17th-best team in the country in terms of overall talent or how it could compete with, say, the top 30 teams nationally. Based merely being voted No. 17 nationally Marist would be a No. 5 seed in a 16-team bracket, and that's too high. Marist isn't quite that good. But, neither does it deserve so low as a No. 10 seed.

On the other hand, had Marist drawn a more-deserved, say, No. 7 seeding position, it would be in the same bracket and, with a first-round victory, facing a No. 2 seed in the second round. Same scenario as it currently faces.

Let's examine why Marist was not seeded higher: The MAAC is as weak as your blogging hoopscribe can ever remember in more than two decades covering the conference.

So, playing 18 league games against poorly rated conference opponents dragged Marist's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) down to No. 50 of 343 Division teams nationally. The NCAA selection committee, which seeds teams, relies heavily on the RPIs, obviously a lot moreso than it does on the national Top 25 polls. So, a 50 RPI equates to a No. 12 seed. Marist got a No. 10, a little higher than its RPI would indicate.

Why is Marist's RPI so low? Because it is the only MAAC team with an RPI above No. 137. Loyola is next at 137, followed by Manhattan (173), Siena at (213) and Fairfield (231). The other five conference teams rank from No. 241 down to 338.

As a conference the MAAC is No. 23 of 31 leagues nationally this season. Those numbers come from Jerry Palm's computer approximation of the NCAA's RPI, which is traditionally within a spot or two for teams as the real thing. And, for conference ratings, it is usually exact.

The MAAC has never before had as low an RPI as it has this season, at least not since the NCAA started making its RPI numbers available to the public in 1999-00. Since then, the MAAC has been the No. 22 league nationally once (2004-05) and No. 21 once (last season0, and never worst than 19th nationally any other time.

Marist certainly won't have an easy path to an NCAA second-round contest. Iowa State, a member of the Big Ten, has been playing against top-level opponents all season. And the Cyclones are huge, with a front line of 6-foot-7 sophomore Anna Prins (9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds per game), 6-3 freshman Helle Christofferson and 6-2 sophomore Chelsea Poppens (7.3 rebounds) up front. Its top player is a 6-1 senior guard, Kelsey Boyle (16.8 points, 5.1 rebounds).
Without having any real first-hand knowledge about Iowa State, it would appear that Marist would hold athletic/quickness advantages it would need to use to its advantage.

Plus, Marist head coach Brian Giorgis is a master at devising a game plan that negates an opponent's best players.

It should make for a terrific first-round game for the Red Foxes, and the game can be viewed on ESPN2.

But, the NCAA committee did Marist no favors by making it a No. 10 seed and sending it to Durham, N.C., where it would face one of the best teams nationally on its home court in a potential second-round contest.

Two More MAAC Connections Still Playing

A little further down on the list of blog items is a list of conference teams and individuals with past MAAC connections that still have games to play this post season.

But, your blogging hoopscribe, while compiling that initial list, missed at least two individuals formerly involved in the MAAC, that will be involved in post-season tournaments. They are:

- Matt Brady, the head coach at James Madison University. Brady, a former Siena player (1982-86, before Siena was in the MAAC), takes his JMU (21-11) squad to the College Basketball Invitational where it plays at Davidson tonight 9Tuesday). Brady's connection with the MAAC comes from four seasons as Marist's coach (2004-05 through 2007-08).

- Brian Bidlingmyer, who played at Siena from 1990-91 through 1994-95. Bidlingmyer is now an assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which plays Wednesday in the National Invitation Tournament when it meets Northwestern. Wisconsin-Milwaukee earned its NIT berth by winning the Horizon League's regular-season crown and enters the NIT with a 19-13 overall record.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dunne Discovers Opponent, Goes To Work

This is how serious Saint Peter's is about its first-round game with Purdue Friday in the NCAA tournament.

Peacock players and coaches were part of Selection Show festivities Sunday night in a large room on the Jersey City, N.J., campus joined by hundreds of school professors, administrators and fans of the program.

"Every time a No. 14, a No. 15 or No. 16 seeded team was announced and it wasn't us a groan went up from the crowd," said Saint Peter's coach John Dunne. "When we were finally announced (as a No. 14 seed in a 16-team bracket), everyone was up yelling and screaming. It was a nice celebration.

Dunne and his staff, though, didn't stick around for more of the celebration.

"As soon as the seeding and our opponent (Purdue) was announced, we (the St. Peter's coaching staff) got out of there. We went right to work."

By Monday morning Dunne had already watched close to two game films of Purdue games. His staff had watched several others and would continue to watch throughout Monday before compiling the scouting report it would share with players prior to Friday's game at the United Center in Chicago.

The Boilermakers are the No. 3 seed in the Southwest Region. Saint Peter's is seeded No. 14.

"We're happy with the seeding," said Dunne. "Wherever we were seeded, we were going to embrace it and go out and compete hard. We know we could have been seeded 15th or 16th. I think it's a little measure of respect for us and our team that we're seeded 14th."

Purdue is the same team that played another MAAC team, Siena, in the first round of last season's NCAA tournament. On Monday, Saints' coach Mitch Buonaguro said he would reach out to Dunne to share last season's scouting report and whatever else he could to help the Peacocks.

A year ago Siena, more of a finesse and up-tempo team than Saint Peter's, was bothered by Purdue's physical style of play for much of the game.

Dunne, though, said his team won't be surprised by that.

"We know Purdue plays that physical style of the Big Ten, but tht's no stranger to the way we play," he said. "We play physically, too. We try to defend and we go from there. We'll be comfortable with the style of the game."

On Monday, Dunne was watching tape of Purdue's last regular-season game, ironically enough a 67-65 setback at the hands of Iowa which is coached by Fran McCaffery, who was Siena's head coach last season.

Purdue came into the cotest rated No. 6 nationally.

"Iowa was really scraping," said Dunne. "That's what we'll have to do against Purdue. They try to stay between you and the basket. They put a lot of good ball pressure on your players."

Sounds like what Saint Peter's does to opponents, too. The Peacocks inflicted their physical style of defensive pressure throughout the MAAC tournament, causing opponents difficulty to find good shots. All three teams Saint Peter's beat in the conference event shot 33.3% or less from the floor.

"The one match-up that could be a problem is their athletic big man 6-10 senior JuJuan Johnson," said Dunne. "He just takes some indefensible shots with a nice jump hook from up to 12 feet out, to a nice perimeter jumper. He's so tall and quick, it's tough to defend him. We have to get him out of his comfort zone a little and even hope that he misses a couple."

The trip to the NCAA's is the first for Saint Peter's since the 1994-95 season.

"It's great for our school," said Dunne. "It's a real big deal."

But, Dunne isn't reveling in the celebration of just getting there.

He'd prefer to enjoy a victory over Purdue first.

St. Peter's Dunne To Talk With Buonaguro

A phone call to Saint Peter's coach John Dunne Monday afternoon provided the reminder that the team Dunne's Peacocks will face in the first round of the NCAA tournament is Purdue, coincidentally the team Siena also met (and lost to, 72-64) in last year's NCAA tournament first round.

Dunne said he would contact Siena's current head coach Mitch Buonaguro later in the day.

Buonaguro, though, probably beat Dunne to the punch.

When informed (by your blogging hoopscribe) that Dunne would be making a call to him, Buonaguro asked for Dunne's cell phone number and said he would make a call to the Saint Peter's coach offering whatever help he could provide as well as sending over Siena's scouting report, which he prepared, from the Saints' meeting with the Boilermakers.

"I'll definitely call him and offer to help out any way I can," said Buonaguro. "I'll fax him down my scouting report ... whatever I can do."

And, what message will Buonagura deliver to Dunne about Saint Peter's first-round match?

"Purdue plays man-to-man and they're very physical, so it should be an interesting game," said Buonaguro. "But, Saint Peter's is very good defensively, too. They're both great defensive teams.

"Saint Peter's is actually a little more athletic at a couple of positions. Maybe Saint Peter's with its combination of physical play and athleticism can stay in the game.

"The thing is that you have to score on them. You have to find a way to get some baskets ... it doesn't hurt to get some easy ones in transition. The one thing about Purdue is that they're very physical and they don't let you run your cuts.

"Last year we got down against them (56-41 midway through the second half0 and, then, came back a little when we pressed. Our press bothered them, got them out of rhythem."

Siena rallied to get within 66-63 with 1:03 remaining before Purdue closed it ou tin the final minute.

"The biggest key is making shots, which Saint Peter's can do. If it can get some shots ... and, it does have shot-makers ... it can stay in the game.

"The other thing you have to do defensively is to contain Johnson (Purdue's 6-11 forward JaJuan Johnson). You can't let him kill you, because he can. He hurt us last year (26 points, 15 rebounds against the Saints).

"You have to try to get them out of sync and, in the half court, play a little zone. They're not the greatest team against a zone. This should be an interesting game. Saint Peter's plays the type game you need to play to have a chance to beat Purdue."

Cooley Could Be Headed For Providence

Last week it was Manhattan's Barry Rohrssen moving on after he was fired at Manhattan. This week? Another MAAC coach might be on the move, according to published reports, but this time it's upward.

According to a Providence Journal blog item, Providence University's main target to replace just-fired Keno Davis is current Fairfield coach Ed Cooley.

Here's what appeared in the blog item:

PROVIDENCE - Ed Cooley, a Providence native who grew up trying to sneak into the Dunkin' Donuts Center to watch Providence College basketball games, may just be the Friars' next coach.

PC has asked for and received permission from Fairfield University to speak with Cooley. The Stags' fifth-year coach was traveling to an NIT game in Fort Collins, Colo., Monday and could not be reached for comment.

Minimal contact has been made between PC and Cooley's camp as of Sunday night and nothing should progress before the Stags end their NIT run that begins with a game at Colorado State Tuesday night.

On Sunday night, Cooley was asked about hearing his name linked to open jobs. "As long as we're good your name is always going to pop up for jobs," Cooley told the Connecticut Post. "It happened last year and it's happening now. I'll address that when the right time is, but right now we have to go win a game out in Colorado."

It is not clear how closed PC's search for a new coach is at this point but Cooley appears to be the only candidate the school is focusing on.

SO, THE COACHING CAROUSEL has already begun spinning. It does not appear any other conference coaches, to a variety of sources, will be pushed out of their current position.

However, do not be surprised if Saint Peter's coach John Dunne's name begins circulating for openings elsewhere in the near future.

Former Marist Ass't Coach's Heroic Deed

There is just a wonderful story reported by the Poughkeepsie Journal several weeks ago detailing the heroic actions of a former Marist College player and, then, assistant basketball coach there, during a domestic dispute that turned tragic.

The MAAC connection is with George Siegrist Jr., who played at Marist two decades ago and, then, served on the coaching staff of former head man Dave Magarity for more than 10 seasons.

The newspaper report tells the story well. Here it is:

When George Siegrist Jr. saw a small child standing dangerously close to a busy street in the City of Poughkeepsie Friday afternoon, he decided to stop and see whether he could help.

Minutes later, the 41-year-old Town of Poughkeepsie man was holding the child in his arms while gunfire erupted, leading to the deaths of a police officer and a civilian. Siegrist later learned the girl's mother had been fatally shot minutes before he arrived.

Siegrist wasn't identified by name Saturday at a news conference hosted by Mayor John Tkazyik and police Chief Ronald Knapp. But Knapp called the man who had rescued the child "a hero."

As Siegrist recalled those events in an exclusive interview with the Poughkeepsie Journal Saturday afternoon, he said it was slain Officer John Falcone and other police who had acted heroically.

"I saw (the officers) walk toward a guy with a gun in his hand, and that was far more courageous than anything I did," he said.

Siegrist, who owns a construction firm in the city, said he had left his office about 1 p.m. Friday and was about to drive up a ramp to the southbound lanes of Route 9 near the Poughkeepsie Train Station when he saw gunman Lee Welch, 27, of Catskill and a child on a sidewalk near a parking lot on Main Street.

"The little girl was close to the road, and the guy had fallen down, and I thought the girl might get hurt," Siegrist said.

He put his car in reverse, backed it onto Main Street and parked, then walked to the man and the girl.

"The man stood up, and I could see he had a gun in his hand," Siegrist said. "I said, 'I can't take your child unless you drop the gun.' "

About that time, Siegrist said, three police officers arrived, and the man walked backward into the parking lot as they asked him to drop his gun.

"He wasn't near me, so I scooped (the girl) up, and the first thing she did was throw up on me," Siegrist said.

He said he took his shirt off and wiped the girl's face. He said she was asking him where her mother was as he watched the officers chase the gunman across Main Street.

"Then some shots were fired," he said.

Siegrist said he handed the child to someone else and looked inside a Chevrolet Blazer the girl had pointed to. It was then he saw a woman slumped inside.

Police later determined Lee Welch had shot his wife, 28-year-old Jessica Welch, minutes earlier.
Siegrist said his "thoughts and prayers" were with the girl "and with the police of the City of Poughkeepsie, especially the man who lost his life trying to apprehend this guy."

Post-Season Has Many MAAC Connections

National post-season tournament time is upon us, and the MAAC is well-represented, not only in terms of teams moving on, but with some individuals participating who have past conference ties.

Here's the line-up from the conference, as best as your blogging hoopscribe can determine:

- Saint Peter's, of course, is headed to the NCAA event courtesy of its conference tournament championship.

The Peacocks (20-13 overall) will meet Purdue (25-7) in a first-round game Friday in Chicago. Purdue is its region's No. 3 seed, while Saint Peter's is a No. 14 seed.

- MAAC regular-season champion Fairfield got the conference's automatic berth to the National Invitation Tournament awarded to regular-season titlists that don't also capture their league's post-season event.

Fairfield (24-7) will play a first-round game on Tuesday at 9 p.m. at Colorado State (19-12).

- Iona and Rider have both accepted invitations to compete in the College Postseason Tournament.

Rider (23-10) plays at Northern Iowa (19-13) in a first-round contest on Tuesday in Cedar Falls, Iowa, at 7 p.m.

Iona (22-11) travels to play at Valparaiso of Indiana (23-11) in an 8 p.m. game on Wednesday.

Others in the tournament with MAAC ties:

- Michigan is a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament and plays a first-round game Friday against Tennessee in Charlotte, N.C. The Wolverines are coached by John Beilein, who coached at Canisius from 1992-93 through the 1996-97 season.

- Florida is a no. 2 seed and meets UCSB in a first round game Thursday in Tampa, Fla. Rob Lanier, the former Siena head coach (2001-02 through 2004-05), is an assistant on the Gators' staff.

- Former Manhattan player Chris Smith, a 6-foot-2 junior guard, is now on the Louisville roster where he is listed as a walk-on transfer. Louisville, a No. 4 seed, plays its first round contest Thursday in Denver against Morehead State. Smith is Louisville's fifth-leading scorer (9.1 points per game) and third-leading rebounder (4.6).

If we've missed any MAAC connections for post-season participation, please leave the oversight in the comments' section.

We'll check in with the women's post-season connections tomorrow. Post-season tournament assignments for women's teams take place later tonight (Monday).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hewitt Fired From Georgia Tech Post

Paul Hewitt, who got his start as a college head coach at Siena (1997-98 through 1999-2000), was fired Saturday morning by Georgia Tech.

There won't be many tears for Hewitt, who lasted 11 years at a school where academics limits the recruiting pool and makes winning difficult. In fact Hewitt's winning percentage was pretty similar to his predecessor, Bobby Cremins, who was also fired for not winning enough.

Hewitt did bring the program to a national championship game early in his tenure there, the furthest advancement ever in Georgia Tech's history. But, in today's world of big-time college basketball, the misplaced sentiment is "What have you done for us lately?"

Hewitt has five years remaining on his contract that the school must pay off whether he finds another job or not. That buyout is reportedly close to $7 million, so Hewitt won't be appearing on a soup line any time soon.

Unfortunately, a good man and a good coach ... the kind the sport needs more of ... is out of the profession. But, this hoopscribe's guess is that he won't be out of work for long.

He could probably name his next job if he wanted to return to the mid-major level (administrators at Manhattan should at least make a phone call to check on his interest). The greater likelihood is that another high-major program will bring Hewitt aboard in short order.

What kind of coach will it get?

This is how Hewitt operated at Siena, when this hoopscribe had a front-row seat to his method of operations:

If a player skipped a class, his entire team was up early the next morning to run several miles. He required players to sit near the front of classes, to dress and be groomed respectfully. His philosophy is that most of his players wouldn't continue playing professionally, so a big part of his job was to have them prepared for the real world beyond college and basketball. To Hewitt, preparing players for life after basketball was at least as important to what he did with them on the court.

He employed an up-tempo attack that was both enjoyable to watch and enjoyable for his team to play.

There might never have been a better representative of Siena, in terms of all the peripheral aspects of the job related to dealing with alums, with fans, with media and just those he came in contact with at the school on an everyday basis.

At Siena he defined class. And, by all accounts, his tenure at Georgia Tech was much of the same.

The problem at Georgia Tech is that he didn't win enough. He had a better-than-.500 record there, but his teams struggled in the tough Atlantic Coast Conference. And, attendance began to drop this season, no small matter for a program slated to move into a new arena for the 2012-13 season.

Hewitt won't be out of work long. And, the school that hires him will be very fortunate to have him as its basketball coach.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Manhattan Opts To Fire Barry Rohrssen

As expected, and predicted by the New York Daily News more than a week ago, Manhtattan men's basketball coach Barry Rohrssen was relieved of his duties with the Jaspers on Wednesday, according to an announcement made by school officials.

Rohrssen's team finished 6-24 overall and 3-15 in MAAC play during its just-concluded 2010-11 season and had its season ended with a 68-66 loss to Siena in overtime in the MAAC tournament's play-in round this past Friday night.

Rohrssen's five-year record at the school was 58-95 overall and 33-64 in MAAC play. He had just one winning season, a 16-14 finish, in 2008-09.

There was speculation last summer that Rohrssen would leave the program to become an assistant coach at St. John's, but he opted to stay at Manhattan believing a strong group of incoming players would turn the program around.

Instead, his team fell victim to injuries and other circumstances.

The Jaspers lost 6-7 JUCO import Roberto Colonette, the Region XV Player of the Year and someone who would have helped bolster Manhattan's front line, to a torn Achilles injury just before the start of the season.

Another expected incoming contributor, 6-6 forward and Norwegian import Torgrim Sommerfeldt, who came in with a reputation as a pure scorer, never made it on the floor this season as he was slow to recover from knee surgery.

Sophomore guard Mohamed Koita wasn't healthy enough to play until January after undergoing both knee and wrist surgeries in the off season and Alabama transfer Demetrius Jemison was prohibited from playing until late December when the NCAA denied the school a waiver to play the full season.

Jemison's eligibility is over, but Koita, Sommerfeldt and Colonette are all expected to be healthy for next season. Plus, Rohrssen, who has a reputation as a strong recruiter, also brought in some of the best young talent in the conference including current sophomore swingman George Beamon, the MAAC's third-leading scorer this season; and freshmen 6-7 forward Rahmel Brown and point guard Mike Alvarado, both starters and strong contributors in their first season.

Clearly Rohrssen's successor will step into a situation with a strong foundation and have the ability to turn the program around quickly.

Rohrssen also has a well-deserved reputation as one of the conference's most-liked coaches, and your humble hoopscribe, who has gotten to know Rohrssen a little better this past season, can attest to that personally. Unlike his predecessor, Bobby Gonzalez, who was universally despised, your hoopscribe has yet to encounter anyone who doesn't speak positively about Rohrssen.

Sources indicated that school athletic director Bob Byrnes was in favor of letting Rohrssen return for another year, but that the ultimate decision to change coaches came from higher up in the school's administration.

"Barry is a true gentleman who had represented Manhattan College very well," said Byrnes, in a press release issued by the school. "As we make a difficult decision to move the program forward, we remain committed to the academic and personal as well as the athletic development of our student athletes. We wish Barry well and thank him for his service."

Rohrssen was hired in April 2006 after a successful seven-year hitch as the top assistant and recruiter at Pittsburgh, where he lured such heralded New York hoop talent as Keith Benjamin, Carl Krasuer and Chris Taft to the Steel City.

When asked about his status after the Jaspers loss to Siena, Rohrssen said only, "None of this is about me," and refused further comment.

Rohrssen has one year remaining on his contract, which will be honored financially according to school officials.

Chances are that he will not remain unemployed for long, and there were rumors at the MAAC tournament that the opportunity to move west to join the staff of former Pitt coach Ben Howland at UCLA might be a possibility.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Defense Carries Peacocks to Men's Title

Any basketball player will confirm that the fun part of the game involves putting points on the board.

The other end? It's that dirty word.

That seven-letter word, d-e-f-e-n-s-e, falls more into the four-letter category for most players.

But, not at Saint Peter's, which rode defense to three straight men's MAAC tournament victories, the last two of the upset variety, to capture the event's championship and its automatic trip to the NCAA tournament.

The Peacocks head for the NCAA's after a 62-57 victory over Iona Monday night at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Ct.

The winners held the Gaels to 32.2 percent shooting from the floor. That followed holding both first-round opponent and semifinal-round foes Loyola and top-seeded Fairfield, respectively, to 33.3 percent shooting from the field.

"You talk to the high school coaches of my players and they'd tell you these guys are not defensive players," said fifth-year Saint Peter's coach John Dunne. "But, they bought in."

The buying produced the school's first conference tournament championship since 1995 and is the culmination, for now, of a program that built itself back after more than a few lean years.

The Peacocks won just five games in Dunne's first season and, then, six the following year when the current seniors were freshmen. It improved to 11 victories in the 2008-09 season and, then, to 16 last year. The current team is now 20-13, getting to 20 victories for the first time since the 1990=-91 team finished 21-6.

Coming into Monday's game as No. 101 on the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index, the Peacocks know they aren't likely to get a favorable seeding position in the national-championship tournament, or be anything but a huge underdog in in their opening-round contest.

"We believe we can win in the NCAA tournament," said senior forward Ryan Bacon. "We're the new Butler."

New Butler, or not, the Peacocks feel they deserve a new level of respect.

"No one respects us as a team or as a school," said Saint Peter's senior guard Wes Jenkins. "Now they've got to respect us. We beat both the No. 1 (Fairfield) and No. 2 (Iona) teams coming into the tournament. Now, we're No. 1."

It's because they're very nearly No. 1 in defense in the national statistics. Prior to Monday's games the Peacocks had limited opponents to just .376 shooting from the field, the second-best percentage of 340 Division I teams nationally.

"I didn't play much defense in high school," admitted senior guard Nick Leon (15 points, 3 assists in the championship game). "But we were willing to do that here. We've got the philosophy that offense wins games, but defense wins championships."

Iona came into Monday's game with more of an offensive reputation, but the Gaels struggled to produce points all nights against the stingy, aggressive Peacocks.

"We struggled offensively to make shots and they played good defense, so it was a little bit of both," said Iona coach Tim Cluess. "They're definitely a really good defensive team. We know we go as we shoot, and we didn't shoot well in this game."

Still, Iona rallied from a 13-point deficit with seven minutes left to get to get close down the stretch, but the winners made nine straight free throws in the final two minutes to secure the victory.

"This is so special ... it's awesome," said Peacocks' coach Dunne. "My first year here we won five games and, then, six the second year. We were getting beat up on a daily basis. There are times when you go through that when you question yourself.

"But these guys (the four seniors that joined Dunne at the post-game press conference) stayed by me and by the school, and we grew together.

They growth resulted in a defensive style of play not often seen in college basket and something else not often seen at Saint Peter's in recent years: a MAAC tournament championship and an upcoming trip to the NCAA tournament.


Saint Peter's senior forward Jeron Belin, who had a team-high 17 points in Monday's championship game, was named the tournament MVP. Teammates Wes Jenkins, Nick Leon and Ryan Bacon were also tournament all-star selections, as were Iona's Mike Glover and Scott Machado.


Erica Allenspach of Marist was named the Most Valuable Player of the women's event after averaging 23.7 points in three tournament games.

She was joined on the women's all-tournament team by teammate Elise Caron, Loyola's Miriam McKenzie and Katie Sheahin and Abby Wentworth of Manhattan.


Crowd counts for the tournament at the Arena at Harbor Yard barely reached half of what turned out for the event at Albany's Times Union Center in recent years.

Even "home team" Fairfield failed to bring out a sizeable fan turnout. The Stags' quarterfinla-round game Saturday drew 5,235 while their Sunday appearance in the semifinal round drew only 3,956.

That two-session total for Fairfield games of 9,191 was less than half of what one Siena session usually drew when the tournament was in Albany.

Over the tournament's five days here the total crowd count was 24,307. The last time it was in Bridgeport in 2007 23,561 fans turned out.

When the tournament was in Albany last year total attendance was 53,319.

Marist Was Motivated To Win Tournament

She is the senior who doesn't start, but 6-foot-3 post player Maria Laterza not only was an effective reserve for the Marist women's basketball team but an even better motivator.

After the team's Sunday afternoon practice on the day prior to Monday's championship game against Loyola, and just following the team meal in their hotel's banquet room, Laterza handed each of her teammates a puzzle piece that had the player's name and information on one side and something else on the reverse.

When the puzzle pieces were fitted together, what was on the reverse side came together as the image of a Red Fox with these words superimposed: "One team, one soul, one heart, one goal."

"When she gave us those puzzle pieces and we saw what it said when it was all put together, we all started cheering," said teammate and tournament MVP Erica Allenspach. "And, we're not a cheering type of team. We're usually pretty laid back. But, that meant a lot to us."

As if the Red Foxes needed much more incentive.

They had visions of this from long before the opening tip of the first game of the regular season.

"We called what we wanted to do this season our 'quest,' " said Allsnspach. "We (this year's seniors) wanted to finish 18-0 in regular-season conference play for the second time (the 2007-08 team also recorded that record, and no other MAAC team has ever gone through the regular season without a loss since the league expanded to an 18 game schedule in 1997).

"When we did it when we were freshmen we were all role players," added Allenspach. "I don't know that we were that highly regarded as a recruiting class, so doing it again this year meant a lot to us. We made it our quest. We thought we could do it, but we didn't think we'd win 20 of our 21 conference games (including the three in the post-season tournament) by double figures.

"We knew everyone was chasing us, but we put more pressure on ourselves than anyone. We liked having the bullseye on our back, and we knew that unless we beat ourselves that we weren't going to get beat at all."

Women: Yet another Marist Championship

The Marist women's basketball lost its top player, forward Rachele Fitz, to graduation after last season and that meant the Red Foxes would enter the 2010-11 season without arguably the best women's player ever to perform at a MAAC school.

Still, league coaches made Marist the unanimous pick, in their preseason poll, to win yet another regular-season championship.

"They voted us to win, but I honestly believe they all thought that this would be the year," said Marist coach Brian Giorgis. "With Rachele gone they thought it was the year that we could be beaten."

But not this year, and that became evident early, probably as soon as the Red Foxes went to the Duel in the Desert tournament and beat three teams, Lousville, Nebraska and Houston, from power conferences to capture that event's championship.

"For the last three years we'd go to Rachele one out of every two possessions," said Giorgis. "And, why not? We had that canon, and we fired it. We're not stupid.

"But as the season went on I think other coaches in our league started to think we might be even better this season."

Better because they shared the ball better and ran a more-effective and equal-opportunity offense with not only a starting five, but several bench players, capable of finishing open shots created by an effective motion offense.

Better enough to be unbeaten in MAAC regular season play, just the second team in league history to finish with an 18-0 conference mark (the 2007-08 team also did it).

Better enough to win 17 of those 18 league games by double figures.

Better enough, too, to rip through the MAAC tournament in similarly impressive fashion by winning margins of 28, 15 and 18.

The culmination for now, at least until Marist begins playing again in the NCAA tournament, came with its 63-45 victory over Loyola in Monday afternoon's tournament championship contest.

So, the sun continued to rise in the east, taxes remain high and Marist continued not only winning but dominating MAAC opponents.

This marked the eighth straight year Marist was in the conference's championship game, the seventh time it has won the tournament title under ninth-year coach Brian Giorgis and the sixth time in succession it has done so.

Since the start of the 2004-05 season Marist is an incredible 135-12 in all MAAC games, including a 20-1 record in league tournament contests.

"They've done it through recruiting to get talent and, then, to develop that talent," said Loyola coach Joe Logan.

But, it's not only that.

There's credit to be given to Giorgis for finding talent no one else wanted.

Like Erica Allenspach, for one.

Allenspach was a minor role player on her hometown AAU team in Ohio during her high school years.

"We had great players on my AAU team and I didn't play that much," Allenspach said. "But coach Giorgis saw something in me."

Something that, at Marist, would enable the 5-foot-8 senior guard to not only be this year's Player of the Year for the conference's regular-season, but the tournament's MVP after she averaged 23.7 points on 24-of-33 shooting (.723 percent) from the field in the three tournament contests.

"I remember, a long time ago, I was at DisneyWorld watching Erica in an AAU event," said Giorgis. "She came off the bench when her team was ahead by four points and after five minutes when she came out her team was ahead by 22. She had something like four points, two steals, three assists, four rebounds and no turnovers.

"You could just see something there, and that's what she has done her whole career at Marist."

"I'm glad coach Giorgis was smart enough to see something in me," said Allenspach.

And, now, with Allenspach's graduation this May, Marist will go into next season having lost another of its all-time performers.

So, maybe 2011-12 is the year the rest of the league catches up to Marist ... but, don't count on it.

"Usually success is cyclical at this level," added Loyola's Logan, whose team finished 15-3 in the regular season with two of the losses against Marist by 16- and 10-point margins.

"It's to the point now that we all know we have to elevate ourselves in order to beat Marist. When I'm out recruting, I'm looking at players we'll need to beat Marist. I'm sure it's like that for everyone in the league.

"When we're doing our off-season workouts you're telling your kids that you have to keep working hard every day, because Marist's players are working hard every day. Now, I'm not sure if that's actually the case but that's what we're always telling our kids."

For now, though, there's more for Marist to do this season. The Red Foxes entered the tournament ranked No. 18 nationally in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll, and 21st nationally in the Associated Press poll.

The best seed for the NCAA tournament the program has gotten in the past has been a No. 7 in a 16-team bracket. Expect something similar this season.

"We can't control that," said Giorgis. "We just want to get there and do some damage."

And, then, Giorgis can start thinking about the future, one without Allenspach.

"We lose one of the greatest players ever to play in our program ... again," said Giorgis. "We lose another starter (point guard Elise Caron) and Maria Laterza (an effective 6-foot-3 reserve post player).

"But, I think we have the personnel to do this again. If they work hard and believe in themselves ... we can be back here again next season."

And the rest of the league will still be trying to figure out how to catch Marist.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Men's Title Matchup Is A Friendly Rivalry

Iona's senior guard Rashon Dwight and Saint Peter's senior guard Wesley Jenkins were teammates as high school players at Bloomfield Tech in Newark, N.J. They have been teammates on AAU teams and always on the same side in playground pick-up contests.

They're not the only friends from the two programs that will meet in Monday's 7 p.m. championship game of the men's MAAC tournament. Saint Peter's has nine players on its roster from New Jersey cities across the Hudson River not far from New York City's skyline. Iona has four, plus five other players from New York City's five boroughs. In all, 18 players from the two teams grew up no more than a few miles removed from each other.

It's familiarity, though, that has bred anything but contempt. Instead, it's as friendly a rivalry as one can imagine.

The cordial relationships were enough that the players from the two teams have been mixing with each other, renewing acquaintances, in the Bridgeport, Ct., hotel at which both teams are sharing.

In fact, the two teams are staying on the hotel's same floor.

"After we won our quarterfinal round game (Saturday night) and came back to the hotel, Saint Peter's players (who had won their quarterfinal-rounder earlier in the day) came out of their rooms to cheer for us."

But, that's not the whole story, as Iona coach Tim Cluess was quick to interject at Sunday's post-game press conference after his team's semifinal-round victory over Rider to advance to Monday's championship contest.

"We're on one end of the floor and their team is on the other end of the floor," said Cluess. "So when they were all out in the hallway, they had a 'dance-off.' "

Who won that contest?

"Oh, we did," said Dwight.

The symbolism isn't lost on Monday's championship game participants. There's a trip to the NCAA tournament, the so-called Big Dance of college basketball, on the line.

So, who's going to be dancing after Monday night's game?

"Hopefully, it will be us," said Dwight. "May the best team win. I hope it will be us. But, if it's not, I'll be happy for them, too. We're all friends and we're all like family.'

Men: Iona Rides Treys to Win Over Broncs

When Iona's sophomore sharpshooter Kyle Smyth suffered a shoulder injury when his drive to the basket was blocked with about 18 minutes left in Sunday's semifinal-round game of the men's MAAC tournament Smyth was forced to leave the game and junior teammate Jermel Jenkins came in.

Good news for Iona's opponent Rider?

No, bad news for Rider.

Less than 30 seconds later the 5-foot-11 Jenkins swished a three-pointer. Three minutes later he swished another. Three possessions after that, yet another.

And, after making two more treys later in the half the Gaels had a 71-57 lead with 6:41 left in the game.

Jenkins' long-range ability Sunday, in what ultimately became a blow-out 83-59 victory over Rider, isn't that unusual. He had made 61 3-pointers this season, clicking at a .365 percentage from beyond the bonus stripe.

But the six he made Sunday, on 10 attempts, accounted for the second-high single-game total of his career (he had 7 in a game against UAlbany earlier this season).

And, Jenkins wasn't the Gaels' only surprising "mad bomber" in the win over the Broncs. Senior guard Rashon Dwight added 5-of-7 from international waters, a career-best total of treys,

Jenkins and Dwight, neither of who averaged double-figure scoring this season, finished with 20 and 19 points, respectively.

The Gaels' big scorer is usually 6-7 junior forward Mike Glover, the MAAC's second-leading scorer who had 31 points a night earlier in a quarterfinal-round contest against Siena. Glover, though, had 12 points against Rider, and his teammate, Iona's second-leading scorer Scott Machado, was held to seven points.

No problem. Iona just dialed long distance and Jenkins and Dwight answered enthusiastically.

"When Smyth came out coach (Tim Cluess) told me to in, stay aggressive and shoot when I was open," said Jenkins.

Jenkins was often open, as was Dwight, because of Rider's defensive strategy.

"Iona is a tough team to guard," said Rider coach Tommy Dempsey. "We wanted to do everything we could to bring a crowd to Glover and limit his touches and shots (Glover only took eight shots in the game).

'And, then, Machado gets 12 assists. Our plan on him was to keep him out of the lane, and we did that well, too. But, he still made the right decisions. That's what makes their team so difficult to defend. You can only do so much against them.

"If you guard Glover and cut off Machado's drives to the basket, you leave the perimeter open. You have to pick your poison with them. Do you single-team Glover and let him go one-on-one inside. If you go out and pressure their 3-point shots, they'll throw it inside to Glover all night.

"So, tonight they made a ton of 3's. We picked our poison, and they made 14 3-pointers. Who knows what would have happened if Smyth stayed in the game? But, he went out, Jenkins came in and Jenkins cashed in. If Jenkins doesn't come in ... well, he was the key. The game was still competitive when he came in, but it turned into a blowout at the end."

It was the second-straight blowout victory in the tournament for Iona, which defeated Siena, 94-64, in Saturday's quarterfinal round.

The Gaels, now 22-10 this season, move on to Monday's 7 p.m. championship game against Saint Peter's.

Rider 23-10 record accounts for the program's single-season high for victories. Junior forward Novar Gadson led the Broncs with 19 points while senior guard Justin Robinson added 17.

Stags' NIT Berth Not In Cooley's Thoughts

It was less than 20 minutes after his top-seeded Fairfield men's basketball team was ousted from the MAAC's post-season tournament in the semifinal round, courtesy of Saint Peter's 62-48 victory, and Stags' coach Ed Cooley was already being asked by a reporter for his thoughts on plaing in the National Invitation Tournament.

That secondary event automatically takes the MAAC's regular-season champion should that team not advance to the NCAA's field of 68 teams. With its 24-7 record and its unexpected loss in the MAAC event, Fairfield won't be part of the national-championship tournament's field.

But, Cooley said his thoughts aren't yet on his team's continued play this season.

"Am I thinking about the NIT yet? Not even a little bit," said Cooley. "I don't know when we'll starting getting ready for that. I am extremely proud that we're a post-season team again (the Stags played in the College Insiders Tournament last year), but it is never our goal to be a second-place team.

'Our goal is to be in an NCAA team every year. Will it happen? You have to get very lucky, and we weren't lucky today (in Sunday's loss)."

Fairfield's fall marks the first time in four years the event's top-seeded team has not advanced to the post-season tournament's championship game, an occurrence even more-pronounced since the Stags play their entire schedule at this year's tournament site, the Arena at Harbor Yard.

"We got close (to within six points after falling behind by 25 at halftime Sunday) ... we almost pulled it off," said Cooley. "But our we just weren't ready to play in the first half. We were listless and didn't have a lot of emotion.

"We fell victim to what has hurt us the entire year. We talked about habits from our first team meeting the first day of school in early September, and our bad habits caught us in the end. The 'devil' that got us again, our devil is the turnover."

Fairfield entered the contest committing 13.8 turnovers per game. Only four of the 10 conference teams committed more. On Sunday the Stags made 13 first-half miscues and 22 for the game. The winners capitalized by scoring 25 of their 62 points directly off Fairfield turnovers.

"Twenty-five points off turnovers ... that's a big number of points," said Cooley. "Especially for a team (Saint Peter's) that doesn't score that many points. But, for the first 20 minutes they really gave it to us. We weren't who we were this season.

"Was I stunned by what happened in the first half? I'm not stunned. These are kids, and they just didn't play well. You can't get down by 25 in a tournament game and expect to win, that's for damned sure. I wasn't upset with my players (at halftime). I was just coaching kids and trying to will them back. I was surprised, but not stunned.

"We came back ... almost pulled it off. But, I'm not a hero of second place or third place. I'm not big and saying you had a good season and giving slaps on the back for that."

Men: Peacocks Take Down No. 1 Seed Stags

Would lightning strike again? Would the Fairfield men's basketball team believe in miracles for a second straight post-season comeback.

It was just a little less than a year ago that the Stags made the greatest comeback in NCAA Division I post-season history, rallying from 27 points down with 16 minutes left to play to beat George Mason, 101-96 in overtime in a first round College Insiders Tournament last March.

But, not this year. Fairfield faced a similar second half deficit, down 25 at halftime of its MAAC tournament semifinal-round contest with Saint Peter's Sunday on its home court, the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Ct.

And the comeback looked similar ... a 21-2 run in the half's first 12 minutes to get its deficit down to six.

But, not this time. Saint Peter's regained the aggression it used to build its big lead in the first 20 minutes and held off Fairfield, 62-48, to advance to its first MAAC tournament championship game since 2006. The Peacocks will be trying to capture their first tournament title, and the resultant trip to the NCAA tournament, since 1995.

"I'm not going to lie ... I was starting to get a little worried," admitted Saint Peter's coach John Dunne.

"But, even during the under-eight minute time out when we had an eight-point lead ... I asked the guys if someone told you before the game that we'd be ahead by eight with under eight minutes left, would you take it? The answer was yes."

And the worry started to abate when senior forward Jeron Belin converted a drive and, shortly after that, hit a put-back. When teammate Steven Samuels picked off a pass, and drove the length of the court for an emphatic jam, the winners' lead was 10 again. It was up to 12 when Ran Bacon scored on a nice pass from teammate Nick Leon a couple possessions later, and was 14 when Leon a pair of foul shots with a little over two minutes left.

It was about then that any worries were over on this day for the Peacocks.

For Saint Peter's, this season has been a marvelous near-culmination (that could be completed by winning Monday's 7 p.m. championship contest) of the reversal of some recent lean years.

Dunne talks often about the lessons learned from losing 18 straight games when the current class of four-year seniors were freshmen. Actually, it wasn't quite that bad. The worst it got was 15 losses over a 16-game stretch.

Their next two seasons were building blocks (11-19 and 16-14), and the current 19-13 overall mark is the program's best since a 19-11 finish in 1994-95, not coincidentally the last time the Peacocks went to the NCAA tournament.

It was also Saint Peter's first victory over Fairfield in Dunne's five seasons as coach, and that stretch of losses to the Stags dates back the year before that with the Peacocks losing the past 12 meetings between the programs.

"Getting to the finals was good for us considering what this program has gone through in the past four years," said Saint Peter's fourth-year senior Wesley Jenkins, who had 14 points Sunday. "Now we want to win the tournament and take it (the championship) back to Jersey City. We're not satisfied yet."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Rider Wins, Sets up Rematch With Iona

When Rider plays Iona in today's 4 p.m. semifinal-round contest of the men's MAAC tournament, you try to figure out who's going to win and how the game will be played.

In their first meeting Iona earned a 100-96 victory in overtime. In the second game, 13 days later, Rider won, 61-59.

The Broncs and Gaels play again, courtesy of each's quarterfinal-round victory Saturday. Rider gets there after its impressive 79-64 win over Canisius in Saturday's late game.

"The first game neither team could stop the other," said Rider coach Tommy Dempsey. "In the second game the tempo was still pretty much the same as the first game, but the scouting reports seemed to kick in and both teams seemed to have made a lot of adjustments."

The rubber match is at hand, with a berth in Monday's 7 p.m. championship game on the line.

"We're both very familiar with each other by now," added Dempsey. "It's a matter of whose kids play better."

Both teams played well on Saturday with Iona earning a lopsided victory over Siena and Rider putting things together after falling behind 6-0 early to have a double-digit lead for most of the game's last six minutes.

The Broncs (23-9 overall this season), had five players in double figures and two others with at least eight points. Guards Anthony Myles and Justin Robinson and forward Brandon Penn each had 13 for the winners.

Elton Frazier had 17 for Canisius, which finishes at 15-15.

Men: Iona Could Regain Prominence

The Iona men's basketball was enjoying its quarterfinal round victory in the MAAC men's tournament Saturday not merely because it remained alive to play another day, but because of who it knocked off to do so.

It beat the conference's most-recent dominant team, Siena, the program that had won the past three regular-season and post-season titles; the team with three straight trips to the NCAA tournament and three national-tournament game victories over that time.

"To do this against them (a 94-64 victory)... it's Siena," said Iona swingman Kyle Smyth. "They've been the dominant team in the conference for the past three years. To play this well against a good Siena team means a lot."

The victory sends the Gaels to Sunday's 4 p.m. semifinal round game against the winner of Saturday's late-night Rider-Canisius contest.

It wasn't that long ago that Iona was the conference's dominant team. The program had been strong enough, at one time, for former Siena coach Paul Hewitt (at Siena from 1997-98 through 1999-2000) to have called Iona the standard that other teams measured itself against.

But not in recent years. Iona had not won a game in MAAC tournament play since the 2005-06 season. And, in that season, the Gaels captured the tournament championship to advance to the NCAA tournament.

"It's very important for us to get back to that again," said Iona's junior point guard Scott Machado. 'I talk to Marvin McCullough, Ricky Soliver and Steve Burtt (three key players on that 2005-06 team) a lot. They've talked to me about bringing our program back. They come around Iona, and they're all kind of mentors to me.

"If we keep working hard ... I think we've got the players and the coaching to get back there."

Iona took a step in the right direction Saturday over Siena, and in impressive fashion. The Saints had won their last 10 MAAC tournament games, matching a conference record also held by the La Salle teams of the late 1980s. Siena had won three games in each of the past three MAAC events, and added a play-in round victory over Manhattan on Friday night.

But Iona dominated the Saints Saturday, and did it with players who will be around for at least another season after this one.

Glover, an impressive 6-foot-7 inside force; and Machado, a standout point guard, are both juniors. Smythe, who has standout long-range shooting capabilities, is a sophomore.

Glover had 31 points and 11 rebounds against the Saints while Machado had 15 points and 8 rebounds and Smyth added 16 points.

Siena was with 43-40 early in the second half, but the winners outscored the Saints 51-24 over the final 17 minutes to pull away and win with ease as it appeared the effort Siena expended in its two-point play-in round victory the previous day (while Iona had a bye) had a residual affect.

"We played hard, but I thought we were a little slow to loose balls in the second half," said Saints' coach Mitch Buonaguro. 'I don't think we had our legs, and to play a team like Iona you have to be in full tilt."

The might have been another recent event that also had a lingering affect on Saturday's match.

Iona's Glover, who finished second in the conference in scoring and rebounding (categories Rossiter finished as the league leaders), said he felt slighted that Rossiter, and not him, was named the conference's Player of the Year.

"After not being nominated (picked) for Player of the Year ... I wanted to make tonight's game a little personal," admitted Glover."

Rossiter finished with 11 points and six rebounds in the contest. His rebound effort Saturday pushed his season total to 408, the second-highest one-year rebound total in conference history, behind only the 411 rebounds grabbed by former Rider standout Jason Thompson in the 2007-08 season.

"I couldn't be happier with the success I've had here at Siena," said Rossiter. "There are eight other classes (at other MAAC schools) that don't know what going to the NCAA tournament is like, and we've been there three times during my career."

Men: Stags Win, Want Even Bigger Crowds

It was a little over two weeks ago, following a home game at the Arena at Harbor Yard, that Connecticut Post sports columnist Chris Elsberry took Fairfield basketball fans to task in print for failing to show up for home games.

That came after just 1,596, and just nine of them students, according to Elsberry's count, attended the Stags' 61-54 victory over Marist, an outcome that clinched the conference's regular-season title for Fairfield.

Fans must have been listening. Or, at least, reading since crowds since then have been significantly better. The home team drew 5,287 to a Feb. 25 game against Siena, its largest-ever attendance figure for a game at the Bridgeport, Ct., arena.

And, in Saturday's rematch with Marist, in the quarterfinals of the conference's post-season tournament on Saturday, the crowd was just slightly below that figure at 5,235.

But the arena was loud, and the crowd supportive and mostly clad in Fairfield red (although that's also Marist's colors).

The home team takes any advantage it can at tournament time, and continued support here for his team's run in the MAAC event on his court is something Fairfield coach Ed Cooley was lobbying for after his team's with-ease 55-31 victory over the Red Foxes Saturday.

"I hope we get 15,000 people out for our games, and the arena only holds 10,000," joked Cooley in the pre-event conference call for coaches.

"Tonight (Saturday vs. Marist) the crowd was really important," said Cooley. 'We look forward to an even bigger crowd tomorrow (when the Stags play against fourth-seeded Saint Peter's at 2 p.m.).

"We'd like the entire state to support this tournament's final four tomorrow. It's going to be great basketball."

Cooley knows first hand how beneficial a home crowd can be at tournament time. In last season's championship game against Siena on the Saints' Pepsi Arena home court in Albany his team held a 13-point lead early in the second half before the partisan crowd of 10,679 began to exert its influence with noise that surely reached rare decibel levels in the facility.

Fairfield committed eight turnovers in the next 10 minutes, allowing Siena to pull into a tie and, eventually, win that contest in overtime.

Cooley has admitted, on multiple occasions, how the crowd enthusiasm that night detrimentally affected his then-young squad.

So, can you blame him for seeking the same edge at his home court over the tournament's final two days?

Fairfield didn't need it Saturday as it had an 18-point lead by halftime and was never threatened after that.

Stags' standout sophomore guard Derek Needham finished with a game-high 22 points for Fairfield, which matches a program record for victories by getting its 24th against six losses to date. Marist finishes at 6-27.

But, Marist coach Chuck Martin hopes the tournament experience will be a learning process for his youthful players.

"This game was too big for my kids," admitted Martin. "They have never been here before, and they don't understand what it takes playing the No. 1 seed on its home court. Hopefully, this helps us get better at it.

"Hopefully this helps our kids realize how much is needed to be put into it to get to that level."

Men: Experience Helps Peacocks Advance

When Saint Peter's senior guard standout Wes Jenkins injured his knee during preseason he worked hard to get it back in shape. When he injured it again several weeks into the season, he did the same thing.

Either time Jenkins could have decided not to play his senior season on a knee that would be less than 100 percent if he came back. He could have opted, either time, to take a medical redshirt and come back for a full season in 2011-12.

"I had a bond with our seniors," said Jenkins. "I wanted to play with these guys this season."

Saint Peter's gets to keep playing this season, courtesy of a 70-60 victory over Loyola in a quarterfinal-round game of the men's MAAC tournament.

The Peacocks advance Sunday's 2 p.m. semifinal-round contest, probably against hometown favorite Fairfield, which held an early lead over Marist.

Indeed the three-player senior class that has been in place for each of the past four seasons, forward Ryan Bacon and guards Nick Leon and Jenkins have a history together.

The grew up together. It wasn't always an easy process.

But, they're seniors now and Jenkins wanted to enjoy the benefits of the investments he and his classmates have made over their first three seasons.

Such as figuring out how to win together. In a league where veterans usually have success all three started as freshmen.

Predictably the Peacocks struggled that season, at one point losing 18 consecutive.

Jenkins was one of the few lone bright spots, even scoring 27 points in an early season game against Rutgers.

'After that he had a lot of people telling him he should transfer (to a bigger program)," said Peacocks' fifth-year coach John Dunne. "But he stayed to help build this."

This is a team that won 11 regular-season MAAC games for the second year in a row, just the third time the program has accomplished that in its 30-year MAAC history.

The team's 18th overall victory that came Saturday (St. Peter's is now 18-13 overall) marked the most since the 1994-95 season when it won 19 games.

And Saturday marked the first time in John Dunne's five season, and in his seniors' four seasons together, that they have won a conference tournament game.

"We lost those 18 straight that first year," said Jenkins. "We were better our second and third years, but still didn't win a tournament game. This win takes a load off our shoulders. Now we can go on tomorrow."

The Peacocks' leading scorer Saturday was a fourth senior, forward Jeron Belin, who joined the program last season after transferring in from a junior college. The 6-foot-6 Belin had 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor. Bacon added 15 points and a team-high 7 rebounds.

Loyola, on the other hand, only has one senior, point guard Brian Rudolph.

"In this league experience is important," said Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos. "We had one senior on the floor, and they (St. Peter's) had four. We finished 15-15 this year. It was a good year, but we've got to take the next step. You do that by getting experience.

'We got the game down to three (late in the second half) and didn't make a shot."

Loyola's freshman guard Justin Drumnond led his team with 18 points.