Saturday, April 30, 2011

Report: Hewitt Headed to George Mason

It appears that former Siena basketball coach Paul Hewitt wasn't out of work long.

CBS sports' on-line site is reporting that Hewitt has come to an agreement to replace Jim Larranaga, who recently moved to take over at Miami.

If that is indeed the case, then the Patriots have hit a home run, if you don't mind a stolen metaphor from another sport.

Readers of this blog know this scribe's feelings about Hewitt, who coached three seasons at Siena and turned a downtrodden program into something considerably more vibrant with a trip to the NCAA's and to the NIT.

And, while it can easily be argued that Fran McCaffery's five-year run with Siena surpassed Hewitt's in terms of achievement (three NCAA trips), the opinion here is that it's Hewitt who remains the best coach ever to walk the Siena sideline.

That perception is based not only on results (but Hewitt's are exemplary, as well), but in an overall sense. Hewitt not only transformed a team (as did McCaffery), but an entire program, one that was restricted to second-rate road accomodations, participating in regional in-season tournaments and a miniscule recruiting budget. And, Hewitt left much more behind in terms of team personnel than McCaffery did up his departure for Iowa after the 2009-10 season.

Hewitt brought Siena basketball into the "modern" era. And, some of that came out of his own pocket. He passed on raises offered him, directing the extra money be used to increase the salary of assistant coaches and to better fund the program overall.

Hewitt was also more concerned with his players' post-college, post-basketball lives than any other coach who came through Siena. He mandated not only classroom attendance, but that his team members sit near the front of classes; if players skipped classes the entire team faced 6 a.m. runs; he had dress codes for class attendance and road trips; he mandated good grooming.

"When my players go for job interviews after college they're not going to get jobs if they have scraggly face hair or wear t-shirts to an interview," he once said, when discussing his off-court policies. "It's my job to get them ready for real life as well as for basketball."

Hewitt left Siena for Georgia Tech where he coached for 11 seasons, and took that program to the 2004-05 season's NCAA championship game. Overall his Georgia Tech teams went to national post-season tournaments seven times in his 11 years there.

Hewitt also always professed that his family, his wife and daughters, had rights of refusal on any job he'd become involved with and your scribe remembers that after his second year at Siena he ended his involvement with a very well-regarded high-major program because his family didn't like the location.

The guess is that the Hewitt family agreed that Fairfax, Va., just a few miles outside of Washington, D.C., is a good fit.

And the opinion here is that Hewitt will be a good fit at George Mason.

MAAC Report: Marist Men Still Building

Today begins the highly anticipated series that examines each conference program, men's and women's.

We'll start from the bottom of the men's standings and work our way up, but we'll alternate between men's and women's reports. For instance, we're starting with the Marist men (this season's last-place finisher), but will then follow that up with the report on the Marist women (which finished first).

As always, there is much to look at related to last season and much to look ahead to for the future.

So, first up ...


2010-11 RECORD: 3-15 in MAAC play, 6-27 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: Almost anything had to be better than the previous year's 1-29 disaster, and Marist added five more to this past year's victory total. Those were little steps, but signs of improvement nonetheless. The team did win two of its final four games, including a 73-61 victory over Niagara in a conference tournament play-in round game before dropping a 55-31 contest in the quarterfinals to Fairfield. Generally 2010-11 appeared to be a nice building block as a solid group of young players got much-needed experience. And, then, three of the team's better youngsters opted, just after the season, to leave the program. More on that, below.

WHAT WENT RIGHT IN 2010-11: There was a 2-game early season winning streak, wins over Niagara and Canisius, that created some early season optimism. And, then, came the 2-22 finish in the final four contests that created some future hope.

Individually, Sam Prescott made a nice step forward as a sophomore, averaging a team-best 11.4 points and showed signs of being even better. Powerful 6-10 freshman center Adam Kemp looked like a capable inside performer (5.3 points, 6.3 rebounds) before suffering a season-ending injury after 18 game. Jay Bowie, a 6-5 freshman, also showed signs of being an above-average MAAC player, averaging 6.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and scoring 13 points against Niagara in the post-season tournament victory. And Anell Alexis, a 6-6 red-shirt freshman (5.2, 3.5) had a breakout game (22 points, 8 rebounds) in a late-season contest at Siena, maybe a sign that he'll be a nice building block.

WHAT WENT WRONG: First, too many young players to expect much better than last season's record. And, then, a continuation of the type of personnel defection rarely seen at a mid-major level program. Within three weeks after Marist's last game, it nearly lost an entire recruiting class when Prescott, guard Candon Rusin (7.8 ppg., a team-high 47 3-pointers) and 6-8 man-mountain forward Menelik Watson (4.7, 3.3) all announced they were leaving the program. All three came in the recruiting class prior to the 2009-10 season. By this scribe's count, that's eight players who have left the program over the past two seasons. And, all eight either had been significant contributors, or had been projected to be ones.

There were also in-season losses. Kemp, who provided credible inside play in the first half of the season, didn't play due to an injury in the team's final 15 games. And, guard R.J. Hall, who was Marist's second-leading scorer (9.2 points), missed 14 games due to academic woes.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Expect the continuation of a building process that, due primarily to player defections, appears stuck in neutral. Every year, it seems, there are reasons to view the future optimistically ... either because of the development of young players, or via the optimism of incoming recruits. And, then, key players leave the program. Head coach Chuck Martin annually does a strong job recruiting, and appears to have done so again for the coming season. If everyone stays aboard Marist will eventually move up from what has been, now, a 2-year stretch at the bottom of the conference standings. For now, though, Marist fans will need to be content with another season of watching player development. Kemp, Bowie, 6-6 junior-to-be Dorvell Carter, 6-1 junior-to-be Devin Price and Alexis all are, at minimum, effective MAAC players. But, there's not a lot of experience there. If those five all step up, and some of the incoming freshmen are as good as advertised, then better days are ahead for Marist. The top incoming recruits appear to be 6-5 guard Chavaughn Lewis and 5-8 point guard Isiah Morton, both prolific scorers at the high school level.

2011-12 PREDICTION: Considering the lack of quality experience, the lack of any real inside game other than Kemp and the player defections from last year's team ... it's hard to envision Marist making much improvement over this past season. But, if the returnees can use the season to improve and the freshmen are as good as advertised, then the real move forward starts coming in the 2012-13 season. Morton could easily be an early season starter and Lewis looks like he'll be able to contribute relatively quickly. But, they'll still both be freshmen and it's a rarity that freshmen are immediate program-changers. It's likely Marist will be picked to finish last in the 2011-12 conference standings, and anything above that would a positive.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Karangwa Offers New Scouting Service

Siena and MAAC basketball fans will remember Prosper Karangwa as an effective, versatile 6-foot-7 player with point guard skills.

Karangwa was good enough, after his Siena career ended, to play seven professional seasons with stops in France, Austria, Germany and Syria.

That type of experience has given Karangwa a rare knowledge of what it takes to play professionally.

Karangwa retired from playing after the 2009-10 season, but used much of 2010-11 to prepare his next career, one that seems a natural fit based on his background.

Karangwa is in the process of creating Global Scouting Service, one designed to scout players and make scouting reports available for pro teams and leagues. While Karangwa's service, he hopes, draws some interest from the NBA, his strength appears to be identifying players capable of playing in overseas leagues.

"I think I'm going to be good at this," said Karangwa. "I've always had an analytical view of the game, a good feel for basketball and that goes hand-in-hand with scouting. I've always looked at whether a player made the right pass, the right play, whether a player did the right things for the position they played, and that helps.

"Plus, I already know the international game very well. I know the market there, and what it takes to be successful there. I've been there, done that and I know what it takes to get there."

Karangwa not only had a distinguished college career, but one equally as successful in international play that also included four seasons with the Canadian National Team. Over the years he has played with or against Steve Nash, Yao Ming, Peja Stoyakovic, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Lamar Odom, Ray Allen and Allen Iverson.

When Karangwa stopped playing professionally after the 2009-10 season, he returned to the upstate New York area.

"I was fortunate enough that when I got back coach Jackson (former Siena assistant coach Rob Jackson) allowed me to go to games with him and showed me what he did," said Karangwa, about Jackson, who is now a full-time college scout for the NBA San Antonio Spurs.

"My thought was maybe to do it for the NBA. But, with the collective bargaining agreement situation, there are questions about whether the NBA season will be delayed next season. So, I thought it might not be a bad idea to venture out on my own and do scouting for European and other overseas leagues.

Karangwa plans to be a one-man operation, right now a salesman trying to attract clients and, then, providing the only set of eyes that sees players and creates scouting reports.

And that appears to be Karangwa's primary selling point.

"A lot of guys are scouts who have never played overseas ... they don't know what the lifestyle is, they don't know what it's like to play over there," said Karangwa. "It's a lot different than the NBA. The NBA requires athleticism, but in the European leagues while athleticism is used it's more important to have basketball skills. There's more of a team concept ove there. If a player doesn't have a complete skill set he's going to struggle overseas no matter how athletic he might be. I also plan to provide some insight as to whether a player is philosophically capable of leaving the U.S. and playing overseas. A lot of guys can't handle that."

Because of his solo work, Karangwa's scouting reports will be limited to players in the east, primarily the MAAC, America East, Big East, Atlantic 10 and the CAA.

"But, if there's a player out there in a lower league that's good enough, I'll go and watch him play and provide a report," Karangwa added.

Karangwa's work will have one other advantage. As a native of Canada, he is multi-lingual and he plans to provide scouting French-language reports to teams and leagues in France.

"There's no one else out there who's going to provide reports in two languages," said Karangwa. "The french teams won't have to use an interpreter to read my reports."

Karangwa is already preparing reports on players he has seen either in games or practices this past season from at least 70 games he attended. He plans to attend even more games and practices in future years.

"The thing is that in order to be efficient, you actually have to be at games and watch these guys play on a regular basis," said Karangwa. "A lot of scouting services will cover the entire U.S., which means the scouting is diluted. Some of the scouts are doing it on a part-time basis.

"I will only provide reports on players I've seen personally. A scouting service is only as good as the individual doing the scouting."

The individual doing the scouting for Global Scouting Service is Karangwa, who has been there and done that.

And, he knows what it takes for others to do the same. That type of experience seems to have prepared him well for the move from playing go scouting players to go where he has already been.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Computer Woes Solved, Blog Comes Back

With apologies to Tony Kornhiser and Michael Wilbon ... pleae pardon the interruption of late. Due to relatively lengthy computer woes the MAAC blog has been AWOL for more than a week.

But, it's back with plenty of MAAC stuff to provide in upcoming days, weeks and months.

Up very soon we'll have team reports, and full recruiting results for every men's and women's program.

So, keep reading early and often.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lanier Returns to Texas as Assistant

When Rick Barnes needed to fill a position for a high-profile assistant coach earlier this week, he didn't look far from his former "family" of coaches.

And, his choice is a familiar one to Siena and MAAC basketball fans. Former Saints' head coach Rob Lanier (2001-02 through the 2004-05 seasons), who most recently had been an assistant under Billy Donovan at Florida, was the choice.

Lanier had been an assistant at Texas for two seasons just prior to taking over at Siena. The 42-year old Lanier takes over the post vacated by Rodney Terry, who left the Longhorns' coaching staff earlier this month to become head coach at Fresno State University. At Texas, Lanier will hold the title of associate head coach.

"It was a very difficult decision to leave The University of Florida," Lanier said, in a statement released by the Texas sports information office. "Even though we were only here for four years, our family established a lot of roots here. Working with Billy Donovan has been a great experience, and I can't thank everyone at Florida enough for the opportunity. I'm leaving a great friend and coach in Billy Donovan who I love and admire, and the only way this move happens is if I'm going to work with someone who I have great trust in. I wouldn't have been able to make this move without the trust I have in Rick Barnes.

"In a way, Dayo (Lanier's wife) and I feel like we're coming home," Lanier added. "I'm sure that sounds strange since we were only there for two years, but that is how we feel. Our son Emory was born in Austin. Since the time we left Texas and started our family, we've always said if you could draw that perfect place to be as a family and have the quality of life we desire, it would be Austin and The University of Texas. It is that special a place for us. As hard as the decision was, we realized that if we let it pass by, it would have been one of our greater regrets down the road."

At Siena, his teams went to an NCAA tournament and an NIT in his first two seasons there, but a 6-24 record in 2004-05, coupled with the defection of several players from his program, brought about his dismissal from that program.

"Our entire coaching staff is ecstatic," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "From the time Rodney Terry left to take the job at Fresno State, everyone I talked to asked about the possibility of hiring Rob Lanier. The fact of the matter is we weren't sure we could get him here.

"He was here at Texas before when we were just getting started, and you can't put into words the effect Rob had on helping us build this program," Barnes continued. "We welcome Rob, his wife, Dayo, and their children, Emory and Kai, back into our basketball family and The University of Texas. Our staff is excited to work with Rob in continuing to improve our program."

Between Siena and Florida Lanier served as an assistant coach at The University of Virginia for two seasons (2005-06 and 2006-07).

In his earlier stay at Texas, Lanier was a vital part of that program's recruiting success, helping the Horns land a consensus Top 10 national class that included Brian Boddicker, Royal Ivey, Jason Klotz, Brandon Mouton and James Thomas. He was also credited for being the lead recruiter of T.J. Ford, one of the best point guards to ever play in the Texas program.

After a playing career at St. Bonventure, Lanier began his coaching career at another conference school, Niagara, where he was a graduate assistant and a restricted earnings assistant coach for two seasons.

Masiello Takes Over at Manhattan

By now we know that it's not Jim Ferry, the current LIU coach, who's coming to take over the Manhattan men's basketball program. It's former Manhattan assistant and, most-recently, Louisville assistant Steve Masiello, who is the Jaspers' new head coach.

Published reports indicate that it was Ferry who was first offered the position, but could not come to a financial agreement before passing on the offer.

That left things open for Masiello, and some times a "second choice," turns out to be the best choice.

That's impossible to say for now, but Masiello fits the mold traditionally associated with hirings in the conference ... a young assistant coach from a high-major level program getting his first chance to run his own team.

Sometimes it works: Mike Deane and Paul Hewitt at Siena; Ed Cooley at Fairfield; Jimmy Patsos at Loyola; Steve Lappas at Manhattan ... and on, and on.

And, sometimes it doesn't, the most-recent case right at Manhattan where former Pitt assistant Barry Rohrssen was fired after five seasons to create the opening for Masiello.

This blogging hoopscribe, though, isn't necessarily in agreement that Rohrssen's tenure was a failure. Rohrssen, with a reputation as a terrific recruiter, found it difficult to keep the rich vein of New York City talent playing at home for a mid-major program ... until the last two seasons.

What Rohrssen leaves behind, particularly with junior-to-be swingman George Beamon, and sophs-to-be forward Rhamel Brown and point guard Michael Alverado, is plenty. The Jaspers are poised for a big jump forward competitively, and that probably would happen if Rohrssen stayed in place or by Masiello coming aboard.

For sure, Rohrssen left the proverbial cupboard full for his replacement. And, Masiello, who comes in with a reputation for recruiting similar to Rohrssen's, claims his primary objective is to keep it that way.

"Everybody better watch out," said the 33-year old Masiello at Wednesday's introductory press conference at the Jaspers' Draddy Gymnasium. "We are going to create a new brand and it's going to be the best in the city and we are going to take New York back over."

Masiello said that will take place by keeping talent at home.

"There is so much talent in New York City," Masiello said. "Some of that talent goes away to school, but if you're staying home then we want them to think of Manhattan as the place you want to be."

Easier said than done, as Rohrssen found out for most of his five seasons in the position. But, it can be done as strong Manhattan teams have shown in the not-so-distant past.

And, with a very strong nucleus of players returning, it most definitely appears things are moving in the right direction for Manhattan basketball.

Your blogging hoopscribe just hopes MAAC fans remember that it was Rohrssen who put in place for foundation for the upcoming resurgence.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Manhattan Poised to Hire LIU Coach Ferry

It appears that the last coaching domino has fallen in the conference for this off season as a a report from reliable source Sean Brennan of the New York Daily News indicates that Manhattan will name Jim Ferry, the LIU head coach, as its new program director.

Here's a report from the Daily News:

"Manhattan's month-long search for a replacement for Barry Rohrssen appears to be at an end as the Jaspers are expected to announce LIU coach Jim Ferry as their new head man either today or tomorrow.

Ferry, who guided the Blackbirds to a 27-6 record this year - including a 16-2 mark in the Northeast Conference - was on campus Tuesday to interview for the job. Neither Ferry nor anyone at Manhattan would return calls seeking comment, but one outside source told The News it's Ferry's job if he wants it, it's just a matter of dotting the i's and crossing the t's before it becomes official.

"I didn't get it from the horses mouth, but I got it from the horse in the next stall," the source said.

Considering who the Jaspers had interviewed for the job, Ferry makes the most sense. The knock on Rohrssen was that he was not a good game coach having never been a head coach at any level prior to his arrival in Riverdale. But that same thing could be said for all the candidates interviewed at Manhattan - with the exception of Bob Walsh, the head coach at Division III Rhode Island College - in that Louisville assistant Steve Masiello, Rutgers assistant Van Macon and Manhattan assistant coach Scott Padgett all lacked head coaching experience.

Ferry, who won the Jim Phelan Award in the NEC this season as Coach of the Year, would bring an exciting up-tempo style of offense. His LIU team averaged 82.7 points per game last season, fourth-best nationally.

NOTE: Ferry becomes the second coach active head coach hired by a MAAC team this off season, joining Sydney Johnson, formerly at Princeton who is taking over at Fairfield.

Your blogging hoopscribe remembers the time ... and it wasn't that long ago ... that the MAAC could never entice head coaches from elsewhere to take over its programs due to financial considerations. The traditional hire had almost always been young assistants on the rise coming from larger programs.

It has only been in the past couple of years that conference programs have begun paying enough money to its head coaches to lure other head coaches away from other conferences. In the case of Johnson leaving Princeton ... he is basically making a sideways move in terms of competititveness as the Ivy League's better teams rank with the best of the MAAC.

Siena might have started the latest trend with its hiring of Fran McCaffery, formerly the head man at UNC-Greensboro, five years ago. And, now, it has its second former head coach in Mitch Buonaguro, although Buonaguro last ran a program in the early 1990s and had been Siena's lead assistant prior to taking over this past season.

But it's easy to understand why the current MAAC openings could be filled with current successful head coaches with glowing resumes.

Both Fairfield (almost every key player returning, as well as two talented transfers becoming eligible for next season) and Manhattan (a terrific trio of young players as a strong nucleus) are poised either to remain strong (the Stags) or make a substantial jump forward in the standings (Jaspers).

And, we've always seen the benefit of succeeding in the MAAC ... it leads to even bigger and better thngs elsewhere.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Siena's Rossiter Set for Portsmouth Showcase

Siena's Ryan Rossiter gets to showcase his abilities before NBA scouts as well as representatives of overseas' leagues beginning today in the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament.

Rossiter, the 6-foot-9, 260-pounder center was the MAAC's Player of the Year this season, and was the nation's No. 2 rebounder, is the only player from the conference participating in the event that traditionally features players on the borderline of the two-round NBA draft.

Teams have eight-man rosters, which ensures each participants gets significant amounts of playing time. And, each team is guaranteed a minimum of three games over the first three days with as teams attempt to advance to Saturday's championship round of play.

Rossiter will play for the Portsmouth Partnership team and, coincidentally, will play against an Albany, N.Y., area native Talor Battle (Penn State) in a first-round contest.

Rossiter is seeking to become the second Siena player to ever make an NBA roster (Kenny Hasbrouck signed two 10-day contnracts in the 2009-10 season with Miami, but never appeared in a game), but also understands he will be an attractive candidate to play in overseas, too.

"My first goal is obviously the NBA, and that's where I want to be next season," Rossiter told the Albany Times-Union newspaper recently. "But there are a ton of European contracts that are going to be there (at the Portsmouth event). Word of mouth is so big, so you just want to put up a good per5formance regardless of who's in the stands.

Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro accompanied Rossiter to Portsmouth.

"I think it's going to be very important that he rebounds well," Buonaguro told the T-U. "I think that's something that is piquing the interest of the NBA people, is his ability to rebound. If he plays good defense, he's aggressive and rebounds, he'll get noticed."

MAAC "Hot-Stove" Still Works in Off-Season

The off-season is officially here ... the last college basketball game of the season, Tuesday night's women's NCAA championship game, has been played.

But, that doesn't mean the sport's "hot stove" will cool off any time soon. There is still much to keep an eye on within the MAAC, and you can read all about it right here.

So, we hope you'll continue to check in on the MAAC blog early and often. To preview coming events we'll be doing a "Progress Report" on every program, both for men and women, taking a look back and a look ahead.

We'll also be reporting on incoming recruits and transfers joining conference teams shortly after the mid-April signing period ends.

Of course, there is plenty of off-season news to report, and the deluge has already started with player defections, the hiring of a coach at Faifield and the impending hiring of another coach at Manhattan.

And, in case you didn't know ... the MAAC blog is operational year round, so it's full speed ahead even in the off-season.

So, we hope you'll remember to check the blog for the latest, and the greatest in conference news, opinion, insight, features and just about anything else conference related.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Some Comings, Goings Within The MAAC

Comings and goings within the MAAC of late ...

- Fairfield has a new men's coach. Published reports indicate that Sydney Johnson, formerly the head man at Princeton of the Ivy League, will take over the Stags and replace Ed Cooley, who moved on to Providence.

- A number of reports indicate that the Marist women's team will lose 6-foot-4 junior-to-be forward Kate Oliver, a two-year starter, who could transfer to Washington State.

- The Marist men's team is also losing players. Current sophomore Sam Prescott, arguably the Red Foxes' best player this past season; sophomore Candon Rusin, its best long-range shooter; and, 6-8 post player freshman Manelik Watson, have all announced plans to leave the program. For those counting, that's eight players who have either been dismissed from or left the Marist program voluntarily in the last two seasons, and your blogging hoopscribe cannot remember any similar exodus in conference history.

- At Siena, reserve guard Kyle Griffin, who will graduate next month, has already confirmed he will not return to play next season. And, sophomore guard Jonathan Breeden, an effective reserve, could also be leaving. At least two media outlets in the Albany, N.Y., market have reported that Breeden will be transferring out to be closer to home, but Siena officials say no paperwork has been requested yet by Breeden.

'Nova's '85 Titlist Spawned 3 MAAC Coaches

As always during the NCAA men's basketball tournament, when talk turns to classic championship game upsets, the 1985 Villanova team's surprise victory over Georgetown is prominently mentioned.

And, so it was during the pregame telecast of Monday night's championship game between UConn and Butler, complete with the post-game on-court celebration by Villanova There, in the middle of the Wildcats' wild on-court scene immediately following the final buzzer were some prominent future MAAC connections.

Villanova's head coach was Rollie Massimino, whose entire three-man staff of assistants would all go on to coach Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference teams. And, your blogging hoopscribe does not believe there to be another case of three assistant coaches from the same staff all eventually running MAAC programs.

But, there they were in the old clips ... Mitch Buonaguro, Marty Marbach and Steve Lappas, all Villanova assistant coaches when the Wildcats won the national championship of the 1984-85 season.

Buonaguro is still prowling a MAAC sideline, just finishing his first season as Siena's coach. He previously coached at Fairfield (1985-91), getting that job mere weeks after doing the scout and preparing the scouting report that was the blueprint for Villanova's victory over Georgetown.

Lappas went on to coach Manhattan (1988-92). From there he replaced Massimino at Villanova (1992-01) and, then, was the head coach at UMass (2001-05). Lappas is now a college basketball analyst for CBS sports.

Marbach went on to coach at Canisius (1987-92), but never returned to a college sideline after being dismissed at that program. He did reside in the Albany, N.Y., area for several years and served as a color commentator for Siena men's radio broadcasts for several seasons in the mid-1990s.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Buonaguro Had Close Looks At Butler

Four men's teams remain alive in the NCAA tournament, and there's only one MAAC team that played against any of the Final Four participants this year.

That would be Siena, which not only played Butler this season but has gone up against the Bulldogs twice in a 10-month time frame.

The Saints drew Butler as a 2009-10 BracketBusters' opponent, losing, 70-53, on Feb. 20, 2010, at Hinkle Field House. The teams met again in Albany at the Times Union Center with Butler earning a 70-57 victory on Nov. 23, 2010, in the return of the previous season's BracketBusters' game.

Both times Siena played relatively well against Butler. In the first meeting the game was tied with 16 minutes left. This season's meeting saw Siena within 46-43 with 14;25 remaining.

Your blogging hoopscribe was a first-hand observer at this year's meeting, and came away more impressed with Butler's team-oriented style of play than with its talent.

All the things the national pundits have been saying about Butler ... that it makes very few mistakes and its patient offense takes advantage of defensive miscues ... it was all on display a little more than four months ago when Butler played Siena.

Current Saint coach Mitch Buonaguro was on the Saints' sideline for both games.

"I'm very familiar with them, not only from the past two years at Siena, but when I was an assistant coach (at Cleveland State) in the Horizen League and had to play them every year," said Buonaguro.

"People talk about their offense, but they're a great team defensively, too. They put a high priority on the defensive end, not only in terms of good positioning but they play very physically. It was a real adjustment for our guys ... they drew five offensive charges on us. They do all the little things defensively.

"When I look at teams, I kind of catagorize them. Butler is definitely a "rhythm" team. They have great rhythm on offense, good bood movement. They're never in a rush and they rareely turn it over. They play with tremendous execution, get the ball to their top players for shots ... they're a team that can hurt you out of every time out. That's the mark of a team that executes its plays.

"I think what they've done the past two years (Butler is one of just two teams to make it to back-to-back Final Fours in 40 years, the other the Larry Johnson-led UNLV teams), but after seeing them this season I did expect them to win some games (in the NCAA's) because of the way they play and their confidence level.

"Nothing they've done surprises me. I didn't honestly think they'd be a Final Four team this season, but they win close games. They're very good in late-game situations. A big part of it is that they have players in their program for three or four years. By the time those guys are juniors and seniors they're as good as younger players from larger programs who don't have that level of experience. And, they've got two guys in Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack who are as good as it gets.

"One of the things you have to do to beat them is to get them out of their rhythm once in a while. You have to throw a trap defense at them ... do different things. I think we hurt them a little, getting back in the game with them this year, by going to a zone defense and changing defenses a lot on them. We were actually still in the game with five minutes left before they took over at the end.

"When we played them at Butler last year I thought that team had the potential to go to the Final Four. This year is a little more surprising, but after seeing the way they've played in the tournament ... I'm not surprised any more."