Monday, October 5, 2015

2015-16 America East preview

Perennial America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney returns for senior season, continuing Stony Brook's chase for Seawolves' elusive first NCAA Tournament appearance. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

Conference preview season is now upon us, but as opposed to the "32 In 32" series we have done in the past, we take on a more local focus this season with a closer look at the conferences up and down the Eastern seaboard.

First up to be profiled is the America East, where three-time reigning champion Albany will once again be in the thick of things as Will Brown and the Great Danes, who celebrated their most recent league title on Peter Hooley's three-pointer with 1.6 seconds remaining in regulation, face renewed challenges from longtime rivals Stony Brook and Vermont, not to mention an up-and-coming New Hampshire team that reached its first postseason one year ago.

While the top four may be a consensus, the America East will continue to provide its usual high quality basketball throughout the season in each of its nine members, who are listed below in the order of our preseason predictions:

1) Stony Brook - At the start of last season, Steve Pikiell referenced his team's youth, yet still guided the Seawolves to a near-masterpiece of a season, falling just agonizingly short in another championship game that added another frustrating chapter to Stony Brook's quixotic hunt for the first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. Several months later, Pikiell and the Seawolves may have their best shot yet to finally end the second-guessing as to when the affable head coach will finally win the big one. Senior forward Jameel Warney, already considered one of the greatest players in America East history, returns for one final season as one of four incumbent starters, a group that includes his classmates, Carson "Tre" Puriefoy and Rayshaun McGrew, as well as sophomores wingman Roland Nyama. Kameron Mitchell and Deshaun Thrower augment a deep backcourt that also welcomes Longwood transfer and Long Island native Lucas Woodhouse, a gifted passer who will free up Puriefoy to play off the ball at times. Ahmad Walker rejoins the Seawolves after a year in junior college, and will fill out a rotation that also includes the likes of sophomores Tyrell Sturdivant and Bryan Sekunda, the latter a dead-eye shooter who got better as last season went on.

2) Albany - Even with three consecutive championships in tow, Will Brown's group comes up a very close second in this prognostication, although the Great Danes will almost certainly make another deep run through the America East Tournament next March. To most programs, the task of replacing a player who was the heart and soul of the team the way Sam Rowley was would be unenviable, but Albany returns six of their top eight scorers for their latest encore, including the aforementioned Hooley, the Australian hero who rejoins Evan Singletary and Ray Sanders in a troika of senior guards. Up front, 6-11 Canadian Richard Peters returns for his junior season, and Brown hinted to us in the offseason that he may continue to play Dallas Ennema as a stretch four to create a matchup advantage while Mike Rowley, Sam's younger brother, continues to blossom going into his junior season. Talented freshman guard Joe Cremo and sophomore forward Greig Stire should see their fair share of minutes as well for the other half of the America East's two-headed monster at the top.

3) Vermont - Not to be outdone by either of the top two, John Becker and the Catamounts head into the season with four returning starters of their own, headlined by surefire all-America East forward Ethan O'Day, who anchors the interior for a fourth and final season in Burlington. Junior Dre Wills and sophomore Trae Bell-Haynes reprise their roles in a backcourt that welcomes back Ernie Duncan, whose back injury last season cost him all but four games as a medical redshirt. Cam Ward, the co-Sixth Man of the Year in the America East last season, is back for his sophomore campaign as well. Up front, Kurt Steidl and Drew Urquhart look to improve on solid contributions as role players last season, and former Hofstra glue guy Darren Payen should be a stable force alongside O'Day in the paint for a team that will no doubt be in the postseason mix once more.

4) New Hampshire - Eight of Bill Herrion's top nine scorers return for the Wildcats this season, with reigning America East Rookie of the Year Tanner Leissner entering his sophomore season as a dark horse Player of the Year contender and favorite for first team all-conference honors when all is said and done. Fellow Texan Jaleen Smith, New Hampshire's assists and steals leader last season, is back for his junior year as Herrion's floor general, with sharpshooter Daniel Dion once again partnering up alongside him while Ronnel Jordan takes on a bigger role. Jacoby Armstrong, who averaged almost ten points per game as a sophomore, will once again team up with Leissner down low as Iba Camara and Frank Okeke will see significant minutes as their backups.

5) Binghamton - Tommy Dempsey and a young Bearcats squad battled their way through a 6-26 season filled with growing pains (a 2-20 start) and a promising end to the season, highlighted by a win over Vermont and a near-upset of Stony Brook in the America East quarterfinals. Sophomore Willie Rodriguez, Binghamton's leading scorer in an All-Rookie season a year ago, leads a cast that returns nearly everyone to its ensemble, including 6-9 center Dusan Perovic, whose torn ACL limited him to just 15 games as a freshman. Guards Romello Walker and Marlon Beck II anchor the backcourt, which also features sophomore Justin McFadden and redshirt freshman John Schurman on the wings. Burgeoning big man Bobby Ahearn, the Bearcats' third-leading rebounder in just 19.8 minutes per game last year, and incoming freshman Thomas Bruce of the vaunted DeMatha Catholic program, will shore up the front line and increase scoring opportunities for Rodriguez and the guards of a true sleeper pick in the America East.

6) Hartford - The Hawks rebound from a disappointing 2014-15 campaign, and do so by attempting to replace a senior core whose nucleus, forward Mark Nwakamma, is now playing overseas in Israel. Guards Taylor Dyson and Justin Graham, the latter having served as Hartford's top reserve en route to splitting co-Sixth Man of the Year honors with Vermont's Cam Ward last season, will hope to carry their marksmanship into their senior and junior years, respectively, while Irishman John Carroll builds off a solid rookie season as the top returning forward for head coach John Gallagher. A trio of transfers will have the opportunity to make an immediate impact for the Hawks, with Eastern Michigan expatriate Jalen Ross and New Mexico castoff Cleveland Thomas joining the backcourt, while one-time Fordham role player Jake Fay chips in up front.

7) Maine - Bob Walsh takes the helm for his second season in Orono hoping to improve on the Black Bears' 3-27 record from one year ago. The good news for Walsh is that both of his leading scorers, sophomore shooting guard Kevin Little and senior forward Till Gloger, are back to spearhead the effort. Sophomore point guard Aaron Calixte also returns, as does senior Shaun Lawton, who led the Black Bears in steals last season. The front line is still a work in progress, but Maine welcomes back Canadian Marko Pirovic after he was limited to only nine games last year, and junior Garet Beal should take another step forward. Vincent Eze, a 6-8 freshman who decommitted from Manhattan and was signed by Walsh in the offseason, should also see an immediate impact.

8) UMass Lowell - Pat Duquette's River Hawks are young, with nine players on their roster entering either their freshman or sophomore seasons, including their leader, sophomore guard Jahad Thomas. Thomas, UMass Lowell's leading scorer and rebounder last season, should be ready to go for the season opener after rehabbing from a torn ACL that prematurely ended a rookie season that saw the Pennsylvania native garner All-Rookie and third team all-league honors. Fellow sophomore Matt Harris should join the starting lineup this season after a promising sixth man freshman year that saw him lead the team with 47 three-pointers, on which he connected at a 37 percent clip. Redshirt freshmen Dontavious Smith and Josh Gantz should lighten the load up front along with junior Tyler Livingston, while Jordan Shea returns from a medical redshirt to partner with Thomas and Harris in a backcourt that will see a competition at the point guard spot among a trio of rookies in Keith Hayes, Ryan Jones, and Isaac White.

9) UMBC - The Retrievers have nowhere to go but up after a 4-26 season last year, and the future looks promising under head coach Aki Thomas. Leading scorer Wayne Sparrow has graduated, but 6-8 forward Cody Joyce leads the charge going into his senior season in Baltimore, one in which he will have to carry the load in the paint for a guard-heavy roster. Junior wing Will Darley should help Joyce on the boards, but the highest potential on this team comes from sophomore guards Jourdan Grant (40 assists per game last season) and Malcolm Brent, (.366 three-point percentage) who will be joined by VCU transfer Jairus Lyles after the first semester concludes.

2015-16 America East First Team Predictions
Player of the Year: Jameel Warney (F - Stony Brook)
Ethan O'Day (F - Vermont)
Tanner Leissner (F - New Hampshire)
Peter Hooley (G - Albany)
Evan Singletary (G - Albany)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Observations and quotes from Fordham's opening practice

Jeff Neubauer imparts words of wisdom in the huddle as Fordham begins 2015-16 season with opening practice Saturday afternoon at Rose Hill Gym. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

Fordham officially opened its new era Saturday afternoon, with head coach Jeff Neubauer conducting his first practice since taking over last March, playing equal parts instructor and teammate during a spirited drill session at Rose Hill Gymnasium.

"I think our group has really had the right approach and attitude," Neubauer commented shortly after putting his new team through its paces on both sides of the basketball. "They want to get better, and they're very eager to be winners."

Admittedly, the Rams' new leader is still putting the puzzle together in terms of his rotation and starting lineup, revealing that he did not yet have a first unit per se, although it appeared as though most of last year's returning starters are on track to see a majority of the minutes this season.

Fordham opens the season at Texas-Arlington on November 14, but in the meantime, here are some observations from watching practice No. 1 up close and personal:

  • This isn't going to be the same Fordham team people have grown accustomed to.
It only took a few minutes to notice the change in tenor under Neubauer as compared to his predecessor, Tom Pecora. Whereas the Rams were notorious for playing tentative and predictable basketball in Pecora's five-year tenure, Neubauer was unafraid to mix it up, displaying facets of an uptempo offensive attack paired with a pressing defensive scheme that emphasizes constant awareness of where the ball is at all times. "Our guys did certainly play very hard in this first practice," the coach highlighted, "and that's what we're after, is to fly around and play with incredible energy."
  • Jon Severe did more than just go through the motions defensively.
During his first two seasons, much had been made of Severe's tendency to take possessions off, a characteristic that landed him in Pecora's doghouse through much of his sophomore campaign despite his scoring prowess. Under Neubauer, and granted, this was only the first practice of what could end up being a very long season, it seems as though a fire has been lit under the Brooklyn native. On more than one occasion, he hounded Mandell Thomas up and down the floor, not once giving his backcourt partner a moment's peace during one-on-one drills.
  • Ryan Canty may be in the best shape of his career.
Time will tell whether or not the fifth-year senior's back will be able to withstand an entire season, but any apparent rust in the rebounding extraordinaire's game looked mainly nonexistent. "He's been super," Neubauer gushed. "During the summer, he was really just trying to get back into a rhythm, but right now, he really is playing with a lot of passion, he's playing with a smile on his face. I like the effort that he's giving." Look for Canty to see minutes off the bench at the beginning of the season in relief of Ryan Rhoomes and Christian Sengfelder before potentially taking on a bigger role as the season goes on.
  • Speaking of Sengfelder...
The German forward, now the Rams' top returning forward following the transfer of Eric Paschall, has started to develop more of a post game after playing most of his freshman season as a stretch four. Sengfelder is still a work in progress down low, but spent the bulk of the practice session working on his moves under the basket and in its vicinity, something that should enable him to have more of an impact on Fordham's interior presence.
  • An interchangeable and deep backcourt.
Backcourt depth was always a calling card of Fordham under Pecora, who left the cupboard full for his successor. At first blush, it looks as if Antwoine Anderson will get an increase in minutes after working alongside Mandell Thomas throughout the afternoon, with the two alternating between running the offense from the point guard spot and playing off the ball. After those two, Nemanja Zarkovic remains a steady hand as he goes into his sophomore season. Behind Severe, all three of the Rams' freshman guards are capable shooters, particularly Jahshire Hardnett, the 5-11 left-hander from Mississippi, who drained several NBA-range threes from the corners.
  • "Contest every shot."
Neubauer preached this in every defensive workout, which comprised the majority of the practice on the whole. "We've got to think of ourselves as defenders," he stated matter-of-factly, even after complimenting the unselfish play of his team on the offensive end. "We have to have a defensive DNA, and our guys are beginning to understand that."

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fever 66, Liberty 51: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK CITY - On the surface, it was elimination time. The Indiana Fever defeated the New York Liberty 66-51 at Madison Square Garden. The game three victory punched the Fever ticket to the finals against the Minnesota Lynx. Beyond the score and numbers, the storylines run a great deal deeper.

Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer spoke of the hurt and disappointment, emotions that dominated the postgame moment as a successful and rewarding season went into the books. 

The Liberty learned a harsh lesson in finishing. They had an 18-point lead in Indiana on Sunday and could not close it out. There was no ‘hangover’ on Tuesday from that experience per Laimbeer. Rather, it was a veteran Fever team finishing the job, something the young Liberty group must learn to take a step toward that elusive first WNBA title.

The numbers showed the Liberty with a respectable defensive efficiency, holding Indiana to a 96. On their own end, New York managed just 70 in offensive efficiency. The culprit was a plethora of missed shots in closing, as well as turnovers resulting in 18 Indiana points.

You can point to New York’s tough shooting night and mostly unforced errors leading to a 29% TO rate. When it gets down to it, you are looking at the difference of a franchise that has been there a number of times on recent occasion against one in a relatively unchartered area.

Credit Indiana. Stephanie White’s team had a good deal to do with the subpar Liberty performance, and a lot of it was rooted in being a team that had the experience and knew what had to be done; not just to battle back from the brink of elimination, but to close it out on the enemy floor.

The Indiana Fever are headed to the WNBA finals. They have that marquee player and leader in Tamika Catchings. They have a lot more in their favor as well. The Liberty found that out. Not just in game three, but this entire three-game series.

The Liberty dance team, the Timeless Torches, warms up behind the Garden floor:

Former New York Knicks standout John Starks greets a pair of devout fans:

Ahead by 11 at halftime, Indiana coach Stephanie White takes the floor for the final half with a look of determination:

Briann January running the Fever offense:

The ball is on the opposite side of the floor, but Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings stands in the stance, ready to shoot or penetrate should she receive the pass:

Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer, addressing the contest after the game:

With the Liberty season now over, the Garden crew moves on to prepare for their next event:

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Liberty 84, Fever 67: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK CITY - The saying is a bit trite: "What a difference a day makes."

Apparently, not a great deal. 

Once again, we were afforded another graphic lesson in playoff basketball. The New York Liberty never trailed en route to an 84-67 victory over the Indiana Fever. The contest at Madison Square Garden gave New York a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Eastern Conference finals. 

The night before, Tina Charles of the Liberty said there would be no fatigue due to the adrenaline. Tamika Catchings of the Fever was not surprised, citing it to the urgency and nature of playoff basketball.

Charles went for 18 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and zero turnovers, not to mention logging 36 minutes 24 hours removed from a 39-minute outing. Her outstanding evening  set the tone for a Liberty performance that even surprised Bill Laimbeer. In the final analysis, it was a home win, and a more down-to-earth Laimbeer commented, “that’s what we’re supposed to do, protect home court.”

Now game two moves to the Hoosier State on Sunday. Indiana is at home, and as pointed out, players, not locations, win games. All things considered, in a ‘do or die’ situation, playing in front of the home crowd is decidedly more desirable than hitting the road. And this is a locale where the Liberty have come up short on every occasion this season.

It has been frequently discussed that the Fever won the season series over the Liberty. Not an individual in either locker room weighs in on that being a relevant factor. After all, there is a reason they refer to this as a ‘second season.’

Next stop, the "World's Most Famous Arena."
Kiah Stokes appears to be in quiet reflection during warmups. During the game, she exploded for a career-high 21 points:
An outstanding star for years, Tamika Catchings of Indiana looks for room on the perimeter:

Indiana's Layshia Clarendon running the offense:

The Garden scoreboard proclaims the Liberty victory:
The Liberty huddle at center court following the victory:

Fever coach Stephanie White meets the media postgame:

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Liberty 79, Mystics 74: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK CITY - We tend to look at playoff finals as being the ultimate test, a battle of wills stretched to maximum intensity. This assessment is correct, but the earlier rounds carry those same qualities and demands found in the final round. This was evident Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. The New York Liberty and Washington Mystics met with their best-of-three series knotted. The deciding contest was set for the hallowed Garden floor.

In a game generating appreciable electricity in the air and excitement from an adoring fan base, the New York Liberty defeated the Washington Mystics 79­-74. The game featured seven ties and three lead changes. It was only fitting the game was settled with seconds remaining.

Respective coaches Mike Thibault of Washington and New York’s Bill Laimbeer both have ‘second season’ experience. Laimbeer’s extends as a player as well as coach. Both spoke of playoffs literally raising the pulse. In an environment where coaching staffs will utilize analytics to gain an edge, Thibault was spot on in noting “one turnover or missed rebound per half can send you to defeat.”

On this evening, we were also given another playoff lesson, depth is not a luxury, it’s a vital necessity. The Liberty’s Tina Charles, a marquee player, contributed a game-high 22 points and a dozen boards. Off the bench, Kiah Stokes added a game-high 13 rebounds and a crucial block on a potential game-tying three-point attempt with seconds left. Sugar Rodgers and Candice Wiggins also contributed a combined 32 points in relief.

They say familiarity breeds contempt. Team scouting and preparation is magnified in a playoff series­, especially a best-of-three. The teams know each other all too well. It should be of little surprise that the most minute detail can send a team home while another advances. Both the Liberty and Mystics knew this. On this special evening, the nine thousand-plus fans in attendance witnessed it.

Tina Charles is a picture of concentration on the line prior to the contest:
Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer watches pregame warmups, composed and relaxed:
Swin Cash of the Liberty and Washington's Ivory Latta during a free throw respite:
A meeting of UConn alumni, as Kiah Stokes of the Liberty battles Washington's Stefanie Dolson for rebounding position:
The Liberty defending the perimeter:
Washington coach Mike Thibault meets the media following a tough defeat:
Hold the hockey nets for now, as there is still basketball to be played with the Liberty moving on:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Alvarado returns to Manhattan, joins coaching staff

Less than two years removed from winning a MAAC championship in his senior year, Michael Alvarado returns to Manhattan, joining Jaspers' coaching staff as special assistant to Steve Masiello. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

One of the architects of Manhattan's recent Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship success has returned to Riverdale.

Michael Alvarado, the fearless senior guard who; along with classmates George Beamon and Rhamel Brown guided the Jaspers to the first of two consecutive MAAC titles in 2014, has accepted a position on his former head coach Steve Masiello's staff, now serving his alma mater as the special assistant to the head coach.

"It's a great feeling to be back with the program," Alvarado said in a release issued Tuesday afternoon, confirming his hire. "It's a huge opportunity to give back to the players, as well as the coaches that once taught me."

"We are extremely excited about having Mike back as part of our program," Masiello stated, echoing the sentiment of his former floor general. "He is one of the ultimate competitors, and brings us back to our championship days. With a young team, he will be a big part of our culture and helping young players learn what being a professional is all about."

A Bronx native, Alvarado rejoins the Manhattan program only sixteen months after graduating in 2014 following a four-year career in which he amassed 1,170 career points, third team all-MAAC selections in his sophomore and senior seasons, and countless nights where the crowd on hand at Draddy Gymnasium knew to expect a relentless, unselfish outing from the man wearing No. 31, pouring his heart and soul into each play no matter the score. His hire also upholds Masiello's commitment to keeping the close-knit family atmosphere he has become known for cultivating, as he brought former Jasper guard Kidani Brutus onto his staff in a similar capacity prior to the 2014-15 season.

Although he enjoyed a two-year career playing professionally in Puerto Rico, Alvarado never really left the Jaspers, frequently returning in the offseason to help his remaining teammates; many of whom are still on the roster, during individual workouts, not to mention becoming a fixture at most regular season games as Manhattan became the first team since Siena in 2010 to successfully defend its MAAC championship.

Monday, September 14, 2015

MAAC schedule release: Takeaways, nuggets, must-see conference games

In search of third consecutive conference championship, Manhattan rekindles rivalry with Iona on January 29 in New Rochelle, and again in Riverdale on February 26. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

Three months of anticipation later, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference schedule was released Monday morning, with the conference's broadcast schedule to follow soon.

Two-time reigning MAAC champion Manhattan opens their conference slate on the road, and does so inside the Times Union Center on December 4 when Steve Masiello brings the Jaspers to Albany for a battle with Siena, marking Manhattan's first appearance in the capital of New York since cutting down the net in that same building six months ago.

The league season, which opened in November last year due to a scheduling quirk that saw Saint Peter's get an early home game, returns to its December roots this time around, as Iona christens the 2015-16 MAAC campaign on December 1 when the Gaels welcome Fairfield into the Hynes Athletics Center.

Links to each MAAC team's full schedule can be found at the bottom of the page, but before that, we shed some light on the schedule as a whole and preview some games that are worth the price of admission:

  • Monmouth and Quinnipiac take the first trip to Buffalo of the MAAC season, with the Hawks and Bobcats opening against Canisius and Niagara, while Marist and Fairfield are the last schools to travel to Western New York, doing so in the next-to-last weekend of February. For King Rice's Hawks, some fans may bemoan the fact that they will only have one home game before January, but getting the longest road trip of the season out of the way in December will only help Monmouth along in a year where all but two players from an 18-win team return to a program with higher expectations after a semifinal loss to Iona last March.
  • Undefeated at home in the regular season one year ago, Iona has several early chances to reassert their dominance at the Hynes Athletics Center. Seven of the Gaels' first ten league contests will be held in New Rochelle, including four straight against Niagara, Rider, Marist, and Monmouth to open January. Although the obvious reverse side of the coin means Tim Cluess will be coaching on the road more often than not down the stretch, having an early home slate could be beneficial to a talent-laden Gaels roster securing their fourth regular season MAAC championship in five years.
  • In preparation for the league's broadcast contract with ESPN, most of the marquee matchups in the MAAC will be prime candidates for the Friday night spots on ESPN2 and ESPNU. For example, both Iona-Manhattan games, as well as both Iona-Monmouth affairs, are scheduled for Fridays.
  • On paper, there does not appear to be a gauntlet of sorts for any one team to start the conference season, but if you believe in easy stretches of the schedule, Canisius benefits from such a hypothetical advantage toward the end of the regular season. Before closing the year at Iona on February 28, the Golden Griffins meet Saint Peter's, Fairfield, Marist, and Niagara; all of whom have been projected toward the bottom of the league standings, with the latter three coming to the Koessler Athletic Center as Jim Baron's team seeks its fourth top five finish in as many years since the dismissal of Tom Parrotta in 2012.
10 Must-See conference games: (listed in chronological order where possible)

1) Manhattan at Siena, December 4: The Jaspers' conference opener takes place on the road for the fourth time in Steve Masiello's five years at the helm, and will be a strong test for the champions as they meet a Siena team who is considered a contender to dethrone Manhattan, with Jimmy Patsos' Saints returning junior point guard Marquis Wright to a team that welcomes forwards Brett Bisping and Imoh Silas back from injuries.

2) Rider at Iona, January 7: The clash in styles between the defense-oriented Broncs and uptempo Gaels attack has usually gone the way of Iona, but this season could provide different results for Rider, whose backcourt of Teddy Okereafor, Jimmie Taylor and Zedric Sadler should overcome an inexperienced front line and force Iona into playing smaller and tighter on the defensive end.

3-4) Monmouth at Iona, January 15; Iona at Monmouth, February 19: When these two teams met in the MAAC semifinals last March, Iona rained down a tournament-record 19 three-pointers to bury the Hawks in a matchup that could have easily passed for a championship showdown. With these two teams likely entering the year as the projected top two in the conference, the home-and-home in New Rochelle and West Long Branch could be the first two acts in a trilogy that culminates on the first Monday of March in Albany.

5) Monmouth at Manhattan, January 21: Although King Rice has not beaten the Jaspers since Monmouth joined the MAAC, he has come much closer on the road than he has on his home floor, with both contests at Draddy Gymnasium being decided by single digits as opposed to the double-figure margins of victory Manhattan has taken out of the Multipurpose Activity Center. If the Hawks can bring the fight into the "6th Borough" for 40 minutes, it may be the first of many signature moments for the up-and-comers from the Jersey Shore.

6-7) Saint Peter's at Iona, January 22; Iona at Saint Peter's, February 1: The Peacocks and Gaels always seem to take part in some of the most underrated MAAC epics every season. In 2013, a missed buzzer-beater by Momo Jones gave Saint Peter's an upset victory at the Yanitelli Center, while Iona has prevailed by the skin of their teeth in each of the last two years on their home floor, needing an A.J. English three-pointer in the final seconds to survive in 2014 before winning a rock fight in overtime last January. Saint Peter's might not have the name cache that Iona's roster possesses, but very few coaches squeeze the most out of their resources the way John Dunne does, and the Peacocks' scrappy group will almost certainly give the Gaels all they can handle once again.

8-9) Manhattan at Iona, January 29; Iona at Manhattan, February 26: It's considered one of the best rivalries in college basketball. Enough said.

10) Siena at Marist, February 7: When Fran McCaffery patrolled the sidelines for the Saints and Jared Jordan led the Red Foxes to their first regular season MAAC title, the I-87 rivalry was as heated as it had ever been. Some years later, Jimmy Patsos' firebrand style has reinvigorated the Siena fan base while Mike Maker is slowly rebuilding Marist for the climb back into the MAAC's upper echelon. Jay Bowie's 2014 heroics at McCann Arena snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat in a 65-64 Red Fox win, proving that the fireworks along the New York State Thruway are still alive and well.

Full Schedule Links

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Mystics 82, Liberty 55: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK CITY - The game was more than a loss, or a mark in the ‘L’ column. The New York Liberty's 82-55 pasting at the hands of the Washington Mystics sent a message and reminder.

The message was a simple one: Remain focused. The Liberty have the best record (now 23-­10) in the WNBA. The top seed and home court advantage is secured for the duration of their playoff run. On this evening, coach Bill Laimbeer chose to play the starters sparingly while giving the reserves appreciable minutes as he looked at different combinations. What upset Laimbeer the most was not just allowing Washington to hit 12-of-19 (63%) from three-point range while giving up a 111 efficiency on the defensive end. Basically, it came down to a lack of effort and focus, something bothering Laimbeer more than the sheer numbers.

The other point to be taken is that of home court. The Liberty were handled in the confines of Madison Square Garden. Home court, especially in basketball, is something desired as momentum, familiarity of the venue, and crowd support enter the mix. The old coaching axiom, ‘players, not arenas, win games’ spoke loud and clear through the confines of the ‘World’s Most Famous Arena.’ A poor showing, due to that deficiency of focus, will not be compensated by playing in front of the home folks.

The Liberty know this. With the playoffs beginning this week, it is certain the message they received at the hands of the Mystics will be remembered. A lopsided loss, one they look to avenge when their first playoff game is contested next Friday on the Garden floor.

Finally, the coffee oasis is found in the Liberty's fan hospitality room:
The Washington Mystics take the floor for the second half:
Sugar Rodgers of the Liberty defending Washington's Tayler Hill:
A meeting of Atlantic 10 alumni, as Dayton graduate Ally Malott passes to Natasha Cloud of Saint Joseph's:
The officiating crew of (L-R) Eric Brewton, Jeff Smith and Tiffany Bird exits after a job well done:
Despite the lopsided setback, Bill Laimbeer can smile with the Liberty having the best record in the league:

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Fairfield releases nonconference schedule

Trips to North Carolina and Northwestern highlight a nonconference schedule for Fairfield that also includes five home games. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

Despite their recent showings near the bottom of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, one aspect of Fairfield's efforts that cannot be overlooked is a willingness to take on the nation's best teams year in and year out, testing the Stags early before league play begins.

Last season, Fairfield faced eventual national champion Duke in their second game of the year, and Wednesday afternoon released a nonconference schedule whose marquee date features the Stags visiting Tobacco Road again this November, this time against potential preseason No. 1 North Carolina.

"I believe we have accomplished our goal of putting together a quality nonconference schedule that will challenge our student-athletes night in and night out," said head coach Sydney Johnson. "Playing teams from six different conferences adds to the overall experience."

Before the Stags meet the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on November 15, they begin their season as they always do, as part of the Connecticut 6 two days prior. This year's edition, to be played on the campus of Central Connecticut State University, will match Fairfield up with Yale, a contender to win the Ivy League this season. On November 18, the Stags will take on Northwestern in a preliminary round game that encompasses the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, tipping off at Welsh-Ryan Arena against Chris Collins and the Wildcats.

Fairfield's home opener takes place on Saturday, November 21, against in-state rival Sacred Heart, the fourth contest in the first nine days of the season, and one that also begins a stretch of five out of seven non-league games held at Webster Bank Arena. One of the two road games immediately follows, against Maryland Eastern-Shore on November 24. The Stags return to Bridgeport on the day after Thanksgiving to commence a three-game homestand against another Ivy League favorite in Kyle Smith's Columbia Lions, who regain the services of Alex Rosenberg to join a loaded roster led by all-conference guard Maodo Lo.

Following the opening weekend of conference play and a hiatus for final exams, Fairfield takes the floor again on December 18, hosting Wagner before former MAAC rival Loyola comes to town on December 22 for the first time since the Greyhounds joined the Patriot League in 2013. The Stags travel to the Sojka Pavilion for their final game of 2015, returning the favor against Bucknell on December 27, and conclude their non-league slate on January 4, 2016, when Dartmouth makes their way to Bridgeport.

2015-16 Fairfield Stags Nonconference Schedule
Friday, November 13: vs. Yale (Connecticut 6, New Britain, Conn.)
Sunday, November 15: at North Carolina (CBE Hall of Fame Classic)
Wednesday, November 18: at Northwestern (CBE Hall of Fame Classic)
Saturday, November 21: vs. Sacred Heart
Tuesday, November 24: at Maryland-Eastern Shore
Friday, November 27: vs. Columbia
Friday, December 18: vs. Wagner
Tuesday, December 22: vs. Loyola (Md.)
Sunday, December 27: at Bucknell
Monday, January 4, 2016: vs. Dartmouth

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Quinnipiac releases nonconference schedule

Tom Moore leads young Quinnipiac team into nonconference schedule that sees Bobcats play nine opponents, including three who reached postseason last year. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)

On a relatively slow Labor Day weekend, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference hot stove was fired up briefly Saturday afternoon, as Quinnipiac became the seventh of the league's eleven members to release its nonconference schedule.

"We have again tried to challenge our student-athletes with a cross section of strong basketball programs that have a tradition of postseason success," head coach Tom Moore said of the ledger his Bobcats will embark upon during his ninth season at the helm in Hamden. "I feel like our alumni and fans always enjoy the regional rivalries we have established, and we always enjoy opening our season in the Connecticut 6, which has become an annual favorite of many local college basketball fans."

This year's Connecticut 6 takes place on the campus of Central Connecticut State, Quinnipiac's former Northeast Conference rival, and will see the Bobcats tip their season off against a fellow former NEC foe in Sacred Heart on November 13. A road trip to Vermont on the 18th of November serves as the first of four games that Quinnipiac will contest against members of the America East Conference, and it precedes a three-game homestand that begins as Holy Cross and new head coach Bill Carmody come to the TD Bank Sports Center on November 22.

Reigning Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular season champion North Carolina Central is next to come to Hamden, doing so on November 24, and three-time defending America East titleholder Albany is the final tuneup before the opening weekend of MAAC play, with Will Brown's Great Danes visiting on December 1. On the 9th of December, Quinnipiac meets its third America East opponent, traveling to the Chase Family Arena to take on John Gallagher and the Hartford Hawks. A home game with Boston University on December 13 is the Bobcats' final non-league affair on Lender Court.

Quinnipiac's penultimate non-league game comes in Oregon on December 21, when they fly out to Corvallis for the third and final matchup of a series against Oregon State. The Bobcats will be taking on the Beavers one year to the day of their first victory against an opponent from one of the "Power 5" conferences, a win they picked up against Oregon State last season in Hamden by the final of 60-52. Eight days later, Quinnipiac makes the trip to Maine to face Bob Walsh and the Black Bears on December 29.

2015-16 Quinnipiac Bobcats Nonconference Schedule
Friday, November 13: vs. Sacred Heart, 3 p.m. (Connecticut 6, New Britain, Conn.)
Wednesday, November 18: at Vermont, 7 p.m.
Sunday, November 22: vs. Holy Cross, 1 p.m.
Tuesday, November 24: vs. North Carolina Central, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, December 1: vs. Albany, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, December 9: at Hartford, 7 p.m.
Sunday, December 13: vs. Boston University, 1 p.m.
Monday, December 21: at Oregon State, 10 p.m.
Tuesday, December 29: at Maine, 7 p.m.