Thursday, May 28, 2015

Monmouth wins final two games of China trip behind Brady's interior dominance

Chris Brady saved his best for last on Monmouth's trip to China, erupting for 34 points and 18 rebounds in last two games, both of which were Hawks wins. (Photo courtesy of The Shore Sports Network)

The basketball portion of Monmouth's 14-day excursion to China is over, but the Hawks have several positive takeaways from a 3-1 stint overseas that wrapped up early this morning with the second of two consecutive victories over the Chinese club Anhui Wenyi.

"You always want to win," head coach King Rice declared after Monmouth closed out a 106-95 victory just 24 hours removed from a 111-101 win over Anhui Wenyi Wednesday morning. "I thought we won the three because of how we played. We played a lot better after that first game, so the thing I liked is us getting together as a group, and they kept getting tighter as the games went on. It's going to be a lot of fun because everybody is an unselfish kid on this team."

Monmouth's unselfishness has allowed the Hawks to unleash a different breakout star every night thus far, showcasing the depth behind point guard Justin Robinson, who will enter his junior season as a reigning first team all-MAAC selection and potential Player of the Year. This morning, Collin Stewart was able to shine with 22 points, knocking down six three-pointers for his second turn as leading scorer on the trip. However, the biggest emergence over the past 48 hours has been that of Chris Brady. A somewhat forgotten presence alongside Zac Tillman on the front line, Rice's second 6-10 center closed his ledger with 24 points and seven rebounds on Wednesday, and followed it up with a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double this morning.

"It's all about preparation," Brady said after Wednesday's game. "I think in transition, everybody was clicking, everybody was being unselfish about the ball, and everything was going in."

The last two games were played in four 12-minute quarters, a change from ten-minute periods in the first two contests. Regardless, Monmouth was able to overcome the additional length, plus an aggressive opponent on the offensive end, to prevail.

"We had to face some adversity because we let up a little bit," Rice admitted this morning, "but then we were able to get it back under control. I thought Je'lon (Hornbeak) and Austin (Tilghman) made some key plays. The team just got better on this trip, and I'm very excited about this year."

***Reports from Monmouth athletic communications assistant Gary Kowal contributed to this story. For further updates on Monmouth's tour of China, visit MonmouthHawks.com***

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Fordham's Atlantic 10 opponents revealed

Jeff Neubauer's first Atlantic 10 experience as a head coach will feature road trips to VCU and Saint Louis, with home games against Dayton and Davidson. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

Fordham's schedule is still not yet finalized, but the Rams filled a major piece of the puzzle when the Atlantic 10 released its matchup pairings this afternoon.

Head coach Jeff Neubauer will embark on an 18-game conference schedule that features five home-and-home series as he returns to the A-10, where he spent time on John Beilein's staff when Richmond made the jump from the Colonial Athletic Association, this time as a head coach.

Times and dates of each game will be revealed at a later time, but Fordham now knows that it will see not only the Richmond team Neubauer once worked with, but also La Salle, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and 2014 A-10 champion Saint Joseph's, on two different occasions during the regular season in home-and-home contests.

Duquesne, George Washington, Saint Louis, and reigning conference titleholder VCU will serve as the hosts for Fordham's four stand-alone road matchups during league play as Neubauer seeks to improve a program that won a grand total of two A-10 road games in five years under his predecessor, Tom Pecora. The Rams' four remaining games at Rose Hill Gym will be contested against last year's regular season A-10 champion, Davidson; as well as Dayton, George Mason, whom the Rams have never lost to since they joined the A-10, and St. Bonaventure.

Atlantic 10 play will begin during the first week of January 2016, and will continue through the first weekend of March, with the A-10 Championship to be held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the fourth consecutive season.

College basketball coaching tenure: Some nuggets from Patrick Stevens' list

Albany head coach Will Brown's 15-year tenure may not seem like much, but his time at helm of Great Danes is 27th-longest run in Division I. (Photo courtesy of the Albany Times Union)

The college basketball equivalent of Mr. Blackwell's best-dressed list has made its return, with more than a few notable factoids in this year's edition.

The great Patrick Stevens of D1scourse.com has released his ranking of Division I's 351 head coaches by their tenure at their current institutions, with Syracuse's Jim Boeheim again topping the list while newly minted Louisiana Tech coach Eric Konkol occupies the low perch on the totem pole at No. 351. Before we break down the local coaches and conferences, here are a few noteworthy items of interest:

- This year's median (No. 176 on the list) is held by Mark Turgeon, who just wrapped up his fourth season at Maryland as the successor to Gary Williams. In contrast, six of the eleven Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference coaches were hired prior to Turgeon, including two-time reigning champion Steve Masiello at Manhattan, (No. 168) and Tim Cluess of Iona, who checks in at No. 128.

- Once again, the top twelve spots on the list remain unchanged from last year, but Howie Dickenman of Central Connecticut moves up a spot to No. 13, whose previous occupant; Billy Donovan, left Florida after 19 years to move into the NBA as the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

- The average ranking of coaches in the 2014 Final Four was 105. This year's mean score among the national semifinalists is a much higher percentile, with No. 2 Mike Krzyzewski, 11th-ranked Tom Izzo and 24th-listed Bo Ryan making up for John Calipari's triple-digit status at No. 105.

- Once again, Stony Brook's Steve Pikiell is the elder statesman among the locals, moving into the Top 50 this year at No. 49. Next behind the Seawolves head man in the tri-state area is John Dunne of Saint Peter's, (No. 70) with NJIT coach Jim Engles the only other metropolitan name in the first hundred, currently tied for 92nd.

- Four others in the area have eclipsed five years of service, with Kevin Willard of Seton Hall, (tied for 120th) Cluess, (No. 128) Columbia's Kyle Smith (139) and Glenn Braica of St. Francis Brooklyn (No. 142) having all been hired before this date in 2010.

Finally, here is our promised breakdown of the coaches in the local conferences, with their list numbers and hire dates below, along with a change in position from last year when applicable:

Big East
23) Jay Wright, Villanova (March 27, 2001, +3 spots)
40) John Thompson III, Georgetown (April 20, 2004, +6)
113) Chris Mack, Xavier (April 14, 2009, +18)
T-120) Kevin Willard, Seton Hall (March 29, 2010, +21)
T-136) Greg McDermott, Creighton (April 26, 2010, +26)
147) Ed Cooley, Providence (March 22, 2011, +28)
T-283) Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette (April 1, 2014, +40)
313) Chris Holtmann, Butler (October 2, 2014, not ranked)
321) Dave Leitao, DePaul (March 29, 2011, NR)
T-327) Chris Mullin, St. John's (March 31, 2011, NR)

Atlantic 10
6) Bob McKillop, Davidson (May 19, 1989, no change)
12) Phil Martelli, Saint Joseph's (July 20, 1995, no change)
42) Dr. John Giannini, La Salle (August 23, 2004, +7)
51) Chris Mooney, Richmond (May 6, 2005, +9)
80) Mark Schmidt, St. Bonaventure (April 10, 2007, +12)
T-97) Derek Kellogg, Massachusetts (April 23, 2008, +12)
T-160) Archie Miller, Dayton (April 4, 2011, +31)
175) Mike Lonergan, George Washington (May 6, 2011, +32)
193) Dan Hurley, Rhode Island (March 21, 2012, +32)
T-209) Jim Ferry, Duquesne (April 10, 2012, +34)
224) Jim Crews, Saint Louis (August 24, 2012, +35)
T-322) Jeff Neubauer, Fordham (March 30, 2011, NR)
T-322) Dave Paulsen, George Mason (March 30, 2011, NR)
T-335) Will Wade, VCU (April 7, 2011, NR)

MAAC
70) John Dunne, Saint Peter's (May 23, 2006, +10)
75) Tom Moore, Quinnipiac (March 29, 2007, +11)
128) Tim Cluess, Iona (April 8, 2010, +21)
T-154) King Rice, Monmouth (March 30, 2011, +30)
T-160) Sydney Johnson, Fairfield (April 4, 2011, +31)
168) Steve Masiello, Manhattan (April 11, 2011, +31)
204) Jim Baron, Canisius (April 2, 2012, +34)
T-220) Kevin Baggett, Rider (May 24, 2012, +35)
T-242) Jimmy Patsos, Siena (April 3, 2013, +36)
258) Chris Casey, Niagara (April 22, 2013, +36)
309) Mike Maker, Marist (June 17, 2014, +42)

Northeast Conference
13) Howie Dickenman, Central Connecticut (April 17, 1996, +1)
100) Tim O'Shea, Bryant (June 23, 2008, +13)
141) Andy Toole, Robert Morris (May 11, 2010, +27)
142) Glenn Braica, St. Francis Brooklyn (May 20, 2010, +27)
T-195) Jamion Christian, Mount St. Mary's (March 26, 2012, +32)
T-195) Bashir Mason, Wagner (March 26, 2012, +32)
T-209) Jack Perri, LIU Brooklyn (April 10, 2012, +34)
T-214) Rob Krimmel, Saint Francis U (April 19, 2012, +34)
T-261) Greg Herenda, Fairleigh Dickinson (April 26, 2013, +36)
266) Anthony Latina, Sacred Heart (May 30, 2013, +37)

America East
27) Will Brown, Albany (December 20, 2001, +3)
49) Steve Pikiell, Stony Brook (April 13, 2005, +9)
53) Bill Herrion, New Hampshire (May 26, 2005, +9)
130) John Gallagher, Hartford (April 16, 2010, +25)
179) John Becker, Vermont (May 20, 2011, +32)
T-220) Tommy Dempsey, Binghamton (May 24, 2012, +35)
226) Aki Thomas, UMBC (October 10, 2012, +35)
264) Pat Duquette, UMass Lowell (May 16, 2013, +37)
304) Bob Walsh, Maine (May 7, 2014, +41)

Other Local Coaches
18) James Jones, Yale (April 27, 1999, +3)
115) Zach Spiker, Army (October 3, 2009, +18)
139) Kyle Smith, Columbia (May 2, 2010, +27)
251) Joe Mihalich, Hofstra (April 10, 2013, +36)
T-259) Eddie Jordan, Rutgers (April 23, 2013, +36)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Monmouth splits first two games in China

King Rice's Monmouth team is getting beneficial experience early in offseason, as Hawks have split first two games in 14-day trip to China. (Photo courtesy of the Asbury Park Press)

Trips overseas have become increasingly prevalent in college basketball over the past several years. Two years ago, Manhattan began their first of two consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship campaigns with an excursion to the Bahamas, while Canada hosted Fordham and Siena in each of the past two seasons. In each circumstance, the tour has provided an opportunity to not only get additional experience, but also improve team chemistry, neither of which are bad qualities.

In the case of Monmouth, now in the midst of a 14-day trip to China just two months after wrapping up an 18-win season in just their second year in the MAAC, the Hawks are reaping the same benefits, and for a team expected to contend next season given that its core returns largely intact save for two mainstays in the rotation, the extra repetitions surely cannot hurt the push toward Monmouth's common goal.

"I thought my kids played great," head coach King Rice said after the Hawks' second game, a 78-61 victory earlier this morning (Monday night in China) over a Shanghai Sharks team that defeated Monmouth by the final of 72-62 on Saturday. "The thing they did was approach the game with a seriousness that we haven't always done. They really had a focus on having fun during the game. We made it fun for ourselves, and it was great results."

Over the first two games against Shanghai, a team Yao Ming once played for before entering the NBA; and now serves as team president of, Justin Robinson has led all scorers with 23 points, while Austin Tilghman has chipped in with 20, and Oklahoma transfer Je'lon Hornbeak has added 17 in his first action in a Hawks uniform. The guard regains his eligibility this fall after sitting out last season to complete his mandatory year in residence. In addition, Zac Tillman has continued to be a force on the glass, with ten rebounds in the first two games as he prepares for his junior season.

Among the differences that Monmouth has encountered, aside from the native culture, is one on the hardwood that may be the most glaring between China and the United States. Both of Monmouth's first two contests were played with an NBA-style 24-second shot clock, in four quarters of ten minutes each.

"It was a very physical game," said Rice of the first contest, "and the more physical we got, it wasn't the best way for us to play." Of the second game, he said: "I definitely thought it was very physical, but our legs were fresher. The other night, you travel 14 hours on a plane, you play the next day, we had heavy, heavy legs. Today, our legs weren't heavy, so we could deal with their physicality much better."

Monmouth continues their tour of China with games on Wednesday and Thursday. For more information on the Hawks' journey, visit MonmouthHawks.com.

***Reports from Monmouth athletic communications assistant Gary Kowal contributed to this story***

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Big East Women's Basketball Wrapup

Ka-Deidre Simmons, the catalyst behind Seton Hall's resounding success, honors an adoring fan with an autograph. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

Back around January, the ‘Guru’ himself, Mel Greenberg, lightheartedly devised a Big East ‘Italian division’: Doug Bruno at DePaul, Tony Bozzella of Seton Hall, Villanova’s Harry Perretta and St. John’s mentor Joe Tartamella. You get the idea. In terms of records, postseason invitations, and metrics, that mythical division stood out from the rest of the pack. Those teams on the negative side of efficiency margin were not easy outs by any stretch. They had their moments and generally made life tough for those in the upper half. In a fan entertaining, uptempo league, there was a lot more parity than the records lead to believe. Numbers are from conference games only and courtesy of bbstate.com:

1) DePaul (+20 efficiency margin, 15-3 record)
2) Seton Hall (+13, 15-3)
3) Villanova (+12, 12-6)
4) Creighton (+5, 10-8)
5) St. John's (+4, 11-7)
6) Butler (-1, 10-8)
7) Xavier (-10, 8-10)
8) Georgetown (-12, 2-16)
9) Marquette (-14, 4-14)
10) Providence (-17, 3-15)

Fastest Pace:
1) DePaul (77 possessions)
2) Marquette (76.3)
3) Georgetown (76.1)
4) Seton Hall (75.8)

Most deliberate:
1) Villanova (62.2 possessions)
2) Creighton (68.6)

The Big East proved to be a transition conference, with teams such as DePaul and Seton Hall looking to get out in transition. Even those under .500, such as Marquette and Georgetown, bought into a faster-paced mentality.

Villanova was no surprise as the most deliberate. Coach Harry Perretta has run the motion offense at ‘Nova for decades, and who argues with the success? Interesting that the conference’s second ‘slowest’ in pace, Creighton, still played at a relatively brisk tempo.

Offensive leaders:
1) DePaul (109 offensive efficiency)
T-2) Villanova (101)
T-2) Creighton (101)

Top defenses:
T-1) Seton Hall (87 defensive efficiency)
T-1) St. John's (87)
T-3) DePaul (89)
T-3) Villanova (89)

Coach Tony Bozzella’s Seton Hall Pirates were just off pace in offensive efficiency, still showing a strong 100 efficiency. On the defensive end, they and St. John’s were the best of the conference.

Trends
Perretta was once told his motion offense is a thing of beauty. “There’s beauty,” he replied, “when we execute it right.” Villanova got it right, not only running the most patient offense, but excelling at caring for the ball with an outstanding, and conference best, 11.7% TO rate. Half the conference was over 20% in turnover rate, which could be a byproduct of those high octane offenses. The better teams did not have a turnover issue. Butler was the lone team over .500 that exceeded the 20% TO rate, and barely, at 20.7.

DePaul was the lone team cracking 50% in eFG with a 51% mark. Villanova was right behind at 49%. DePaul also led with 53% true shooting. St. John’s at 48% was the only team with a winning record not hitting the 50% mark.

Xavier had the highest FT rate at 17%. No one hit 20% and to little surprise, perimeter oriented Villanova was at the bottom with 10%.

Defense saw DePaul force opponents into a 24.8% TO rate. Seton Hall was arguably the best all around. The Pirates limited opposition to a 43% eFG rate while getting opponents to turn the ball over at a 21.9% norm.

The Big East was, as noted, an entertaining, uptempo conference. Not as much pure post up threats with the accent on guard/forward play.

The championship: DePaul 78, Seton Hall 68
The time worn axiom of the difficulty in beating a team three times in one season held in the title meeting. The pace, to no surprise, was pushed to a 75-possession affair. The efficiency saw the Blue Demons with a 105­-91 advantage. DePaul did have a 28% TO rate, a dangerously high number. The ‘sins’ of coughing up the ball were offset by an outstanding 63.7 eFG percentage. This was against a Seton Hall club that allowed a stingy 43% on defense during the course of the conference season. That proved to be the difference as DePaul had only one more trip to the line than the Hall and had a slight 29­28% edge in offensive rebounding percentage.

Rysheed Jordan to be declared academically ineligible for St. John's

Rysheed Jordan's bumpy road continues as St. John's point guard is declared academically ineligible for fall semester. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

What started as a promising offseason for St. John's, and has continued as one in the weeks following the return of program icon Chris Mullin as head coach, has hit its first snag in the wake of the academic year coming to a close.

Point guard Rysheed Jordan, set to enter his junior season as the floor leader and face of the Red Storm team, is expected to be declared academically ineligible for the fall semester, according to Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News. If this ruling becomes official, the Philadelphian will not be able to return to the court until mid-December, days before Big East play begins.

Jordan averaged 14.1 points per game last season as St. John's reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011, falling to San Diego State in the Round of 64. However, his future has usually included the question of whether or not he would enter the professional ranks, which; according to Rubin's report, remains a strong possibility.

It is expected that Jordan will meet with Mullin during the coming week, which will lead to a decision on his future, for better or worse. Should this spell the end of Jordan's time in Queens, it will put the finishing touches on a promising career that never truly got a chance to blossom, due to unfortunate circumstances beyond his control.

Regardless of whether Jordan returns, St. John's remains strong in the backcourt, having secured the services of Pitt graduate transfer Durand Johnson to join a pair of newly signed freshmen in Malik Ellison and Marcus LoVett, the latter of whom is a four-star recruit from Chicago.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Derrick Gordon to transfer to Seton Hall, eligible immediately

Derrick Gordon, previously point guard at UMass, has announced he will use fifth year of eligibility at Seton Hall. The New Jersey native is eligible immediately. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)
In an offseason where Seton Hall made headlines for less than desirable reasons, the Pirates are once again in the news, but this time to announce a new arrival to the program.

Derrick Gordon, who spent the last two seasons at the University of Massachusetts, has agreed to transfer to Seton Hall, where he will use his fifth and final year of eligibility. As a graduate student who has already earned his degree, Gordon will be able to suit up immediately, a huge boost for a team that went down a point guard after Sterling Gibbs announced he would spend his final year elsewhere.

"I looked at this as kind of a 'win-win' situation for me," Gordon said earlier this evening, when he was a guest on WSOU's "Pirate Primetime." "I'll be able to go there and play to my full potential that I know I can. I couldn't be happier."

Last season, Gordon averaged nearly ten points, five rebounds and three assists for UMass, who went 17-15 one year removed from competing in the NCAA Tournament. The New Jersey native, who made headlines last offseason for coming out as Division I college basketball's first-ever openly gay player, comes to South Orange in the wake of Rev. Warren Hall being dismissed for showing his support of equality in a Facebook post, but insisted the move to Seton Hall was in no way influenced by his sexuality.

"As long as I'm accepted, that's all that really matters to me," said Gordon. "We're all in a society now where there are people who accept it and people who don't accept it. Regardless of where I go, it's always going to be like that."

Gordon is the second graduate transfer Seton Hall has brought in, joining forward Braeden Anderson, who arrives by way of Fresno State.

Ray Floriani's NEC Women's Basketball Tempo-Free Wrapup

Displaying image.jpg
Central Connecticut's dance team had a lot to be excited about over this past season. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

For several years, the Northeast Conference coaches spoke of parity and ‘getting hot in March’ and ‘it’s (the title) up for grabs’. Sounds like proverbial ‘coach speak,’ only this past season it rang true to form. A .500 team did get white hot in March and wound up cutting down the nets. St. Francis Brooklyn put together an outstanding tournament, winning three road games in the process, to claim the title. Their record was .500, yet the Terriers defended and did a few other things during the season, as successful teams do. Numbers are from conference games only and courtesy of bbstate.com:

1) Robert Morris (+10 efficiency margin, 13-5 record)
2) St. Francis Brooklyn (+8, 9-9)
3) Central Connecticut (+5, 14-4)
4) Bryant (+5, 14-4)
5) Sacred Heart (0, 11-7)
6) Fairleigh Dickinson (-4, 7-11)
7) Saint Francis U (-7, 5-13)
8) Mount St. Mary's (-7, 6-12)
9) LIU Brooklyn (-10, 6-12)
10) Wagner (-14, 5-13)

Fastest pace:
1) Saint Francis U (81.8 possessions)
2) LIU Brooklyn (76.5)
3) Wagner (74.5)

Most deliberate:
1) St. Francis Brooklyn (63.4 possessions)
2) CCSU (67.3)

Interestingly, the three fastest tempo teams were unable to break even. The most methodically patient were among the NEC elite.

Offensive leaders:
1) St. Francis Brooklyn (98 offensive efficiency)
2) Robert Morris (96)
2) Central Connecticut (86)

Top defenses:
1) Central Connecticut (81 defensive efficiency)
2) Robert Morris (86)
3) St. Francis Brooklyn (90)
3) Bryant (90)

In the NEC, every team but one was above the 20% TO rate. Theobjective, as noted many times, is to keep the TO rate South of 20%. The one team under 20 was Wagner, at the bottom of the standings but out on top with a 19.6% metric.

The turnover rates can go a long way toward explaining how no team hit an efficiency of 100. Shooting was not a strong part of NEC offenses either. Only eventual champion St. Francis Brooklyn cracked 50% in eFG percentage at 50.6%. True shooting (TS) was a bit better with free throws entering the calculations. There were seven cracking 50% with St. Francis Brooklyn again setting the conference pace at 55.2%. Free throw rates also explained the sub century mark efficiencies. No team hit 20% in FT rate, with Bryant (18.8%) eventually emerging as the leader.

The championship: St. Francis Brooklyn 77, Robert Morris 62
The attention was on the men. Could the Terriers cut down the net and advance to the Big Dance? Ultimately, it was John Thurston’s women, 9­-9 in the regular season, bringing the prize home to Remsen Street.

The pace was 60 possessions, which bbstate termed ‘excruciating’. The Terriers enjoyed a significant 129-­104 advantage in offensive efficiency. The eFG and turnover rates were relatively close:

eFG: St. Francis 57.1, Robert Morris 56.7
TO Rate: St. Francis 15.1, Robert Morris 20.1

The difference? A 44­-31% advantage in offensive rebounding percentage. Grabbing 12 off the offensive glass allowed John Thurston’s club to extend possessions and produce a higher offensive efficiency.

St. Francis Brooklyn was a team with a high, but not dangerously high, TO rate 22%. The Terriers ended, controlled pace and shot the ball better than the remainder of their NEC opposition. They also caught fire at the most opportune time. As noted, the efficiency margin was +8 during the regular season. During the three game postseason run, the margin was an off the charts 19.6, as a good a reason as any for the Terriers bringing the NEC hardware back to Brooklyn Heights.

Final call of the 2015 Northeast Conference Championship, courtesy of Jason Guerette via the Terrier Sports Network:

John Dunne excited about Saint Peter's prospects despite loss of senior core

With Desi Washington and Marvin Dominique having moved on, Trevis Wyche now becomes floor leader for Saint Peter's as point guard enters his junior season. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

The true beauty of mid-major conferences is that of their sheer unpredictability. In one-bid leagues, it is more often than not the team that gets hot at the right time that ultimately cashes in on an NCAA Tournament bid than the team filled with all-league players which puts on a clinic over the course of the regular season.

John Dunne has lived this before at Saint Peter's University, with his Peacocks once being the beneficiary of such a timely hot streak. In 2011, Saint Peter's managed to win when it mattered most, knocking off the top two seeds in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference; first regular season champion Fairfield before runner-up Iona, to claim an improbable conference title.

Four years later, Saint Peter's is in a similar situation to its 2011 aftermath, when the Peacocks graduated a core of seniors in Wesley Jenkins, Ryan Bacon, Nick Leon and Jeron Belin. This time around, gone are starting lineup mainstays Marvin Dominique, Desi Washington, Tyler Gaskins, and high-energy reserve Kris Rolle, forcing Dunne to retool yet again in Jersey City as he enters his tenth season at the helm. Normally, the prospect of rebuilding a roster may bring on the expectation of having to sacrifice immediate success for the sake of a greater good down the road, but in the Peacocks' case, their coach is quietly confident that this year will be one in which the upward mobility achieved under the now-departed seniors is sustained.

"For us, our returners clearly all need to step up their games," Dunne cautioned when assessing what remains of his roster and how the incumbent players will need to assume leadership positions next season. "I thought Chazz Patterson made a big step forward this past year, and we need him to take an equally big step forward going into next year, as well as Trevis Wyche. I think he (Wyche) is working hard right now, and again, what he's good at, he's a good assist to turnover guy, takes care of the basketball, he's a good setup guy. If he continues to improve on his finishing in the paint and his three-point shooting, that will clearly help us a lot as well."

Aside from Patterson and Wyche, the latter of whom will most likely be the focal point of the offense as Saint Peter's junior point guard, the Peacocks are also counting on an increase in production from burgeoning big man Elias Desport, currently recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia suffered during the season, as well as swingman Rodney Hawkins. After being ineligible during the first semester last season, Hawkins arrived with a bang once able to suit up, scoring 20 points against eventual MAAC champion Manhattan and providing a valuable insurance option behind Dominique that will now be expected to contribute with the same regularity as his predecessor.

"It was a very up-and-down process for him," Dunne said of Hawkins' abbreviated freshman campaign. "After sitting out the entire year before, he didn't play for a year and a half, so we're definitely looking forward to seeing what he can do. He's got a good ability to finish around the rim, and then another one is Elisha Boone. I think he's just touching the surface of what he can bring to the table as a player. Now that he's got some experience and knows what it's all about, I anticipate him becoming a much better defender."

To supplement all who return to the Peacocks this season, four incoming freshmen join the flock as well, beginning with Mamadou Ndiaye, a 6-7 forward from the same Oakland Mills High School program in Maryland that Siena coach Jimmy Patsos was able to recruit Lavon Long out of. "He's a fantastic athlete," Dunne said of Ndiaye. "(He's) skilled, can make threes, can put it on the floor a little bit, he's got an ability to block shots while also willing to take a charge."

Texan Antwon Portley also joins the Saint Peter's roster. A 6-3 guard from Lancaster High School in the Lone Star State, he is a combo guard who Dunne envisions will see some time at the point guard position, as well as some minutes off the ball alongside Wyche. Cameron Jones, another 6-3 guard by way of Pennsbury High School in Pennsylvania, is a shooter that fills a glaring need within the Peacocks' program. "He and Antwon both have the ability to shoot the ball, and I think he's got a solid chance to get on the floor, just based on his toughness and his shooting," Dunne stated.

Samuel Idowu, a 6-7 forward from Brooklyn, completes the incoming recruiting class, and will go a long way toward filling the void left by Dominique up front. "I think his best days, his potential, is extremely high, and he's got the ability to finish around the rim," said Dunne. "He's got good hands, and he could also step out beyond the arc and make a shot. I think all four freshmen have a good chance to play."

In a MAAC where the league as a whole is getting younger, the infusion of fresh blood to join a group of established talent might be the right mix Saint Peter's needs to return to the upper echelon. As Manhattan loses its three-pronged core of Emmy Andujar, Ashton Pankey and RaShawn Stores, while Iona graduates David Laury and Siena sees Rob Poole and Evan Hymes depart among others, there truly is no time like the present for the inhabitants of the Yanitelli Center.

"I'm certainly excited about what these guys can bring to the table," Dunne proclaimed, the promising future clearly audible in his voice. "When you combine that with some talented freshmen coming in, I think we're going to be much more competitive than what I think people are going to expect us to be."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

John Dunne looks back on 2014-15, is hopeful for promising future at Saint Peter's

With a senior-laden roster, John Dunne took Saint Peter's to MAAC tournament semifinals, and in many ways, solidified his reputation for doing a lot with what others consider a little. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)

John Dunne has been at Saint Peter's University for nine years, and with each passing season, he has heard it all before.

The criticism of his record. Of his school's facilities. Of Saint Peter's consistently being taken lightly, by and large. Yet for all the naysayers, Dunne managed to once again get the most out of a talented Peacocks roster, winning sixteen games and coming one game away from playing for a conference championship.

"I was definitely proud of the team, really, (throughout) the whole season," Dunne fondly recalled after guiding a roster led by a senior core of Desi Washington, Marvin Dominique and Tyler Gaskins into the semifinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, in which Saint Peter's saw their season end at the hands of eventual champion Manhattan for a second consecutive year. "We seemed to keep digging ourselves a hole, but managed to fight and crawl out of it. From starting 0-4, and then I think we were 2-6 at one point, but towards the end of the year, I thought we played really well, which gave the seniors a nice going-out party."

A four-game winning streak as the calendar turned from December into January seemed to give the Peacocks a momentum boost, but losses in six of their next eight games appeared to have extinguished whatever flame was lighting the way toward the end of the tunnel. Dunne's gritty roster found a way, as they always do, winning their next three games after that, and then scored a significant upset in their regular season finale against Iona, defeating the Gaels at the Yanitelli Center to head into the tournament on a positive note.

"I just thought we felt good going into the tournament," Dunne honestly stated. "I thought we played, arguably, our best game of the year against Fairfield in the first round (Saint Peter's held the Stags to just seven first-half points in a stifling 63-33 victory) after losing to them two weeks earlier, (and) continued with a strong performance against Rider. Honestly, the 17-point loss to Manhattan, I don't think the final score was indicative of the game, but they were the better team."

Next season will be just as challenging for Dunne, who now replaces his experience as the Peacocks retool along with the rest of the MAAC, which should be younger in general across the board. While Washington and Dominique are gone, a handful of supporting cast members from last season, headlined by Trevis Wyche, stay on, now charged with the responsibility of leading Saint Peter's back to the top half of the conference.

"It's always hard when you lose core guys that play 30-plus minutes a game," Dunne admitted, "especially guys that score the ball. Those guys are just going to be hard to replace. I think the challenge is to, one, we're going to have a completely new team; we have to build our chemistry, and two, these guys have to get a quick understanding of having the will to prepare to win. I feel pretty strongly that we're bringing in talented players, and now, it's just a matter of hopefully gelling and understanding what it takes to prepare to win."