Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Beamon, Brown Capture All-Met Honors, Masiello Named Coach of the Year

George Beamon wraps up Manhattan career with first team All-Met selection shortly after leading Jaspers to MAAC championship, with teammate Rhamel Brown named to second team and head coach Steve Masiello recognized as Coach of the Year by MBWA. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

The accolades still have not stopped for Manhattan College as they enter their second month removed from a near-upset of Louisville in the NCAA Tournament.

Three Jaspers were recognized last night at the annual MBWA Haggerty Awards dinner, held at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown; with guard George Beamon leading the group once more before his graduation next month.

The 6-4 Beamon, who rebounded from an ankle injury that cost him nearly all of last season by leading Manhattan in scoring on their way to a 25-8 record, was one of six players named to the MBWA All-Met first team. The senior guard was considered a strong candidate for the Haggerty Award, given to the best player in the metropolitan area, but was passed over in favor of St. John's guard D'Angelo Harrison.

In somewhat of a surprise, Beamon's highly regarded teammate Rhamel Brown did not join him on the first team, instead landing on the second team despite winning his third consecutive MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Award and being considered the MVP of a Manhattan team that won its first conference championship since 2004.

Finally, head coach Steve Masiello joined the list of honorees when he was recognized with the Peter A. Carlesimo Award, given the the metropolitan area Coach of the Year. It is the second time in Masiello's three-year tenure that he has captured this prize, having shared it two years ago with Dan Hurley, then the head coach at Wagner before taking over at Rhode Island. In his time with the Jaspers, the 36-year-old Masiello has guided the program for whom he once served as an assistant coach to a 60-39 record, reaching the postseason twice and narrowly losing the MAAC championship game in 2013 to Iona before avenging that defeat this past March. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Severe, Frazier Capture All-Met Honors For Fordham

Jon Severe validates hype and decision to choose Fordham with MBWA All-Met Rookie of the Year award. Branden Frazier added to Ram honors with selection to second team. (Photo courtesy of the Atlantic 10 Conference)

When Jon Severe signed with Fordham, the Brooklyn sharpshooter felt he could "change the whole program around." Head coach Tom Pecora wasted little time declaring the obvious by saying the former Christ the King standout would "make a huge difference" for the Rams.

Both player and coach were vindicated by their boasts this morning, when it was announced that Severe was recognized by the Metropolitan Basketball Writers' Association as its All-Met Rookie of the Year, awarded after a freshman campaign in which the 2013 Mr. Basketball in the state of New York averaged 17.3 points per game and led Fordham with 79 three-pointers.

Severe is the fourth Ram to win top freshman honors since the award was first presented in 1981, and the second in the last five years, as Chris Gaston also earned this distinction in 2010. He is also the second Pecora recruit to win the award, following Charles Jenkins of Hofstra, who was selected Rookie of the Year in 2008 before winning three consecutive Haggerty Awards from 2009 to 2011 for the Pride.

Fordham's freshman sensation was not the only one bringing a piece of hardware back to Rose Hill, however, as Branden Frazier capped off his final year as a Ram with a spot on the writers' All-Met second team on the heels of a senior season where he once again led the team in scoring, at 18.2 points per game to supplement an average of over four assists per contest. It is Frazier's first career MBWA recognition after narrowly missing a spot on the third team last season.

D'Angelo Harrison of St. John's captured the Haggerty Award as the metropolitan area's best player, becoming the first member of the Red Storm to win that prize since Marcus Hatten in 2002. Manhattan's Steve Masiello, who lost to the Rams in November, was selected as the MBWA Coach of the Year for the second time in three seasons after leading the Jaspers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.

Monday, April 21, 2014

2014 Men's Basketball Metro Area Award Winners

The local college basketball scene recognizes its standout performers on Tuesday night, when the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown once again hosts the annual MBWA Haggerty Awards dinner. As we were privileged enough to do last season, we will once again offer our own set of recognitions for the best and brightest in the metropolitan area.

***For a list of our 2014 women's basketball award winners, click here***

Player of the Year: George Beamon, Manhattan (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)
2013-14 Stats: 18.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 37% 3pt
This selection may raise a few eyebrows, but Beamon's biggest value lies within what does not show up in the box scores, as his defensive awareness was probably the most underlying facet of his game, one that brought Manhattan back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004. In a conference loaded with the star power of Billy Baron and Sean Armand, Beamon was as equally strong on the defensive end for the Jaspers as he was offensively, providing Steve Masiello with a dual threat on both sides of the floor that would do everything within his power to not only win games for Manhattan, but also keep them within reach when the final outcome did not go their way. If selected by the writers, Beamon would become the first Jasper to be honored with the Haggerty Award since the great Luis Flores captured the honor a decade ago.

Rookie of the Year: Rysheed Jordan, St. John's (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)
2013-14 Stats: 9.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.2 SPG
Many can argue that Fordham's Jon Severe is more deserving of this honor by virtue of his gaudy statistics, but while Severe was a greater scorer, Jordan has a greater set of intangibles that made his teammates better throughout the season. Despite not meeting the media during the year, part of head coach Steve Lavin's strategy to keep his young point guard focused, Jordan let his skills speak for themselves, feeding D'Angelo Harrison for numerous scoring opportunities as the Red Storm won 20 games for the second time in four years, not to mention singlehandedly setting the tone in the opening minutes of the Johnnies' 82-60 rout of Big East rival Georgetown, in which the Philadelphian ignited a 15-0 run to start the game.

Most Improved Player: Zeke Upshaw, Hofstra (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)
2013-14 Stats: 19.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 35% 3pt
Upshaw only played one season at Hofstra after graduating from Illinois State, where he played sparingly, but what the swingman did for Joe Mihalich during his limited time in Hempstead rivals what most other players in the nation did for bigger programs. Consider this: Upshaw scored exactly one hundred points during his career with the Redbirds. It only took five-plus games in a Hofstra uniform for him to equal that total. Only twice was Upshaw held to a single-digit point total, which underscores the fact that he had 18 games of 20 points or more on his way to a CAA scoring title that ensures his one year on Long Island truly was the best of his career. In an unrelated note, Upshaw becomes the second straight Pride player to earn our Most Improved Player honor, following Stevie Mejia, who captured this recognition a year ago.

Sixth Man of the Year: Maurice Barrow, Fairfield (Photo courtesy of the Connecticut Post)
2013-14 Stats: 14.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG
Had he not started 15 games early in the year, Iona's David Laury would be eligible for this honor both in this space and in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Laury's loss is Barrow's gain, as the senior swingman served as a voice of experience and mentor to a youthful Stags squad finding their way in the MAAC following the departure of Derek Needham and Desmond Wade in their backcourt. Despite a 7-25 season, the former Christ the King standout's impact was so profound and indelible to where head coach Sydney Johnson was incredibly emotional following Fairfield's MAAC tournament loss to Saint Peter's, overcome by how much of a joy Barrow was to coach, and dejected that he would be unable to coach him next season.


Defensive Player of the Year: Rhamel Brown, Manhattan (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)
2013-14 Stats: 10.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.6 BPG, 55% FG
Who better than the best big man in the area? No one was a better rim protector or stronger paint presence this season than Brown, the bruising Brooklyn forward whom Steve Masiello declared "one of the greatest players to ever put on a Manhattan uniform." The MAAC version of former Pittsburgh star and San Antonio Spur DeJuan Blair, Brown's abilities on both ends of the ball were a major reason behind Manhattan's first conference championship and NCAA Tournament berth since 2004, as his shot blocking and emphatic dunks lifted the Jaspers to a 25-8 record and finished what George Beamon and Michael Alvarado started. Even with Ashton Pankey and Emmy Andujar leading the charge for Manhattan next season, Brown will be irreplaceable until proven otherwise.

Coach of the Year: Kyle Smith, Columbia (Photo courtesy of Columbia University)
In a city where Steve Masiello and Steve Lavin get the lion's share of media attention, and justifiably so, Smith did what many before him found impossible: Win 21 games and get to the postseason, reaching the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament before falling to Ivy League rival Yale, the first time the Lions reached a postseason since the Lyndon Johnson administration in 1968. Through four years, Smith has transformed a once-dormant program into a deceptively strong outfit, with this past season proving that his 2012 upset of Villanova was not an aberration. Look for this rising star to build his profile even further in the years to come.

2014 Women's Basketball Metro Area Award Winners

This year's annual MBWA Haggerty Awards dinner takes place Tuesday evening at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown, recognizing the best and brightest in all three divisions of men's and women's basketball in the metropolitan area. Just as we did a year ago, we are once again honored to bestow our own set of honors this season, starting first on the women's side:

Player of the Year: Damika Martinez, Iona (Photo courtesy of Iona College)
2013-14 Stats: 24.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 46% FG, 44% 3pt, 88% FT
The junior, a two-time reigning MAAC Player of the Year, picked up where she left off this past season despite a coaching change, leading both Iona and the MAAC in scoring by a wide margin while also knocking down 107 three-pointers as the Gaels won 18 consecutive games and 24 of 25 in a season that saw the New Rochelle program defeat conference kingpin Marist for the first time in over a decade. Martinez's teammate Joy Adams, who averaged 17 points and 14 rebounds for the Gaels, also deserves consideration for this honor, but the slight edge goes to the sharpshooter for the time being.

Rookie of the Year: Jasmine Nwajei, Wagner (Photo courtesy of the Staten Island Advance)
2013-14 Stats: 17.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.7 SPG
A lightning-quick point guard out of Ed Grezinsky's powerhouse program at Murry Bergtraum in Lower Manhattan, Nwajei put everyone on notice from her first game at the Division I level, putting together a dominant freshman campaign that resembled that of former Bergtraum standouts Epiphanny Prince and Erica Morrow, capturing Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year honors with a scoring average that ranked sixth in the NEC while also finishing second in the conference in assists and 16th in rebounding, which is all the more impressive considering Nwajei's short stature. With the core of Lisa Cermignano's team returning for the 2014-15 season and graduation of Robert Morris' Artemis Spanou, Nwajei could very well be on the short list of Player of the Year contenders going into next year.

Most Improved Player: Tabatha Richardson-Smith, Seton Hall (Photo courtesy of Seton Hall University)
2013-14 Stats: 17.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 45% FG, 37% 3pt
The sophomore from Texas was arguably the biggest beneficiary in Seton Hall replacing Anne Donovan with Tony Bozzella, whose latest example of finding a diamond in the rough and coaching her into an all-conference player became Richardson-Smith, who became for Seton Hall what the aforementioned Damika Martinez was to Bozzella: A matchup problem with a knack for hitting the big shot whenever she was asked to. After averaging just under five points per game as a freshman, Richardson-Smith found her true calling in the Pirates' uptempo attack this past season, more than tripling her offensive production to complement 80 offensive rebounds, second on the team, as well as accounting for two-thirds of Seton Hall's three-pointers with 85. With Seton Hall only losing one key member of its rotation in Janee Johnson, Richardson-Smith will be a household name next season, and one who once again illustrates the Tony Bozzella difference when it comes to player development.

Sixth Player of the Year: Sarah Benedetti, St. Francis Brooklyn (Photo courtesy of the Northeast Conference)
2013-14 Stats: 11.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 36% 3pt
Shortly before the season began on the corner of Court and Remsen, head coach John Thurston was forced to bring his junior sharpshooter off the bench after an illness limited her availability in preseason workouts and practices. However, what looked to be a short-term loss for the Terriers turned out to be one of the best-kept secrets in the game, as Benedetti provided a spark off the bench unlike any other in the Northeast Conference, guiding St. Francis to a program record 19-win season and 10-8 mark in league play during a banner season that will look to be exceeded next year with every single player returning to Brooklyn Heights for an encore to a campaign highlighted by this behind-the-back layup that, to this day, does not get any less amazing. (Video courtesy of St. Francis College via NEC Front Row and executive producers Dexter Henry and Paul Becker, with Jaden Daly on the call)

Defensive Player of the Year: Ugo Nwaigwe, Wagner (Photo courtesy of the Staten Island Advance)
2013-14 Stats: 6.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.8 BPG
Just as Jasmine Nwajei was an integral part of Wagner's sudden resurgence as Northeast Conference play heated up, the Seahawks' 6-3 sophomore center and imposing interior presence was an equally important X-factor, as Nwaigwe singlehandedly altered shots inside the paint on the way to the Verrazano Warriors defying their last-place prediction in the preseason coaches' poll on the way to an unlikely NEC Tournament appearance. Providing an unmatched size advantage against nearly all of her foes, Nwaigwe's finest hour was her nationally-televised breakout against Fairleigh Dickinson, in which she exploded for 12 points, 19 rebounds and a league record 13 blocked shots, good enough for the first-ever triple-double in Wagner history.

Co-Coaches of the Year: Tony Bozzella, Seton Hall, and John Thurston, St. Francis Brooklyn (Bozzella photo courtesy of Ray Floriani, Thurston photo courtesy of St. Francis College)
Seton Hall had only enjoyed four winning seasons since 1996 before athletic director Pat Lyons lured Bozzella away from Iona to guide his alma mater back to prominence. What many thought would be a multi-year restoration process took a mere five months, as the man who never gets enough credit for the underrated coaching jobs that he and his staff perform on an annual basis turned Seton Hall into a proven winner, going 20-14 in his first season in South Orange with a young roster that returns all but two players next year as the Pirates continue to climb the ladder in the Big East.

While Bozzella's efforts are undoubtedly well-respected, the job John Thurston has done in two seasons in Brooklyn Heights is nothing short of Herculean. Upon succeeding Brenda Milano as head coach of the Terriers in 2012, Thurston inherited a program that had gone 8-79 over its previous three seasons, and quickly instilled a winning culture and family environment to go 11-19 in his first campaign at the helm. This past year, however, was when the foundation he had built turned into a formidable unit, posting a program record 19 wins as the Terriers saw their most successful season since 1978 and arguably their best season in school history. With everyone returning to the corner of Court and Remsen for a second shot at greater success, Thurston may very well see his name in this column again a year from now if all goes well.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Obekpa Has Change Of Heart, Remains At St. John's

Two weeks removed from receiving release to transfer, Chris Obekpa has second thoughts, opting instead to return to St. John's for his junior season. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

In just fifteen days, St. John's has gone from staring a potential year-long rebuilding project in the face to once again reclaiming its perch as a preseason Big East favorite.

After being granted his release to pursue a transfer on April 3rd, Chris Obekpa has reconsidered his initial decision, deciding that St. John's was still the best fit for him as he enters his junior season next fall. Obekpa's change of opinion comes after the Red Storm was besieged by false rumors of guards D'Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene also leaving the program along with Obekpa and JaKarr Sampson, who last month announced he would forgo his final two seasons in Queens to enter the NBA Draft.

"After giving consideration to transferring, it's become clear that it makes the most sense to continue my career as a student-athlete at St. John's," the shot-blocking sensation said via a release issued this afternoon by senior associate athletic director and men's basketball sports information director Mark Fratto. "My brothers and I have unfinished business, and I am determined to help St. John's continue the climb up the mountain."

The 6-9 Nigerian import by way of Long Island has led the Big East in blocked shots in each of his first two seasons despite his productivity tailing off just slightly from his four rejections per game as a freshman on a St. John's team that advanced to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. This past year, Obekpa managed to register 2.9 blocks per contest on a 20-win Red Storm outfit whose season came to a crashing halt in a shocking opening round NIT loss to Robert Morris at Carnesecca Arena one month ago tonight.

"Chris approached me last week to communicate his change of heart," head coach Steve Lavin stated in the aforementioned release. "After good dialogue, we are pleased to announce Chris will continue his career as a student-athlete with the Red Storm."

Having served as a sixth man over most of his first two seasons, Obekpa will likely occupy a place in the starting five for St. John's next season, as Sampson's departure leaves the Red Storm somewhat inexperienced in the frontcourt aside from soon-to-be senior Sir'Dominic Pointer and redshirt sophomore Christian Jones, who sat out last season.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Five-Year Plan Realized After All

What became a record-breaking season started over five months ago at Rose Hill Gym. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

April 17th always provides an opportunity for me to break the fourth wall, so to speak, because on this date in 2009, the Plan B I formulated in the event that my career as a play-by-play announcer ran out of gas faster than Robby Gordon in the 1999 Indianapolis 500 (GOOGLE IT) was born into existence.



Nonetheless, while my broadcasting career has taken full flight and remained substantial, A Daly Dose Of Hoops has blossomed into its own enterprise, and continues to expand its horizons with each passing day since April 17, 2009, when it opened as a part-time blog with no particular theme or direction (its initial posts were reactions to the death of Phillies play-by-announcer Harry Kalas and the retirement of John Madden) long before any concept of turning into a full-time website devoted to local college basketball coverage was even in the cards. So, yes, we (and I say "we" and not "I" because you, the readers and fans, have helped me increase this site's reach even more than you may realize) have already achieved so much, and we are still goal-oriented and still focused. Although I did not think so initially, we had a five-year plan. (and no, it wasn't "don't die!")



In that aforementioned five-year plan, it was the fifth year that was the most lucrative. One year ago today, the site's total traffic stood at 94,237 views. This morning, that number has almost quadrupled, as the counter stands at a staggering 370,698, while the Daly Dose Of Hoops Twitter; established a full 19 months after the site was created, has taken on a life of its own as well, with over 1,700 strong in a following that includes such luminaries as Joe Lunardi, Stephen Bardo, Golf Channel personality Ryan Burr, and the one and only Vin Parise, who has been an ardent supporter since the day he and I met in 2010. As I always say every year in this annual acknowledgement, without you, there is no me. No truer words can be spoken, believe me when I tell you.

Aside from the statistical growth, the brand growth of "The Dose" was just as tangible in a season that saw the site cover 126 games in either an on or off-air capacity, six better than my 2012-13 mark of 120. Among those 126 contests were seven postseason tournaments spread across five conferences, as well as the National Invitation Tournament and by far the biggest highlight and milestone of this site's brief history, the East Regional semifinals and final of the NCAA Tournament at Madison Square Garden, featuring eventual national champion UConn. It was a grueling schedule and a five-month stretch in which sleep was hard to come by, but most of all, it was emotionally rewarding and fulfilling. If you can look yourself in the mirror and recognize that your efforts paid off, that vindicates everything. Reflecting now on how things could have been, it was worth it in the end.


The world-famous NCAA cup mandate was on full display during East Regional semifinals and final. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

Of every game and team this site covered this past season, with all due respect to every program we were able to get closer looks at, none were more enjoyable to watch than the Manhattan Jaspers, with whom I spent 22 nights as Steve Masiello took a team that went 14-18 in 2012-13 to its first MAAC championship in ten years before Manhattan nearly upset Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. Having never got to spend as much time alongside a championship team before, the experience with Manhattan will always hold a place in my heart, and special thanks goes out to Masiello, associate head coach Matt Grady, assistant coaches Rasheen Davis and Mathiew Wilson and director of basketball operations Mike Bramucci for allowing me to spend so much time observing what they built into a winner. While I'm at it, sports information director Pete McHugh also deserves his share of thanks for allowing me to call the Jaspers' season opener, a double-overtime victory at La Salle, in relief of my good friend Christian Heimall, whose unforgettable final call of the MAAC championship game can be found alongside our Manhattan photo gallery:

Rhamel Brown poses with MAAC championship trophy at the Sheraton in Springfield, Manhattan's team hotel during conference tournament. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

In addition to Manhattan, special thanks goes out to every sports information director, coach (and in the case of Michele Patsos, coach's wife) and program who have continued to leave their doors open to A Daly Dose Of Hoops over the years, as well as all of our colleagues who were kind enough to not share press row with us and the people we met along the way this season, particularly Ray Curren of The Mid-Majority (rest in peace) and Ryan Restivo of Big Apple Buckets, who has become a friendly rival over the past two years and is once again churning out MAAC and Stony Brook-related content at a pace I cannot keep up with. If you're willing to have me and my staff back next season, I would consider it an honor.

I couldn't do it alone, however, which is why I appreciate the tireless contributions of Jason Schott and Ray Floriani all the more. Not only was Jason the go-to guy for St. John's University coverage, he also stepped up to cover the NCAA Tournament and NIT among his many other efforts, while Ray's photo essays captured the season in a unique way that has yet to be duplicated, not to mention the "Renaissance Man" introducing tempo-free statistical analysis to the site and converting a long-standing traditionalist in yours truly into a new way of sizing up the teams we saw in front of us. 

In November, Patrick McCormack became a member of the family, making his debut in the championship game of the preseason NIT between Arizona and Duke, providing A Daly Dose Of Hoops with a four-man staff that I would like to add to next season. Reach out at dalydoseofhoops@gmail.com if you are interested in coming on board, and we can go from there.

Finally, I cannot end without thanking everyone who takes the time to read the content on this site. You all are the people who matter most, and each of you is; and will always be, a much bigger part of my life than you will ever know. We do it for the love, we do it for the fans, we do it for all of you.

Five years are in the books, and I think I speak for everyone in revealing the enthusiasm we all share in regard to our sixth year together. The road to be traveled is still a blank canvas, with mounds of surprises to be revealed along the way, and if all goes well, it will be an experience that should be, in the very least, just as memorable as the one that concluded earlier this month.

I've said pretty much everything that needs to be said, and for those of you who know me well, you know of my great pride in being a throwback as a play-by-play announcer, one who tells a story without an excessive amount of words while letting the game speak for itself. I close by once again expressing my thanks for everything over the past five years, and I would love to be able to bring the game of college basketball to you again in 2014-15.

Your support of what has come to be the closest thing I have to a child (in the foreseeable future, at least) means far more than any amount of words in which anyone attempts to describe it ever can. One more time, thank you, my friends. Don't stop thinking about tomorrow.

Jaden Daly
Founder and Managing Editor
A Daly Dose Of Hoops




  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nemanja Zarkovic Joins Fordham

Tom Pecora fortifies his backcourt today with signing of Nemanja Zarkovic, a Canadian point guard. (Photo courtesy of Fordham University)

In an offseason where Fordham must prepare to begin life without Branden Frazier after his stellar four-year career, Rams head coach Tom Pecora took the first step in stabilizing his backcourt, confirming the signing of Nemanja Zarkovic.

A 6-3 guard by way of Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, Zarkovic is currently enrolled at College-Jean-de-Brebeuf in Montreal, and was a member of the Brockwood Bounce Elite team that competed against Sacred Heart and eventual CBI champion Siena last summer when the two schools toured Montreal in August before the season. He joins Eric Paschall in a recruiting class that Fordham hopes will enable the program to turn the corner after being mired in a stretch of hard times for the past two decades.

"We are thrilled to have Nemanja become part of the Fordham basketball family," Pecora said in a release. "His experience, ability to run the offense from the point guard position, and his talent to score the basketball will be a huge part of Fordham's future success."

Zarkovic is expected to compete for minutes as the point guard in a Fordham backcourt that returns Mandell Thomas and Atlantic 10 All-Rookie selection Jon Severe for their junior and sophomore seasons, respectively, as well as soon-to-be senior Bryan Smith.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Year In Review: Fordham

While Fordham bid adieu to Branden Frazier in 2013-14, Tom Pecora's Rams ushered in what program hopes will be era of prosperity led by freshman Jon Severe. (Photo courtesy of Donnie Dwyer via The Sports Cycle)

We've returned from a post-NCAA Tournament vacation to begin our offseason with the first of what will be several year in review pieces of the programs we are privileged to cover as the slow build to the 2014-15 campaign has started. Up first in this series of retrospectives is, of no surprise to our most ardent supporters, the school in the Bronx that was among the first to open its doors to us once we started branching out in the tri-state area.

In late August, once Fordham University announced its nonconference schedule, a much more favorable slate than the difficult ledger the Rams played in 2012-13 on their way to a 7-24 finish, Tom Pecora had this to say when we asked him of the competition his team would face as he entered his fourth season at the helm at Rose Hill:

"I think we're moving in the right direction," the coach stated with regard to a 13-game nonconference schedule in which the Rams hosted several early-season games at Rose Hill Gym. "This is where we need to be."

A 98-80 exhibition victory over Northwood University showcased Fordham's potential early in the season, and Jon Severe's freshman debut record 28 points started the year off on a winning note when the Rams steamrolled Saint Francis University by the final of 87-67. Yet for all the positive signs Fordham showed, their record was still 2-2 after the first four games, alternating wins and losses with victories against Saint Francis and Lehigh followed by losses to Syracuse and Sacred Heart, the latter of which was a confounding 85-73 defeat at home to a team that had not won a game at that point in the season, and only ended up winning four contests overall for first-year head coach Anthony Latina.

After the Sacred Heart loss, criticism of Pecora emerged, something that would later become an ongoing issue as Fordham struggled when Atlantic 10 play began. In their next contest, the Rams needed a strong effort against crosstown rival Manhattan in the 106th Battle of the Bronx, and after a combined 69 points from the trio of Severe, Branden Frazier and Mandell Thomas, Fordham got exactly that, using a seven-man rotation to post what turned out to be their biggest win of the season, a 79-75 victory over Steve Masiello's eventual MAAC champion Jaspers at Draddy Gymnasium, where the Rams had lost 81-47 two years prior. Fordham won its second straight with a 31-point thrashing of Furman that was the largest margin of victory in Pecora's tenure, and only the third of 30 or more points in the coach's career, which included nine years at Hofstra.

And then, debacle No. 1 happened.

Coming into Madison Square Garden with momentum on their side, the Rams turned in a 19-for-80 performance from the field as Severe went 1-for-21 in a 104-58 loss to St. John's that was essentially over after the 16-minute media timeout in the first half.

"We're young," Pecora started his press conference by saying after the Red Storm turned the Holiday Festival matchup between the two schools into a glorified exhibition. "We didn't execute a game plan."

That was putting it mildly, as Fordham essentially mailed it in during the second half, giving Ram fans flashbacks to Dereck Whittenburg's reign of error in a game everyone would love to forget. Wins over Colgate and Howard upped the Rams' record to 6-3, but losses in three of four games to Monmouth, Harvard and Siena, coupled with a hamstring injury to Mandell Thomas in the Monmouth game dropped Fordham to 7-6 with Atlantic 10 play starting on the road against a Duquesne team that the Rams beat one year prior at Rose Hill behind a career game from Frazier.

The conference schedule did not help matters much to start the year, with Fordham losing each of their first six league games before their 76-70 win over George Mason, one of just two A-10 victories during the 16-game league season. However, the success was short-lived thanks to a 90-52 massacre on the road at UMass that prompted friend of the site Gary Moore to put the thoughts of the Ram fan base on paper with this scathing critique of Pecora's stubborn nature and reluctance to change his coaching style.

Fordham's 85-79 home win over Rhode Island the night before the Super Bowl was the Rams' last of a disappointing regular season, which concluded with; among other things, a loss to VCU that left Pecora perhaps realizing he may have bitten off more than he could chew despite insisting the Rams played well, and a heartbreaking defeat to La Salle in which Tyreek Duren was left under the basket to lay an inbounds pass in as time expired. Pecora did bring Fordham its first postseason win since 2007 with a second victory over George Mason in the Atlantic 10 tournament play-in game, but a loss to Dayton concluded the coach's fourth year at 10-21, just a three-game improvement in a season where a finish near or slightly above .500 was an expectation with the addition of Severe, the 2013 Mr. Basketball in the state of New York, and a campaign that marked the end of one of the most underrated careers at Rose Hill, that of Branden Frazier.

As Josh Adams mentioned after Fordham's regular season ended with a three-point loss to George Washington, Frazier was more than just a point guard over the last four years; rather, the Brooklyn product was a beacon of support, and in a lot of ways, a better game coach than Pecora, who sometimes placed undue criticism on his senior leader after losses where some things would have been better left unsaid.

The Rams will introduce Eric Paschall into the lineup next season to join their already existing core of Severe, soon-to-be juniors Mandell Thomas and Ryan Rhoomes, and senior forward Ryan Canty, and lose brothers Jared and Jake Fay after they, along with Jermaine Myers, decided to transfer during the offseason, but before any expectations can be placed in front of Fordham, it is time for the man charged with leading the program out of the abyss to really evaluate both himself and his roster.

With all due respect to Tom Pecora, who has always been a brutally honest coach to a fault and a very easy man to cover for this site given his tendency to shoot from the hip and tell it like it is, the coach needs to rethink more than a few things going into the 2014-15 season, one that could be a make-or-break year for the affable New York native. For all the praise he has received in luring Severe, and now Paschall, to Rose Hill, what good is a star player when his team does not have solid chemistry too many times than fans care to count and hesitates in the moment of truth? Steve Lavin proved at St. John's that all the talent in the world is irrelevant when five players cannot share a common goal for 40 minutes every night, as his Red Storm team turned a season in which they were expected to return to the NCAA Tournament into an NIT flameout that most would consider embarrassing in the wake of the glory days of Lou Carnesecca. The same can be said for Pecora, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. Playing four guards was a necessity for most of this past season with Travion Leonard battling back problems and Canty taking several weeks off to tend to personal issues, not to mention Manny Suarez being ruled a partial qualifier, but the combination of Bryan Smith landing in foul trouble after a handful of minutes and positive results on the rare occasions that two forwards were on the floor at the same time rendered that strategy ineffective more often than not.

Going into 2014-15, hope still springs eternal for Fordham, but the pressure is on Pecora to make sure that the faucet turns on every night. Giving Jon Severe a green light to chuck up 20 shots a game when nothing is falling does not make it any easier. If Pecora, whose player development at Hofstra was one of the many skills that landed him his current line of work at Fordham, can tap into his old bag of tricks and manage his roster, the Rams can finally be on their way to the light at the end of the tunnel that fans have been assured was coming for the last two seasons. It is just going to take a modification of tactics on the bench, and if the more things stay the same, the sooner things may have to change.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

After The Madness

In NCAA Tournament full of shining moments, none topped unexpected run from UConn to emerge as last team standing for second time in four years. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

Just about 48 hours removed from a University of Connecticut national championship that will probably not get the credit it deserves from some circles despite it being the fourth title for the Huskies since 1999, more than Kansas or Louisville, just as many as Duke and only one less than North Carolina or Indiana, and tied for fifth-most all time, the wake of the celebration brings us to a traditional rite of passage into the offseason. Back by popular demand, the following is the fourth annual airing of grievances and insights gathered from the greatest spectacle in sports, the NCAA Tournament:

First off, the American Athletic Conference made up for the perception that it was underseeded, and did so well before UConn cut down the net in Texas. In addition to the Huskies, the AAC got a second Sweet 16 representative in Louisville to offset the Round of 64 loss by Cincinnati to Harvard. Granted, UConn's road to the Lone Star State may have been a favorable draw considering their games in Buffalo and East Regional matchups at Madison Square Garden, but before you come at us crying about how unfair it is, just remember all the times that didn't work out. (i.e. Duke twice in the last three years, getting de facto home games only to lose to Lehigh and Mercer)

Second, here is where the annual recap takes on its rant tones. For those of you who know us well, you know the sentiment we express toward the Turner influence that March Madness has taken on since the new broadcast deal was signed in 2011. From there, the NBA-style presentation has increased further, despite the welcome additions of Greg Anthony and Steve Kerr to deliver one of the best booths in recent memory, finally providing Jim Nantz with a pair of exceptional analysts to complement the face of CBS' already exceptional play-by-play skills. The Turner scenario reared its ugly head, however, with the staggered start times for Round of 32 games during the first weekend of the Tournament, providing fans with dead ends on almost every turn. Arizona/Gonzaga at 9:40? That's just as bad as David Stern demanding the NBA Finals start after 9 p.m. on a weeknight against baseball, hockey and network television.

But that's not all.

The Final Four, for the first time ever, was televised on a network other than CBS, as TNT carried the national semifinals. For an event billed as the pinnacle of the sport, it only makes sense for a maximum audience to witness it; and as modern as society has become, not everyone has cable, internet access, or a smartphone. That's not to say the ratings didn't dip significantly, (we're sure they didn't) but aside from ESPN airing the Stanley Cup in the '90s and 2000s before the second lockout, no other sport does that. Can you picture the Super Bowl or World Series on Fox Sports 1 or either of the NBC or CBS Sports Networks? Neither can we.

Enough attacking. Now, it's time to commend everyone involved for once again, despite some minor disagreements, joining together to once again give us three weeks we could all enjoy, aside from DeAndre Kane's late-game heroics of course. A tip of the cap on a job well done, until next season, that is. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Steve Masiello Reinstated At Manhattan

Steve Masiello, who led Manhattan to MAAC championship before flirting with USF job and being placed on leave after it was discovered that he did not graduate college, will be reinstated by Jaspers upon completion of degree. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

On the twelfth day of deliberations, the "jury" at Manhattan College has reached a verdict, and for its defendant, no result could be more positive.

Steve Masiello, the Jaspers' third-year head coach who just four weeks ago cut down the net at the MassMutual Center to celebrate Manhattan's first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship in ten years before nearly leaving for South Florida and having his lack of an undergraduate degree revealed through an extensive background check, will be reinstated by Manhattan upon the completion of his outstanding coursework, as per a release issued through sports information director Pete McHugh. In Masiello's absence, associate head coach Matt Grady will serve as interim head coach for a Jasper team that will defend its championship on the heels of a 25-8 season that saw the program accrue its second-highest win total in school history.

"I am extremely grateful and humbled by the opportunity to continue as the head men's basketball coach at Manhattan College," Masiello said via the aforementioned release. "I made a mistake that could have cost me my job at an institution I love. Details matter."

The 36-year-old Masiello, who had previously served as an assistant to Bobby Gonzalez during Manhattan's last run of success before this season, was placed on leave by the school on March 26 upon the discovery that he did not graduate from the University of Kentucky in 2000, as was previously indicated on his resume when he applied for, and was on the verge of accepting, the vacant head coaching position at USF just days after guiding the Jaspers to a near-upset of reigning national champion Louisville and his mentor Rick Pitino, falling to the Cardinals by just seven points after leading with two minutes remaining in regulation. In his three years at the helm, Masiello has compiled a 60-39 record since succeeding Barry Rohrssen on April 13, 2011, ironically three years ago tomorrow.

"After an extensive review of the situation and extenuating circumstances, we determined that Mr. Masiello executed poor judgment, but did not intentionally misrepresent himself in applying to the College," Manhattan president Dr. Brennan O'Donnell stated. "After participating in graduation ceremonies at the University of Kentucky, he enrolled in summer courses with the intention of completing his degree, but never followed through to make sure that the degree was awarded. We are confident that Mr. Masiello will be able to complete his degree this summer and return soon thereafter to resume his duties."

Once Masiello does return, he will need to replace Manhattan's three-pronged senior class of George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado, but will return nearly everyone else from last year's team, including soon-to-be senior forward Emmy Andujar and juniors Ashton Pankey and Shane Richards on a team that is still expected to be a contender in the MAAC during the 2014-15 season.