Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Optimism abound for Perri as Blackbirds continue to rise

Jack Perri has LIU Brooklyn trending upward entering his fourth season, even after three Blackbird starters have either graduated or transferred. (Photo courtesy of Bob Dea via Nelson Castillo's Blackbirds Hoops Journal)

Looking at the roster on the team website, with no seniors among the group, one may find it hard to believe that LIU Brooklyn stands just two seasons removed from the most recent vestiges of a conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance.

Yet, after an adjustment to life without Jason Brickman and a 12-18 season that returned them to the Northeast Conference Tournament for the first time since cutting down the net for a third consecutive year, the Blackbirds have; to quote the classic Beatles song with which the program shares a name, taken these broken wings and learned to fly.

"Going into last year, I knew what I wanted to do," head coach Jack Perri recounted, "and that was give a lot of experience to our young guys. It was probably what I expected in a lot of ways. In 78 percent of our games, we were either ahead or within a basket under five minutes (in regulation). It was a matter of learning how to win, but we gained a ton of experience."

The experience of which Perri speaks is prevalent both inside and outside the three-point line, with Iverson Fleming and Joel Fernandez returning to the backcourt along with Martin Hermannsson, who would theoretically become the de facto point guard following the transfer of Elvar Fridriksson. However, the Blackbirds' coach praised junior college newcomer Aakim Saintil, whom he expects to compete for the starting point guard position alongside Fleming as LIU welcomes its third floor general in as many years. Of Hermannsson, Perri admitted he is more partial to playing off the ball, but would see some minutes as the facilitator as well.

"He's going to be a focal point for sure," Perri said of his Icelandic guard, who is currently playing for his country's national team during the offseason. "I trust his decisions, I trust his ability. I think he's got a chance to be an all-conference kid this year. Did he shoot real well from behind the three last year? No, but I think that might have just been more getting adjusted to the American game a little bit, because he made them in practice. I'd be surprised if he stays in that 30 percent mark this year."

Up front, the makeover for the Blackbirds is more pronounced. Gone is senior cog Landon Atterberry, leaving Nura Zanna as the only returning starter in the paint. However, LIU welcomes mounds of depth into Brooklyn to join the Nigerian forward, starting with Florida International expatriate Jerome Frink, and a healthy Glenn Feidanga, who returns for his junior season.

"Glenn was not healthy at all," Perri revealed after conveying his excitement toward the prospects of his team's interior play. "He had gotten a high ankle sprain in November, right before the start of the season, and really, he was never healthy and he missed a lot of games. I think if he had played a lot of the games, we could have had a different record, because the reality was we had no frontcourt after Nura, and Nura had so many issues with foul trouble, and I'd have to play Landon at the five."

"That's when teams would kind of make their move," he expounded. "You look at the plus/minus with Nura, and his plus/minus was really good, and then, boom, once we went to that smaller lineup, that's when we really struggled. But Glenn had a really good offseason, he's 100 percent healthy, and then adding Jerome Frink, he started in Conference USA for two years. He could step out, he can shoot, he has a really high basketball IQ. He's as strong as Julian Boyd when he was here, so I'm really excited about him."

With five newcomers in the fold, plus an influx of depth not seen in the last two years, the Blackbirds definitely have the pieces to make a run in what looks to be anyone's Northeast Conference to win. Although Robert Morris, Mount St. Mary's and St. Francis Brooklyn may have the most returning players this season, not many teams in the league are as complete as LIU looks to be, and in the eyes of their coach, it gives them the belief that they, too, are in the mix.

"I saw a lot of positives," Perri again declared. "I feel really good about the group we have coming back, I feel really good about the people we brought in, and I think we're just going to continue to grow. Hopefully this is a different year, and I'm going to have a different mindset. I think we have some pieces here that could help us challenge for a top four spot, which is always the goal. We're climbing, and I think we're in the right direction. We had to rebuild simply because we lost so many guys and we had so many injuries, but now I think we're getting back to where we're supposed to be."

RaShawn Stores gets fifth year of eligibility, returns to Manhattan

RaShawn Stores, whose steady hand led Manhattan to back-to-back MAAC championships, has received waiver for fifth year of eligibility with Jaspers. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)

Manhattan's floor general has not retired from the battlefield yet.

RaShawn Stores, the point guard who orchestrated their uptempo offense while also displaying a flair for the dramatic with timely clutch three-point shooting, has apparently received a waiver for a fifth year of eligibility, giving the Jaspers a huge boost in the backcourt as they seek to become just the third program in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference history to win a third straight league championship.

Stores' return was announced late Wednesday afternoon by none other than head coach Steve Masiello, who took to Twitter to proclaim the good news in Riverdale:





Masiello confirmed the approval of the waiver to A Daly Dose Of Hoops shortly thereafter.

In the 2014-15 season, Stores, a Bronx native who sat out in 2011-12 during Masiello's first season at Manhattan, averaged a career-best 6.3 points per game to accompany 3.0 assists and 1.3 steals per contest. His 40 percent mark from three-point range led the Jaspers during their successful MAAC title defense, and was bolstered by a knack for hitting shots when they mattered most. Against conference opponents last season, Stores shot 58 percent (22-for-38) from beyond the arc after halftime, including a blistering 8-for-12 inside the final five minutes of regulation.

With his return, Stores joins juniors Rich Williams and Tyler Wilson in the Jasper backcourt, as well as Samson Usilo, the highly touted athletic Brooklyn guard who missed all of last season due to injury.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Schott's Book Review: The Nets' Long and Winding Road to Brooklyn

(Photo courtesy of Jason Schott)

BY JASON SCHOTT
Daly Dose of Hoops Associate Contributor - @JESchott19

Greg Hrinya has written the definitive work on the Nets' transition from New Jersey to Brooklyn, and it has been a wild five years. There was the season the team won just 12 games, Kris Humprhies and a known socialite, the drama around Deron Williams, Billy King's reckless trades, and the overriding theme is how the team never lived up to their full potential.


Hrinya's book is named The 5-Year Plan: The Nets' Tumultuous Journey from New Jersey To Brooklyn, and the title comes from Nets principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov's declaration that the team would win an NBA championship within five years of his purchase of the team in 2009.


Early on in this book, Hrinya displays descriptive flourishes that make this book a very enjoyable read. He describes the Nets owner as such: "Prokhorov emerged as a sort of messiah for Nets fans. This international man of mystery knew little about American basketball (or the English language, for that matter), but he had a plan. No one was prepared to stand in his way, either. He offered significant wealth and looked like he stepped out of a handbook on James Bond villains - an intimidating, stoic, six-foot-eight leviathan." 
The book begins with the 2009-10 season, the first year that Hrinya, who went to Marist College, began covering the team for Examiner.com.


Two anecdotes perfectly describe the 2009-10 season. The first was of one fan promotions the Nets would do at the Izod Center. "The most outrageous came from a partnership with Chipotle Mexican Grill. Between the first and second quarters, the Nets' acrobats, known as Team Hype, sprinted onto the floor as if running a fast break to catapult wrapped Chipotle burritos into the stands. One night, a launched burrito landed in a section of the press area like a carefully heaved grenade," writes Hrinya.


Hrinya then describes an open practice the team held at Ramapo College as such: "As thousands of weary college partiers nestled into the confines of their dorm rooms on a Saturday morning, the Nets invaded the campus to almost no fanfare. They struggled to fill the Division III Bill Bradley Sports and Recreation Center, which struggled to fill 1,500 fans. The scarce fans in attendance that October morning in 2009 witnessed a caliber of basketball that left some - at the very least, me - aghast."


The offseason heading into that 2009-10 season saw the Nets clean house, sending their lone star, Vince Carter, with Ryan Anderson, out in a trade for Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, and Tony Battie. Hrinya astutely described it like this: "With the Nets floundering and a new ownership regime on the horizon, management decided to start slashing prices like Crazy Eddie in the summer of 2009."


Early in the season, the Nets hosted the Boston Celtics in a game on November 7, 2009 and this passage sums up Nets games in Jersey perfectly: "With 16,119 fans in attendance, a new phenomenon blossomed for Mikhail Prokhorov's recent acquisition. Whenever an opposing team of any repute ventured to East Rutherford, that visiting crowd invaded the Nets' arena like zoo animals at feeding time. A glistening sea of Celtics green blinded the attending media members."


Hrinya defends the fans for not showing up in Jersey. "Who could blame the New Jersey fan base for abandoning the team? The organization clearly indicated that the Nets would be grabbing a cup of coffee in Newark before moving operations to Brooklyn. The Nets planned to finish the 2009-10 season in the IZOD Center before taking a two-year lease in Newark's Prudential Center while the Barclays Center in the New York borough underwent construction."


Nets management, starting with CEO Brett Yormark, promoted the team with an eye to Brooklyn while the team wound down their time in New Jersey, with slogans like "Jersey Strong, Brooklyn Ready." Hrinya says of this, "Yormark and company were deluded enough to expect Jersey residents to continue supporting a team destined for another state. New Jersey represented obsolescence, while Brooklyn provided global marketing and chic trends. The dim prospects for winning before the move merely added grave insult to a massive wound. The team had one goal: put a winner in the billion-dollar Barclays Center. None of the New Jersey results mattered."


That is exactly how it played out, as the Nets started the 2009-10 season with an 0-18 record, and head coach Lawrence Frank was fired amidst the streak after the 16th loss. Frank routinely only dressed 7 or 8 players a night, as the roster, as weak as it was, dealt with massive injuries. The Nets stumbled to a historically bad 12-70 record in the 2009-10 season with Kiki Vandeweghe as both the head coach and general manager. When Kiki was dismissed unceremoniously at the end of the season, Prokhorov brought in Avery Johnson to be the new head coach in May 2010. The interesting thing was that he was hired before a new general manager was named, so essentially Johnson got to work with Prokhorov on choosing his new boss. The choice for general manager was Billy King.


Hrinya pointedly and accurately described King as such: "King looked like a former basketball player with exceptional height and several post-retirement pounds. His pleasant demeanor and overall friendliness made him a good candidate for an NBA negotiator. In all fairness, anyone given the keys to Prokhorov's basketball kingdom would surely walk around with a smile glued to his face."


"Johnson executed a perfect coup. He cleverly placed a patsy in line to take the fall in cases where things went awry. Which they did. But in the meantime, the Nets hired a formerly disgraced personnel executive who had virtually destroyed the Sixers organization. Many might examine Philadelphia's situation and credit the Sixers' success to King, but that thinking ignores significant portions of the story," wrote Hrinya.


He then goes on to describe all the horrendous moves that King made in Philadelphia, like trading for Chris Webber, who was well past his prime in 2005. King also gave a 35-year-old Dikembe Mutombo a $68-million contract extension in 2001, gave backup point guard Aaron McKie a $35.5 million deal. Eric Snow received $29 million in 1999, and then an extension in 2003 of between $18 and $25 million. Hrinya continues, "He also absorbed lousy contracts in trades, like those of one-time Net Keith Van Horn, Kevin Ollie, and Glenn Robinson. King's penchant for spending big money on fringe players or those past their prime would foreshadow events to come in Brooklyn. He butchered the Sixers organization after inheriting a perennial MVP candidate (Allen Iverson), yet somehow he found himself working for the richest owner in sports with a billion-dollar stadium on the horizon. That must have been some job interview with the Nets."


King's tenure in Philadelphia certainly did foreshadow what he did with the Nets, as he threw a lot of money around and made reckless trades. He traded a lot to Atlanta for the bloated contract of Joe Johnson, sent three first-round draft picks to the Boston Celtics for the ancient Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry, and sent a lottery pick to Portland that turned into Damian Lillard for Gerald Wallace, and gave him a large contract. They all were to please one diva-like player that they brought in at the trade deadline in February 2011, Deron Williams. 


From the minute Williams arrived, he was always battling an injury of some kind. He had an ailing wrist when he was acquired from Utah and problems with his ankles in the Nets' first two years in Brooklyn. A running theme as well was his endless excuses as to why he and the Nets did not perform better, with the weakest being complaints about the sightlines at Prudential Center. During the 2011-12 season and continuing into that offseason, the Nets tried to acquire Orlando's Dwight Howard to play alongside Williams. Hrinya does an excellent job of describing the soap opera surrounding that, and how it all was meant to help the case to keep Williams, who was a free agent in 2012, a Net as they moved to Brooklyn.


"This Nets' philosophy, which had begun when the team had Carmelo Anthony in its sights, now continued with Dwight Howard as the prize. King would acquire the star, Johnson would coach the star, and Yormark would market the star. What a triumvirate," wrote Hrinya somewhat in jest. The Nets ended up not making the trade for Howard, instead keeping Brook Lopez, which probably worked out better for them anyway."


Hrinya does an exceptional job describing the long process to get the Nets here, which involved Bruce Ratner building Barclays Center as part of a larger multi-development plan using eminent domain and, when the severe recession of 2008 hit, how Prokhorov came in to save the day. He describes the amenities at Barclays Center and how the Nets left behind two arenas for the glory of this new billion-dollar arena. One of the highlights was all the food vendors on the concourse, to which Yormark said at the time, "Everything is made to order, it's fresh, some of it's organic. It's truly a culinary experience for anyone that comes into the building." To which Hrinya wrote, "The culinary options may have made fans forget that they came to watch a basketball game."


Yormark made a vow that would turn out not to be true at all and that Hrinya documents, "Yormark yearned for the days when Nets fans would finally outnumber the competition. He even guaranteed as much following a bizarre game against the New York Knicks on April 19, 2012. 'The nights where there are more fans for the opposing team than ours won't happen in Brooklyn,' Yormark told the Daily News. 'We'll have diehard fans that are going to grow up as Brooklyn Nets fans.'" Anybody who has been at Barclays the past few years when the Knicks or Lakers or whatever team LeBron James plays for can attest to the fact that there are plenty of fans for the road team in the building.


The book gives a day-by-day description of the 2012-13 season. There was Hurricane Sandy delaying the opener, the Nets' torrid start, followed by a bad December in which Avery Johnson was fired as head coach. Avery was fired when the team was 14-14, and this was after he coached the team the last two years in Jersey, which the organization punted. The perception of some was that he deserved to coach the entire first year in Brooklyn.


Hrinya took a different view. "Johnson did not receive a bye for all those New Jersey losses," he wrote. "The head coach had failed for his third consecutive season, and that ultimately led to his downfall. Other head coaches had surely won with less. The recently deposed signal caller had always pointed to future improvement without ever taking responsibility for the present. And he followed his modus operandi during the fallout." In his farewell comments, he looked at the first two years as being rough and then he would have the first two years in Brooklyn.


One of the quotes that showed how funny Johnson was dealing with the media was not about basketball (Hrinya does provide plenty of those), but it was on Kris Humphries' wedding to Kim Kardashian. Johnson, along with King, was at the wedding, and Avery said the following of it, "Kris is a focused young man and we know he's real passionate about the game of basketball. The life that he's leading right now, that's just a part of this new social media, that's just a part of his lifestyle." To this quote, Hrinya responds, "In Johnson's eyes, all the kids engaged in that sort of behavior because of that dang technology."


Hrinya describes when Kardashian first met Humphries after attending the Nets' game with the Heat in October 2010. The media was walking behind her entourage after the game, and she was possibly on her way to meet Humphries. Hrinya says of this, "Sounded like love at first dunk. In Humphries' defense, she stuck around after the Nets had suffered a 101-78 blowout in which Humphries finished the game with six points and four rebounds. She was a keeper."


Going back to the 2012-13 season, it was marked by the Nets' surge after P.J. Carlesimo took over head coaching duties, big games throughout that season like when the Miami Heat came to Brooklyn for the first time, and the first-round loss to the Chicago Bulls.

The next turn in the plot of this book, which reads like a novel in how it is crafted, is when Jason Kidd is hired as head coach and the blockbuster trade with the Celtics that brought Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce here.

He analyzes how Williams would be affected by the Kidd hiring and how they were good friends. "The hiring never bothered Williams. It never bothered King, either, and he stood to lose a lot more than the point guard. He positioned a win-now team with a coach who would surely experience growing pains. Given Williams' track record with head coaches, his friendship with Kidd had crossed enough minds to warrant questions."


Earlier in the book, there is a discussion of Williams' relationship with Utah head coach Jerry Sloan and how D-Will was blamed for the longtime coach resigning. Williams was then also blamed for Avery Johnson being fired just 28 games into the 2012-13 season, right after Williams made the surprising move of criticizing Johnson's offense and praising what he used to run in Utah with Sloan.


The Nets started the 2013-14 season miserably, falling to a 10-21 record with a blowout loss in San Antonio on New Year's Eve. Within this dreadful run, Lawrence Frank, who served as Kidd's lead assistant, was dismissed after repeated clashes with Kidd's on things like the infamous "soda incident" and cursing out Frank once for also standing up on the sideline.


The Nets turned it around with a comeback win in Oklahoma City on January 2, 2014, coincidentally when Kidd stopped wearing ties. They surged into the final few months of the season and finished with 43 wins. There is also detailed analysis of the Nets' signing of Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete in major American professional sports, in February 2014 and whether it was more for basketball or historic reasons, as well as who the Nets could have gotten besides Collins.


The Nets played a classic first-round series with the Toronto Raptors, which featured many great moments from Pierce. The series went the distance, and the Nets won Game 7 when Pierce blocked Kyle Lowry at the buzzer. The Nets' reward in the second round was the Miami Heat and they were dispatched in five games.


The book's alternate title could have been "Doing It All For Deron." The Nets crafted this team to make him comfortable in Brooklyn, which he never really was. He also never lived up to his $100 million contract either, part of the reason the Nets won just one playoff series with him here. Hrinya says this of the Nets' relationship with Williams, "Management allowed Williams to hold the franchise hostage. Considering his lengthy injury history, they allowed one player to wield far too much power. The move paid dividends in the sense that the Nets attracted other star players, albeit past their primes, and continued to brand an evolving product. From an Xs and Os standpoint, the move was a disaster. At no point did Williams ever have a clean bill of health. He received more injections in his ankles than a thoroughbred race horse."


This book is a must-read for Nets fans, or really NBA fans in general, as a lot of their moves affected many teams and it's fun to piece together all the ripple effects of King's wheeling and dealing.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Liberty 64, Sun 57: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK CITY ­- The tennis analogy probably was embedded in consciousness, thanks to recently concluded Wimbledon. When you are at home, facing a quality opponent, you have to ‘hold serve.’

The New York Liberty fell behind early, regrouped, and went on to post a 64­-57 victory over the Connecticut Sun at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. Beyond a defense holding the Sun to an efficiency of 69, was a significant win over a team with one road loss. A division rival vanquished was an added bonus.

Once again, Tina Charles led the way for New York, with 22 points and 12 boards, both game high figures. Kiah Stokes was a defensive terror with eight blocked shots. But it was more than two players. Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer was pleased that whoever got the call, gave quality minutes.

Tanisha Wright scored four points in 25 minutes, yet drew Laimbeer’s praise, and not just for handing out five assists. Wright raised the energy level of her teammates through vocal encouragement and deed, at a time it was needed most.

Thankful to trail by just five at intermission, the Liberty regrouped those final two quarters. Wright played no small part in the Liberty turning the game around the final twenty minutes.

Now, the Liberty stand at 9­-5. They embark on a crucial four-game road trip. The mindset is altered considerably from last year. Even from a few months ago. In the spring, the playoffs seemed, to many, a long shot. Now, there is talk around the Garden of not just playoffs. Homecourt advantage and advancement are hot topics.

When the US Open, tennis again, hits Queens in late August, the Liberty plan to be a part of the New York sporting conversation. With playoffs arriving, they are something to be looked forward to this go-round.

Walking out to the Garden floor, Ray spotted a young woman leaning on a rail in silence. She was praying, she later said. It turns out she was the national anthem singer, Victoria Dennis. Her prayers were answered, as she did a fabulous job:
The Sun's Alex Bentley, a picture of concentration:
Bill Laimbeer simultaneously questions and begs for a call:
The Connecticut huddle in a late game timeout:
Epiphanny Prince holds the ball as time expires on another Liberty victory:
Liberty legend Sue Wicks greets a fan:
A Stanford alumni meeting, as Kayla Peterson and Chiney Ogwumike of the Sun flank Brooklyn product Melanie Murphy. All three were integral pieces of the 2011 Cardinal team that went 32-3, (18-0 in Pac-12 play) and advanced to the Final Four:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Giorgis embracing challenge of reloading at Marist in wide-open MAAC

MAAC championship game loss and four transfers may drop Marist in the eyes of critics, but Brian Giorgis and Red Foxes are committed to not just competing, but still winning. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

Over the last twelve years, defeat has not been a regular word in the lexicon of Marist women's basketball.

So it was, then, that after a valiant effort against Quinnipiac in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship came up just short this past March, some may have wondered whether the loss signified the end of an era that saw the Red Foxes' nine-year championship streak, and ten in eleven years, come to an end. An opening round loss in the WNIT, coupled with the transfers of four student-athletes; highlighted by sharpshooter Madeline Blais, who figured to be the face of the team going into her senior season, served as even further speculation that the road reached its demise.

But after twelve years of authoring one of the nation's premier success stories at the mid-major level, Marist is not throwing in the towel just yet. In fact, the man in charge of the dynasty is eager to accept his latest; and arguably biggest, dose of adversity.

"I think it would be fair to say that it would be a big challenge," Brian Giorgis said when addressing his team's ability to contend once again. "Whether Tori (Jarosz) gets her sixth year or not, we'll have a lot of inexperience."

Should Jarosz, who battled injuries throughout her career before finally blossoming into a first team all-MAAC selection during a healthy 2014-15 season, be granted a final year of eligibility, her return will instantly bolster the Red Foxes' chances in a conference that features several formidable teams. If not, although Marist will be significantly younger, the experience is not grossly lacking, with six returning players joining five freshmen to form one of Giorgis' more diverse rosters since making the jump to the college ranks in 2002.

"Maura Fitzpatrick just really gives us an element that is really pretty special as far as both ends of the floor," Giorgis said of one of his quintet of freshmen, who arrives from Mercy High School in Connecticut. "The ability to defend, very athletic, she can do a lot of things well." Morgan Bartner, a 6-2 forward from New Jersey, is described by her new coach as "the epitome of what we want our stretch fours to do." North Dakota native Jordyn Jossart was lauded by Giorgis as "maybe the best three-point shooting point guard since I've been here," and the Poughkeepsie legend welcomes some international flavor to McCann Arena as well, in the form of Swedish guard Rebecka Garderyd and Icelandic forward Louisa Bjort Henningsdottir.

Leading the way will be senior guard Sydney Coffey, the Most Valuable Player of the MAAC Tournament as a sophomore in 2014, and still among the most versatile players on the roster, one who could play and defend four different positions at a given time over a stellar career that will go down in the annals along with some of the best Red Foxes of the last decade.

"She's going to have to take much more of a leadership role," her coach candidly suggested. "Whereas she has been a leader, but more of a quiet leader, she's going to have to be more of a vocal leader this year. She sometimes likes to blend, and we may have to ask her to do a little bit more, especially on the offensive end, but she's right on the line with Erica, (Allenspach) Julianne Viani, Corielle Yarde, et cetera."

Adamant that his team is still a force to be reckoned with, Giorgis made no bones of hiding that notion when scheduling this season, with Big East powers St. John's and Creighton on the ledger before league play begins, not to mention a potential showdown with a Dayton team that had eventual national champion Connecticut on the ropes in the Elite Eight during the Gulf Coast Classic in Florida. With a slate that will surely forge Marist into a battle-tested unit by January, when league play resumes, the Red Foxes will enter into a MAAC that is anybody's game, arguably ready for all comers based solely on what they will have endured just to get to that stage.

"I don't think there is one team," Giorgis said in contrast to last year, where Quinnipiac was head and shoulders above the rest of the league. "Fairfield may be one, but I think the conference is really going to be balanced top to bottom."

"Every year, we go in trying to, and expecting to, compete for a championship," he reiterated with regard to the infusion of additional youth. "It'll just be a harder means, and maybe a different way of trying to achieve that goal, but that goal's not going to change. We're not going to run away from it. We're going to face the challenge head on, and get after them."

Marist releases nonconference schedule

Khallid Hart returns for his junior season to lead Marist into battle with nine-game nonconference schedule that sees Red Foxes take on four of last year's postseason teams. (Photo courtesy of Marist College Athletics)

For Marist, last season was one that started slow, with injuries to each of the Red Foxes' three leading scorers, yet picked up steam as the year went on and a young roster adjusted to their third system in as many years. Despite being dealt a tough hand, first-year head coach Mike Maker remained optimistic, and by the time his team reached the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament last March, they gained respect throughout the league as a team no one wanted to play due to their multiple threats and dynamic playmaking ability of swingman Chavaughn Lewis, who graduated last May as the all-time leading scorer in program history.

Lewis, as well as shooting guard T.J. Curry, have departed, but the trio of junior point guard Khallid Hart and senior forwards Phillip Lawrence and Eric Truog, will attempt to further Marist's climb in the standings, beginning with a nine-game nonconference schedule in which the Red Foxes will see four opponents who competed in postseason play last season.

The 2015-16 campaign in the Hudson Valley will open at McCann Arena on Friday, November 13, when Marist hosts Holy Cross and new head coach Bill Carmody, formerly at the helm at Princeton and Northwestern. Although the Crusaders were once a member of the MAAC, they did not cross paths with the Red Foxes, who joined the league from the Northeast Conference in 1997. Five days later, the homestand continues when Dartmouth invades Poughkeepsie to precede a two-game road trip to Mid-American Conference school Kent State, (November 21) and America East foe Vermont (November 29).

Following the opening weekend of conference play in December, Marist welcomes two more opponents to McCann Arena, with three-time reigning America East champion Albany coming in on December 9 before Delaware takes the floor at McCann on the 12th of December. On December 20, the Red Foxes will travel across the Hudson to Christl Arena to face Zach Spiker's Army West Point team on December 20 before a neutral site contest on the 22nd against Brown. The skirmish with the Bears, at Mohegan Sun Arena, will be part of a doubleheader also featuring St. John's and South Carolina.

Marist concludes its non-league ledger with a trip to Jacksonville on December 29. Game times will be announced at a later date.

2015-16 Marist Red Foxes Nonconference Schedule
Friday, November 13: vs. Holy Cross
Wednesday, November 18: vs. Dartmouth
Saturday, November 21: at Kent State
Sunday, November 29: at Vermont
Wednesday, December 9: vs. Albany
Saturday, December 12: vs. Delaware
Sunday, December 20: at Army West Point
Tuesday, December 22: vs. Brown (Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Conn.)
Tuesday, December 29: at Jacksonville

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ray Floriani's Atlantic 10 Women's Basketball Tempo-Free Wrapup

Fordham's excellent defense allowed Stephanie Gaitley's Rams to secure 11 conference wins, advancement to Atlantic 10 semifinals, and WNIT invite. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

Atlantic 10 women’s basketball gained a great deal of notoriety and deserved attention as Dayton advanced to the Elite Eight. The Flyers battled UConn gamely for over a half before falling in the Albany Regional final. Dayton’s run highlighted another successful year in conference, and served notice regarding the quality of A­-10 play. Dayton did not win the conference title, though, that distinction went to George Washington, an early exit in NCAA play at the hands of Gonzaga. Duquesne, Richmond, and Fordham advanced to the WNIT, giving the conference five participants in postseason action.

Among the WNIT teams, Duquesne reached round three, (defeating Richmond in the second round) while Fordham also won a first-round game before bowing out at St. John’s in the next round. A tempo-free breakdown of the A-­10 women follows, with the numbers courtesy of bbstate.com:

1) George Washington (15-1 record, 76 possessions, +28 efficiency margin)
2) Dayton (14-2, 74, +22)
3) Duquesne (12-4, 71, +11)
4) Saint Joseph's (8-8, 68, +4)
5) Fordham (11-5, 68, +4)
6) Richmond (9-7, 69, +1)
7) Saint Louis (7-9, 73, -1)
8) Rhode Island (8-8, 67, -2)
9) VCU (7-9, 72, -5)
10) St. Bonaventure (5-11, 69, -6)
11) La Salle (5-11, 72, -7)
12) UMass (5-11, 72, -9)
13) Davidson (1-15, 70, -18)
14) George Mason (5-11, 73, -19)

The only team to crack 100 in offensive efficiency was Dayton. The Flyers checked in at 102. Conference champion George Washington had an OE of 95. The defense was an outstanding 77, the best in the entire conference.

The general profile of the conference revealed another group short on dominant post players, but stronger on the wings. The guards? Call them adequate to a little better than average. Guards are not responsible for every turnover. The offense does initiate with their position, so with 9 of the 14 teams over 20% in TO rate, at least some of that hinges on the backcourt.

The average pace of the conference was 71.2 possessions per game, a decidedly quick tempo which a lot of teams seemed to favor. Shooting was definitely less than spectacular, with no team cracking 50% for the eFG rate. The free throw rate saw no team hit 20%. This gives another indication of the conference being short on consistent post threats. With teams surviving on mid-to-longer range shots, defenses could gamble, thus the resulting eFG numbers, all under 50%. Dayton, at 49%, was the conference leader in field goal efficiency.

For Davidson, the only place to go is up. The Wildcats managed one win. They had the lowest offensive efficiency at 75 with the second-lowest on defense at 93. They shot a low 40% eFG percentage while showing the highest TO rate at 24%. Clearly, the move to the Atlantic Ten from the Southern Conference was not very easy for this group.

Offensive leaders:
1) Dayton (102 offensive efficiency)
2) George Washington (95)
3) Duquesne (92)
4) Saint Joseph's (89)
5) Saint Louis (88)

The only team to crack the century mark, Dayton paced the conference in eFG percentage as noted with their 49%. They also showed good numbers in FT rate (19%) and turnover rate at 20.3%. That TO rate number is just ‘above’ the cutoff, but not a serious liability, given the Flyers ability to get to the line and shoot from the field.

The top three-point shooting team, no surprise, it was Dayton at 39%. To top it off, Jim Jabir’s club shot a pace-setting 46% inside the arc.

Leading defenses:
1) George Washington (77 defensive efficiency)
2) Dayton (80)
3) Duquesne (81)
4) Fordham (82)

George Washington had the total package, forcing opponents into a 39% eFG percentage and a 22.8% TO rate. LaSalle led the conference in forcing turnovers (23% defensive rate). Their downfall was a second-worst eFG defense at 46%, which all translated into a 91 defensive efficiency.

The conference championship: March 8, 2015, Richmond, Va: George Washington 75, Dayton 62
The game saw a disparity in possessions, with 84 for the Colonials to the 77 of Dayton. Usually teams are a possession or two off, but this game gave a notable difference. Coach Jonathan Tsipis’ Colonials held an 89­-80 edge in offensive efficiency. Both were over the TO limit with the victors at 25%, and Dayton checking in at 21%. The big difference was the 47% offensive rebounding percentage of GW. Dayton could manage only 27% in that category, and the Colonials led 17­-9 in raw offensive rebounding numbers. That is extending a possession 17 times, far too much against a quality opponent.

Mihalich hopeful Hofstra's experienced core can cash in on high expectations

Joe Mihalich engineered 10-win improvement last season at Hofstra, and expectations for Pride are as high as any point since Charles Jenkins donned blue and gold. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

Last season, Hofstra's resurgence took its first significant step, with the Pride coming from the depths of the Colonial Athletic Association to win 20 games and return to the postseason, giving Vermont all the Catamounts could handle before losing a hard-fought opening-round CBI contest.

Four short months later, with all but two players from last year's roster back in Hempstead for an encore, the expectations are lofty; and in the eyes of the man responsible for restoring winning ways to Long Island, reasonable.

"I think we're a hungry team," head coach Joe Mihalich remarked when assessing the barometer for his third season at the helm. "You've heard this before. A lot of coaches say it, a lot of people say it, because it's true. We have high expectations of ourselves, so it's okay if other people have them, too."

With a roster that returns a trio of all-CAA selections in guards Juan'ya Green and Brian Bernardi to pair with swingman Ameen Tanksley, plus the additions of freshmen Desure Buie and Justin Wright-Foreman in the backcourt, Hofstra definitely has the horses to overcome the losses of Moussa Kone and Dion Nesmith, even if the latter of the two will be missed more than fans may realize.

"We're going to miss Dion Nesmith," Mihalich stated matter-of-factly. "What he did was, he took the pressure off Juan'ya to have to get the ball up the court, start the offense, and a lot of times, finish the offense. Dion did that, so we're going to need people to do that for him. Whether it's Denton Koon, Malik Nichols, or Desure Buie, we need a bunch of ball handlers who could take the pressure off of Juan'ya in terms of getting the offense going."

Up front, however, the look for Hofstra will be somewhat different, as Koon arrives as a graduate transfer from Princeton to see minutes alongside emerging sophomore Rokas Gustys, who has already shown improvement in the offseason.

"Believe it or not, he's just getting back to the way he was before he got hurt," said Mihalich of his Lithuanian big man. "He had a bad groin injury, and it really affected him. He basically tried to play for four weeks when he really shouldn't have played, and then he missed four weeks. He's running and jumping as good as ever, he's even shooting the ball better now, so he's getting back to where he was."

In addition to Koon and Gustys, Hofstra also welcomes back sophomore Andre Walker to the front line, and adds Clemson transfer Ibrahim Djambo, who sat out last season while completing his NCAA-mandated year in residence.

"He'll play a big part in our success," Mihalich predicted of Djambo, a native of Mali who will contest his final season of eligibility in Hofstra blue and gold. "He's 6-10, he's athletic, he's long, and he runs and jumps, and shoots the ball really well. He could be that guy who's going to step out and really stretch those post defenders. They're going to have a hard time guarding him."

Despite the cosmetic makeover in the paint, the Pride's familiarity will come from its backcourt, with Green and Tanksley back for their senior seasons alongside Staten Island junior Bernardi, looking for a final set of feathers for their respective caps after sitting out the first season of Mihalich's tenure and co-piloting a ten-win turnaround one year ago.

"I wish I had three more years with them," their coach admitted forlornly. "Those guys are special, the three of them. They've worked real hard. When the three of them sat out together that first year, they worked hard, they played hard and improved, they got the job done in the weight room and on the court; and of course last year, all three of them had very, very good years. I'm just hoping that for their sake, because they're such great guys, I'm hoping they can reap the rewards of all the sacrifices they've made."

Thursday, July 9, 2015

St. John's women's basketball releases nonconference schedule

Trips to UCLA, Rutgers and Kansas headline a nonconference schedule for St. John's that also includes several home games against quality mid-majors. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

On the heels of their eighth straight postseason appearance, St. John's faces a unique nonconference schedule that will not only test them, but with the right bounces of the basketball, position them firmly in the conversation for at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament, which the Red Storm fell short of last year, competing instead in the WNIT.

"Here at St. John's, we have always valued the opportunity to challenge ourselves in our nonconference schedule," said head coach Joe Tartamella, who has spent over a decade in Queens, first as an assistant to Kim Barnes Arico before entering what will now be his fourth season at the helm. "All of these games will prepare us for an extremely competitive Big East schedule."

St. John's will open the season on the West Coast, doing so inside historic Pauley Pavilion on Friday, November 13 against UCLA. Interestingly, that game will be part of an intriguing local doubleheader of sorts, as the Bruin men welcome Monmouth to Westwood that same day. The California trip continues for the Red Storm two days later with a game at UC Riverside, before resuming a longtime Big East rivalry against Rutgers on November 19 at the RAC in Piscataway.

A three-game homestand is next on the schedule, with the Carnesecca Arena opener taking place on Sunday, November 22 against Brian Giorgis and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference powerhouse Marist, a return game from last year's thriller at McCann Arena, where St. John's defeated the Red Foxes in the final seconds by the final of 49-48. South Florida (November 29) and Northeast Conference favorite Sacred Heart (December 3) also come to Queens, with the latter matchup being a return game from the 2013-14 season opener at the Pitt Center in Fairfield.

Three of the next four for the Red Storm will be on the road, beginning with a journey to another timeless college basketball venue on December 6, when St. John's will visit Allen Fieldhouse for a meeting with Kansas. On the 9th of December, Yale will return the favor from last season's opener in New Haven by traveling to Carnesecca Arena in a prelude to the final non-league road trip for Tartamella's team, which features a December 13 skirmish in Orlando with Central Florida, and a battle with Duquesne on December 19 in Pittsburgh.

At this time, there is no word on what will become of the Chartwells Holiday Classic, St. John's annual tournament held at Carnesecca Arena, but the Red Storm concludes its non-Big East ledger with a home game against Joe Frager's Fairfield Stags, a contender in the wide-open MAAC, on December 22. All game times are to be determined.

2015-16 St. John's Women's Basketball Nonconference Schedule
Friday, November 13: at UCLA
Sunday, November 15: at UC Riverside
Thursday, November 19: at Rutgers
Sunday, November 22: vs. Marist
Sunday, November 29: vs. South Florida
Thursday, December 3: vs. Sacred Heart
Sunday, December 6: at Kansas
Wednesday, December 9: vs. Yale
Sunday, December 13: at Central Florida
Saturday, December 19: at Duquesne
Tuesday, December 22: vs. Fairfield

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Siena releases nonconference schedule

Jimmy Patsos and Siena are first MAAC men's basketball program to release their nonconference schedule, which includes games at Duke and Wisconsin to open season. (Photo courtesy of the Albany Times Union)

Jimmy Patsos was among the first people to admit that his second season at Siena did not go as well as some may have anticipated, but what the Saints' head coach found gratifying was his team's relentless fight down the stretch, and refusal to quit.

It is that mantra that will be of importance to Siena this season, especially now that their nonconference schedule has been announced. The much-publicized trips to Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Kohl Center to open the year against reigning national champion Duke (November 13) and runner-up Wisconsin (November 15) are there, as are nine other contests that will take the Saints into Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play.

"It's a schedule that's going to make us better," Patsos optimistically declared. "It's a challenging schedule, and it's a great schedule."

Following the two games against Duke and Wisconsin, which Patsos called an "honor" to christen the season against, Siena will play two more games as part of the 2K Classic, which benefits the Wounded Warrior Project, against the combination of Bryant, Prairie View A&M, and Radford. These subregional games will be played at Bryant University, and will take place on November 20 and 21, but the exact matchups will be determined at a later date.

The Saints travel to the Sojka Pavilion to face Bucknell on November 24, and will host their home opener four days later at the Times Union Center against Patsos' former Loyola team, now coached by his one-time assistant, G.G. Smith. Following their home debut, Siena hits the road once more, this time to Newman Arena in Ithaca to take on Cornell in a December 1 matchup that renews a four-year series with the third installment among both teams.

Three home games are on the docket following the traditional opening weekend of MAAC play in December, with Siena resuming their non-league slate against Hofstra and former MAAC coach Joe Mihalich at home on December 9 before a pair of rivalry games take place in Albany. On December 12, the Saints will welcome crosstown rival and three-time reigning America East champion Albany to the Times Union Center in the first season of a new three-year agreement between both schools that will feature a home game for the Great Danes at SEFCU Arena in the 2016-17 season, with the final game of the Siena homestand being the annual Franciscan Cup against St. Bonaventure, to be held on December 22.

Siena concludes the nonconference portion of their schedule on December 29 against Patsos' college teammate John Becker and Vermont, who have defeated the Saints in each of the last five seasons. All tipoff times are to be determined.

2015-16 Siena Saints Nonconference Schedule
Friday, November 13: at Duke (2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project)
Sunday, November 15: at Wisconsin (2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project)
Friday, November 20 - Saturday, November 21: vs. Bryant, Prairie View A&M, or Radford (2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project, subregional at Bryant University)
Tuesday, November 24: at Bucknell
Saturday, November 28: vs. Loyola (Md.)
Tuesday, December 1: at Cornell
Wednesday, December 9: vs. Hofstra
Saturday, December 12: vs. Albany (Albany Cup)
Tuesday, December 22: vs. St. Bonaventure (Franciscan Cup)
Tuesday, December 29: at Vermont