Friday, September 23, 2016

Wagner enters season hungry for redemption

Now in his fifth year as head coach, Bashir Mason hopes to keep Wagner's upward mobility rising even further as Seahawks build off first-ever postseason win. (Photo by David Saffran/Wagner Athletics)

By Jonathan Reyes (@werdynerdy)

March 7, 2017.

That’s the date of the Northeast Conference championship game. Entering his fifth season as the head coach of the Wagner Seahawks, Bashir Mason already has that date circled on his calendar and memorized. 

Why? He and his players are starving to return to the big stage to reverse the loss they took to the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, 87-79, in the same matchup and scenario last year.

The Seahawks’ 2015-16 season was nothing short of remarkable. They won their second-ever Northeast Conference title, and first-ever postseason game against the No. 1 seeded St. Bonaventure Bonnies, 79-75, in the National Invitational Tournament and for the seventh time in program history, earned 20 wins by going 23-11 on the year.

“Last year’s success could be a little bit of a double-edged sword,” Mason said of the 2015-16 campaign. “Obviously, it felt good to bounce back from a 10-win season with the same guys pretty much, and the guys are excited about that. But on the other end of it is the satisfaction part, so for us, we have to fight complacency. Just work every day to try to put ourselves back in the same exact position.”

As it was set up for the NEC tournament last season, home-court advantage is awarded to the highest seed once again, something the Seahawks earned a year ago. A key stat that may go overlooked which helped them throughout last season, and during Mason’s tenure, is their record at the Spiro Sports Center. They went 13-5 last year, and in Mason’s tenure as head coach, Wagner is 54-18 with Staten Island as a backdrop. They’re going to need to repeat around a similar record at home to return to the NEC championship game, along with solid road numbers in the win-loss column as well.

“It’s a really difficult schedule, and I’m actually excited about that,” Mason said of the upcoming season’s schedule. “From the very beginning, game one at UConn, it’s an opportunity for us to figure out exactly who we are. If UConn is able to punch us in the mouth and beat us really good, I’ll have my guys attention, I’ll have their ears and they’ll be listening to me a little bit more.

“And also if it’s a close and we have a chance to win it and play it really close and come down to the wire, I’ll have their ear as well in terms of them having the confidence and belief that ‘hey, we could be really good if we continue to work.’”

2016-17 Wagner Seahawks Non-Conference Schedule

Friday, November 11: at Connecticut

Monday, November 14: at UMass Lowell

Saturday, November 19: vs. Fairfield

Tuesday, November 22: at American

Saturday, November 26: vs. Rider

Wednesday, November 30: at Massachusetts

Tuesday, December 6: vs. Monmouth

Saturday, December 10: at Morgan State

Saturday, December 17: at Providence

Thursday, December 22: vs. College of Staten Island

2016-17 Wagner Seahawks NEC Schedule

Thursday, December 29: vs. Central Connecticut

Saturday, December 31: at Mount St. Mary’s

Thursday, January 5: vs. Fairleigh Dickinson

Saturday, January 7: vs. Sacred Heart

Thursday, January 12: at Bryant

Saturday, January 14: vs. Robert Morris

Thursday, January 19: at LIU Brooklyn

Saturday, January 21: at Sacred Heart

Thursday, January 26: vs. Saint Francis U

Saturday, January 28: vs. St. Francis Brooklyn

Thursday, February 2: at Central Connecticut

Saturday, February 4: at Fairleigh Dickinson

Thursday, February 9: at Saint Francis U

Saturday, February 11: at Robert Morris

Thursday, February 16: vs. Mount St. Mary’s

Saturday, February 18: at St. Francis Brooklyn

Thursday, February 23: vs. Bryant


Saturday, February 25: vs. LIU Brooklyn

Friday, September 16, 2016

Jaspers to participate in ESPN Tip-Off Marathon

Steve Masiello will once again take part in ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, as Jaspers will host Winthrop in 8:45 a.m. time slot November 15. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Although they are not defending a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship this season, Manhattan College has not yet lost their media cache.

The Jaspers have been selected as one of the participants in this year's College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, as reported by ESPN college basketball insider Jeff Goodman. Manhattan's home game against Winthrop on Tuesday, November 15 will be the eighth game in the 24-hour-plus extravaganza, and is tentatively scheduled to tip off from Draddy Gymnasium at 8:45 a.m. to a nationally televised audience on ESPN2. The contest with the Eagles is also the first of four that is tied into the 2016 NIT Preseason Tip-Off, which will see Manhattan travel to Temple, Detroit and West Virginia during the month of November.

This will be the second time in three seasons that head coach Steve Masiello and his program will take part in the Tip-Off Marathon. On November 18, 2014, the Jaspers faced off against the University of Massachusetts on the road in an 11 a.m. soiree, falling to the Minutemen in overtime before going on to repeat as MAAC champions later that season. In that game, however, Manhattan garnered the No. 1 spot on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays that evening as a result of this buzzer-beating dunk by then-sophomore Rich Williams that forced overtime at the Mullins Center. (GIF by Ryan Restivo/NYC Buckets, audio by Christian Heimall and Brian Mahoney/Jasper Sports Network)



Manhattan is not the only MAAC member to participate in the marathon, as Niagara will also be featured immediately before the Jaspers as they face off against Hartford at 6:30 a.m. from the Chase Family Arena.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

5 Thoughts on Seton Hall's Big East schedule

Khadeen Carrington and Seton Hall enjoy five of their last eight Big East games at Prudential Center, providing valuable home court advantage to reigning conference champions. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Seton Hall thrived off their raucous home crowd en route to a Big East championship last season, drawing positive energy from a student section dressed in lobster suits and a fan base starving to embrace a winner to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.

The Pirates will get a chance to recapture the magic down the stretch of the regular season in their title defense, as the Big East schedule unveiled Tuesday afternoon sees Seton Hall with an advantageous opportunity within reach.

Five of The Hall's final eight games will take place in Newark, including a pivotal February homestand headlined by reigning national champion Villanova's visit to The Rock. Before that, though, the conference season begins with the daunting challenge of contesting the league opener inside CenturyLink Arena in Omaha, where Creighton will host the Pirates on December 28.

To shed further light on the 18-game slate Seton Hall will take on this season, we pay tribute to our colleague and Seton Hall contributor Jason Guerette, offering five thoughts on the ledger of the defending conference champions:

1) Mounds Of Winnable Games Early
Even with the Big East opener in a hostile environment against Creighton, the schedule becomes opportunistic to Seton Hall soon after, starting with a New Year's Day tilt at home against Marquette before welcoming DePaul to the Prudential Center on January 7. Road games against the same Golden Eagles squad ten days after the first encounter between the two teams, as well as a rebuilding Providence team, shape up to be very winnable for Kevin Willard & Co. In fact, a 4-1 start; or even a 5-0 beginning, to league play is certainly not out of the question heading into the first true test of the conference slate. Speaking of that marquee game...

2) The Rematch
Seton Hall was the opening act in last year's Big East Tip-Off Marathon, hosting DePaul at 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning. With the league and Fox moving the five-game extravaganza to Martin Luther King Day, coupled with the Pirates' championship journey last season, a prime time showdown is the headliner in this year's flagship day of action, coming against Jay Wright and the Wildcats on January 16. Some fans may bristle at the decision to play this game at The Pavilion instead of a larger audience at the Wells Fargo Center, but the fact remains that Seton Hall has perhaps its best shot in years to break what is now a 22-year losing streak inside Villanova's on-campus arena. With four returning starters back, not to mention an experienced group of reserves, the potential for the 70-59 victory on February 26, 1994 to become a distant memory is both real and certainly not improbable. And in case you haven't watched much Big East basketball in recent years, no team has made Villanova work as hard for 40 minutes as Seton Hall.

3) Road Trip, Part II
The Villanova game concludes Seton Hall's first big swing away from Newark, but the Pirates come back home for a pair of deceptively strong games against St. John's (January 22) and Butler (January 25) to end the first calendar month of 2017. February begins with two equally pivotal skirmishes behind enemy lines, starting with Xavier at the Cintas Center on February 1. Winning in Cincinnati is something that this team has already done, (see January 2015, when Isaiah Whitehead came back from a foot injury to score 19 points and Desi Rodriguez had his coming-out party with 16 points on an afternoon where Seton Hall placed five in double figures en route to a 90-82 win over the Musketeers) and Willard's front line should have more of an advantage against a Xavier team who must replace Jalen Reynolds and James Farr down low. Following the clash with Xavier, the Pirates head to our nation's capital for a February 4 tango with Georgetown at high noon inside the Verizon Center. The Hoyas should be much improved from last season's disappointing finish, and John Thompson III has a group of forwards that can attempt to neutralize Delgado. The backcourt is a concern this season in the absence of D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, and that should tip the scales in Seton Hall's favor as they attempt to go 2-for-2 before coming back home to face Providence on February 8.

4) Friendly Confines Of MSG?
When the Pirates cross the Lincoln Tunnel on February 11 to renew their rivalry against St. John's, they will have done so having already had a game on the Madison Square Garden floor under their belt, thanks to the December 12 non-conference matchup with Frank Martin's South Carolina Gamecocks. Familiarity with the "World's Most Famous Arena" has proven to make more of a difference than not for some Big East programs over the years, seen notably with Villanova during their 2015 Big East Tournament championship (the Wildcats had competed in the Jimmy V Classic several months prior) and former Big East rival Syracuse, who treated the Garden as a second home court. One could even argue that being acquainted with the home of the Knicks almost cost Seton Hall a shot at the NCAA Tournament last season, as St. John's was able to feed off a large crowd in taking the Pirates to the limit and nearly pulling off the upset before Isaiah Whitehead's heroics in the final minute of regulation, an effort that served as the catalyst for an epic run through February and March.


5) A Three-Course Home-Cooked Meal
Many local writers have already highlighted the eight-day stretch from February 15-22 as the most appetizing piece of the schedule for Seton Hall, and rightfully so. In that span, the Pirates entertain three of their most formidable competitors at the Prudential Center, all of whom are regarded as NCAA Tournament teams. In a coincidental twist of fate, all three are also the same teams that The Hall dispatched on their way to a Big East title last year. Creighton is first in this three-game homestand just as they were in the Big East Tournament, coming to The Rock on February 15. Three days later, a 12:30 tipoff against Villanova in a nationally televised Saturday affair (on THE Fox network, or Channel 5 as we local folk call it) is the order of business, and that game is already being thrown around as a possible Game of the Year in the conference. Xavier, who the Pirates eliminated in the semifinals last March to set up the titanic showdown with Villanova on Championship Saturday, is the last of the three to travel to Newark, doing so on February 22. If Seton Hall can emerge with a winning record in this stretch, they will further cement themselves as one of the two favorites to do the same thing they did last March.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Syracuse, UConn, NCAA Tournament headline MSG college hoops slate

Syracuse and UConn, whose six-overtime clash in 2009 Big East Tournament has gone down in annals of Madison Square Garden history, reprise their rivalry at World's Most Famous Arena December 5. (Photo by Fox Sports)

By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)
Madison Square Garden is known as the Mecca of Basketball, and the schedule they have put together this season proves it.
The Garden announced their jam-packed college basketball schedule for the 2016-2017 season Tuesday afternoon, highlighted by the return of the NCAA Tournament.
For the second time in four years, the road to the Final Four runs through The Garden, as it will again be the last stop for one team before heading to Phoenix for the Final Four. On March 24 and 26, The Garden will host the 2017 NCAA East Regional, marking the first NCAA Tournament games played since the University of Connecticut furthered a magical run that eventually resulted in a national championship three years ago. The first semifinal of the 2017 East Regional will also be the 75th NCAA Tournament game played at Madison Square Garden.
The St. John’s Red Storm, coached by Hall of Famer Chris Mullin, will continue to call The Garden their home floor for six Big East matchups, beginning on January 14 against the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats. St. John's will also host longtime Big East rivals Seton Hall, Georgetown and Providence, as well as Xavier and Marquette.
The college basketball season officially tips off on Tuesday, November 15, when the State Farm Champions Classic returns to The Garden for the first time since 2011. The event features annual powerhouses facing off in two compelling matchups, as Kentucky battles Michigan State while Duke faces off against Kansas.
The 2K Classic Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project will once again be played at The Garden on Thursday, November 17, featuring Pittsburgh and SMU in the first game, followed by Michigan taking on Marquette. All four teams will return on the next day for the consolation and championship games.
To kick off a busy December, an old Big East rivalry returns as UConn takes on Syracuse for bragging rights in the Tire Pros Classic on Monday, December 5. The Huskies and Orange contested one of the all-time greatest games in college basketball history in their six-overtime Big East Tournament showdown in 2009, and will write a new chapter in their storied history at the World's Most Famous Arena this season.
On Tuesday, December 6, Duke returns to the Garden for the annual Jimmy V Classic, taking on the Florida Gators. In the second half of the twin bill, the Purdue Boilermakers take on the Arizona State Sun Devils. All four teams will come together to raise funds for The V Foundation for Cancer Research.
Under Armour and Madison Square Garden join forces for the first-ever Under Armour Reunion on Monday, December 12. In the doubleheader, Auburn takes on Boston College in the opening game, followed by Seton Hall against South Carolina.
The annual Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival presented by Advance Auto Parts is back for another classic matchup on Sunday, December 18. The Holiday Festival, the longest-running in-season college basketball event, will feature Rutgers against Fordham, followed by St. John’s against Penn State.
Big Ten Super Saturday returns to The Garden for the second year featuring a unique basketball/hockey doubleheader on January 28. The first session will feature a Wisconsin vs. Rutgers basketball game, to be followed that evening by a marquee college hockey showdown featuring Wisconsin and Ohio State.
In its 35th consecutive season, the 2017 BIG EAST Tournament returns to The Garden from Wednesday, March 8 through Saturday, March 11.
The 80th Annual Postseason NIT concludes the college basketball schedule, with the semifinals taking place Tuesday, March 28 and the Championship Game set for Thursday, March 30.
2016-2017 MADISON SQUARE GARDEN COLLEGE BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
STATE FARM CHAMPIONS CLASSIC 
Tuesday, November 15: Kentucky vs. Michigan State (ESPN, 7 p.m.)
Duke vs. Kansas (ESPN, 9 p.m.)
2K CLASSIC BENEFITING WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT
Thursday, November 17: Pittsburgh vs. SMU (ESPN2/ESPNU, 7 p.m.)
Marquette vs. Michigan ESPN2/ESPNU, (9:30 p.m.)
Friday, November 18: Consolation Game (ESPN2, 4:30 p.m.)
Championship Game (ESPN2, 6:30 p.m.)
TIRE PROS CLASSIC
Monday, December 5: Syracuse vs. UConn (ESPN, 7 p.m.)
JIMMY V CLASSIC
Tuesday, December 6: Purdue vs. Arizona State (ESPN, 7 p.m.)
Florida vs. Duke (ESPN, 9 p.m.)
UNDER ARMOUR REUNION
Monday, December 12: Auburn vs. Boston College, 7 p.m.
South Carolina vs. Seton Hall
MSG HOLIDAY FESTIVAL presented by Advance Auto Parts
Sunday, December 18: Rutgers vs. Fordham, 11 a.m.
Penn State vs. St. John’s (FOX)
BIG TEN SUPER SATURDAY
Saturday, January 28: Wisconsin vs. Rutgers (BTN, 12 p.m.)
ST. JOHN’S UNIVERSITY
Saturday, January 14: vs. Villanova (FS1, 12 p.m.)
Sunday, January 29: vs. Xavier (FS1, 6 p.m.)
Wednesday, February 1: vs. Marquette (FS2, 7 p.m.)
Saturday, February 11: vs. Seton Hall (CBSSN, 12 p.m.)
Saturday, February 25: vs. Georgetown (FSN 12 p.m.)
Saturday, March 4: vs. Providence (FOX or FS2, 12 p.m.)
BIG EAST CHAMPIONSHIP
Wednesday, March 8: First Round Doubleheader (FS1, 7 p.m.)
Thursday, March 9: Quarterfinal Doubleheaders (FS1, 12 p.m. and 7 p.m.)
Friday, March 10: Semifinal Doubleheader (FS1, 6:30 p.m.)
Saturday, March 11: Championship Game (FOX, 5:30 p.m.)
NCAA EAST REGIONAL
Friday, March 24: Regional Semifinals (TBD)
Sunday, March 26: Regional Final (TBD)
80th ANNUAL POSTSEASON NIT
Tuesday, March 28: Semifinal Doubleheader (TBD)
Thursday, March 30: Championship Game (TBD)

St. John's Big East schedule revealed

Kassoum Yakwe and St. John's open Big East slate on campus against Butler, who visits Carnesecca Arena December 29. (Photo by the New York Post)

By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)

St. John’s 2016-17 schedule was finalized Tuesday afternoon, with the Big East’s unveiling of the season's conference slate putting the last pieces of the puzzle into place for the Red Storm and their second-year head coach, Chris Mullin.
The league’s broadcast schedule was also revealed, confirming that all 31 Red Storm regular season contests will be televised, with 30 delivered to a national audience. As part of the league’s landmark partnership with FOX Sports, the Red Storm will appear on the broadcast network’s signature sports station FS1 17 times.
In all, the highly competitive Red Storm slate features 15 home contests, including seven games at Madison Square Garden. St. John’s young and talented roster makes appearances at The Garden on six weekend dates this season, spending four Saturdays and two Sundays on center stage at the "World's Most Famous Arena."
St. John’s will open conference play at Carnesecca Arena, though, welcoming Butler to Queens on Thursday, December 29 at 7 p.m. before hitting the road for three of their next four. The Red Storm will open 2017 at DePaul on New Year’s Day before returning to Queens to host Creighton on January 4 at 8:30 p.m., prior to a two-game road trip to Xavier (January 7, 2:30 p.m.) and Georgetown (January 9, 6:30 p.m.).
Defending national champion Villanova will be the Red Storm’s first conference opponent at Madison Square Garden, with the Wildcats coming to town on Saturday, January 14 for a noon tipoff. Two days later, the Red Storm will meet DePaul for the second time in just over two weeks as part of FS1’s five-game Big East Marathon on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at Carnesecca Arena at 4:30 pm.
After stops at Seton Hall (January 22, noon) and Providence (January 25, 6:30 p.m.), St. John's will play three of its next four games at The Garden. Xavier comes to New York on Sunday, January 29 for a 6 p.m. soiree, followed by Marquette, who takes the Garden floor on Wednesday, February 1 in a 7 p.m. Eastern time contest. The Red Storm heads to Philadelphia for a rematch with Villanova at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, February 4, with tip time slated for 8 p.m. A one-week hiatus precedes a local clash against reigning Big East champion Seton Hall, who comes across the Hudson River to the Garden for a noontime affair on Saturday, February 11.
St. John’s heads to Butler for a February 15 showdown at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, with tipoff scheduled for 8:30 p.m. This is followed by a return trip to the Midwest to face Marquette six days later in an 8 p.m. tilt on February 21. The Red Storm squares off with longtime rival Georgetown at the Garden on Saturday, February 25 at noon before heading to Omaha for its final road game, which comes at 8 p.m. Eastern on February 28 against Creighton.
The Red Storm finishes out the regular season when they roll out the welcome mat for Providence at noon on Saturday, March 4 at The Garden. The battle with the Friars will be the final tuneup for both teams before the 2017 Big East Tournament, which celebrates its 35th anniversary at Madison Square Garden from March 8-11.

RELATED: St. John's releases non-conference schedule
*Information from a St. John's University press release also contributed to this story.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Fordham's Atlantic 10 schedule revealed

Jeff Neubauer's second season of Atlantic 10 play at Fordham begins with home game against Duquesne. (Photo by Alan Kelly/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

An integral part behind Fordham's 17 wins and return to postseason play last season for the first time since 1992 was an 8-10 record in Atlantic 10 contests, a marked improvement from the five-year reign of former head coach Tom Pecora, who failed to escape the bottom four positions in the standings in each of his campaigns at the helm.

Today, Jeff Neubauer; skipper of a ship that was righted impressively considering where it had been when he arrived, learned of the second part of Fordham's schedule, when the Atlantic 10 announced times and dates for its 18-game league slate.

Following the Rams' final non-league game, which takes place on December 21 against Central Connecticut State, they will remain at home to begin their A-10 ledger against Duquesne on December 30. The Dukes bring a familiar face back home in this matchup, as head coach Jim Ferry spent 11 seasons building LIU Brooklyn into a Northeast Conference powerhouse prior to taking on his current challenge in Pittsburgh.

Fordham's first test of 2017 comes on January 4 against Chris Mooney and the University of Richmond, who got the better of the Rams in the A-10 tournament last March. A January 7 home game against Saint Joseph's precedes a two-game road trip, a journey that sees Davidson (January 11) and St. Bonaventure (January 14) open their doors to New York City's A-10 representative. On January 18, two herds of Rams collide as Fordham hosts VCU, marking the only time the 2015 A-10 champions compete in the Big Apple this season.

The VCU game begins a stretch of three out of four home games for Fordham, who makes the short jaunt to Amherst on January 21 to meet UMass before coming back to Rose Hill Gym to complete the back end of a home-and-home series with Davidson (January 28) before playing host to Archie Miller and reigning A-10 regular season champion Dayton on January 31. A second home-and-home series is completed immediately thereafter, as they visit Saint Joseph's on February 4.

A February 8 tilt with La Salle at Rose Hill is a precursor to a two-game road trip for meetings with George Mason (February 11) and likely preseason favorite Rhode Island (February 15) before Saint Louis and new head coach Travis Ford come to the Bronx on February 18. Fordham completes a home-and-home series with Duquesne on February 22, visiting Pittsburgh one more time before the A-10 tournament tips off in March. A two-game homestand against Richmond (February 25) and George Washington (March 1) will serve as the third-to-last and penultimate games on the regular season schedule.

The Rams' final tuneup before tournament play occurs on March 4, when they travel to Tom Gola Arena for a second game against La Salle. All told, eight of Fordham's A-10 games will be nationally televised, five of which will air on the NBC Sports Network.

2016-17 Fordham Atlantic 10 Schedule
Friday, December 30: vs. Duquesne, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, January 4: at Richmond, TBD

Saturday, January 7: vs. Saint Joseph's, 3 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)

Wednesday, January 11: at Davidson, TBD

Saturday, January 14: at St. Bonaventure, 4:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

Wednesday, January 18: vs. VCU, 7 p.m.

Saturday, January 21: at UMass, 12:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

Saturday, January 28: vs. Davidson, noon (NBCSN)

Tuesday, January 31: vs. Dayton, 9 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Saturday, February 4: at Saint Joseph's, 6 p.m. (American Sports Network)

Wednesday, February 8: vs. La Salle, 7 p.m.

Saturday, February 11: at George Mason, 6 p.m. (ASN)

Wednesday, February 15: at Rhode Island, TBD

Saturday, February 18: vs. Saint Louis, 2 p.m.

Wednesday, February 22: at Duquesne, 7 p.m.

Saturday, February 25: vs. Richmond, 2:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

Wednesday, March 1: vs. George Washington, 7 p.m.

Saturday, March 4: at La Salle, TBD

Monday, September 5, 2016

MAAC schedule analysis: Opportunities, nuggets and must-see games

After near-miss in MAAC championship, Justin Robinson and Monmouth hope to finish the job this season. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Labor Day weekend got off to an early start Friday afternoon, when the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference released its schedule, doing so ahead of such conferences as the Atlantic 10 and Big East, for instance.

Among the highlights of each team's 20-game league slate were, as expected, the longstanding rivalry between reigning champion Iona and their bitter adversary, Manhattan; as well as the burgeoning feud between the Gaels and the team against whom they earned a conference-record ninth tournament crown, the Hawks of Monmouth University, who won 28 games last season en route to an appearance in the National Invitation Tournament.

There are many other significant contests within the ledger, including Monmouth's two meetings with fellow contender Siena, as well as the exploits of overachievers such as Fairfield and Saint Peter's. Also of note will be how some of the teams who finished near the bottom of the standings last season attempt to rebuild in 2016-17 as we go through the fall and winter before converging upon the Times Union Center in Albany once again next March. Here's a look at some of the things that caught our attention at first blush.

Biggest opportunity to start MAAC play on a high note: Marist.
The Red Foxes will probably be picked among the last four in the preseason coaches' poll, but that shouldn't stop Mike Maker from reaching for the stars with an ever-improving core led by senior guard Khallid Hart and a pair of promising sophomores in Brian Parker and Isaiah Lamb. Marist opens with a pair of winnable games in December, first hosting Niagara before traveling to Quinnipiac, and a 2-0 start to league play will no doubt serve as a much-needed pick-me-up going into the new year, when Maker's team will be tested instantly with three of their next four league games coming against Iona, Manhattan and Monmouth.

Who has most to prove in opening stages of MAAC play? Saint Peter's.
John Dunne's Peacocks were picked ninth at the start of last season, yet managed to finish fourth for the first time since 2011 after the steady hand of Trevis Wyche and explosive scoring ability of Antwon Portley gave rise to a potent backcourt duo to team up with an underrated Quadir Welton. This year will see more attention diverted to Jersey City than in seasons past, a product of the breakout season that Saint Peter's was fortunate to enjoy ahead of even Dunne's most optimistic schedule. One other side effect of the increased expectations is that there is literally no margin for error on opening weekend, with both Iona and Manhattan coming to the Yanitelli Center in December. As if that wasn't enough of an acid test, Monmouth comes to Jersey City for the first game after conference play starts up again, with a trip to Siena being the Peacocks' road opener in the MAAC. Saint Peter's 6-1 start to the league schedule last season was certainly not an aberration, and their baptism by fire this season is a show of respect for what this program has become.

First on the Buffalo trip: Siena and Quinnipiac.
The Bobcats will be the first to embark on the journey to the home of the Bills and Sabres for the second straight season, having faced Canisius and Niagara in December one year ago. An advantage this time around, though, is that the first Western New York dates come after the new year as opposed to the true opening weekend setup experienced by Quinnipiac and Monmouth last season.

Of particular interest: Manhattan's three-game road trip at the end of January.
When Steve Masiello won his first of two MAAC championships in the 2013-14 season, he did so with a Jasper team that was among the nation's leaders in road and neutral site wins. During last year's quest for a three-peat amid the numerous bouts of adversity, it took a little longer to recapture that magic, but at the end of the season, Manhattan resembled their past selves even if a trophy did not await them at the final buzzer. Following a six-day stretch where the Jaspers face Iona, Monmouth and Siena, Manhattan gets three days off after their January 22 tilt at Draddy Gymnasium against the Saints, and then proceeds to hit the road for Niagara and Canisius before concluding the first month of 2017 at Fairfield. It's worth noting that Masiello has not won at Webster Bank Arena since arriving in Riverdale in 2011, as his sole road victory against the Stags came on Fairfield's campus at Alumni Hall in a game that was rescheduled and moved in the wake of a blizzard in 2013. The Jaspers are always at their peak when the calendar turns to February and March, but it is the conclusion to January that will be most critical in their quest for redemption.

Home court advantage?
Iona's dominance at the Hynes Athletics Center has been well documented since Tim Cluess took the reins in 2010, and the Gaels will be in their familiar confines to end the regular season. Despite two stretches where four out of five games will tip off away from New Rochelle, coupled with an ambitious non-conference schedule featuring cross-country travel and just two home games, Iona gets their final three regular season contests on the floor in which it has clinched regular season championships in three of the last five seasons. Rider begins the season-ending homestand on February 19, followed by two titanic collisions against Manhattan (February 24) and Monmouth (February 26) that will almost assuredly be loaded with championship implications for better or worse.

On the contrary...
Five of Monmouth's final seven games will take place away from West Long Branch. The Hawks had no problem navigating visiting environments last season in their historic wins against UCLA and Georgetown, as well as their emphatic takedown of Iona at the Hynes Center, but this season is a different animal. Beginning with in-state rival Rider on February 6 in what may very well end up being a nationally televised affair, Monmouth goes on to face fellow MAAC heavyweights Manhattan, Siena, Fairfield and Iona in February, and will see all of them in their respective gyms, a stark contrast from last February, when the Hawks had a friendly and raucous crowd willing them to a regular season championship.

Games worth watching live, in chronological order:
Fairfield at Rider, December 1. The first game of the conference season is a deceptively strong affair, with the Stags building on last season's unlikely success story by heading to the bandbox of Alumni Gym to meet the Broncs, who will be retooled and refocused after last year's eighth-place finish and quarterfinal exit in the MAAC tournament. Life without Marcus Gilbert commences in what will surely be a grind-it-out battle, one where Rider will be intent on taking Fairfield out of their uptempo element early and often.

Iona at Saint Peter's, December 2. The Gaels and Peacocks end up taking each other down to the wire more often than not, and face each other to begin league play in Jersey City this season. The last time these two squared off in their MAAC opener, Momo Jones missed a game-winning shot at the buzzer to give Saint Peter's an upset win in a season that ended with the Gaels reigning supreme and punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

Iona at Fairfield, January 2. Two of the league's most potent offenses last season will entertain one another on the first Monday of 2017, when the Gaels head to Bridgeport hoping to avenge a loss to Sydney Johnson and the Stags. Fairfield took advantage of an Iona squad that got 33 points and 12 rebounds from Jordan Washington when they last matched wits, earning some measure of revenge for a December rout by the Gaels on a night where A.J. English scored a conference-high 46 points in a 101-77 victory.

Iona at Monmouth, January 6. The Gaels made perhaps their biggest and most resounding statement in West Long Branch last season, giving rise to a defense that proved more and more suffocating down the stretch and opening the eyes of those who criticized Tim Cluess' efforts on that side of the ball. Iona later built upon that lockdown with an equally stellar performance against the Hawks in the MAAC championship game to win the season series against King Rice's program. Monmouth will come into this one with a need to reassert themselves once more, hoping to exorcise their late-season demons in this Friday night soiree.

Iona at Manhattan, January 17. The Gaels and Jaspers meet before the last weekend in January for the first time since the 2012-13 season, and much like every other clash between the MAAC's two preeminent rivals, all records should be thrown out the window. Manhattan will come into this game looking to establish themselves further as they begin a three-game stretch that will see Monmouth and Siena next up on the schedule after hoping to end a four-game regular season losing streak to reigning MAAC champion Iona.

Siena at Saint Peter's, January 19. The Saints have not walked out of Jersey City victorious since 2010, when Fran McCaffery ended the year with a third straight MAAC championship. The Yanitelli Center has been a house of horrors for Jimmy Patsos, who was unceremoniously ejected in a loss two years ago, and the Peacocks have seemed to gradually have Siena's number more and more each season. Both teams returning senior-laden squads to the floor this year make this intriguing battle more of a pivotal encounter this time around.

Manhattan at Monmouth, January 20. Three days after their first battle with Iona, the Jaspers head down the shore in search of retribution against the Hawks, who set a new school record for wins in a regular season at Manhattan's expense last season. In that February 15 contest, Monmouth was able to get Shane Richards in foul trouble early in the first half, providing all the edge they would need in fending off the then-two-time reigning champions just three weeks after the Jaspers stole a win from their reach at Draddy Gymnasium by scoring the game's final nine points. Justin Robinson will have his hands full with Ball State transfer Zavier Turner, and junior college transfers Ahmed Ismail and Zavier Peart will be tasked with the challenge of limiting 6-foot-10 big men Zac Tillman and Chris Brady.

Iona at Siena, January 27/Siena at Iona, February 7. The Saints seemed as though they had the inside track to a second-place finish when they scored a big road win in New Rochelle on February 13, but a convincing road win by the Gaels turned the tables before Iona won going away again to advance to the MAAC championship game. Expect the rematch at the Hynes Center to be just as juicy as the first encounter, with a potential third meeting possibly in the offing when we head to Albany.

Monmouth at Manhattan, February 10. The ESPN schedule has yet to be released, and nothing will be etched in stone until the week leading up to the game, but don't be surprised if this second meeting between the Hawks and Jaspers is televised in some capacity, possibly in the 10 p.m. slot that has bore witness to Iona-Manhattan and Iona-Monmouth over the past two seasons. Either way, one of the showcase rivalries in the MAAC will be deserving of the stage it commands.

Monmouth at Siena, February 13/Siena at Monmouth, February 24. Many pundits are already hyping this as the championship matchup in March, with the Hawks and Saints both returning nearly everyone from last season's postseason rosters. Their last collision on February 1 saw Justin Robinson put together perhaps his most lasting impression en route to Player of the Year honors, erupting for 36 points at the Times Union Center as Monmouth held off a valiant Siena squad determined to prove that they were championship-caliber.

Manhattan at Iona, February 24. For the fourth consecutive year, the last Friday of the conference season is earmarked for the league's most notorious rivalry. Draddy Gymnasium was the site of the second game between the Gaels and Jaspers last year, one in which Rich Williams torched the nets for 24 first-half points before A.J. English willed Iona to victory with one clutch shot after another in the second stanza. Iona has the benefit of their home floor for this contest, and the Gaels have not lost to Manhattan in New Rochelle since January 12, 2012, when Emmy Andujar banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer to cap off a Jasper upset and erase what had been a 17-point Iona lead with 7:58 remaining in regulation.

Monmouth at Iona, February 26. A.J. English scored 45 points in a losing effort to the Hawks last January in a game marred by a postgame altercation involving Chris Brady and Jordan Washington, not to mention alleged taunting by Monmouth head coach King Rice toward the sellout Iona crowd. The two teams went on to have two more epic encounters after that, but it was the 110-102 Hawks win on the Hynes Center court that planted the seeds for this budding rivalry.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Rider's MAAC schedule revealed, Broncs open with back-to-back home games

Kevin Baggett and Rider open MAAC slate with consecutive home games against top-level teams in Fairfield and Siena. (Photo by Rider University Athletics)

By Brandon Scalea (@brandonscalea)

Following a 13-win season and quarterfinal exit from the MAAC tournament last year, Rider can now look ahead to the full 2016-17 schedule. 

The Broncs’ first MAAC game of the season will also be their home opener, when they play host to Fairfield on December 1. The Stags are coming off an impressive season last year that took them one win away from playing for a MAAC title. Head coach Sydney Johnson guided the team to 12 conference wins and a fourth-place finish. Rider will play the second game of that series on February 13 in Bridgeport. 

Riders second MAAC contest will also be played at Alumni Gym, when Siena comes to town for a Monday night game on December 5. The Saints swept the series last year, using a second-half surge to win at home and with a dominant performance on the road in front of a packed Whiteout crowd and an ESPN3 audience. Siena is expected to have a good run in the conference this season, so Rider is lucky to have that early game in its own building. The Broncs will head up to the Times Union Center in Albany to meet the Saints again on January 17. After the home Siena game, the Broncs will have a pretty grueling stretch of non-conference games when theyll play five times in 14 days, featuring a home matchup with Drexel December 16 and a road contest with UMass on December 28.

Three days later, Rider will head to West Long Branch for a New Years Eve meeting with its biggest rival and defending MAAC regular-season champion, Monmouth. If the new year is going to start happily for the Broncs, theyll need to find a way to shut down 2015-16 Player of the Year Justin Robinson and Rookie of the Year Micah Seaborn. 

Monmouth won all three contests with Rider last season, including the quarterfinal of the MAAC tournament. At Monmouth last season, the Broncs were embarrassed by 21 points as the Hawks officially clinched the No. 1 seed. Two weeks earlier, the pair met at Alumni Gym and, well, everyone knows how that one ended. The Broncs self-destructed late in the second half and Robinson hit a game-winning three in the final seconds. The second installment of the rivalry this season will be at Alumni Gym for a Monday night showdown on February 6. 

Sophomore point guard Kealen Ives said the team really isnt going to circle a game on the calendar as the most important one, but the Broncs will definitely head to Monmouth with a chip on their shoulder. 

Were definitely looking forward to that one,” he said. Were not worried about the fact that its on New Years Eve, its still going to be Rider versus Monmouth. We look at them as a team that beat us three times last season and a team that took away our season, so we want to go up there and beat them.” 

That game wont be the only big one the Broncs play the first week of February, as Iona will come to Lawrenceville the Friday night before, February 3. That meeting with the Gaels is slated to be on ESPNU. Last season, the Broncs were beaten by nine at Iona, before picking up a surprising 79-75 win against them at home. It was the first time in the last six tries the Broncs were able to knock off the Gaels. 

Rider will return to New Rochelle on February 19 for the second game of that series. 
Notably, the Broncs will also play against their hOURglass rival” Saint Peters twice in eight days. The Peacocks will come to Alumni Gym for a Sunday game on January 15, before Rider heads up to the Yanitelli Center on January 23. The teams split the series last year. 

Other notable games for the Broncs feature three more already scheduled to be televised nationally on ESPNU: at Marist on January 6, at Manhattan on January 13, and at home against Canisius February 17. All of those games are on Friday nights. One can assume at least one of the meetings with Monmouth will also find a slot on ESPNU. 

Ives thinks the team is getting so much national exposure this year because of the high-quality games it played in last year.

I think were playing in so many televised games because we played really well against Maryland last year and always played well against the best teams,” he said. Obviously, we didnt have a great season as far as wins, but every game, especially the ones at home, were great games.” 

The 2016-17 journey begins at Hampton on November 11.