Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fordham/Northwood Preview

Fordham gets a visit from a legend tomorrow night, as Rollie Massimino and Northwood University come to Rose Hill for lone exhibition game Rams will play before November 8th season opener. (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Daily News)

Tomorrow night's exhibition game at Fordham will be an interesting contest for a number of reasons.

First, there is the start of the new season, a time where everything you build comes to life, and also a time in which Ram fans eagerly await the coming of head coach Tom Pecora's vision of the future to fruition. This said future became brighter than it had ever been in recent years this past April, when Jon Severe spurned several high-major programs on the heels of being named Mr. Basketball in New York State to sign with Fordham and join the backcourt duo of Branden Frazier and Mandell Thomas.

Second, it gives Pecora an opportunity to test several different lineups as he prepares for his fourth season at the helm in the Bronx, a campaign that officially gets underway one week from tomorrow against Saint Francis University. Despite the talent Fordham possesses in the backcourt, the Rams are already somewhat thin up front; as not only was Manny Suarez ruled a partial qualifier, forcing him to redshirt this season, but both Travion Leonard and Ryan Canty have battled back injuries during practice as well. The two are expected to play tomorrow, with Leonard to be used sparingly according to Pecora, who could very well start freshman wing Jake Fay in the paint alongside Ryan Rhoomes.

Finally, the precursor to the season will be graced with a magical aura on the opposing bench, as soon-to-be enshrined Hall of Famer Rollie Massimino leads Northwood University into battle against Fordham and Pecora, his one-time protege at UNLV in the mid-1990s, where the architect of Villanova's 1985 national championship team gave Pecora his start in the college coaching ranks as an assistant on the Rebels' staff.

The Seahawks, who finished 30-4 last season behind a seven-man senior class led by former Iona castoff Ra'Shad James, averaged 87 points per game a year ago, but will now entrust their offense to sophomore shooting guard Kevin McDuffie, Northwood's top returning scorer with a 4.8 point per game average off the bench as a freshman. Senior Jerrod Owens is the leading candidate to replace Tyrone Davis and his eight assists per game at the point guard spot, while burgeoning junior big man Stephon Smith arrives from San Jose State to provide much-needed size on a front line that Fordham should be able to match up with easily. Northwood plays a second exhibition game Sunday against Penn State before opening their season a week from tonight against Clearwater Christian.

For the Rams, hope springs anew once again, beginning tomorrow night.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Basketball Passport Alive And Well

We normally don't devote entire posts to shameless plugs, but today merits an exception to that rule, as Basketball Passport has finally gone public this morning, the culmination of an eight-month development process in which we are proud to have shared a small part.

During our 120-game season of live basketball last year, (game #79 to be exact) Basketball Passport co-founder and friend of the site Peter Robert Casey explained his vision to yours truly on press row at the Mack Sports Complex in Hempstead, where we were on hand to watch Hofstra defeat Old Dominion in what turned out to be the final victory for former coach Mo Cassara at the helm of the Pride. The concept of a site where fans and media alike could revisit their entire basketball viewing history, with a database that goes as far back as the 1979 national championship game, was inspired in part by the man known to his legions of fans as "PRC" coming across this piece compiled on this site over two years ago. Enter the second critical component of Basketball Passport, a tool in which one can create his or her own bucket list of arenas across the country, both in the professional and collegiate ranks, that he or she aspires to someday visit. Eight months later, with the help of Mid-Majority legend and technological genius Kyle Whelliston, Casey's brainchild is now live and functional, and also includes a road trip planner to boot.

Simple words can not truly do this site justice, so we implore you to experience it for yourself at bbpassport.com. If you're a hardcore basketball fan, NCAA, NBA, or both, you will not be disappointed.

Friday, October 25, 2013

St. John's Tip-Off: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Rysheed Jordan made his long-awaited debut at St. John's during team's annual Tip-Off event, and left an indelible first impression. (Photo courtesy of Quinn Rochford)

St. John's head coach Steve Lavin on assessment of program entering his fourth season:
"Our goal is 20-plus wins, (to) make the NCAA Tournament, and (to) play our best basketball in March. We're probably right about where I'd hoped we'd be, maybe a year ahead of schedule on the recruiting front, but with the year I missed due to cancer, I'd say we're about where I thought we would be."

On senior forward Orlando Sanchez:
"It's very unusual to have a player his size with the skill set he possesses. If we had him last year, we're a different team, but we're grateful to have him this year."

On outlook for this season:
"I'd say the three keys are staying injury-free, learning to play as a cohesive unit, and how Rysheed Jordan develops. He'll be central to what we do. I like our pieces, I like our personnel. We haven't arrived by any means, but we've made progress. We feel we're on the cusp. We've got the firepower to do something special come March."

On how far St. John's has come since replacing Norm Roberts in 2010:
"The first year, we surprised people with the run we had, and we've been building for three-plus years to take that next step. We're finally at a point where we have thirteen players on scholarship, and we have a returning nucleus that went to the postseason last year. I look more at the composite: We're two, three deep at each position, I think we can absorb foul trouble, absorb an injury."

On freshman guard Rysheed Jordan:
"He has tremendous poise, he makes good judgments and choices on the court. He plays with a hard edge, which is an indication of his competitiveness. There's good synergy between our returning players and Rysheed. Like older brothers, they've taken him under their wing."

On Jordan's performance in St. John's intrasquad scrimmage:
"From a debut standpoint, he played well. He's made progress, and there's no reason why he can't continue."

On junior guard D'Angelo Harrison:
"He's come back with an eager approach to all aspects of his responsibilities as a student-athlete."

In general:
"I have guarded optimism, but I like where our team is now. The makeup of this team is one of its strengths. You'll see as we mix our lineups how well they play. They like to play together, they're sharing the ball, and you'll see that with JaKarr (Sampson) and Orlando (Sanchez) for instance."

Nuggets of Note:
- First and foremost, sophomore forward Chris Obekpa was suspended for breaking an undisclosed university policy, and will miss both of the Red Storm's two exhibition games before their November 8th opener against Wisconsin. Said Steve Lavin of Obekpa's transgression: "You try to teach your players that choices and judgments are an important part of life."

- When addressing a sellout crowd at Carnesecca Arena, many of whom were also in attendance for a performance by hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco, Lavin mentioned the Johnnies' new mantra: "Get it in." "Ron Artest spoke to our team, and that was his theme," Lavin said of the rally cry. "Life presents the most of opportunity, and you've got to take advantage of that."

- In his first playing time since being cleared by the NCAA last season, Orlando Sanchez was welcomed with open arms by the St. John's faithful, and put his skills on full display tonight. The Dominican big man was equal parts scorer, passer and shooter during the Red Storm's 12-minute intrasquad scrimmage, and has a deceptively strong outside shot in particular. In fact, Sanchez left a strong enough impression to where his inclusion in the starting lineup would not be out of the realm of possibility.

- St. John's has mounds of depth compared to their 2011-12 campaign in which Lavin and then-interim coach Mike Dunlap were forced to play a six-man rotation for most of the season en route to a 13-19 campaign, and its strength in numbers was at its best in the backcourt. Despite only playing together for just several months in summer workouts and practices, D'Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan look as though they have spent the last ten years as backcourt partners. The relationship between the two on the court suggests that despite their relative youth, Harrison and Jordan could end up being one of the better backcourts in the Big East this season.

- Finally, onto the freshman Jordan, who was the star of the night by all accounts. The Philadelphian lived up to his massive hype and NBA-ready potential well before his dunk over God'sgift Achiuwa in the team's slam dunk contest, displaying a floor vision that is better than that of any point guard that St. John's has seen since the Brian Mahoney era twenty years ago. In just twelve minutes, it seems that Jordan could very well be St. John's third consecutive Big East Rookie of the Year, and his battles with fellow freshman Brandon Austin of Providence will be must-see TV as the season plays out.

Manny Suarez Ruled Partial Qualifier

Incoming freshman Manny Suarez has been ruled a partial qualifier by NCAA, and will sit out 2013-14 season for Fordham. (Photo courtesy of the Jersey Journal)

In an offseason full of eyebrow-raising NCAA rulings, most recently one involving Joshua Smith and Georgetown, college basketball's governing body has once again reached a verdict, this time a little closer to the New York metropolitan area.

Manny Suarez, an incoming freshman forward who was set to bolster the frontcourt for Fordham, has been ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA, according to Fordham sports information director Joe DiBari. As a result, Suarez will redshirt during the 2013-14 season, and will retain his four years of eligibility effective next season.

When speaking to Tom Pecora after the Rams' practice on Saturday, the coach told us he was optimistic that Suarez's dilemma would be cleared up, but did intimate that he would be able to navigate through the absence of the Marist High School standout, stating that fellow freshman Jake Fay has the inside track for one of the two starting forward spots, while the trio of Ryan Rhoomes, Ryan Canty and Travion Leonard will split minutes inside the paint as well.

Fordham opens their 111th season of basketball on November 8th, when the Rams welcome Saint Francis University to Rose Hill Gym for an 8:30 p.m. tipoff.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Armand Hoping For NCAA Three-Peat At Iona

Already a member of two straight NCAA Tournament teams as sidekick to Mike Glover, Scott Machado and Momo Jones, Sean Armand is unquestioned leader as Iona seeks third straight berth in field of 68. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

If you've watched any Iona College basketball over the last two years, you are well aware of Sean Armand and the leadership the senior guard brings to the court.

Yet there are some who still underestimate the sharpshooter from Brooklyn, having cited Armand's supporting role on each of the last two Gaels teams, serving as a second or third option behind the likes of Scott Machado, Mike Glover and Lamont "Momo" Jones on the way to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for Tim Cluess' squad. However, nothing has changed in the eyes of the Gaels' new face as he prepares to lead Iona into battle during his senior campaign, which begins on November 9th when Iona meets Cleveland State to commence its MAAC championship defense.

"To me, (it's the) same role as last year," Armand told us after Iona held its "Meet the Gaels" event Saturday morning, which consisted of an intrasquad game followed by each player, from Armand down to reserves such as Grant Ellis and Dashawn Gomez, introducing themselves to the handful of fans in attendance at the Hynes Center in New Rochelle. "I was the vocal leader on and off the court, so guys have respected me for a while now. It's been a smooth transition, (and) it's a good feeling to be the face of the school."

For Armand, whose sweet, flawless shooting has helped Iona win 70 games over his first three years, anything less than a smooth transition; regardless of where or how it comes, would be a cause for concern. Fortunately for Iona, their leader has managed to build on the foundations he has laid in previous seasons, and is confident that this year will provide more of the same.

"I've been saying we've got to do it the right way," Armand said. "I want to win the regular season championship, then win the tournament, and get in the tournament just being the best team in our conference; and it's my last run, so that's what I really want to do."

Armand possesses the necessary pieces on the floor with him to do just that, with junior forward and walking double-double David Laury serving as his primary running mate this season, while incumbents Tavon Sledge and Tre Bowman; the latter of whom had a career performance in last season's MAAC championship victory against bitter adversary Manhattan, anchor the supporting cast. However, there are new pieces in the Iona ensemble, such as Rutgers expatriate Mike Poole, who the Gaels are somewhat familiar with by virtue of having played against him in last year's Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.

"He's way better than I expected," said Armand of his fellow senior and new teammate Poole. "He had his best game of the season against us, and he brings a lot: Leadership, good morale, great motor, and he's playing point guard now. He played forward at Rutgers, so the transition he made, he's adapted quick, and he's going to play a key role."

After a stretch in which Iona had to fight their way through one of the strongest MAAC seasons in recent years after losing six of seven games by three points or less, Armand is grateful for the added leadership and deep bench that he can call on for support.

"It was 'either you fold or you keep going,'" he said when describing the mindset in the Gael locker room following the last of those six close losses, which came at the hands of Indiana State. "The key number was five, winning five games in a row to do what we had to do, and as a team, we believed it. Every day, I told these guys that it was going to keep getting better. We've got to keep fighting, don't feel bad for yourself, because nobody's going to show us any sympathy."

Now having put that stretch of adversity behind him, Armand is looking forward to a memorable encore similar to what his former teammates enjoyed before beginning their professional careers.

"I'm not really big on accolades, I'm big on team stuff, but the elephant in the room is that we've had back-to-back Player of the Year winners," he said. "I would love to keep that going three times in a row, making the tournament three times in a row, and God willing, the next level of basketball will be there for me. Let's just see what happens."

Regardless of how it ends, it should be one entertaining final ride this season.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fordham Practice: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Jon Severe lived up to his massive hype and potential in Fordham's practice this afternoon, establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with in Rams' backcourt. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

Head coach Tom Pecora on makeup of Fordham's roster:
"You're always cautiously optimistic before the season starts. I think we should be, with the greater depth and the product we can put on the floor. That's the way it should be after three full seasons, because now you have your guys and you can go after it a little bit, but still, not everyone's seen it."

On senior guard Branden Frazier and whether he has put last year's late season struggles behind him:
"Oh, yeah, very much so. I just think he got exhausted. We were asking him to do so much last year, especially with the injuries and him having to pick up the slack in so many departments on the floor, but now with the evolution of Mandell Thomas at the end of last season, bringing Jon Severe in, Bryan Smith has really elevated his game as a junior and has had a great few weeks of practice here. Our young bigs are getting better every day, so all of a sudden, the pressure of him trying to do everything isn't there. I think Ryan Rhoomes has done a great job of sharing leadership qualities with him, and they'll be co-captains probably. So, I think all of those things add into it, but he's been exceptional. He's been real good."

On sophomore guard Mandell Thomas as he enters his first full season as a starter:
"The sky's the limit with him. He's capable of being an all-conference player in the Atlantic 10 without a doubt. I think his confidence is better after a freshman year like that, physically, he looks great. There's no glaring weakness in his game, he shoots the ball much better than he did last year, and he was a good shooter last year, so he's shooting the ball well. His physical skills allow him to be a great defender, and he could put the ball on the floor. He's got great balance in his game, and he's one of the hardest working guys...he's always here early and stays late, he loves to play."

On what to expect from freshman guard Jon Severe for those who have yet to see him, and whether he is more than just a pick and pop scorer:
"Today as we were running cuts, he was doing a lot of that, but I think in the open court is where you see his exceptional speed and his explosiveness in transition. I think we have with Jon, and with Branden and Bryan and Mandell, four perimeter guys who can be really tough in the open floor, so you see that with Jon. The other thing people don't realize is how great of an athlete he is. At times, he'll just go get a rebound above the rim, he'll attack the basket and throw it down on someone 6-1, you know? There's a lot of layers to his game, especially on the offensive end. He's still struggling a little defensively, but every freshman does, they don't realize the intensity of it, the physicality of it, but that'll come in time."

On junior guard Bryan Smith now that he has recovered from a broken hand:
"He used his talent, and his inconsistency was difficult last year. Like I've said in the past, anytime we've had a major win, Bryan Smith has had a lot to do with it, he's been a big part of it. He's shooting the ball with great confidence, he's actually down about 10 pounds to about 198, so he's even bouncier. We were kidding with him when he had a windmill dunk last night in Ram Town, we were saying, 'all of a sudden, you got your hops back now that you're down 10 pounds!' but still, he's physically strong, he's doing a great job with what we're doing."

On sophomore Jermaine Myers' and junior Chris Whitehead's chances in backcourt:
"They're battling, you know, and that's why we brought them in. We wanted for them to come in and battle for minutes, and we don't know how this is going to evolve. Will one of them become a backup to Branden? Will one of them take that spot and then all the other four guards will be splitting minutes at the two other spots? It's all about competing, they both got off to kind of tentative starts in practice, but Jermaine has kind of elevated his game recently. Chris is still trying to learn the system, but he's got the ability to really pressure the basketball, he's a tough little sucker, so he can go out and have a defensive presence even at 5-10, 5-11."

On freshman forward Jake Fay:
"If we started a game tomorrow, I'd start Jake Fay at the four. He's the perfect stretch four for our system, he's got a good basketball IQ, he's not a great shooter yet, but he's a good shooter who can get really hot, and all it takes is a game where you get your four man making three, four threes in a game, you know? Everyone sees that tape, and now you have great space on offense because everyone's coming out to play him at the four spot. It's difficult for guards to find gaps when defenses can space your perimeter forward, and we ran into that problem last year a bit. So he'll definitely get a lot of minutes at that four spot, and so will Travion Leonard once he's back."

On sophomore forward Travion Leonard and his health status:
"He's got a herniated disc in his back, but not a severe one. He saw the surgeon, and the doctor felt comfortable, he said two weeks, and then we'll get him into a few days of non-contact. I imagine he'll be ready to play sparingly a bit in our exhibition game on the 1st." (against Northwood University)

On Leonard's conditioning and weight loss:
"I don't even ask, (how much weight he's lost) he looks so darn good, I'm jealous. I would think he's down at about 265 coming from 341, so it's a real number and he's tightening his body up. Look, if he was still at 341 and he had a herniated disc, he'd probably be done for the season, so that's one of the things that is a huge advantage for him being in the kind of shape he's in, having worked as hard as he has. We've made a point of making sure that a lot of that work is done in the pool, you know, to take the strain off the big guys' backs and legs when they're rehabbing. He's been great."

On potentially seeing a four-guard lineup this season:
"There could be times for us to look like Villanova did at one point, and it would be like Bryan Smith at the four. That could happen, but I think Jake's doing a good enough job to be that stretch four, I mean, we're still a little light in the frontcourt. We've got Manny Suarez trying to get cleared, but that makes us a little light in the frontcourt. If there was an injury and we had to play small, that would be the route we would go, but that would give us even more firepower on the offensive end. Your concerns would be defending the post and rebounding, but we'll do what we have to do. We're going to put out a team that's going to give us the best chance to win, and the big guys know this. If they're not doing what they're capable of doing and playing within their roles, and it's advantageous for us to play small, I'll play small. I'm not worried about that."

Nuggets of Note:
- Freshman guard Antwoine Anderson was held out of practice along with Travion Leonard, but for different reasons. While Leonard is still nursing a herniated disc in his back, the NCAA is investigating the description of one of the courses Anderson took in high school after previously clearing him for practice earlier in the year. Tom Pecora did mention that he and his staff are confident that the dilemmas surrounding Anderson and Manny Suarez will be cleared up before the Rams open their 111th season against Saint Francis University on November 8th.

- When Travion Leonard returns to the court for Fordham, fans will see a much slimmer power forward, who has dropped approximately 75 pounds since arriving at Rose Hill last season. Limited to stretching on the bench during today's hourlong session, Leonard looks as though he is in great shape, and should be back to his midseason form within a few games once he does step on the hardwood again. In addition, junior forward Ryan Canty is back at 100 percent after a nagging back injury slowed the Massachusetts native down during the stretch run last season.

- Multiple sources have stated that Ryan Rhoomes has refined himself this offseason, and indeed he has. The former Cardozo High School standout has also lost some weight, becoming more of a muscular forward in the process, and looked like he had the makings of a potential all-Atlantic 10 player today, especially with his mid-range jumpers.

- Like a typical Tom Pecora team, Fordham comes packed to the brim with mounds of backcourt depth. The Rams will likely start three guards as they usually do, with Branden Frazier, Mandell Thomas and Jon Severe most likely getting the nod for the opening tip, but after that, a handful of players have the potential to be just as effective in the guard stable. Plagued by ball control problems as a freshman last season, Jermaine Myers has made noticeable strides in correcting that, and his mid-range shot should give him enough of an offensive boost needed to serve as Frazier's backup at the point guard spot. Despite his short stature, Chris Whitehead has a deceptively strong outside shot, which he should be able to use in his favor to earn his share of minutes in a crowded group of guards.

- Bryan Smith, who was an enigma for much of his sophomore season even before it was revealed that the Brooklyn product had suffered a broken hand in February, has gotten most of his confidence back. Smith's all-around game was on full display today, from setting up ball screens to his patented three-point shots from the "Estwick corner," which have helped Fordham win many a big game over his first two seasons.

- Finally, to quote our friend Zach Braziller of the New York Post, who covers high school basketball and recruiting better than arguably anyone else in the area: If you haven't seen Jon Severe yet, where have you been? The Christ the King superstar and reigning New York State Mr. Basketball put on a show in our first look at him as a Ram, doing most of his damage off catch-and-shoot plays, becoming partial to the left and right arcs while draining one three-pointer after another, even celebrating a couple of them to some degree. However, a one-trick pony he is not, as Severe also made plays inside the paint and past the foul line, demonstrating his Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year potential. Make an effort to see him as soon as you can, as he will become something special early and often.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Big East Roundtable: Part II

Already a two-time All-American in his first three seasons, it's no surprise that Doug McDermott is consensus choice for Big East Player of the Year honors. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Following the first half of our Big East roundtable, we bring you its conclusion, where our nine panelists offer their picks for the conference Player, Rookie and Coach of the Year; as well as the all-Big East first team, and surmise the rest of the league in a game of word association. Finally, each of our representatives will get the opportunity to win over casual fans in a shameless plug for the teams that they cover. Our own Jaden Daly will once again serve as moderator, but before we resume, let's reintroduce the panel:

(Click here for the first half of the roundtable)

Representing Creighton: Patrick Marshall, White And Blue Review (Twitter: @wildjays, @whitebluereview)
Representing DePaul: Dan Stack, We Are DePaul (Twitter: @WeAreDePaul, @StacDemon)
Representing Georgetown: Andrew Geiger, Casual Hoya (Twitter: @CasualHoya)
Representing Marquette: Mark Strotman, Paint Touches (Twitter: @PaintTouches)
Representing Providence: Daniel James, Friarblog.com (Twitter: @TheWarriorFriar)
Representing St. John's: Norman Rose, Rumble In The Garden (Twitter: @ECoastBias, @rumbleSBN)
Representing Seton Hall: Jason Guerette, South Orange Juice and New Jersey Newsroom (Twitter: @JPGuerette)
Representing Villanova: Chris Lane, VUHoops.com (Twitter: @VUhoops, @chrisjjlane)
Representing Xavier: Brad Dobney, Banners On The Parkway (Twitter: @BannersParkway)

Question #5a: Who will be the Big East Player of the Year?
Results: Doug McDermott, Creighton (unanimous)

Why McDermott?
Patrick Marshall: He has done everything asked of him in the MVC. Outside of the conference, he has had big games against all of the big name competition. He was already a two-time Player of the Year in the MVC. How many people can say that they were the Player of the Year in two different conferences? That would be pretty remarkable.
Dan Stack: Is there any doubt?
Mark Strotman: He may be the best player in the country.
Brad Dobney: Yes, he's been in the MVC for the last three years, but I think his shooting ability plays anywhere. Everyone knows he can score, but his defensive rebounding percentage was over 20 and good for 159th in the nation last year.

Question #5b: Who will be the Big East Rookie of the Year?
Results: Rysheed Jordan, St. John's (4 votes), JaJuan Johnson, Marquette (3 votes), Brandon Austin, Providence (1 vote), Brandon Randolph, Xavier (1 vote)

PM: This is really tough. Again, not knowing the league real well yet, they are all newcomers and rookies to me. Since Xavier has a lot to prove and they are likely to throw Brandon Randolph into the mix right away at point guard, I'll go with him.
DS: JaJuan Johnson. Fits in nicely with the departure of Vander Blue.
Andrew Geiger: Rysheed Jordan.
MS: Rysheed Jordan. Might be the easy way out since he's the highest-ranked incoming freshman, but the playing time will be there, and he's talented.
Daniel James: Brandon Austin.
Norman Rose: JaJuan Johnson or whichever Marquette guard gets minutes.
Jason Guerette: Rysheed Jordan.
Chris Lane: JaJuan Johnson.
BD: Rysheed Jordan.

Question #5c: Who will be the Big East Coach of the Year?
Results: Buzz Williams, Marquette (4 votes), Ed Cooley, Providence (1 vote), Jay Wright, Villanova (1 vote), John Thompson III, Georgetown (1 vote), Kevin Willard, Seton Hall (1 vote), Other (1 vote)

PM: If I'm going with Georgetown as the league champ, then I will have to go with John Thompson III as the Coach of the Year. Really, whoever navigates themselves through this league as the champion deserves to have the Coach of the Year. However, I would like to see Greg McDermott get it, as he was kind of snubbed after Creighton's outright MVC championship last season; and if Creighton can win the Big East, that would be some redemption for him.
DS: Buzz Williams. With all teams relatively close to each other in talent, the team with the best record; and I picked Marquette, will likely have the Coach of the Year, although I like Ed Cooley as a sleeper pick.
AG: Buzz Williams.
MS: Jay Wright. I think Villanova will be near the top of the conference when it's all said and done, and that earns Wright the nod here.
DJ: Buzz Williams.
NR: Sham award based on popularity and win-loss record.
JG: Buzz Williams.
CL: Ed Cooley.
BD: I see a lot of possibilities here, and I'll probably hate this pick come the end of the year, but I'm going with Kevin Willard. I honestly believe he is turning Seton Hall back into a national power.

All-Big East First Team
PM: Jamil Wilson, (Marquette) Markel Starks, (Georgetown) Semaj Christon, (Xavier) Darrun Hilliard, (Villanova) Doug McDermott (Creighton)
DS: Doug McDermott, Bryce Cotton, (Providence) JaKarr Sampson, (St. John's) Semaj Christon, Markel Starks
MS: Doug McDermott, Bryce Cotton, D'Angelo Harrison, (St. John's) Kadeem Batts, (Providence) Markel Starks, Davante Gardner (Marquette)
NR: Semaj Christon, D'Angelo Harrison, JayVaughn Pinkston, (Villanova) Doug McDermott, Davante Gardner
JG: Doug McDermott, Davante Gardner, JaKarr Sampson, Fuquan Edwin, (Seton Hall) Markel Starks, Bryce Cotton
CL: Semaj Christon, D'Angelo Harrison, Doug McDermott, JayVaughn Pinkston, Davante Gardner, Markel Starks
BD: Doug McDermott, Markel Starks, D'Angelo Harrison, JayVaughn Pinkston, Bryce Cotton

Word Association (panelists were asked to describe each team in the Big East, including those that they cover, in as few words as possible)

Butler
PM: Questionable
DS: Respect
AG: TooBadBradStevensLeft (that can also be a hashtag)
MS: Makeover
DJ: :(
NR: Plucky
JG: Hinkle
CL: Unlucky
BD: Barn

Creighton
PM: Solid
DS: Wise
AG: Nebraska
MS: Doug
DJ: Rivals?
NR: Cornfed
JG: Offense
CL: Farm
BD: Midwest

DePaul
PM: Rebuilding
DS: Intriguing
AG: Embarrassing
MS: Improving
DJ: Her?
NR: Hyperspeed
JG: Perpetual
CL: Who?
BD: Horrible

Georgetown
PM: Legend
DS: Physical
AG: Casual
MS: Questions
DJ: Overrated
NR: Dependable
JG: Grind
CL: 1985
BD: Classy

Marquette
PM: Rivalry
DS: Consistent
AG: Buzz
MS: Gritty
DJ: Unstoppable
NR: Solid
JG: Hustle
CL: Tough
BD: Buzz

Providence
PM: Trendy
DS: Upswing
AG: Emerging
MS: Potential
DJ: Sleeper
NR: Black
JG: Cooley
CL: Marinatto
BD: Underrated

St. John's
PM: MSG
DS: Talented
AG: Undisciplined
MS: Talent
DJ: Underrated
NR: Hyped
JG: Pressure
CL: Unpredictable
BD: Garden

Seton Hall
PM: Lost
DS: Transitioning
AG: Snooki
MS: Pope-less
DJ: Soon
NR: Uninspiring
JG: Overachieve
CL: Ahoy!
BD: Comeback

Villanova
PM: Spoilers
DS: Shooting
AG: Cocaine
MS: Underrated
DJ: Enigma
NR: Clobberin' time
JG: Retooled
CL: Armani
BD: Dangerous

Xavier
PM: Popes
DS: Imposing
AG: Jesuit
MS: Bubble
DJ: Hard-nosed
NR: Sneaky
JG: Tough
CL: Forgotten
BD: Semajic

Shameless Plug (panelists were asked to give a brief analysis of the team they cover to give casual fans an idea of what to expect, a potential sales pitch, if you will)

PM: Over the past three seasons of Greg McDermott running this team, it has been a nice surprise to see how things are run on offense. With McDermott's previous teams, he was very deliberate on offense and focused a lot on defense. However, since coming to Creighton, there is a lot more of a run and gun style, but a controlled run and gun style. Doug McDermott is just fun to watch. If you haven't watched him before, you will question how he makes the shots that he does being off balance in the post, making spin moves and then being dead-eye from three. A big part of Creighton's success in the past has been with the three-pointer, and there is no reason why it won't continue to be that way. No one is afraid to shoot it from deep. When you throw in sharpshooter Ethan Wragge and add in Isaiah Zierden off the bench, it could be raining out there at times. A new dimension this year is the addition of some mobile guards in JUCO transfers Devin Brooks and James Milliken. Pair them on the floor with point guard Austin Chatman, and defenses may be on their heels a little bit. Creighton also has a lot of veteran players. Jahenns Manigat starts and doesn't get a lot of recognition for what he does on the court. Will Artino broke out toward the end of the season last year, and should fit in nicely in an expanded role. Of course, you can't forget Grant Gibbs. His play will be the key to keeping things together, as well as getting the ball to McDermott so he can score. The Bluejays are a deep team, and they hope to use that depth to wear opponents out. Expect it to be a fast-paced game, which might be a little different for the Big East die-hards who have been subjected to grind-it-out games over the years.

DS: From the outside, many look at DePaul's wretched results from the previous years and see a dormant program, but with two of the top five Big East returning scorers in Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young coming back, and with a solid recruiting class highlighted by Top 100 recruit Billy Garrett Jr. coming in, DePaul shall not be a pushover anymore. While they have liked to run and press in the past, this year, head coach Oliver Purnell brought in more bulk to defend the interior and hit the backboards hard, (see the addition of three 6-10-plus players in Tommy Hamilton, Sandi Marcius and Forrest Robinson, as well as 6-9 JUCO power forward Greg Sequele) and you might see an emphasis on half-court offense. Regardless, Purnell has to deliver, and this might be the year; especially in a conference more suited for them, that the tide may finally swing for DePaul. DePaul can score, but it will be their ability to defend that will define their 2013-14 success.

AG: Dunk City, baby! Except the opposite. This Georgetown team isn't going to break the mold from prior varietals. The Hoyas will make opponents work for shots on the defensive end, and I expect most players on the floor to touch the ball on the offensive end as it finds its way from the hands of guys like Starks and Smith-Rivera on the perimeter into the larger hands of Smith and Hopkins down low. Georgetown doesn't bring the flashiest offense to the floor, but it is efficient, and I expect a lot of scores to be in the fifties and sixties, which is right where the Hoyas want to be.

MS: For the first time since Buzz Williams took over as head coach, the Golden Eagles will be inside-oriented. With three seniors (Jamil Wilson, Otule, Gardner) set to see plenty of time, Marquette will again be one of the best rebounding teams in the Big East and should see plenty of scoring inside. The real question is whether Todd Mayo can stay on the court and contribute in extended minutes, and whether one player from Williams' heralded freshman class can contribute right away. Marquette will be dancing in March once again, potentially late into March again.

DJ: Expect a jump in talent, depth, and size. Providence is now bigger than they've ever been, deeper than they have been in years, and have a filled out team with incoming freshman talents in Rodney Bullock and Brandon Austin, leadership in seniors Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts, and growing talent in LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn. Also be on the lookout for transfers Carson Desrosiers and Tyler Harris, as both are extremely talented with plenty of upside to not only add meaningful minutes off the bench, but help round out a very solid roster.

NR: St. John's will have a lot of athletes, will be very good in the open court, will defend, and will make scoring hard. The offense needs to provide pressure and they'll play in more slugfests than one would imagine, while eschewing three-point shots.

JG: For those just acquainting themselves with Seton Hall, they can expect a lot of switching between man and zone on defense, a lot of threes on offense, and an always tough out, especially in Newark. A constant of Seton Hall teams in the last decade or so is that they finish higher than predicted in preseason. Watch for that to happen again.

CL: After a 180-degree turnaround from the disastrous 2011 season and NCAA berth, hopes are high again on the outskirts of Philly. Despite last season's success, four starters and almost all of the bench returning, there's a lack of hype entering the season from a national perspective even though most Villanova fans expect the team to take the next step. A lot of their season will depend on how well Daniel Ochefu fills the shoes of the departed Mouphtaou Yarou. Reports on campus are promising, but it will likely take some time to get the best out of him. 'Nova boasts one of the top backcourts in the conference with Ryan Arcidiacono, Darrun Hilliard and James Bell returning, and they'll get a big lift with Rice transfer Dylan Ennis eligible to play after a year off the court. JayVaughn Pinkston should be fighting for Big East first team honors in the frontcourt. In addition to Ennis, three freshmen join the ranks. Top 100 wing Josh Hart should provide defensive versatility, and another Top 100 recruit, Kris Jenkins, has already been labeled one of the best shooters on the team, a problem area for Villanova in recent years. Darryl Reynolds will provide frontcourt depth. Internally, Villanova will feel they can compete for the conference title, while anything outside of a top four finish would be considered a disappointment.

BD: If you haven't seen Xavier, expect defense. This team tries to take away good shots. The 18.7 second average possession length would suggest they do that quite well. Coach Chris Mack will spend 75 percent of his time exhorting the defense. Offensively, Xavier struggled to score at times last year. This year, Semaj Christon is a year older and he has some help. Expect some speed, a lot of slashing, and a penetrate-and-pitch style of offense.




Monday, October 14, 2013

Big East Roundtable: Part I

If media projections hold true, Davante Gardner and Marquette will once again be number one in Big East this season. (Photo courtesy of The Sporting News)

With the Big East taking on a new shape, we figured we would try something new to supplement our "32 In 32" preview. Normally, we would preview each team individually, as we have done in the past; but based on the success our NCAA Tournament roundtable post garnered, (it ended up becoming the most viewed piece in this site's history, surpassing the 2011-12 list of Jon Rothstein comparisons) we wanted to see if lightning could strike twice, and tried a member of each school's media to join us for it. Unfortunately, some red tape and extenuating circumstances prevented us from bringing a Butler representative onto our dais, but the other nine schools are present and accounted for.

The roundtable questions were so expansive to the point where this endeavor will be broken into two parts, with the first part focusing on the likely conference champion, overrated and underrated teams, potential "Game of the Year" contenders, and the amount of NCAA Tournament bids the Big East will receive. Without any further ado, we present our panel of nine representatives, with our own Jaden Daly serving as moderator:

Representing Creighton: Patrick Marshall, White And Blue Review (Twitter: @wildjays, @whitebluereview)
Representing DePaul: Dan Stack, We Are DePaul (Twitter: @WeAreDePaul, @StacDemon)
Representing Georgetown: Andrew Geiger, Casual Hoya (Twitter: @CasualHoya)
Representing Marquette: Mark Strotman, Paint Touches (Twitter: @PaintTouches)
Representing Providence: Daniel James, Friarblog.com (Twitter: @TheWarriorFriar)
Representing St. John's: Norman Rose, Rumble In The Garden (Twitter: @ECoastBias, @rumbleSBN)
Representing Seton Hall: Jason Guerette, South Orange Juice and New Jersey Newsroom (Twitter: @JPGuerette)
Representing Villanova: Chris Lane, VUHoops.com (Twitter: @VUhoops, @chrisjjlane)
Representing Xavier: Brad Dobney, Banners On The Parkway (Twitter: @BannersParkway)

Question #1: Who is the likely Big East champion?
Results: Marquette (6 votes), Georgetown (3 votes)

Why Marquette?
Dan Stack: Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, Todd Mayo and Chris Otule are a solid core to build around; and while Creighton and Doug McDermott are a threat, (not to mention St. John's and Georgetown) I think their move from the MVC to the Big East will be a bit of a transition for them.
Mark Strotman: Despite losing Vander Blue to the NBA, Marquette is the frontrunner in the Big East. Though they'll be replacing four starters, its bench was arguably as good as its starting lineup last year. Jamil Wilson, Davante Gardner and Todd Mayo all came off the bench in 2012-13, but played large roles, and now they'll do so in the starting lineup. The biggest question mark the Golden Eagles must answer is who mans the point guard spot. Junior Cadougan graduated, leaving defensive standout junior Derrick Wilson and incoming Top 50 freshman Duane Wilson. If they can get serviceable production there, they could run away with the inaugural season.
Daniel James: Buzz Williams is a great coach who can make the most out of his roster year in and year out, and that team comes out ready to compete like every game is an NCAA Tournament game.
Norman Rose: I think Marquette is head and shoulders above the rest of the Big East in terms of talent, coaching and experience; but it's the easy answer, isn't it? Despite so much youth in the backcourt, Davante Gardner, Steve Taylor and Chris Otule are very good players, plus consider that the team lost a shooting guard who wasn't that great at shooting and a turnover-prone point guard. There's room for maintaining at least the status quo.
Jason Guerette: Yes, the Golden Eagles lost a lot with the departures of Trent Lockett, Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue; (whose head-scratching decision to declare early for the NBA Draft I will never understand) but they still have Davante Gardner, as well as the criminally underrated Jamil Wilson. That forward duo is about as good a combo as you'll find. Chris Otule returns to protect the paint, as does Todd Mayo for some perimeter scoring. Buzz Williams' freshman class is also solid, led by JaJuan Johnson and Duane Wilson, giving him options on the perimeter. Johnson can score, and Wilson seems like he's a point guard that fits the Marquette mold. Toss all of that with the fact that no one outworks Williams' teams on the floor, and you get a conference favorite in what is pretty much a wide-open league.
(For the record, Chris Lane also had Marquette)

Why Georgetown?
Patrick Marshall:
 Being new to the Big East, there is probably a lot that I don't know, but hopefully I can quickly catch up. However, when I think of the Big East, I think of Georgetown. Frankly, they are the face of the new league. When Creighton was rumored to be heading to the Big East, that was the first game I started thinking about. Despite losing a few key players, their nonconference schedule looks the best as far as preparing for league play. Forget about what happened to them against Florida Gulf Coast last season, they will likely come out as champs.

Andrew Geiger: Even with the departure of Otto Porter to the NBA and Greg Whittington lost for the season with a torn ACL, the Hoyas return starters Mikael Hopkins, Nate Lubick, Jabril Trawick and Markel Starks, and will plug in sophomore D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera at the two spot for added scoring punch. Oh, and Georgetown will have UCLA transfer Josh Smith once conference play begins as well. Big frontcourt + experienced backcourt + depth = casual upside.
Brad Dobney: Even with that little slip-up against Florida Gulf Coast last year, Georgetown was still a Top 20 team according to KenPom despite being 298th in experience. Obviously, losing Otto Porter doesn't help, but there is still a ton of talent left on that squad, most notably (for me) former Xavier verbal recruit D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. DSR showed the stones to take a big role in the offense as a freshman, and a good summer will have him in position to help this team back to the top of the pile.

Question #2a: Who is the most overrated team in the Big East?
Results: Butler (3 votes), Creighton (2 votes), Georgetown (2 votes), Providence (1 vote), Xavier (1 vote)

PM: The most overrated team right now is probably Providence. There is a lot of hype about them by a team that could be a surprise in the conference race, but I don't see any historical things that make me think they will really break out as that team.
DS: Butler. Without Brad Stevens, this team will have to show me something. Besides, like Creighton, their adjustment to the Big East could be a bumpy ride.
AG: Creighton. Yes, the Bluejays return a bunch of guys and probably have the best player in the conference in Doug McDermott, but I think they are going to find some tough sledding against Big East defenses, the likes of which they didn't see in the Missouri Valley.
MS: It's hard to get a grip on the three newcomers, but I think Xavier may struggle. It's more a gut feeling than anything, but relying on underclassmen in the Big East; even the new Big East, is tough.
DJ: Georgetown.
NR: I don't think any of the teams are overrated, but Creighton has enough gaps and enough of a leap that I'd be wary about putting them second, let's say, but they can shoot like most Big East teams could not.
JG: Georgetown. The departure of Otto Porter to the NBA and the season-ending injury to Greg Whittington will be much more taxing than everyone makes them out to be. How Joshua Smith will fit in after a couple of months is anyone's guess, and certainly not a guaranteed major boost.
Chris Lane: Butler.
BD: Butler. Their whole always seemed to exceed the sum of their parts, thanks in large portion to the steady hand of Brad Stevens at the till. Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith have both moved on, leaving a big gap in the ranks both inside and on the perimeter. Roosevelt Jones broke his wrist and looks slated to miss the season. The team is still getting buzz thanks to their status as national media darlings, but don't believe the hype.

Question 2b: Who is the most underrated team in the Big East?
Results: Providence (4 votes), St. John's (2 votes), Villanova (2 votes), Seton Hall (1 vote)
PM: It was tough deciding between St. John's and Villanova for this one. However, I think the team people have been overlooking is the Wildcats. After a troubling 13-19 record in the 2011-12 season, Jay Wright turned things around, finished 20-14, and made a return to the NCAA Tournament. While everyone is talking about Georgetown, Creighton and Marquette; and even the other newcomers in Butler and Xavier, it is Villanova who will likely sneak into the mix and surprise a lot of people.
DS: Providence. They gelled late last season, and with a nice core group (Kadeem Batts, Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Henton) returning; mixed in with some solid newcomers, Ed Cooley has his team heading in the right direction.
AG: Ed Cooley has done a great job getting talent to Providence, and it's only a matter of time before it results in wins on the court.
MS: Perhaps they're not really "underrated," but I think St. John's can do serious damage toward the top of the Big East. D'Angelo Harrison has NBA first-round potential, and they're starting to get some experience under their belt. If Steve Lavin can get an always short-handed bench to log some decent minutes this year, the Red Storm will finish higher than most believe.
DJ: St. John's. With the amount of talent that team has, I'm stunned they're not getting at least a little more coverage. If they can come together, then watch the hell out.
NR: Providence could be a sleeper. Despite a dedication to defense, they weren't that great on that side of the ball for much of the year, but they can improve with all the length that becomes eligible this season, and there's some emerging offensive talent in Josh Fortune and Kris Dunn.
JG: Seton Hall. Call me a homer if you want, but I firmly stand by this pick, and it isn't because I'm an alum. The Pirates were a mess last year for two major reasons: Turnovers and injuries. Put the latter in 48-point font and bold it, underline it, italicize it, and stick it in Times Square. I defy anyone to find a team more decimated by injuries last season than the Hall. Consider this when you look at their 15-18, 3-15 Big East season of 2012-13: Every single scholarship player except for TWO (Tom Maayan and Kyle Smyth) either missed significant time with an injury, or played through a nagging injury. This season, the reset button has been pressed. Are they healthy? Yes. Experienced? Yes. Deep? Yes. Fuquan Edwin is one of the best all-around players in the conference. Gene Teague looks positively svelte and should average a double-double down low. Brandon Mobley (another criminally underrated forward) and Patrik Auda have returned, as well as Brian Oliver, all of whom showed promise before being dealt injury-riddled campaigns. If they have gotten over the injury bug that ran rampant through their locker room last year, the Pirates can; and will, surprise people, even with the loss of Aaron Cosby. Every preseason poll known to man will have them either eighth or ninth. Just like pretty much every year, they will outperform that mark, possibly by 3-4 spots if everything comes together.
CL: Villanova.
BD: Providence. The Friars are bringing back a pair of very talented players in guard Bryce Cotton and forward Kadeem Batts. Couple that with a pair of intriguing recruits and a seven-footer coming off a transfer season, and Providence has the potential to sneak up on some people.

Question #3: What is the early "Game of the Year" contender in the Big East?
PM: The early "Game of the Year" contender has to include Creighton. When you have a two-time All-American returning, every game is going to have several mentions of Doug McDermott. With every Big East school playing on New Year's Eve, there is bound to be some excitement, but what you need to do is circle January 25th vs. Georgetown on the calendar. If you want to see what college hoops is about and what Creighton brings to the table, you will see it there. The CenturyLink Center will likely have over 18,000 fans hanging from the rafters for this one. If they could fill things up for a showdown with Wichita State in the MVC, just imagine what it will be like now with the Big East on the schedule. These conference games by themselves trump anything that has been in the CLink in its existence. With the Hoyas as the face of the conference, this will be a big game. The return in DC on March 4th could be for a conference championship.
DS: Gotta go with St. John's at Georgetown on January 4th. These two old-time Big East rivals will face off early, and whoever wins that game will establish some instant credibility as conference contenders.
AG: The Georgetown-Villanova game to close the regular season (March 8th) could possibly be for the Big East championship, so it's tough for me to pick another one here.
MS: February 19th: Creighton at Marquette. With Brad Stevens out of the picture, Buzz Williams becomes unquestionably the conference's best game planner, and not since Kemba Walker was dominating the Big East has Williams had to game plan for a player like Doug McDermott. How Williams tries to defend the likely scoring champion will be fun to watch, and this may also determine the league champion. Marquette's home win streak in conference may also be in play, making this a gigantic matchup.
DJ: Xavier vs. Butler. Home team is moot, they both have a passionate rivalry.
NR: DePaul vs. Creighton. I just want to be different, but I will say that if a team like Creighton struggles with play inside the arc and possibly with athleticism, DePaul could spring a surprise on them.
JG: Georgetown at St. John's, February 16th, 7 p.m., Madison Square Garden. I was tempted to pick the Red Storm's matchup with Marquette at MSG, but the time of day of that start (12:30) swayed me in this direction. Two teams from the original Big East, predicted to be in the top half of the standings, at the Garden, in prime time on a weekend late in the season. This game could have some big repercussions, especially if both teams can perform up to their preseason ratings, plus it's a more deliberate, grind-it-out Hoyas philosophy against the all-out athletic assault of St. John's. Did I mention it's at the Garden? Count me in.
CL: Georgetown at Villanova in the final game of the season.
BD: Georgetown at Creighton, January 25th, 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1. A big time matchup in the new Big East. Georgetown may well be the more talented team, but I don't think it's a huge gap. Creighton will have the continuity of having so many guys who have multiple years playing together under their belts, and Doug McDermott can flat out put the biscuit in the basket. A home crowd should swing this one in the Bluejays' favor, but I anticipate a great game.

Question #4: How many NCAA Tournament bids do you expect the Big East to receive?
PM: I would be disappointed if I didn't see at least five teams get in. If the Mountain West can get five teams in, then there should be at least five in for the Big East. If the Big East wants to maintain a persona of a big time conference, they can't fail in the nonconference season, especially this year. A questionable nonconference performance easily puts the bids down to about three.
DS: Four. (Marquette, St. John's, Georgetown and Creighton) It will be hard in the first year for the Big East to garner as much respect as its BCS brethren, and with the true round-robin style of scheduling of the ten teams, they will cannibalize each other.
AG: I like the chances for four teams, (Georgetown, Marquette, Creighton, Villanova) and an outside shot at five if St. John's can finally get its act together.
MS: Locks: Marquette, Creighton, Georgetown. In play: Xavier, Villanova, Providence. I'll say all six teams make it.
DJ: Five.
NR: Five.
JG: Definitely four, possibly five if the teams don't cannibalize each other.
CL: I want to say seven, but six feels more likely.
BD: Seven.

Stay tuned for part two of our roundtable, where we predict award winners and ask our panel to play a game of word association for each school in the Big East, as well as offer a shameless plug of the school they cover in an attempt to show the casual fan what to expect.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Atlantic 10 Media Day: A Photo Gallery

The Atlantic 10 held its annual media day at Brooklyn's Barclays Center for a second consecutive year this past Tuesday, with our own Jason Schott and Ray Floriani present to take it all in as the thirteen teams and coaches of the A-10 opened their doors to the media just four weeks before the start of the 2013-14 campaign. While our media day coverage has sadly been less detailed than years past due to circumstances beyond our control, here is our "Renaissance Man" Ray in midseason form with his latest photo essay, which captures last week's happenings at the home of the Brooklyn Nets:

BROOKLYN, NY - The games have not started, yet the media days virtually signal the beginning of the basketball season. The summer and any false hopes of our baseball teams have ended. The air is a bit cooler, crisp, Halloween is coming, and our football fortunes are third and long. At least, basketball practices are in full swing.
The media days, such as the Atlantic Ten’s last week at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, afford a a chance to reconnect with colleagues and coaches.
A common thread at the media day was how special the Barclays Center is as a site for the Atlantic Ten championship. “I told our kids what a great experience this was in playing here,” said Saint Louis coach Jim Crews, “and that was before we went out and won the tournament.”  Shaka Smart of VCU had his tournament “down the block” during the school’s CAA days. Smart doesn’t mind making the trip North noting, “I love it here. It is a great venue, a pro arena, and so special for the fans.”
The Atlantic Ten, a strong, high profile conference is also something special for the fan base which eagerly anticipates the games to start in earnest.
For now, the coaches are all upbeat and optimistic. After all, everyone is still undefeated.

La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini makes a point:
"Kidds R Us" (can't find a better caption for the Nets' locker room)
Outside the Barclays Center on Atlantic Avenue:
A designer lounge at Barclays:
The media crush closes in on VCU's Shaka Smart:
A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade and St. Bonaventure athletic director Steve Watson share a moment:


Friday, October 11, 2013

Two Jaspers, Two Gaels Headline All-MAAC First Team

Back at 100 percent after sprained ankle limited him to four games last year, George Beamon picks up right where he left off with spot on MAAC's preseason first team. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College)

Much like the predicted top of this year's standings, the all-MAAC first team has mounds of local flavor.

Of the six players honored with this status, four of them represent Manhattan College or Iona College, the programs picked first and second in the conference's preseason poll, respectively; as two of Steve Masiello's Jaspers earned first team distinctions, with two Iona Gaels also recognized.

Representing Manhattan are senior forward Rhamel Brown, the conference's two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year who was beaten out for a first team spot at the end of last season by Loyola guard Dylon Cormier; as well as senior shooting guard George Beamon, who has made a full recovery from a severe ankle sprain that forced the Long Islander to use a medical redshirt after being restricted to just four games as the Jaspers advanced to the championship game of the MAAC Tournament, where they suffered a narrow three-point defeat to Iona, who celebrated its first league championship since 2006.

The Gaels place two players on the preseason first team for the second time in three years, with senior guard Sean Armand leading the way. Best known as Iona's most lethal weapon from three-point range, the Brooklyn native should be able to display his all-around offensive talent more freely now that Lamont "Momo" Jones has graduated, giving Armand carte blanche to take the bulk of shots from the backcourt. His teammate David Laury joins him among the all-MAAC honorees after a half-season in which the 6-9 forward averaged a double-double per game. A versatile two-way player whose ability to run the floor like a point guard only enhances his talents inside the paint, Laury will be a force to be reckoned with as he enters his junior campaign, his first full season in the Maroon and Gold of the Gaels.

Niagara junior guard Antoine Mason and Canisius senior point guard Billy Baron, who had a career year in returning the Golden Griffins to the postseason while playing for his father, Jim, complete the first team.