Monday, February 29, 2016

Seton Hall 71, Providence 54: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

South Orange, NJ ­- Senior Day. A day of mixed emotions. We say goodbye to those seniors meaning so much to a given program, not just in the areas of rebounding, scoring points and handing out assists. The seniors honored, Tabatha Richardson­-Smith, Tiffany Jones, Jordan Mosley, Aleesha Powell, and Shakena Richardson, excelled on the floor and off as they represented the school and program with excellence and honor.

As coach Tony Bozzella said, “Senior Day is always a tough day. It is so emotional because we are sad to see them go. In the end, though, there is a game to be played.”

Following the ceremony, flowers, and hugs, Seton Hall had a meeting with Providence. The Friars entered with just one Big East win. Seton Hall was riding a four-game win streak with eyes on a Big East title and NCAA Tournament bid. A fast start by the home five soon saw a response, as Providence grabbed a first quarter lead. The Hall responded, building a lead of double digits. In the fourth quarter, with the Hall in command, Providence found their range and cut into the deficit. As they did before, the Pirates regrouped and answered. They finished the deal, earning a 71­-54 victory, a fifth straight, assuring them of a high seed and momentum heading into the conference tournament in Chicago.

The scoresheet tells us Seton Hall’s Tiffany Jones led the way with 18 points. On this day, the victory was a team effort, the celebration of and for the seniors; not just the players as Bozzella noted, but also the managers, cheerleaders, Sapphire dance team, and band.

Senior Day provided memories. Always does. This Seton Hall team, thanks to that senior leadership, is ready to add on a few more memories in this postseason.

Tabatha Richardson-Smith and her family with head coach Tony Bozzella:
Seton Hall's senior honorees and their families:
Tony Bozzella watches the action from the sideline:
Seton Hall cheerleaders getting the crowd going:
Seton Hall superfan Glenn "Starkman" Starkey, getting fired up:
Seton Hall's Shakena Richardson weighs her options:
The ubiquitous John Fanta, interviewing Providence head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl:
Seton Hall men's players,  fresh off a win over No. 5 Xavier earlier in the day, were in attendance to support the women:

Seton Hall 71, Providence 54: Tempo-Free Analysis

Tony Bozzella and his staff confer during a timeout. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)


South Orange, NJ ­- The ceremony and recognition aside, not to trivialize its truly special meaning, on senior day, there was a game to play, as Providence (1-­16 in conference) visited 21-win (10­-6 in Big East) Seton Hall.

Providence started with an early five-point lead during the first quarter. The Friars were unable to sustain the early fortune as Seton Hall posted a convincing 71-­54 victory at Walsh Gym to close out the regular season.

First quarter: First possessions might clue us in on the respective game plans. Providence shoots (and misses) a three. Seton Hall’s Aleesha Powell goes to the basket (fouled and hits both). Two-and-a half-minutes in, five possessions down, Seton Hall leads 7-­4. Evidently, the Friars have chosen the perimeter as their offensive attack, and will roll the dice. The Friars are zoning and in the half court, Seton Hall is getting outside-oriented. Their best option is to get out in transition. Despite a slow first few minutes, the visiting Friars are proving a challenge, at least in this early going.

Seton Hall 24, Providence 18

Second quarter: The Pirates continue their late first-quarter surge. Their full court pressure is bothering Providence. The Hall lead is ten at the eight-minute mark. Providence double teams the Pirate guards out top. The response is a pin­point pass to a big down low. Court awareness by Seton Hall increases the lead to 16. Two possessions later, the Friars get it to ten. Though they have their problems with Seton Hall pressure, still Providence continues to give a good effort.

Seton Hall 42, Providence 30

Possessions: Providence 38, Seton Hall 37

Offensive efficiency: Seton Hall 114, Providence 79

Third quarter: Perimeter for the Friars to start the half. On the flip side, Seton Hall is attacking inside. The first five possessions saw the Hall blank the Friars to take a 48­-30 lead with 7:15 remaining. The Friars go almost four minutes before entering the scorebook. Shades of the “Pistol,’ as Tabatha Richardson­-Smith throws a behind-the-back, Pete Maravich­-style pass that ends in a transition basket for the Hall. Midway through the third, the Pirates are in command with a 54­-32 lead. In the last four minutes, Seton Hall had one field goal. It didn’t hurt, as the lead stayed intact.

Seton Hall 59, Providence 36

Fourth quarter: The lead is 23 when Seton Hall’s Jordan Mosley throws up a wild, off-balance shot airborne to the basket. Providence rebounds as coach Tony Bozzella, ever the perfectionist, shows an emotion of being less than pleased. Providence picks up a bit offensively. With just under four minutes to go, the deficit has been reduced to 15. The Friars are using full court pressure after scores. Seton Hall looks to attack it and finish in transition. The Hall responded well to Providence’s fourth quarter run. With less than a minute left, the Pirates are in command.

Final score: Seton Hall 71, Providence 54

Possessions: 73

Offensive efficiency: Seton Hall 97, Providence 74

Four Factors:
eFG pct: Providence 36, Seton Hall 42
FT rate: Providence 12, Seton Hall 35
OREB pct: Providence 27, Seton Hall 36

TO rate: Providence 18, Seton Hall 16

Leading scorers and EF:
Providence: ­Allegra Botteghi - 14 points, EF 27.

Seton Hall: ­Tiffany Jones - 18 points, EF 29.

What Providence did well: Compete and keep the turnover rate under 20 percent. Despite the final margin, Providence stayed with it and made a brief fourth quarter run. Coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl’s club was pressured, yet showed a turnover rate under 20 percent.

What Seton Hall did well: Play aggressive. “Senior day is emotional,” Pirate coach Tony Bozzella said. “Plus, we had a late game and that could mean the kids get nervous. But I feel they really responded and found a way to get it done.”

Botteghi was the only visitor in double figures. Seton Hall had three, but the story was a ‘big’ one. The Seton Hall interior players have improved and progressed as the year has worn on. Today, as noted, Tiffany Jones led in statistical areas and also in an area beyond measure­: Energy. Lubirdia Gordon, as Bozzella said, “anchored our defense.” Gordon’s line: Eight points, eight rebounds, four blocks in 13 minutes.

Overall, Seton Hall blocked 10 shots, and safe to say, altered a number of additional ones in the paint.

The Seton Hall guard play has been a big plus all season. As tournament time rolls around, the Hall is getting contributions on both ends of the floor from their ‘bigs.’ That makes last year’s tournament runners-­up a very dangerous team this go-round.

Providence ended the regular season 5­-23, Seton Hall 22­-7.

Final thoughts:
“It was exciting. I was trying to get to the basket and we all stayed aggressive. We wanted to go out with a bang. We are excited about the Big East Tournament. We’ll take it day by day. Play together, defend and play the ‘Seton Hall’ way.” ­- Aleesha Powell (13 points, 2 rebounds)

“Senior day is emotional, but we had a job to do. Nice to get the win, tied for second (Big East) and a three seed. WE have put ourselves in a position to go to the NCAA tournament with our conference standing and 22 wins. have been coaching a long time and Aleesha (Powell) is the best person I ever coached. She and Tabatha Richardson­-Smith make a backcourt, I won’t say is better than last year, but different. It is a credit to the two how they have everyone assimilated. Tiffany Jones had 18 (points) and 7 (rebounds), I don’t care about that. I care about the aggressiveness and energy she brought. Our goals going into the year were return to the NCAA Tournament and win the Big East. I feel we have accomplished the first, and have a chance at the second.” ­- Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella

MAAC Monday: Award predictions, tournament predictions, final power rankings

Our final edition of "MAAC Monday" sets the stage for this coming weekend at the Times Union Center in Albany, taking a look at the matchups on both the men's and women's sides of the bracket in its middle segment. To precede that, we'll offer our predictions for awards in both men's and women's basketball, and our weekly men's basketball power rankings will bring down the curtain before we reconvene in the Capital region Thursday morning.

Women's Basketball Award Predictions (Note: Sixth Player and Defensive Player of the Year predictions will not be made, as we admittedly have not seen enough to know who makes the best candidate, and do not want to make an uninformed decision)

Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Tori Jarosz, Marist (18.8 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 3.0 BPG)
Who Will Win: Joy Adams, Iona (14.7 PPG, 12.1 RPG)

MAAC coaches have always shown a great deal of respect to Brian Giorgis and his players over the years of Marist's dominance, and Jarosz has been the latest example of a senior leader saving her best for last in Poughkeepsie, leading the conference in scoring and rebounding, the latter by mere decimal points. However, by the same token, coaches also believe in rewarding winning; and with all due respect to the Red Foxes, who rebounded from a 1-9 non-conference record, Iona did finish two games ahead in the standings. Adams was a large reason why, as the senior double-double machine led the Gaels to 16 league wins, one more than their overall total a year ago, becoming the conference's all-time leading rebounder in the process.

Rookie of the Year
Who Should Win: Aryn McClure, Quinnipiac (8.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.6 BPG)
Who Will Win: McClure

Siena's Jackie Benitez and Iona's Alexis Lewis will undoubtedly receive All-Rookie recognition, as will McClure's frontcourt partner, Paula Strautmane. McClure's numbers may not yet be at the level of her predecessor, Val Driscoll, but there is no question of the impact she has made in Hamden, helping a team that lost all five starters from a 31-win outfit last season repeat as regular season champions following an 0-3 beginning to league play.

Coach of the Year
Who Should Win: John Olenowski, Manhattan (14-15, 11-9 MAAC)
Who Will Win: Tricia Fabbri, Quinnipiac (22-7, 17-3 MAAC)

What Olenowski has done in Riverdale this season has been nothing short of exceptional, guiding the Jaspers to an eleven-win turnaround on the heels of a 3-27 campaign with a young team last season. Normally, that would be reason enough to bestow this award upon him, but the reigning titleholder from one year ago exceeded expectations for an encore. Winning 17 straight games to close the regular season, and doing so behind a starting lineup featuring two freshmen and two sophomores, Fabbri has reaffirmed her standing as one of, if not the, best basketball mind in the MAAC, no easy feat considering the cadre of bench tacticians in the conference. Consider this for those of you still not sure how strong a case she has: Since joining the MAAC in 2013-14, Fabbri has taken a roster of players recruited to compete in a lower-level conference, and coached them to a record of 56-10 in league play, including MAAC tournament contests. By comparison, Brian Giorgis, considered the dean of MAAC coaches, posted a 43-19 league mark in his first three seasons.

First Team All-MAAC
Joy Adams, Iona

Tori Jarosz, Marist
Marina Lizarazu, Iona
Maria Napolitano, Quinnipiac
Kristin Schatzlein, Fairfield

Second Team All-MAAC
Jamiyah Bethune, Monmouth
Kelsey Carey, Fairfield
Sydney Coffey, Marist
Casey Smith, Fairfield
Amani Tatum, Manhattan

Third Team All-MAAC
Sajanna Bethea, Saint Peter's
Samantha Cooper, Fairfield
Sam Lapszynski, Niagara
Crystal Porter, Canisius
Kaylee Stroemple, Niagara

MAAC All-Rookie Team
McKinzee Barker, Monmouth
Jackie Benitez, Siena
Alexis Lewis, Iona
Aryn McClure, Quinnipiac
Paula Strautmane, Quinnipiac

Men's Basketball Award Predictions

Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Justin Robinson, Monmouth (20.2 PPG, 3.7 APG)
Who Will Win: Robinson

Robinson and A.J. English could conceivably share the honor, as each has been equally valuable to their respective teams. However, with Monmouth having broken through in a big way this season, Robinson gets the slight edge over preseason choice English for two reasons. First, coaches traditionally like to reward winning, and Robinson would be an endorsement of Monmouth's regular season crown. Second, Iona's multifaceted offensive attack works against English in a way. Opposing defenses can key on English, but the Gaels still have the likes of Isaiah Williams, Deyshonee Much, and Jordan Washington to win games. Not to undermine Monmouth's supporting cast, but when you stop Robinson, it makes it harder for the Hawks to emerge victorious.

Rookie of the Year
Who Should Win: Brian Parker, Marist (16.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.9 APG, .518 FG%)
Who Will Win: Antwon Portley, Saint Peter's (14.1 PPG, .832 FT%)

Parker has the best stats of the MAAC's deepest and strongest freshman class in recent years, but will sadly be hurt by Marist's 4-16 league record. Siena's Nico Clareth is an intriguing case as well, as the Baltimore native is squarely in the mix for both Rookie and Sixth Man of the Year honors. Micah Seaborn has also become a solid second option for Monmouth in his first season, but if you're looking for a rookie who has meant the most to his team, Portley is the clear standout. The Texan has displayed an ability to run the point with veteran poise and make clutch shots from professional range, all while becoming not just the Peacocks' leading scorer, but a quality replacement to Desi Washington as well.

Defensive Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Chazz Patterson, Saint Peter's
Who Will Win: Javion Ogunyemi, Siena

Patterson's ability to be a defensive stopper has been a silent but integral part of Saint Peter's resurgence this season, as the junior has given John Dunne the luxury of a lockdown guard on the perimeter against the likes of Shane Richards, Marcus Gilbert, and even A.J. English, just to name a few. However, the trend in this league is to recognize big men for their ability to block shots, which gets lost in the shuffle in the backcourt. Ogunyemi leads the league in rejections, and with a stat line on offense that underscores his value on the other side of the ball, the Saints' junior forward will join contemporaries Rhamel Brown and Ousmane Drame as honorees in this field.

Sixth Man of the Year
Who Should Win: Rich Williams, Manhattan (14.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG)
Who Will Win: Williams

Again, Nico Clareth will be a formidable option in this spot, but arguably no one in the league possesses the ability to feel a game out in the opening minutes better than Williams, who is able to gauge just how much of an impact he needs to make upon his entrance. The junior swingman has found his niche in being one of the first options off the bench for Steve Masiello, and did so this season to the tune of serving as the Jaspers' second-leading scorer while playing out of position due to lack of depth.

Coach of the Year
Who Should Win: John Dunne, Saint Peter's
Who Will Win: King Rice, Monmouth

In any other year, Dunne or Sydney Johnson; who were picked ninth and tenth in the preseason, respectively, would be the favorites here. The problem for them, though, is that Monmouth's dream season prevented this from being any other year. A 17-3 regular season record in West Long Branch, with only one home loss, will give Rice all the ammunition he needs in this category, joining Joe Mihalich and Tim Cluess as the third regular season winner in four years to take home this award.

First Team All-MAAC
Brett Bisping, Siena
A.J. English, Iona
Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield
Shane Richards, Manhattan
Justin Robinson, Monmouth
Quadir Welton, Saint Peter's

Second Team All-MAAC
Khallid Hart, Marist
Tyler Nelson, Fairfield
Javion Ogunyemi, Siena
Isaiah Williams, Iona
Trevis Wyche, Saint Peter's

Third Team All-MAAC
Deon Jones, Monmouth
Malcolm McMillan, Canisius
Matt Scott, Niagara
Kahlil Thomas, Rider
Jordan Washington, Iona

MAAC All-Rookie Team
Nico Clareth, Siena
Curtis Cobb, Fairfield
Brian Parker, Marist
Antwon Portley, Saint Peter's
Micah Seaborn, Monmouth

MAAC Tournament Predictions

Women's Opening Round
Canisius over Niagara
Siena over Rider
Manhattan over Saint Peter's

Women's Quarterfinals
Quinnipiac over Canisius
Iona over Siena
Marist over Manhattan
Fairfield over Monmouth

Women's Semifinals
Quinnipiac over Fairfield
Marist over Iona

Women's Championship
Quinnipiac over Marist

Most Valuable Player: Maria Napolitano, Quinnipiac

Men's Opening Round
Quinnipiac over Rider
Canisius over Niagara
Manhattan over Marist

Men's Quarterfinals
Monmouth over Quinnipiac
Iona over Canisius
Siena over Manhattan
Saint Peter's over Fairfield

Men's Semifinals
Monmouth over Saint Peter's
Iona over Siena

Men's Championship
Iona over Monmouth

Most Valuable Player: A.J. English, Iona

Power Rankings
1) Monmouth (25-6, 17-3 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/28 vs. Niagara (W 77-68)
Next Game: Friday 3/4 vs. Rider or Quinnipiac, 7 p.m.

2) Iona (19-10, 16-4 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/28 vs. Canisius (W 86-78)
Next Game: Friday 3/4 vs. Canisius or Niagara, 9:30 p.m.

3) Saint Peter's (14-15, 12-8 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Saturday 2/27 vs. Fairfield (W 72-68)
Next Game: Saturday 3/5 vs. Fairfield, 9:30 p.m.

4) Siena (20-11, 13-7 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/28 vs. Quinnipiac (W 80-65)
Next Game: Saturday 3/5 vs. Manhattan or Marist, 7 p.m.

5) Fairfield (18-12, 12-8 MAAC)
Last Week: 4
Last Game: Saturday 2/27 at Saint Peter's (L 72-68)
Next Game: Saturday 3/5 vs. Saint Peter's, 9:30 p.m.

6) Manhattan (12-17, 9-11 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/28 at Rider (L 60-57)
Next Game: Thursday 3/3 vs. Marist, 9 p.m.

7) Canisius (13-18, 8-12 MAAC)
Last Week: 7
Last Game: Sunday 2/28 at Iona (L 86-78)
Next Game: Thursday 3/3 vs. Niagara, 7 p.m.

8) Rider (12-19, 8-12 MAAC)
Last Week: 8
Last Game: Sunday 2/28 vs. Manhattan (W 60-57)
Next Game: Thursday 3/3 vs. Quinnipiac, 5 p.m.

9) Quinnipiac (9-20, 6-14 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/28 at Siena (L 80-65)
Next Game: Thursday 3/3 vs. Rider, 5 p.m.

10) Niagara (7-24, 5-15 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/28 at Monmouth (L 77-68)
Next Game: Thursday 3/3 vs. Canisius, 7 p.m.

11) Marist (7-22, 4-16 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Friday 2/26 vs. Quinnipiac (W 91-77)
Next Game: Thursday 3/3 vs. Manhattan, 9 p.m.

Seton Hall's faith in Willard continues to pay off

It may have taken six years, but Kevin Willard is finally paying dividends at Seton Hall after a tumultuous last two seasons put him on hot seat. (Photo courtesy of Seton Hall University Athletics)

Following a late-season swoon that erased Seton Hall's positive momentum that peaked in a No. 19 national ranking, Kevin Willard made a vow to athletic director Pat Lyons.

"If you stick with me," the coach told his boss, "I promise you: We're going to win next year."

Twenty-one wins later, the most recent of which ranks among the biggest in Willard's six years in South Orange, as his Pirates led wire-to-wire against a Xavier team ranked fifth in the country and coming off an authoritative takedown of No. 1 Villanova four days before, Willard is more than making good on his offseason pact. With two games remaining before the Big East converges upon Madison Square Garden for its annual conference championship, Seton Hall is essentially a good bet to end its ten-year dry spell of NCAA Tournament appearances, as much as Willard deflects any talk of that white elephant in the room.

"We've had some good wins in this building," Willard conceded, reflecting on the significance of Sunday's 90-81 triumph over Xavier that was much more convincing than the final score would indicate. "We've had some bad losses too. It's been a long process. It's not an easy process when you take over a high-level job. I think you go into it, you're stupid, you're naive, you do things that you can't do. I give Pat Lyons credit. He could have got rid of me last year. I trust these kids, I know these kids, so I really give it to (president) Dr. (Gabriel) Esteban and Pat for not making the change."

So too does a Seton Hall fan base that has clamored for a winner for a span of nearly two decades. Tommy Amaker rebounded from the debacle that was the George Blaney era to guide the Pirates to the NCAA Tournament, as did Louis Orr. South Orange looked poised to reach another field of 68 under Bobby Gonzalez as well, as the charismatic and energetic coach had Seton Hall trending in a positive direction before being shown the door in 2010. But while Willard continues to face criticism for failing to break through in his first five seasons, and skepticism of whether or not he eventually will, the coach stood by his convictions, and those who matter most.

"I have a group of guys that have supported me since I've been here," he humbly stated before breaking into a satisfied grin. "They've never been skeptical. They've been terrific, they've been loyal, they've understood the process. I see guys on the board, (of trustees) I see guys that donated money when things weren't going well, and they never lost faith."

"He's one of the main reasons why we go out there and play hard," said Isaiah Whitehead, whose recruitment last spring and emergence as a Big East Player of the Year contender has been directly proportional to Seton Hall's resurgence, of Willard. "He influences how good we are, and hereally has confidence in us no matter what we do. He's behind us, and we've got to do the same for him."

"He's such a great person, he's such a great coach," sophomore forward Desi Rodriguez gushed, echoing his high school and college teammate's sentiment toward their coach. "He's taught me a lot since I've been here. He just talks to me a lot, putting me in the right places on the court, just great advice. He wants the best for everybody, and we want the best for him, too."

Sunday, February 28, 2016

2016 MAAC Men's and Women's Basketball Championship matchups set

The fields for the 2016 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Men's and Women's Basketball Championships have been set. The matchups for each round, to be played at the Times Union Center in Albany, are as follows:

2016 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Women's Basketball Championship

Opening round: Thursday, March 3
9:30 a.m. - #8 Canisius vs. #9 Niagara

11:30 a.m. - #7 Siena vs. #10 Rider

1:30 p.m. - #6 Manhattan vs. #11 Saint Peter's

Quarterfinals: Friday, March 4
12 p.m. - Canisius/Niagara winner vs. #1 Quinnipiac

2:30 p.m. - Siena/Rider winner vs. #2 Iona

Quarterfinals: Saturday, March 5
12 p.m. - Manhattan/Saint Peter's winner vs. #3 Marist

2:30 p.m. - #4 Fairfield vs. #5 Monmouth

Semifinals: Sunday, March 6 (ESPN3)
11 a.m. - Quinnipiac/Canisius/Niagara winner vs. Fairfield/Monmouth winner

1:30 p.m. - Iona/Siena/Rider winner vs. Marist/Manhattan/Saint Peter's winner

Championship: Monday, March 7 (ESPNU)
2:30 p.m. - Semifinal winners

2016 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Championship

Opening round: Thursday, March 3
5 p.m. - #8 Rider vs. #9 Quinnipiac

7 p.m. - #7 Canisius vs. #10 Niagara

9 p.m. - #6 Manhattan vs. #11 Marist

Quarterfinals: Friday, March 4 (ESPN3)
7 p.m. - Rider/Quinnipiac winner vs. #1 Monmouth

9:30 p.m. - Canisius/Niagara winner vs. #2 Iona

Quarterfinals: Saturday, March 5 (ESPN3)
7 p.m. - Manhattan/Marist winner vs. #3 Siena

9:30 p.m. - #4 Saint Peter's vs. #5 Fairfield

Semifinals: Sunday, March 6 (ESPN3)
4:30 p.m. - Monmouth/Rider/Quinnipiac winner vs. Saint Peter's/Fairfield winner

7 p.m. - Iona/Canisius/Niagara winner vs. Siena/Manhattan/Marist winner

Championship: Monday, March 7 (ESPN)
7 p.m. - Semifinal winners

Seton Hall 90, Xavier 81: JP's 4 Thoughts

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

When you have a legitimate top-5 team coming into your building, you never know how the team or the fans will react. Will they be intimidated by a supremely-talented and deep squad across the floor? Will they rise to the challenge? If it comes down to the wire, will the nerves set in?

In resounding fashion, Seton Hall sent Derrick Gordon out a winner in an emotional Senior Day win over Xavier on Sundayafternoon at the Prudential Center by a final score of 90-81. It was an entertaining game, sure, but an impressive win for the Pirates as they led wire-to-wire and truly shocked the Musketeers with a near-perfect first half after which they were up by 19 points.

Here are the thoughts from the biggest win for the program (all things considered) in a decade:

1. Dominant Desi

Desi Rodriguez has had his ups and downs. When he plays well he is like the tide that lifts all boats, buoying the entire team to victory. When he doesn't, the lows have been just as low. The bouncy forward played the best game of his career against Xavier, slashing and shooting and jamming his way to a career-best 27 points as the #5 team in the nation had no answer for him. He shot 9-16 from the floor and 8-10 from the free throw line, adding 12 rebounds and three assists. He had a couple more signature #DunkinDesi moments, but it was his one-man fast-break bucket with just under 12 minutes left that stabilized the Pirates after Xavier had managed to climb back within 13. His three pointer as the fourth in a stretch of four straight threes with 5:39 remaining pushed the lead up to 19 points and basically put the game out of reach.

He did it on both ends of the floor, swooping in for tough defensive rebounds in a game where you had to have extreme toughness to get on the glass. Best game he's played as a Pirate, and MVP of this game, bar-none.

2. Frontcourt Force

It wasn't just Desi. Angel Delgado scored 13 of his 17 points in the first half as Seton Hall absolutely crushed Xavier inside in the opening stanza. They staunchly held the Musketeers to 27 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes and against one of the best and most-athletic frontcourts in the Big East and the nation (Xavier entered the contest in the top-15 in rebounding margin in the nation at plus-8.2), it was Seton Hall doing the damage. 

Seton Hall out-rebounded the Musketeers 28-18 in the first half, outscored them in the paint 24-14 and turned 10 offensive rebounds into a remarkable second-chance points. They punched Xavier in the mouth and then kept on coming despite Xavier looking more like Xavier in the second half. That's what makes this win even more impressive- that they got it is huge, but the way they got it was amazing.

3. Honoring Derrick Gordon

The Pirates got to honor senior guard Derrick Gordon before the game, and let me tell you it was a sight to behold. This is a kid who was on his third college in four seasons, who came out as the first gay athlete in NCAA Division-1 basketball, coming to a Catholic university (and surprising some folks in doing so). From Day 1, Gordon has handled himself with class regarding his situation- never backing down from questions about himself while also keeping not only himself but as it turns out the rest of the team hyper-focused on what he came here to do- play basketball. 

A tremendous defender to put it lightly, Gordon's been the key for Seton Hall's defensive dominance this season. Kevin Willard has said so repeatedly and anyone with eyes can tell as well. He's the best Seton Hall perimeter defender since Paul Gause stopped making life miserable for some of the Big East's best guards, but what has struck me is how much Seton Hall fans have embraced him as their own. It's true that fans love players who play hard, but they've taken it to a whole other level with Gordon. There were 5,000 fans at least already in their seats to give him a standing ovation during the Senior Day festivities. Then, when he was introduced in the starting lineups (at the end, no less), they stood and cheered AGAIN.

That's something I have not seen this fanbase do for anyone since I started out as a student in 2008. You may have to go back to Andre Barrett for a player so beloved by the Pirate faithful, and that is saying something. After the game, they gave him a Gatorade bath in the locker room. The whole thing has been incredible to watch over the course of this season and after the win today, many feel that Seton Hall has punched their ticket to the Big Dance. 

If so, that would make Gordon the first in something else- making the NCAA Tournament with three different schools. That would truly cement his legacy at Seton Hall. And again, this has happened over the course of just one year.

4. Big Dance?

Seton Hall still has two games and one more week until the Big East Tournament and those two are doozies (at Butler, at DePaul). I think that thanks to a signature win now on their resume along with 21 wins overall, a high RPI and 11 Big East wins along with a nice non-conference slate, Seton Hall will hear their name called on Selection Sunday for the first time in a decade. To really cement their status, beating DePaul and possibly even Butler (the Pirates' worst matchup still after three seasons) would make them a lock.

I can understand being gun-shy after what happened in 2012 (heck, I saw it firsthand). But again- this team is different. The 2012 team did not have the overall resume that this year's team. Do they pass the "eye test?" You bet, especially if you like defense. Are they rolling down the stretch of the season? Yup- winners of 8 of their last 9, the Pirates are one of the hottest teams in the Big East. Do they have the wins, both in quantity and quality? Absolutely. Have they had a "bad loss?" Depends on what you think of Long Beach State.

I'll put it another way- you cannot find me 66 teams in the NCAA that are better than Seton Hall. 

Seton Hall zips up Xavier, solidifies NCAA Tournament resume

Desi Rodriguez eclipsed career-high point total for second time in a week, scoring 27 as Seton Hall upset fifth-ranked Xavier on senior day at the Prudential Center. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

NEWARK, NJ -- Seton Hall was in a favorable position to end their ten-year NCAA Tournament drought even before Sunday afternoon. They leave the Prudential Center today in even better standing, with a signature win tucked firmly within their pockets.

A 9-0 run to begin the game was all the Pirates (21-7, 11-5 Big East) would need on a senior day where the program paid tribute to fifth-year guard Derrick Gordon, disposing of fifth-ranked Xavier (25-4, 13-4 Big East) with a 90-81 victory whose final score appears much closer than the actual game let on.

"I think the biggest thing is that we offensive rebounded really well," said head coach Kevin Willard after Seton Hall picked up 16 caroms on their end of the basketball, and went to halftime with a plus-10 advantage on the glass against the Musketeers, who came into today's contest ranked 13th in the nation in rebounding margin. "I have a theory that if you can offensive rebound, it's your best transition defense, because it stops them from getting out and going."

Of the Pirates' 16 offensive boards, nine of them were amsssed by either Angel Delgado (17 points, 8 rebounds) or Ismael Sanogo, whose nine total rebounds complemented a strong defensive effort against Xavier's Trevon Bluiett, whom he held to just five points in the opening stanza.

"Xavier's the kind of team that tries to play more physical than anybody," Delgado explained, revealing his strategy to attack their 1-3-1 zone. "We just had it in our mind that we've got to play physical and show these guys who we are."

Seton Hall did that impressively, ending the first half on a 15-4 run after Xavier managed to fight back from their lackluster beginning, going to the locker room with a 45-26 cushion. But as the visitors slowly scaled the mountain in front of them, the Pirates held serve, keeping the game a double-digit affair until an inconsequential layup in the final minute provided the final margin of victory.

"To me, at least from a Xavier standpoint, the last eight minutes of the (first) half were our undoing," Chris Mack recounted as the Musketeers resembled nothing close to the team that defeated top-ranked Villanova on Wednesday. "From the very beginning of the game, they (Seton Hall) were amped. They played extremely hard, and they had a desperation that you can feel on the floor."

With the win, Seton Hall is, for all intents and purposes, all but in the NCAA Tournament field after securing their biggest win of the year. However, as has remained the case all season, such grand sights are the last thing on the Pirates' minds.

"Again, it's not my decision," Willard reiterated. "All I know is I'm going to enjoy this win, I'm going to let my players enjoy it tonight, and then I've got to get in and I've got to figure out Butler."

Updated MAAC clinching scenarios: February 28, 2016

Updated after today's victory by Siena over Quinnipiac, and to be updated as the day goes along, here are the latest clinching scenarios in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference leading up to the 2016 MAAC Men's and Women's Basketball Championships at the Times Union Center next week:

Monmouth (16-3): Has clinched Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship, and no worse than an automatic bid into the National Invitation Tournament. Hawks will finish as #1 seed, and will play either #8 seed Rider or the #9 seed in the quarterfinals on Friday, March 4 at 7 p.m. 

Iona (15-4): Has clinched #2 seed. Gaels will play either the #7 seed or #10 seed in the quarterfinals on Friday, March 4 at 9:30 p.m.

Siena (13-7): Has clinched #3 seed. Saints will play either #6 seed (Manhattan or Canisius) or #11 seed Marist in the quarterfinals on Saturday, March 5 at 7 p.m.

Saint Peter's (12-8): Has clinched #4 seed. Peacocks will play #5 seed Fairfield in the quarterfinals on Saturday, March 5 at 9:30 p.m.

Fairfield (12-8): Has clinched #5 seed. Stags will play #4 seed Saint Peter's in the quarterfinals on Saturday, March 5 at 9:30 p.m.

Manhattan (9-10): Is assured of competing in an opening-round game on Thursday, March 3. Can clinch #6 seed with a win over Rider on Sunday, OR a Canisius loss to Iona on Sunday. Jaspers will finish as either #6 or #7 seed.

Canisius (8-11): Is assured of competing in an opening-round game on Thursday, March 3. Can clinch #6 seed with a win over Iona on Sunday, AND a Manhattan loss to Rider on Sunday. Golden Griffins will finish as either #6 or #7 seed.

Rider (7-12): Has clinched #8 seed. Broncs will play #9 seed, either Quinnipiac or Niagara; with the winner to face regular season champion and #1 seed Monmouth in the quarterfinals, on Thursday, March 3 at 5 p.m.

Quinnipiac (6-14): Is assured of competing in an opening-round game on Thursday, March 3, in either the 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. slot. Can clinch #9 seed with a Niagara loss to Monmouth on Sunday. Bobcats will finish as either #9 or #10 seed.

Niagara (5-14): Is assured of competing in an opening-round game on Thursday, March 3, in either the 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. slot. Can clinch #9 seed with a win over Monmouth on Sunday, AND a Quinnipiac loss to Siena on Sunday. Purple Eagles will finish as either #9 or #10 seed.

Marist (4-16): Has clinched #11 seed. Red Foxes will play #6 seed, either Manhattan or Canisius, in opening-round game on Thursday, March 3.

These tiebreaker scenarios will be updated frequently, both on this site and on Twitter, (@DalyDoseOfHoops) in the days leading up to the opening-round games on March 3.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Howie Dickenman retires after 20 seasons as Central Connecticut head coach

Courtesy of the Northeast Conference and NEC Front Row, here is the ceremony honoring Central Connecticut State head coach Howie Dickenman, who announced his retirement after 20 seasons at the helm of his alma mater. Dickenman's Blue Devils were defeated by Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday afternoon, falling to the Knights by the final of 81-75 at Detrick Gymnasium in New Britain:

Saint Peter's concludes regular season with sweep of Fairfield

Elias Desport provided final lasting impression with 12 points and seven rebounds as Saint Peter's swept Fairfield to end regular season at 12-8 in MAAC play. (Photo courtesy of Saint Peter's University Athletics)

JERSEY CITY, NJ -- Saint Peter's paid tribute to its lone senior Saturday afternoon before the game by playing the Swedish national anthem in honor of Stockholm native Elias Desport.

The four-year stalwart reciprocated with perhaps the finest performance of a career that, though lost in the shadows, certainly provides more to his value than meets the eye.

With 12 points and seven rebounds in his final regular season home game, Desport was perhaps one of the more integral pieces for Saint Peter's (14-15, 12-8 MAAC) as the Peacocks swept Fairfield, (18-12, 12-8 MAAC) walking off the Yanitelli Center floor for the last time this season with a resilient 72-68 victory over the Stags, assuring themselves of a top-four finish in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for the first time since their improbable march to the NCAA Tournament in 2011.

"I was trying to play with a free mind and trying to enjoy the moment," said Desport as he ended the afternoon one point off his career-high 13, set against Seton Hall in 2014. "I'm going to miss this environment. They say it's cliched, but I saved the best for last."

"This team has matured a lot through the course of the season," head coach John Dunne assessed of the Peacocks, who end the regular season having won six of their final eight games following a five-game losing streak that dropped them from the top of the MAAC standings. "I think in November, we would have lost this game by 12 points or so, but at the end of the day, mentally, we were strong enough to hang in there and give ourselves an opportunity to make plays at the end."

In the opening stanza, Saint Peter's defensive efforts harkened back to their triumph over Fairfield in last year's MAAC tournament, when the Peacocks held a 22-7 halftime lead against the Stags, who made just two field goals in that first period and received no offensive contributions from anyone besides Tyler Nelson. Nelson scored Fairfield's first 10 points today as well, and the Stags soon rebounded from a start in which they missed all but one of their first ten attempts from the field, fighting back to take the lead before Antwon Portley's three-pointer shortly before the buzzer sent the home team to the locker room with a slim 38-37 advantage.

Saint Peter's gained some separation early in the second half with an 11-2 run, taking a 51-42 lead with 12:37 to play in regulation, but Fairfield would respond with a 7-0 spurt to pull within two, at 51-49, before Quadir Welton scored 13 of the next 15 Peacock points to counterpunch a scrappy Stags unit that continually ensured the game remained a one-possession affair. The junior forward would eventually finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds, furthering his late push at potential first team all-MAAC honors.

"It would be an honor to be on the first team, but it really doesn't matter at the end of the day," said Welton, who recorded his tenth double-double of the season. "We're just trying to get a MAAC championship and show everybody we're better than the ninth seed," alluding to where the Peacocks were picked to finish in the league's preseason poll.

With the win, Saint Peter's is in position to potentially clinch the No. 3 seed in the tournament, which they can do if Quinnipiac beats Siena tomorrow. If Siena ends up the victor, the Peacocks will be the No. 4 seed, the same spot they were in when they cut down the nets in Bridgeport five years ago, and would face Fairfield for a third time after the Stags' loss clinched the No. 5 seed for Sydney Johnson's team.

"I think we're mentally tough, and we can beat them a third time," Welton said of a potential rematch with the Stags, against whom Saint Peter's has won seven of the last eight meetings between the two schools. "We just have to keep locking down on defense."

His senior teammate, though, was more diplomatic in his assessment.

"It could go both ways, to be honest," Desport admitted. "We might get a little lax and think, 'well, we already beat them, so we know what to do.' We've just got to stay focused and stay level, and understand that nothing is promised."

Updated MAAC clinching scenarios: February 27, 2016

Updated after today's victory by Saint Peter's over Fairfield, here are the latest clinching scenarios in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference leading up to the 2016 MAAC Men's and Women's Basketball Championships at the Times Union Center next week:

Monmouth (16-3): Has clinched Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship, and no worse than an automatic bid into the National Invitation Tournament. Hawks will finish as #1 seed, and will play either #8 seed Rider or the #9 seed in the quarterfinals on Friday, March 4 at 7 p.m. 

Iona (15-4): Has clinched #2 seed. Gaels will play either the #7 seed or #10 seed in the quarterfinals on Friday, March 4, at 9:30 p.m.

Siena (12-7): Has clinched first-round bye. Can clinch #3 seed with a win over Quinnipiac on Sunday. Saints will finish as either #3 or #4 seed.

Saint Peter's (12-8): Has clinched first-round bye. Can clinch #3 seed with a Siena loss to Quinnipiac on Sunday. Peacocks will finish as either #3 or #4 seed.

Fairfield (12-8): Has clinched #5 seed. Stags will play #4 seed, either Saint Peter's or Siena, in the quarterfinals on Saturday, March 5 at 9:30 p.m.

Manhattan (9-10): Is assured of competing in an opening-round game on Thursday, March 3. Can clinch #6 seed with a win over Rider on Sunday, OR a Canisius loss to Iona on Sunday. Jaspers will finish as either #6 or #7 seed.

Canisius (8-11): Is assured of competing in an opening-round game on Thursday, March 3. Can clinch #6 seed with a win over Iona on Sunday, AND a Manhattan loss to Rider on Sunday. Golden Griffins will finish as either #6 or #7 seed.

Rider (7-12): Has clinched #8 seed. Broncs will play #9 seed, either Quinnipiac or Niagara; with the winner to face regular season champion and #1 seed Monmouth in the quarterfinals, on Thursday, March 3 at 5 p.m.

Quinnipiac (6-13): Is assured of competing in an opening-round game on Thursday, March 3, in either the 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. slot. Can clinch #9 seed with a win over Siena on Sunday, OR a Niagara loss to Monmouth on Sunday. Bobcats will finish as either #9 or #10 seed.

Niagara (5-14): Is assured of competing in an opening-round game on Thursday, March 3, in either the 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. slot. Can clinch #9 seed with a win over Monmouth on Sunday, AND a Quinnipiac loss to Siena on Sunday. Purple Eagles will finish as either #9 or #10 seed.

Marist (4-16): Has clinched #11 seed. Red Foxes will play #6 seed, either Manhattan or Canisius, in opening-round game on Thursday, March 3.

These tiebreaker scenarios will be updated frequently, both on this site and on Twitter, (@DalyDoseOfHoops) in the days leading up to the opening-round games on March 3.