Blogs > The Full-Court Press

The Trentonian's Full-Court Press blog is back and improved. We'll keep you updated on everything you need to know about Rider and Princeton hoops as well as the college basketball landscape.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jersey teams have something to prove in 09

The calendar year that ended yesterday wasn’t without its Central Jersey college basketball moments.

The Rider men went to the MAAC title game, reached postseason play for the first time in 12 years, and produced an NBA lottery pick.

The Rutgers women went to the Elite Eight and may have advanced further if they hadn’t been unlucky enough to run into nemesis UConn in the regional title game.

The Rutgers men had little success on the court but plenty on the recruiting trail, leading to the most heralded freshman class in school history.

But so far this season, there hasn’t been much to celebrate.

The Rutgers men, who entered the season dreaming of a 12-0 start, stumbled through the non-conference portion of their schedule with losses to Lehigh, Saint Bonaventure and Binghamton.
The Rutgers women fared even worse in relation to their expectations, coming up empty in a two-game trip to California and dropping from second to 11th in the national polls.

The Rider men were picked third in the preseason MAAC coaches poll — a spot ahead of where they were picked last year — but are 6-5 heading into the new year with losses in three of their previous four games and no quality wins of which to speak.

The Princeton men, coming off their worst season in decades, haven’t improved enough to be considered relevant in the eyes of many.

The Rider women aren’t completely without hope, but they still have just two wins.
The Princeton women haven’t been much better.

As we enter 2009 — and as the Rider men play at Iona today in the first game of the year featuring a local team — each team needs success in the 2009 portion of its schedule to avoid an unsuccessful season.
The team with the most to gain is the Rutgers women’s team.

Not only have the Scarlet Knights suffered two ugly losses, they’ve also had plenty of ugly wins, too. They got all they could handle from Temple and haven’t blown teams away the way national title contenders should.

Saturday’s game at the RAC against Tennessee will be a good measuring stick.

With a team dominated by youth, coach C. Vivian Stringer has to hope the Knights’ freshmen and sophomores show enough improvement over the course of the Big East schedule for the team to contend in the NCAA tournament, in which they could play in the regional semifinals and finals at Sovereign Bank Arena.

The Rutgers men also have plenty to prove. Coach Fred Hill has gotten plenty of praise for bringing Mike Rosario and Gregory Echenique to Piscataway, but he’ll get plenty of criticism if the team doesn’t show at least some measurable improvement on the court.

The Rider men are in need of a turnaround. Coach Tommy Dempsey was excited this fall about the possibilities for a team with four returning starters including Ryan Thompson, a preseason first-team all-MAAC selection. The talent may be there, but the Broncs have had more trouble than many expected dealing with injuries to Harris Mansell, Justin Robinson and Jermaine Jackson.

They’re 1-0 in the MAAC, so a turnaround could still put them toward the top of the MAAC standings and give them an outside shot postseason play.

The Princeton men lost their last six games in 2008 and are 2-8 heading into Saturday’s game against UNC-Greensboro. But the Tigers aren’t completely without hope for the following reasons:

• Freshman Doug Davis, a former standout at the Hun School, has clearly been their best player so far, averaging a team-best 13.6 points per game. He’s more likely to improve over the next three months than many upperclassmen, and could emerge as a game-changer during the Ivy League season.

• The Ivy League is as weak this year as it’s been in recent memory. The league is 28th out of 32 conferences in RPI, and 7-6 Cornell is the league’s only team with a winning record.

• The Tigers’ league schedule doesn’t begin until Jan. 30 at Dartmouth, leaving them three more non-conference tuneups before the games mean anything.

The Princeton women face a nearly identical situation.

They enter the new year 4-8, having lost four straight, but the Ivy League is no tougher on the women’s side than it is on the men’s side. Harvard, at 7-6, is the only team with a winning record. No other team has more than five wins.

The Rider women face a tough road ahead. Losers of seven straight after a 2-1 start, the Broncs open the 2009 portion of their schedule Sunday against defending MAAC champion Marist.

There are achievable goals, though, such as surpassing last year’s overall win total of eight and MAAC win total of three, and making it past the opening day of the MAAC tournament.

An NCAA women’s tournament regional semifinal will take place on March 29 in Trenton, with the regional final to follow two days later. That ensures that the area will be treated to meaningful, competitive, entertaining basketball.

Will any of the local teams produce the same?

That remains to be seen, but here’s hoping at least a few of them do.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

PMI, Week 3

As week look at the Week 3 PMI, there isn't a whole lot of movement between slots. Loyola, which took NC State down to the wire in Raleigh yesterday and has played decent basketball of late, jumped over Saint Peter's into eighth place. I continue to be impressed with Marist, which blew out Bucknell on Sunday and is closer to moving up to sixth than to moving down to eighth.

But while there wasn't enough movement for me to move any teams up other than Loyola, there was ALMOST enough in a couple of areas.

One is that Niagara has been so dominant of late (good enough to earn a No. 9 mid-major ranking by SI.com, which doens't have Siena in its top 10) and Siena, comparably has been so average, that I think it's almost a toss-up for the top spot.

Siena showed some guts in coming from 18 points down to win at Saint Joe's, but that's an average at best Saint Joe's team -- one that won't contend for an A-10 title -- and if Siena was as good as advertised, there would have been no 18-point deficit to begin with.

I can't wait to see how Fairfield does Thursday at Siena. The Stags won at the Times Union Center last year. Can they do it again and deliver a major blow to Siena? Maybe. But what I'm really intersted to see is how the game unfolds. Fairfield, for all its success, still hasnt' really had a measuring stick game that tells us something about it that we didn't already think or know.

If you'd gone through the Stags' schedule before the season began, your most logical estimate would be that they would have been exactly where they were through 12 games. They haven't beaten a team they weren't favored to beat, or lost to a team that they WERE favored to beat. Moreover, not only have the outcomes been exactly what we expected them to be, the margins of victory or defeat, with few exceptions (Fordham was too close for comfort, for instane, and Missouri is good but not THAT good) have been too. If they take Siena down to the wire or win, I'll be impressed.

I also think teams 4-6 are really really close. Manhattan should take a hit for losing by 12 at home to American, but Rider hasn't been nearly good enough to move back up to fourth. In fact, I'd be surprised if the Broncs win at Iona on Thursday afternoon.

Rider has looked really, really bad for a couple of games in a row. The Broncs have lost three out of four, with the only win coming against winless NJIT, which is to say that, for all intents and purposes, they've lost three straight. In those three losses, they've been blown out of the building by La Salle and fallen apart in the second half against Binghamton and Drexel, both of whom have collective losing recrods against the MAAC.

But for now, I'm giving Rider a pass because of Harris Mansell's injury and because that 1-0 league record still means something.

Here's the list:

1. Siena 7-4, 2-0 36
2. Niagara 10-2, 1-0, 47
3. Fairfield 8-4, 2-0 85
4. Manhattan 7-4, 1-1 224
5. Rider 6-5, 1-0 233
6. Iona 5-8, 0-2 207
7. Marist 5-8, 0-2 219
8. Loyola 4-8, 0-2 218
9. SPC 1-1, 4-8 306
10. Canisius 4-8, 0-2 144

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas; PMI Week 2


The drive from Binghamton to South Hadley, Mass. may be the most circuitous I've ever made. Instead of simply driving in a straight line to the east, I had to trek all the way NORTHeast on I-88 past Albany, then turn and go SOUTHeast down to South Hadley. I couldn't help but think, if the President-elect is going to launch a massive infrastructure project, maybe he could hire some people to build a new highway that would make that drive a bit easier.

But after four hours on the road, I made it home, just in time to join my family on its annual pilgrimage to Yankee Candle and save some time for the blog, on which we'll belatedly reveal Week 2 of the Press MAAC Index.

I watched last night as Rider came completely undone in the second half and lost a game its coaches probably penciled in as a likely W before the season began. Making matters more embarrassing was that the loss was the lone blemish on an otherwise stellar night for the MAAC.

Elsewhere in the league, Niagara continued to roll with an easy win over a St. Bonaventure team that came in with a 4-1 record at home; Siena took care of a Buffalo team that earlier this month took No. 2 UConn down to the wire; Iona upset Hofstra on the road; Marist won at Delaware; and Saint Peter's managed to hold off Farliegh Dickinson.

In the one change in this week's rankings, Manhattan -- which went 2-0 during the past week and beat the aforementioned Bearcats in Binghamton -- jumped Rider into the No. 4 spot. I know Rider won when the teams met earlier this month in Lawrenceville, but if you put the two teams on a neutral site tomorrow, I'd have my money on the Jaspers.

Rider has been unimpressive enough lately that I don't think it would be absurd to have dropped the Broncs below Iona and into the No. 6 slot, especially since Iona's 0-2 MAAC record is incredibly misleading (both games came on the road, on last-second shots). But I'm keeping Rider in the top half largely because I think the Broncs will be much better when (if?) Harris Mansell's elbow comes back to full strength and Justin Robinson and Jermaine Jackson, both of whom had arthroscopic knee surgery in November, get up to full speed.

So the PMI for Week 2 goes as follows:

1. Siena (6-4, 2-0, 49 RPI)
2. Niagara (9-2, 1-0, 54)
3. Fairfield (8-3, 2-0, 113)
4. Manhattan (7-3, 1-1, 171)
5. Rider (6-4, 1-0, 177)
6. Iona (5-7, 0-2, 173)
7. Marist (4-8, 1-0, 210)
8. St. Peter's (4-7, 1-1, 289)
9. Loyola (4-7, 0-2, 237)
10. Canisius (4-7, 0-2, 152)

...

Now, a few other things to get to:

* Elise Young is done. The ex-Stags walk-on/Boston Beauty was eliminated from A Double Shot at Love last night for allegedly being too quiet.

I haven't watched the episode yet because I was at the Rider-Binghamton game, but I was afraid the lack of talking/flirting/showing off would be Elise's downfall. In the first two episodes, she was rarely on camera, and one had to figure that's because the producers didn't think she wasn't doing anything particularly entertaining.

Oh well. She had a good run, making it though two elimination rounds before getting the ax, she's famous now, and she helped add another dimension to the blog while she was on the show.

* A reader left me a comment a few days ago pointing out that Rider doesn't include Tommy Dempsey's 8-20 season as the interim head coach in his coaching record, and that Rider officials have a habit of listing the date as the attendance for games during semester break when few or no students are in attendance. (As the reader points out, the announced attendance for the game on Nov. 29 against Cal State Northrdige, which came during Thanksgiving break, was 1,129.

I brought those concerns/questions to Rider sports information director Bud Focht, and here were his answers:

On Dempsey's coaching record, the school's claim is that in 2005-06, Dempsey was merely coaching Don Harnum's team while Harnum was filling the AD's job on what was expected to be a temporary basis. Therefore, Dempsey shouldn't be saddled with those 20 losses. However, the NCAA DOES include those games as part of his record, regardless of what the school puts in its media guides and game notes.

As for the attendance, it's obviously not a coincidence that the date is often used as the official number. Focht said the reason they don't have a concrete number for those games is that students get in for free, and when it's a non-sellout, they simply estimate how many students are in attendance.

Obviously, they're not really making much of an attempt to estimate. They're just picking a number and listing it as the attendance, and the date is a convenient number to pick.

My take on the situation is this: The school has a right to cherry pick when it's putting stats in its media guide. When was the last time you picked up a media guide or any other kind of informative publication put out by a school or team that was filled with evidence of how bad the team was the previous year? For instance, how many times do schools send out releases containing all of the statistical categories in which it finished dead last in its conference the previous year? Never, because they only want you to see the numbers that make them look good.

The record thing might be taking it a little bit further than that, but it's the same general concept, and if Dempsey had gone 20-8 that year, as the reader points out, it certainly would be included in his record.

Having said all that, I really don't think it matters. It isn't like they're trying to change the scores of games or say that they finished first in the conference when they really finished seventh.

As for the attendance, it's a similar situation. If they really wanted to, they could make a better attempt to cover up the fact that they're just making it up, but apparently they're not concerned with covering it up because they don't think it's a big deal. They know people realize it's just the date, and they do it anyway.

Is it a little bit dishonest? Yeah, but schools make up attendance figures all the time. Some just make a better attempt to hide it.

With that, I've got to round of some presents and head off to my dad's house for a nice, big Christmas Eve feast.

Thanks for reading, and have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah (it's the fifth night, for those of you scoring at home) a Happy Festivus (for the restivus) and a great night regardless of what, if anything, you're celebrating.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

PMI tomorrow


Greetings from Binghamton, where just a hop skip and a jump from Tommy Dempsey and Lamar Johnson's home town of Scranton, Pa., the Broncs are set to take on the Bearcats of BU.

There are VIP seats immediately to my right, but Tony Kornheiser, class of 1970, is not in any of them.

Apologies for the down time during the last couple of days, and for the fact that I didn't post Week 2 of the PMI today. The vacation I spoke of here last week has ended, and the combination of desk work and holiday activities hasn't left me any time to blog.

Fear not, though, I'll have plenty on this game, along with the PMI and of course, a review of Week 3 of a Double Shot at Love (tonight at 10 on MTV), tomorrow when I'm back in New England for Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The MAAC's five-year plan

The MAAC issued a detailed report today on its five-year strategic plan, which was drawn up at the conference's recent council of presidents meeting. The report contains everything from the presidents' stance on mandatory summer school for athletes to their desire to add associate members for men's lacrosse.

Most importantly, though, from a basketball standpoint is this: the men's and women's basketball tournaments -- which we discussed extensively in our "MAAC Madness" series last summer -- will be held in once venue from 2012-14 instead of alternatatig venues.

The council will meet again in the spring to pick a site, with the Times Union Center in Albany -- the host for the 2009 and 2010 tournaments -- a clear frontrunner.

Other candidates include Bridgeport, Buffalo, Newark and Mohegan Sun.

The plan also calls for measures to try to make the Times Union Center a more neutral environment in the 09 and 10 tournaments by doing the following: "Adding additional team purchase options within the center court sections of the lower bowl, MAAC signage around the top of the center hung scoreboard, signage to the entrance doors and windows, four VIP premier seats behind the team benches for each session, and selling six premium seats to each team at courtside locations."

Sounds good to me, but I'll bet ya anything Siena will have a pretty darn good home-court advantage, especially if the Saints advance to the semifinals.

The full release on the strategic plan is below:

Edison, N.J. – The MAAC Council of Presidents concluded its fall 2008 meeting on December 11 in New York City with the approval of a new 5-Year Strategic Plan for the conference.

Highlights of the plan include:
*Implementing an annual meeting of the league’s Faculty Athletic Representatives and formalizing the current annual meeting of the MAAC’s Compliance Directors
*Modifying the current television schedule policy for men’s basketball to include future “wild card” games during the regular season
*Mandating web streaming of the MAAC core sports’ championships
*Continuing with the fall championship Disney Sports experience for the sports of men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball and men’s and women’s cross country, while the men’s and women’s golf championships will remain at a warm weather site
*Elevating the MAAC Women’s Lacrosse League to a core sport, with no requirement that all MAAC teams belong to the league
*Seeking additional associate members for the MAAC Men’s Lacrosse League, with consideration for cost containment with regards to travel distances
*Increasing the conference buy-in for new members, plus an equity buy-in to the MAAC Asset Corporation
*Continuing to be proactive in the national discussions on future NCAA Division I membership standards.
*The MAAC leadership will continue to work with NCAA President Myles Brand on controlling the increasing costs of Division I athletic programs
*Agreeing unanimously to eliminate Strategy 3.1, this was intended to expand the championship field in the core sports from four to six teams. It was noted that expansion would increase missed class time and operational expenses. It was also agreed that the emphasis should be on rewarding in-season conference competition and limit post-season to the top four teams. The Council of Presidents reiterated its long time opposition to championship field expansion
...

In other business, the MAAC Council of Presidents announced that:
The Council continues to oppose the NCAA Basketball Academic Enhancement Group (BAEG) proposals related to summer school attendance and coaching access, because it dilutes the academic reform efforts associated with the Academic Progress Rate (APR). The Council was opposed to mandatory summer school for student-athletes as it is an encroachment on institutional autonomy.
The Council had received a report from Rich Oriolo of Stafford Sports LLC on its review of the MAAC Basketball Championships and future bid cycles. It was noted that:
*The Council discussed plans to make the 2009 and 2010 championships at the Times Union Center a neutral environment by adding additional team purchase options within the center court sections of the lower bowl, MAAC signage around the top of the center hung scoreboard, signage to the entrance doors and windows, four VIP premier seats behind the team benches for each session, and selling six premium seats to each team at courtside locations.
*The Council approved a recommendation for the development of bid specs for a 3-year commitment for the 2012-2014 basketball championships at one venue. Bid specs will be distributed in late spring/early summer with a due date around the end of summer/September. *The MAAC Marketing Committee will discuss bids at their in-person meeting at Disney Sports, and the Council of Presidents will make a decision at its December 2009 meeting.
*The 2009 Citizens Bank MAAC Basketball Championships’ ticket sales are ahead of the 2008 sales, and the Council commended the Times Union Center’s efforts to aggressively promote the championship.

What's wrong with Rider?

Three MAAC teams played last night and none of them put up much of a fight.

Canisius was in it early but quickly folded against No. 11 Syracuse and Siena never stood much of a chance at No. 3 Pitt.

But the Griffs and Saints were playing in hostile environments against two of the best teams (the Cuse's shocking loss to Cleveland State notwithstnading) in the country.

Rider, on the other hand, played a La Salle team that had defined mediocre over its first eight games, and looked completely lost for 40 minutes.

The Broncs fell behind 6-0 and 20-6 and never trailed by fewer than 11 after the first minute of the second half, suffering their most lopsided loss of the season and giving up what was easily the highest point total by an opponent this year.

So what's wrong with Rider?

Well, for starters, the Broncs need more from Ryan Thompson.

The good news on that front is that Thompson, who had been in a big-time shooting slump before last night, was 3-for-3 from beyond the arc against La Salle. The bad news is that Thompson frankly said after the game that everyone -- himself included -- became too reliant on Mike Ringgold to spark the offense.

Thompson, who had scored only 17 points in Rider's previous two games, scored 19 last night. But this was a game in which the Broncs could have benefited from additional assertiveness from the preseason first-team all-MAAC selection. Ringgold, his out-of-this-world bad free-throw shooting notwithstanding, has been all Tommy Dempsey could ask for and more offensively. But Thompson is the first-team all-MAAC pick, the leading returning scorer, and the go-to guy. Why, then, did he take only 11 shots last night, while Ringgold took 14, Novar Gadson took 12 and even the sometimes-trigger-shy Matt Griffin took nine?

But although everyone in the Zoo Crew would like to see Thompson do more, it isn't like he's shooting 30 percent from the floor and committing six turnovers a game. So what else is wrong?

One thing is this: I think it would be difficult to overstate the significance of the elbow injury Harris Mansell suffered in the season opener against Saint Joseph's. The injury is to Mansell's shooting elbow. It's caused Mansell to become a below-average outside shooter, which his stats demonstate. He's shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc and is 1-for-11 in his previous two games.

That has put a whole lot of added pressure on Thompson, which is why it's a problem that Thompson hasn't played like more of a star.

Then there are the knee injuries to Justin Robinson and Jermaine Jackson, both of whom had arthroscopic surgery in November and neither of whom are up to full speed.

I've never seen Jackson play at full-strength, but I'm certain Rider would benefit from him playing more than 4.3 minutes a game. I'm also certain Robinson's slugglishness has been a major problem.

I'm a big Matt Griffin fan, and think the offense sometimes runs more smoothly when Griffin is running it. But when Robinson has been forced to the bench, the Broncs have been forced to use Griffin more often than they would probably like, and though Griffin put on 10 pounds of muscle over the summer, he still often finds himself in defensive mismatches because of his size.

What does this all mean?

In some ways, it's hard to tell because we don't know how good players like Jackson will be when healthy, and we don't know when -- if ever -- Mansell will regain the elbow strength and confidence necessary for him to return to form.

One thing is certain, though: The Broncs, who have three non-conference games remaining before resuming MAAC play on New Year's Day at Iona, better get it together quickly. If they don't, the losses will start coming in conference games, and in this league and at this level, those are the ones that really count.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Elise Young still standing ... an interesting three-game slate

Not only is Elise Young still standing after the second elimination on A Double Shot at Love, the sharpshooting former Fairfield guard got some camera time in last night's episode.

There's no question the more girls remaining on the show, the better TV and the better blog material. But even if that wasn't the case, I'd be rooting for the girls because of the absurd group of guys MTV picked to put on the show.

It's almost like the TV execs wanted to convince America that all men are roided-up, over-confident loudmouth idiots intent on doing nothing but shouting nonsense at people and getting into shoving matches.

One of those guys was ranting on about the superiority of the male gender and told a group of girls that "two plus two equals four" and science says men are better. Or something like that. I'd have to go back to the tape to get the exact quote, and I didn't tape the show, so that's a problem.

In any case, Elise, sitting on a couch and apparently amused by the absurdity of the situation, laughs at the guy and points out the equation the guy spouted out is an example of math, not science.

The Ikki twins wisely decided to eliminate three guys and only one girl, leaving Elise standing as we head into Episode 3 next week.

Now, for some basketball.

There are three MAAC games on the schedule and all of them are interesting for one reason or another. I'm blogging live from Tom Gola Arena in Philly, where Rider is set to take on La Salle.

As I noted in the preview in today's paper, only one of the Explorers' eight games -- a 70-59 loss to Big 5 rival Villanova on Sunday -- has been decided by more than 10 points. Even against No. 2 UConn at the Paradise Jam, the Explorers hung in there and lost by only eight. But on the flip side, they haven't blown anyone out either, so don't expect this one to get out of hand.

Were I dumb enough to place a bet, I'd take La Salle to cover. But I also picked the Rutgers football team to beat North Carolina, then sat in astonishment as the Tar Heels won 44-12 earlier this year.

A very strange side note about this game: tip-off isn't scheduled for another hour, but according to the scoreboard on ESPN.com, Vernon Goodridge has already hit a 3-pointer to put La Salle on the board. When I saw that, I walked over to Rider sports information director Bud Focht and told him if Goodridge really does hit a 3 to open the game, I'll be really, really, really creeped out.

The other two MAAC teams in action -- Canisius and Siena -- are both on the road against Big East teams that are ranked in the top 11.

Canisius probably doesn't have much of a chance at No. 11 Syracuse, but it'll be interesting to see how the Cuse responds to the shocking loss it suffered last week when it was done in by a Cleveland State buzzer-beater from half court.

And Siena?

I'd be pretty surprised if the Saints knocked off No. 3 Pitt on the road, but I'm very interested to see how they play and whether they can keep it close. Siena has had several opportunities to show what it can do against some of the best teams in the country. The Old Spice Classic provided a few of them, and Fran McCaffer's team dissappointed. Playing Oklahoma State was another, and the Saints came up short there too.

Tonight's game will be televised nationally on ESPN2, so the country will get a good look at what's supposed to be the MAAC's best.

Lastly, since there seems to be some interest in this Iraqi shoe controversy, check out this video of White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, who was apparently injured during the commotion.

Monday, December 15, 2008

PMI, Week 1

I'm a bit more than half-way done with my vacation from desk land. With all due respect to The Trentonian and the wonderful art of page design and high school basketball agate, I could get used to this.

In the first week of my unofficial semester break, I've done a handful of chores (laundry, shopping) I'm glad are over and plenty of fun things (parties, TV-watching, sleeping in) I hadn't done in a while.

I've also watched some college hoops and poured over some stats in preparation for the season debut of the Press MAAC Index -- or PMI, for short -- my top-to-bottom rankings of MAAC teams.

As I wrote last week, December is the time when season story lines start to develop. It's also the time when teams start to accumulate enough of a body of work to come out with some sort of rankings. If it were up to me, late December, when most teams are taking a break for exams and the holidays and when most teams have completed their nonconference slates, would be when the first media and coaches polls would come out.

Were that the case, it wouldn't be completely impossible for bad teams to slip through the cracks (two years ago, UConn was ranked 10th in the country in December, then wasn't even good enough to earn an NIT bid in March), but it would be a lot tougher. Enough teams have been tested in one way or another in non-conference play (and in early league play in the MAAC) to have at least a basic idea of how teams are playing and how they're adjusting to new players and, in some cases, new coaches.

In the MAAC, for instance, we've seen enough to know that Siena probably isn't the greatest team in league history (which would have been a reasonable expectation in November), that Fairfield has taken a step into the top tier of the league, and that Loyola is really going to miss the frontcourt players it lost to graduation.

There's a lot we still don't know, and I'm sure the PMI will see some major shakeups between now and March. But now is as good a time as any to break it out.

A quick rundown of what this is and isn't. At the risk of overstating the obvious, it is not simply the MAAC standings. It also is not a rankings system based on any type of mathematical formula. It is not necessarily a ranking of which teams have the best chances of postseason play.

Simply, if I had an AP poll ballot and these 10 teams were the only teams in the country, this would be my ballot. For instance, Pitt has a higher RPI than UConn and is ahead of the Huskies in most computer ranking systems, including Ken Pomeroy's, but UConn is ahead of the Panthers in the polls because the voters simply think that right now, the Huskies are better.

For what it's worth, I'm not a huge proponent of RPI as a measurement of performance, but since it's a number people across college basketball understand and frequently use when ranking teams, I figured I might as well include it along with each team's record.

The PMI will be released every Tuesday morning. If you're up late Monday night on the East Coast or live in a more western time zone, you might read this post in the last few hours of Monday. But since it's Tuesday in Puerto Rico and the Maritime provinces and it will be soon everywhere else, I figured it'd be OK to post it now.

1. Siena (5-3, 2-0 MAAC, 117 RPI)
2. Niagara (7-2, 1-0, 55)
3. Fairfield (8-3, 2-0, 106)
4. Rider (5-2, 1-0, 142)
5. Manhattan (5-3, 1-1, 207)
6. Iona (4-5, 0-2, 128, 225)
7. Marist (3-6, 1-1, 234)
8. St. Peter's (3-6, 1-1, 230
9. Loyola (3-7, 0-2 , 255)
10. Canisius (3-6, 0-2, 222 )

A quick summary of why I ranked them this way:

Siena has clearly been less impressive than many thought it would be early on. If the Saints truly were one of the best teams in the country, I think they would have beaten Wichita State and/or Oklahoma State. But having said that, neither of those losses (and certainly not the loss to Tennessee) is a serious blemish, they've taken care of business against the teams they should have beaten, and they've given me no reason to think they're not the best team in the league.

I've been incredibly impressed with Niagara, which has played up to expectations in virtually every game and which just handily beat a half-decent South Florida team on the road. I didn't put out preseason rankings, but if I did, I would have struggled between Niagara and Fairfield for the No. 2 spot. So far, I think they've shown that Rob Garrison and Bilal Benn are good fits, Tyrone Lewis is, as expected an elite player in this league, and Benson Egemonye is a much better player than he was early in his career.

Fairfield has played well and won at least a couple of games (American and Holy Cross among them) that it wouldn't have won last year. But simply put, they've been less impressive than Niagara, who I think would have blown out Fordham even if it didn't bring it's A game.

I think those are clearly the best three teams in the league right now. I still think Rider is a title contender, but not unless the Broncs start playing a lot better than they're playing right now. Ryan Thompson has been inconsistent, nobody is shooting the ball well and one of these days, free-throw shooting is going to lose them a game.

I saw Manhattan in person last week and was impressed. I was even more impresed with the numbers Chris Smith put last weekend against Princeton, and if he continues to be a game-changer, I think the Jaspers are a dark-horse contender.

Iona has some good young players, including this week's MAAC Rookie of the Week Scott Machado, and has done some good things, none more impressive than taking Wisconsin to the wire in the Paradise Jam. ... Marist has good enough guard play to win some close games and exceed expectations. ... None of the teams in the bottom three have any real post presence or the guard play to make up for their deficiencies down low.

Lastly, before I go, I haven't gotten in any politics in a while, so a quick note: Say what you want about George W. Bush. But don't say the son of a slick-fielding Yale first baseman doesn't have cat-like reflexes.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Homecoming


I'm on vacation from my desk job, and using most of the time off to visit people throughout New England.

Yesterday, I made a guest appearance at Fairfield to check in with the crew at The Mirror and made a quick pit stop at The Grape, which, despite a small crowd because of finals, is still a must-go if you're in the area.

There were two major topics of conversation: The men's basketball team and what is now a six-game winning streak, and Elise Young's status as a new-found TV star on "A Double Shot at Love."

I was impressed with the number of Mirror staffers who actually watched last week's episode. I don't know what's going to happen next week, but I do know MTV will have better ratings in Fairfield if Elise is still around for at least another week.

As for the Fairfield men, man, they didn't make things easy on themselves last night against a really, really bad Fordham team. But let's be fair: Even though you'd have to say that the Rams wouldn't finish in the top half of the MAAC, barely winning at Rose Hill Gym isn't the same as barely winning at NJIT. And no matter where you are -- especially if you're a team that hasn't done a whole lot of early-season winning -- barely winning sure beats losing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Backup backcourt comes through

Tommy Dempsey started four guards tonight against Monmouth, and none of them did much of anything to help the Broncs offense.

Harris Mansell, still recovering from the elbow sprain he suffered in the season opener, finished 1-for-8 from 3-point range. Ryan Thompson (1-for-5) wasn't much better, and neither were Lamar Johnson (2-for-7) or Justin Robinson (0-for-2).

Add that up and despite getting enough open looks against Monmouth's matchup zone defense, that group finished 4-for-22 from long range (18 percent) and 13-for-36 from the floor (36 percent) and scored 34 points despite combining to take 38 percent of Rider's shots.

Thankfully for Rider, Matt Griffin and Pat Mansell were as good as the starters were bad. Griffin replaced Justin Robinson less than two minutes in, played for all but four minutes from that point on, and finished with six points on 2-of-4 shooting, five assists and -- here's the big number, especially given how close the game was until the final minutes -- no turovers.

It seemed like every time Pat Mansell was open, Griffin found him, and that led to Mansell finishing with 12 points (one shy of his career high, set last year against Penn State) on 4-of-5 3-point shooting.

Dempsey said after the game that Mansell and Griffin, who he said are in the gym together every morning before anyone else, are the two "hardest workers in the program." If that's the case, it certainly paid off tonight.

A few other stats that stand out in the box: Monmouth (1-10, 0-2 NEC) had 14 assists and 21 turnovers. Those numbers were 19 and 14, respectively, for Rider -- 14 and 14 if you remove Griffin. ... Astoundingly, given the relatively small gap in turnovers, Rider scored 23 points off turnovers, Monmouth only two. ... The Broncs outscored the Hawks 10-0 in fast-break points. ... In spite of the efforts by Griffin and Mansell, the Hawks' bench outscored the Broncs' 34-28. ... Rider was just 7 of 13 from the free-throw line. ... Mike Ringgold had a season-low four points in 29 minutes. ... Monmouth's Alex Nunner had a season-high 13 points and 6-foot-9 center Dutch Gaitely -- who usually plays like he's 5-9 -- had a career-high-tying 12 rebounds.

And a few other notes that I couldn't fit in the paper: If you were at the game or watching on the web stream, you may have seen Justin Robinson grimace when he exited the game early in the second half, then hold his surgically repaired knee when he was on the bench. I asked Dempsey if Robinson was OK, and the coach said the point guard just asked for a quick sub, and that he wasn't hurt. Robinson did return later in the half to briefly spell Griffin. ... Dempsey said Jermaine Jackson, who didn't play, didn't re-injure his surgically repaired knee, but that since he is slowly recovering from the injury, he needed a day off. ... Tony Graham of the Asbury Park Press wrote a story yesterday on Jhamar Youngblood, who transferred to Rider from Monmouth after leaving the team with three games to play last season. ... A scout from the Grizzlies was at the game watching Ryan Thompson.

....

Against less-than-quality opposition, the MAAC took care of business and went 4-0. Both Iona (a 68-61 winner at Long Island) and Loyola (73-70 over Coppin State) overcame second-half deficits to win. Saint Peter's cruised past NJIT, who I think has to beat Maryland Eastern Shore at home on Jan. 28 to avoid a second consecutive winless season.

I wonder if Tim O'Toole is glad after all that he wasn't offered the job.

Elise Young moves on ... and four games are on tonight's schedule

For those of you who unlike me, didn't get a chance to watch "Double Shot at Love" last night on MTV, the Ikki twins removed four men and four women from their two dozen suitors. Fortunately for MAAC basketball enthusiasts, former Fairfield guard Elise Young made the cut and will be back for Week 2 next Tuesday at 10 p.m.

Elise made a few cameos in the interview booth (if there's a more technical term, I don't know what it is, so I'm going to call it the interview booth) offering her analysis of how things were going. She was not, however, featured in any of the scenes they showed of girls getting one-on-one time with either Rikki or Ikki. I'm holding out hope we'll see some of that next week.

This show recap can catch you up on everything else.

As for basketball, four MAAC teams are in action tonight, including Rider, which hosts Monmouth at 7. Frankly, none of the MAAC teams playing tonight are facing opponents that are any good at all. The opponents -- NJIT, which hosts Saint Peter's, Long Island, which hosts Iona, and Coppin State, which plays at Iona, are a combined 4-25, with 2-4 LIU accounting for half of the wins.

It'll be interesting to see how Loyola does against Coppin State and hoe Iona does against LIU, only because those two games pit teams with relatively similar talent levels against one another. Saint Peter's right now looks like the ninth best team in the MAAC, but the Peacocks shouldn't have any problems dealing with NJIT, which hasn't won a game in almost two years. The only way that game will be worth talking about tomorrow is if Saint Peter's loses, in which case the story will be on Sportscenter and in every baketball-related web site and publication.

As for the Broncs and Hawks, who are about 90 minutes away from tip here in Lawrenceville, Rider really shouldn't have a problem winning by 20. The Broncs won last year's matchup in West Long Branch by 21, and that was when Tommy Dempsey called the dogs off early in the second half.

The Hawks, with only one player averaging better than 10 points, are 1-9. And who did that one win come against? You guessed it -- the aformentioned Highlanders from NJIT.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Elise Young's Double Shot at Love


Usually, this blog is not the place to read about MTV reality shows centered around bisexual twins.

But when the worlds of sports and romance-centered reality TV shows converge -- remember when former Giants QB and current ESPN college football analyst Jesse Palmer starred in The Bachelor? -- it's at least worth mentioning on sports blogs.

So I write today to offer a plug for MTV's Double Shot at Love, on which Elise Young (left as a Stag, below/right as a "Boston beauty"), a sharpshooting former walk-on guard at Fairfield, will be one of 12 women who, along with 12 men, will try to earn the hearts of the Ikki twins, Rikki and Vikki.

For those of you who don't have girlfriends to keep you up to date on the world of reality TV, the background for the show is as follows: Last year, MTV ran a show called "A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila" , on which 16 straight men and 16 lesbian women competed for the affection of a bisexual woman named Tila Tequila. Neither the guys nor the girls were aware that Tile was a bisexual until close to the end of the show. The contestants then shared a bed room in Tile's house for the remainder of the series.

In April, MTV ran a sequel -- "A Shot at Love with Tile Tequila 2" -- on which the rules were essentially the same, but the contestants were aware of Tile's bisexuality from the start.

"A Double Shot at Love" is a spinoff on the series, with the cool twist coming when the contestants, Young included, arrive thinking they're competing for the affection of only one twin, then realize they in fact have a "double shot" at love instead of a boring old single shot.

I am not aware of a previous MAAC basketball player taking part in a similar series, though if anyone can think of any, let me know.

I'm interested to see how Elise does. I didn't know her at Fairfield, though in addition to covering the women's team for The Mirror, I served as the color analyst for the team's radio broadcasts during the 2005-06 season. I do know in addition to being a good outside shooter, she was very well liked by her teammates and other people at school. The facebook group promoting this show has more than 400 members.

How will that all translate into her chances with Rikki and Vikki?

We'll all have to tune in tonight to find out. The first show is tonight at 10.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Story lines in December


When I was in college I became a huge fan of the month of December.

Sure, final exams were rough and there were plenty of all-nighters to write 20-page papers I put off until the very last minute possible. But classes are done by right around now (Rider's exams, for instance, started yesterday) exams are over quickly, then you get the rest of the month to just chill out, relax, watch basketball, or do whatever else you feel like doing.

It's also the time of year when, as I alluded to in my conference play post a few days ago, college basketball season starts to heat up. There is, indeed, some conference play in leagues like the MAAC that get started early. More importantly though, some of the story lines that will take us all the way to March start developing right around now.

We all know that sometimes the most important stories start and end in March. Had last year's Siena team not come from behind to beat Loyola in the MAAC semifinals -- the Saints faced a double-digit second-half deficit -- their season would have been fairly irrelevant. But they came back, crushed Rider in the MAAC title game and famously clobbered Vandy in the first round of the NCAAs.

But throughout college basketball and the MAAC, some story lines are starting to shape up. In Lawrenceville, we don't know a ton about what kind of team Rider is going to be, but we at least we know Ryan Thompson scoring in double figures isn't a prerequisite for winning.

In Albany, we don't know too much yet. Had the Saints beaten Tennessee and gone unbeaten to this point, they could have reaffirmed all the preseason hype and garnered strong consideration for the Top 25. Had they lost to Albany the other night, plenty of people would be calling them a fraud. That story line is still developing.

In Buffalo, we know that Niagara's two Big East transfers have fit in nicely. That was a prerequisite for the Purple Eagles contending for a MAAC title. I think they've played well enough so far to show that they're capable of doing that. Across town, we know the Golden Griffs just don't have it. A loss to Saint Peter's is one thing. A blowout loss in a season in which no other signs point to considerable improvement is another thing all together.

In Poughkeepsie, I have two thoughts, both of them positive, regarding the team that was picked dead last in the preseason coaches' poll:

1) Chuck Martin is the right man for the job. Young teams don't win close games unless they're exceptionally well coached. In their last two real games -- playing at Memphis isn't a real game for a team like that; it's just a pay day and, in this case, a reunion between Martin and his old boss -- the Red Foxes have two wins that were decided by a combined three points, including a gutsy win over Iona in their MAAC opener, when DeJuan Goodwin's jumper won it in the closing seconds.

2) Marist has never won a MAAC tournament title, but the program is fundamentally sound. That's evident because good coaching alone can't win games like the last two, and it doesn't seem like anyone on the Foxes' roster is afraid of playing in games that go down to the wire.

In New York, we know both teams, to quote Dennis Green, are what we thought they were. Iona is getting better, without question. Taking Wisconsin to overtime at the Paradise Jam was proof of that. But if the Gaels were THAT much better, they would have found a way to beat Marist. They get credit for taking Fairfield down to the final seconds without Gary Springer, and it remains to be seen how they'll play in the league at home. I think the story line for the year will prove to be that in many games, they're a shot here or a lucky bounce there away from a win, but they go home empty.

As for Manhattan, like their Big Apple rivals, I think the Jaspers are a year away from being really good. But neither Devon Austin nor Chris Smith nor anyone else is good enough to be the centerpiece of a real contender. At least not yet.

In Jersey City, there isn't a complete absence of talent, but I'd be shocked if the Peacocks finish better than seventh in the league.

In Baltimore, we know two things: The Hounds are going to struggle this year and the shenanigans from Jimmy Patsos (left) are going to keep on getting crazier and crazier. The latest? This e-mail, courtesy of Pete Iorizzo of the Albany Times Union, that Patsos sent to PTI's Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon. Thanks to friend of the blog and former Rider News sports editor Charlie Guthrie for sending me the link.

And in Fairfield, we know getting the students to the Arena isn't going to be easy. Trust me, it isn't Ed Cooley's fault. I don't think it's the fault of anyone in the administration either, though I don't think that's cause for Gene Doris and Co. to throw up their arms in surrender.

On that topic, just one reminder to fans who are really down on the students: Look around the MAAC. There's no shortage of schools where the student support is lacking for games on campus, let alone off campus. Even Rider, which prides itself on good student support, couldn't get more than 25 or so students to travel five miles to Trenton for a game last week against Rutgers -- an in-state rival that the Broncs beat last year for the first time in school history. And I admittedly have a big-time conflict of interest here being a Mirror alum (I even garnered an invite to the end-of-semester dinner next week), but can someone please inform me of another mid-major school whose student newspaper has live video half-time reports on its blog? There may not be students in the seats, but there are students who care a whole lot. That translates into alums who care (there's no shortage of them out there now) and that's good for the program.

As for the basketball all those students are missing, the Stags are like Rider in that they don't need their best player to take over in order for them to win. It's different for the Stags because their best player is their point guard (Jonathan Han) which means he can't just straight-up disappear if they want to succeed. But I think the story line here is depth -- not necessarily the kind that gives you 10 guys who contribute, but the kind that gives you three or four guys who can take charge on any given night. (Siena has that kind of depth with Kenny Hasbrouck, Edwin Ubilies and Alex Franklin, and no other team in the league has such a trio, which is one of the things that makes the Saints so good).

Some people call that balance, but that misrepresents it. You can have balance if everyone averages eight points per game and no one can take over. But although they lack the real star power of Siena's Big Three, Han, Warren Edney, Greg Nero (right) and Anthony Johnson can all be The Guy when needed.

This isn't to say that these story lines will dominate the season. Story lines develop at many different points of the year, but in December, right around the time professors are handing out those exams, a lot of them come into view at the same time.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Manhattan at Rider

Some idiot -- me -- forgot to put today's preview box online. So here it is.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Conference play

One of my roommates at Fairfield, who will remain anonymous to protect his reputation, used to go on 20-minute long rants about the wonder of conference play. He'd use it as a metaphor for all sorts of things in life. His point was, if it's conference play, it's time to tighten your shoe laces, drink an extra red bull, and go full throttle at the task at hand.

The best -- and weirdest -- part was that he'd do it in a Dick Vitale voice, then go on and on and on and on and and and on (OK, I know, you get it), his words coming quicker and quicker, louder and louder, exclaiming things like "we're talking about the Tar Heels and the Dukies! We're talking about the Terapins and the Deacons baby!" He, like Dickey V himself, is a bit of an ACC nut.

One time, in January of 2007, a friend of mine was leaving for a semester abroad in India. My friend was in a bittersweet mood about leaving, and wanted to live life to the fullest the day before he left. After a night at the Grape, my friend stumbled into my apartment, got down on TWO knees, and begged my Dickey-V-impersonating roomate to do the "conference play" rant.

And were my roommate waxing poetic about conference play right now, he'd have plenty to talk about regarding the MAAC -- which gets full throttle into conference play as quick as any conference in the country.

Last night, when most of college basketball was asleep, DeJuan Goodwin lifted Marist to a thrilling win -- awesome baby! -- over Iona in Chuck Martin's first conference game; Manhattan bounced back with an easy win over Canisius heading into its Sunday game at Rider, and Fairfield won its fourth straight by crushing Saint Peter's. The Stags are off to their best start since I was a freshman at FU way back in 2003-04, the season for which Tim O'Toole was named MAAC coach of the year.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Iona in 2009 Old Spice Classic

So what if it's 11 months away? ESPN announced the field for next year's Old Spice Classic, and Iona will be the MAAC representative.

The field will also include Alabama, Baylor, Creighton, Marquette, Michigan, Xavier, and a team to be named later.

Rutgers 66, Rider 62


It looked for a while in the second half like Rider might win this thing going away. Rutgers, though, had other ideas, and thanks to Earl Pettis' late-game heroics, the Scarlet Knights left Trenton with a 66-62 win over their intrastate rivals.

As is often the case when major conference teams play mid-major conference teams, I think Rutgers needed this one more than Rider. That isn't to say it wouldn't have been a big momentum builder for the Broncs, who could have made a strong statement that they're just as good as they were last year had they beaten a Rutgers team with more weapons than the one they beat last year at the RAC.

But for the Knights to lose to another mid-major and drop to 4-3 long before the tough part of the schedule begins could have been demoralizing. Fred Hill talked at his postgame presser about getting better every time out, and he said the Knights did that last night. He said that could have been the case even if they had lost, but it's tough to convince a team of that after losing to a team with inferior talent, from an inferior conference. Now, they'll play Binghamton Saturday at the RAC with a chance to improve to 6-2.

Rider, meanwhile, played well for the first 30-35 minutes, got a dazzling performance from Mike Ringgold and got something of a test for the close games that are sure to come frequently once MAAC play starts this weekend.

Manhattan comes to the Broncs Zoo on Sunday.

Today's paper has complete coverage of the Scarlet Knights' win:

The gamer.

The notebook.

A sidebar on Jersey guys getting it done.

A short sidebar on Ringgold.

And the box.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Rutgers-Rider open post

Greetings from Sovereign Bank Arena, where Rutgers and Rider are set to play for the first time in this building since the season opener in 1999.

The crowd is starting to fill up, and there's considerably more scarlet attire than cranberry attire, as one might expect.

Rider is a two-point favorite to win its second straight in the Central Jersey rivalry after losing the first 12.

Starting lineups are as follows:

Rutgers: Mike Coburn, Corey Chandler, Mike Rosario, JR Inman and Gregory Echenique

Rider: Justin Robinson, Harris Mansell, Ryan Thompson, Novar Gadson, Mike Ringgold

Update, 7:35: Mike Ringgold's putback made it 23-18 Rider with 5:46 left in the first half. We've got a pretty good crowd on hand that might be close to 4,000. Harris Mansell has hit two 3s from the left wing in the past two minutes to build Rider's lead.

Update, 7:39: Lamar Johnson's 3 from the left wing made it 30-20 Broncs with 3:18 left in the half. Mike Rosario, though, answered with a of his own to make it 30-23 and JR Inman followed with a layup that made it 32-25. Rider answered again with a Ryan Thompson dunk that made it 32-25 with 2:11 left in the half.

Update, 7:48: Rider leads 36-28 at the half.

Mike Ringgold's layup stretched the Broncs' lead to nine with 1:01 left, Rosario hit yet another 3 to bring it back to six, but Ringgold came back with another layup in traffic to stretch it back to eight at 36-28. Mike Cobburn had the ball with about 5 seconds left when a buzzer inadvertantly went off, creating some confusion, but despite Fred Hill's complainsts, the officials didn't put any time back on the clock.

Update, 8:15: Seven minutes in, and it's still Rider by 8 after a Novar Gadson jumper made it 48-40.

Update, 8:21: Anthony Farmer hit a 3 from the left corner, bringing Rutgers to within 52-48 with 9:26 left in the game.

Update, 8:25: We've got a good one. Mike Rosario's free throw made it 52-40 with 8:48 left, and after both teams failed to score in transition, that's the score at the under-8 media timeout, with 7:37 left.

Update, 8:32: Mike Ringgold is the worst free throw shooter in the country. He has no outside game. He can't handle the ball. He's not a superb passer. But man, can the guy get to the basket?? He just blew past Gregory Echenique on the baseline for a layup that drew ooohs and aahs from the Rider fans in attendance and made it 54-53 Broncs with 5:19 left.

Update, 8:40: Ryan Thompson hit a baseline fadeaway jumper over JR Inman, and with 2:06 left Rider leads 60-57.

Update, 8:44: Earl Pettis' 3 put Rutgers ahead 63-60, but Mike Ringgold's emphatic dunk made it 63-62.

Update, 8:49: Final score: Rutgers 66, Rider 62. More later.

Rutgers at Rider

Should be a good one tonight at Sovereign Bank Arena, where I'm hoping a good wireless signal -- something that was nonexistent at Lehigh and Lafayette and IS nonexistent at Alumni Gym -- will make live blogging possible.

It'll be one of the only games of the season that The Trentonian will be able to double staff, with Rutgers beat writer Ryan Feldman joining me for the Route 1 showdown, which the Broncs won last year in Piscataway for their first win in the series.

Ryan did the game day box in today's paper.

Elsewhere in Central Jersey, Princeton got whallopped last night by South Carolina. If you're a Tigers fan, just throw this one out and look at the bright side: Your team was a combined five points away from being 4-0, and if that was the case, no one would care that the Gamecocks came to Jadwin Gym and dominated. Foccus on the positives, like the emergence of Dan Davis as a go-to guy, and think optimistically heading into the Ivy season.