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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.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Jermaine Jackson

Caught up with Rider's Jermaine Jackson after practice the other day and asked him a few questions. Jackson has worked his way into Rider's starting lineup -- where he'll likely be for tonight's game against Loyola -- after having arthroscopic knee surgery in November to repair a torn meniscus. Those questions and his responses are below.

How does it feel now compared to right after the surgery?

It feels a lot better. I’d say about four weeks about the surgery it started to feel real good, and that’s when I took off the brace. I’m comfortable again.

It’s got to be tough, huh? You’re a freshman, you’re trying to play Division I college basketball, and now all of a sudden you have to deal with that too?

I’m 6-8 and about 208. These guys are 6-9, 6-10 and about 240. It’s tough. I’m quicker than them but it’s still tough.

For the first couple of games, were you not quicker than them because of your knee?

Not only that, but I was trying to get used to the offense and used to playing with the guys, so I didn’t have my quickness yet and I was trying to get a feel for the game. So early on it was (the knee) and it was knowing what was going on in the offense.

Do you feel now you’re quick enough to get by those 6-10, 240 guys?

Yeah. Now I’ll take the ball, drive it and then kick it to Harris or one of the shooters. Being quicker than those guys is helping the team a lot.

Did it feel good to crack the starting lineup last month?

Oh yeah, especially against Drexel on CN8. That was big for me. The coaches told me to just go out there and play hard – play some defense, block some shots I’d start. Ever since then, I’ve started.

After a couple of games I didn’t start and I wasn’t getting that much playing time, coach pulled me aside and talked to me and said just keep playing hard, keep going hard in practice and let it come to you, and you’ll get your time to play.

Do you feel that the game has come to you now?

Yeah, it definitely has. It feels good now.

Do you feel that now that the knee is behind you you can focus more on refining your post moves?

Yeah, especially when it comes to working with my right hand. I try to go to my right hand a lot. I’m left-handed and I go to my left a lot, but coach has been trying to get me to go right, and I’ve been working hard down low on those post moves.

Do you try to use that right hand a lot in practice?

I’ll do that on occasion. I’m so used to going with my left, but sometimes I use my right. I know I have to improve on that, so I’m trying to keep it on my right. Before practice I try to go back and forth between my left and my right.

Have you scored in a game with the right yet?

I have. It hasn’t been like drive and lay it up with my right, but I’m working on that.

In the first couple of games, were you worrying about the knee buckling or getting hurt during games?

I was definitely hesitant. I didn’t want to make the wrong move where it would twitch or get it bent in the wrong way, so I just tried to stay calm in the post. I wasn’t trying to be a scorer. I was just trying to work with the offense.

What kind of conversations did you have with Justin Robinson, who also had surgery to repair a torn meniscus?

At first I asked him how it felt afterward and what he did to keep it contained. He said it’s a quick heeling process, just get the treatment and you’ll be fine. He said after the surgery, the next morning it’s going to hurt like hell. It definitely did. But he gave me some good pointers and they helped a lot.

How long after the surgery did a stop hurting?

Well, four days after the surgery I was walking normal. I did a lot of work with Henry to develop it faster. We did a lot of squats, moved my legs up and down with some weights, a lot of moving with the ball, balancing it with weights. I did it every day before and after practice, and it got a lot stronger.

Is this where you thought you’d be about half way through your freshman year?

Definitely. Before I came here, coach said if you work hard, we’re going to need you to help the team out as much as possible. I said hey, I’m looking forward to it, and even with the surgery, I’m getting some good PT and I feel confident.

Do you feel this team is in position to be peeking in March?

Yeah. Us having two losses in Buffalo, we had to make a turnaround and we did. We feel confident. We’ve got (six of the next nine games) at home so we feel real good right now. We have that home court advantage.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Press MAAC Index, Week 7

We’ve crossed the half-way point in MAAC play, and it’s abundantly obvious that every team not named Siena is playing for second place. How safe is the Saints’ lead in the standings? Even if the unthinkable happened and they lost three of their final eight games, Niagara or Rider would have to win out just to force a tie.

And that RPI is high enough that we’re getting close to at-large bid territory in the event that they get clipped in the MAAC tournament.

So it comes as little surprise that Siena is in the top spot for the seventh week in a row. That aside, however, there are plenty of changes in this week’s Index.

1. Siena (16-5, 10-0, 20)

Saints are so good that once again, story of the week is that someone – Iona, in this case – almost beat them. Calendar still says January, but they’ve already clinched a winning record in the league.

2. Niagara (15-6, 6-3, 82)
Eagles didn’t show us much at Siena, then struggled a bit with Canisius at home. But 24 points Monday from Benson Egemonye was nice, and for now, they’re good enough to hold on to this spot.

3. Iona (10-11, 5-5, 146)
All you need to know: Since losing to Rider on New Year’s Day, Gaels are 5-2 with the losses coming at Rider and Siena by a combined two points. In spite of record, they’re awfully close to moving up another spot.

4. Rider (11-8, 6-3, 137)
What a difference a week makes. Win in hostile Alumni Hall – maybe Broncs’ most impressive victory to date -- was never in doubt, and Novar Gadson keeps getting better.

5. Loyola (10-12, 5-5, 164)
Late-game heroics at Marist made it five in a row for the Hounds. Maybe Jimmy Patsos was wrong: His team wasn’t overrated in preseason coaches’ poll.

6. Manhattan (11-9, 5-5, 191)
Loss to Iona was embarrassing, but win over Fairfield came at just the right time. Can they knock off Niagara Saturday at home?

7. Fairfield (12-9, 5-5, 93)
This incident exposed some pretty big problems, and this may be only the beginning. Can Stags put the wheels back on the bus before the season is lost?

8. Marist (7-15, 3-7, 253)
Suddenly, feel-good Foxes have dropped four straight and six out of seven. They’re closer to the bottom of the pack than the middle. Good news is somehow has to win their game Friday at reeling Fairfield. Why not them?

9. Canisius (7-13, 2-8, 205)
Is this the same team that started 0-6 in the MAAC and got blown out by Saint Peter’s? Sure doesn’t look like it – not after two wins and two respectable losses in the Griffs’ last four.

10. St. Peter’s (5-15, 2-8, 309)
Four-game losing streak will grow to seven unless Peacocks can pull off an upset in one of their next three. Lackluster start against Rider was anything but impressive.

Monday, January 26, 2009

One more tournament

Couple things to mention:

First, apologies for the two-day break. I am aware that there was basketball played over the past three days, including Rider's wins over Fairfield (was there, sitting next to legendary Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan) and Saint Peter's (was here, in The Trentonian news room, doing my best to put the paper out since my boss was out of town), and I'll touch on that tomorrow.

Also, just when you thought three postseason tournaments were enough, there's this from Collegeinsider.com, which is launching ANOTHER 16-team tournament that will compete with the Princeton-based Gazelle Group's College Basketball Invitational.

Here's the press release:

BOSTON-- CollegeInsider.com is pleased to announce the creation of theCollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, which will begin inaugural play inMarch 2009. The tournament will feature 16 teams not participating in theNCAA or National Invitational Tournament. The field will be determined afterthe official announcements of the two existing tournaments. Criteria forselection will include, but are not limited to, win-loss record, strength ofschedule, strength of conference, and final ten games.

During the 2007-08 season 67 teams, that finished .500 or better, did notparticipate in postseason play. Eleven of those 67 teams won 20 or moregames, with an additional 20 teams amassing at least 18 wins. TheCollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament will provide a second season for 16deserving college basketball programs.

The CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament is a single-eliminationtournament, consisting of four rounds, with the first three rounds beingplayed at on-campus sites, which will be determined by seeding.The inaugural championship game will be played at an on-campus site to bedetermined by seeding.

The official tournament website can be found at:http://www.collegeinsider.com/tournament
* The NCAA and the National Association of Basketball Coaches have beenconsulted throughout and are fully aware of the parameters and guidelinesestablished by CollegeInsider.com.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Keith Connors on Fairfield


In preparation for my homecoming tonight to Fairfield, I swapped Q and As with Keith Connors, who, along with Tom Cleary, makes up the best one-two college newspaper punch in the MAAC. (That's for men's hoops. For women's hoops, your guy is Chris Simmons.) My answers to Keith's questions are at the Mirror sports blog. Keith's answers to my quetions are below.

1. Can you quantify the difference between a Fairfield home game at Harbor Yard and one at Alumni Hall?

As anyone connected with Fairfield basketball will say, comparing a game at Alumni Hall and a game at Harbor Yard is the equivalent of comparing a spring training game in Tampa to a playoff game at Yankee Stadium - as much as they try, it just isn't the same. The Stags may rank second in attendance in the MAAC this season, but much of that stems from a loyal alumni network or the travel prowess of their competitors (there were no shortage of green at the Siena/Fairfield game last weekend). But ask any player or coach off the record, and they'll roll their eyes at the so called "home court advantage" of Harbor Yard.

Still, it is worth noting two things: 1) Ed Cooley has repeatedly gone on record as saying that Harbor Yard is "his home," and that he plans on establishing his program's identity through that building; and 2) in the past two seasons, the Stags have split their Alumni Hall games (first year loss in double-overtime to American; last season dropped a December game to Yale). I've been told that Cooley was so dismayed at this that the team has made an effort to practice more at Alumni Hall to feel more comfortable in a court that better simulates a "game environment".

So, to answer that question in a roundabout way, the Stags' 3-2 record at Alumni in the past three years does not give justice to the difference.

2. Seems like the Stags have really missed having Warren Edney at 100 percent. What type of impact has Yorel Hawkins had while Edney has tried to work his way back to full strength?

Edney opened eyes with his 24-point effort against Memphis on opening night, and, given his successes in the team's opening weeks (led the Stags in scoring in three of first four games), seemed poised to become the Stags' "go to guy". Then came the injury. He logged 20+ minutes against Siena last Sunday, but he looked lost from the outset and was favoring his leg while merely jogging up and down the court. There is no question he's still feeling ill effects of that Achilles' injury.

In his place, Yorel Hawkins has become a decent scoring threat at the 3 position. To better illustrate Hawkins' influence on the team's success, take these two games over break: in an abysmal road loss to Iona, Hawkins totaled a paltry three points in 28 minutes. Five days later, he totaled 10 points and 17 rebounds in a Fairfield win in Baltimore while Jimmy Patsos was having an ulcer on the sidelines.

Inconsistent? Sure. But assuming Edney returns to full strength at some point this season, Fairfield has found itself a legitimate bench option. To quote the great Joe Pa, "Teams don't lose because of injuries, they win because of them."

3. Is Greg Nero a different player this year than he was last year in spite of the back problems he's had?

It really has been night and day. Anyone that watched Nero as a freshman and then saw him again as a sophomore would have been stunned by the difference. Tom and I have heard Nero attribute much of his sophomore slump to mental errors and a lack of confidence. He even admitted his early-season struggles at the free throw line were nervousness. Chalk it up to a kid growing up. The dazed sophomore in the dog house that was often yelled at by the likes of Marty O'Sullivan is now confident, poised, and leading by example - and the numbers prove it. Fran McCaffrey said at the conclusion of last Sunday's game that Nero is back to an "All-MAAC level". I'd agree.

4. Is is true you and Tom are going to sit in the student section instead of at press row? What's up with that?

Haha. It's been an idea we've tossed around a little bit this week. As much as we love writing for 'The Mirror' and experiencing a unique look at Fairfield basketball, there is something about the mystique of Alumni Hall and seeing an on-campus showdown against Rider with second place on the line from the "other" side. After all, what college guy doesn't dream about a game like this only a few feet from his/her dorm? I can honestly say that I will definitely be covering the game, but I do miss the days when I'd tailgate and paint my face red for Bergen Catholic/Don Bosco football games in North Jersey.

5. What's your prediction?

My bold prediciton is that one of these two teams will play in the MAAC Finals, and here's why: Assuming that Siena runs away with the first-place seed, that leaves Fairfield, Rider, and Niagara to vie for the second seed and the other "bye" in the opening round (to play the winner of a PIG game). The Purple Eagles may have wiped the floor with the Broncs last weekend, but have yet to travel to Lawrenceville, and still await two games against both Siena and Fairfield (and an always dangerous NYC road swing against pesky Manhattan and Iona). I'd like to think that a tough schedule (and it's never easy travelling from Buffalo) for Niagara in the latter part of the MAAC schedule means that they will not be the MAAC's two seed.

That leaves either Fairfield or Rider. And while I have yet to see the Purple Eagles in person, I can assert that: 1) Rider did awfully well last year in the tournament and return all but one big, big part of their team, and 2) Ed Cooley is due for some tourney luck. Therefore, I'm going on record as saying either Ben or I will be blogging live on March 9th.

(Knocking on wood)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Barack Obama, basketball and Ed Cooley


On Tuesday, America caught up to basketball.

The United States joined the defending NBA champions and so many college teams – including the Craig-Robinson-coached Oregon State Beavers – in being led by a black man, a reality nearly everyone across the sports world seemed to grasp.

I watched Rider practice today and chatted with Harris Mansell and Ryan Thompson. Both said they watched Tuesday’s inauguration ceremonies and were moved by them. Mansell, who like Obama is biracial, said his mom, who’s black, called him first thing in the morning to make sure he was watching.

He said he didn’t need the reminder, that he was more than a little excited about the moment, and that as an economic major, he’d be paying close attention to the new President’s efforts to get the economy back on track.

I also talked for a half hour or so on the phone with Ed Cooley, and wrote this story for today’s paper. (My second annual homecoming game is tomorrow night, when Rider plays Fairfield in Alumni Hall).

Much has been made over the years of the lack of non-white students at Fairfield and of the administration’s failures to attract more black students.

That’s a complicated issue on which reasonable, fair-minded people have vastly different takes. But say this for the school: Cooley is, by far, its most visible and well-known figure. He is, as nearly every men’s basketball coach at non-football schools is, the de facto representative of the school to many in the public who have never heard of the Rev. Jeffrey von Arx, Mark Reed, my “uncle” Rev. Mike Doody, or any other important figures on campus.

That the school chose a black guy from the south side of Providence to be its representative, in my view, is not an insignificant factor when you’re talking about where non-white people fit in at the school.

Our conversation started with the multitude of injuries the Stags are fighting and moved on to Jonathan Han’s play and the Stags’ prospects for a good second half of the MAAC schedule.

I didn’t intend to write an Obama story, but I asked Cooley where he and/or the team watched the inauguration. He told me some of the players had class, preventing a team viewing gathering, but he made sure his wife, Nurys, was there watching with him.

He said he and Nurys were intrigued by Obama’s eloquence and potential when they watched his keynote address at the Democratic convention in Boston in 2004, and were positively moved by his candidacy, his victory on Nov. 4 and his inaugural address Tuesday.

I knew I had the makings of a story when Cooley said he planned to use a passage from Obama’s speech as a teaching tool for his players yesterday in practice.

I’m not sure if the quote will be hanging in the Stags’ locker room for the rest of the year, but you can bet Cooley won’t forget it any time soon, nor will he stop using it at the end of the year or even at the end of Obama’s presidency.

At first glance, you might not think Cooley and his predecessor, Tim O’Toole have much in common, but they’re actually quite similar.

They were both in their 30s when they were hired, they’re both firey guys who like to jump up and down and yell a lot on the sidelines, and they’re both history buffs who love using quotes from politicians, philosophers and whoever else they can summon – O’Toole once took his team to see “The Passion of the Christ” before a road game – to motivate and inspire their players.

But Cooley is different from all of his predecessors at Fairfield in that he crossed a racial barrier when he was hired – much like Obama did on Tuesday.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Almost half-way there; PMI Week 6

We’re nearing the mid-way point in the MAAC season, and here’s what we know: First, Siena, which entered the season with absurdly high expectations, has met them as far as league play is concerned.

The Saints are so good that when they play their best the opponent has no chance, and when they play their worst – even if it’s on the road – they still win. Having survived at Marist, then manhandled Fairfield in Bridgeport, it’s reasonable to at least start wondering if 18-0 is possible.

We also know that, as far as these rankings are concerned, teams in spots two through seven are really close, and there’s perfect evidence to back that point up: Marist, in the seven slot this week, beat Niagara (ranked second) by 18 when the teams met last week in Poughkeepsie.

Teams ranked nine and 10 are a step behind the rest, but no longer incapable of keeping up with the pack. Exhibit A is Canisius. The Griffs have lost to Saint Peter’s (by 18), so with one league win they’re still in the 10 spot. But they clobbered Rider, then nearly took down Iona – a two-game stretch that wouldn’t have been possible a month ago.

So here’s how I see things in Week 6 of the Index:

1. Siena (14-5, 8-0, 29)
See above. Would I bet on 18-0? Probably not, since it’s a long season and even the best teams come up small once in a while. But you’d be crazy to say it’s impossible.

2. Niagara (14-5, 5-2, 90)
Saved face with a double digit win over Rider. But as Joe Mihalich noted after the Eagles’ loss to Iona, they’re not in Siena’s class.

3. Fairfield (12-7, 5-3, 77)
Stags are in this spot because somebody has to be and they have five league wins. But Rider Friday at a sure-to-be jumpin’ Alumni Hall is a must-win.

4. Iona (9-10, 4-4, 157)
If only Jermel Jenkins’ 3 at the buzzer at Rider had gone in. … Gaels are winners of three of four and looking very much like an upper-half team.

5. Rider (9-8, 4-3, 169)
Hard to imagine that Buffalo trip having gone any worse, but Broncs still have a winning record in the league – for now.

6. Manhattan (9-8, 4-4, 215)
Jaspers – so good against Siena, so bad against Loyola – are tough to read. They’re dangerous, but as 4-4 league record shows, inconsistent.

7. Marist (7-13, 3-5, 223)
Win over Siena would have been huge. Loss at Loyola is disappointing, but Red Foxes have plenty of success ahead of them.

8. Loyola (8-12, 3-5, 178)
Just when you thought the Hounds wouldn’t be heard from again, they beat Manhattan and Marist back-to-back. Jamal Barney is MAAC’s leading scorer and further proof that Jimmy Patsos is always ready with a transfer who can take over.

9. Saint Peter’s (5-13, 2-6, 306)
Peacocks never get blown out but rarely win. Wesley Jenkins can play, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of help.

10. Canisius (6-12, 1-7, 220)
Resurgent Golden Griffs have showed they’re not pushovers. They’re young enough that a strong second half could be a springboard to big things next year.

Monday, January 19, 2009

2009 Old Spice Classic

Just got this release from the MAAC:

ESPN Regional Television, Inc. (ERT), a subsidiary of ESPN, announced today the complete field for the 2009 Old Spice Classic, to be held Thanksgiving weekend at the Milk House at Disney’s Wide World of Sports® Complex near Orlando, Fla.

Florida State rounds out the eight-team field for the fourth annual Old Spice Classic. The other teams, announced previously: Alabama, No. 21 Baylor, Creighton, Iona, No. 14 Marquette, No. 24 Michigan and No. 16 Xavier. Florida State received votes last week in The Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Three of the seven teams announced reached the 2007-08 NCAA Tournament: Xavier, Baylor, and Marquette. Xavier advanced to the Elite Eight. Creighton and Florida State participated in the National Invitation Tournament.

The 2009 Old Spice Classic, a bracket-format tournament, will feature 12 games in three days, Nov. 26, 27 and 29. Sponsors include Old Spice, ESPNU and Disney’s Wide World of Sports. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) will serve as the event’s sponsoring conference for the fourth straight year.

"Once again a stellar field in the nation's most competitive exempt contest tournament," Richard J. Ensor, Commissioner of the MAAC, said.

Each team will compete in one game per day, advancing through a bracket-tournament format. The two teams that remain undefeated throughout will face off in a championship match Sunday, Nov. 29.

The tournament is a weekend-long affair at the Walt Disney World Resort, and participating teams are invited to the Walt Disney World Resort Theme Parks and other event functions.

Last November at the Milk House, then-No. 10 Gonzaga won the 2008 Old Spice Classic with an 83-74 victory over then-No. 12 Tennessee in the championship game. Previous winners were North Carolina State in 2007 and Arkansas in 2006.

Additional information, including travel packages, can be found on the Old Spice Classic Web site at http://www.oldspiceclassic.com/. For more information on Disney’s Wide World of Sports, visit http://www.disneysports.com/.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cheers and Boos


In light of the wackiest night of the year having taken place last night in the MAAC, The Press is borrowing a feature from The Mirror and sending out cheers to those who came up big (there were many) and boos to those who came up small.

The most incredible event yesterday took place on the Hudson River, but the most incredible game took place just east of the river and about 85 miles north of that spot. Because I’m doling out cheers to both teams who played in it – and because I can’t bring myself to boo often-booed Saint Peter’s – this rendition is more cheerful than most. We’ll start in Poughkeepsie with…

Cheers to Siena. Somehow, some way, after a 15-point second-half deficit, the Saints are off to their best MAAC start in 19 years as a conference member. Nearly half-way through the league schedule, they’ve done everything you could have asked them to do, including beating a dangerous Marist team in an environment that’s rough even with students on semester break. And if there was any doubt before, there are a lot of mid-major coaches throughout the country who would love to be able to bring Kyle Downey off their bench.

Cheers to Marist. This was supposed to be the worst team in the league? If coach of the year voting were held next week, I’d do some serious campaigning for Chuck Martin, no matter what transpired in the second half and overtime last night. Let’s be clear: the momentum and confidence the Red Foxes will surely get from taking the Saints down to the wire is nowhere near what they would have gotten from a victory (talk about a potential springboard). But these guys lost six seniors and a MAAC co-rookie of the year last year, and now, no one wants to play them.

Cheers to Canisius. Four-game losing streak? Gone. Eleven-game losing streak against Rider? Gone. Notion that they don’t belong on the same court with most top-tier MAAC teams? Gone. And memories of that 102-51 embarrassment in Lawrenceville? Probably gone too after the Golden Griffs flat-out crushed Rider at the Koessler Center. And they did it without leading rebounder Chris Gadley, who missed his fourth straight game with back spasms.

Cheers to Iona. As Kevin Willard put it to Bob DiCesare of the Buffalo News: “I think Niagara’s obviously one of the top one or two teams in the conference and to come on the road and get a big road victory is huge. We lost our last three conference games by four points total. So to finally pull one out against a very good basketball team is as good as it gets for us.”

Cheers to Greg Nero. Last year, the one-time wunderkind wouldn’t have gone for 20 and 13 at Saint Peter’s. And if Nero hadn’t gone for 20 and 13 last night, the Stags – who got nothing from Anthony Johnson – would have lost a game they needed to win. And an honorable mention to Jon Han, who helped lead his team to a win with a broken nose and provoked this thought: Over the past five or six years (including the four when I was a student) the Stags have had some pretty talented players. Among those with all-conference talent, how many matched Han’s intensity and work ethic?

But …
Boos to Rider. The glass-half-full way to look at last night’s drubbing from the Broncs’ standpoint is this: league road games are hard, no matter where they are or who they’re against. And over the course of an 18-game conference schedule, most good teams – Fairfield got blown out at the Koessler Center last year -- are going to turn in a few duds. The glass-half-empty approach: with games upcoming at Niagara and Fairfield, they’ll need to play well in order to avoid a three-game losing streak that would put them back at .500 in the MAAC. And .500 after eight games is no place to be if you want to contend for a regular season title.

Boos to Niagara. Back to the Buffalo News, where Joe Mihalich’s comments are as much on the mark as Kevin Willard’s: “We got off to a good start here and people think that we’ve separated ourselves — maybe we even think that — that we’ve separated from the rest [of the conference]. We haven’t. It’s Siena and everybody else.” … A loss to Rider would make it three straight in the MAAC, making tomorrow night’s game at the Gallagher Center one both teams badly need to win.

….

A few other things to mention:

Seems like there’s a lot of support out there among fans for having the MAAC tournament at Mohegan Sun. It also seems that there’s a pretty big divide when it comes to holding it in Albany: Siena fans are overwhelmingly for it and everyone else’s fans are overwhelmingly against it.

So here’s something else to discuss: I’m told that the folks at Fairfield feel strongly that Bridgeport would give fans from around the league a great opportunity to watch their teams play and that, with say, a Fairfield-Iona final, the potential for high attendance figures at Harbor Yard is there.

As I mentioned the other day, there’s a lot of support around the league for Mohegan Sun, but the bid process won’t even take place until this spring, so there’s still time for Albany, Bridgeport, or whoever else might be in the mix, to land the tournament. What does everyone think about Bridgeport?



As a reporter, I usually try to stay neutral in elections. But I’m taking this opportunity to offer a shameless plug for my mom’s blog on fighting leukemia (Running for my Life), which is in the lead for best literary blog honors from medgadget.com. (She’s also in the running for best patient blog, but needs a miracle to pull that out. Think John Orman’s shots at winning a Senate seat in 2006). My mom, a reporter at The Republican in Springfield Mass. and a better blogger than I’ll ever be, is a trooper. She’s awaiting a third bone marrow transplant, and she’s blogging away while doing so and working on a book about the whole ordeal. So go to the site and vote for her. Voting ends at midnight tonight.

With that, I have to get going. That pesky old real job of mine is calling.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mohegan Sun


As I wrote in today's paper, Mohegan Sun looks like the frontrunner right now to host the MAAC tournament in 2012-14.

Someone with knowledge of the league's plans told me the council of presidents -- which will ultimately make the decision -- wants to put the tournament at a neutral site, at least for the time being.

The presidents won't formally accept bids until this spring, and won't make a final decision until December.

So talks that have gone on so far are just in the early stages. This doesn't mean that other neutral sites are out of the running or that it's completely impossible a place like Albany or Bridgeport could swoop in, blow the presidents away with their pitch and end of landing the tournament.

But it looks like right now, Mohegan Sun is the frontrunner.

As we discussed last summer, it's a little out of the way for some folks, since to get there you have to drive past Fairfield -- the MAAC's eastern-most school -- on I-95, then keep going for another 65 miles.

It's not an apples to apples comparison because Baltimore is so far from most of the other schools and Fairfield is relatively close, but that'd be a little like having the tournament in Washington, DC, which is 40 miles south of Loyola, the southern-most school in the league.

But if you're shooting for a purely neautral site, this fits the bill. Fairfield is the closest school, but Fairfield fans are going to have to get in a car and drive and hour and a half, meaning their drive isn't much shorter than fans of other schools in the New York area.

Clearly, there's no shortage of lodging and/or entertainment options at Mohegan Sun. The question I think needs to be asked is this: is it close enough that fans who don't want to pay for a hotel room will make one or more day trips to watch their teams play?

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A long train ride, and Week 5 of the Press MAAC Index

A few things to mention before we get to the PMI:

I’m in New York, blogging from the impromptu desk I set up at the kitchen counter in my girlfriend’s apartment. Normally, I drive here, and it takes about an hour and a half.

But last night, since I didn’t have to be anywhere today and since parking in the city is a major pain, I decided to take the train. I’d go easy on the environment and leave my car at home, my thinking went.

Little did I know what would transpire on my train ride.

When my train got to Linden station – a little more than half way to the City -- the conductor announced that there was a police investigation ahead of us concerning a “trespasser.”

It turns out, “trespasser” is conductor lingo for someone who walked, ran or fell on to the tracks, and in this case, the “tresspasser” was hit by a train ahead of us and killed.

No word yet on what exactly happened, other than a New Jersey Transit spokesman announcing the victim was an adult.

On a less gloomy note, the good thing about being in New York train stations (I finally got to Penn Station five hours after I left Hamilton) if you’re a New Englander is you can get your hands on a Boston Globe. I read it primarily for the sports, so I enjoyed today’s coverage of Jim Rice’s election to the Hall of Fame when I took the subway to Grand Central station to pick one up today. (Don’t worry. I’m only a little crazy. It’s only two stops on the subway, so it was a short expedition)

Yesterday, though, I read this story about a guy in Maine with an interesting idea on how to revive his business during tough economic times.

With that, here’s the Index for Week 5.

1. Siena (12-5, 6-0, 35)
Saints are off to best conference start in nine years. After Niagara’s blowout loss, it couldn’t be more clear who’s the top dog.

2. Niagara (13-4, 4-1, 82)
Loss at Marist hurts, but with Siena looming ahead on schedule, a loss at home to Iona or Rider would hurt more. Still, though, overall resume is impressive, and everyone’s allowed a dud once in a while.

3. Rider (9-6, 4-1, 165)
Win over Iona wasn’t pretty, but league record – same as it was after five games last year – is. Four-game road trip to Buffalo, Fairfield (not Bridgeport) and Jersey City is up next.

4. Manhattan (9-7, 3-3, 182)
Took care of business against Marist, then almost knocked off Siena for the second straight year. Schedule ahead is favorable, with four of next five at home. Can they go 4-1 in that stretch?

5. Fairfield (11-6, 4-2, 89)
League record is incredibly deceiving, and down-to-the-wire game against dreadful Canisius is not a good sign. This time, they can’t wait ’til February to turn it on.

6. Marist (7-11, 3-3, 197)
Upstart Red Foxes are 3-0 in league home games with a rout of Niagara, and Ryan Schneider (16.3 points, 8.8 boards per game) is at least a second-team all-MAAC performer.

7. Iona (7-10, 2-4, 202)
Good news: Scott Machado – probably the MAAC rookie of the year if the vote were today -- keeps getting better. Bad news: there just aren’t enough parts right now to be a top-half-of-the-league team.

8. Loyola (5-12, 1-5, 192)
Loss to Saint Peter’s really stings, and whatever hopes Hounds may have had of being in the title race are long gone. But they’re still dangerous for a bottom-tier team.

9. St. Peters (5-11, 2-4, 306)
Hey, things could be worse. Win over Loyola was nice, but there aren’t many easy ones left on the schedule.

10. Canisius (5-11, 0-6, 222)
Win over Fairfield would have been a major boost. They’ve got Rider and Iona at home before a brutal four-game road trip.

Talking football ... and spacing out


The announced attendance at Sunday’s Rider-Iona came was 611. Not 1,611. Just plain old 611. It’s semester break, which means no students and naturally lower attendance, but that means at least 600 to 700 people would have gone to the game but stayed home to watch the Eagles-Giants playoff game on TV.

At least a few dozen of those people were wearing Eagles or Giants jerseys, and at half-time, a whole bunch of people were gathered around the flat-screen TV outside the gym entrance watching the game.

Lawrenceville is just about on the dividing line between Giants territory and Eagles territory, Tommy Dempsey is a proud Giants fan, and just about every Rider player is an Eagles fan, so maybe it was inevitable that at the Broncs’ postgame press conference, there were about 9,000 references to the Jints-Birds game that concluded around the time the conclusion of the Broncs’ heartburn-inducing 70-69 win over the Gaels.

I’m not going to lie. I’m occasionally prone to do and/or say outrageously stupid things. I’m not saying that I’m a male, sportswriting, basketball-obsessed, blogging, vocally and aesthetically challenged version of Jessica Simpson. But occasionally my mind just isn’t where it needs to be.

I’m not saying the same thing is true about Ryan Thompson, but both Thompson and I had Donovan McNabb moments of cluelessness within about 30 seconds of one another.

A brief rundown of the exchange between Thompson, me and Dempsey goes as follows:

Thompson was describing to reporters what was going through his mind before he made a free-throw with 3.3 seconds left to produce Rider’s margin of victory when he channeled McNabb and said the following:

“Having your leader miss a big shot at a big time kind of puts everyone down. I didn’t want to have my teammates have to go through another 10-minute overtime, or however many minutes it is.”

That’s right. The same guy who hit a running layup last year in the very same gym against the very same Iona team to force a FIVE-minute overtime, at the moment, for whatever reason, thought overtimes were twice as long as they actually are.

Thompson has played in almost 100 college basketball games, countless games in high school, summer leagues, showcases, you name it, and there’s no way he really doesn’t know how long overtime is. But at that moment, he didn’t know what the heck was going on.

Dempsey, sitting next to him, chimed in and said “it’s five minutes, Donovan,” after which I informed Dempsey that the last I had seen, the Giants were on the verge of losing to the Eagles.

Dempsey responded by saying “there’s only one game I was focused on today and it just ended.”

I was sitting there, silently wondering if the Eagles had in fact finished off the Giants, and as I was spacing out, the words “there’s only one game I was focused on today,” went one ear and out the other. All I heard was “it just ended,” and thought, with absolutely no justification, that Dempsey was informing me the football game had ended.

Then came my Jessica Simpson moment, in which I blurted out “oh, did it end?”

Dempsey looked at me like I was either stupid, crazy, utterly clueless, on some sort of drugs, or all of the above, laughed, and said “that wasn’t the game I was worried about.”

As idiotic as McNabb not knowing NFL games can, in fact, end in ties? Probably not, but I hope all the Eagles fans who had been piling on McNabb after tie-gate and have openly loathed him since they booed him on draft day cut him some slack now that he’s led their beloved Birds to another NFC title game.

As for Rider, the Broncs are leaving today at noon for Buffalo, where they'll take on Canisius and Niagara before returning to the New York area to play Fairfield on Jan. 23 in what's sure to be a rowdy Alumni Hall. I will not be joining them in Buffalo, meaning my consecutive games streak will end at 15 for the year. Not bad though, right?

As for the rest of the MAAC, there could be some movement in the PMI, which I'll post later today.

And don't worry. I won't space out and forget.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saturday notebook

I'm back from Albany, the only city in the MAAC with Big-East-level hoopla surrounding every game and a bar underneath the arena.

There are no MAAC games today, but here are a few notes:

* Can anyone think of another MAAC game in which 10 players scored in double figures? That's what happened last night, when Siena (Edwin Ubiles with 19, Kenny Hasbrouck with 18, Alex Franklin with 15, Ronald Moore with 13 and Kyle Downey with 11) and Rider (Harris Mansell with 19, Ryan Thompson and Mike Ringgold with 16 apiece, Novar Gadson with 14 and Justin Robinson with 11) each had five.

* Among the most eye-opening stats I've seen this year was the 17-rebound performance put up last night by Fairfield's Yorel Hawkins in the Stags' 63-60 win at Loyola. Hawkins, who started at small forward in place of the injured Warren Edney, had been averaging 3.2 boards per game coming in, but his effort helped the Stags get a win they desperately needed after dropping two straight in the MAAC.

* Speaking of desperately-needed wins, Manhattan got one last night at home against Marist. It may not have happened had Antoine Pearson not given the Jaspers 20 points in 38 minutes, but if you're a Manhattan fan, you've got to be content being 3-2 in the MAAC heading into tomorrow's game against Siena.

* My pick for the most intriguing game on tomorrow's schedule is Marist at Niagara. The Purple Eagles had a little bit of trouble winning at Saint Peter's last night, the McCann Center is a tough place to play, and the Red Foxes are dangerous despite being 6-11 overall and 2-3 in the MAAC.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Thoughts on Rider-Siena


Let me start by saying this: whenever a team is happy with a losing performance, it speaks volumes about the team to which said team lost. Such was the case in Week 17 of the NFL season last year, when the Giants used a loss to the then-unbeaten Patriots as a springboard to a Super Bowl title.

In this case, Siena is the Patriots. That's not to say that they'll be unbeaten in the MAAC into March only to lose the conference title game. It's simply to say that the Saints are so clearly the best team in this conference that merely contending with them for 35 minutes is almost a cause for celebration.

But the 91-81 loss Rider just suffered was proof that the Broncs aren't in over their heads when facing the Saints, even at the Times Union Center.

This was a game that Rider never led by more than two points, but the Broncs were in it until the final minutes. If Novar Gadson didn't foolishly slap the backboard after a dunk with 7:32 left, warranting a technical, the Broncs would have been in position to get a stop, then cut the deficit to one possession.

Instead, Kyle Downey hit the ensuing free throws to stretch the lead back to six, and after Ryan Thompson scored to get the Broncs back within four, Siena ran away and hid. I'd be shocked if Edwin Ubilies' 360 dunk with 25 seconds left isn't on Sportscenter tonight -- it may even be on the top 10 plays list -- but until then, there wasn't one point when the crowd had reason to stand, cheer and go nuts.

Rider isn't the only team to play Siena close in Albany. Fairfield -- which got a desperately needed win tonight at Loyola -- made the Saints sweat even more and lost by only six. But given the way Rider struggled throughout December, this loss may mean just as much going forward as any of the three MAAC wins it has recorded so far.

Rider-Siena; Spare quotes

I'm at the Times Union Center, it's 14 minutes before the tip-off between the Rider and Siena women, there are about 20 people in the stands, and I have some time to kill. So I'm emptying my digital recorder and dumping some Rider quotes on to the blog.

We'll start with Siena coach Fran McCaffery on the Broncs.

Ryan Thompson, McCaffery said, "is oen of the best players in our league. I know Novar Gadson has been an impact freshman. I think Justin Robinson is playing extremely well. Mike Ringgold has stepped up and been more active with the departure of Jason. It's a team that I think has a lot of weapons."

Those weapons will be tested tonight against the Saints, who to the surprise of no one, are unbeaten in the MAAC.

But as noted in today's advance, the Broncs are confident that they have a chance -- something that wouldn't have been the case two weeks ago. Why?

"Yes, because Harris is back," Dempsey said, "but also because we’ve been getting better in practice. The young kids have been getting better."

After giving up runs against La Salle, Binghamton and Drexel that proved impossible to overcome, the Broncs have been much better on defense in their past two games, holding Iona and Marist to an average of 55 points per game.

That thought prvoked a bit of an eye-opener from Mike Ringgold.

"If we play defense, we should win the championship," Ringgold said. "We’ve got the talent to do it on the offensive end, and I definitely see the improvement. We’re just making progress in every game.�"

Did Dempsey agree with that assertion?

"I think we’ll be a contender if we take care of the defensive end," he said. "That’s where our focus is. We score the ball pretty well but we’re not going to score it as easily as we did last year, so we need to make sure teams aren’t scoring it as easily as us. We’ve really made a commitment to defense. I thought it showed up at Iona, I thought it showed up for 20 minutes (against Marist) and we have to continue to focus on that. Guys have to understand the importance of it. We have to defend to contend. That’s basically the way we look at it right now."

...

Late in the second half against Marist, Ringgold threw down a dunk while being fouled by Ryan Schneider.

Dempsey said he'd like to see more of Rider's younger players -- Novar Gadson comes to mind -- play with what he called Ringgold's "I'm going to dunk on you" mentality.

"I think our young kids need to develop because they’re such good athletes and they’re good off the dribble, so they have an advantage where they can drive it by post players," he said. "And when they drive it by they have to attack the rim a little bit better. That’s something that we talk about but the reality is you’ve got to have that edge mentally�." �

Pete Iorizzo on Siena

Among the five MAAC games on tonight's schedule is a rematch of last year's title game between Rider and Siena.

Both teams are unbeaten in the MAAC, the game's on TV (ESPNU) and I'd consider the highlight of a five-game MAAC slate that also includes the renewal of the increasinly bitter Fairfield-Loyola rivalry.

For some extra insight on Siena, I traded questions with Pete Iorizzo, who covers the Saints for the Albany Times Union and on his always-informative blog.

Here are my questions and Pete's answers.

Q: The Saints got some pretty serious pre-season hype. Have they justified it?

A: Yes and no.In one sense, Siena’s done almost everything that could be reasonably expected. The only “bad” loss came in the Old Spice Classic, when Siena fell 72-70 to Wichita State. Since then, Siena’s won eight of 10 games, with the only two losses at Pittsburgh and at Kansas.

On the other hand, Siena couldn’t possibly live up to some of the ridiculous preseason expectations.

Siena’s not a fringe Top 25 team, as was suggested in some quarters. It’s a very good, above average mid-major team.

But one of the 25 best teams in the country? No.

Kenny Hasbrouck, the preseason MAAC player of the year, is averaging just over 12 points. Is he underachieving or just sharing the wealth?

Hasbrouck, as even he would admit, underachieved for about a monthlong stretch. He acknowledged that he was saddled with some mental baggage – all the expectations, all of his NBA dreams, etc. That, combined with all the attention he receives from opposing defenses, sent him into a slump.

But he’s out of it now. He’s reached double-figures in the past four games after getting there just four times in the previous nine. During these past four games, he’s averaged 16.3 points and shot 44 percent from 3-point range. Those are the kind of numbers Siena fans are much more accustomed to seeing.

What's gotten into Ryan Rossiter? And who else that might have been under the radar entering the year has really stepped up?

Rossiter is easily the most improved player on the roster. He runs the floor well for a big man, which gets him lots of easy scores in transition. He’s also worked hard on his low-post moves, so he’s an option in the motion offense that Siena didn’t have in the past.

Also, keep an eye on Clarence Jackson, who should be the first guard off the bench. Jackson, a 6-3 off guard, is shooting just 26.6 percent from 3 for the season, but he’s capable of much better. He’s effective off the dribble, too, when defenders fly out on him.

It's pretty clear Siena fans don't like Rider very much. From a Saints viewpoint, is this a brewing rivalry, or are the Broncs just one of many teams that happen to be gunning for Siena's crown?

Though the first statement certainly seems to be true, I haven’t heard anything out of the players to suggest this is a major rivalry. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the quotes from Rider players earlier this season are hanging in the locker room. I do know at least a couple players heard about those.

What's your prediction?

Rider looks like a team that will get better as the season goes along. It will be a serious threat to knock off Siena at Alumni Gym, I think, but I don’t see it happening Friday. Siena wins, 79-71.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

PMI, Week 4

Let's get right to it:

1. Siena (10-4, 4-0, 43)
Kenny Hasbrouck is averaging less than 12 points per game, but the Saints keep on winning, mostly with relative ease, and they’re still the class act of the league until someone proves they’re not.

2. Niagara (12-3, 3-0, 57)
Could Rob Garrison (18 points last night in the Eagles’ 82-70 win over Loyola) and Bilal Benn have fit in any better? Don’t be surprised if they’re 6-0 in the MAAC when they play at Siena Jan. 24.

3. Rider (8-5, 3-0, 171)
How did the resurgent Broncs jump two spots from last week? By convincingly winning two conference games they might not have won in late December. They’re 3-0 in the MAAC for the first time in four years, with a shot at Siena coming up on Friday. They have a chance.

4. Fairfield (8-6, 2-2, 100)
The Iona loss hurts, and so does not having Warren Edney. Is this a conference title contender or not? If it is, we’re still looking for some evidence.

5. Iona (6-9, 1-3, 210)
Gary Springer is back. Are the Gaels? Maybe, but someone other than Springer needs to emerge as a consistent double-figure scorer.

6. Manhattan (8-6, 2-2, 212)
Trying to figure out which is worse: the 19-point loss at Niagara or the two-point win at Canisius. That impressive three-game winning streak seems like a decade ago.

7. Loyola (5-10, 1-3, 136)
Who, you ask, is Jamal Barney? Try the MAAC player of the week, the Hounds’ leading scorer at 16 points per game, and the owner of an eye-opening 41-point performance in an 86-62 thumping of Canisius. Record is unimpressive, but stock is rising, and so is PMI rating.

8. Marist (6-10, 2-2, 215)
Who knew Ryan Schneider would turn into a 16 ppg scorer? Maybe Chuck Martin, who says Schneider called him nearly every day over the summer to inquire about Martin’s plans for the Red Foxes and showed a spark early on in practice.

9. Saint Peter’s (4-10, 1-3, 310)
If John Dunne can turn the Peacocks into winners, maybe he can fix the economy too.

10. Canisius (0-4, 5-9, 207)
If the Griffs lose at Marist on Jan. 23, they could go 0-for-January.
Bring back the bright yellow kicks?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Q and A with Jason Thompson


There was quite a scene today at Alumni Gym, where Rider retired Jason Thompson's No. 1 before beating Marist 76-65.

Just about everyone in the gym was there to see Thompson, including his former high school rival-turned-roommate/teammate, Kam Warner.

Before the ceremony, Thompson sat down with reporters in Tommy Dempsey's office. Here's the transcript:

Q: Can you talk about what this means to you?

A: It’s a great thing. I’d be lying if I said when I was coming in as a freshman that I would be in this situation. I didn’t know what to expect. It just shows that all the hard work I put in for four years has paid off. I got a lost of respect now just on the court when I was here but also off as well.

Q. Were you in this office when you were a high school kid, being recruited by coach Don Harnum?

A: I was. I remember being right here in this seat, having my unofficial visit, having my official visit, just looking at how I was going to be able to fit in for this team and being here four years later, being in a league when I always wanted to be in as a little kid is a dream come true. I’m proud to be in this situation.

Q: In hindsight, I guess you fit in pretty well at Rider.

A: Yeah, I get a lot of respect here. I loved playing here. I had a lot of family and I’m close to a lot of people here.

Q: How does it feel to not only have your number retired but to have it retired so soon?

A: That was the thing that I really respect. I’m just blessed. A lot of people respect me on and off the court. I wouldn’t have expected it to happen at all. Having it happen this early is a great thing. To be able to play against a local team (the Nets) and be able to watch a game and celebrate having my jersey retired, it’s a great thing.

Q: How about being in the NBA and walking in here, seeing all these people?

A: It’s a feeling I never thought I would have. I had chills when I first got here just watching my brother and watching my teammates, knowing that I was here this time last year and now I’m watching, and it’s not that I’m injured or anything like that, it’s just that I’m at another level. It’s a good thing and I’m here to support not just getting my jersey retired, but I’m still a fan of the Rider Broncs.

Q: Your former teammate and roommate Kam Warner said he watches every game on TV via the NBA pay per view package. How does that make you feel?

A: That’s my man. That’s my guy. We came in here both as freshmen and graduated as seniors and he’s been my roommate since we got here. We keep in contact, but he’s not the only one who supports me. A lot of people support me – teammates, family, friends – I know the NBA is making a lot of money on the NBA package since we have west coast games and a lot of people are losing sleep because it’s a three hour difference. That’s just all the support and love that I get and I’m appreciative for it.

Q: Talk about how things are going in your rookie year.

A: I came in and made a little bit of history, the first game of the season, starting out with a double-double. I’ve been playing the 3, 4 and 5. It’s been a tough situation. We haven’t been winning as much as I’ve been used to. We got our coach fired and we have an interim coach so I’m going through adversity right now. I feel like for you to be on top you have to be on the bottom at some point and I feel like we’re there learning and hopefully I won’t be in this situation again.

Q: When you were at Rider, the situation was different in that Don Harnum was promoted, not fired, but you had an interim coach in Tommy Dempsey and you lost 20 games your sophomore year. Did that help prepare you at all for the situation you’re in now?

A: That situation was kind of different because Coach Dempsey was really vocal and I had a good relationship with him from the start but it had it’s similarities and differences. But for the most part, I kind of know both coaches so it wasn’t as tough. Harnum and Dempsey’s systems were similar. I had more time to learn Dempsey’s system and it obviously worked in the long run.

Q: How much do you talk to Ryan and what do you talk about?

A: We talk all the time. We talk about him being the leader of the team. He’s going to have ups and downs. He’s going to have good games and bad games, but his team is young and they’re going to need him to be a leader. It’s easy to be a leader when things are going to good, but the young guys are going to need him when they’re losing and they go through a losing streak. That’s when it’s really important for him to lead?

Q: Did you talk to him about this particular game?

A: I said man, you guys have to excite the crowd, excite me, get some highlights in and have a celebration here. You guys can’t do me wrong and get an L on this day. You have to go out with a W.

Q: Will you work out with Ryan this summer?

A: We’ll see what happens. I’m obviously going to take a little bit of much-needed vacation. But we’ll see what situation he’s in. Obviously, he has another year of college left so we’ll see what he’s going to do. I haven’t thought about that yet.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Today's games

Greetings from Alumni Gym, where the Marist women have a 20-6 lead on Rider in the first game of a men's-women's doubleheader.

Jason Thompson is on his way here for a ceremony in which his number will be retired five minutes prior to the tip between the Broncs and the upstart Red Foxes.

Elsewhere in the MAAC, Siena is set to host Saint Peter's and Iona is set to host Fairfield.

Let's face it: there's simply no way Saint Peter's is going to hang for Siena for very long. But the other two games are pretty intriguing.

There's no way anyone saw Marist, picked dead last in the MAAC for good reason, was going to be 2-1 after three league games. But Ryan Schneider has really stepped up, David Devezin is solid in the backcourt, and clearly, Chuck Martin knows what he's doing.

I talked to Tommy Dempsey the other day about the Red Foxes, and he said in addition to Martin's basketball IQ and successful implementation of John Calipario's drible-drive motion offense, it's obvious to everyone in the league that the players love playing for Martin and have rallied around him.

It's a game Rider really should win, but that doesn't mean the Broncs won't be happy to be 3-0 in the MAAC, especially after the way things were going a week ago.

In New Rochelle, it's a big game for both teams. It's tough to imagine Iona being a contender for a regular season title right now, but it'd be a whole lot less likely if the Gaels slip to 0-4.

Fairfield, though, needs the game just as badly. They have superior talent, they won the first meeting last month in Bridgeport, and they need to beat the Ionas and Manhattans of the world if they're going to contend with Siena and Niagara for a title.

Once again, I'll be immersed in the wonderful land of page design and desk work, so you won't get a post til after midnight. Until then, enjoy the playoff football and MAAC basketball.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Jason Thompson

Jason Thompson will be at Rider tomorrow for a ceremony in which his jersey No. 1 will be retired.

He's the subject of the sports cover story in today's paper.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Thoughts on Day 1 of the calendar year

It's been a looooooooooooong day and now that Cincinnati appears just about done in the Orange Bowl, I'm about to head to bed. The Trentonian has new deadlines, which prevent us from getting a lot of late games (the one I'm watching included) in the paper, but which allow me to leave at a slightly more reasonable hour. Since I'll be getting out before midnight most of the time, I'm hoping to have a bit more time for the Blog.

So while I have a minute and before I fall asleep, a few thoughts on today's games:

It may be tough to overstate the significane of today's win for Rider.

I don't think it'd be a stretch to say that this could be the start of a significant turnaround. The Broncs host Marist Sunday at Alumni Gym, so we'll see fairly quickly if they can continue to do the good things they did today. If they do, they'll be 3-0 in the MAAC, which, after the way they looked in their last four games, is something with which Rider fans should be extremely pleased.

There's a lot of basketball left to be played, but a loss today may have been tough to overcome in terms of contending for a conference title. Had they lost, they'd be riding a three-game skid into Sunday's game and already have a MAAC loss before playing any games against Siena, Niagara and Fairfield. They also would have absolutely no reason to be confident with 16 MAAC games still ahead of them.

But they beat an Iona team that included Gary Springer, they did it on the road, and they did it convincingly.

Harris Mansell played wearing a sleave on his right elbow. He said he took a substance similar to IcyHot before the game, though he wasn't sure exactly what it was, and that his elbow felt "pretty good" while attempting 11 shots, 10 from 3-point range.

A whole lot is going to depend on how that elbow holds up. If it holds up well enough for Mansell to be a 35 percent 3-point shooter and a reliable scorer, there could be more good things to come.

No one in Iona's backcourt stepped up

Springer played well today, scoring 13 points in 17 minutes off the bench, and proving difficult as ever for Rider to slow down in the low post. He took six shots, all of them layups or dunks, and made them all. But he and Milan Prodanovic (12 points) were the only Gaels in double figures. Rider, by contrast, had four players in double figures.

I'm sure Kevin Willard would have liked more from Devon Clarke, who scored only three points in 22 minutes. Prodanovic, who has one of the sweetest strokes in the MAAC, scored 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting. But Trinity Fields and Scott Machado were a combined 3-for-13 from the floor, and that was a major reason the Gaels didn't do much offensively.

Fairfield needs help in the backcourt

The glass-half-full view of the way Ed Cooley divied out minutes today is that 11 players played. The glass-half-empty approach is that neither Jamal Turner (1o minutes) nor Lyndon Jordan (5) nor Sean Crawford (2) has emerged as the kind of reliable reserve who can play 20-25 minutes and help the offense run. Jon Han was a pre-season first-team all-MAAC pick for a reason, but he can't carry the entire backcourt load by himself, and Warren Edney's injury further necesitates somebody else stepping up.

Edney, by the way, had been one of the biggest reasons for Fairfield's improvement. It'd be a shame if the tendonitis that's been plaguing him keeps him from being a major factor in January and February.

As for what losing to Siena means, here's my take: I think Fairfield fans should be extremely disappointed the Stags didn't bring home a statement victory, and here's why: in years past, it would have been perfectly reasonable to consider a six-point loss on the road a good showing -- a showing that proved Fairfield belongs on the same court with Siena. But in years past, merely putting up a respectable showing was often (though there were a few exceptions) all the Stags were capable of and all they ever did.

Regardless of Siena's standing as a dominant power, this is Fairfield's best chance to win the league in at least four years. Han will be gone next year, and there's no telling what his absence could mean, especially with the lack of a clear heir apparent waiting in the wings. So there can't be a 'wait til next year' approach.

This is not to say that it's doom and gloom at 1073 North Benson. The Stags will get another shot at Siena during the regular season (Jan. 17 in Bridgeport) and potentially yet another during the MAAC tournament.

It's simply to say that it isn't enough to say 'Oh well, it's Siena on the road. What more could they do?'

The bottom line is somebody is going to have to beat Siena on the road, or the Saints will march right on back to the NCAA tournament. Had Fairfield done that today, it would have sent a statement that it's more than capable of being that team. That the Stags didn't do that should be -- and I suspect is -- a source of great frustration among players, coaches and fans.

New Year's Day showdowns

No, I'm not talking about USC-Penn State, Michigan State-Georgia or Cincinnati-Virginia Tech.

I'm talking about Rider-Iona and Fairfield-Siena.

I'm sitting courtside at the Hynes Athletic Center in New Rochelle, where there are twice as many players, coaches and officials than there are fans. Here's to hoping some people in the area drag themsevels out of bed and get there. I texted Mike Vitale, a friend of mine from Fairfield who was a lightening-quick guard at Iona Prep before becoming the sports director at WVOF, and he said he wasn't going to make it, but that he might come to the Fairfield game here on Sunday.

Oh well. This should be a good one nonetheless. Harris Mansell is on the court now for warmups and will be in the starting lineup. I talked to Rider assistant coach Todd Shellenberger a little while ago and he said Mansell has looked great the past few days in practice. His right (shooting) elbow is wrapped, but Shellenberger said he hasn't had problems shooting the ball. We'll see how that plays out during the game. If he's on, I think Rider has a good chance to win. If he isn't, I like the Gaels by 10.

This, though, is not the premier game on the docket. That distinction goes to the one that's 22 minutes from tip-off in Albany: Fairfield at Siena.

I have never placed a bet on anything aside from a friendly wager with friends and co-workers here and there, nor do I ever plan to. But my boss's dad is quite the gambler, I correctly told him Rutgers, getting 33 points would cover last week at Norht Carolina, and I told my boss to tell his dad Fairfield plus 12 today is a great bet. I'm not saying the Stags are going to win -- although they did last year at the TUC -- but I really think it's going to go down to the wire. Something like 68-65 Siena would be my best shot at a prediction.

No matter what happens, though, it'll tell us something about both teams. The Saints have stubbed their toes a couple of times this year, but if they win and improve to 3-0 in the MAAC, they'll be exactly where they need to be. It's not a must-win for Fairfild, but man, that'd be a heckuva win for a team that has been impressive so far but lacks a statement victory.

If anyone is listening/watching online, I'll be Steve Rudenstein's guest on the Rider half-time show.

I have to trek back down I-95 to work in the office tonight, so my next post won't be til much later. But I promise there will be one. So kick back, relax, and have a happy college sports-filled New Year, and I'll talk to you later on.