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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, February 27, 2009

Back at it


This is not a good time to miss anything in college basketball, and with that in mind, we missed what could have been a good week of blogging.

But I’m back, I’m in good spirits, and if all goes well, the blog should be essentially going full throttle in the days leading up to the MAAC tournament.

I was not in Baltimore, so I didn’t see Rider’s come-from-behind win over Loyola or the scuffle that ensued after the buzzer. The Trentonian’s Josh Norris was in greater Washington visiting some friends, so he was scheduled to do the game regardless of where I was.

I’m happy to say, though, that I’m back in New Jersey and ready for a good college hoops weekend, including Fairfield-Rider on Sunday.

As I mentioned last week and have mentioned a few times throughout the year, my mom – a Division III forward-turned-reporter-turned-blogger – has been fighting her third bout with Leukemia for the past couple of months.

Things hadn’t been going so well for the past two weeks and they REALLY weren’t going well a few days ago. That’s why I spent three days in Massachusetts, away from the blog and from work in general.

But I’m happy to report that she’s made substantial progress in the past few days (the lyrics don’t exactly fit except for the key line in the chorus, but we’ve adopted “Feeling Stronger Every Day” by Chicago is her theme song), and the blog’s hiatus, for now, is over.

Apologies for missing the PMI. Had I posted it Thursday, it wouldn’t have really even been late, since every team in the MAAC had Sunday through Wednesday off. But I didn’t get around to doing it, the weekend has essentially already begun, and I think it’d be best to just skip it and do a final regular season edition on Tuesday.

As for tonight, I’d love to find a bar with ESPNU and watch Siena-Niagara. Can’t do that cuz I’ve got desk duty, but for those who are able to watch, it should be one last regular-season treat before everyone gets into tournament mode.

Both teams were REALLY impressive in their BracketBuster wins, though I thought Niagara’s defense stood out more than any other aspect of any of the games. Both have reason to be confident. Both, regardless of what happens tonight, will be favored to go to the MAAC tournament title game.

But for the Purple Eagles to really feel like they can hang with the Saints in Albany, they’ll need a good showing tonight. I don’t think they need a win to prove that to themselves, and I think they’re a virtual NIT lock no matter what happens, so they don’t need a W on that front either.

But the Eagles turned in a lackluster performance when the teams met in Albany, and if they’re on Siena’s level, they’ll show up tonight in a big way.


Good job by the Siena fans who responded to the question I posed in my last post about the venom some folks have for Rider. I don’t have to look it up to know that the 23 comments is the most we’ve had on a single post. Hopefully we can generate some good discussion in the next couple of weeks and break that record.

Had a chance, while I was home in Massachusetts, to watch a little college hoops on TV – something I don’t get to do nearly as much as I’d like to because of the night desk schedule.

My dad is a long-time UConn fan who had been impressed with the Huskies in my aspects but worried sick about their lack of perimeter shooting. A.J. Price’s performance Wednesday against Marquette made him feel a bit better. … Speaking of UConn and Marquette, and everyone else in the Big East: recession or no recession, scalpers are going to make a pretty penny outside the Garden for the Big East tournament. It’s next to impossible to argue this won’t be the deepest field ever at a conference tournament.

Staying in the Big East: I spent a few hours a day driving in New England over the past few days and listening to WEEI, Boston’s sports talk station. Folks in New England aren’t usually too big into hoops outside of Connecticut, but there was plenty of talk about PC’s upset win over Pitt. Even with all the other Big East success stories, you could make a good case for Keno Davis for conference coach of the year.

Tim Pernetti will inherit plenty of good things and plenty of bad things as the new athletic director at Rutgers. One of the bad things will be the dreadful men’s basketball team, which dropped to 1-14 in the Big East with Wednesday’s loss at Notre Dame.

Joe O’Gorman looks ahead to Princeton’s weekend and chats with the Tigers’ Dan Mavraides in today’s paper.

I’m still trying to figure out how Ulysis S. Grant, ranked the 33rd best president by this survey in 2000, jumped 10 spots to 23rd in the rankings released two weeks ago on Presidents’ Day.

Anyone got anything for me on that one?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Why all the venom?

(These guys had much greater differences than Siena and Rider fans, and they tried to make it work.)

I can’t help but be amused – and mostly impressed – with the dialogue that’s taking place in the comments section between Rider and Siena fans.

For the most part, there’s been a healthy back and forth with valid viewpoints on both sides.

Here’s my basic evaluation of where Rider stands as a program in relation to Siena: As I wrote in my last post, Rider is a legitimate threat that should be taken seriously. If nothing more, there’s a realistic chance if the teams met in the MAAC title game, Rider could win.

The Broncs have also won 38 games over the past two seasons and will reach at least 40 barring a complete meltdown. I understand they’ve done so against an embarrassingly weak non-conference schedule, but there are dozens upon dozens of teams that play weak schedules and don’t win close to that many games.

What I don’t quite get is the venom coming from a small group of Siena fans (which I’m guessing doesn’t represent the fan base as a whole) toward Rider.

Earlier this year, during one of my Q & A exchanges with Pete Iorizzo of the Albany Times Union, I pointed out that it was clear to me some Siena fans aren’t too fond of Rider.

I got a comment from a Siena fan who said Saints fans don’t view Rider any differently than they do Saint Peter’s: as just another low-tier MAAC program unworthy of Siena’s respect.

I understand the lack of respect, and in a way, it’s justified. It’s true that Siena has been the most successful MAAC program since it joined the league and that Rider has accomplished relatively little over the past decade.

But it’s simply not true that these Siena fans – who, again, as far as I can tell aren’t representative of the fan base as a whole – care as little about Rider as they do about Saint Peter’s and Loyola.

If that was the case, they’d be writing venomous messages about John Dunne, obsessing over Saint Peters’ attendance figures, and foaming at the mouth over Dunne’s post-game comments.

(A quick note on the attendance figures and Tommy Dempsey’s record, since I know that’s a gripe some folks have: Regarding the attendance figures, I am certain Rider isn’t the only MAAC team that inflates attendance numbers for some games. If you’re going to fault them for what they’ve done, fault them for making it so obvious that they’re doing it. Also, know that the coaching staff has virtually nothing to do with that practice. … The record distortion is stupid, and Dempsey’s record as an interim coach should count. There’s absolutely no question about it. … To me, though, that doesn’t warrant that kind of venom. It’s simply not close to being on the same level as abusing players or committing NCAA violations. If you have that attitude toward Dempsey, what do you have to say about someone like Kelvin Sampson?)

So I need help from some Saints fans.

To those who appear hung up on Rider’s shortcomings, why do you care? If Rider is such a low-grade program unworthy of your respect, why let Dempsey’s comments bother you? UConn and Pitt fans don’t think Rutgers has a legitimate men’s basketball program, so there’s no way any of them are going to be bothered by anything that Fred Hill says.

To other Siena fans out there, what does the rest of the fan base think?

My impression from talking to Siena fans and members of the Albany media is that most of the fans are too focused on their team becoming one of the best mid-major programs in the country – for which they should be extremely proud – to care much what Dempsey says or does.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What to make of Rider's win


Thanks to everyone -- if in fact, there was anyone -- who followed or attempted to follow along on our coveritlive debut. I'll score it a partial success since it worked for at least some of the game but bailed -- because of crappy wireless in the gym -- when it would have been most fun down the stretch.

If nothing more, I'm pretty confident it'll work well for the MAAC tournament, which after all, is what this league (and by extension this blog) is all about in the first place.

When this thing was finally over, Rider had a win by a score almost identical to its win over Siena (90-87 versus 90-88), which is fitting in a way, since these two wins stand out as by far Rider's biggest of the regular season.

The post-game press conference, as you can imagine, was pretty lively. It was also a lot different from the one following the Siena game even though both games came down to the wire and resulted in Rider wins.

After the Siena win, Tommy Dempsey went out of his way to say that it was NOT that much of a statement win -- that though it would be portrayed by people like you and me as a monumental upset, in the Broncs' locker room it didn't come as a major surprise.

Tonight was different. It wasn't that Rider thought this was a monumental upset, though I'm not sure many people thought it was given Niagara's status as a 3 1/2-point favorite coming in.

But Dempsey DID say it was a statement win -- one that showed, he said, that the MAAC doesn't have a two-horse race with Siena and Niagara battling down to the wire and everyone else simply looking on.

"We believe that there are more than two teams – not that there’s only three – but there’s more than two teams that can win the MAAC championship," Dempsey said. "I think people were acting like it’s a two-horse race right now and they’re not including us in that. I thought tonight was a statement that especially after beating Siena, Niagara and Siena are not the only two teams that can go to the NCAA tournament."

That, really, is what this season comes down to for Rider.

The Broncs were picked third in the preseason coaches' poll and fourth by most publications. Niagara was picked fourth in the poll (though only one vote behind Rider) and second or third by most publications.

Siena, of course, was picked first by every single person, poll or publication, and for good reason. So the question heading into the season was "can anyone contend with Siena?"

I think that question is still largely unanswered.

If Siena had run the table in the regular season, the answer heading into the tournament would be an authoritative "no." But it's hard to say they're unbeatable when they have, in fact, been beaten.

Under some circumstances, that one Rider win over Siena would have solidified Rider's status as both the second best team in the league and as a bona fide challenger to Siena's crown.

Entering tonight, though, it was pretty clear that Niagara had the second best resume in the conference. The Eagles had won seven straight, proved their worth both at home and on the road, and been able to claim that they hadn't yet been mathematically eliminated from the regular season race while everyone below them in the standings had.

Rider, meanwhile, had been SO shaky in its previous two games and has been SO up and down this season that you couldn't be blamed for thinking they didn't have much credibility. Afterall, what kind of powerhouse team loses by 18 to Canisius?

Dempsey is well aware of all that, and that's why he said -- rightly so, I think -- that in order to be seen as a credible contender for the title, you have to beat the best teams in the league at home.

That the Broncs blew a 19-point lead in doing so is less important than the fact that they did it, and the fact that if they beat Loyola next Thursday and Siena beats Niagara next Friday, they and Siena will be the only teams to have beaten everyone in the league during the regular season.

"Siena comes in here, if you’re a legitimate program, you beat them," Dempsey said. "Niagara comes in here, if you’re a legitimate program, you have to win these games. I think these are the games that make you. If you’re going to be an elite program in this league, you have to win these games, and we’ve been able to do that in the last couple of weeks."

So what to make of it?

I asked Joe Mihalich about Dempsey's two-horse-race comment.

"I never felt it was a two-team race," the coach said. "We still feel the same way. We're having a great year, but shoot, we still feel like Siena's the best team and we're all chasing them. I don't feel like it's a two-team race."

I think that about sums it up. I do think it's worth noting that if Niagara beats Siena then takes care of business against Marist, the Eagles will have finished only two games behind one of the best teams in MAAC history. That's a pretty big accomplishment.

But keep in mind that even if that happens, no one will have beaten Siena in Albany, and beating Siena in Albany is what it's going to take to win the tournament.

The whole concept of a two-team race is a little foolish right now because as far as the tournament goes, it really, truly is a 10-horse race. It's a race, in my view, in which Siena is the overwhelming favorite, with Niagara second on the odds list and Rider third.

What the Broncs showed today is that on that list, they aren't miles behind Niagara. At the same time, they showed Sunday that they aren't miles ahead of Manhattan, either. The Jaspers have played good ball of late and are capable of beating Siena if everything goes their way and Siena has an off night.

Part of the beauty of postsason college basketball is that not only do the best teams not always win, but the best teams often lose to vastly inferior teams. Otherwise, they would tell teams seeded 12 or below in the NCAA tournament to not bother showing up.

So what to make of the Broncs? They're dangerous. So is Niagara, so is Manhattan, so to some extent are Iona, Loyola and Fairfield. So, to an extent, is Marist, who had Siena on the ropes earlier in the year and blew out Niagara. But when the Broncs show up in Albany, they won't look at any of their opponents and think "we can't beat them."

That's one reason tonight was important.

Niagara-Rider take 2

After some technical difficulties, we're back in time for the second half.

Niagara at Rider; coveritlive debut


Greetings from Alumni Gym, where to prove anything's possible with no defenders around, Kevin Vosilla just threw home a one-handed tomahawk dunk minutes after Robbie Meyers drained a 3 from the wing.

Rider hosts Niagara tonight in a game with big-time implications. If Niagara wins, the Purple Eagles are still in the hunt for the regular season title, which they could earn by winning out -- including a win at home over Siena -- and having Siena somehow fall completely apart on its Western New York trip.

That scenario is unlikely to unfold in full, but the reality that Siena hasn't officially wrapped up the regular season title speaks volumes about how well Niagara has played this month.

The Eagles have won seven straight, haven't lost in February, lead the nation with 13 road victories, and don't need help from anyone to finish only one game out of first place in the MAAC.

They've had a season so far that in almost any other year would be good enough to win the regular season title and be the prohibitive favorite in the tournament. Barring a complete meltdown, they'll be a shoo-in for an NIT at-large should they lose in Albany. While they don't warrant NCAA at-large consideration and probably won't no matter what happens, if they win their final four games in regular season, then win two in Albany and get to 27 wins, they will be in some bubble discussions.

If Rider wins, Siena is the regular season champ and the Broncs will have taken a big step toward the No. 3 seed, which as I wrote in today's paper, is more significant than it is in many other years. The downside, though, of getting that seed is that playing a red-hot Niagara team in the semis won't exactly be easy.

The following is an instance of me completely copying The Mirror, which has done a superb job this year of live blogging that I am unlikely to match: I got an account with coveritlive and will be live blogging tonight.

I hadn't done this until now for a variety of reasons, including what was once shaky wireless internet here at the Zoo. But my connection is close to perfect, and I'll give it a shot tonight, then hopefully do it again Saturday against UMBC and hopefully for the rest of the season.

My hope is that I'll be able to do it for every MAAC tournament game -- something I did last year but without the coveritlive software, which makes things infinitely easier for me and you.

I'll try to fire it up a few minutes before we tip at 7 and see what happens.

Alright, let's get this thing started.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

PMI, Week 10


Today we get to the first real stretch-run edition of the PMI, in which the top two teams are the same they’ve been all year and the rest of the pack – for now – is identical to the MAAC standings.

Even if Siena wraps up the regular season title as early as tomorrow, there’s still plenty to figure out. Among the questions left to be answered are who will end up on which side of the bracket (the 4 seed could see Siena in the semifinals while the 3 seed won’t) and who will be playing on Friday in the play-in round.

Nice job out of Boston.com’s Chad Finn, who dug up a baseball card of former Red Sox infielder John Kennedy in honor of Presidents’ Day.

The Index:

1. Siena (21-6, 15-1, 29)
One more Saints win or Niagara loss makes the inevitable official: Siena will be regular season champ and top seed in conference tourney. BracketBuster Saturday against MVC leading Northern Iowa will be an interesting measuring stick.

2. Niagara (21-6, 12-3, 62)
After seventh straight win, it’s more clear than ever Eagles are a step ahead of everyone but Siena. That it’s mid-February and they’re technically still in contention for top spot speaks volumes.

3. Rider (14-11, 9-6, 158)
Broncs looked a whole lot better last week, and suddenly, No. 3 spot isn’t a sure thing. Good news for Rider fans is this: beat Niagara, and you can forget about those back-to-back losses.

4. Manhattan (15-11, 9-7, 140)
No Devon Austin, no problem for Jaspers, who have won four of five. Chris Smith can play, Daryl Crawford to shoot, and they’ll be dangerous in Albany.

5. Fairfield (15-12, 8-8, 95)
Good news: Young guys have been more than respectable with four best players out for the year. Bad news: This just isn’t where Stags wanted to be in late February, and success next month is improbable.

6. Iona (12-15, 7-9, 173)
Gaels have lost four of six and need to finish strong to avoid play-in round. Scott Machado is in thick of Rookie of the Year discussion, but it’s a bad sign that he might be their best player.

7. Loyola (11-17, 6-10, 181)
Loss to Canisius – team’s fifth straight defeat -- wasn’t what Hounds fans wanted to see down stretch. Win would have pulled Patsos and Co. into sixth-place tie with Iona, but play-in round now looks likely.

8. Saint Peter’s (8-17, 5-10, 247)
Suddenly, Peacocks have won three straight and might not be a pushover in Albany. Wesley Jenkins should be on all-conference team, and John Dunne deserves kudos for keeping team afloat.

9. Marist (8-19, 4-11, 260)
Loss at Saint Peter’s is further confirmation of what we found out over the past month: Foxes aren’t much better than we thought they were in November.

10. Canisius (8-18, 3-13, 219)
Once in a while, Golden Griffs give us a reminder that they’re not utterly hopeless. Win at Loyola was one of those times, and Frank Turner – only player in league averaging 15 points, 4 boards and 4 assists -- keeps getting better.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy Presidents' Day!


Had basketball been invented in or before the lifetimes of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, the two men for whom this day is dedicated would certainly be intrigued by tonight’s three-game slate.

None of tonight’s games – Siena at Iona, Canisius at Loyola or Marist at Saint Peter’s – is a real headline-grabber, but the beauty of February basketball is that almost every game means something in terms of postseason seeding.

If Siena is going to lose another game – with due respect to Canisius, which has been sporadically competitive – it’s either going to be tonight in New Rochelle or Feb. 27 at Niagara. I wouldn’t bet on the Gaels pulling off the upset, but it’s possible, and it would put Iona back in the category of teams peeking late in the season after that debacle two games ago at Manhattan.

If we can agree that there’s simply no way Siena is going to lose at Canisius, the Saints can all but clinch the regular season title with a win tonight.

Here’s why: If Siena loses, then loses again at Niagara and if Niagara wins out, the Saints and Eagles will finish with identical records and split the head-to-head matchup. That would make the tiebreaker their respective records against the first available team in the standings that can serve as a tiebreaker. IF the above scenario plays out, Siena and Niagara will finish with identical records against every possible third place team except for Rider. That means Niagara having two wins against Rider and Siena having only one would be the deciding factor.

I know. That scenario isn’t exactly likely. But it isn’t totally insane either, which means Siena can make things a whole lot easier by taking care of business tonight.

Another storyline George and Honest Abe would be following is this: Loyola and Saint Peter’s both have a realistic shot at avoiding the play-in round. Iona, meanwhile, leads Loyola by only one game for sixth place, and has to worry about slipping into play-in territory as well.

That means all three games will have some impact, one way or another, on tournament seeding.


Also of note:

Iona’s Scott Machado won his fifth MAAC Rookie of the Week award today, pulling him into a tie with Rider’s Novar Gadson for most ROW honors. Gadson had an ugly performance yesterday at Manhattan in which he scored five points on 1-for-11 shooting. I’d say since more of Gadson’s big games have come during conference play, he’s the frontrunner right now. But the race is close enough that some big performances by Machado down the stretch could make him the Rookie of the Year.

And Ryan Rossiter was named Player of the Week after yet another Battier-esque weekend in which he put up the following numbers: 14 points on 4-for-4 shooting and 18 rebounds against Loyola, then eight points, eight boards and eight blocks in just 22 minutes against Manhattan.

There is no official MAAC Most Improved Player award, but if there was, it would be Rossiter in a landslide.

...

Back to Abe Lincoln. Interesting tidbit in last week's SI about Bonnie Lincoln, a Nets dancer who's a 13th generation descendant of our 16th president.



I'm not aware of any George Washington descendants on any basketball or dance teams, so the hero of the Battle of Trenton will have to simply root for the George Washington U team, which has fallen on hard times and provoked a fan uprising against Karl Hobbs.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rider-Manhattan; catching up

Greetings from Draddy Gym, where the Broncs and Jaspers are about 45 minutes from tip time. It's a big game for both teams, who are jostling for position in the standings as we head down the stretch.

We're a bit behind on some of the MAAC goings on because I've been shuttling back and forth from Massachusetts dealing with some family issues. With that in mind, the blogging for the next couple of weeks might not be very consistent. Apologies in advance for any potential prolonged absences. At the very least, I'll check in when I can and post the PMI and hopefully any breaking news I can bring you.

... But back to today ...

Rider can clinch third place with a win, since the Broncs would then lead the Jaspers and Fairfield by three games in the loss column, and have the tiebreaker in their favor by virtue of their win over Siena. That win, by the way, looks even bigger when you consider the ramifications it has regarding the standings: Unless Siena loses again, Rider will win the tiebreaker against every team in the league, and that could be the difference between a fourth place finish that would result in playing Siena in the MAAC semifinals and a third-place finish that would position them on the opposite side of the bracket.

The Jaspers have won three of four, with their lone loss in February coming to Siena in Albany Friday. The last time they played here at Draddy, they held Iona to 11 points in the second half and 39 overall in one of their biggest statement victories under Barry Rohrssen.

Rider is coming off an embarrassing home loss to Saint Peter's in one of the Broncs' worst performances of the year.

Rider won the first matchup with Manhattan this year 76-73 in the MAAC opener for both teams Dec. 7 in Lawrenceville.

... Devon Austin has missed the last five games, reportedly because of a back injury, and is unlikely to play for the Jaspers. The Broncs are healthy with the exception of Lamar Johnson, who's with the team and walking around but out for the season with a knee injury.

... It's senior day, and Austin and Herve Banogle will be honored before the game.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Belatedly, the PMI, Week 9

First, sorry that for the second straight week this is a day late. I need to stop the practice of telling you I’m going to post something at a specific time when I’m not positive I’ll have time to do so.

That’s what I did yesterday, only to get buried under desk work for the next 12 hours. I contemplated having a Red Bull after work and doing this before bed, but figured I need to make at least some effort to be a reasonably healthy person and get some sleep.

Soooooooooooo, here we go with the Index, which today comes with this introductory note:

Remember a month or so ago when teams two through eight were almost indistinguishable? That, it seems, is no longer the case. As we head toward the stretch run, here’s the way I see the MAAC pecking order:

Siena, as has always been the case, is in a class of its own. You don’t have to be undefeated to earn that distinction, and the Saints, barring an unforeseen collapse, will enter the MAAC tournament as the prohibitive favorites to win it.

I’d now classify Niagara and Rider as the two teams that pose legitimate threats to Siena’s crown. The Broncs have already beaten the Saints, and at 10-3 in the league and riding a five-game winning streak, it’s clear Niagara belongs in that category as well. So that’s the second group.

The third group is the middle of the pack. For now, that’s Manhattan, Fairfield, Loyola and Iona.

The fourth group is the bottom of the pack – teams that have little more than a longshot to make noise in the tournament – and for now, that group is Saint Peter’s, Marist and Canisius.

Here’s the list:

1. Siena (19-6, 13-1, 29)
Saints lost some luster with Rider loss, but fact remains that they’re on a different level than everyone else. Ryan Rossiter (14 points, 18 boards against Loyola) is a skinnier, goofier mid-major version of Shane Battier.

2. Niagara (19-6, 10-3, 73)
Bilal Benn (9 boards per game) is a defensive monster, Eagles have won five straight, and in spite of shaky performance at Siena, there’s no doubt they’re contenders.

3. Rider (14-9, 9-4, 136)
Tommy Dempsey downplayed it, but win Saturday was one of the biggest for Broncs in recent memory. And here’s a newsflash: Suddenly, a lot of teams would love to have Justin Robinson.

4. Manhattan (14-10, 8-6, 168)
Hard to imagine a more emphatic statement than the one Jaspers gave to Iona Monday. In site of earlier loss at the Garden, it’s their town, they’ve won three straight in convincing fashion, and an upset Thursday in Albany isn’t unfathomable.

5. Fairfield (15-10, 8-6, 86)
Jon Han fiasco makes player AND former team look bad, and despite three-game winning streak that ended Sunday, Stags just don’t have the firepower to match up with league’s best.

6. Loyola (11-15, 6-8, 154)
Hounds are still hard to figure out. Last two losses have been respectable, so in spite of three-game skid, they’re not in an outright freefall. But if they want middle-of-the-pack status, they better beat Iona Friday.

7. Iona (11-14, 6-8, 185)
Three weeks ago – when only losses in five-game stretch were by a point each at Siena and Rider – Gaels looked like contenders. But contenders don’t get held under 40 points in a rivalry game, which maroon and gold somehow did Monday.

8. Saint Peter’s (7-17, 4-10, 269)
Wesley Jenkins is having a really nice year, Peacocks finished off a sweep of Canisius, and they probably won’t finish last. But they’re a virtual shoo-in for the play-in round and won’t be playing past Saturday at the tournament.

9. Marist (7-19, 3-11, 261)
Things have gone so badly in Poughkeepsie of late that even the once-unbeatable Marist women have two MAAC losses and aren’t a lock to win the regular season title. Thank God for the band.

10. Canisius (7-17, 2-12, 228)
The more I think of it, the more I think the Golden Griffin is a really cool mascot. Other than that, I have nothing good to say here. … Marist at home on the 27th is Griffs’ best shot at winning a game in February.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

After Jon Han

Greetings from The Trentonian newsroom, where I’m belatedly getting to a lot of stuff I wanted to get to yesterday but couldn’t because of the nonexistent internet access at the McCann Center.

McCann continues to be one of my favorite venues in the MAAC, thanks to the best pep band in the country, the pregame pizza in the media room, and what’s still a pretty engaged crowd despite the Red Foxes’diminished stature. (But did the band director really need to grab the microphone from the PA announcer before the game and belt out the fight song just as the players were walking on to the court for the tip?)

But to get on the internet, you have to install a disc that isn’t exactly compatible with macs, which I have. Hence, we’ve got stuff to cover. I’ll post different topics as separate posts, including this week’s PMI, which I’ll post later this evening. But we’ve got to start with life at Fairfield after Jon Han.

Ed Cooley announced yesterday that Han had in fact decided to leave the team for personal reasons.

This, of course, is not good for Fairfield, which will be without its starting point guard and best player for the duration of the season and now – because of the absence of Han, Warren Edney and Anthony Johnson -- has no more than an outside shot at playing deep into the MAAC tournament next month.

Here’s my $0.02 on the aftermath:

First and absolutely foremost, it’s a very good thing that Han is reportedly staying in school and continuing to work toward his degree.

A degree from Fairfield or almost any other four-year institution is expensive and hard to earn.

Students take out loans, work hard for academic scholarships and grants, and juggle classes with part-time jobs in order to earn degrees that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. To see someone given a free ride through school, then pack up and leave with less than a semester to go before graduation without earning a degree would be painful for a lot of people to watch.

College athletes get plenty of advice from plenty of different people on how to handle situations like this. It appears concerning his academic status – though probably NOT concerning his athletic status -- Han listened to the right people.

Secondly, it needs to be mentioned that Han is the third player this year and the sixth since Cooley took over as head coach to leave the program prematurely. Cooley also has lost three assistant coaches to other programs, leaving associate coach Bob Simon as the only member of his initial staff who’s still there.

I’m not saying any of it is Cooley’s fault.

I don’t have close to enough information to play any kind of blame game. What I’m saying is that no matter who’s fault it is – or it it’s no one’s fault at all – having that much turnover and having to do some much roster rebuilding and lineup shuffling makes Cooley’s program-building job much harder.

Thirdly, there are clear positives in the situation for the young guards who have become an integral part of the team. Sean Crawford, Jamal Turner and Lyndon Jordan will develop more quickly with real game experience. But if this turns out to be a lost season – if Fairfield finishes in the middle of the MAAC pack and exits early from the MAAC tournament – the program will arguably enter next year worse off than it entered this year.

Again, not pointing fingers. Nobody planned for Edney and Johnson to be lost for the season, for Greg Nero and Herbie Allen to play through pain just as the games are getting more and more important, or for this whole mess surrounding Han.

But a few months ago, this looked like Fairfield’s best shot – regardless of Siena’s status as the prohibitive MAAC favorite – to get to the NCAA tournament.

That could still happen, but right now you’d be crazy to say the Stags, picked second in the preseason MAAC coaches’ poll, pose as big a threat to Siena as Niagara or Fairfield.

That means instead of potentially hitting the recruiting trail next summer touting say, a 23-win season, a second-place finish in the MAAC and an NIT appearance, the Stags’ coaches might have to explain to recruits that the talent and infrastructure were there, but injuries and off-court issues got in the way.



Got a comment from Rob Fitzgerald, who among other roles, was the COO of The Mirror when I was the Editor, and an athletic department employee under marketing guru Roy Brown, and a very knowledgeable basketball fan who attended – I think – just about every game.

Good to hear from Rob, who reports that Han was never a favorite in the student section and didn’t mesh well with the student body as a whole.

I never noticed any less cheering for Han than other players of similar stature, but it’s true that there’s been a huge disparity over the past several years between how some players connected with the student community and how others did.

I’m sure this happens at most schools, but I can say firsthand – as Rob is indicating – that Fairfield players when I was there could be divided into three camps.

One consisted of players who were entirely integrated into the student population and adored by their classmates. Mamadou Diakhate is the posterchild for that group. I also never met anyone who had a bad thing to say about Michael Van Schaick or Michael Bell.

One consisted of the majority of players, who socialized mostly with other players but were generally considered amiable, good-natured guys who students could root for even if they’d never hang out with them on Friday nights.

The third group is the one Rob is suggesting Han belonged to: guys who students cheered for at games but held their noses while doing so because of their perceived off-court missteps or attitude problems.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What now for Jon Han?

Chris Elsberry writes on his blog that in a recent meeting, Fairfield coach Ed Cooley made it clear that he doesn’t want point guard Jonathan Han around for the rest of the year.

According to Elsberrry’s sources, Cooley called Han in for a closed-door meeting in which he requested that Han sign one of two papers: one stating that he was leaving the team for personal reasons, and one acknowledging that he was being suspended for the duration of the season -- and therefore his career -- for violating team policies.

Were Han to leave the team permanently (he’s served the first four games on an indefinite suspension after a public shouting match with assistant coach Brian Blaney after a loss Jan. 26 at Manhattan), it would end a career that has been full of on-court successes and off-court drama for the past three and a half seasons.

Multiple sources have told me that this isn’t the first time it appeared Han’s career would end. The point guard from Brooklyn – who, along with Greg Nero, was one of the last impact players recruited by Tim O’Toole – threatened to leave the team during the season last year and play professionally in Puerto Rico, where some of his relatives live.

I’m told those threats resurfaced last month around the time of the shouting match with Blaney, leading some to believe he was going to quit and head to Puerto Rico for the upcoming season, which begins next month.

Were he to be dismissed from the team and leave school, the National Superior Basketball League in Puerto Rico would be his most likely destination.

Cooley is expected to announce Han’s fate Monday, when the Stags will return from their Western New York trip, in which they beat Canisius Friday before losing 75-50 Sunday to Niagara.

With Lyndon Jordan, Sean Crawford and Jamal Turner splitting the bulk of Han’s minutes, the Stags won three straight after Han’s suspension before losing badly Sunday.

It’s not unreasonable to suggest that his absence will benefit the Stags in the long run, since the likes of Crawford, Turner and Jordan will gain almost an extra half-season of experience they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

There’s also some validity to the argument that because Han had become a distraction and a negative influence on his younger teammates, the Stags would be better off for the remainder of this season without him.

But if Han has played his last game – and a lot of the evidence we have suggests he has – Fairfield will be without one of its best players of the last five years.

Han scored a team-high 17 points in his first collegiate game, which, perhaps fittingly given the lack of success the Stags had during his first two seasons, was a 69-64 loss to Saint Francis of New York.

From that point on, he was often the best playmaker on the court, and certainly one of the few on-the-court bright spots on a team that was bad enough to get Tim O’Toole fired after the 2005-06 season.

When Cooley took over in 2006, Han was, with respect to Michael Van Schaick, clearly the most talented player Cooley inherited and clearly the player with the biggest upside.

I’ll never forget Cooley’s first game – when I was a senior at Fairfield and covering the team for The Mirror and various daily newspapers -- for a number of reasons. In addition to the excitement surrounding Cooley, it was the Stags’ first game in Alumni Hall in six seasons.

Cooley, as most people expected, was exceptionally animated on the sidelines, often pumping in his fists and pleading with the already noisy student section to make even more noise as the Stags went back and forth with American.

It was one of the most entertaining games I’ve been at. The more I think of it, it may have been the most entertaining one involving a MAAC team until Saturday’s Rider-Siena game.

Interestingly – and ironically because of the way Cooley’s relationship with Han has soured – it was Han’s 3 from 25 feet out that sent the game into a second overtime, at the end of which the Stags lost to 59-54.

I’ve long since tossed my transcription of Cooley’s postgame remarks, but one thing I remember very well was his effusive praise of Han, who astonishingly played 46 minutes and was a major reason Fairfield almost pulled out the victory.

Han has played a major role – perhaps the biggest role of any player – in Fairfield’s progression under Cooley. That Cooley has even gone as far as he already has in disciplining Han speaks to the incredible demise of their relationship.

If Cooley announces Monday that Han is in fact leaving the team for good, it will be an unfortunate end to a career that has meant vastly different things to different people.

By most accounts, Han has been difficult to coach and difficult to play with. He’s also been difficult to defend and sometimes very hard to stop, meaning if the Stags do bid him goodbye, it will likely be with mixed emotions.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

What a game

Alumni Gym was rockin, and with good reason. Rider and Siena turned an epic, up-and-down, blood-pressure-raising, thriller today in Lawrenceville in which Ryan Thompson's layup with 3.5 seconds left lifted the Broncs to a 90-88 victory and ended Siena's unbeaten run in the MAAC.

There are many implications, foremost among them that Siena will almost certainly need to win the MAAC tournament to gain a second straight NCAA tournament berth. Not that the Saints' chances of doing so aren't pretty good. But there will be no unbeaten run in the MAAC, no spot in the top 25, and less attention from the national media, which was represented today by Sports Illustrated's Mark Beech.

There are more quotes to come, and I'll have stories tomorrow both in The Trentonian and in our sister paper, the Troy Record in greater Albany. For now, though, here are Tommy Dempsey's remarks from the postgame press conference:

Opening statement: I just thought it was a great college basketball team: two really talented teams, and both playing very well so I don’t think it was a case of, yeah people will look at it as an upset but I don’t think it was a case that they didn’t play well. That’s what I think I was most proud of. I thought they came in and played extremely well. Kenny was unbelievable. Franklin played well, Moore played well. In spite of that we were able to win the game, so just a good sign that we can compete with then. Everybody in our locker room has thought all along that we can compete with this team, and we did that today.

On how big the win is for the program: I don’t know. it was a big win but you have to put it in perspective. If we were both 12-0 it would probably feel better. They’re still going to play the regular season championship barring a miracle, but I think maybe since the Marist game in the tournament. That was a great program win and this is probably the biggest win since then. …. It’s a great win because they were undefeated and they were ranked no. 20 in the RPI, but the one thing you need to understand about these guys is they’ve never been intimidated by siena, so it’s probably a bigger win for you guys than it really is within our locker room. I think we expected to be able to play with them toe for toe and we went pretty much toe for toe in Albany and we went pretty much toe for toe with them today, so I don’t think there was a feeling in our locker room that this was a monumental upset. it was a good battle between two good teams, and we won this side. … This was a very good performance.


On Justin Robinson, who hit five 3-pointers for a career-high 25 points: I’ve tried to tell people that he’s a very very good jump shooter and I think he’s getting more comfortable playing off the ball. He was stepping into them tonight. We were sharing the ball and we had 21 assists, which I’m assuming is a season high. I don’t remember seeing a number that big. He stepped into some shots, and the five he made, I don’t think any of them hit the rim. He really was in a nice groove today.

On what enabled Rider to overcome a 13-point second-half deficit: We played the same way all day. We just didn’t have a good flow early in the second half. We thought we’d be able to spread the court, take advantage of some matchups and share the ball. … That’s how we win. That was our approach going into the game and that’s pretty much what we stayed with throughout the game and we just really got into a rhythm there. Guys started looking for each other and getting good shots, and I thought Justin and Novar during that stretch…. Novar was very tough for them to match up with. He was able to get into the lane pretty much at will and when they collapsed, I thought we did a good job of finding their shooters, and Justin was on the back end of some drive and kicks.

On the technical foul he got in the second half: I thought that my team bailed me out. I just wasn’t happy. I expressed that and he gave me a T. At that point I got the guys together. I knew it maybe wasn’t the best time for a T. I think we were down seven and we gave them four free throws with 7 and a half to go. Sometimes you have to stick up for your kids too. If you don’t like the way things were going for them. I was just sticking up for our guys, because I knew they were playing really hard. Things weren’t going our way up there.

On Rider’s defense: The different in the games was that up there, we didn’t get many stops down the stretch. I thought we were really tired up there. They kept running and we kept running and they were just better than us. At home you have a little more energy. I thought our bench had good energy. I though our bench had more energy than they did up there. It was too great offensive teams that were figuring out how to stop each other. We were down 13 and we got some big stops in a row.


On what Rider did defensively down the stretch: We were just trying to go zone, man and just keep them off balance since they’re so good offensively. There was this one defining moment in the game. I ask the guys at times since they’re the ones playing, what do we got here? Man or zone, coming out of the TO? Ringgold said ‘that’s it, man, man up.’ And we did the rest of the way.

Pete Iorizzo on Siena, Part Deux

As promised, the blog is back in action for today's game between Rider and Siena. And to get things going again, here's another Q&A with Pete Iorizzo of the Albany Times Union, whose blog has my answers to his questions.

1. We know two AP voters had Siena on their ballots last week, but you weren't one of them. How close are they to your top 25?

A big part of the argument for Siena in the Top 25 is its No. 20 ranking in the RPI. But let's not forget that the RPI is not a power ranking. Rather, it's a measure of how a team has performed given the schedule it's played. Siena may be ahead of, say, Syracuse in the RPI. But that doesn't mean Siena is the better team.

For a team like Siena to crack the Top 25, I think it would have to beat a Top 25-caliber team. The Saints had chances to do that against the likes of Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Kansas and Oklahoma State. They lost all four games.

I'm taking nothing away from the fine season Siena's enjoyed. And I applaud Fran McCaffery for playing a tough schedule. But in my mind, Siena's Top 25 ship has all but sailed.

2. I liked what you wrote -- and Fran McCaffery said -- last week about Siena's BracketBuster matchup, so let's take it a step further. If you were a nonpartial college basketball fan, wouldn't you make time in your schedule to watch Stephen Curry against Butler?

Absolutely.

I certainly understand why Siena fans are disappointed that Butler won't be coming to Times Union Center. But to say the Saints got hosed by ESPN is just silly. Siena's going to be playing the best team in one of the best mid-major leagues in the country. This still is a great chance for the Saints to improve their resume and -- potentially -- their seeding.

3. I know it's only February, but newspapers, blogs, radio, tv shows, etc. have all been discussing this, so I'm curious about your take: if Siena wins out for the rest of the regular season, then loses in the MAAC tournament, will the Saints get an at large NCAA bid?

If I were a betting man, I'd put the Saints right on the outside of the bubble. But would an at-large big shock me? Not at all.

Siena's biggest problem is its 0-4 record against Top 50 RPI teams. But the Saints do have seven wins over top 100 teams. And can you keep a team with an RPI of 25-35ish out of the NCAA Tournament?

4. Where would you put the odds of Siena going unbeaten the rest of the way in the MAAC? And which game do you think is the most likely that they'll lose?

I'll say 3 to 1. It's certainly plausible, but I think Siena has a better chance of losing a game than it does running the table. The Saints aren't invincible. Remember, Marist, which may end up being the 10th-place team, had Siena all but beaten.

The Saints may very well lose to Rider on Saturday. Even if not, keep an eye on Siena when it plays at Iona on Feb. 16.

I will say this: If Siena heads to Western New York 16-0 for the last weekend of the season, it will return to Times Union Center for the MAAC Tournament undefeated. I love Siena to sweep Buffalo in that scenario.

5. What's your prediction? Is Josh Duell going to play, and if so, will he be camping out at the top of the key, ready to fire away if it's a tight game in the final seconds?

Rider always seems to play Siena tough at home. But I'm not sure about the Broncs' ability to guard the Saints. I'll take Siena, 83-74.

As for Duell, I'd say it's very unlikely he plays -- that ought to be good news for Rider fans who remember last season.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

PMI, Week 8

I knew eventually this would happen: This week's Index is in the same order of the MAAC standings. At least I got to break two ties. Also, apologies for this being a day late. There were too many Mercer County high school basketball games, too many pages and too many other things to do Tuesday, when I usually post it. But better late than never, here it is:

1. Siena (18-5, 12-0, 23)
Surging Saints got four votes this week in the AP top 25 and – no matter what some people say – an intriguing but easily winnable BracketBuster game. Undefeated run is possible, as could be an at-large bid if that run unexpectedly ends in early March.

2. Niagara (17-6, 8-3, 71)
Eagles were in this spot last week despite multiple shaky performances, but convincing wins at Manhattan and Iona showed there’s still a gap between them and middle-of-the-pack teams. Gallagher Center is most likely place for Siena to fall in February.

3. Rider (12-9, 7-4, 159)
Tough to move Broncs up a spot after an unimpressive weekend, but Loyola fell apart in Brdigeport, Fairfield has too many issues to work out, and Iona looked a whole lot better a week ago. Broncs have three more days to prepare for Siena. Will they be ready?

4. Fairfield (14-9, 7-5, 87)
Still not sure how Stags did what they did against Loyola, but Greg Nero deserves big-time credit for carrying them. It’s possible they’re better without Han. But can they continue to win with Edney and Johnson out?

5. Loyola (11-13, 6-6, 138)
Hounds were so good at Rider, then so bad at Fairfield. Saturday’s game against Manhattan is a big one.

6. Manhattan (12-10, 6-6, 192)
Jaspers were so bad against Niagara, then so good at Marist. See above about Saturday’s game in Baltimore.

7. Iona (10-13, 5-7, 180)
Hard to believe a team could fall so far in a week. After nearly toppling Siena, Gaels lost to lowly Saint Peter’s, then went the final 11 minutes against Nigara without scoring a single point. Not the way you want things to be going as the season heads into its homestretch.

8. Saint Peter’s (6-16, 3-9, 287)
Skid-snapping win at Iona was huge, and Peacocks followed it up with a respectable performance against Siena. For what it’s worth, they’re the only team in the MAAC with two players (Wesley Jenkins and Nick Leon) averaging 15 points or more per game.

9. Marist (7-17, 3-9, 256)
Remember when Foxes started 3-2 in the league, then took Siena to overtime? Might be tough to recall because of that pesky losing streak, which grew to six Monday. All of a sudden, all those last-place predictions don’t look so wrong.

10. Canisius (7-15, 2-10, 201)
Good news: Frank Turner and Julius Coles can play, and Bob Bevilacqua is only player Golden Griffs will lose this year to graduation. Bad news: February is a bad time to have only two league wins.

BracketBusters, tournaments and more before a mini-break

The Blog is taking a mini-recess for the next three days so I can visit my blogger-extraordinare mom and see some friends in Boston.

It’ll be up and running again Saturday, in time for the Rider-Siena game at Alumni Gym.

In the meantime, a couple things to note before we get to the PMI. Since that stuff will take up a considerable amount of space, I’ll put the PMI up as a separate post.

First, there’s been some discussion in the comments and elsewhere about Siena’s BrackerBuster matchup.

As my colleague Pete Iorizzo wrote earlier this week, ESPN is not picking these matcups based on who it thinks are the best teams or which games would be the most relevant for the NCAA tournament committee to watch. It’s picking them solely for what’s going to get it the best ratings, and I don’t think it’s difficult to see why a team that went to the Elite Eight last year and has a potential first-team All-American was chosen to play No. 11 Butler.

If you consider the matcup a slap in the face to Siena, I think you’re misinterpreting what the BracketBuster is and probably also undervaluing Northern Iowa, which happens to be the first-place team in what is perennially the top mid-major conference in the country.

As for Rider, a commenter opined that ESPN pitting the Broncs against lowly UMBC is proof of how little respect Rider gets.

I think that statement is more or less correct when it relates to this year’s team, and I think Rider has been inconsistent enough that no one in Lawrenceville can complain about drawing a low-profile opponent.

I disagree, though, that the matchup says anything about the program as a whole. If the program isn’t worthy of anyone’s attention, why did the Broncs play a fairly high-profile team last year in a TV game? If your argument is that they were only on TV and in a good game because of Jason Thompson, then you have to give them credit for recruiting Thompson in the first place.

Next, today’s paper has a more in-depth look at the MAAC tournament selection process and Mohegan Sun’s role as a contender for the tournaments in 2012-14.

I talked to a handful of athletic directors and administrators, in addition to Paul Munick, the senior vice president for sports and entertainment at Mohegan Sun, and Rich Ensor, and got some interesting answers.

I wrote last month that with the formal bid process a couple months away from beginning, Mohegan Sun was the frontrunner. Ensor said he thought it was too early to use that term, since, as he has said before, so much will depend on the bidding process. Here’s his full statement, part of which is in the story:

Neutrality is certainly an issue, but equally so are branding issues, where will team fans travel, revenue flows from ticket sales and sponsorships. Everyone in the business is concerned about the economy, its impact on discretionary spending, travel costs, and sponsorships. While a case can be made for the Mohegan Sun, I can expect neutral site cases could be made for the Prudential Center or the Izod Arena at the Meadowlands. Our member schools with arena availability are also aggressively pursuing the bid. Competition is a good thing and provides the league membership with attractive options. Time will tell how it all turns out, which is why the bid process take six months and these types of questions can be raised, examined and addressed. Should be an interesting period.

So that’s what we’re here for: to raise, examine and discuss them.

One thing I’ll add is that it seems clear that there aren’t many people around the league who are excited about the possibility of putting the tournaments at the Meadowlands or the Prudential Center. There’s a lot of interest in putting them some place where people will have a lot to do when they’re not watching hoops, and that’s why so many folks are intrigued by Mohegan Sun.

Also, everyone I talked to had good things to say about Albany, which, as Siena AD John D’Argenio told me, is a “good mid-major city” that fits in well with a good mid-major league like the MAAC.

Mark Reed, a vice president at Fairfield whose responsibilities include overseeing the athletic department, made a pitch for Bridgeport, saying that “if Bridgeport had the same number of chances already that Albany has had, I really believe that Bridgeport would be the favorite between the two.”

There are no official finalists or semifinalists, but were I to list the UNofficial semifinalists, I would certainly list Mohegan Sun, Albany and Bridgeport, with Mohegan Sun the most likely because of the aforementioned desire among a lot of the administrators to give a neutral site a shot.

Lastly, good job by fellow blogger Tom Cleary, who identified New Hampshire as a team from outside Massachusetts with multiple starters from the Bay State – a characteristic shared by Loyola, which also has a Bostonian for a head coach. As Tom pointed out in the comments section, he came up with the Wildcats during The Mirror’s gamecast of the Fairfield-Loyola game, but I had since left for the day and didn’t see it. My bad.

That’s it for me. Enjoy the PMI, and discuss away about the BracketBuster matchups, future tournament venues, or whatever else is on your mind.

Monday, February 2, 2009

BracketBuster matchups

ESPN unveiled the much-anticipated BracketBuster matchups, which feature all 10 MAAC teams and take place Feb. 20-21. The Hofstra-Fairfield, Illinois State-Niagara and Northern Iowa-Siena games will all be televised.

Canisius at Bowling Green
Hofstra at Fairfield
Iona at Boston University
Loyola at Drexel
Manhattan at William & Mary
Hartford at Marist
Illinois State at Niagara
UMBC at Rider
Saint Peter’s at Youngstown State
Northern Iowa at Siena

Good jobs by the Stags and Steelers; bad job by me


I made a few predictions yesterday, and depending on how you look at it, either all of them or all but one were wrong. My bad.

For what it’s worth (probably nothing) had I made a prediction on the Rider-Canisius game, I would have taken the Broncs to win and cover the eight-point spread. That happened, and even though it wasn’t the prettiest game I’ve ever witnessed, it was good enough, especially in a season in which the inexplicable seems to happen almost on a daily basis (see: Saint Peter’s winning at previously surging Iona), for Rider.

But I botched the Fairfield-Loyola game. I wrote – I think, with good reason – that I didn’t see Fairfield beating a Loyola team that had won six straight and was starting to look like a top-tier team in the league.

But the Hounds didn’t come through. My alma matter, on the other hand, not only won, but won big, thanks in no small part to a wicked awesome performance from Greg Nero.

Then came the Super Bowl, which I kind of, sort of watched while editing/designing The Trentonian’s sports section.

I missed spectacularly on my prediction that the game would be less exciting and interesting than today’s MAAC basketball games. I also guaranteed a double-digit Steelers victory, and Ben Roethlisberger and Co. let me down. Thankfully, though, thanks to San the Man, I at least had the right team winning, so I’m going to count my Super Bowl prediction as a partial success.

Also, I brought this up during the Mirror gamelog of the Fairfield-Loyola game, and some of the fans following along put in a good effort, but returned no answers: Can anyone think of a non-Bay State team other than Loyola (Brian Rudolph from New Bedford, Jawaan Wright from Agawam) that starts two players from Massachusetts?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Sunday

Greetings from Alumni Gym, where Rider and Canisius are about a half hour from tip-off.

In two years covering Rider, I've never seen Tommy Dempsey more disgusted with his team's play than he was Friday night after the Broncs' 75-61 loss to Loyola. That game was the first of six home games in Broncs' final nine league games, and Dempsey said in that spot, in that atmosphere, and at that crucial point in the season, he was absolutely shocked that his team played the way it did.

Well, if you're a Rider fan, the only good news is that today's game offers an opportunity for a quick turnaround. At the very least -- at the risk of overstating the obvious -- Rider needs to win. This has been a season of highs (4-1 league start, wins at Iona and Fairfield) and lows (losses at Canisius and at home to Drexel, and of course, Loyola on Friday) and it's hard to imagine more of a potential low than a loss today, which would give the Golden Griffs a season sweep after losing the previous nine meetings.

But Rider also needs to make a statement. The Broncs need better ball movement. They need to play better defense. They need to lock up Frank Turner and Julius Coles, who scored a combined 46 points when the teams met in Buffalo. They need to play well for 40 minutes intstead of just in spurts. More than anything, they need to play well enough that they have something off of which to build heading into next Saturday's game against Siena.

The other MAAC game today is intriguing for a number of reasons.

Can Fairfield pull out another win with what's essentially it's JV team?

Can Loyola make it seven in a row and avoid being swept by the Stags?

I will say this: Even with the Stags at home, I don't see them winning. Loyola is really on a roll. The Hounds are playing right now like a team capable of beating anyone in the league. They may jump to the No. 3 spot in this week's PMI, and if they keep playing like this, Jimmy Patsos has to get at least SOME consideration for MAAC coach of the year. (Though at this point, how could you not vote for the coach whose team is threatening to run the table in the regular season?)

Should be interesting. Should be more interesting than the Super Bowl, in which I'm guaranteeing a Steelers victory by at least 10 points. Should be fun, and I'll check in later with thoughts when the day's action is over.