Blogs > The Full-Court Press

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

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Siena 84, Rider 62


The gamer.

The story from the MAAC's press conference in Springfield.

Having been to MAAC events in two states and driven a total of 240 miles, I'm off to bed. More to come when I wake up, including some extra postgame quotes and a quick Q&A with former Celtics captain and slam dunk contest champion Dee Brown.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Live from Albany: Rider at Siena

Report from Springfield


A few notes from today's MAAC tournament press conference in Springfield:
  • Commissioner Rich Ensor told me the financial guarantee from the MassMutual Center is substantially more than any guarantee they've had in the past, and that he was extremely confident the tournament would do better financially than it has in years. "The fans are all saying that the MAAC has done really well (in Albany), but we're going to do a lot better here," he said. "We're doing better right off the gate than we did last year.
  • He said past guarantees have been a little more than $150,000, and that the guarantee per year is "way past that" this year, in addition to the league's expenses being fully paid for.
  • Ensor, who has a Master's degree in sports management from UMass, was optimistic fans would consider the Pioneer Valley a destination site.
  • The league will hold its awards banquet at the Basketball Hall of Fame, and use the convention center adjacent to the arena for fan fests. The building also has practice courts, which will take away teams' needs to find gyms elsewhere in the city like they have done in years past.
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On an unrelated note, a reader wrote to ask if Ryan Thompson and Novar Gadson made the trip to Albany. I don't know where that question came from, but on the off chance that something was up, I checked with Tommy Dempsey, who said the Broncs have had "no issues" and that everyone who was expected to be in Albany tonight will be there.

Busy day

Greetings from South Hadley, Mass., where my day is about to begin with a drive from my mom's house to the MassMutual Center in Springfield for the MAAC's tournament press conference.

I'll have a post shortly after the presser with quotes from Rich Ensor.

Then it's off to Albany, where Rider and Siena will both be trying to make a statement tonight at the Times Union Center.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pete Iorizzo on Siena

It's Rider-Siena time, which means time to exchange Q&As with Pete Iorizzo of the Albany Times Union.

My answers to Pete's questions are at his blog.

Q: It's obvious that the writers who ranked the Saints in the preseason top 20 didn't expect them to be 6-4 through 10 games. Were some of the external expectations too high, or can you chalk up the losses to injuries and better-than-expected play by opponents?

A: I think it's a little bit of both.

Do I still believe Siena is the best team in the MAAC? Yes, I do. But
the Saints not a Top 25 team, not the Gonzaga of the East and not a lot
of the other superlatives that were thrown around during the offseason.
And it's not all Siena's fault -- a lot of that stuff never was
realistic for a team that lost arguably the most transformative player
in program history.

Injuries haven't helped, particularly when Edwin Ubiles didn't play
against Georgia Tech.

But moreso than injuries, Siena just isn't as deep as I think it
expected to be. Clarence Jackson has done a fine job replacing Kenny
Hasbrouck in the starting lineup. But there problem is there's been no
one to replace Jackson as the sixth man.

Q: Speaking of injuries, how close is Siena to being 100 percent healthy?

A: After 12 days off, Siena probably is as healthy as it's going to be.

The Saints will get a little deeper, because Kyle Griffin, a 6-foot-3
guard who transferred from La Salle, is eligible beginning Wednesday.
Davis Martens, a freshman forward from Germany, also is eligible Dec.
31.

Griffin could be a factor. Siena needs to find a way to get Ronald Moore
some more rest. If his role is spelling Moore a few minutes a night, the
Saints will take it, though I think he will add even more than that.

Q: If the season ended right now, Ronald Moore would have my vote for MAAC Player of the Year. You with me on that?

I'm not sure there's a clear-cut favorite right now. Moore wouldn't be a
bad choice, though there also was a great case to be made for Niagara's
Bilal Benn (15.6 ppg, 11.0 rpg) before he got hurt. Canisius' Frank
Turner also is leading the league in scoring (17.1 ppg) while averaging
6.0 assists.

Somehow, though, the POY race also seems to come back to the
front-runners, doesn't it? A year ago at this time, who would have
guessed Kenny Hasbrouck still would end up winning it?

I have a feeling Ubiles and Thompson will be right there when all is
said and done.

Q: Gun to your head, how many MAAC games will Siena win?

A: Fifteen. Siena will split with Rider and Niagara and lose to someone
else along the way.

Q: I know Tommy Dempsey picking Rider to win the league didn't sit well with Siena's fan base. How did it play among the Saints' players and coaches? In more general terms, do the Saints view this as a big rivalry game?

A: I actually just asked Moore that very question Monday. If he and his
teammates are using that as bulletin-board material, he gets an A-plus
for camouflaging it during our interview. Moore said he thought it was
the right move for Dempsey to make.

Moore's quote: "I feel that any coach should select his team to be No. 1
if he feels they're a good enough team to do so."

For whatever it's worth, I completely agree. There series has been
pretty even the past few seasons: Rider has beaten Siena two of the past
five times the teams have played. So why is it so outrageous for Rider
to believe it can overtake Siena and win the league title?

As to part two of your question, there's no question it's a rivalry
game. In fact Moore said, unprompted, that this is going to be viewed as
a statement game for both teams. This is Siena's chance to show it's
still the MAAC's top dog, and Rider's chance to back up Dempsey's vote.

MAAC Madness in Springfield

The MAAC has scheduled a press conference for tomorrow morning in Springfield to announce future plans for the MAAC tournament.

Assuming the league sticks to its plan to award the tournament to the same site for the next three-year period, Springfield will be the tournament's home from 2012-14.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Games of the Week



While we wait for news on the MAAC tournament -- the presidents voted today, but because details haven't been ironed out, no announcement is expected today -- here are five games to look for this week.

With conference play here, we'll run down the games of the week each Monday, starting today. For the purposes of this post, next Sunday is included in this week's games. There aren't a whole lot of marquee matchups to chose from, but the one Wednesday night in Albany will have to carry us through the week.

5. Saint Peter's at Rutgers, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Rutgers is 7-1 at the RAC, and looked fairly impressive last Tuesday against Rider. The Peacocks, meanwhile, have been anything but impressive, having inexplicably lost at home to Wagner. But Rutgers remains a bottom-tier Big East team prone to slip-ups in similar games (see 2007 against an SPC team younger and less talented than this one), making this a winnable game for Ryan Bacon and Co.

4. Saint Bonaventure at Niagara, 7 p.m. Tuesday

The Bonnies are hardly in the same class as Temple and Xavier, but they're not exactly Forham either. Add in the local rivalry angle and the fact that the Eagles are still trying to find themselves without Bilal Benn, and it's an intriguing non-confernece tuneup for Niagara.

3. Loyola at Indiana, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

We know that Hounds have talent, but we've yet to see them put it to good use against worthwhile competition. These Hoosiers are as similar to IU teams of the past as the Kansas City Royals are to their George-Brett-era predecessors, but it's still a road game against a Big 10 team for Loyola. A win would be a nice way to go into the holidays above .500.

2. Iona at No. 14 UConn, 2 p.m. Sunday, ESPNU

The Gaels are the most dangerous 0-2 MAAC team I can remember in the last several years. Though they haven't played a team with the Huskies' firepower, they've played well in up games (just ask Providence and Florida State), and UConn needed a second-half surge to get past Central Florida yesterday afternoon. It'll take a Christmas miracle for the Gaels to win, but they might be able to make it interesting.

1. Rider at Siena, Wednesday, 7 p.m.

The Broncs have had this one circled on their calendar since the schedule was drawn up, and the Saints would love to make an emphatic statement that they're still the dominant force in the MAAC. Throw in Tommy Dempsey's first-place vote in the preseason coaches' poll, and it's hard to imagine either fan base being more revved up for a game in December.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

And the winner is ...


The MAAC Council of Presidents will vote tomorrow on where to hold the MAAC tournament from 2012-14. After the Prudential Center withdrew its bid, the choice is between the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass., the Times Union Center in Albany and the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport.

Since the conference announced in the summer of 2008 that it would award the tournament to the same site for three years, we've run down all the potential options, weighing the pros and cons.

Tomorrow, we'll see what the league presidents decide to do. But for now, a quick rundown of what the options are:

ALBANY

Pros: Despite the validity of concerns about on-court fairness, the purpose of tournaments like these is to make money, and no city has been more successful in that regard than Albany, where attendance has dwarfed that of any other site. It's the only site that can say it's a known commodity, and one of the only Northeastern cities where the sports scene revolves around college basketball.

Cons: Presidents who put fairness as the top priority won't be able to vote for holding the tournament on the home court of the team that has won the league title the last two seasons and is favored to do so again. There's also some concern that if down the road, Siena gets eliminated early, there will be a lot of empty seats in the semifinals and finals.

SPRINGFIELD

Pros: There has been a lot of momentum toward holding the tournament in a neutral site, which is why a lot of league presidents liked the idea of Mohegan Sun before it ended up not submitting a bid. Mohegan would have had far more support if it had submitted a bid because it's much more marketable as a destination site than Springfield. But the Basketball Hall of Fame is a drawing card, and although there isn't a MAAC school within 90 miles, it's an easy enough drive for fans of most teams.

Cons: A neutral site is a risky proposition because there's no local fan base to tap into, making the tournament almost entirely dependent on fans traveling from other areas. And having grown up in Western Mass, I can testify that although the area has good college basketball fans, most of them have never heard of the MAAC.

BRIDGEPORT

Pros: Fairfield has sold the Harbor as a place that has three of four home fan bases instead of just one. Iona and Manhattan fans -- along with whatever Saint Peter's fans exist -- could make easy day trips, and the location is relatively convenient for Siena and Marist fans. It's also extremely easy to access by public transportation, with a stop on Amtrak and Metro North trains and the Bridgeport-Port Jeff. ferry literally next door to the arena.


Cons: If what you're seeking is fairness, can you really justify holding the tournament on ANY team's home court? And if you're seeking the place that offers the biggest potential for fan support, can you really hold it anywhere but Albany?

I'd place Springfield as the favorite because of the momentum for a neutral site, but put Albany as a very live underdog. Nothing would shock me, but Bridgeport is certainly the longshot.

Let's get some chatter going. Where does everyone WANT the tournament to be held, and where does everyone THINK it will be held?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Rider-Monmouth postgame quotes

Rider coach Tommy Dempsey after the Broncs beat Monmouth 70-63 on a snowy Saturday in West Long Branch:

Opening statement: Never an easy game. It's a little bit of a rivalry game. I think both teams get excited about it. I think both schools get excited about it. It's a road game against a well-coached team, so they never make it easy on you. It was a tough grind playing against the matchup and it's not secret we've been struggling to make 3s, so getting 40 minutes of zone, you kind of go into it hoping you're going to make some 3s and loosen up the defense. Once the 3s weren't falling we decided at halftime to try to spread the court with guards and attack.

I thought Jhamar was a huge key. I'm very proud of him. I know that he was excited to play in this game. I know he probably felt a little bit of pressure coming back here and didn't actually get off to the greatest of starts either, but just hung in there, drove the zone in the second half, made some big-time finishes, and I thought was the difference. I thought the play of Justin (Robinson) and Jhamar was the difference, and it had to feel good for Jhamar.

On whether Rider was happy to escape with a win or displeased with a sometimes-shaky performance: Again, you're not going to always play great, but Monmouth played well. Sometimes, the other team's trying to win too. They're well-coached and Travis Taylor is a great player, and Campbell steps up and gets 27. You have 27 from Campbell on the perimeter and 20 from Taylor inside, it's not easy. We always focus on, if we don't beat teams by 20 it's always "what happened?" But at the same time, they played very well. We were fortunate to beat then, and we have to go get ready for Siena -- a game we've been looking forward to probably all year. So we're just fortunate to get out of here. We beat a team that played well today. They were 2-1 in this building, so I think they'll win a lot of games here.

Jhamar Youngblood, who scored 16 points in his first game against his former teammates and coaches:

A couple of those guys are my best friends: RJ and Kevin, I talk to those guys three or four times a week. We're really good friends. Even some of the students in the stands, so it was fun playing against them.

On being heckled by some of the fans, who booed him when he touched the ball and chanted "traitor" when he was at the free-throw line: I just tried my best to block it out.

On his performance in the second half, when he scored 14 points: All season, Coach Dempsey was just telling me "stay aggressive, stay aggressive." Sometimes I'm a little lackadaisical and I try to fit in with the team. Coach just tells me to stay aggressive, and I knew we needed some more offense out there. Ryan didn't have his best offensive game, and Justin played well, so I just tried to be aggressive like he asked me to.

Ryan Thompson:

On Rider's schedule and the Broncs' performance Saturday: Coach gave us a good schedule, but he always tells us that any team can win on any given day. We didn't start off shooting the ball too well, so they got ahead a little bit. But we turned it around in the second half, played hard, starting getting stops on defense, and got the win.

On where Rider stands heading into conference play: I still feel we're at the top of the league. We have a couple of things we need to work on -- a couple of minor adjustments. We still need to focus on playing the ball more and looking at the little things on defense and some things on offense, but I still feel like we're going to be good going into conference play.

Live from West Long Branch: Rider at Monmouth

Scouting Monmouth

The skinny on Rider's Saturday opponent:

The Hawks, NCAA tournament participants in 2006, have gone 27-65 in the last three years. Travis Taylor, a 6-7 sophomore forward, is averaging team bests of 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds. He scored 28 points in the Hawks' win over Penn and has eight or more rebounds in all but three games. ... Senior guard Whitney Coleman (12.6 points, 40 percent 3-point shooting) and junior guard Justin Sofman (8.7 points, 41 percent from 3) are both threats from the perimeter. ... Six-foot junior guard James Hett leads the team in assists with an average of 5.1 per game. ... Sophomore guard Will Campbell (pictured) is averaging 9.8 points off the bench.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dempsey on Ryan Thompson, Part II

Tomorrow's paper will include a story on Ryan Thompson, who has scored 47 points over his last two games and appears to be breaking out of an early-season slump.

Eight NBA scouts were at Tuesday's Rider-Rutgers game watching Thompson, and you'd have to imagine they liked what they saw: 26 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in 42 minutes.

It's too early to tell much about Thompson's chances of being drafted. Some mock drafts have him as a second-round pick, while others don't have him being selected. But you don't have to look past Jason Thompson for evidence of how much draft stock can change during a season.

Heading into Jason's senior year, most people had him pegged as a player who would be taken in the middle of the second round. But after averaging a double-double, carrying Rider to the MAAC title game and dominating in nearly every game, he wound up as a lottery pick.

Where will Ryan end up? We won't get a crystal clear picture until much later in the year, perhaps not until the weeks or even the days leading up to the draft.

What we do know is that in order for Rider to contend for the MAAC title, the Broncs need Thompson to play like a pro.

With that in mind, here's Tommy Dempsey on the progress Thompson has made over the past couple of weeks:

"One of the things that makes him a really great player is that he takes what the defense gives him, and he says that a lot. That's a great quality, but not always the greatest quality for your star. That's great for almost everyone in your locker room. I'm always saying that -- take what the defense gives you. But when you have a guy like Ryan, sometimes they're not giving you anything. So you can't be afriad to take some bad shots. You can't be afraid to force it, because if you take what the defense gives you, their approach is, 'we're not going to give him anything.'

"Those are sometimes his quiet games, because he's not a guy who likes to force plays. In the last couple of games, he's forced some plays and forced some shots. When you're as talented as he is, you can still force them and make plays. A lot of guys, when they force it, they look bad. The special guys, they can force it and still look good. He knows he has some rope from me to take some bad shots. Your best players have some opportunities to take some shots and lead you to victories. It's the way I've been coaching him, and I think he's responded pretty well to it over the last couple of weeks."

Rider-Monmouth time change

Rider's game tomorrow at Monmouth has been moved from 7 p.m. to 2 p.m. because of the expected snow storm.
...
Today's story about Rider needing more from the bench.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rutgers 80, Rider 70


This was a game Rider wanted badly to win.

It's a rivalry game, though one that's only been played 15 times over the past half-century. The players all know each other, the coaches recruit a lot of the same players, and since the Broncs have only beaten the Scarlet Knights once, a win at the RAC tonight would have made the Broncs' steak taste extra good tomorrow.

That makes it a loss that's tough to swallow, especially since the Broncs got shut out in overtime, and since Rutgers, while technically a Big East team, is closer in talent level to Saint Joe's and La Salle than to Syracuse and UConn.

Yet just as the Broncs had no right to feel good about themselves after squeaking past Marist, they will leave here tonight feeling good about the direction of their season.

That's true for several reasons, but as I wrote in the game story I just finished, none are more important than the play of Ryan Thompson.

There were eight NBA scouts here, all watching as Thompson played against a team from the Big Six conferences for the fourth time this year. Rutgers may be a Big East doormat, but the Knights have more size (Hamady Ndiaye as a 7-footer) and talent (Mike Rosario a McDonald's All-American) than all but a few of Rider's opponents.

That makes Thompson's performance -- 26 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in a game-high 42 minutes -- especially encouraging.

You can tell that Thompson has lost some confidence in a jump shot that served him well last year. But knowing the 3s wouldn't be falling, and taking advantage of Rutgers' man-to-man defense, Thompson attacked the rim relentlessly and had encouraging results.

It was no wonder that when Rider needed a bucket to tie the game and force overtime, the Broncs turned to Thompson, who promptly delivered by scoring on a third-chance opportunity to tie the game at 70 with 12.5 seconds left.

Then it was Thompson, 10 seconds later, grabbing a rebound on Jonathan Mitchell's missed jumper and heaving the ball 70 feet in a desperation attempt to win it in regulation.

Where does that leave Rider after 12 games?

If I had sat down in November and tried to predict the result of every Rider game, I would have probably had them 8-4 in the games they've played so far, with the losses coming to Mississippi State, Virginia, Kentucky and either La Salle or Rutgers.

I would have picked them to beat Sam Houston State and either the Explorers or the Knights. I've never heard a coach predict the result of any game, let alone 12 of them, but I'd bet Rider's internal expectations were similar to mine.

That means from a win-loss standpoint, the Broncs are a half-step short of what they thought they would be, which is a top-tier MAAC team capable of routinely winning games like the one they lost tonight.

From an overall performance standpoint, they went from exceeding expectations early to falling far short of them from the Virginia game through the Marist game.

I don't think the Broncs are thrilled with where they are now, nor should they be. But by far their biggest concern during that late-November lull was the funk Thompson was in.

It's looking more and more like that funk is a thing of the past, and for that reason, Rider took a step forward tonight.

Live from the RAC: Rider at Rutgers

Monday, December 14, 2009

Scouting Rutgers



The skinny on Rider's opponent in the Rivalry for Route 1, of which we'll have wall-to-wall coverage tomorrow night from the RAC.


The Scarlet Knights have won three straight despite having lost center Gregory Echenique, who’s out for a month after undergoing eye surgery. ... Mike Rosario (team-high 16.8 points) has scored in double figures in all but one game. He’s shooting 39 percent from 3-point range and averaging 4.8 rebounds, third best on the team. ... Hamady Ndiaye (9 points, 4 rebounds, 4.8 blocks) is coming off a 22-point, 10-rebound performance against Monmouth. ... Mike Coburn (7 points, 4.5 assists) has had at least three assists in all but one game. ... Jonathan Mitchell (8.3 points, 4.3 rebounds) and Patrick Jackson (5, 3.1) will start along with Ndiaye in the frontcourt.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Super Saturday

The first half in Poughkeepsie is barely half over, and it's already clear that BU will take care of Marist.

That means that MAAC won't go 7-0 today.

But how well will the league do?

Iona has a tough game in the Tim Welsh Bowl in Providence against a Friars team picked to finish near the bottom of the Big East but still favored to win tonight.

Manhattan has an interesting matchup with Morgan State, a team that went to the NCAA tournament last year but lost to crosstown rival Loyola eearlier this year.

Canisius hosts Bowling Green in a battle of 4-3 teams. The so-far erratic Griffs are five-point favorites, searching for an impressive performance to give them some momentum heading into late December.

Saint Peter's is playing now against a woeful Wagner team that, at least for now, is managing to keep things close.

Rider plays at winless UMBC tonight in a game that should not be close, but could be if the Broncs turn in an effort similar to the one they turned in last Sunday against Marist.

The game of the night, though, is in frigid Cedar Falls, Iowa, where Siena and UNI will clash in a rematch of last year's Bracket Buster game.

My prediction: The Saints, three-point underdogs, find a way to win, and the MAAC goes 4-3, with Marist, Iona and Manhattan suffering the three losses.

What do you guys think?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Scouting UMBC

The skinny on Rider's Saturday opponent:

The Retrievers, two years removed from America East regular season and tournament championship, lost four starters from last year’s team, which went 15-17. Six-five senior forward Matt Spadaforda, averaging 6.5 points and 4.9 rebounds, is their only returning starter and their only upperclass starter. Chauncey Gilliam, a 6-5 sophomore guard, is averaging a team-best 12 points. He and 6-4 frsehman Shawn Grant (11.9 points) are the only Retrievers averaging double figures in scoring. Both players are part of a three-guard attack that also includes 5-10 sophomore Chris De La Rosa (7.3 points, team-best 6.5 assists). Spadafora and 6-5 freshman Adrian Satchell (5.6 points, 5.3 rebounds) make up one of the smallest starting frontcourts in the nation — a factor that should allow Rider to dominate the boards.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tommy Dempsey on Rider's performance

Rider coach Tommy Dempsey after his team's 69-60 loss to La Salle:

Opening statement:

"Never easy to lose, especially at home, but I would say I took more positives from this performance than negatives. I think we were a little hesitant early in the game. We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, but there was a will, there was a fight, there was a toughness. We competed extremely hard on the glass against a huge, physical basketball team. We had 18 offensive rebounds, they had 10. We were out-rebounded, but part of the reason we got out-rebounded is that we only shot 31 percent. Part of that was their physicality, and that showed up at times, but we brought the fight to them in the second half. We didn't back down even though it certainly looked like they were the better basketball team in the first half. It looked like it was going to be a very hard game for us to win, but we had the ball down two."

Was your performance on the offensive glass in the second half (nine offensive rebounds despite nine fewer missed shots than the first half) a key part of the comeback?

I think the key part of the comeback was the competitiveness of the kids, especially on a night when we had nothing going. We shot 31 percent against a very good team and we were right in it until the end. I think if you had told me we were going to shoot 31 percent tonight I would have thought it would have been a very long night. But again, I thought it was two good teams, two teams that will compete at the top of their leagues, and a tough game to lose.

Talk about Jon Thompson's performance off the bench.

Jon, when he tried to dunk it on (Aaric) Murray, it brought the crowd to life, and Jon plays (great) defense. The reason I left him in the game is, yeah he was bringing energy, but we had a lot of stops in the second half and Jon was a big part of that.

Talk about the play of Ryan Thompson, who fought through a bad start and finished with 16 points a day after almost getting shut out.

"He just continued to play through it tonight. I told him if you end up 3-for-25, I'll take that right now, but let's get you to stay aggressive. I thought he had a big second half and he really looked good. ... He had a nice rhythm. ... I thought it was a team effort. I thought Novar (Gadson) showed a lot of heart tonight. I thought he was one of the more competitive guys in the game. I thought he played at a really high level, and he was one of the toughest guys on the floor. That's what we need him to be."

John Giannini on Rider

La Salle coach John Giannini after Wednesday's 69-60 win over Rider:

"We're thrilled. I have, for good reason, been building up Rider all week with our players. They got a win over a ranked team, they have a win at home against a Big Five team, they were 26-4 in their last 30 games at home. It's a veteran team with good players, they've beaten good teams, they rarely lose at home.

"They made a great run at us. They played with great effort. We're a really good rebounding team. It's one thing that we physically do at a really high level, and in the second half they got a lot of second chances, they played with great heart.

"We earned every bit of that win with the way that Rider challenged us. I like the way that we responded."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Live from the Zoo: La Salle at Rider

Dempsey: State of the Broncs

Tommy Dempsey on the state of his team heading into tonight's game:

"I don't think we've really hit our stride yet.

"We played well opening night, we played pretty well against Saint Joe's, but I don't think we've really hit our stride yet. You look aroudn and see what everyone else's record is, and I think we've probably played tougher competition than anyone else, so you can feel good about that, but I think you have to be cautious. I talk to my team about being cautious about ourselves because we haven't played that well.

"I take the approach with them that win or lose, we evaluate on performance. Yes, I know people say the bottom line is to win, but it's not always the bottom line. If you get into February and you're in a dog right near the top of the league, it's different. But right now I think how you're playing is just as important as winning or losing.

"We're not playing for an at-large berth, so I just want to be playing better. If we play great (tonight) in a loss, I could live with that. If we play poorly in a win, I guess I could live with that because the win would be important to us against a Big Five team that I really think has a chance to win the Atlantic 10 based on what I've seen on film, but we won't be able to play poorly and win. If we win it'll be a great win, but at the same time, I want to play well. Regardless of the outcome (tonight) or Saturday (at UMBC) or at Rutgers, once we get to Siena (Dec. 23), I want to win.

"Right now, it's about playing better, because we haven't really played very many good games. I don't really feel good about the way we've played, so it's more of a big game from an evaluation standpoint than from a win-loss standpoint."

Dempsey on Ryan Thompson

Interesting stuff from Tommy Dempsey on Rider trying to get Ryan Thompson going:

"At times I think Ryan, I wouldn't say takes a back seat, but he has faith that other guys can step up and score, and that allows him to be more passive sometimes than I'd even like. ... Yes, there's other guys who can score, but at the same time, we're at our best when he's playing really well. He has to understand that it's great to have faith in your teammates, and we all do. We all know that Justin can score and Mike can score if you're going to play him one-on-one and Novar can really score, but at the same time I'd really like Ryan to take on a little bit more of a scorer's mentality. But when Ryan is playing a little passive at times, Novar's a guy who can put his head down and go. He was able to do that (againt Marist).

"I think he thinks about it as Ryan likes to run the show. Ryan doesn't necessarily want to be the guy who takes every shot. I think the better other guys play offensively, the more it allows him to be a little bit more comfortable with, yeah he's going to take the big shot and he's going to make plays, but he likes to run the show. He doesn't want it to be the Ryan Thompson show. That's not what he's comfortable with, and I have to continue to tell Ryan to be aggressive. At the same time, he's a little bit more of a setup guy. I don't think he has to be the star every night, but I think he needs to continue to be aggressive."

Dempsey on the La Salle game

I met with Tommy Dempsey Tuesday to talk about the Broncs in advance of Wednesday night's game against La Salle.

The coach touched on issues rangning from Ryan Thompson's lack of aggressiveness to the team's so-so play over the past few weeks.

First, though, here's what he had to say about facing the Explorers:

"It's a fun game for a couple of reasons.

"One ... theres's a lot of bragging rights. They like to hold their heads high in Philly. They beat us in Philly last year. To win this one, I think would give (our players) a lot of pride in the way they're playing. You have these two Atlantic 10 teams who are coming in here to play us on campus. Those are opportunities we want to take advantage of.

"The next thing is it's a game that mimics a game that's played at the top of the MAAC. Good environment, good crowd. Those games help prepare you for the Siena game, the Niagara game, the Fairfield game -- those games where there will be a lot of intensity.

"Those Big Five teams all have proud programs, and we kind of view ourselves as an up-and-coming program that's trying to get a little more respect in the Philly area, because that's a big recruiting area for us. It helps us. It helps my staff and myself when you're in someone's living room in Philadelphia and we can say 'We beat Saint Joe's' and it gets their intention.

"More importantly, it's a big game because we don't think we've been playing well."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Benn, Needham are MAAC weekly honorees

From the MAAC's weekly release:


MAAC PLAYER OF THE WEEK

BILAL BENN, NIAGARA
Senior, Guard/Forward, 6-5, 205, Philadelphia, Pa./Villanova

Benn, a senior guard/forward, recorded a pair of double-doubles, averaged 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game during Niagara's 2-0 conference weekend. He senior tallied a game-high 22 points and 13 rebounds in Friday's win over Manhattan. Benn shot 6-of-8 from the floor in the second half of the win, helping to turn a seven-point first half lead into a 24-point win. On Sunday, the swingman recorded his MAAC-best sixth double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds against Loyola. He added four assists, three 3-pointers, two steals and a block in the all-around effort in the 20-point win.

MAAC ROOKIE OF THE WEEK

DEREK NEEDHAM, FAIRFIELD
Freshman, Guard, 5-11, 180, Dalton, Ill./De La Salle Institute

Needham, a freshman guard, was the team's leading scorer with 20.0 points per game as the Stags won two of three games last week. He tallied 20 or more points twice, including a career-best 26 markers in the Hofstra game. Needham was also the team's top scorer in the win against Saint Peter's, scoring 18 of his 20 points in the second half as the Stags overcame a one-point halftime deficit. For the week, he shot 42 percent from three-point range, hitting five three pointers against Hofstra and another five treys versus Saint Peter's. Needham dished off 17 assists against just six turnovers, averaging 5.8 assists per contest.


Jermaine Jackson

A few readers were wondering, so figured I would post this: I checked with Tommy Dempsey, and Jermaine Jackson WILL play Wednesday against La Salle after sitting out Sunday's game with the flu. Pat Mansell, serving a two-game suspension for violating team rules, will not play.

Sunday's best & worst

Best team performance: Fairfield (won at Saint Peter's 61-48)

I started to buy into the notion of the Stags as a team to be reckoned with when they took a good Hofstra team down to the wire, but it was hard to be sure they were for real without an impressive conference win. I never thought winning in Jersey City would be considered a statement win, but for a team that's gone through what Fairfield has, Sunday's victory was exactly that, especially after Saint Peter's beat Iona in its MAAC opener.

I was high on the Peacocks before the season began and still think they can be an upper-half team. For the Stags to win going away despite going 10-for-22 at the line speaks volumes about how quickly they're growing up.

Honorable mention: Niagara (beat Loyola 77-57)

The Eagles sure look better with Tyrone Lewis in the lineup. Lewis had 21 points Sunday, and when he's on the court, good things tend to happen at both ends of the floor. That's a good thing, since he played 38 minutes against the Hounds.

Best individual performance: Derek Needham, Fairfield (20 points, 4 assists in win over SPC)

Despite starting the game on a 10-0 run and dominating the first 10 minutes, the Stags may have lost if not for Needham's performance in the second half, when he scored 19 of his 20 points and hit five 3s.

Needham played what he and Ed Cooley described as a poor game against Marist, but still ended up with 12 points and six assists. Then Sunday, he played what might have been his worst half of the year, but managed to come back right away with his best. If awards were given out in December, Needham would be the unanimous choice for MAAC Rookie of the Year and probably be at least a second-team all-conference pick.

Honorable mention: Daye Kaba, Marist (13 points, 9 rebounds in loss to Rider)

The main storyline of this game, which we'll get to in a minute, is Rider's baffling inability to score against zone defenses. But the game still wouldn't have been close in the final minutes if the Red Foxes hadn't hit some big shots down the stretch.

Some of those biggest shots came from Kaba, who scored nine points in the second half, when the Red Foxes hung around by shooting 50 percent from the floor.

It'll be interesting to see, come spring semester, how Marist looks with Kaba, Dejuan Goodwin and R.J. Hall on the perimeter and Villanova transfer Casiem Drummond in the low post.

Worst team performance: Rider (beat Marist 55-51)

Yes, it's a league win and yes, the Broncs have showed in the past that they can follow up atrocious performances with very good ones. But Rider has been lost all season against zone defenses, and its performance Sunday bordered on pathetic.

Pick any measure by which to judge offensive efficiency, and the Broncs failed Sunday. They shot 23 percent from 3 (6-for-26), but as Tommy Dempsey pointed out after the game, it wasn't JUST that they missed 3s. They also missed everything from mid-range jumpers to layups to free throws.

Luckily for the Broncs, their opponent was a team that lost 75-38 to Hartford.

Dishonorable mention: Loyola (lost at Niagara, 77-57).

The Hounds entered conference play on a high note, having played arguably their best game of the year in a win over crosstown rival Morgan State. That they weren't so much as competitive in either of their two Buffalo games doesn't speak well about their prospects for staying out of the play-in round.

Worst individual performance: Ryan Thompson (one point in 39 minutes against Marist)

A free throw with 12.5 seconds left was all that kept the preseason Player of the Year from being held scoreless for the first time since the second game of his career.

Dishonorable mention: Frank Turner and Julius Coles, Canisius (combined 28 points, eight turnovers in 71-57 loss to Manhattan)

One player with four turnovers won't kill you. When your two best players BOTH have that on their stat line, and when there isn't nearly enough offense to make up for it, bad things will happen.

***
Rider could have used an extra zone-buster Sunday, but was without Pat Mansell, who Dempsey suspended for two games for violating team rules.

***

Siena, fresh off a thrashing of cross-town rival Albany, opens MAAC play against Iona. I expect you'll see another statement from the Saints, who are unquestionably the team to beat in the league despite a less-than-inspiring start to the season.

***

Anybody up for some high school swimming talk?

How about high school hockey?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Live from the Zoo: Marist at Rider

Today's games

If you're a sports fan, you can't ask for much more today: A full slate of NFL games with playoff implications, a host of announcements regarding bowl games in college football, and last but not least, a big day in college hoops that includes four MAAC games.

I'm at the Zoo and will have live coverage when we tip in 13 minutes. The Broncs are 12 1/2-point favorites and just need to take care of business, as Tommy Dempsey said yesterday.

Elsewhere, Canisius goes for a 2-0 start against Manhattan, Niagara looks to take care of business against a Loyola team that turned in a surprisingly dreadful performance on Friday, and in a battle of teams with 1-0 league records, Fairfield plays at Saint Peter's.

I have a busy day ahead of me -- a sports section to put out immediately after this game -- but I promise at some point later on I'll have a MAAC recap post.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A pretty good bad performance

If it wasn't already clear Derek Needham was the prohibitive early favorite to be the MAAC Rookie of the Year, consider Needham's game last night in Fairfield's 70-61 win over Marist.

The point guard from Chicago played arguably his worst game of the season, provoking Ed Cooley to say the following to the Connecticut Post: "I don't know where Derek's head was for 35 minutes -- it was somewhere in Chicago. He has to understand teams are going to scout you. They are going to come after your leading scorers and you're not a secret any more. You are a great player and you have to prepare for that."

You'd think, given that assessment, that he'd have been held to four points, committed six turnovers and fouled out five minutes into the second half.

Yet Needham's bad performance produced the following stats: 14 points, seven assists and only two turnovers in 31 minutes.

Sure, if Needham was REALLY on the game might not have been as close as it was. But if he wasn't on the court, it could have been worse for the Stags, who couldn't have afforded to start their MAAC season with a loss to the woeful Red Foxes.

Then there's this quote from Yorel Hawkins, which you won't always hear upperclassmen say about freshmen:

"We follow his lead," Hawkins told the Post. "He's the captain of the team."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Last night, tonight

I doubt Jamal Barney reads the blog, but surely, someone must have told him we thought he (along with Shane Walker and Brian Rudolph) needed to be more active.

Barney scored a game-high 22 points off the bench and Loyola posted its most impressive win of the year, coming from behind to top defending MEAC champion -- and local rival -- Morgan State last night.

The Hounds got another solid game from Brett Harvey (15 points) and a key 3 from the 6-10 Walker in a late run that sent them past Morgan, a team whose resume includes a win at Arkansas. (Sure, they're not your father's Razorbacks, but when it's MEAC vs. SEC, the money's going to be on the SEC team 99 times out of 100.)

The win puts the 5-2 Hounds in good shape heading into Friday's MAAC opener at Canisius -- a game Jimmy Patsos' team should win handily.

Meanwhile, colleague Pete Iorizzo writes that Siena will have its hands full tonight, dealing with a dominant big man and a team led by his former coach.

The Saints are four-point underdogs against the team ranked 23rd in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.

Who does everyone like tonight in Atlanta?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The week ahead

Welcome to December everyone, the month in which conference play begins and teams will build enough of a sample size for us to offer some sort of judgment heading into the New Year.

That isn't to say we can't make some judgments based on the MAAC's first 58 games. You can bet your mortgage that Marist will be in the play-in round at the MAAC tournament, for instance, and although the competition is going to get a LOT stiffer, we know fans won't be forgetting the name Derek Needham any time soon.

But in the next several weeks, we'll start to develop a rough outline for what to expect when league play gets going full-throttle next month.

With that in mind, a look what should be five revealing games for the rest of the week, which for the purpose of
this post, includes Sunday:

5. Loyola at Canisius, 9 p.m. Friday

Did anyone think Brett Harvey -- not Jamal Barney or even Shane Walker -- would be the Hounds leading scorer through seven games?

If Loyola is going to be a factor, it's going to need more from Barney -- last year's league scoring champ -- Walker, and Brian Rudolph, who are averaging a combined 33.4 points.

Then there's the Golden Griffs, whose three wins have come against teams with a combined three wins. They have every significant contributor back, but right now, it's hard to tell if any of them have gotten better.

4. Manhattan at Niagara, 7 p.m. Friday

Ricko Pickett has had back-to-back solid games and Daryl Crawford (12 or more points in all but one game) has been the go-to guy the Jaspers need.

Manhattan, though, has yet to beat anyone with an RPI in the top 200. Its best performance by far has been a five-point home loss to William & Mary, and a date with the Purple Eagles poses an interesting test.

Niagara (4-3) looked to be riding high after taking care of a good Central Florida team, but the Eagles haven't looked like a MAAC contender in their three games since, meaning a shaky performance in their conference opener would be cause for concern.

3. Fairfield at Saint Peter's, Sunday, 2 p.m.

Because of the epidemic of injuries that have hit Fairfield -- Warren Edney and Greg Nero, arguably the Stags' two best players, will both miss the entire season -- I picked the Stags two spots behing the Peacocks in my preseason MAAC rankings.

And while Fairfield's wins have been against even less impressive teams than Manhattan's (the Stags don't have a win against a team in the RPI top 300), Needham and Yorel Hawkins have been so good that I'm beginning to reconsider their spot in the pecking order.

As for the Peacocks, Wesley Jenkins' clutch late-game performance -- two free throws, followed by a steal on the ensuing inbounds pass in the final seconds -- got them back in the win column last night following a pair of losses. If they're an upper-half team, this is the kind of game they should win at home.

2. Saint Peter's at Iona, Friday, 7:30 p.m.

If one MAAC team has been a pleasant surprise, it's been the Gaels, whose only losses have come to Florida State and in overtime to Baylor at the Old Spice Classic.

There's still not a dominant scorer, but Scott Machado (4.8 assists per game) is continuing to develop, and Iona's opponents are averaging more than 20 turnovers per game.

A win would put the Gaels at 5-2 -- a record Kevin Willard would have gladly signed for a month ago.

1. Siena at No. 23 Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. Wednesday

Perception-wise, the biggest reason the MAAC had a less than impressive November was the Saints' inability to stay on the national radar.

That's not to say every other team did their part to help the league's reputation. But if Siena was ranked -- and the Saints were one spot away in the AP poll before the Temple game -- it'd be hard to quibble with Niagara losing to Austin Pea.

The tilt with the Yellow Jackets, though, gives the Saints a chance for redemption in their last non-conference test before they open MAAC play next Monday at Iona.

With four of their five starters playing with various nagging injuries, escaping Atlanta with a win won't be easy. But if the Saints pull one off in these circumstances, they'll regain some of the swagger that they've lost over the last few weeks.

Taking it to the hole

Tommy Dempsey has talked all year about his team taking what defenses have given it.

Mississippi State sagged back, clogged up lanes and tried to force the Broncs to win with long-distance shooting.

The Bulldogs' plan backfired when Rider shot 62.5 percent from 3 and won going away.

Lehigh defended Rider similarly, and the results were again impressive for the Broncs: They hit a school record 16 3s on 29 attempts (55.2 percent) and won by 15.

But after Rider's 2-0 start, the Broncs' performance didn't fit into Rider's philosophy.

When the Broncs had open looks, the shots stopped falling with such consistency. Often, the open looks weren't there, and there was no alternative mode of attack -- no dribble-driving, no pounding it into the low post -- to bail them out.

The deficiency was never more visible than in the Virginia game. Rider attempted seven more 3s than it did at Mississippi State, but made three fewer. At Kentucky, they weren't merely ducking and chucking -- only 17 of their 58 field goal attempts were from 3 -- but their lack of precision (4-for-17 for a season-low 23.5 percent) took what could have been a game and turned it into a massacre.

Stylistically, they may have been taking what the defense was giving them, but they looked out of sorts when the shots stopped falling.

In two of Rider's next three games -- a loss to Sam Houston Stat and a shaky win over a cast of walk-ons from Binghamton -- they shot below 31 percent from 3 each time and suffered the consequences.

Here's a look at how 3-point shooting affected the results heading into Monday night.

Opponent 3-point% Result
MSU 62.5 Won 88-74
Lehigh 55.2 Won 86-71
Virginia 30.4 Lost 79-46
Kentucky 23.5 Lost 92-63
FAMU 38.5 Won 88-73
SHSU 29.2 Lost 80-68
Binghamton 30.4 Won 58-50

Rider was either living (beating the 18th-ranked team in the country and easily handling a Patriot League contender) or dying (being thoroughly embarrassed in back-to-back games, then struggling in Cancun) by the three.

Given their lack of recent perimeter success, it's a good thing for Rider that Saint Joe's played agressive man-to-man Monday night, coming out on Rider's shooters and leaving itself vulnerable to being beat off the dribble in an 81-73 Rider win.

For the first time in a while, Rider took what the defense gave it and succeeded. The Broncs shot only 29.4 percent from 3 -- their lowest percentage in a win and their second lowest of the season, behind only the 23.5 against Kentucky -- but that didn't matter for the following reasons:

  • Only 17 of their 69 field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. That's 24.6 percent -- the lowest percentage of shots that have been 3s all year.
  • They outscored Saint Joe's 50-24 in the paint.
  • They owned the battle of the boards, winning the rebounding battle 44-32 (their widest margin of the year), including 17-7 on the offensive glass.
None of this is to say that beating the team picked 10th in the Atlantic 10 is a signature win. It's an important win from a recruiting standpoint (the game being on TV in greater Philadelphia didn't hurt), but not the type of win that Rider will be able to point to in March as evidence that it deserves, say, an NIT bid.

But it should give Rider fans a bit more confidence that if it's a MAAC game in January and the 3s aren't falling, the Brocns won't be without hope -- or other ways to put points on the board.