America East Notebook

by - Published December 31, 2005 in Conference Notes



America East Notebook

by Phil Kasiecki

Great Danes Start to Come Around

As the preseason favorite in America East, Albany figured to set the tone for the conference this season. With a 2-0 record after early wins over Binghamton and Stony Brook, the Great Danes are doing just that, but they didn’t quite do it in non-conference play like one might have expected.

The Great Danes have three non-conference games left, including an appearance in the Bracket Buster in February. They currently sport a 5-6 record after Wednesday night’s win at struggling Brown, a game that wasn’t a sterling effort but could be a sign of things to come. They didn’t come into the game thinking it would be a cakewalk with the Bears, who are 2-8 and continue to struggle mightily on the season.

“You never want to be that team that a team breaks out against, and that was a concern of mine,” head coach Will Brown said after the game.

The Great Danes’ record is reflective in part of the schedule they have played, which includes road games with Florida, San Diego State and UCLA, but also of an adjustment they have had to make: depth. It was just two seasons ago that this injury-riddled team was very thin and had a walk-on in their rotation. Jon Iati, the America East Rookie of the Year that year, led the nation in minutes played at just under 40 per game. But now, depth abounds for Albany, which is the primary reason the coaches picked them to win a conference where few teams have both talent and experience. Past starters like senior Levi Levine and Iati are now reserves, which they haven’t been before.

Depth helped win Wednesday’s game, as three players, including Kirsten Zoellner and Jamar Wilson, picked up their fourth foul in a short time in the second half. The shooting of sophomore forward Brent Wilson (17 points, including 4-7 on three-pointers) and the solid reserve play of Jason Siggers (10 points in a career-high 23 minutes) and Iati (10 points) went a long way to getting it done.

Injuries also played a role. Versatile sophomore Brian Lillis missed some preseason practice time and the first two games after having surgery early in the fall to repair a stress fracture in his right foot. Lillis is expected to be the team’s point guard going forward, which should only make the team better since it will allow Jamar Wilson to play off the ball and focus on scoring, which he does well.

“I think we’re going to start playing better and better and better, whereas I think a lot of teams in the next couple of weeks will start leveling off,” Brown said. “I think in another 2-4 weeks, we’ll really start to blossom as a team.

“Our biggest thing right now is getting back to where we’re all healthy, which we’re close to, and then guys understanding and learning new roles. That’s been the biggest thing for us.”

It wouldn’t hurt if Lucious Jordan could get going as well. After Wednesday’s game, the senior guard is averaging under 7 points per game, less than half of what he averaged last year. He missed the first three weeks of practice and hasn’t really gotten untracked.

Other America East Notes

  • Vermont goes into the new year with a 5-5 record after a 72-62 home win over American on Thursday. They won their only conference game thus far, and as the young team gains more confidence and starts gelling better now that they have some games under their belt, this team won’t be an easy out.
  • Boston University went 1-1 at the Cable Car Classic in Santa Clara, taking a tough 63-57 loss against Bucknell before an 80-69 win over UC Riverside in the consolation game. Leading scorer Corey Hassan is a scorching 24-46 from long range in the last seven games, where the Terriers have gone 5-2, and Kevin Gardner had a big second half in the win over UC Riverside. The Terriers’ offense appears to be getting better, and that should continue with Tony Gaffney back since he is another potential scorer.
  • Kenny Adeleke has seven double-doubles in ten games for Hartford thus far. Freshman Chris Cole has helped improve the guard play, posting a better than 2:1 assist/turnover ratio and allowing guys like Adeleke and Aaron Cook to score. That makes the Hawks a potential contender in the wide-open conference.

     

Northeastern: Short-handed Huskies

by - Published December 31, 2005 in Newswire



Short-handed Huskies: Northeastern played Friday’s game against Holy Cross without head coach Ron Everhart and star senior Jose Juan Barea. Everhart received two technical fouls in Tuesday’s 72-67 loss at Wright State, and received a one-game suspension per Colonial Athletic Association policy. Barea, who leads the nation in assists, sat out the 59-44 loss with a knee injury. The move was precautionary, and the Huskies expect Barea to play in Monday’s game against George Mason. [12/31/05]

Temple vs. Villanova

by - Published December 31, 2005 in Columns



Bitter Big Five Rivals Square Off

by John Celestand

If you’re not from Philly, then you can’t understand. Don’t even try. Philadelphia is about Big Five basketball; and when the two biggest teams in the Big Five square off, you can expect nothing less than a back alley brawl.

Villanova and Temple will square off today for the 80th time, on the last day of the year, for Philadelphia bragging rights. The rivalry is unmatched in the city, where both teams are the city’s storied programs. Villanova is neatly tucked away just miles outside of the city on Lancaster Avenue, in an area that locals call “The Main Line.” Temple sits in the heart of North Philly on Broad Street, right in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Philadelphia. Two campuses couldn’t be any more different.

If you are fortunate enough to be a part of the inner workings of the city of Brotherly love, if you are a basketball insider in the city known for it’s fans bluntness and its greasy cheese steaks then you know this: Of all the games that go on in the Big Five, this one will always be the one that will have a little bad blood.

Of all the schools in the Big Five, Villanova is hated the most. The part they played in breaking up the Big Five for a short time in the 1990s did not help. Rollie Massimino’s need for room on the schedule to play more “big time teams” did not sit well with local Philadelphians. It stained Villanova with a spot of arrogance that simply fueled their Big Five opponents.

Since Jay Wright took over at Villanova, the Wildcats have done a good job at luring local Philly talent. This was not the case in past years, as Villanova was accused of overlooking local Philly stars to take a more national approach to their recruiting. That was seen as a slap in the face to a city with such a rich basketball tradition.

On the other hand, Philly ballers may not admit it, but they knew about the stigma. For many years, it was unacceptable, if you were a local Philly star, to travel up Lancaster Avenue to “The Main Line” and play for the Wildcats. Although only ten minutes outside of the city, if you attended Nova you had turned your back on Philly. Philly boys stayed home. The golden pact was you went to Temple, the city school. You didn’t join the prima donnas over in the suburbs. You didn’t sell out and go for the television exposure that the Wildcats got for being part of the Big East. If you were home grown, you stayed home and gave back to the city that raised you. You paid respect.

Anyone who is from Philly and tells you differently, you must question their credibility.

Villanova would like to cement their hold on the #3 ranking in the country. There will always be whispers around the City when Villanova is highly ranked, that they are overrated. Whether they are or are not is insignificant; the chatter will always be there because it’s Philly and that’s just the way it goes in the Big Five.

Temple will look to pull off the upset and show that they can play with the big boys. The North Philly school hates to take a back seat to its city rival and would wish nothing more than to end the year by sticking a pin in Nova’s balloon, deflating them and bringing them back down to earth.

Villanova hopes to remain unscathed. In games like this one, the underdog usually comes in with so much intensity, so much energy, the records mean very little. The reputations mean nothing; it’s a Big Five game. It will decide which players can hold their heads high while walking down South Street.

“We’ve got to survive this,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “It’s like playing Connecticut in the Big East. You don’t go in there thinking, ‘I hope we win by 10′. You’ve got to survive. I feel the same way about the Temple game.”

Throw in the Palestra, one of the great historic basketball arenas in the country, and this game becomes more of a must-see. John Chaney and the Owls will use their frustrating trademark match up zone to try and slow Villanova’s high-powered guards. Villanova guard Randy Foye comes in averaging 21.8 points a game while shooting almost 44% from three. Allan Ray, Nova’s other high scoring guard, is averaging 20.5 pts a game. Villanova may have a hard time slowing down Temple All-American candidate Mardy Collins who leads Temple with 14.0 pts a game.

“He’s a big guard, not a small forward,” Wright said. “He’s a tough match up for us.”

How much of a rivalry is this? Temple owns a slight 40-39 edge in the series. The Owls won last year’s game by one point, 53-52 at the Palestra. The schools have split the last ten meetings. John Chaney has an 11-10 record against Villanova.

Today, when the ball goes up, two teams will latch on to each other and fight to uphold their school’s honor throughout Philadelphia. But the question becomes, who will be celebrating and genuinely enjoying the festivities at 12:00 midnight when the big ball drops?

     

Siena’s Early Turnaround

by - Published December 30, 2005 in Columns



New and Improved Saints

by Phil Kasiecki

Things are a little different at Siena than they were last year – and that’s for the better, which seemed hard to imagine around September.

The Saints are fresh off a season where they lost a school-record 24 games. They looked to be headed for another rough season with the transfer of second-leading scorer Jack McClinton to Miami and the loss of All-MAAC forward Michael Haddix to a torn Achilles tendon during the summer. That left them with a very small and thin team returning after last season’s struggles, so it isn’t surprising that the Saints were picked last in the MAAC preseason poll.

But thus far, the Saints have bucked pretty much every preseason projection. With Wednesday’s 75-67 win over Youngstown, they close the calendar year with a 5-4 record. They won four games in a row earlier in the season and are 1-1 in early conference games, showing that this team is clearly making strides already.

That’s nothing new for new head coach Fran McCaffery, who engineered a turnaround at UNC-Greensboro before taking over at Siena in April. McCaffery first made UNC-Greensboro a winning team, as they improved to 15-13 in his first year, then he took them to the NCAA Tournament one year later. A year later, they won 20 games for the first time since they joined the Southern Conference, and received an NIT bid. Right now, a similar turnaround could be starting at his new job if the early returns are any indication.

“I think most sophisticated basketball people will see that we’re not deep and we’re not big, but that’s no excuse for not executing and not playing hard,” said McCaffery.

The Saints have certainly done that thus far, playing the game at a fast speed to accommodate their personnel. They are also a scrappy bunch and can out-hustle teams, and this year’s team is clearly playing like one on a mission. Still, the personnel isn’t exactly that of a team one would expect to be where they are – just one senior and a seven-man rotation with mostly small players. What’s different about this year’s team that the results look the way they do?

“It’s a whole different coaching style, a whole different type of team,” said sophomore guard Kojo Mensah, who has benefited from this change as much as any of the Saints. “We’re a smaller team this year, and we’re a much faster team, so we’re able to get up and down.”

Mensah has been the Saints’ leader this season, using his quickness and athleticism to get to the basket seemingly at will. He leads the team in scoring with 18.4 points per game and hands out nearly five assists from the point guard spot. Mensah considered transferring after a freshman season that was cut short by a stress fracture in his left leg, but felt comfortable when he met with McCaffery and decided to stay around. It looks like it’s paid off thus far for both him and the team.

“I told him I was going to give him the ball, and let him create and let him be the player that he can be,” said McCaffery. “You can’t put handcuffs on Kojo Mensah – you’ve got to let him play, he’s going to put up numbers for you and he’s going to fight for you. I trust him with the ball, I trust his decision-making, and he’s one of the best players in our league.”

The team leader has been senior Antoine Jordan, who has played just about every position thus far. He’s second on the team in scoring and leads in rebounding, and as one of the team’s taller players – at all of 6’4″ – they will need the rebounding to continue. More important than his stats has been his leadership for the younger players, who have followed him. One of the younger players of note is freshman guard Kenny Hasbrouck, who had a career-high 23 points against Youngstown. Hasbrouck was McCaffery’s first recruit, and he’s a good one, as he can play some of both guard spots and is a solid offensive player.

McCaffery said that managing the confidence of this team hasn’t been a major challenge, which isn’t always the case with a young team. They have been able to come back from losses, and the four-game winning streak certainly helped along the way and especially the win over cross-town rival Albany, the preseason favorite in a down America East. His players have done what he’s wanted them to, and they are seeing the results thus far.

Those results may continue to come, even though they have little margin for error with their thin lineup and small team, and it’s because of the conference they play in. It’s not that the MAAC is bad, but to say that it’s a guard-dominated conference would be putting it mildly. That suits the Saints well, since they can match up with most teams in the conference and they aren’t likely to be overpowered by a bigger team. They will also get back Al Fisher, an athletic guard who will give them another offensive boost, after he missed the first semester due to academics.

Even if they don’t win many more games this season, the Saints are certainly in a better position than they were a year ago. McCaffery has changed the scene, and the results are not only there on the court, they are showing up in recruiting. In the fall, they signed three players, among them a steal in 6’6″ scoring forward Edwin Ubiles, who was courted by some high-major programs and played AAU ball for the Albany City Rocks. They will also add frontcourt size and depth with 6’6″ forward Alex Franklin and 6’10” center James Carr.

The first year with a new head coach is often a transition year where expectations are lowered. The Saints are surpassing many of those expectations, and may be back to contender status sooner than first expected.

     

Holidays At St. Peter’s

by - Published December 30, 2005 in Columns



Holidays at St. Peter’s

by Ray Floriani

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – There was excitement among St. Peter’s tonight. It wasn’t simply a festive holiday mood on this evening three days before Christmas: a good turnout was on hand to see the annual FDU – St. Peter’s contest. The two always seem to meet right around the holidays. The conferences are different – FDU of the Northeast and St. Peter’s the MAAC. Still, there are bragging rights as the two schools are roughly fifteen miles apart. Hosting FDU meant excitement. What lay ahead added a spice of anticipation.

As noted Christmas was three days away. But for St. Peter’s, another big date or dates followed the 25th. On those evenings, the ‘Jesuit college of New Jersey’ would cross the Hudson River, with full knowledge of no transit strike in New York, and play in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.

The St. Peter’s players and fans look toward the festival with great expectancy. The fans do as well. Especially the ‘more seasoned’ who remember the smoky nights in the Armory, just three blocks East of Yanitelli. In those days, St. Peter’s, under the late Don Kennedy, would regularly frequent MSG. And who among that loyal fan base could forget the ’68 NIT in front of a crowd of 19,500? The first order of Business on this evening though was FDU, and the homestanding Peacocks delighted the Yanitelli Center faithful with an 82-77 victory.

Keydren Clark led the way for St. Peter’s with a game-high 27 points. Even FDU coach Tom Green had to note that his defense didn’t do a poor job on St. Peter’s outstanding scorer. “We knew Kiki (Clark) could get his points,” Green said. “We were just hoping he wouldn’t go for 40 like he did to us last year. (Todd) Sowell was the one who killed us.”

A 6-7 sophomore forward, Sowell scored 25 points and hauled down 18 rebounds, eight on the offensive boards. Sowell’s scoring presence took pressure off Clark. In return Clark gave the ball up (9 assists) if the defense cheated and Sowell was the prime beneficiary.

As tough as things were for FDU, they were right there in crunch time. “I can still see the scoreboard saying 1:11 to go we’re down three,” Green recalled, “and we throw the ball away.”

Chad Timberlake led FDU with 20 points and remarked later, “I’m getting tired of these close ones.” FDU’s last 6 games have been decided by eight or less points, with the Knights slitting the half dozen.

FDU fell to 5-5 while St. Peter’s after an 0-4 start has now won 5 straight and is 5-4.

For St. Peter’s coach Bob Leckie, next week marks a return to Madison Square Garden. “I played and coached in the Garden,” he said. “I played in the ‘old Garden’ (in the 1967 NIT) as well as the new (or current) one.”

To get an idea how exited the St. Peter’s team is over playing on the same floor the New York Knicks call home, Leckie spoke about the game day schedule. “We have the Garden from 11:00 until noon on Tuesday (the day of the festival semis). I asked the team if they would want a short practice and shootaround during that time. The response was an overwhelming yes. They can’t wait until they get on that floor.”

Clark played once at MSG during his career. It was during his high school days at Rice High School. To return the ‘The world’s most famous arena’ in a St. Peter’s uniform has added significance.

“For any New York City player it is a dream to play in the Garden,” Clark said.

The St. Peter’s senior guard is also dealing with the arduous task of handling ticket requests. “I’ll have about 40 family and friends there,” he says with a smile.

St. Peter’s faces UMass in the festival tip off on Tuesday, while Columbia faces St. John’s in the nightcap. The consolation and finals are on Wednesday. Two guaranteed games, non-conference competition and an honor to represent the MAAC. For St. Peter’s, it promises to be both a great experience and opportunity.

     

Akron: Akron’s Latest Marketing Ruse a Hit

by - Published December 30, 2005 in Newswire



Akron’s Latest Marketing Ruse a Hit: When you’re the Akron Zips and a kangaroo named Zippy is your mascot, you need a creative marketing team to instill respect — nevermind intimidation — in your athletic programs. But Akron has struck a well of success with a new slogan — Fear the Roo — and a new line of products that features a glaring kangaroo and that slogan. Coupled with recent MAC championships by the women’s cross-country, men’s soccer and football teams, the Zips are on a roll. Local stores can’t keep the Fear the Roo paraphernalia on their shelves.

The campaign launch coincided with the holiday season and helped produce $100,000 in merchandise sales in December, more than 14 times the total of $7,000 for the same period a year ago. Of course, no marketing campaign works quite as well as winning conference championships, so the basketball Zips now have some pressure to continue the success and force opponents to fear the ‘roo. [12/30/05]

Texas Tech: Coffman Leaves Red Raiders

by - Published December 30, 2005 in Newswire



Coffman Leaves Red Raiders: Texas Tech junior guard Drew Coffman has decided to quit the team because he said he is not helping the team and does not want to play basketball anymore. He played 11 games this season, averaging 4.3 points and 2.5 assists in 14.8 minutes per game. Coffman’s departure leaves the Red Raiders with even fewer options. Texas Tech has already had a handful of players miss time because of injury, including key contributors like Darryl Dora, Jonathan Plefka and LucQuente White.
[12/30/05]

Clemson: Tiger Starter Done for Season

by - Published December 29, 2005 in Newswire



Tiger Starter Done for Season: Sophomore forward James Mays, Clemson’s leading rebounder, will miss the remainder of the season because he is academically ineligible. He has started all nine games for the Tigers and is a budding star, averaging 9.2 points and 7.6 rebounds for a Tigers team that has mashed many lower conference opponents before dropping its first game of the season at Georgia last night. Without Mays, an already guard-heavy Clemson lineup becomes thinner in the frontcourt. [12/29/05]

Akron: Bubba Bounces out of Akron

by - Published December 29, 2005 in Newswire



Bubba Bounces out of Akron: Akron sophomore guard Bubba Walther has decided to leave the Zips to seek opportunities at another program. Walther was averaging 8.9 points, 2.1 assists and 1.9 rebounds per game this season. For a sophomore on an experienced team, his 18 minutes per game seems reasonable. Walther was a member of the MAC’s all-freshman team last season. [12/29/05]

LSU: Minor’s Major Injury Ends His Season

by - Published December 29, 2005 in Newswire



Minor’s Major Injury Ends His Season: LSU junior point guard Tack Minor will miss the rest of the season while he recovers from a torn MCL in his left knee. Minor injured the knee in the Tigers’ 75-72 loss against Cincinnati in the Las Vegas Holiday Classic last week. An MRI revealed the tear, and he will have surgery this week to repair the ligament. Minor had played only three games this season because he was academically ineligible for the fall semester.

Minor may be able to recoup his eligibility for this season with a medical redshirt. Players who miss most or all of a season because of injury can petition the NCAA to return a year of eligibility. Minor’s loss will hurt the Tigers’ hopes of putting together a deep NCAA Tournament run. Even without MInor, however, the Tigers should be competitive in the SEC and earn a trip to the tournament in March. [12/29/05]

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