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Turnovers hurt Siena right to the end

by - Published March 10, 2013 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – When Siena looks back on this season, one possible theme could be “if only we took better care of the ball.” Although turnovers were a season-long problem for the Saints, and far from their only one, it was particularly acute on Saturday in their season-ending 74-62 loss to Niagara in the MAAC Tournament.

Siena turned the ball over nearly 15 times a game this season, while forcing less than 11 per game. In Saturday’s loss, they gave it away 20 times to Niagara, a team that thrives on forcing turnovers, with ten each half. Niagara turned them into 32 points, but that was only half the story. The other half is what the lost possessions meant on Siena’s end.

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Siena shows some toughness in advancing to the MAAC quarterfinals

by - Published March 9, 2013 in Columns
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Oftentimes, when a team has the lead for much of the game and loses it without much time left, it’s a big psychological blow. For a team like Siena, where wins have been hard to come by and especially of late, that is the case even more so. That makes Siena’s 70-64 win over Marist in the first round of the MAAC Tournament a positive development, and one they’ll need heading into Saturday’s quarterfinal matchup with regular season champion Niagara.

In a back-and-forth first half, Siena held the lead throughout largely from inside play as O.D. Anosike was determined not to end his career on Friday night and Davis Martens gave them a nice boost off the bench. That opened up the outside game for Rob Poole, and the Saints were shooting 52 percent in the first half to overcome nine turnovers.

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Siena keeps battling but could use a win

by - Published December 10, 2011 in Columns
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Siena could have used a win on Friday night for clear reasons. It’s been a rough go for the Saints thus far, both on and off the court, and while they continue to battle, they’re 3-6 after dropping a tough 82-78 decision to UMass on Friday in the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase.

 

It was another close loss for the Saints, who have suffered a few of those to this point. In a five-game losing streak they snapped in their prior game, four were by seven points or less. Friday’s loss was by four, and one where they had the lead on several occasions and showed the kind of fight they have shown through a lot of adversity thus far this season.

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Willard Speaks on Siena-Holy Cross Game

by - Published January 7, 2009 in Columns

Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willard was hoping to hear from Siena head coach Fran McCaffery to talk about what happened last week when the two teams met and had an ending that surprised just about everyone there. His preference was, understandably, to keep things in-house on the matter.

Since that has not happened, and McCaffery continued to hammer the Crusaders last week in published reports, Willard reluctantly took things to a public forum on his blog. You can read it in its entirety at the link, but here’s one noteworthy excerpt:

“(Fran McCaffery’s) reaction after the game this year shocked me. I have coached over 500 games at the college level, and many more at the high school level, and have never had a coach not have his student athletes shake the hands of an opponent after a game. I knew he had to play Fairfield in less than 48 hrs and had St Peters and Kansas, right after that, and just assumed he was upset about the two injuries happening in a game he probably thought would be a blowout. I saw the game as hard fought, by both teams. I assume, as my mother said, he has a different perspective. That’s fine, and if he wanted to convey that to me that’s fine also. What is not fine is his pronouncements to the media that he knew the intentions of our players, and the characterization of the way we play as being “dirty”, without ever having the professionalism of discussing it with me. The fact that it went on for three days after the game is incredulous to me. I’m not sure what he was trying to accomplish, other than justifying his actions.”

Other Notes

As the Patriot League heads into league play this weekend, the Rookie of the Year race looks to be R.J. Evans’ to lose. The Holy Cross guard has been named Rookie of the Week five times, including four of the last five weeks, and leads all freshmen in the league in scoring and steals and is second in rebounding. He figures to continue playing a significant role for the Crusaders the rest of the way.

Santa Clara came to New England for two games and came away with two losses. Both games highlighted issues Kerry Keating has seen with his team all season long: turnovers and defense. The Broncos turned the ball over 39 times in the two games, forced just six Harvard turnovers. They were better at New Hampshire defensively, but the Wildcats were 5-9 from behind the arc in the second half to pull out the win. Their 19 turnovers in the game hurt even more.

“If we don’t turn the ball over, we usually win, and if we do turn the ball over, it makes it very difficult,” said Keating. “That’s indicative of a young team, an inexperienced team that we have right now that needs to understand that little bit better.”

The Broncos are inexperienced in the backcourt, and that’s showing up at both ends of the floor. Perry Petty was a non-factor Sunday, while Kevin Foster continued to show some promise offensively but also some defensive struggles.

The Broncos begin West Coast Conference play with a bang: at Saint Mary’s, home against Gonzaga and at San Diego for their first three games.

Hofstra head coach Tom Pecora didn’t seem overly concerned about his team following Monday night’s 73-50 blowout loss at Northeastern. He gave the sense that his team gets it, understanding that there are plenty of games left and this can be seen as just an aberration.

“The good thing about college basketball, it’s not college football,” said Pecora. “If you lose one game, your season’s not over. You’ve just got to get yourselves right at the right time. I’ve been down this road before, we’ll keep grinding it out, and we’ll fix things.

“I have no doubt that they’ll be able to do it.”

The struggles have been largely with the guards, who still comprise most of the team’s scoring. Charles Jenkins hasn’t been making shots of late, which is also the case with Cornelius Vines. Tony Dennison has seen his minutes take a dip in the last two games after starting the first 11. The bright spot Monday night came from a promising place, as senior point guard Greg Johnson – their only true point guard – showed some good signs.

“I think he did a pretty good job of getting us into our offense tonight and making some plays,” said Pecora.

Who would have imagined that Arkansas would be in the position it’s in right now? When Patrick Beverly left after being declared academically ineligible, the Razorbacks certainly didn’t look like an NCAA Tournament team. But after Tuesday night’s win over a solid Texas team, they’re well-positioned to be just that as SEC play beckons.

And how many thought California would sweep the Arizona schools, albeit at home? Getting back Theo Robertson after he missed all of last season has been a big addition, but Jerome Randle’s play suggests he should be in the discussion for the conference Player of the Year honors when we get to late February and March. He flat-out knows how to play, and not only has he jumped up his scoring, assists and shooting percentages, but he’s also cut down on his turnovers.

Siena Has Grown Since the Start of the Season

by - Published December 31, 2008 in Columns

WORCESTER, Mass. – Before the season, there were many who felt Siena was more than just a mid-major team to watch this season.  With five starters back from the team that convincingly knocked off Vanderbilt in last season’s NCAA Tournament, the general feeling was that the Saints would be prohibitive favorites in the MAAC and even win a game or two in non-conference play against high-major schools.  They certainly had enough games on the schedule for that to happen.

2008 is just about in the books, and the Saints haven’t quite done all of that.  They lost three straight in Orlando at the Old Spice Classic, then lost at Pittsburgh earlier this month.  The only loss among those four that might go down as a bad loss was the two-point decision they dropped to rebuilding Wichita State.  But with no signature wins and just two possibilities left for one – at Kansas and possibly their BracketBusters game in February – the Saints look like a team that will most likely make the NCAA Tournament as an automatic qualifier.  And given what Niagara and Fairfield have shown thus far as well as their respective personnel, they don’t quite look like the prohibitive favorites in their conference that some thought them to be.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of in all of that.  In fact, the high preseason projections of them were probably a bit unrealistic.  The Saints are very good, with a nice veteran cast and a lot of the team returning from last season, but depth was not a given before the season.  Sometimes, all it takes is one signature win and an excellent conference showing, then losing in the conference championship game for an at-large bid.  But projections of the Saints getting one might have been a bit much.

Not only was it going to be difficult to capture a couple of games on the road against high-majors, but the MAAC is rarely a conference whose regular season champ runs away from everyone else.  Only twice in the past 11 seasons has at least three games separated first place from second place.  The last time that happened was in 2003-04, when Manhattan finished three games ahead of Niagara, and six years earlier was the last time it happened before that.  More common are cases where there are at least four teams within two games of first place, or even 2000-01, when six teams finished within a game of each other.

But while the Saints may not look like prohibitive favorites, the conference should still be theirs to lose.  They are 2-0 as they enter the meat of the conference schedule starting on Thursday, and they’ve improved along the way.  The development of younger players like sophomores Clarence Jackson and Ryan Rossiter and freshmen Owen Wignot and Kyle Downey has been an important part of it.

“I think we’ve developed fairly well,” head coach Fran McCaffery said.  “I think our key guys are doing what we thought they would do.  We needed Clarence and Ryan to do what they’re doing, and we needed Owen and Kyle to develop the way they did.”

McCaffery is thinking they would benefit by being able to go another player deep on a consistent basis.  Junior Cory Magee figured to be in the rotation before the season, but he has been out all year from post-concussion syndrome after an elbow from Rossiter in an early practice.  He has practiced on and off recently.  More likely candidates are sophomore Steven Priestley and freshman Eric Harris.

The development of Jackson and Rossiter has been perhaps most important.  Both were bit players last season, but Rossiter is now in the starting lineup and Jackson is playing key minutes off the bench.  Jackson led them in scoring in the win at Saint Joseph’s with a career-high 28 points, and while it might have seemed to come out of nowhere, it didn’t surprise a teammate.

“From seeing him play in practice sometimes, we know that’s what he’s capable of doing,” said junior forward Edwin Ubiles.

As important as their development has been, Siena also got a breakout game from Kenny Hasbrouck on Tuesday night.  Mired in a nearly season-long shooting slump, Hasbrouck had 19 points on 6-14 shooting, including 5-10 in the second half.

While it’s obvious that Hasbrouck coming back is a big development for the team – and both he and his teammates know that just one game doesn’t do it – there’s a positive to take out of things before that.  The Saints were still 7-4 heading into the game and 5-1 since the losses in Orlando.  They were still winning despite Hasbrouck’s offensive struggles, which helped him manage through the tough time.

“When we lost, it was hard,” said the senior guard.  “When we were winning, it was like, okay, we’re doing great, so my shooting is not really affecting us yet.  When we lost, it took a big toll on me because I would think if I made more of my shots, I think we would have won the game.”

It’s also no accident that the Saints continued to win during that time.  Hasbrouck didn’t stop excelling in other facets of the game, and that made it easier for his teammates to step up.

“That’s what you do.  When the shot’s not falling, you don’t want to get down, you try to make up for it other ways – on defense, rebounding,” said Ubiles.  “There’s a lot of different ways you can be effective on the court.  When you’re not scoring, you’ve got to do other things.  I think that’s what the better players do.  He was down, but he always plays hard, no matter what.”

“The thing about Kenny is he’s really got a lot of character,” said McCaffery.  “In the period where he wasn’t making shots, he was helping us win games.  He plays defense, he’s all over the place, he runs the point for us when we need him to, he passes it well.

As important as it is for the Saints to get Hasbrouck going again – junior forward Alex Franklin said, with a smile, “I miss Kenny going out there dropping 20 a game” – more important is what changed after the three losses in Orlando that allowed them to bounce back with the big month of December they had.  In those three games, defense and rebounding were issues that led to the losses.  But since then, the Saints have tried to focus on improving in both areas.  They force nearly 18 turnovers per game, and while they are still being out-rebounded on the season, Pittsburgh is the only team to beat them on the glass in the past five games.

“We know why we lost in Orlando.  It was bad mistakes on defense, we weren’t rebounding the ball well, we weren’t communicating as a team,” said Hasbrouck.  “We’ve changed that, we’ve changed the image of the team.  We’re starting to rebound against the better teams, and that’s why we’re winning right now.”

“In practice, coach tells us all the time, no matter what the game plan is, if we don’t rebound, we won’t win the game,” said Ubiles.  “I think we all put that together as a team, to collectively go in and get rebounds, and I think we’ve all been doing a great job of that.”

With that winning, the Saints look more like the team some thought they would be before the season.  They look more like the favorites in the MAAC, even if they aren’t prohibitive ones at that.

A Surprising End to Siena’s Win over Holy Cross

by - Published December 31, 2008 in Columns

WORCESTER, Mass. – It was a surprising scene to end the game.  That’s the case not only because it happens so rarely, but also because of who was involved.

As the final seconds of Siena’s 83-71 win at Holy Cross ticked off the clock, Siena head coach Fran McCaffery motioned to all five of his players on the floor toward the exit.  At first glance, it might have looked like he was motioning to get the ball across mid-court to avoid a ten-second violation before dribbling out the final seconds, but once the buzzer sounded it was clear that wasn’t the case.  The Saints walked right out of the gym without shaking hands with the Holy Cross players and coaches.

Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willard, who did not comment on it after the game, stopped walking towards the bench once the Saints were walking away and looked as dumbfounded as just about everyone else in the gym.  McCaffery, who is well-respected among his peers for far more than just his winning ways as a head coach, made it clear why he did that.  Like everything else in life, it didn’t happen in a vacuum.

“I was upset at how our guys were being fouled,” McCaffery said.  “I’ve got guys bloodied, I’ve got guys with black eyes, I’ve got guys needing stitches.  That’s not how the game’s supposed to be played.”

McCaffery noted that last year’s game in Loudonville was similar to this.  Alex Franklin missed five games with a back injury after the meeting.  Asked if he thought the officiating, which did leave something to be desired, contributed to it, McCaffery said, alluding to Holy Cross, “I think it’s a result of how they play.”

In fact, McCaffery had no real issue with the officials, even though at times he appeared to get a little heated with them, as did Willard.  46 fouls were called in the game, with the Saints whistled for two more than the Crusaders, so the stat sheet alone won’t explain everything.  The Saints made three more free throws (25) than Holy Cross attempted (22).

While any tension that was mounting between the teams wasn’t obvious, anytime a game gets as physical as this one was, things can escalate between the teams.  That led McCaffery to approach getting help from the officials in a different way.

“I said, ‘what do you want me to do now?  What am I supposed to do?’  Because you really don’t want that, you don’t want me to ‘send in a goon’ and all of a sudden there’s a melee,” said McCaffery, who said he had no intention of doing such a thing.  “That’s not what we want.  But I’d like to know what recourse we had.”

The game was the fourth in a home-and-home series between the two schools.  One might first think that this will be it for a while, and the Siena game notes suggest as much since they said that this is the final game of a four-year series.  But a Holy Cross source said that the schools have a six-year series and are scheduled to meet next December in Loudonville for the fifth game.  It is not known how easily the Saints could get out of the final two games if they desire to, although the schools could agree to put off the next meeting by a year or two.

College Basketball Tonight

COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT is a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament hosted by veteran college basketball broadcaster Ted Sarandis, who will be joined by former Manhattan and Seton Hall head coach Bobby Gonzalez and many great guests, including Hoopville's own Phil Kasiecki.

The show will air on AM 970 The Answer in New York City from 7-9 p.m. on every Sunday from Selection Sunday to the Final Four. You can listen to the show here.

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2013 Prep School Tour

Missed a recap of an open gym workout? We have them all right here for you.

Sept. 9: St. Andrew's
Sept 10: Tilton
Sept. 11: South Kent School and Northfield Mount Hermon
Sept. 12: Putnam Science Academy
Sept. 16: St. Thomas More and Marianapolis Prep
Sept. 17: Brewster Academy and Phillips Exeter
Sept. 23: New Hampton School
Sept. 24: Brimmer and May
Sept. 25: Proctor Academy
Sept. 26: Notre Dame Prep and Cushing Academy
Sept. 29: Worcester Academy and Vermont Academy
Oct. 6: Charlestown High School and Milton Academy
Oct. 13: Tabor Academy
Oct. 15: Brooks School

Hoopville Archives

Even More: City Hoops Recruiting

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Size and options on the wing are not lacking for this year’s junior team

Travel team profile: Expressions Elite

Expressions Elite has quickly become one of the deeper programs in New England

Cesar Fulcar commits to Wentworth

The senior guard led Watertown to the state semifinal this past season

Travel team profile: Bay State Magic

Bay State Magic doesn’t have much size on their junior team this season, so they’ll have to win with execution and intangibles

Travel team profile: Mass Elite

Mass Elite is one of the largest travel teams in the state despite being relatively new

Coaching Changes and NBA Draft Early Entrants

The coaching carousel is already moving. Keep track of the latest coaching changes right here on Hoopville.

Also, keep track of players who have declared early for the NBA Draft.

Phil Kasiecki on Twitter