Thursday, May 29, 2014

Masiello Completes Coursework, But Not Yet Reinstated

Steve Masiello has reportedly finished requirements for undergraduate degree, but has yet to return to Manhattan to begin MAAC championship defense. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

The long and winding road appears one step closer to redemption.

Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello has apparently completed the outstanding coursework that had previously stood between him and an undergraduate degree, placing one of the rising young stars in the college basketball coaching ranks on the fast track to returning to Riverdale sooner rather than later.

A spokesman for the University of Kentucky confirmed to ESPN's Jeff Goodman earlier this afternoon that Masiello had fulfilled the final requirements toward his degree, which will be awarded in August. The coach had been inadvertently thrust into the spotlight in April after it was discovered through a background check conducted by the University of South Florida, for whom Masiello nearly became the head coach following a 25-win season at Manhattan, that he did not yet earn his degree.

Manhattan sports information director Pete McHugh confirmed to A Daly Dose Of Hoops shortly after Goodman's report was published that there was nothing new to share regarding Masiello's reinstatement, but once there was, it would be passed along accordingly. Therefore, Masiello remains on leave from his post, with no definite timetable for his return.

In three seasons at the helm of the Jaspers, Masiello is 60-39, and will grace the bench this year as the reigning MBWA Coach of the Year after guiding Manhattan to its first MAAC championship and NCAA Tournament appearance since 2004 this past March. Following a resilient victory over Iona to claim their conference title, the Jaspers took Louisville down to the wire in their Round of 64 matchup, leading with two minutes remaining in regulation before the Cardinals and Rick Pitino; who mentored Masiello before he became a head coach, escaped with a 71-64 win.

A Daly Dose Of Hoops will provide further information on this developing story once it becomes furnished and readily available.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Liberty 70, Storm 64: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

We are honored to begin our second season of covering the New York Liberty, albeit as somewhat of a satellite of sorts. Just as he did for us last summer, Ray Floriani has branched out into the world of the one-time Eastern Conference powerhouse formerly led by Teresa Weatherspoon, Becky Hammon and Rebecca Lobo as head coach Bill Laimbeer seeks to return the Liberty to the forefront of the WNBA. Here is Ray's photo essay from last night's action at Madison Square Garden:

NEW YORK CITY­ - Hard to fathom the last trip here was about two months and forty degrees ago. The NIT final was the final buzzer on the season’s college coverage. Now, it is spring on a summer-like day with the New York Liberty at the ‘World’s Most Famous Arena.’

Getting off the train at Penn Station, the hallways resonated of extreme heat. It made me think of pitching great Luis Tiant. He loved to take the mound in conditions as these. In fact, one could see him go a full nine with about 12 strikeouts in this heat.

Walking past recent Baruch graduates, who had their commencement at MSG, it was time to settle into an air-conditioned Garden. No matter the calendar season, the focus is on basketball. The moves, counter moves, matchups, all integral parts of the game.

The Liberty trail the Seattle Storm by seven with three and a half minutes to go. The Garden crowd is behind them, lending vocal support. The Liberty, though, make their run courtesy of getting stops. The defense, a trademark of coach Bill Laimbeer, making its mark when it is dearly needed. The Liberty emerge 70-­64 victors. Laimbeer lauds the defense but insists, “we have to get on track on offense.” 

Afterwards, postgame interviews included a talk with Sugar Rodgers. Game scoring honors went to Seattle’s Sue Bird with 21 points. In crunch time, Rodgers defended Bird into a 2-of-7 shooting fourth quarter. After formal questions and answers, Rodgers; a Georgetown product, was thrilled to discuss Big East women’s basketball at length.

Just another example of the passion the women have for the game at all levels, and another reason the ‘W’ is a pleasure to follow.

Baruch graduates gathering and socializing outside the Garden following commencement:
New York Liberty shootaround about an hour prior to tipoff:
Seattle's Sue Bird in the corner getting set to come off a high post screen:
Even though there is WNBA basketball, the sign leading to the court reminds those of us bleeding blue about the New York Ranger game in Montreal:
Seattle's Temeka Johnson asks a question of official Lauren Holtkamp:
Bill Laimbeer meets the media:
Sugar Rodgers interviewed in the Liberty locker room:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Year In Review: Quinnipiac

Ike Azotam and Zaid Hearst may have received greater publicity for Quinnipiac, but Ousmane Drame may have arguably been Bobcats' most valuable player during first season in MAAC. (Photo courtesy of the Quinnipiac Bobcats Sports Network)

Quinnipiac University was the great unknown heading into the 2013-14 season, a campaign that the Bobcats would navigate as a member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for the first time after leaving the Northeast Conference, where the Hamden institution had found a home upon emigrating from Division II. Quinnipiac had long been a force in the NEC due to its aggressive, rebounding-oriented style, and the high degree of variability to which it would fare in a much more guard-heavy MAAC was one of the main reasons why the Bobcats were picked seventh in the preseason coaches' poll.

However, those who knew Quinnipiac well knew that their take-no-prisoners approach would ultimately win them more games than the pundits expected, and no further was that evident than in a stretch where the Bobcats won 13 of 16 games after a 6-5 start to the season, including a regular season sweep of eventual conference champion Manhattan and a resounding home victory over perennial MAAC powerhouse Iona. Then, the fickle hand of fate proved just how quickly good fortune could be taken away, as Umar Shannon went down for the remainder of the year with a knee injury suffered in the Bobcats' 72-70 loss to Siena in the penultimate game of the regular season.

Quinnipiac finished 20-12, with a loss to Yale in the Tournament ending an inaugural MAAC campaign that will go down as one of the more successful in recent memory, all things considered. For further perspective on the Bobcats and their first run through their new conference, we reached out to friend of the site Jon Alba, who does an outstanding job chronicling Quinnipiac Athletics for Q30 Television in Hamden and the Quinnipiac Bobcats Sports Network, to get a closer look at the first five months in the MAAC:

Jaden Daly: Twenty wins in their first season in the MAAC, postseason play, for Quinnipiac to come out of the NEC and catch the MAAC by storm the way they did, what was the most impressive part of Tom Moore's first year in his new conference?

Jon Alba: I'll tell you what, in my opinion at least, there were two factors: First, it was the emergence of Ousmane Drame as someone who was actually here to stay. Ousmane Drame in his first two years really came to play, but he underperformed, and a lot of people hacked his playing style, his work ethic, his weight, and I think you saw a few of those problems early on in the season, but I think with a little push from Ike Azotam, Drame really turned into a mid-major player, per se, and I think he really excelled.

I think the other thing was Tom Moore's coaching job, and I know, Jaden, this is something that you expected out of the gate with Tom Moore. This was by far the best team that Tom Moore ever coached. His game management improved exponentially; not to say there weren't flaws, but it improved exponentially, he handled his lineup the best I've ever seen him handle it, and he did have a few more weapons than normal.

JD: There were a couple coaches after the season that said they voted both Drame and Ike Azotam on the first team. Azotam makes the first team, Drame gets on the second, but when you look at that; and also Zaid Hearst on the third team, to have one person on each of the three, what does that say about how much of a contender this team was, and how unexpected was it going into the season?

JA: This was definitely unexpected. People picked Quinnipiac to finish very low in the MAAC, and I think going into the season, the expectation was "this is going to be a really good team that's going to surprise people," or "this is going to be a team that's going to finish in the cellar." There was no middle ground, and that's basically what you saw. Zaid Hearst, I mean, I mentioned Drame before, but Zaid Hearst really developed as a playmaker, but the thing was they expected that out of Hearst because Hearst may be the biggest gamer that's on that team. That's a guy who comes in and wants to win every single day, and when he's not playing, he's going to make sure his teammates are stepping it up trying to win. Zaid Hearst, I think it was 33 points that he dropped toward the end of the season, and that really displayed what kind of player this guy is, and he had other teammates stepping it up; Evan Conti off the bench, the early-season performance by Kasim Chandler, and then Umar Shannon, who, unfortunately for him, his season came to an early end. Ultimately, that was the dagger for Quinnipiac.

JD: You mention Umar Shannon. To land a graduate transfer like that, and someone that Quinnipiac had seen and been intimately familiar with from Saint Francis University, how big was that?

JA: The biggest thing about getting Umar Shannon was that the MAAC is a guard-dominated league, and Quinnipiac needed someone to come in and just be able to step right in and keep Quinnipiac in the fold, and that's exactly what Umar Shannon did. It even helped furthermore that he had experience with the school, and on top of that, the guy was a leader, and that's something that's great for any team. What Umar Shannon did was he opened up the post for guys like Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame, and that's why Quinnipiac was so successful down low this year, because guys like Umar Shannon, and even Zaid Hearst towards the top of the key, were able to ensure that Quinnipiac had other options down low.

JD: There's always something, one characteristic, that's always associated with the teams up there. For women's basketball, it's the depth, the "Gold Rush." For the men, it's the rebounding. It's what they do. How much of that caught the rest of the MAAC off guard in a guard-heavy league, and all of a sudden, Quinnipiac comes in with their physicality and their rebounding, and they take three out of four against Manhattan and Iona to really put the league on notice?

JA: Well, that was exactly it. The MAAC was not exactly ready for a team like Quinnipiac when it comes to rebounds. They just weren't, and I'll tell you what: Even though Ike Azotam's gone, Quinnipiac is going to do the exact same thing next year, bringing Sam Dingba down low and Drame returning; and if Drame becomes even more physical, you're only going to see those numbers go up. Manhattan did have a little bit of an edge, obviously, they had some of the best defenders in the country down low. At the same time, Jaden, I think that people expected "yeah, Quinnipiac, that's one of the best defensive teams in the country," I think there was a little bit of underestimating. "Wow, not only are they one of the best defensive teams in the country, but they can use that rebounding to actually beat us." That's what happened with Manhattan and Iona, as you alluded to.

JD: Not only did they take three out of four from Manhattan and Iona, but the seven-game winning streak toward the end of the regular season really solidified their status as a contender, and they were in the mix for a top two seed going into the MAAC tournament before the Umar Shannon injury; and then in Springfield, they win one game against Niagara and then play their hearts out against Manhattan, but ultimately, what happened?

JA: Ultimately, what happened was once they lost Shannon; and you could see it in Tom Moore's demeanor after that injury happened, he knew the end was near, and the sad part is, for Quinnipiac fans, that was probably their best chance to see this team make the NCAA Tournament in recent years. This upcoming year, they definitely have an opportunity to now that they've got quality recruits coming in, but at the same time, you had the experience, you had everything that you could have wanted. Shannon goes down and Quinnipiac had no one to control the point. Evan Conti, in my opinion, is one of the best sixth men in the entire MAAC. I don't think he's necessarily a starter though, and Kasim Chandler was underdeveloped and he was coming off injury as well, so Quinnipiac really had no options at the point there. The Jaspers were one heck of a team this past year, obviously displayed by how they played Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, but I think you just had the combinaiton of factors there.

JD: Going into next season: Azotam's gone, Drame is back, Hearst is back for another year, and then they get Gio McLean out of Westchester, who decommits from Oklahoma and becomes arguably the biggest recruit in Hamden. Can you tell us a little more about him?

JA: Gio McLean changes the game for Quinnipiac. I mentioned how Umar Shannon was big coming in, Gio McLean takes that to another level. Gio McLean originally committed to Oklahoma, but the problem was, with the Big 12, you need two years and an extra semester of junior college in order to transfer into it, but he only had two years. With the Big 12 out, he decommitted and he ended up coming to Quinnipiac. The thing with him is he went to a special high school down in the Bronx, and because of that, he has a few extra years, so he'll actually come into Quinnipiac with some extra years age-wise, and when he graduates, he'll quite literally be a veteran, and it's only something you really see in college hockey in that regard; but anyway, McLean, what's going to be so incredible about him for Quinnipiac is the guy not only knows how to drill a shot or two, but his ball handling opens up so many opportunities down low, which is exactly what Quinnipiac needs with Ike Azotam going away. I think a lot of people are underestimating just how important Ike Azotam was for this team, obviously one of the more prolific scorers and rebounders in program history, but I don't think people really understand just how important he was. So now, you need a point guard that's going to distribute that ball in the MAAC, which is a point guard-heavy league. You need to find a way to distribute the ball down low and to the lane, and what McLean is going to do is his ball handling is going to draw defenders, because they're going to think he's going to the basket, and then he's going to dish it out. Then, when they expect him to dish it out, he has the natural ability to go to the basket, forcing a pull-up shot. That's where Gio McLean is going to change everything for Quinnipiac, as long as he stays healthy.

JD: Is it too far of a stretch to consider this team not just a top 5 team in the MAAC going into next season, but maybe even top 3?

JA: I think there's going to be a very heavy depending on the recruits for Quinnipiac. I'm not entirely willing to say they're a top 3 team right away, because truth be told, as much hype as McLean has, he could end up flopping, and that's college sports. That does happen. Sam Dingba is going to be a big key for them, he's one of the better recruits Tom Moore has ever had, especially coming in down low. His development is just going to be crucial in making Quinnipiac a top 3 or top 2 team down the stretch, and if Tom Moore plays his cards right; which, all indications were, he did last season, I do think that this is a very good team, but at the same time, they've got to develop their guys. Ousmane Drame, believe it or not, has NBA hype, and there are people who do have their eyes on him, so it'll be interesting to see if he really steps up to be the player he can be in his senior year.

A Year In Review: Canisius

In second year at Canisius, Jim and Billy Baron picked up where they left off, winning 21 games and reaching CIT once again. (Photo courtesy of the Buffalo News)

Canisius brought Jim Baron in two years ago after he was dismissed from Rhode Island to restore a program that had been stricken by mediocrity under his predecessor Tom Parrotta in an attempt to return the Golden Griffins to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996, when John Beilein was at the helm in Buffalo.

Baron brought his son Billy with him to the home of the Bills and Sabres, and together, father and son helped revitalize the Griffs, winning 20 games and advancing to the quarterfinals of the Tournament. Their encore, which included the arrival of Dominican senior guard Chris Perez, proved to be just as successful.

Although the end result for Canisius was ultimately fulfilling, it did not start out easy in the least. Shocking early-season losses to St. Bonaventure and Rutgers kept the Griffs from playing at Madison Square Garden for the semifinals of the Preseason NIT Tip-Off, and another defeat at the hands of Division II program Metro State left the team picked third in the MAAC preseason coaches' poll at 3-3 going into the opening weekend of conference play.

That was when the Griffs hit their best stride, winning 13 of their next 17 games. Aside from a 16-point loss to St. Francis in December, Canisius lost three games by a grand total of 10 points to the likes of Notre Dame, Marist and Monmouth, who won the last of the three on a last-second three-pointer by Andrew Nicholas.

Home losses to eventual MAAC champion Manhattan and regular season titleholder Iona, from whom Canisius stole a thrilling victory at the Hynes Center in January, dropped the Griffs from contention as the No. 1 seed going into the conference tournament, but Baron; whose 24.1 points and 5.3 assists per game coupled with his 107 three-pointers propelled him to a runaway recognition as the MAAC Player of the Year, carried his team to wins in four of its final six regular season games, including a career-high and conference season-high 40 points in a 92-88 triple overtime win on February 16th at Siena, who the Griffs defeated a third time in the quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament in Springfield. A second loss to Iona the following day relegated Canisius to the CIT, where VMI ended Baron's career with a 21-13 record in his final campaign.

Aside from Baron, Chris Perez (12.9 PPG) will also need to be replaced, as will big men Jordan Heath (10.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG) and Chris Manhertz. (8.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG) In their absence, MAAC All-Rookie selection Zach Lewis becomes the face of the program as he enters his sophomore season as the Griffs' leading scorer, with junior guard Dominique Raney joining him in the backcourt while Phil Valenti and Josiah Heath anchor what will be a front line undergoing a cosmetic overhaul of sorts. It will be a season of transition for Canisius, but one in which the Griffs can still be a team that makes some noise in the MAAC.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Year In Review: Siena

Picked 10th in MAAC preseason poll, Siena doubled that number with 20 wins and CBI championship. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

When we spoke to Jimmy Patsos for the first time following his introduction as the successor to Mitch Buonaguro at Siena, whom he replaced after a nine-year tenure at Loyola, he admitted that; in no uncertain terms, Rome would not be built in a day.

"It's going to take a year to rebuild," Patsos told us two weeks after he arrived in Loudonville in April of 2013, "but in a year, I expect to be back on track."

Picking up the pieces of an 8-24 season that was the final chapter in Buonaguro's stint at the helm of the Saints, Patsos quickly changed the culture. With a young roster that only featured one senior in walk-on Steven Cruz, Siena built team chemistry over the summer on a trip to Montreal that saw the Saints win four of five games as Patsos built his nine-man rotation, which he adhered to strictly as Siena grew into a 20-win team, winning 11 games in the MAAC en route to the program's first postseason championship in the College Basketball Invitational.

"I think the kids got better as the year went on," Patsos remarked on the scrappy Saints, who won nine of their last eleven on their way to capturing the CBI on their on-campus home court of the Alumni Recreation Center against Fresno State. "We also had some depth, Jaden, and that helped us a lot. (Ryan) Oliver, (Evan) Hymes, Javion Ogunyemi, Maurice White, we had four guys off the bench that averaged 10 minutes a game, and that helps you out a lot in the tournament."

"You know what they did, Jaden? They saw that I was going to play eight or nine guys and run and press. They saw early on, 'hey, he's going to run and press. Yeah, he might yell a little bit, but we're going to have a lot of fun, and we're going to be a unit, and if you're not in, you're not in."

After a winless trip to the Old Spice Classic that the national audience will probably remember more for Patsos using all of his timeouts in the first half against Memphis rather than battling Saint Joseph's and Purdue late into the second half in games that indicated just how close the Saints were to a breakthrough, Siena stood at 2-7 going into the opening week of MAAC play and the annual trip to Buffalo, which featured a split with Niagara and Canisius. Once they got back home, Patsos' young charges found their first of several grooves during the season, winning four of their next five in a stretch that saw convincing victories over an Atlantic 10 opponent in Fordham and 2013-14 MAAC regular season runner-up Rider.

"You know, I knew we had a chance; and you've got to be careful, because everybody's after you after a win, but when we lost a tough one to Marist on a last-second shot," Patsos revealed when asked of the first sign of it all coming together. "I didn't know which way it was going to go, and two days later, we played Canisius to triple overtime. We lost, and (Billy) Baron had 40 that day, but in other words, once we were able to come back from that tough loss and play to triple overtime against one of the best players in the league and one of the best teams in the league, we knew we were going to be alright."

The 92-88 loss to Canisius on February 16th dropped Siena to 11-16 on the year before the Saints responded with a resilient 67-63 victory five days later against eventual MAAC champion Manhattan at the Times Union Center. Three more victories against Rider, Quinnipiac and Monmouth ensued to give Patsos and company a first-round bye in the MAAC tournament in Springfield, where Canisius defeated the Saints for the third time to leave them at 15-17, with their postseason hopes hanging by the faintest of threads before accepting a bid to the CBI and defeating Stony Brook, Penn State and Illinois State prior to taking two of three in the championship series against Fresno State.

"The CBI was a treat," Patsos said, giving credibility to a tournament that many fans and some critics have knocked over the years due to its pay-for-play nature and, in some cases, lackluster fan turnout, which was definitely not the case for Siena, who played five home games and averaged over 3,200 fans for each one. "The best thing about the CBI is that the MAAC, (Rich) Ensor and the league helped us get in. We felt like we had to represent the MAAC, and Stony Brook was a great team. Then we got to play Penn State, it was great for our fans and our media to see a Big Ten team, and Illinois State's got a great tradition, then the Fresno thing was just a great trip. It's a very interesting thing, the CBI, and to win it is great for the fans, great for the students, it's great for the players."

All told, Siena enjoyed an improved season in all facets under Patsos, whose flex offense that he learned as an assistant to Gary Williams at Maryland accounted for a nine-point improvement in total offense, as the Saints averaged 69 points per game this season compared to 60 under the deliberate offensive stylings of Buonaguro.

"We were able to surprise people," a candid Patsos admitted. "They didn't know how good (Brett) Bisping was. Hey, I didn't know how good Bisping was," the coach said of his sophomore forward, who averaged 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in a breakout second season after playing his rookie campaign behind all-time program great O.D. Anosike. "Our style of play, playing nine guys, going up and down, our depth really helped us. I gave credit when we won the tournament to Mitch, Mitch left me some good players, but they're all our guys. The young and the old all bought in."

Going into next season, Siena will return all of its nine-man rotation, paced by Bisping and senior shooting guard Rob Poole, while Marquis Wright and Lavon Long become sophomores with Hymes, clutch outside shooter Ryan Oliver and burgeoning forward Imoh Silas all reprising their integral roles as well. Joining them will be Patrick Cole, who sat out while completing his year in residence this past season when transferring from Coppin State.

"There were times where he was our best player in practice," Patsos gushed about Cole, a 6-5 guard from Newark who takes the floor as a redshirt sophomore with three years of eligibility remaining. "He's really good, he reminds me of Dennis Johnson," the coach said, comparing Cole to the former Boston Celtics legend. "He can get you a bucket, he knows how to play, he'll pass it, he's big, he'll rebound. He does a lot of things, and he's got some size as a guard. He looks a little like Deron Williams out there, too."

The abundance of incumbents has led many to assume the Saints will be among the favorites to win the MAAC next season, especially with the conference tournament returning to their home court of the Times Union Center, but their veteran coach is quick to dispel that notion.

"Manhattan and Iona were in the finals last year," Patsos reminded us. "I look at Manhattan and Iona and say they're the two favorites, and Quinnipiac's got some good players back, including their big guy (Ousmane) Drame, who's first team all-league." 

"We didn't kill anybody. I'm just glad there's a lot of interest in the program, and I think we're going to have a chance to win every game next year. It's going to be an interesting year. I'll figure out a lot on October 15th and then go from there."

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Manhattan Lands Jermaine Lawrence

Jermaine Lawrence is heading home after freshman season at Cincinnati, reportedly agreeing to transfer to Manhattan, where he will bring three years of eligibility to Steve Masiello and Jaspers. (Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer)

The last time Manhattan was able to get a New York City forward to transfer into the program, he turned out to be a significant cog in the deep Jasper rotation on the way to an NCAA Tournament appearance and the school's first MAAC championship in ten years.

Two years after Ashton Pankey left Maryland for Riverdale, another Big Apple product has left a high-major program for the reigning kings of New York college basketball, as Jermaine Lawrence has reportedly decided on Manhattan as his new home after receiving a release to transfer from Cincinnati earlier in the week.

As reported earlier this afternoon by Zach Braziller, who does an outstanding job covering local college basketball and recruiting for the New York Post, Lawrence, the Springfield Gardens native and high school standout at both Cardozo in Bayside and Pope John XXIII in New Jersey; who was courted by Syracuse and St. John's before settling on the Bearcats, will have three years of eligibility with the Jaspers after he announced his intentions on the heels of also visiting Iona and Hofstra.

Lawrence battled through a rookie season that saw him limited to just 15 minutes and nearly three points per game, but will make a significant impact on the Manhattan front line regardless of whether or not he were to apply for hardship waiver, which is a possibility due to his ailing father. At 6-9 and 205 pounds, the 19-year-old Lawrence provides the length and athleticism that would be a perfect complement to Pankey and fellow incumbent forward Emmy Andujar in Steve Masiello's frontcourt.

The fact that Lawrence has apparently committed without a face-to-face meeting with Masiello, who remains on administrative leave from Manhattan while he continues working toward his bachelor's degree, speaks volumes as to the dedication and value of the entire Jasper coaching staff, which is managing the team in the absence of their leader. Lawrence has had a long-standing relationship with assistant coach Rasheen Davis, who recruited the forward out of high school and was vital in re-recruiting him following his departure from Cincinnati, and the yeoman's work has apparently shone through.

With or without Lawrence, Manhattan will have seemingly all of their underclassmen from last year's team coming back next season, but will still need to replace their senior triumvirate of George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado as they prepare to begin their championship defense.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Antoine Mason Transferring From Niagara

Antoine Mason, who will be nation's top returning scorer next season, will be taking his talents to a new program after announcing he would transfer from Niagara prior to senior campaign. (Photo courtesy of the Buffalo News)

Five days after it looked like Niagara's offensive leader would be back for one more season on Monteagle Ridge, an apparent change of heart occurred.

Antoine Mason, whose 25.2 points per game trailed only Doug McDermott for most in the nation, announced his decision to transfer from Niagara earlier this afternoon, just two months removed from completing his junior campaign for the Purple Eagles.

A fifth-year senior next season, Mason earned his degree this month, and thus will be eligible to play immediately at his new destination as a graduate transfer. However, he will not be able to resurface at a fellow Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference program, or any program that is on Niagara's schedule in the 2014-15 season, eliminating potential suitors such as reigning MAAC champion Manhattan and St. John's; where Mason's brother Anthony Jr. played from 2005-2010, with current Purple Eagles coach Chris Casey serving as an assistant to then-Red Storm head man Norm Roberts at that time.

"I know Antoine enjoyed playing here, and I'm sure this was a difficult decision for him and his family," Casey said in a release. "Now it is time for us to move forward with the players who are committed to continuing the tremendous legacy of the Niagara University Purple Eagles."

Mason becomes the second Niagara guard to transfer in the wake of a 7-26 season in year one of life after Joe Mihalich, the longtime former Purple Eagles head coach who took over at Hofstra last year. Sophomore Tahjere McCall already announced his intent to leave western New York shortly after Niagara's season ended with a loss to Quinnipiac in the quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament in March.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Year In Review: Marist

MAAC Rookie of the Year Khallid Hart guided Marist's resurgence after 0-9 start, lifting Red Foxes to nine conference wins and renewing hope in Jeff Bower's first season at helm. (Photo courtesy of Marist College)

If one program qualified for a season that ran a full emotional spectrum, Marist would certainly be one of the first names mentioned.

After all, the Red Foxes started the inaugural campaign of the Jeff Bower era with nine consecutive losses, a start that offered very little promise of bigger and better things after Chuck Martin was unable to break through over five years in Poughkeepsie. Suddenly, a five-game winning streak restored the optimism that sprung fluidly and frequently during the offseason, the same flowing stream that led Marist to a fifth-place prediction in the preseason MAAC coaches' poll.

Losses in five of their next six games gave way to a similar winning run, with the Red Foxes dropping only one of six following a 66-56 home loss to Rider on January 18th. Close defeats to Saint Peter's and Fairfield sandwiched a 19-point setback at the hands of Iona, but Marist ended the regular season on a high note with a 31-point thrashing of conference semifinalist Quinnipiac to enter the MAAC tournament on a high note. 

Once there, however, a 24-point deficit was too much to overcome in their opening game in Springfield, as the Red Foxes' valiant rally in the final minutes came up just two points short against Niagara in the final preliminary round contest at the MassMutual Center. Nonetheless, the 12-19 showing revealed a much more offensively proficient team than Marist fans had been used to in recent seasons, with four players averaging ten or more points per game, led by the 17.5 points of junior swingman and all-MAAC honoree Chavaughn Lewis.

MAAC Rookie of the Year Khallid Hart showed the most promise after finally taking the court as a redshirt freshman, averaging nearly 15 points per game while shooting 38 percent from three-point range, backing up an efficient farewell season from senior wing Jay Bowie and a quietly dominant showing from 6-10 big man Adam Kemp, whose back held up long enough for him to muster ten points and just under eight rebounds per contest.

With Bowie and Kemp having graduated, Bower must now go about replacing two vital cogs in his lineup as the Red Foxes enter 2014-15. Led by Hart and Lewis in the backcourt, as well as high-energy Brooklyn guard T.J. Curry, Marist will need size to stand up to some of the bigger and stronger front lines in the conference, and will be reliant upon freshmen R.J. Coil and Connor McClenaghan to step in and fill significant minutes alongside redshirt freshman Kentrall Brooks and the athleticism of 6-7 Phillip Lawrence, who makes up for his relatively small stature for a forward with a game that enables him to be an X-factor in the paint.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Year In Review: Saint Peter's

Even with a seventh-place finish in MAAC, John Dunne and Saint Peter's still managed to enjoy most successful season since winning conference championship in 2011. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

For some reason, Saint Peter's University is the forgotten man when it comes to local college basketball programs.

Maybe it's the fact that the Peacocks are always in the shadows, from their Jersey City location just down the Turnpike from Seton Hall, or the recent success from fellow metropolitan area and conference rivals Manhattan and Iona. Maybe it's the fact that a select few appreciate head coach John Dunne's ability to always take unheralded prospects and coach them into deceptively strong players. Either way, nothing can take away from the fact that Saint Peter's is back on the upswing after their 14-17 season, the best effort for the Peacocks since their unlikely 2011 MAAC championship.

"Certainly, we were proud of the way we stuck together, overcame some adversity with some early close losses and a tough start," Dunne told us shortly after his season came to a close at the hands of eventual conference champion Manhattan. "To win our last seven of ten, to win a MAAC tournament game, it's going to give us a lot of confidence going into next year."

A 4-7 record through December, highlighted by an overtime victory at Seton Hall did little to convince the nationwide audience of Saint Peter's potential, but anyone who observed the program closely could see the Peacocks arriving at a precipice of greatness.

"Obviously, it was exhilarating to beat Seton Hall, and the way that we beat them too," Dunne said, recounting the three-pointer by Desi Washington to steal a win from the Pirates in the waning seconds of overtime. "I think it gave us an example for us to fall back on and say 'hey, this is a team we can beat if we hang in there.'"

A combined 30 points per game from Washington; whose flair for the dramatic also returned three last-second wins against Fairfield, and Fordham expatriate Marvin Dominique, whose size and rebounding ability provided Dunne with a frontcourt weapon he had not seen since his championship season three years ago. Together, the two kept the Peacocks in contention in their first MAAC game of the 2014 calendar year, a 74-62 loss to Manhattan that was much closer than the score let on.

"I don't think we thought we could win that game," Dunne intimated, "but mentally, we had come such a long way over two months."

Within the next two months, Saint Peter's had come even further, scoring a pair of upsets against conference kingpins Quinnipiac and Rider before ending a five-game losing streak with home victories against Siena and Monmouth, following those up with a road showing at Iona that saw the Peacocks battle Tim Cluess and the Gaels down to the wire, tying the game with less than 10 seconds in regulation before A.J. English's buzzer-beater.

Regardless, Saint Peter's returns almost everyone from last year's team, with only Chris Burke, a freshman on the MAAC championship team of 2011, graduating. That means Washington, Dominique, and soon-to-be sophomore point guard Trevis Wyche will all be back at the Yanitelli Center next season, leading a team into battle that could ultimately secure a top five seed and a first-round bye in next year's MAAC tournament, which once again returns to Albany.

The last time a team this experienced took the court for Saint Peter's, you ask? The 2010-11 season, with Wesley Jenkins, Ryan Bacon and Jeron Belin leading the charge as the Peacocks knocked off Fairfield and Iona on consecutive nights to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995. A trip to the field of 68 may not be what the experts predict going into this season, but with most of the conference getting younger, a noticeable upward mobility is certainly in the cards.

"I just think you're going to see a confident team," Dunne commented, "a team that knows how to defend, knows what you have to do to win games and what it takes to win. I thought we did that the last third of the season, but at the end of the day, our core is back and I think they'll have the confidence to be able to win close games right from the start."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Year In Review: Rider

Kevin Baggett's second season may not have been as rewarding as his first, but that hasn't stopped Rider coach from looking ahead even after losing Daniel Stewart and Anthony Myles. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

In his first season as head coach, Kevin Baggett enjoyed a pleasant stream of success with Rider, coming from the middle of the MAAC standings to win 19 games and emerge from a grueling regular season with the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

The Broncs were surprisingly defeated by Fairfield in their MAAC tournament opener that season, but with a strong core led by Anthony Myles and Daniel Stewart coming back, the future looked promising in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

A 2-4 start did little to quell the optimism that reached a crescendo with wins in five of the Broncs' next six contests, including their first three in MAAC play before a 62-47 loss to Jimmy Patsos and Siena at the Times Union Center in January. Rider dropped to 5-4 in league play after a defeat on the road to eventual conference champion Manhattan, but jumped right back in the mix for the league lead with three consecutive wins to position the Broncs at 8-4, two games behind regular season titleholder Iona at the time. Sadly, it was as high as Rider would get going into Springfield, where the pride of southern New Jersey entered the MAAC tournament having dropped seven of their final eight to conclude a 13-16 regular season.

Rider managed to win the game that started the proceedings on the men's side at the MassMutual Center, a 71-60 victory over in-state rival Monmouth that saw one last performance of a lifetime from Daniel Stewart, whose 25-point, 9-rebound tour de force served as his lasting memory in a Broncs uniform two days before his career would come to a close in a 94-71 defeat at the hands of Iona.

Overall, led by Stewart, whose 15 points and six-plus rebounds per game helped make the motor run along with Myles (16.2 points per game) and his 38 percent three-point shooting, the Broncs played much better than their record let on, with freshman guard Jimmie Taylor a major reason why. Entrusted with the keys to the Rider offense as the season went on, the MAAC All-Rookie honoree; and arguably a worthy Rookie of the Year had it not gone to Marist's Khallid Hart, responded in a veteran manner, averaging 12.1 points per game to back up a blistering 47 percent clip from three-point range.

Taylor and soon-to-be junior backcourt partner Zedric Sadler, who emerged as one of the Broncs' more reliable ball handlers, will anchor the guards next season, while wings Kahlil Thomas and Shawn Valentine will no doubt improve off their freshman and sophomore campaigns, respectively. The additions of former VCU guard Teddy Okereafor and Columbia expatriate forward Skylar Scrivano will add to the Rider depth next year, and seven-foot center Matt Lopez is eligible after sitting out for his year in residence following a transfer from Utah State. Those three arrivals will supplant the losses of Stewart and Myles, and when blended with the incumbents Baggett has coming back, will once again keep the Broncs forwardly placed among the MAAC going into 2014-15.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Fordham Announces Atlantic 10 Opponents

Tom Pecora enters fifth season at Fordham with expanded conference schedule and five home-and-home series as Rams seek to improve off 10-21 campaign last season. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

After a 10-21 season that saw the departure of Branden Frazier and arrival of Jon Severe, Fordham's first step toward emerging from what has felt like a century-long morass was taken this afternoon, when Tom Pecora and the Rams learned their Atlantic 10 schedule.

Dates and times will of course be revealed at a later date, but the A-10 today announced each team's home and road opponents in league play as the conference will now play an 18-game schedule with the introduction of Davidson, who brings the total membership to 14 teams. The schedule will feature four home and four road games, as well as five home-and-home series. Each opponent will be broken down in detail in the coming days, but in the meantime, here is what awaits Fordham after they complete their non-league slate:

The Rams' four stand-alone road contests come against Atlantic 10 newcomer Davidson, who enters their new league off an appearance in the National Invitation Tournament by virtue of their regular season Southern Conference championship; as well as George Mason, whom Fordham swept last season for two of their three wins in regular season and postseason A-10 play, Richmond and St. Bonaventure. Duquesne, George Washington, Saint Louis and VCU; the latter three of which are reigning NCAA Tournament participants, will come to Rose Hill Gym for one-off contests.

Fordham's five home-and-home series will be contested against reigning Elite Eight participant Dayton, as well as La Salle, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Saint Joseph's.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Checking In With Ray Floriani

In addition to his outstanding work as one of our associate contributors and our staff photographer, one of the things that makes Ray Floriani the embodiment of a college basketball "Renaissance man" is his involvement in a number of different areas of the game. In addition to his pictures and tempo-free statistical breakdowns, Ray is also an active and accomplished referee in his native New Jersey, officiating a number of games every year both on and off the basketball court, which brings us to how he is spending the offseason. This past Sunday, Ray was on the whistle for a handful of AAU basketball contests in the Garden State, but the real surprise was revealed upon his arrival. Here's Ray to tell us about his exploits in arguably the most unique photo essay he has posted during his 16-month tenure in the Daly Dose Of Hoops family:

UNION CITY, NJ - ­The call came from officiating friend and assignor Pat Devaney. “Ray, AAU at Union City. I got Brian O’Connell working and he requested to work with you.” The official alluded to is THE Brian O’Connell, seen in venues as Madison Square Garden and similar venues, regularly working deep into the NCAA and NIT tournaments. The answer on my part, a rapid affirmative. Anticipation and excitement were the order of the day. The games started at 8 a.m. on a Sunday. Yours truly checked in at Union City by 7:20.

Brian is actually a good friend I have known for years. We worked as officiating partners in a basketball officials camp in the early Nineties. Later, I was mentored by Brian working as an instructor at the same camp. We also officiated games in recent seasons at the Jersey City based Hamilton Park Summer League.

Our games were at Union City High School in Northern New Jersey. Two eighth grade and one seventh grade girls AAU contest were on tap. A few notes and observations from an enjoyable three contests with one of the best college officials in America.

Jump ball situations are a fact of life, especially in grade school games. Too many, though, affect the flow. “You can’t have 17 or so jump balls in a game,” Brian said. “To avoid them, call the reach-in as they wrap an arm or hand around to get the ball. They (the players) will adjust and you will have a cleaner game with less jump balls and a better flow.” Brian also added a thought regarding the previous point, “call the hand checking. That will clean the game up.”

Brian came up through the ranks, from grade school to high school, and then college officiating. He’s seen this level, but at times forgets. Today is a reminder, though in general, coaches, players and parents were very good. Regardless, we had a situation with an official scorer keeping the time and score effectively. We handled it, but a coach (from a different group) of one of the teams in the game came out of the stands to question the situation. That was not his place and Brian said “sir if you want, you can help score or keep time.” Needless to say, the coach quietly exited stage left. “It is amazing what officials have to take on this level,” Brian said later. “I will go to a high school game in my (New Jersey) area and watch guys trying to move up. What they have to deal with coaches and fans is too much.” Brian knows well, the pressure of officiating at the Division I level are demanding. Coaches do not want traveling missed, as they play for a six or seven-figure salary. Still, there is a difference. “On our (college) level there are site and arena managers to handle things.”

Translated, the removal of unruly fans. “Also in Division One, there is a much different level of commitment from players and coaches.” It boils down to both groups understanding the game is physical, demanding, and comes with inherent risks.

Calls are easy. Judgment is what is vital to ascertain a no-call. Overall, yours truly received very ’good grades’ from Brian for positioning, hustle and overall judgment. On one particular play, he told me my call of a two-shot foul on a baseline jumper could have been passed on. “Let them play through things,” Brian reminded. “You can always decide it was a foul and make the call late. A late whistle is fine, but try to let them get through the play.”

Late in the second game, a player from a team down 20 or so is reached in by the defense. I call the foul. In frustration, she elbows her opponent. I simply say “relax, you got the call. Don’t do something foolish, just play hard.” I then sought advice, asking Brian if I was correct not assessing a technical on her. “Absolutely,” he replied. If it’s a really blatant push or elbow, you have no choice but to call a ‘T.’ That push was not blatant, you did the right thing talking to her.” Her coach also did the right thing substituting for her immediately.

A consideration off the court in Brian’s estimation, especially at his level, is social media. Be careful what you say on Facebook and Twitter. “Don’t discuss specific plays especially on Twitter,” he said. “You would be amazed about who is following you and who can get information you thought would not leak out.”

A wealth of good advice with a few of the highlights previously cited. The $105 three game fee was somewhat of a bonus. As was told by me to Regina (one of our Hamilton Park score keepers) at the front desk, “feels like I should be paying for attending a ’clinic’ with Brian as instructor.”

Our three games were one sided, the final one a 41­-11 final. Brian worked the games as he does in college, conscientious, but fully mindful the game is for the players. We as officials are in the background.

In one situation, I was waiting to inbound the ball to a Wayne PAL eighth-grader as substitutes were beckoned on the floor. While waiting I ,told the young lady, “my partner is a college official in the Big East,” to which she replied, wow, that is so cool.’ 

Come to think of it, she’s right.

Ray with Brian O'Connell:
Pat Devaney recording results in the hallway:
The tournament sign outside Union City High School:

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Year In Review: Monmouth

Deon Jones' breakout season signified start of a new era at Monmouth, where Hawks overachieved during first season in MAAC. (Photo courtesy of Monmouth University)

When we had the chance to speak to him last summer as he prepared to navigate the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for the first time, King Rice had mounds of confidence in his Monmouth team, making the jump into the MAAC after a long marriage with the Northeast Conference.

"We're not going in thinking we're the underdog," Rice boldly stated before guiding the Hawks to an 11-21 record that was significantly better than most expected upon Monmouth being selected last of eleven in the preseason coaches' poll. "We're looking to go in, and we're not going to lay down for anybody."

No sooner was that demonstrated than in the Hawks' season opener, in which they stormed back from a double-digit deficit to defeat Hofstra, only to follow that effort up with competitive showings against Big East programs the likes of Seton Hall and St. John's, the latter of whom trailed Monmouth late in the second half before pulling away for the win. At 3-4 going into the first pair of conference games in December, Rice was unable to lead his team to victory, but did manage to win over a handful of critics early with hard-fought battles against Rider and eventual MAAC champion Manhattan, falling short by a grand total of just 15 points. Before long, the Hawks reeled off convincing victories against former NEC rival St. Francis College and Fordham, who witnessed a stunning display in which Andrew Nicholas led a comeback of four unanswered Monmouth threes in the final two-plus minutes of regulation to upend the Rams. Yet for all the highs in a season that saw an ugly end with losses in all but one of the last twelve games, there were none bigger than the final seconds on January 19th, when the Hawks hosted MAAC Player of the Year Billy Baron and Canisius in an affair that culminated with one of the best final calls in recent memory, provided by friend of the site Eddy Occhipinti, courtesy of the Shore Sports Network: (video courtesy of Monmouth University's "HawkVision")

Andrew Nicholas, who drained the heroic shot against Canisius, finished as Monmouth's second-leading scorer with a 14.3 point per game average to complement his 35 percent shooting from three-point range, as Towson transfer Deon Jones made the most of his opportunity for his new team, leading the Hawks with a 15-point, 7-rebound average compiled while mentoring a young backcourt featuring an interchangeable freshman point guard duo of Josh James and Justin Robinson, who will eventually become two of the better players at their position in the MAAC.

Looking back, perhaps the most significant accomplishment on the Monmouth ledger last season was winning as many games as they did without a single senior on the roster. The core of the team will be back, as Nicholas and Jones enter their senior seasons alongside James and Robinson, with twin towers Zac Tillman and Chris Brady; who combined for over seven points and six rebounds in their rookie campaigns, back for their sophomore seasons as well. The depth on the front line will only get better from there after the Hawks secured Brice Kofane recently after the Cameroon native decided to come to the Garden State following his graduation from Providence with one year of eligibility remaining. Kofane, who is a poor man's version of Manhattan's Rhamel Brown, will instantly provide Monmouth with a shot-blocking and rebounding prowess that makes up for the loss of Tyrone O'Garro after the Newark product was granted a release to pursue a transfer. Incoming freshman Micah Seaborn, a 6-5 combo guard who played alongside highly coveted prospect Emmanuel Mudiay at Prime Prep, will benefit greatly under the tutelage of Jones for his freshman season, and looks like a star in the making for Rice, whose offseason may not be over at the present moment, with Oklahoma expatriate guard Je'lon Hornbeak being rumored to take his talents to West Long Branch as well.

Going into next season, the outlook for Monmouth will be much more favorable on paper, but around the Hawk program, the same confident mantra and youthful exuberance will be on full display once again. As Rice himself put it before the season started, "we like what we're putting together, and it won't be easy to play against us."

Opposing teams may find that out the hard way as the Hawks start their encore in November.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Year In Review: Fairfield

Youth and relative inexperience caught up to Fairfield this past season, but Sydney Johnson has reason to be optimistic about Stags in 2014-15. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

We return to the lull of the offseason with yet another year in review for a MAAC program, a youthful one whose extreme makeover in the backcourt made their season a trying one for the most part, but left all surrounding it confident in what lies ahead.

For the past three years, Fairfield University had positioned itself among the MAAC elite going into the 2013-14 season, with a regular season conference championship and appearances in both the National Invitation and Tournaments to show for it. The maintenance of the status quo was enough to silence those who had questioned whether the transition from Ed Cooley to Sydney Johnson would be seamless enough to keep the Stags in the top half of the conference. Yet when Fairfield's entire backcourt needed to be replaced going into this year's campaign, the Stags were not going to get anything easy.

An exhibition loss to Division II Bridgeport may have been a harbinger of things to come as Fairfield prepared for life without Derek Needham, Desmond Wade, Colin Nickerson and Keith Matthews, as the Stags dropped eight straight after their season-opening Connecticut 6 victory over Sacred Heart. Entering their January 18th contest against Manhattan at 3-14, and winless in seven MAAC games, Fairfield scored their game of a lifetime, nearly leading wire-to-wire against the eventual league champion Jaspers, building an advantage that was as high as 19 points en route to a 71-67 victory. Sadly, only three more wins followed as the Stags finished 7-25, with their final appearance being an overtime loss to Saint Peter's in the opening round of the MAAC tournament, marking the third defeat to the Peacocks on the year, each of which coming on a game-winning three-pointer by Desi Washington.

Despite the lack of results in their record, Fairfield did receive significant contributions from a number of sources, namely swingman Maurice Barrow, who averaged 14 points per game off the bench on his way to a second straight MAAC Sixth Man of the Year award. Fellow wing Marcus Gilbert chipped in with 14 points of his own per contest, including connecting on a team-leading 73 three-pointers at a 37 percent clip. Freshman point guard K.J. Rose also showed promise leading the offense, doing so to the tune of eight points and 3.5 assists per game as Sydney Johnson intimated that the Stags' youth forced everyone to reveal their talents and step up at any given moment, especially after an injury-plagued sophomore season from Amadou Sidibe and a work in progress for Gilbert's brother Malcolm, who transferred from Pittsburgh.