Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ray Floriani's tempo-free Atlantic 10 non-conference review

In what will become a regular feature in his "Tempo Tuesday" column, Ray Floriani gets us ready for Atlantic 10 play with a tempo-free review of the non-league portion of the A-10 schedule. All statistics reflect games played through Monday, December 28, and were taken from Basketball State.

Teams are listed in efficiency margin order, from highest to lowest, with somewhat of a surprise at the top.

1) Fordham (9-2, +24 efficiency margin, 72 possessions per game)
2) George Washington (10-2, +14, 70)
3) Richmond (8-3, +13, 71)
4) Duquesne (10-2, +10, 75)
5) Dayton (9-2, +10, 70)
6) VCU (7-5, +9, 73)
7) Rhode Island (7-5, +9, 68)
8) Saint Joseph's (9-2, +8, 72)
9) St. Bonaventure (7-3, +7, 72)
10) UMass (6-5, +4, 75)
11) Davidson (8-3, +3, 75)
12) Saint Louis (5-6, 0, 69)
13) George Mason (6-7, -4, 67)
14) La Salle (4-5, -15, 70)

Analysis: Fordham, a team struggling in the win-loss department as well as efficiency margin in recent years, leads the pack. Jeff Neubauer is getting attention for the job he has done on Rose Hill. Defense, as Neubauer promised, is the key. The Rams sport the top defensive efficiency in the conference at 84. Non-­conference meetings have been successful and something to build on. Now the ‘acid’ test, namely the conference, with George Washington first up on Sunday.

Everyone’s pace seems faster than last season. It’s not just five seconds less on the shot clock. Teams invariably post a faster non-conference pace. Dictating tempo against some undermatched opposition means more possessions. In conference play, the competition is better, teams know each other and late in the season, offenses get more conservative. It all adds up to less possessions per game in league play.

Dave Paulsen is the new coach at George Mason, but the tempo is still relatively deliberate. Rhode Island’s pace, under 70 possessions, is a mild surprise. Saint Louis is another one favoring a slower pace, dating back to when Rick Majerus had taken over the reins prior to Jim Crews. For La Salle, it has been a struggle on both ends. A 96 on offense and 111 defensive efficiency are both subpar marks. At this point, the Explorers should be thankful they aren’t farther below .500.

Offensive efficiency leaders:
1) Richmond (112)
2) George Washington (110)
3) Davidson (109)
T-4) Duquesne (108)
T-4) Fordham (108)

Analysis: Fordham and Duquesne, given their numbers and early showing, will be teams to keep a close watch on as conference play progresses. Davidson’s three losses are to North Carolina, Pitt and Cal. The offensive efficiency in those games was 81, 90, and 81, respectively. Every other time, Bob McKillop’s group has surpassed the century mark, with a high of 140 in a romp at Charlotte. The offense, though, is still very efficient.

Defensive efficiency:
1) Fordham (84)
2) Rhode Island (92)
3) VCU (93)
T-4) Dayton (94)
T-4) Saint Joseph's (94)

Analysis: The Rams of Fordham join VCU and Rhode Island as ‘breeds’ that normally reside in this area. A year ago, Fordham posted a 101 defensive efficiency through 31 games. To date, it has been a remarkable reversal of defensive fortunes at Rose Hill.

Offensive turnover rate leaders:
1) Davidson (12.9%)
2) Saint Joseph's (14.3)
T-3) George Washington (15.5)
T-3) Richmond (15.5)
5) UMass (15.6)

Analysis: To little surprise, Davidson has posted some outstanding efficiency on offense. The Wildcats do not turn it over. Fast-paced UMass is a bit of a surprise. Derek Kellogg’s club was right near the 20 percent cutoff, with a 19.5 percent turnover rate a year ago. On the opposite side, only two teams exceeded 20 percent in turnover rate, Dayton at 20.7 and Saint Louis with 20.1. The latter has not been a surprise in recent seasons. Dayton losing one-fifth of their possessions to miscues is a surprise. That number should be reduced as the conference play progresses.

Effective field goal percentage leaders:
1) Duquesne (.568)
2) Richmond (.566)
3) Fordham (.554)
4) Dayton (.534)
5) Davidson (.520)

Analysis: Fordham and Duquesne are early surprises. Duquesne did shoot 52 percent in this category last season, while Fordham struggled at a 47 percent eFG rate.

Better at Barclays: Excuse the Bahamas for a moment. A­-10 Player of the Week Isaiah Miles had a great game in a win over Virginia Tech at Barclays Center. Saint Joseph’s senior forward scored 36 points and pulled down 15 rebounds, all without a single turnover. His effectiveness factor was 55, with an astronomical 1.410 EF per minute.

Rookie of the Week: DeAndre Abram, George Mason. The Patriots' freshman guard scored a career high 27 points, with 10 rebounds against Wagner. His EF was 36, with a superb 1.125 EF per minute.

Siena 81, FDU 65: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Analysis

Ali Jaques discusses Siena's victory over FDU with Mike Demos on Saints' radio postgame show. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

Teaneck, NJ -­ In closing out the year and non-­conference schedule, FDU hosted Siena of the MAAC. Hoping to build momentum heading into the Northeast Conference schedule, FDU was unable to complete the task. Siena prevailed, 81-­65 at the Rothman Center, raising their record to 5-­7. The Knights lost their second straight at home, falling to 3-­9. The breakdown and numbers of note:

First quarter: Fairly even for a good portion of the quarter, Siena was full court pressuring after scores. In the half court, Siena was playing FDU inside star Erika Livermore straight man-to-man, fronting on defense. Siena coach Ali Jaques rotated defenders, keeping Livermore guarded by fresh bodies. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has said special situation plays in basketball are like special teams in football. Siena gained their two-possession edge on a buzzer-beating three by Karolina Severova off a baseline inbounds play with 1.2 seconds remaining.

End of first quarter: Siena 21, FDU 16

Second quarter: Siena was in an attack-the-basket mode. Off turnovers and in half court, the Saints looked to take the defense off the dribble for opportunities inside and/or drawing fouls. At the four-minute mark, Siena had a seven-point lead. All of their five second quarter field goals, at this point, were scored in the paint. For good measure, Siena’s Jackie Benitez buried two three-pointers late in the quarter to help the Saints to a double-digit lead.

Halftime: Siena 44, FDU 30

Possessions: Siena 38, FDU 44

Offensive efficiency: Siena 116, FDU 73

Third quarter: FDU ‘won’ the first four minutes, 10-­7. Of greater significance is Livermore (four points at the half) having three field goals over those first four minutes, and being very active inside. The Knights cut the lead to six, but Siena did not waver. Getting back to their dribble penetration, the Saints quickly rebuilt their lead. Despite FDU’s start to open the quarter, Siena lost no ground.

End of third quarter: Siena 64, FDU 50

Fourth quarter: On the first FDU possession, Livermore missed two free throws. The second possession? A travel. Not a good early start at all. Missed opportunities took their toll on the Knights. Siena capitalized by getting in transition, building an 18-point lead with just over five minutes to play. The eight fourth quarter field goals by the Saints were all in the paint, on both fast breaks and half court offense.

Final: Siena 81, FDU 65

Possessions: Siena 78, FDU 81

Offensive efficiency: Siena 104, FDU 80

Four Factors:
eFG percentage: Siena 52, FDU 47
Free throw rate: Siena 37, FDU 18
OREB percentage: Siena 39, FDU 37

Turnover rate: Siena 23, FDU 33

What Siena did well: Pressure effectively. The Saints forced FDU into a third of their possessions ending in turnovers. Siena enjoyed a 28-­13 edge in points off turnovers. “All things considered, outside of turnovers, I thought the two teams were even,” said FDU coach Pete Cinella. “Turnovers were the key.”

What FDU did well: Get another solid night from Erika Livermore. Twenty points, five rebounds, sixteen of the points in the second half. Livermore sparked a run that got the deficit from double digits to two possessions midway through the third quarter.

Leading scorers and effectiveness factors:
Siena­: Kollyns Scarbrough 15 points, EF 23
FDU­: Erika Livermore 20 points, EF 27

Kelsey Cruz 20 points, EF 30

Siena placed five in double figures. The Saints also led 46-­38 in points in the paint.

FDU coach Pete Cinella is searching for a third scorer. In the win over Monmouth last week, Jackie Jackson hit for double figures. Tonight she had four points, four turnovers and five fouls. Anastasia Williams posted a respectable nine points and five rebounds. “In our three wins, we had scoring to back up Erika (Livermore) and Kelsey (Cruz),” Cinella said. “Every day, even in practice, we have been looking for a third consistent scorer. We’re still searching.”

In raw numbers, FDU was guilty of 27 turnovers. “Our best point guard (Maddie Comly) against the press is out (ankle sprain),” Cinella said. “As a result, we were very vulnerable.”

Siena coach Ali Jaques added, “pressing, it’s what we do. It defines us. We want to come at you with pressure. It helps our offense as well.” Jaques was pleased with the offensive showing and made mention. “It was good to have an offensive breakout with conference play starting,” she said. “We have had some trouble scoring thus far.” Not tonight.

Siena entered averaging 56.2 points per game, with an offensive efficiency of 78. Both numbers were easily eclipsed in this road victory.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

While Wagner enters NEC play on a positive note, work still remains

At 7-4 entering 2016 and Northeast Conference play, Wagner is more experienced, but Seahawks still have more to improve upon during second half of season. (Photo courtesy of the Staten Island Advance)

STATEN ISLAND -- Very few teams in the Northeast Conference enter league play with seven wins to their credit. Conversely, very few teams have the combination of experience and upside that Wagner possesses as the Seahawks, who two years ago were picked to win the NEC, seek a return to the echelon they occupied under former coach Dan Hurley.

Staten Island's team proved the benefit of such assets Wednesday evening, coasting to a 76-62 victory over UMass Lowell at the Spiro Center once the Seahawk backcourt of Corey Henson and Dwaun Anderson came alive after the intermission. Now at 7-4 for the third time in four years since Bashir Mason replaced Hurley in 2012, Wagner is a much more confident bunch as they begin the conference slate with the always daunting trip to Pennsylvania, first facing Saint Francis University on Saturday before meeting Robert Morris on Monday to ring in 2016.

"A year ago with seven new faces, five of those faces being freshmen, the goal was to throw these guys into the fire and let them feel, touch, experience everything college basketball has to offer," Mason reflected, once again belying his own youth of nearly 32 years. "To add some pieces to the mix, some experience like Mike Carey, Henry Brooks, all of our guys are a year older with all of that experience they got from last year, and you could see it. These guys have come a long way in a short amount of time."

Indeed they have, with Carey being chief among them, at least on this night. The junior swingman and junior college transfer poured in an impressive 13 points with just as many rebounds off the bench, his third double-double of the season. Combine that with the scoring prowess and smart backcourt play of Henson and Anderson, whose combined 10 assists against only three turnovers are a far brighter indicator of their potential than the 29 points collected by the pair, and you have a dangerous recipe for success in the guard-heavy NEC campaign.

"Mike, for us, is an intangible guy," Mason said of Carey, whose performance was reminiscent of the efforts posted on an almost nightly basis by D.J. Kennedy, who excelled in a similar position at St. John's several years ago. "He goes out and he does all of the little things, and it all equates to winning. It's just winning basketball plays. He's not a guy who's hunting his shot, he's not out looking to be an assist guy, he's not stressing the offense. He's just going out there and making the plays that are right there in front of him, and when you play the game that way, you play to win, good things happen for you."

"Corey's a good basketball player because of his mind," said Mason of the sophomore Henson. "He's got a great basketball IQ, he understands every set that we're running and why we're running it. He's essentially a coach on the floor, so he's a guy that's going to take care of the ball. Dwaun Anderson, his maturation, he's always been known as an athlete, a high-flying kid," the coach continued. "Now he's making perimeter shots, he's making decisions with the ball. It's just growth."

With growth comes higher expectations, but with a roster that is still, by and large, young, such goals need to be tempered. Mason is aware of that, and is admittedly intrigued to see how his unit handles the rigors of conference play, which does Wagner very little favors in its opening weekend.

"Obviously, there were some naysayers and some guys who didn't think this group would be this good this early," he conceded. "I'm excited about that but again, it's still a young group that's got a long, long way to go."

"Me, as a coach, and I'm around these guys every day, I'm interested to see how they approach, now, conference play. This is something they only experienced once. They're still inexperienced in that regard, so I'm real interested to see what our approach is to it."

At the same time, the long-term goal remains the same.

"For us, at our level, to get to our goal," Mason rehashed, "we've got to win the conference. I always use the terminology with our guys, when we have bad days after having really good days, all of the good work we just put in, it's a piece of paper. You just crumpled it up and threw it out, and that's essentially what this non-conference is. We did a lot of good work, but now we crumple it up. We've got to throw it out. We take all of those good things with us for the next nine weeks. We've got to be dialed in to conference (play) to reach our main goal. Our goal wasn't to be 7-4, it's to make the NCAA Tournament."

Albany 71, St. Francis Brooklyn 66: 5 Observations

Peter Hooley showed signs of breaking his slump, going for 19 points as Albany defeated St. Francis Brooklyn, (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

BROOKLYN -- Behind a 53 percent shooting effort from the floor, Albany won its tenth game of the season, defeating St. Francis Brooklyn by the final of 71-66, the Great Danes' penultimate tuneup before conference play begins next week. Below are a handful of takeaways from a game that the reigning three-time America East champions battled through the first half of before finding a way to survive the scrappy Terriers:

  • Albany won in a style they're admittedly not comfortable with.
    The Great Danes overcame a stop-and-go pace Tuesday evening, and St. Francis' competitive nature drew praise from the Terriers' opposition. "I thought the game was helter-skelter," Will Brown stated, "and I think that benefits them. We're a team that likes to run our stuff and dissect you and pick you apart. They took us out of all of our stuff. I thought the game was physical and ugly, and that's a compliment to them." 

    "I honestly think St. Francis played harder than any team we've played this year," Brown added, no small feat considering Albany opened the season against John Calipari and Kentucky.

  • Winning without Evan Singletary and Ray Sanders is an encouraging sign for the rest of the season.
    Both plagued by foul trouble, Singletary collected his third foul with only five points to his ledger with just over ten minutes to play, while Sanders' four fouls minimized his contributions to the tune of an 0-for-3 effort in just nine minutes. "It's huge," said Peter Hooley (19 points) of Albany finding a way to hold on without two of their key parts for the majority of the night. "It goes to show that we have so many players who can step up. Joe (Cremo) is a consistent scorer for us, and Greig (Stire, 12 points) played terrific in the first half. Even David Nichols, who has barely played all year, came in and gave us a huge five minutes, so it's good to know that we can all step up when we have to."

  • Life without Sam Rowley is not an overnight adjustment.
    Brown hinted at this when referencing the fast pace that St. Francis dictated, which limited the use of Richard Peters off the bench. "We're still trying to get used to playing without Sam, as crazy as that sounds," the coach conceded with regard to his now-graduated Australian forward. "We used to just throw that thing in there and just play off him."

    "We've got to find out who's going to step up when the time's right," Hooley expounded. "Once we find our identity in that, I think we'll be fine."

  • Peter Hooley on breaking out of his slump:
    "It's something that's been weighing on my head for a few games now," the senior marksman said after leading all scorers with 19 points on just eight shots. "It's good to know that I can still play my game and contribute to help us win."

    "I thought he played really well," Brown reaffirmed. "I'm not talking about a breakout game as far as his overall play, I'm talking about a breakout game where he bangs five or six threes, because that's where he's struggling. When he's making his perimeter shots, he's very difficult to guard, but I thought he played a very good overall game for us tonight."

  • Even at 10-4, the Great Danes still have a long way to go.
    "If I said yes, I'd probably be lying," said Brown when asked if he felt Albany was ahead of his expectations through the end of the non-league schedule, which culminates at Cornell on Saturday. "There's three things I look for: Our defense and our rebounding need to continue to improve, and we can't turn the ball over. Once you get to conference play, you've got to practice smarter, so you want to go into league play feeling pretty good about what you're doing. I think we've got a good staff and our team is always well prepared, so that's half the battle."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Iona withstands Drexel's late charge to score 23rd straight home win

With A.J. English and Schadrac Casimir still on shelf, Isaiah Williams led Iona with 19 points and 10 rebounds as Gaels held off Drexel, 77-70. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Isaiah Williams took a moment Monday evening to reflect on Iona's latest home win, stating the team would much rather prefer an ugly victory any day of the week as opposed to a loss, something that had not happened in New Rochelle since January 2014.

As the cliché states, a win is still a win, no matter how you slice it.

After being staked to a 19-point lead over the first nine-plus minutes, only to almost cough it up down the stretch, the Gaels (5-6) managed to prevail, surviving an upset-minded Drexel squad in a 77-70 triumph over the Dragons (2-9) that marked Iona's 23rd consecutive victory at the Hynes Athletics Center, preserving the ninth-longest home winning streak in the nation.

"I'm proud of our guys for finding a way to win tonight," Tim Cluess would say afterward. "In a tough game that let get a little too tough, I give credit to the other team for battling back the way they did."

In an opening half where Iona had seemingly everything go their way, leading 25-6 and making 12 of their first 17 shots, hardly anyone could have expected the end result to be decided by single digits, even when the Gaels rebuilt their 19-point advantage with 10:21 to play in regulation, leading 60-41. But Drexel fought back, unleashing a 12-4 run to creep within four possessions before later ripping off a 13-3 spurt that brought the Dragons within two points, at 72-70, with 1:38 remaining.

The visitors would get no closer, even after having multiple chances to tie the game after Jordan Washington (15 points) made one of two free throws to allow Drexel a chance to pull even on their ensuing possession. A missed layup and subsequent putback attempt by Rodney Williams was the first dose of relief for Iona, but an offensive rebound gave the Dragons a chance to reset. Tavon Allen then heaved an NBA-range three for the tie, but his shot misfired. A second offensive rebound by Williams gave Allen, who scored his 1,000th career point in the first half, a second opportunity, but an off-balance triple attempt from the right baseline bounced off the backboard. Iona secured the rebound and iced the game at the free throw line, as their opponents missed their final seven shots to conclude a hard-fought game that served as the Gaels' finale for the calendar year.

"They missed a few foul shots, we started making some baskets," Drexel coach Bruiser Flint surmised. "Against them, you've got to be able to score a little bit. If you don't score, they're going to run you off the floor because they score. That's what they do."

Sophomore guard Sammy Mojica led Drexel and all scorers with 20 points, tying a career high. Four Gaels ended the night in double figures, paced by a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double from Isaiah Williams, who picked up the slack once again as A.J. English and Schadrac Casimir continue to be listed as day-to-day while nursing their respective hand and groin injuries. For the victors, their final tuneup before conference play resumes Saturday against Quinnipiac was one in which health concerns were put aside when assessing what lies ahead in the remainder of Iona's 20-game league schedule.

"You can't worry about what lineup you have," Cluess cautioned. "You have to go out and play your hardest, and you have what the cards deal you out. The team I put on the court, I want them to go out and be successful."

Monday, December 28, 2015

Remembering "Roadie"


Maybe it was just fitting. 

The Palestra, the cathedral of college basketball and a favorite venue of yours truly. March 1995, in the upper press reaches of the storied edifice, was the place I first got to meet George Rodecker.

We were covering the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals. On occasion, we had crossed paths and exchanged ‘hellos.’ On this Sunday, we formally met.

Just over two decades of friendship with ‘Roadie. On one hand, it seems longer, but that’s from a good standpoint. The times spent traveling together, sharing press row, and generally discussing the game were numerous and hard to believe they were packed in just two decades. On the other hand, those 20 plus years were much too short. Two days shy of his 65th birthday, George was called by the Lord.

Back in the nineties, George published a four-page draft report, a modest but incredible work of draft prospects by position and ranking. He loved the NBA draft and was very well connected to NBA scouts, whom he introduced me to and became good basketball friends of mine as well. George later wrote for several other publications as Basketball Times, Eastern Basketball, College Insider, College Chalktalk, and Hoopville, among others. The draft was George’s specialty, yet he followed and loved the college game. It was my honor and pleasure to collaborate with George on several articles over the years.

In later years, to introduce his son Michael to the game, George brought him to Marist women’s contests, the reasoning being the women’s game was a bit slower, below the rim and fundamentally sound, affording a great opportunity to learn basketball’s nuances. It happened at the time Brian Giorgis was turning around the downtrodden fortunes in Poughkeepsie. It turned out to be a great time to follow the Marist program and women’s game in general. George soon was hooked, and became immersed in women’s basketball. He even wound up a voting member of several awards panels in the women’s game.

Still, thoughts constantly return to those times spent going to games. We drove to Madison Square Garden games frequently. The eight-mile trip from my home to MSG would take about an hour with traffic, but it never bothered yours truly, as discussing the game and/or other topics with George seemed to make the time fly.

Road trips were classic. A few years ago, we were heading to Albany for the MAAC women’s quarterfinals. Game one was tipping off at 9:30 a.m. I drove to George’s residence to meet him and he would drive the final hour to the arena. When I got there, he greeted me with two longtime favorites, a large coffee and a cigar, breakfast on the New York State Thruway.

We both loved the NIT. After the tournament finals, we would drive home with our unofficial recap of the season ended. For George, the next assignment would be Portsmouth, Virginia, and the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a pre-draft tournament he loved to cover.

George’s roots were in New Jersey: Jersey City, then North Arlington, where he graduated high school. After getting married, he moved to Orange County in New York State. George loved the area, especially those picturesque fall seasons. While George was immersed in the game, he was first and foremost a family man. There was always time for his children, even after they reached adulthood. A devout man of faith, George served his local catholic parishes well in many capacities. No doubt, a few prayers were offered for his beloved Chicago Cubs.

Very well connected, more importantly very well liked, George, per one colleague was ‘the governor,’ offering a smile and a friendly greeting for friends and colleagues in the media, all part of what he termed ‘working the room.’ He was great at it, and loved the friendships associated with it. Even ushers and usherettes, especially at the Garden, were greeted cordially. Latter years saw less coverage on George’s part. He remarried and always brought his wife, Daria, to games. George started going to games less with health becoming more of an issue. He talked of getting out to more games and some team practices. Again, his health intervened.

It is such irony that a man with such a wonderful heart suffered from a cardiac condition. The EKGs or other tests could never measure how big a heart he had, in terms of reaching out and helping so many people over the years, not just those connected to the game, but others in various other walks of life.

Gone too soon. Those who had the good fortune to know George will certainly measure that time in his company in terms of quality, not quantity.

Life has its imposed limitations. Memories, ever so precious, do not.

MAAC Monday: OOC review, stat leaders, power rankings

Monmouth and their entertaining cast of reserves highlighted non-league portion of MAAC schedule, which Hawks are hoping is merely tip of their iceberg. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

With league play set to resume this weekend, our latest edition of "MAAC Monday" takes on somewhat of a different tone. We will return to statistical analysis soon enough, but with out-of-conference play concluding in the coming days, our first segment focuses on a review of each team's activity going into the new year. Then, of course, we will refresh the conference's stat leaders before ending with our newest set of league-wide power rankings. Any and all statistics reflected were, as always, gleaned from the individual stat pages on each school's website.

In our league review segment, teams are listed in order of their predicted finish in the MAAC's preseason coaches' poll, from highest to lowest:

Iona: The Gaels are 4-6, with one more non-league collision tonight against Drexel standing in their way before MAAC play resumes at Quinnipiac on Saturday. Iona has played a very formidable schedule in the opening months of the year, and have managed to tread water without the services of A.J. English in their last four contests while Schadrac Casimir and Kelvin Amayo have been sidelined for longer periods of time. Tim Cluess could be getting some much-needed reinforcements to his lineup sooner rather than later, and in the absence of English, Jordan Washington and Jahaad Proctor have acquitted themselves quite well as Isaiah Williams continues to be a dynamic threat on both sides of the basketball.

Monmouth: The Hawks are the well-documented standard bearer for the MAAC by virtue of their 9-3 start, featuring marquee wins against the likes of UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, Georgetown, and Rutgers. Now, King Rice's squad faces their biggest challenge, that being the task of sustaining their red-hot start to non-league play. Monmouth faces a pivotal matinee against Army West Point this afternoon before returning to the MAAC slate a week from tonight in a rematch with Canisius, and as their bench has garnered national attention, the object now will be solidifying the play of point guard Justin Robinson with equally strong outings from his supporting cast.

Manhattan: At 3-7, the Jaspers still have one more non-league tilt awaiting them, on Tuesday against Eastern Kentucky, before the two-time reigning conference champions return to Draddy Gymnasium for pivotal meetings with Fairfield and Siena over the first weekend in January. While most pundits have been quick to write Manhattan off for their slow start and numerous injuries, Steve Masiello has not wavered a slight fraction, standing by his oft-mentioned process as his team regains its health and bearings. Shane Richards and Rich Williams have effectively replaced the scoring of Emmy Andujar and Ashton Pankey, but the Jaspers are still looking for a consistent third scorer, whether it is Zane Waterman, RaShawn Stores, or even freshman guard Tom Capuano. While their record may not be what some people envisioned at this stage of the year, there is no doubt that once the Jaspers are healthy, they will once again be squarely in the middle of the scrum for the championship.

Rider: Kevin Baggett's Broncs may be 3-9, but the record is a little deceiving. Rider has been in their fair share of games, only to fall short due to late comebacks by their opponents, poor free throw shooting, and just about anything else that has not gone their way. As last year's regular season runner-up braces for a challenge from Hartford on Wednesday, interior play will continue to be a key concern for a group that has yet to fully adjust to life without seven-foot center Matt Lopez through their non-league start.

Siena: Jimmy Patsos and the Saints stand an impressive 8-4 going into their road trip to Vermont on Tuesday, but two of those four losses were by a grand total of just five points, which cost Siena a shot at what would have been a 10-game winning streak. Point guard Marquis Wright is playing some of the best basketball of any player in the league despite being overshadowed by A.J. English and Justin Robinson, and his rediscovered outside shot has played a significant factor in the junior's evolution. The Saints' experienced front line already got them a decisive MAAC win against Manhattan earlier this month, and matchups against Niagara and the same Jaspers team Siena defeated handily three weeks ago position them to possibly make a huge statement on the first weekend in January.

Canisius: The Golden Griffins are back at .500 on the year after a successful showing in Las Vegas, first coming back from down 13 in the final minute of regulation against Louisiana-Monroe before defeating Nicholls State. At 6-6, Jim Baron is doing what he has made a career out of, flying under the radar with a deceptively strong team. The Griffs have crashed the glass better than any of their conference brethren so far this season, namely the duo of Jamal Reynolds and Phil Valenti, and point guard Malcolm McMillan has lived up to his billing as a potential first team all-league floor general. Of prime importance to Canisius is not overlooking Saturday's showdown at McCann Arena against Marist, as it is a winnable game that could provide some added momentum for the Griffs as they face Monmouth for the second time on January 4.

Quinnipiac: Tom Moore and the Bobcats have alternated two losses with two wins during their 4-6 start, which positions them for a third pair of victories in their next two contests. Quinnipiac has a road game with Maine on deck Tuesday evening before experiencing opposite ends of the spectrum in their first two league games of 2016, first taking on Iona before entertaining Rider in the back end of a two-game homestand in Hamden. Moore was optimistic about his group entering the season, and has further reason to smile considering the efforts the Bobcats have made in the absence of Chaise Daniels, who was expected to be a big piece of the puzzle before he was sidelined due to injury.

Fairfield: Much has been made of the Stags and their start to the season, and rightfully so. For starters, Sydney Johnson's team is pushing the ball up the floor more often, and it has had an adverse effect (for the better) on the product being put out on a nightly basis. Fairfield is now 6-5 after raining down 17 three-pointers and 101 points against Bucknell on Sunday afternoon, and the backcourt pair of Tyler Nelson (25 points against Bucknell) and Jerome Segura have shared the ball enough to where Marcus Gilbert is not the only man who makes the motor run for the Stags. Saturday evening's clash with Manhattan now takes on a different tone, as we should see a faster-paced flow to what has come to be a defensive-oriented rivalry known for its 34-31 final back in March of 2013.

Saint Peter's: John Dunne and the Peacocks are 4-6, but in the grand scheme of things, they are just a handful of bounces away from being 7-3. Saint Peter's is also one of only two teams entering 2016 undefeated in league play, having swept Rider and Siena earlier this month as a Monday night battle with Cornell precedes three road games against Marist, Niagara and Canisius, respectively. Quadir Welton has been the perfect interior complement to freshman Antwon Portley's floor game, and the Peacocks have a very good chance of returning home with at least two wins on their road trip if everything breaks right.

Marist: The Red Foxes have played better than their 4-6 record may indicate, and freshman Brian Parker has been a big reason why. Parker's first two collegiate months have served him and Mike Maker well, as he has blossomed into a reliable second scoring option behind Khallid Hart, who heads into Tuesday's game against Jacksonville as the MAAC's leading scorer, with A.J. English now on the short side of the minimum amount of games needed to qualify for the scoring title. Marist's biggest concern entering league play, though, is the performance of their big men. If Eric Truog can stay out of foul trouble enough, and if Phillip Lawrence-Ricks can secure enough rebounds to keep Marist in the fight on the boards, the conference season will be much better than the preseason prognostications said it would be.

Niagara: At 3-9, the Purple Eagles have lost six of their last seven heading into their final non-league game, which comes Wednesday against St. Bonaventure. Well rested after playing only two games since December 12, Wednesday's test against the Bonnies starts a stretch of five games in eleven days for Chris Casey's team. Matt Scott has impressed through the first two months as a well-rounded hub of the wheel, but Niagara is going to need to get his teammates involved more often as MAAC play wears on if they have aspirations of escaping the lower rungs of the standings.

Scoring Leaders
*A.J. English, Iona (25.0 PPG)
1) Khallid Hart, Marist (22.9 PPG)
2) Justin Robinson, Monmouth (20.3)
3) Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield (19.0)
4) Shane Richards, Manhattan (18.7)
5) Malcolm McMillan, Canisius (18.1)
6) Rich Williams, Manhattan (17.4)
7) Marquis Wright, Siena (17.3)
8) Matt Scott, Niagara (16.5)
9) Giovanni McLean, Quinnipiac (15.8)
10) Phil Valenti, Canisius (15.7)

Rebounding Leaders
1) Brett Bisping, Siena (9.1 RPG)
2) Quadir Welton, Saint Peter's (7.7)
3) Deon Jones, Monmouth (7.7)
4) Jamal Reynolds, Canisius (7.3)
5) Donovan Smith, Quinnipiac (7.1)
6) Matt Scott, Niagara (7.0)
7) Isaiah Williams, Iona (6.8)
8) Rich Williams, Manhattan (6.5)
T-9) Chris Brady, Monmouth (5.8)
T-9) Javion Ogunyemi, Siena (5.8)

Assist Leaders
*A.J. English, Iona (6.8 APG)
1) Tyler Wilson, Manhattan (6.4 APG)
2) Jerome Segura, Fairfield (5.6)
3) Marquis Wright, Siena (4.6)
4) Malcolm McMillan, Canisius (4.3)
5) Teddy Okereafor, Rider (4.3)
6) Trevis Wyche, Saint Peter's (4.1)
7) Tyler Nelson, Fairfield (3.9)
8) Giovanni McLean, Quinnipiac (3.2)
9) Aaron Rountree, Iona (3.2)
T-10) Lavon Long, Siena (3.0)
T-10) Matt Scott, Niagara (3.0)

Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Chris Brady, Monmouth (.569)
2) Javion Ogunyemi, Siena (.565)
3) Jordan Washington, Iona (.544)
4) Kahlil Thomas, Rider (.535)
5) Matija Milin, Fairfield (.528)
6) Khallid Hart, Marist (.522)
T-7) Brian Parker, Marist (.500)
T-7) Trevis Wyche, Saint Peter's (.500)
9) Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield (.496)
10) Lavon Long, Siena (.494)

Free Throw Percentage Leaders
1) Je'lon Hornbeak, Monmouth (.946)
2) Deyshonee Much, Iona (.917)
3) Tyler Nelson, Fairfield (.884)
4) Justin Robinson, Monmouth (.882)
5) Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield (.838)
6) Shane Richards, Manhattan (.821)
7) Antwon Portley, Saint Peter's (.806)
8) Malcolm McMillan, Canisius (.804)
9) Khallid Hart, Marist (.800)
10) Lavon Long, Siena (.797)

Three-Point Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Marquis Wright, Siena (.548)
2) Deyshonee Much, Iona (.491)
3) Curtis Cobb, Fairfield (.488)
*A.J. English, Iona (.456)
4) Isaiah Lamb, Marist (.455)
5) Justin Robinson, Monmouth (.429)
6) Khallid Hart, Marist (.422)
7) Giovanni McLean, Quinnipiac (.421)
8) Ibn Muhammad, Iona (.417)
T-9) Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield (.400)
T-9) Ryan Oliver, Siena (.400)
T-9) Kassius Robertson, Canisius (.400)

Power Rankings
1) Monmouth (9-3, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Week:
Last Game: Wednesday 12/23 at Cornell (W 78-69)
Next Game: Monday 12/28 at Army West Point, 4 p.m.

2) Siena (8-4, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Week:
Last Game: Tuesday 12/22 vs. St. Bonaventure (W 73-70)
Next Game: Tuesday 12/29 at Vermont, 2 p.m.

3) Fairfield (6-5, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Week: 5
Last Game: Sunday 12/27 at Bucknell (W 101-91)
Next Game: Saturday 1/2 at Manhattan, 7 p.m.

4) Canisius (6-6, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Week:
Last Game: Wednesday 12/23 vs. Nicholls State (W 83-74)
Next Game: Saturday 1/2 at Marist, 7 p.m.

5) Iona (4-6, 2-0 MAAC)
Last Week:
Last Game: Wednesday 12/23 vs. Akron (L 78-64)
Next Game: Monday 12/28 vs. Drexel, 7 p.m.

6) Saint Peter's (4-6, 2-0 MAAC)
Last Week:
Last Game: Wednesday 12/23 vs. St. Francis Brooklyn (W 56-45)
Next Game: Monday 12/28 vs. Cornell, 7 p.m.

7) Marist (4-6, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Week: 9
Last Game: Tuesday 12/22 vs. Brown (W 84-83)
Next Game: Tuesday 12/29 at Jacksonville, 7 p.m.

8) Manhattan (3-7, 0-2 MAAC)
Last Week:
Last Game: Sunday 12/20 at Morgan State (W 78-66)
Next Game: Tuesday 12/29 at Eastern Kentucky, 2 p.m.

9) Quinnipiac (4-6, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Week:
Last Game: Monday 12/21 at Oregon State (L 82-61)
Next Game: Tuesday 12/29 at Maine, 7 p.m.

10) Rider (3-9, 0-2 MAAC)
Last Week:
Last Game: Wednesday 12/23 at Morgan State (W 71-49)
Next Game: Wednesday 12/30 vs. Hartford, 7 p.m.

11) Niagara (3-9, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Week: 10
Last Game: Wednesday 12/23 at Albany (L 65-56)
Next Game: Wednesday 12/30 at St. Bonaventure, 7 p.m.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Catching up with the Cincinnati Twirlers

University of Cincinnati baton twirlers Suzy Carter (left) and Krissie Livesay (right) pose before their routine during November's Barclays Center Classic. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)


Brooklyn, NY -­ They grace the gridiron on those fall afternoons and evenings. They are integral parts of the band and halftime entertainment. Theirs is a skill, despite the national competition, still remains somewhat regional in scope today. The baton twirlers, certainly appreciated but often not fully understood by the public, are a group certain to impress that same public with their outstanding routines­ based on hours of work and technique.

Twirling seems to be bigger among southern schools. In other regions, colleges have twirlers in their bands, but some states find the numbers and participation down at the high school level, not for lack of effort, as the twirling community is passionate and constantly working to promote the sport.

In recent years, we have witnessed twirlers showing up regularly on the hardwood, not just at their home facilities, but locales as Madison Square Garden. The venerable ‘world’s most famous arena’ has been the site for performers from schools as Hofstra, Villanova, (a school with a co­-ed squad) Massachusetts, South Florida, and Baylor.

The Barclays Center Classic, contested just after Thanksgiving, saw two twirlers from the University of Cincinnati. The Bearcats impressed, winning the two-day event. Their twirlers also caught the attention of those attending the tournament.

Twirlers will perform during halftime at basketball games. The two representing Cincinnati chose to perform during timeouts. Their routines naturally were shorter, but more frequent, to the delight of an adoring crowd.

We caught up with the Cincinnati twirlers at halftime of the Cincinnati­-George Washington final at Barclays and asked a few questions. Both sophomores, Suzy Carter and Krissie Livesay hail from Cincinnati, the former a nursing major while the latter is studying philosophy. A few general questions were asked of the young ladies.

Ray Floriani: When did you begin twirling?

Suzy Carter: At age seven. I have been twirling four years in high school and now college. I started competing (in twirling competitions) around seven or eight and now compete nationally.

Krissie Livesay: I started at age 11. It is relatively late to start, but I began competing almost immediately. I twirled four years in high school and am now in my second year at Cincinnati.

RF: Describe the training or workout regimen.

SC: We practice 4-5 days a week, (at Cincinnati) and each workout is three hours in length. Besides that is personal training, especially when school is not in session.

KL: Suzy uses two or three batons in her routine. I use one baton and my training is more geared toward performing in that. Included are the spins and back and neck routines.

RF: What is the advice for middle or high school students aspiring to twirl in college?

SC: Keep practicing and keep motivated. A lot of girls start out excited, but can soon lose their motivation. Compete in the various competitions and get yourself a good coach. I can’t say enough about my coach and the all important support system provided by my family. That is essential.

KL: Suzy pretty much summed it up. Practice a lot, especially at those younger ages. College cheering is more gymnastically oriented, twirling is closer to dance, so a dance background would be good. The rewards of getting to college are great. You meet very nice people and the national or international experience in competition is great. Getting to twirl in college makes that work all worthwhile.

Spring will bring both Suzy and Krissie to national competition at Disney World in Florida. The events will see them compete in both team and individual competitions. Besides Bearcat football and now basketball, they have been busy on Sundays. The Cincinnati Bengals invited them to twirl at home games, and the experience has been memorable.

“We love twirling at the Bengals games,” Suzy said. “They (the crowd) love us, and we really work well with the Ben­-Gals (the team cheerleaders). They love us as well. It has just been wonderful.”

Krissie reiterated her teammate's thoughts, adding the colder days of November have not deterred either’s enthusiasm for performing in front of a packed house. “It’s cold and sometimes on that field we need an extra pair of tights to wear to keep the legs warm,” she said. “It has been great, especially with the season the team is having.”

Bands, cheerleaders, and dance teams are the popular spirit groups in the college game. Twirlers are making inroads, though, a very welcome and talented addition indeed.

Saint Peter's 56, St. Francis Brooklyn 45: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

Jersey City, NJ ­- Trap games are frequently mentioned. The perceived stronger opponent has an important game coming. In the way is opposition of marginal ability that should be easily dispatched. Therein lies the ‘trap’ of the stronger team looking ahead.

Trap games can, on rare occasions, involve both teams. One such time is just before a holiday, as in an afternoon game just two days prior to Christmas. Players are human. Thoughts could very well be on travel connections and the return home to see family and loved ones. A basketball game may have to be contested prior to the holiday festivities. There is a chance the game might not get 100 percent effort.

On Wednesday, Saint Peter’s took care of business, defeating St. Francis Brooklyn, 56-­45, at the Yanitelli Center. The Peacocks avoided the trap with a simple approach: Defend. Saint Peter’s played a tough man to man defense, taking St. Francis out of the game. While the offense was not exactly on fire, that defense proved to be the difference.

Saint Peter’s coach John Dunne was gracious, observing the Terriers had several open perimeter looks but failed to take advantage, misfiring to a 40 percent (4-of-18 from three-point range) eFG rate. Teams do miss shots. On closer look, there are times the open shots not going down are a byproduct of the defense. In other words, if you are defended tough, there is a tendency to rush and misfire the limited open opportunities. In the end, Saint Peter’s was able to avoid their ‘trap’ with basic, no-frills, effective defense, which seems to work almost every time, trap game or not.

The battle on the boards between St. Francis and Saint Peter's:
The founder of this site and a man of many talents, Jaden Daly, handling public address duties:
While Saint Peter's did not rest on defense, a free throw opportunity afforded time for a breather:
St. Francis head coach Glenn Braica studies the action:
The cleanup crew gets to work during a break in the action:
Chris Hooper of St. Francis demonstrates on-ball defense, with a weak side defender splitting his vision: