Category Archives: MAAC basketball

MAAC Basketball Update: Iona, Siena, Fairfield

Last night’s Siena/Fairfield game was the last MAAC game until 2011, which makes this a good time to review what’s been happening in the conference. Which teams have exceeded preseason expectations? Which have been underwhelming? Who are the players to watch?

Let’s start with the team I know best and analyze the other two teams many prognosticators had in their preseason top three, before looking at the rest of the league.

Iona Gaels (7-3, 2-0 in MAAC)

I covered the Gaels last season and attended their first three home games this season before today. Although Iona was picked fourth in the only official preseason poll, all signs indicate this is one of the top two teams in the MAAC.

Most of the returning players have improved, some even more than expected. And no matter what logical criteria you used to make your vote, Mike Glover would be the MVP of the league if voting took place today.

As can be expected for a new head coach coming from outside the program, it was clear during Iona’s preseason practices that Tim Cluess was still getting familiar with his players. Losing to Bryant to cap an 0-3 trip to Cleveland is unacceptable, but the seven straight wins Iona has rattled off since make that a distant memory (for fans at least; Cluess still wears a t-shirt from that tournament to remind his players of how bad the Gaels can be if they don’t work hard).

Mike Glover throws it down with power. (Credit: Walt Middleton/ICGaels.com)

The revival has been led by Glover. After he hung 39 on Canisius, head coach Tom Parrotta said: “He asserted himself early and often. Glover was the difference in the game. Clearly we didn’t have an answer for him.” The 6’7, 215-pound forward scored 21 and pulled down 17 boards in an upset victory over Richmond. I am excited to see him matched up with the preseason Player of the Year (more on that later).

Glover’s dominating inside play has opened up things for Iona’s outside shooters as well. Jermel Jenkins and Kyle Smyth are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the conference in three-pointers made per game. Both are shooting at least 40 percent from downtown. Niagara coach Joe Mihalich was certainly impressed. “My goodness, Smyth doesn’t even look—great shooter, quick release. They have great balance; a guy that scores around the basket and guys that shoot the ball. You can’t cheat. You’ve got to play them honest. They’ve got a lot of ways to get you.”

Fairfield Stags (6-3, 2-0)

Fairfield didn’t pick up an impressive nonconference win, but last night’s 72-55 smackdown of Siena at the Times Union Center—where the Saints had won 28 straight MAAC games—is enough to validate its preseason No. 1 ranking.

Last year’s Rookie of the Year, point guard Derek Needham, is joined by forwards Warren Edney and Yorel Hawkins, to make up Fairfield’s top three scorers. Due to injuries, Edney missed all of last season and Hawkins missed the last 10 games. Greg Nero is another upperclassman who was a top player two years ago but missed all of last season. He had been averaging 20 minutes per game this season but fatigue issues kept him from making the trip to Albany for last night’s contest.

This is clearly a top-tier MAAC team that has the advantage Siena held the last two seasons: The conference tournament will be at its home arena. The Stags’ early-season MAAC schedule is favorable, so it will be interesting to see how far Fairfield can make it without a conference loss.

Siena Saints (2-6, 1-1)

Some were alarmed immediately, after Siena saw its 39-game home winning streak snapped in the opener against Vermont. Most were concerned heading into yesterday’s showdown with Fairfield, but optimistic observers could point out that Minnesota and Butler are quality teams and the other two losses were in overtime. Perhaps it was just bad luck for the Saints.

But after the loss to Fairfield, in which Siena was outrebounded 32-19 and its star player, Ryan Rossiter, was held to seven points, it’s hard to find a confident Siena supporter. I, however, don’t think the sky is falling in Albany. I’m simply not sure why the expectations were so high for the Saints.

Let’s not forget that in addition to their coach, they lost All-MAAC performers Ronald Moore, Edwin Ubiles, and Alex Franklin, last year’s Player of the Year. Rossiter (the aforementioned preseason POY) and Clarence Jackson are returning players any coach in this league would love to have, but the supporting cast has not been good enough so far this season. But many of those guys are underclassmen and have the potential to develop into more valuable role players. How much they develop will determine whether or not Mitch Buonaguro’s first year as head coach is a success.

Elsewhere in the MAAC:

The Niagara Purple Eagles (2-7, 0-2) are off to a terrible start, but this is both a young and injury-depleted team. Mihalich says that is just an excuse for their poor play. After the loss to Iona last weekend, he said: “We knew we weren’t going to be good in December. Our goal is to get better all the time. We’ve got to hope that by the end of February, beginning of March, we can be a team that can win some games.” That’s what happened last season after Niagara’s ideal starters were all healthy at the same time. This team relies far more heavily on freshmen, but I expect this team to be much more competitive later in the year.

After seeing them in person, I’m not sure the Canisius Golden Griffins (3-3, 0-1) have the guard play to improve upon their preseason No. 7 ranking.

The St. Peter’s Peacocks (4-4, 2-2) were the interesting choice for third in the preseason poll, but star senior Wesley Jenkins is back after missing only four games. He scored 22 in St. Pete’s last game, against Manhattan.

The Marist Red Foxes (2-8, 2-0) have already exceeded their win total from last season. Let that sink in, especially since both victories have come in conference. Marist swept a weekend at home against Niagara and Canisius and doesn’t play another MAAC team until January 7.

The Manhattan Jaspers (2-8, 0-2) were picked just one spot ahead of Marist in the preseason poll, and they simply don’t have the offensive firepower to be a serious contender.

The Rider Broncs (6-4, 1-1) and the Loyola (MD) Greyounds (3-5, 0-2) were picked to finish in the middle of the pack. Rider’s top three leaders in minutes and points are all upperclassmen, so the loss of superstar Ryan Thompson might not be as critical as expected. Senior Jamal Barney has led the Greyhounds in scoring every year he’s been on campus.

Iona Gaels Beat Richmond; Tim Cluess Gets First Win

NEW ROCHELLE—Tim Cluess is a first-year coach. This was the fourth game of the season. So it was surprising to hear him say this after Iona’s 81-77 win against Richmond last Thursday: “We needed [this win] for the kids’ psyche. My concern was that if we came in here and laid an egg, I could lose them this early in the year. They’d say, ‘We worked really hard, Coach, and we still didn’t win.’”

He was completely serious, which almost makes you wonder, just for a moment, whether he was joking when he laughed and said, “I figured if we lost this one I’d have to see if I was still working here come Monday.”

It was no secret that it was a critical win for Iona, even though it likely didn’t have postseason implications for the Gaels. The 0-3 start at the World Vision Classic in Cleveland was horrendous. Iona had late-game breakdowns against Kent State and Bryant, which posted a 1-29 record last season. The Gaels lost by a combined three points in those two games and shot 32/54 (59 percent) from the free throw line.

Many fans started to doubt Cluess, some of whom likely didn’t care for the hire to begin with. Cluess had coached—and won—a lot of games, but until Thursday he hadn’t won at the D1 level. Cluess still believed his style, his schemes, and this group of players could turn it around. “They worked so hard when we came back (from Cleveland),” he said. “After that road trip I said, ‘As beat up as we are, we’ve got to practice. We’re not going to get better unless we do that.’ Guys were hurting, but they didn’t complain; they worked their butts off. I knew they had it in them.”

They responded with an exhilarating double-overtime victory against a team that reached the NCAA Tournament last year, returned the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year, and was picked to finished third in the conference this season.

Scott Machado led the way with a career-high 28 points to go along with six assists, five rebounds, and three steals. “As we keep learning the offense and trusting in it, we’re going to get better,” Machado said. “We have to buy into it.”

Even in this photo you can tell Scott Machado is fast.

Part of Cluess’ strategy against Richmond was to shorten his bench. Or, more specifically, limit the reserves’ minutes. Senior Rashon Dwight, who started 25 games last season and two in Cleveland (averaging 21 minutes per game), didn’t play against the Spiders. You’ve got to imagine he’ll be worked back into the rotation, but in what was essentially a must-win game, Cluess decided Thursday was not the time to let Dwight shake his 6-for-22 shooting slump.

Each of the five starters—Machado, Jermel Jenkins, Kyle Smyth, Michael Glover, and Alejo Rodriguez—logged at least 37 minutes; all but Smyth played at least 44. Nine Gaels saw action, but only guard Trinity Fields reached double-digit minutes. Others were simply used to give the starters a quick breather.

These two big men, Alejo Rodriguez (under basket) and Michael Glover, were instrumental in Iona’s victory

“Conditioning is what got us through the game—us working hard every day in practice,” Glover said. The Gaels also converted the important foul shots. Machado hit all four of his attempts in double-OT, the second putting his team ahead for good. “Coach emphasized free throws,” the junior said. “We needed to knock down our free throws down the stretch. That’s what messed us up in Cleveland.”

This one game doesn’t vindicate Cluess or this year’s Iona team, just as the first three didn’t seal their fate. But Cluess’ postgame sigh of relief could be heard in Mount Vernon.

Iona Gaels Basketball: Maroon Madness 2010

I attended “Maroon Madness” at Iona College last Friday night and had a great time. The event served its purpose, which was to get fans excited for basketball season. I think it could be a banner year for the men’s and women’s programs. Look for my MAAC preview in a few weeks, but right now I’d rank both the men and women a No. 2 in the conference, but both squads have a legitimate shot at winning the league title.

Below you will find photos and videos from Maroon Madness. If uncredited, it means I took the photo or shot the video. Click a photo to enlarge it. Enjoy!

Obligatory shot of Killian, the Iona mascot:

The veterans: player-turned-coach Thazina Cook (left), seniors Catherine Lutz and Suzi Fregosi. Iona women’s head coach Tony Bozzella told me, “To say I miss Thazina Cook as a player would be an understatement. But she brings a lot to the table as a coach. She has great insight in our meetings. She really understands what it takes to be a great player and she tries to talk to our players about that.”


The women’s team on the court, but not in their usual hoops attire:

A closer look:

A nice wide shot of Hynes Athletics Center. The court was redone in the offseason and looks great (Credit: ICGaels.com):

The men’s team is introduced. That’s first-year head coach Tim Cluess slapping hands with Killian:

Shortly after the team was introduced, they formed a layup line which quickly became a slam dunk show:

After that, Ra’Shad James put on a one-man show. Here he is jumping over teammate Scott Machado. Hard to believe James is still ascending here. Check out video of this dunk attempt below (Credit: ICGaels.com):

View from the opposite side. You can see James is starting to lose control of the ball (Credit: ICGaels.com):

After a few misses, the crowd chanted “One more time!” as Ra’Shad James attempted to jump over teammate Scott Machado, and dunk. It looks like he has it, but the ball bounces off the back rim (scroll down for more James dunks):

Tony Bozzella addressed the crowd and then passed the mic to Cluess (see video of Cluess’ speech below):

Here is video of Cluess addressing the crowd:

Then James did a nasty 360 jam:

And followed it up with a windmill, which he makes look easy:

But James’ most impressive dunk was probably this through-the-legs throwdown. I filmed this, but Killian got in the way! Here’s a much better version courtesy of ICGaels.com:

http://www.youtube.com/v/PfNGaYviDyE?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&color1=0x5d1719&color2=0xcd311b

That’s me getting my sportswriter on with Bozzella, who told me the theme for this year’s team is “Next level, next step” (Credit: ICGaels.com):

Talking with Cluess, who said “it’s always better coming into a situation where the previous coach had started to establish the program.” Now it’s his job to keep the momentum going (Credit: ICGaels.com):

Well, that’s all I’ve got. It was a great evening. Check back here for a MAAC/Iona preview before the season starts.