Saturday, October 31, 2015

Jordan, Laury drafted by Delaware 87ers

Rysheed Jordan starts professional career as former St. John's standout was drafted by Delaware 87ers in NBA D-League Draft. Delaware also chose Iona's David Laury three picks later. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

Two of the best players in the New York metropolitan area last season now have a new address, a common one at that.

The Delaware 87ers added some local flavor in the first round of the NBA Development League Draft Saturday afternoon, taking former St. John's guard Rysheed Jordan with the fifth overall pick before the Philadelphia 76ers' D-League affiliate used its second selection three spots later on Iona forward David Laury.

The enigmatic Jordan, whose two-year stint with the Red Storm was remembered more for his off-court issues and being withheld from the media than for his burgeoning talent, left St. John's to pursue a professional career this past June. He ended his sophomore campaign with 14.1 points per game, second on a team that reached the NCAA Tournament for the second time in five years. The Philadelphia native follows in the footsteps of JaKarr Sampson, his former college teammate who also began his pro career with the 87ers before getting called up to the NBA.
David Laury takes his talents to professional level after three-year career at Iona highlighted by MAAC Player of the Year honors last season. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

Laury, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year last season as Iona successfully defended its regular season conference championship, nearly averaged a double-double in the process, contributing 19.8 points and 9.7 rebounds per game to the Gaels' 26-win outfit, which reached the postseason for a fifth consecutive year despite falling short in the MAAC Tournament. His ability to run the floor like a point guard and athleticism few players his size possess will help Delaware immediately.

Jordan and Laury were not the only local players chosen in the draft, as St. John's guard Jamal Branch was also selected, going in the third round (41st overall) to the Los Angeles D-Fenders, the affiliate of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Seton Hall 84, Baruch 79: Tempo-Free Recap

Isaiah Whitehead started his sophomore season with a bang, erupting for 40 points in Seton Hall's exhibition win against Baruch. (Photo courtesy of the Newark Star-Ledger)

Seton Hall trailed by as many as 11 points early against Division III opponent Baruch College in their exhibition matchup today, but the Pirates found a way through, thanks in large part to a 40-point effort from newly minted point guard Isaiah Whitehead, to secure an 84-79 victory at Walsh Gymnasium. Before we delve further into the box score, we'll take a look at the possession and efficiency numbers:

Possessions: Seton Hall 79, Baruch 78
Points per Possession: Seton Hall 1.06, (84 points in 79 trips) Baruch 1.01 (79 in 78)

Four Factors:
eFG %: Baruch .597, Seton Hall .542
Free Throw Rate: Seton Hall 55.9%, Baruch 11.3
Offensive Rebound %: Seton Hall 29.7, Baruch 18.2
Turnover Rate: Seton Hall 19.0%, Baruch 24.4

What Seton Hall did well: If you're a Pirates fan judging solely by the five-point margin of victory over a Division III team, chances are you'll say "not much." But there were several bright spots within the numbers, such as getting to the line far more frequently than their opponent, which Seton Hall did to a 33-7 margin. The 13 steals, all but three of which were recorded by either Isaiah Whitehead or Khadeen Carrington, only highlighted a stellar ball handling effort for the Pirates, who registered only 15 turnovers in their 79 possessions, good enough for a very acceptable 19 percent turnover rate.

In addition, Ismael Sanogo (8 points, 11 rebounds in 30 minutes) did a brilliant job of filling in for a foul trouble-plagued Angel Delgado, who was whistled for four infractions while battling his way to eight points and seven boards. Whitehead's 40 points, which he only needed 20 shots from the field to help get, recorded an offensive efficiency mark of .615, something Kevin Willard will no doubt be pleased with despite an even assist-to-turnover ratio for the sophomore after he finished with three helpers and three miscues.

Seton Hall opens their season on November 13 at the Prudential Center, hosting Dartmouth before returning to Walsh for a November 15 matinee against Wagner.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Javion Ogunyemi declared eligible for Siena

Javion Ogunyemi, who transferred back to Siena shortly after leaving for Boston University, was declared eligible by NCAA Friday, allowing him to return to Saints without sitting out. (Photo courtesy of 4 Guys In Blazers)

Siena already had an experience edge on their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference counterparts in the frontcourt, and that was without Javion Ogunyemi.

Now, the junior forward, who returned to Siena several weeks after initially departing in favor of Boston University, will be able to pick up where he left off for the Saints without the penalty of having to redshirt for a year.

"It's a great feeling," a relieved Ogunyemi said shortly after receiving word that he was eligible. "Ever since I've been back, I've just been worried about if I could play or not. To finally find out I can play is very stress-relieving."

A native of nearby Troy, New York, Ogunyemi averaged 9.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game as a sophomore for a Siena team that stumbled to an 11-20 record just one season after winning the CBI championship, as the season-ending injuries of Brett Bisping and Imoh Silas left the Saints bereft of the interior depth they now possess an abundance of. Speculation arose as to whether or not he would be eligible after his offseason transfer to Boston University, where he had attended summer classes and participated in team workouts before having a change of heart and returning to Loudonville.

"I'm happy for Javion," Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos said in a release issued by the college on Friday afternoon. "He's a great person and he's been through a lot. He deserves some good news. Obviously, we're thrilled to have him back and I know our fans will be thrilled to see him on the court."

Patsos had hinted earlier in the week that Ogunyemi would almost certainly resume his spot in the starting lineup if he were eligible. If not, the coach was prepared to start freshman Evan Fisher down low, but can now wean the Baltimore native along gradually as Ogunyemi joins Bisping, Silas, and Lavon Long in what may be the most battle-tested front line in the MAAC.

"I couldn't help but do anything than just smile," a visibly beaming Ogunyemi revealed upon his reaction. "I was very happy, Coach was very happy for me, my teammates were very happy for me. It was just a great feeling."

Ogunyemi will make his return almost immediately, as Siena hosts Indiana (Pa.) in an exhibition game Monday night to begin their 2015-16 season.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Antwon Portley infuses Saint Peter's with new blood, high potential

Antwon Portley made huge impact in high school, and will have an immediate opportunity to repeat that at Saint Peter's this season. (Photo courtesy of the Dallas Morning News)

When you see Antwon Portley, the way he carries himself on the court stands out almost instantly. Although a 165-pound freshman guard who could easily be mistaken for a manager or staff member, his swagger immediately reminds you that he is already developing into a leader on a team that has high hopes for one of its new faces.

When you speak with him, another characteristic is quick to reveal itself as a trait that separates him from some of his other rookie brethren across the nation. A soft-spoken, articulate young charge, Portley is mature well beyond his years, something Saint Peter's will gladly welcome in a backcourt that is significantly younger despite returning experienced incumbents in Trevis Wyche and Chazz Patterson.

So, how was it that such a player flew so far under the radar, especially when leading his high school team to a 34-win season and a district championship?

"I didn't hear about Saint Peter's until almost the end of my senior year," Portley admitted. "When I came down for my visit, I really had a great bond with the coaching staff and I fit in good with the team, and I said 'this is somewhere I'd like to be.'"

The mutual interest has contributed to a budding marriage through the summer workout process and first several practices for the Peacocks, who will count on Portley to help fill the void at the shooting guard spot, a vacancy created by the graduation of all-conference talent Desi Washington.

"He's a coach's son, a 5A state champion," head coach John Dunne said of Portley. "He knows what it takes to win. His IQ level is very, very good, and I would put him as an upperclassman junior type of IQ 17 practices in. His skill level is also pretty good, he's shooting about 45-46 percent in practice right now, he's a willing passer and unselfish player, and with strength gain, he's going to be a really, really good player in our league for a few years."

A native of Lancaster, Texas, located just outside the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, Portley thinks just as big as the state from which he hails. While the prospect of playing at the highest level is enough to sway a lot of freshmen to their new homes, it was more than basketball that lured this newcomer to Jersey City.

"Not only basketball," Portley candidly discussed among the factors that were influential in his signing with Saint Peter's, "but the campus (and) the academics. The culture's very diverse, and I actually met a couple of teachers, and I really thought they would have more interest in their students than most colleges do."

"We knew the more film we were watching on him, we couldn't understand why his recruiting wasn't more involved," said Dunne. "We recruited him as a two guard to start and we were talking to him about coming in, being a scorer, being a shooter. He shot such a high percentage in high school and watching the state championship game, the point guard had gotten hurt and he played a lot of point in that game, and we said 'Hey, man, we also need to bring in some ball handling,' so we actually feel like we killed two birds with one stone."

Portley will play both on and off the ball this season, according to Dunne, and after averaging 16 points per game as a senior in high school, the Texan tackles his next endeavor with the potential to land on the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's All-Rookie team even if he only replicates half of that number.

"I feel like I can help this team in different kinds of ways," he said."Offensively and defensively, (I'm) just bringing energy, just becoming more of a vocal leader. I'm a hard-nosed guard who's going to do whatever it takes to win."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

NEC Media Day: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

Brooklyn, NY ­- The Barclays Center once again hosted a media day on Tuesday. The Northeast Conference held its annual get-together at the Atlantic Avenue edifice. Given the NEC’s history and tradition of which local schools LIU and St. Francis (literally walking distance away) have played such a big part, it is only fitting that the NEC calls Barclays home for this event.

One of the unique features of this 10-member meeting is the representation by both the men’s and women’s programs. Many conferences will have separate dates and/or locations for their respective programs. The NEC chooses to include both as showcases for all their programs. Another feature is the inclusion of a player as well as a head coach. Again, some conferences choose to have the head coach represent the school while the NEC makes players available as well, providing the perspective of those on the court during conference battles.

As pointed out previously many quotes from coaches, and players alike, can be of the scripted variety. At the NEC, there was an opportunity to quiz the men’s coaches regarding the shortening of the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds. On the women’s side, the mentors of the respective teams were asked their opinions of the four-quarter game format and dealing with less timeouts. In both situations, the responses were thought-provoking, opening the door for further debate.

In a conference thriving on uncertainty (in a good way, referring to the league race) and competitive balance, you can believe the coaches when they unanimously agreed that the first game on the schedule could not come soon enough. All in all, there was no shortage of optimism on the part of coaches, and players, at what is a unique and anticipated event on the pre­season calendar.

The scoreboard message welcoming the Northeast Conference to Barclays Center:
Tim Capstraw and the NEC Front Row crew hard at work:
Ray with one of his favorite players, (the impartiality takes a respite) Erika Livermore of Fairleigh Dickinson:
NEC commissioner Noreen Morris chats with Central Connecticut assistant, and former Blue Devils great, Obie Nwadike:
Wagner head coach Bashir Mason and senior guard Dwaun Anderson meet the media. Joining them, although partially obscured, is director of athletic communications and men's basketball media contact Brian Morales:
The court below is ready for the Brooklyn Nets' season opener Wednesday night:
The FDU men's and women's traveling parties get together outside Barclays Center for a post-media day group photo op:

Monday, October 26, 2015

John Dunne begins "refreshing process" of retooling at Saint Peter's

John Dunne enters his tenth season at Saint Peter's needing to replace Desi Washington and Marvin Dominique, but Peacocks coach remains both optimistic and excited about process of building back up. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

The elder statesman of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, now about to begin his tenth season at the helm of Saint Peter's University, John Dunne has been through rebuilding years before.

Now tasked with the responsibility of doing it again after the Peacocks graduated two stalwarts of their program in Desi Washington and Marvin Dominique last May after coming one win shy of playing for a league championship, the affable and patient architect admits the road has been bumpy at times with the four freshmen he welcomes into Jersey City, but is still an optimist with regard to the future.

"It's probably been, I would say, really good on one hand, because the spirit has been very good," Dunne remarked after a Sunday morning practice at the Yanitelli Center that emphasized skill development at its forefront. "The energy has been very good. They're taking the coaching very, very well. We're nowhere near where we want to be, but the light at the end of the tunnel is fun to look at when we know we're going to continue to just get better and better."

"On the other hand," he cautioned, "the frustrating part is when you are so young, you have so many new faces, but the energy has been great. Overall, it's been a really fun process up to this point."

Picked ninth in the MAAC's preseason coaches' poll, Saint Peter's faces what looks on paper to be a transitional campaign similar to 2011-12, when the Peacocks replaced a senior-laden roster that fought their way through the conference tournament to clinch just the third NCAA Tournament berth in program history. Yet Dunne, who saw that team battle growing pains while gaining valuable experience, is confident that this year's roster has a much higher ceiling.

"We're much better than that," he proclaimed reassuredly. "We have much better talent in the program now. Some of our freshmen are more advanced than other guys, but I think all four of them are pretty talented and have a chance at really bright futures. I'm really looking forward to watching their growth through this year, and our upperclassmen are much better than what we had that year."

As the quartet of newcomers, headlined by shooting guard Antwon Portley, continues to find its way, the incumbents on the roster continue to improve as well, junior point guard Trevis Wyche chief among them.

"He's really improved his work ethic," Dunne proudly stated. "He's taking it much more seriously in all areas, in the training room, in the weight room, and his conditioning is very good right now. He's really trying to pressure the ball now, and he's really active off the ball. He's always been a good assist-to-turnover guy, and we want him to continue to bring that to the table for us. We've been pleased with him."

In the frontcourt, the Peacocks have a decided experience edge over some of their conference brethren, with Elias Desport; the lone eligible senior on the roster, now assuming a starting role alongside junior Quadir Welton, who is 100 percent after battling a knee injury through most of his sophomore season.

"I think it helps because we have so many new guys," said Dunne of his interior experience, "and when those guys are out there together, we're just better defensively, we've got pretty good size. Quadir Welton played on a partially torn meniscus the whole year, and I thought he was still one of the more improved guys in the league. He's gained 20 pounds of muscle, he's healthy right now and he's done a great job just getting the paint catches for us. He's really improved his skill level around the rim, and we need him to put the ball in the basket for us again." Of Desport, the coach praised him as an "unselfish ball mover" who "really knows the game, has a good IQ, and is pretty good on the defensive end, inside and on the perimeter."

"That experience definitely helps the younger guys," said Dunne, "because we have younger forwards. They really look at those guys and they're learning from them as well."

Moreover, where some programs are strapped for experience with a young roster, Saint Peter's is anything but that. The Peacocks may only have just one senior in Desport, (Cavon Baker, who transferred from Houston, is a senior but will redshirt this season) but the fact that the rest of the team is back for a second season barring any additional departures is a prospect that gives Dunne even greater reason to be bullish on the chances of his program.

"We bring everybody back with the exception of Elias, and then we have a few guys that are sitting out," he reiterated. "We're not giving in on this year at all. We want to win as many games as we can and be playing our best basketball come tournament time. We understand that it will be a process, it could be a slow start. We understand that, and we're going to continue to learn and grow from that, and I think there's a big light at the end of the tunnel moving into next year, so we're certainly excited about the future."

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Williams ready to be next breakout performer for Jaspers

Rich Williams heads into junior season with experience of two MAAC championships and a golden opportunity to become one of Manhattan's leaders on both ends of the floor. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)

He hasn't always been the focal point or the star of the box score, but at the end of the day, he is almost always one of the biggest contributors to the product his team displays on the floor.

He is Rich Williams, and if his last-second dunk against Massachusetts last November didn't get your attention, chances are his improvement as he enters his junior year will be more than enough to make the Brooklyn guard a household name as he takes on more of a leadership role for Manhattan.

"He's a guy that I think is going to make great strides," head coach Steve Masiello said of Williams, who was one of the first players off the bench during each of the Jaspers' back-to-back Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship runs and subsequent NCAA Tournament berths. "I just think his process, how hard he works, how much he stays after it, his passion for the game, (and) obviously his natural talent is phenomenal."

Williams, who arrived in Riverdale after decommitting from Hofstra shortly after the Pride fired Mo Cassara after a 7-24 season in 2013, thrived in his role as a reserve, mentioning his desire to provide a spark for his team last season. Always one of the more enthusiastic personalities on a roster of motivated players, he now begins his inevitable transition into the starting lineup on a full-time basis, one of the primary targets as Manhattan begins its quest for a third straight conference crown.

"Guys like me and Ty, (junior guard Tyler Wilson) we just waited our turn," he said. "Now it's an opportunity, and I'm trying to make the most of it."

Described before last season as a player who could receive first team all-league honors, his coach has been unafraid to exhort him through the Jaspers' opening practices, emphasizing both his need to set the tone on both sides of the ball and coach the underclassmen on the floor as they step into the role he once occupied himself.

"He does all of the little things that lead to great things," Masiello reaffirmed after praising Williams' hustle. "All the other things he brings to the table from a personality standpoint: Toughness, mindset, focus, great teammate, loves his guys, cares about them, just what he brings on an everyday basis."

The road Williams embarks upon this season is far from an unfamiliar one in the Manhattan program. The two highest profile examples of how he will be utilized for the Jaspers this season started out in a similar capacity, only to blossom into all-conference talents. Emmy Andujar was Manhattan's sixth man during his first three seasons before becoming a first team all-MAAC selection last year, and Shane Richards was named to the preseason second team on the heels of a breakout junior campaign last season. When asked what makes Williams the next in the ever-growing line of diamonds in the rough to shine, he remained true to the humble roots that have guided him to where he now stands.

"Just preparation," he shot back, displaying a combination of his trademark confidence and mega-watt grin in the process. "I'm going hard every day, making my presence felt, doing all the little things. That's going to lead to all the big things."

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Atlantic 10 Media Day: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

Brooklyn, NY - Practice is underway, but in some respects, you can call the annual media day the tipoff of the college season. Every conference has one in some form or another. For the Atlantic 10, it was a get-together at Barclays Center, the site of the conference's postseason tournament.

Media days are a chance to reconnect with colleagues, friends in the media and the respective coaches. In many ways, these days can be scripted from a quote perspective. Everyone is undefeated and the proverbial ‘hope springs eternal’ concept is in full force. The notebook can quickly fill with a litany of ‘our returnees have to step up...they are freshmen and are learning....there are no off nights in (fill in yours) conference.” That is part of the ‘scripting.’ Each year, there seems to be a topic or two bringing forth different opinions and replies. This time, it centered on the rule changes, with the 30-second shot clock a major topic.

A group of coaches as those who comprise the Atlantic 10 allows for more than just the general answers. After the formal questions and answers were exchanged, Mark Schmidt of St. Bonaventure got into a soccer discussion (spurred by the officiating stories of yours truly) with myself, editor Jaden Daly, and colleague Jason Schott, a great exchange. There were others offered by the likes of Davidson’s Bob McKillop, Dan Hurley (a devout Cincinnati Bengal fan) of Rhode Island, Phil Martelli of Saint Joseph’s, and La Salle’s Dr. John Giannini to name a few, spicing up the regular discourse of the day.

In the end, there was business to conduct, a favorite in Dayton to discuss, and the allconference selections to ponder as well, not to mention a luncheon tipped off with Atlantic 10 highlights. A five-plus-hour day filled with ‘work’ and a great chance to socialize. The games have yet to begin. Already, the excitement, thanks to A-10 media day, is generated and noticeably in the air.

Media day starts with the arrival at the VIP entrance at Barclays Center:
St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt ponders his team's prospects:
The scene from the media luncheon, always a great social part of the program:
Under commissioner Bernadette McGlade's watch, there are no cupcakes on A-10 schedules. At the luncheon? Well, that's a different story:
Editor Jaden Daly transcribes quotes from Mike Lonergan of George Washington as he discusses the Colonials' prospects:
Phil Martelli of Saint Joseph's and Dr. John Giannini of La Salle share a memorable and lighter moment:
Exiting Barclays, a site giving us memorable times in March and more on the way:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Iona tops preseason MAAC predictions, Monmouth 2nd, Manhattan 3rd

Tim Cluess and Iona receive No. 1 preseason poll selection for second consecutive year, as Gaels garnered ten of eleven first-place votes. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)

If the purpose of conference awards and preseason polls is to reward winning, then the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference certainly fulfilled that axiom this evening.

As expected, Iona topped the preseason coaches' poll for the second year in a row, receiving all but one first-place vote and earning 119 out of 121 possible points.

"I think we'll have better depth than we did last year," Gaels head coach Tim Cluess said when assessing his team on the MAAC's prerecorded award show, which was broadcast live on ESPN3. Since expanding to a 20-game conference schedule, Iona has gone an astounding 35-5 in league play the past two seasons, yet has walked away empty-handed in the conference tournament, falling to Manhattan in both of the last two championship games.

Speaking of the reigning champions, the Jaspers ended up in a tie for third with Rider, as both teams received 91 points, with Manhattan securing the lone first-place vote that Iona did not get.

"We have to understand that we're not the last two years' teams," said Steve Masiello, cautioning that this season's incarnation of the Jaspers will be a different unit than those that preceded it. However, the same mentality that contributed to Manhattan striving to become only the third program in MAAC history to win three consecutive league titles remains as strong as any point in Masiello's tenure, which now begins its fifth season.

"We're trying to make history," he reaffirmed, driving home the prevailing theme of Manhattan's latest attempt at an encore. "We have to understand that every time we step on the court, the other team is trying to take the championship from us. We can't let that happen."

In between Manhattan, Iona, and Rider was Monmouth, who was picked second on the heels of an 18-win season and appearance in the conference semifinals. The Hawks return nearly everyone from last year's roster, including junior point guard Justin Robinson, who was named to the conference's preseason first team, and add transfer Je'lon Hornbeak after he sat out the past season following his exodus from Oklahoma.

Siena, who seeks to rebound from an 11-20 season marred by injuries, rounds out the top five. Canisius, Quinnipiac, Fairfield, Saint Peter's, Marist, and Niagara conclude the predicted order of finish.

MAAC preseason award and all-conference picks

The likely choice for Preseason MAAC Player of the Year, A.J. English's candidacy is well deserved. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

With less than two hours before the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference announces its preseason polls, awards, and all-conference honorees, we take the time remaining to give you our predictions for each category on both the men's and women's sides:

Men's Player of the Year: A.J. English, Iona (20.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.4 SPG in 2014-15) - Is there really any other choice after English announced he would return for his senior season? We'll sum up his credentials in a nutshell: The only other player in the nation to average at least 19 points, five rebounds and five assists per game last season? No. 2 overall NBA Draft pick D'Angelo Russell, now of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Rest of All-MAAC first team:
Schadrac Casimir, Iona
Teddy Okereafor, Rider
Justin Robinson, Monmouth
Isaiah Williams, Iona

All-MAAC second team:
Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield
Khallid Hart, Marist
Deon Jones, Monmouth
Shane Richards, Manhattan
Marquis Wright, Siena

All-MAAC third team:
Kelvin Amayo, Iona
Brett Bisping, Siena
Emile Blackman, Niagara
Tyler Nelson, Fairfield
Phil Valenti, Canisius
Rookie of the Year: Micah Seaborn, Monmouth
Sixth Man of the Year: Ryan Oliver, Siena
Defensive Player of the Year: Isaiah Williams, Iona
Coach of the Year: Steve Masiello, Manhattan

Women's Player of the Year: Margot Hetzke, Siena (12.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG in 2014-15) - Last season's Rookie of the Year by a wide margin, Hetzke was the driving force behind a Saints squad ravaged by injuries, yet still led her team to the semifinals of the WBI. With more depth behind her, plus a supporting cast led by Kollyns Scarbrough and Meghan Donohue, Hetzke takes the next step in an already bright future.

Rest of All-MAAC first team:
Joy Adams, Iona
Sydney Coffey, Marist
Tori Jarosz, Marist
Casey Smith, Fairfield

All-MAAC second team:
Tiahana Mills, Canisius
Sarah Olson, Monmouth
Victoria Rampado, Niagara
Aaliyah Robinson, Iona
Kristin Schatzlein, Fairfield

All-MAAC third team:
Sajanna Bethea, Saint Peter's
Samantha Cooper, Fairfield
Marina Lizarazu, Iona
Maria Napolitano, Quinnipiac
Crystal Porter, Canisius

Rookie of the Year: Brittany Martin, Quinnipiac
Sixth Player of the Year: Kelsey Carey, Fairfield
Defensive Player of the Year: Joy Adams, Iona
Coach of the Year: Joe Frager, Fairfield

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

2015-16 MAAC women's basketball preview

This season sees Brian Giorgis and Marist with perhaps their biggest set of question marks, yet Red Foxes are still a contender in a wide-open MAAC race. (Photo courtesy of the Poughkeepsie Journal)

Last season saw a changing of the guard in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, in addition to one of the more dominating seasons in the women's basketball landscape. Following Quinnipiac's undefeated march through the league en route to running the table for the second time in three years, though, is perhaps the most unpredictable season in recent memory.

Yes, Tricia Fabbri and the Bobcats were able to replicate the same feat they achieved in the Northeast Conference two years prior, and upgraded the significance by winning 30 games and dethroning nine-time reigning champion Marist in the process. Replacing the "Gold Rush" and "Old Rush" is a much younger unit who needs their role players to step up, headlined by senior guard Maria Napolitano, the conference's Sixth Player of the Year last season. Sophomore Sarah Shewan and freshman Paula Strautmane should get the first crack at stepping in for the likes of Val Driscoll and Samantha Guastella, and if Brittany Martin is as good as the hype surrounding her arrival, it will seem as though her older sister, Jasmine, never left.

The team Quinnipiac knocked off to reach the NCAA Tournament has just as many concerns on their roster, maybe even more as Marist adjusts to life without Madeline Blais. Head coach Brian Giorgis got perhaps his biggest sign of good fortune in the offseason when center Tori Jarosz was approved for a sixth year, and her return does more than just shore up the interior for the Red Foxes. With Jarosz back, and Sydney Coffey blossoming into the latest four-year success story in Poughkeepsie, Marist has a pair of experienced leaders to shepherd a promising group of underclassmen through a season where the path to an eleventh conference championship is its most uncertain since Giorgis arrived in 2002.

One team that hopes to take advantage of the question marks surrounding last year's championship game participants is Fairfield. With the cadre of coaches in the MAAC, Joe Frager often gets overlooked for his ability to keep the Stags' status as a perennial contender intact, and his coaching acumen is underrated far too many times. Led by the interior duo of Casey Smith and Samantha Cooper, plus the lethal outside shooting of senior leader Kristin Schatzlein and an improving Kelsey Carey, Fairfield is more than just the token dark horse as Alumni Hall gears up to be the home of a potential conference championship banner.

Siena enters the coming season with the same aspirations, with a deep run into the postseason having proven beneficial to Ali Jaques and the Saints last year. Fighting an undermanned roster, Siena was able to ride the contributions of Rookie of the Year Margot Hetzke and fellow classmate Kollyns Scarbrough into a trip to the WBI Final Four, and with several other pieces back after sitting out last season due to transfer or injury, the chances of the host team cutting down the nets in Albany are as high as they have been in quite some time.

Billi Godsey finally gets to put her true stamp on her Iona team this season, as most of the talent on her roster was brought in on her watch. Yes, double-double machine Joy Adams and rising star Aaliyah Robinson were Tony Bozzella recruits, but point guard Marina Lizarazu and 6-4 center Karynda DuPree have their best chance to match the legacy set by their predecessors, Haley D'Angelo and Sabrina Jeridore. The road back to respectability for the Gaels will be winding at times without Damika Martinez, but this team should remain firmly entrenched in or near the upper echelon of the league.

Those looking for an up-and-comer should look no further than Saint Peter's. Regarded as the doormat of the MAAC before Pat Coyle assumed the reins in Jersey City, the Peacocks have learned to play cohesive team basketball, and after picking up a win against Marist down the stretch before nearly beating them again in the conference tournament, Saint Peter's looks poised to finally make the jump. Sophomore Sajanna Bethea, who was a pleasant surprise in her freshman season, should get much more exposure this year in what could very well be a breakout performance.

The complete opposite of Saint Peter's is a Canisius team that returns arguably the most experience in the conference for head coach Terry Zeh. Led by spark plug Tiahana Mills at the point guard spot and the rebounding ability of Crystal Porter up front, the Golden Griffins have the horses to replace sharpshooter Kayla Hoohuli, including a prolific marksman in Emily Weber, one of four returning starters in Buffalo for a group who is a legitimate top five team. Their crosstown rivals take somewhat of a hit in personnel, as Niagara has lost Meghan McGuinness and Kelly Van Leeuwen to graduation. However, new head coach Jada Pierce retains the services of Victoria Rampado and a rising star in Taylor McKay as the Purple Eagles attempt to further their leap forward.

Monmouth has positioned themselves to move up this season as well, with guards Sarah Olson and Helena Kurt both coming back to West Long Branch this season. The Hawks are counting on the interior presence of 6-4 junior forward Christina Mitchell to loom larger, though, but Jenny Palmateer brings back an experienced group that should expect a middle-of-the-pack showing. Manhattan has an emerging core of young talent to supplement a potential all-MAAC honoree in senior forward Shayna Ericksen. Sophomores Taylor Williams and Nyasha Irizarry are two of the best young shooters in the MAAC, and the Jaspers add the services of James Madison expatriates Amani Tatum and Crystal Ross as well. Ross is a 6-4 senior that gives John Olenowski a capable weapon down low that he can switch in and out with the underrated and efficient Kayla Grimme, who should have yet another solid season in Riverdale. Finally, Rider is led by a pair of juniors in Robin Perkins and double-double threat Julia Duggan, but the Broncs still need to replace a great deal of their rebounding, and could use more production from point guard Manon Pellet.

Predicted Order of Finish:
1) Fairfield - This is the year where it all comes together for Joe Frager and the Stags, who have their best chance to win.

2) Siena - The Saints get their depth back, and will be a challenger that goes the distance. Margot Hetzke could see Player of the Year honors headed her way.

3) Marist - Without Tori Jarosz, the Red Foxes are perhaps in the No. 5 or 6 spot. Having her back is more of a godsend than anyone realizes, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Brian Giorgis use the question marks surrounding his roster as motivation to rip off yet another magical run.

4) Quinnipiac - Much like Steve Masiello on the men's side at Manhattan, Tricia Fabbri can coach circles around most of her competition. The Bobcats may be unproven, but they're a team no one wants any part of in February and March because they'll be right back in the thick of the championship picture.

5) Iona - As Joy Adams goes, so too do the Gaels. It will be interesting to see how Billi Godsey fares both without Damika Martinez and with most of her personnel.

6) Canisius - Quite possibly the most experienced team in the league, which will serve them well as the season wears on. The only thing stopping them from breaking into the top five is how top-heavy this league has remained.

7) Niagara - Losing Meghan McGuinness will hurt, but Victoria Rampado is a first team all-league talent that will carry the Purple Eagles far as long as she can remain effective.

8) Monmouth - As mentioned before, development is key for Christina Mitchell. If she becomes a force down low, the Hawks will finish higher than this rating.

9) Saint Peter's - Sajanna Bethea will become a household name this season as the Peacocks continue their rebuild.

10) Manhattan - John Olenowski is optimistic about his talent this year, and with good reason. Expect significant improvement from his young core as the Jaspers get into the meat of the conference schedule.

11) Rider - Julia Duggan may garner all-conference honors this season, but it will most likely be a long year in Lawrenceville.

Mandell Thomas named to A-10 Preseason All-Defensive Team, Fordham picked 14th

Mandell Thomas started his senior season with recognition on Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Defensive Team. (Photo courtesy of The Associated Press)

Fordham may have been picked last of 14 teams in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, but their senior leader in the backcourt picked up a preseason recognition in the process.

Mandell Thomas was named to the A-10 Preseason All-Defensive Team this morning, announced along with the preseason poll and other all-league honors. In his junior season, Thomas averaged 13.3 points and 2.4 steals per game in the backcourt for former coach Tom Pecora, who moved him to the point guard spot midway through the conference season.

Thomas is joined by Patricio Garino of George Washington, Rhode Island's Hassan Martin, VCU forward Mo-Alie Cox, and DeAndre Bembry of Saint Joseph's.

On the whole, the Rams received a total of 45 points in the preseason poll, seven points behind their next closest competitor, George Mason. Dayton was picked to win, receiving twelve first-place votes and 352 points overall, only five markers better than Rhode Island, who garnered eight votes for the top spot.

Following the top two were Davidson and George Washington, with reigning champion VCU rounding out the top five. Richmond, Saint Joseph's, St. Bonaventure, La Salle and UMass complete the top ten, with Duquesne, Saint Louis, George Mason and Fordham in the last four positions.

Atlantic 10 Roundtable

Is this the year Dan Hurley gets a testimonial for his impressive rebuild at Rhode Island? Our panel of experts thinks he stands the best chance. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

The Atlantic 10 converges on Barclays Center once again Tuesday morning for its annual media day, held in Brooklyn for the fourth consecutive year, a prelude of sorts to the conference championship being contested inside the home of the Brooklyn Nets once again next March.

Reigning champion VCU may not be the popular choice to cut down the nets this year, but the Rams, with new head coach Will Wade at the controls after Shaka Smart left for Texas, remain very much in contention, as do a pair of last year's semifinalists in Rhode Island and Dayton, the latter of whom fought VCU to the wire in settling for a runner-up finish. Davidson, the regular season champion of a year ago, faces a steeper climb in their second season in the conference without Player of the Year Tyler Kalinoski, but most of last year's pieces are back for Bob McKillop and the Wildcats.

Before the preseason polls and all-conference honors are announced, we are proud to bring you a roundtable panel for the third year in a row, wherein our experts will try to help you make sense of the A-10 and give you a primer on who to watch for. Our Jaden Daly serves as moderator for the following six scribes, each of whom were kind enough to share their insights with us going into what should be another exciting basketball season:

Jaden Daly: We'll start off with this: Who do you see cutting down the nets in March?

Dave Ascoli: Call me crazy, but I'm still going with Dayton. Even if they end up losing Pierre for the year, I still think they have enough firepower to finish at the top of the league. Plus, they're damn near unbeatable at home.

Dan Bonsall: Rhode Island, this is a really talented, defensively sound, well coached team. They've gotten better each of the last couple years under Dan Hurley. Through in a favorable conference schedule, and they should be set up well to succeed in Brooklyn.

Steve DiMiceli: Rhode Island - The Rams have had the defense and the talent, they've just been lacking the experience. This is still a relatively young team, but they're top guns are battle tested.

Donnie Dwyer: Davidson looks the best regular season champ because they return a lot of scoring back and guards win you games when you score that many points a game. (6th in the country)

Ray Floriani: The pick here to cut down the nets in March is Dayton. The Flyers return virtually everyone. James Madison transfer Charles Cooke is eligible and should fit in for the departed Jordan Sibert. Dayton does not have a true low post threat at the ‘five’ but in today’s college landscape that is not a major liability. What Archie Miller’s group does have is the knowledge regarding how to win. That speaks volumes and with the talent on board, gives the Flyers the edge in a very competitive conference.

Phil Kasiecki: Rhode Island. Dan Hurley's tenure has all been leading up to this. The Rams have grown up, not only in terms of getting more wins, but winning bigger games and overcoming adversity to do so. This year's team has as much talent and experience as any in the conference, and their growth suggests they are ready to take the next step.

JD: In your opinion, which teams are going into the year as the most overrated and/or underrated?

DA: Most overrated: Davidson (yeah, I said it!) I think this year they'll prove to be somewhere in between the 12th place team they were expected to be last year and the first place team they ended up being. Also, Tyler Kalinoski is going to prove difficult to replace.
Most underrated: Saint Joseph's. Don't underestimate the young cast that is slowly building around DeAndre Bembry's former one-man band.

DB: Overrated: URI, and not just out of force of habit. They mess people up physically and will win a lot of rock fights in the league, but they benefit from not being in the A-10 South (GW, Richmond, VCU, Davidson) so the record may be a bit inflated come March. Also, there's a lot of new faces and chemistry/mix/roles will again be a question.
Underrated: VCU. I feel people are giving them a bit of a pass after the Shaka and recruit exodus, but there's still a ton of talent in house. Will Wade should keep Havoc Havoc-y, especially with the new shot clock, and if he can bring in any kind of half court offense, they could easily find themselves still in the top four. Runner-up most underrated: Davidson, again.

SD: (overrated) Dayton - I just think this team with miss Jordan Sibert a little more than the average person might.
(underrated) GW - Fluky down year last season in my opinion. This is a deep team even if I don't see an identity. They will just play unceremonious, but efficient basketball that works for the players on the floor.

DD: Overrated will be VCU and Dayton, and underrated will be Richmond and George Washington. George Washington plays so well under Mike Lonergan because he always has great talent and perfect rotation. Richmond and Chris Mooney have been on the cusp of being really good and have a good mix of senior guards with young front court off the bench.

RF: Who is overrated? It is almost blasphemous, but the choice, in a very tough call, here is VCU. The Rams will be formidable, but in the conversation of conference contenders, the feeling here is there will be a period of adjustment. New coach Will Wade is familiar with the system, having served under Shaka Smart. Wade is not really going to change things up, but there will be a period where players will have to get used to the way things are going to be done under Wade. Again, VCU will be very good, but the feeling here is serious title contention is not in the cards this season.

PK: Most Overrated Team: VCU. This is not a reflection on how good they will be, or the job new head coach Will Wade will do with them. Rather, it will reflect how good they will be as opposed to how they will be perceived. They will be good, and at least in the NCAA Tournament conversation by the time March rolls around, but this team simply won't be as good as last season's team was, at least before the injury to Briante Weber changed everything.
Most Underrated Team: Richmond. It always seems to be the case, mainly because the Spiders aren't flashy and Chris Mooney is an understated guy, but it makes sense here, too. They lose Kendall Anthony but return a solid frontcourt led by Terry Allen and T.J Cline, along with solid helpers in ShawnDre' Jones and Trey Davis.

JD: Looking at the schedule, is there one game in particular that has "game of the year" potential more than some others?

DA: Either one of the two Dayton vs. Rhode Island games. Most people have them as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the conference this year, and they always seem to play each other close. (last year notwithstanding)

DB: VCU hosts URI on February 16th - two really good, competitive, physical teams meet for the only time. URI gets their regular season shot at the king. And if you want to be king... Also, those VCU/Richmond/Davidson games will go a long way towards deciding who gets a bye in Brooklyn.

SD: Rhode Island at Davidson - Two top teams battle late in the season with the No. 1 seed potentially on the line. 

DD: Rhode Island at Davidson on February 23rd in North Carolina, because it will be a matchup for who will finish in the top five of the conference this year, and these teams played each other tough last year. The Wildcats pulled out a 60-59 win on the road, and I am sure the Rams want revenge for that.

RF: Saturday, February 27: Rhode Island at Dayton. The two top contenders for the A-10 championship meet at Dayton Arena. The conference tournament is only a little over a week away, so this matchup might decide the regular season champion and provide that team with added momentum to take to Brooklyn.

PK: Rhode Island at Dayton on February 27. The conference could come down to this one with a week to go. You can't go wrong picking Davidson at VCU a few nights later (March 2).

JD: The ultimate measure of success lies here: How many A-10 teams will receive NCAA Tournament bids?

DA: I'm gonna say four. Dayton, Rhode Island, and two of the following four: Richmond, George Washington, VCU, and Davidson

DB: Even without an elite team like VCU the last few years, four feels right - URI, Davidson, VCU, UR (GW and Dayton are next in line as a fifth)

SD: Three

DD: Four, because I see the conference continuing to get better in the non-conference, but I think they will all beat up on each other again before the Atlantic 10 tournament and then we will see some upsets in Brooklyn come March.

RF: Five- Dayton, Rhode Island, VCU, Davidson and George Washington.

PK: Three, possibly four. Figure on Rhode Island, Dayton (especially if they manage without Dyshawn Pierre and then get him back) and VCU and/or Davidson. Dayton does take a hit without Pierre for the first semester, so they could be the odd team out in the event of just three as they'll have a tougher time getting the quality wins needed to look like an at-large team in March.

JD: If you can, how about some award predictions? Who do you have being named Player, Rookie, and Coach of the Year?

DA: Player: DeAndre Bembry (sorry, E.C.)
Rookie: LaMarr Kimble, Saint Joseph's
Coach: Dan Hurley, Rhode Island

DB: POY: DeAndre Bembry might be the best talent/prospect, and he's a beast, but St. Joe's won't win enough for him to get the nod. Instead, Terry Allen, Richmond, beats out EC Matthews, URI; a homer pick, yes, but I think this Richmond team will give Allen the space and chance to put up silly numbers. His inside-outside balance is a nightmare for opponents. I think this team becomes his now in the absence of Kendall Anthony, and I think he thrives in that role.
ROY: I have no idea, I don't follow recruiting enough.
COY: **Vacated in honor of Shaka Smart leaving**

SD: EC Matthews / Mike Lonergan / LaMarr Kimble

DD: Player - Jack Gibbs from Davidson, because he will lead the program with his scoring and take over for last year's Player of the Year, Tyler Kalinoski. His 118 free throw attempts will speak volumes. 
Rookie - Jahshire Hardnett of Fordham -- No one knows this kid, but he will be an instant scoring machine for the young Rams. Lots of young guards with opportunities and he will work perfectly in Jeff Neubauer's system. 
Coach -- Jim Crews of Saint Louis -- People don't expect anything for the Billikens and he has four starters coming back who will be much improved, and he will find a way to creep into the top three before the conference tournament.

RF: POY - E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
Rookie of the Year- Charles Cooke, Dayton
Coach of the Year- Mike Lonergan, George Washington

PK: Player of the Year: E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
Rookie of the Year: Elliott Welmer, Saint Louis
Coach of the Year: Archie Miller, Dayton

JD: The A-10 welcomes three new coaches this season in Jeff Neubauer, (Fordham) Dave Paulsen, (George Mason) and Will Wade at VCU. Where do you gauge the job each will do with his new program?

DA: Wade is obviously coming into a much better situation than the other two, but I do like all three hires. Neubauer and Paulsen are going to have a rough go of it this year, but Wade should have his team in the NCAA Tournament conversation come March.

DB: Needless to say, (right?) Neubauer and Paulsen will take their lumps this year, while Wade will be fine. Of course, that's all on the strength of what's leftover. I like Paulsen at George Mason, and think he can turn that ship around. Wade will have plenty of talent and should keep recruiting/winning, but he certainly has the most pressure too. He wasn't at Chattanooga long enough to have all of his players in place either.

SD: Neubauer - It might take him some time to get his players in place but high tempo, turnover driven systems hide flaws.
Paulsen - If he works with what he has, he could have a decent year.
Wade - Seemingly, the right man for the job, but he now has the unenviable task of the replacing the Shaka Smart / Havoc brand on the recruiting trail. He should be ok in the short run, the question is where will the program be when it's unmistakably his in five years?

DD: Will Wade - Shouldn't be any issues because he knows the system and the players and the conference well. Expect them to create Havoc but not be as dominant with Shaka Smart gone.  
Jeff Neubauer - His roster is filled with experience and youth. If they believe in his system and his style of play, they should be a big surprise and play many close games in conference that will shake up the standings by February. But if the players aren't buying in, it will be a long season in the Bronx. Dave Paulsen -- It will be a change from the Patriot League and he should struggle in the conference season defending and scoring early on but I expect his staff to work really hard to not have a down season in year one.

RF: On paper, Will Wade has the best situation. A winning program, devout and passionate fan base, plus no shortage of talent. Wade also has the most pressure in the first year. He’s replacing the ever-popular and successful Shaka Smart. That passionate fan base is not going to settle for any slip in the win-loss ledger. The NIT will not be acceptable for the Ram faithful. At George Mason, there has been a tradition and just a decade ago, the Patriots were in the Final Four. Dave Paulsen has been entrusted with the task of making George Mason relevant in the A-10. He has the luxury of rebuilding without severe pressure. Same goes for Jeff Neubauer at Fordham. This is Fordham’s 21st year in conference and it has been a two-decade struggle on Rose Hill. Like Paulsen, there is a rebuilding task in Neubauer’s hands, and there will be the requisite early years devoid of pressure as both coaches put their stamp on their respective programs.

PK: It's interesting to consider the three new head coaches in the conference. Each is at a school that has a long-term question over it right now, though all are a bit different. Fordham has never really gotten on track as a member of the Atlantic 10, and Jeff Neubauer is the latest to try. George Mason was a stalwart CAA program but has struggled early in its Atlantic 10 existence, and Dave Paulsen will try to change that momentum. VCU has had plenty of success after a seemingly seamless move from the CAA, but now the question is if the success here can continue and then last under Will Wade (and whoever follows him later on) or if they came in at just the right time for instant success and then will level off a bit.

All three newcomers can coach. Neubauer worked for John Beilein and has won a couple of conference titles as a head coach, but he's at a very tough job. If they start winning, it won't come easily. Paulsen makes an interesting move coming from two top-notch academic schools to a very good one, but one where the academic requirements for admission aren't the same. He's proven he's a solid coach - and yet another who first made his mark in Division III - and with the recruiting base and tradition, George Mason is a place where he can win, though it might not happen this season. Wade is a relentless worker, knows the game well and is in familiar territory since he was an assistant at VCU, and he won at Chattanooga. Look for him to continue winning back in Richmond.

JD: Each year, there's always some team that jumps up from the middle of the pack. Who in the conference does it this season?

DA: I'll say St. Joe's again. Not sure why, but I'm liking them more than most this year.

DB: I would like to say Richmond, but that's probably biased and they did finish fourth last year. So I'll go with George Washington. Patricio Garino is one of the more less heralded players in the league, and if Yuta Watanabe can take step forward, this team has weapons.

SD: I don't think there is one, but St. Bonaventure feels like they have the best shot. 

RF: La Salle. Nearly upset Davidson in the conference quarterfinals last March. The Explorers have talent at the guard spot, but must find a way to offset the loss of Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack up front.
Duquesne- Jim Ferry’s club is improving and headed in the right direction. Improvement on the defensive end (74 ppg allowed, the worst in conference) can expedite that upward mobility. 

PK: St. Bonaventure. Mark Schmidt has done a nice job at a tough place to win. The Bonnies were a strong consideration for the most underrated team, too. With Jaylen Adams, Marcus Posley and Dion Wright, they have a strong core, and Denzel Gregg should be ready to step into a bigger role. Mark Schmidt does a terrific job with his staff at this school.

Also, to a lesser degree, Saint Joseph's. No one is talking about them, and after a pretty nondescript season last year, rightly so. But the Hawks return four starters, including Player of the Year candidate DeAndre Bembry, though they have questions about whether they can score better and their size.

JD: Time now for some word association, gentlemen. In as few words as possible, or hashtags if you so desire, describe each team in a nutshell.

DA: Davidson: McKillop power
Dayton: Question marks
Duquesne: Defense? Nah.
Fordham: Fordham
George Mason: Hewitt-free
George Washington: Steady
La Salle: Step back?
Rhode Island: It's time.
Richmond: Bubble
Saint Joseph's: Rising
Saint Louis: Young, but improving
St. Bonaventure: Sneaky
UMass: Bridge year
VCU: Smooth transition

SD: Davidson - Unrelenting
Dayton - Dayton basketball player __________ was suspended for the remainder of the season.
Duquesne - Imbalanced 
Fordham - Starting Over Again
George Mason - Reinventing 
George Washington - Sleeper
La Salle - Mandatory Red Shirt
UMass - Scrambling
Rhode Island - Favorite 
Richmond - Ok 
St Bonaventure Also Ok
St Joe's - Help Bembry!
VCU - Transition 

RF: Dayton: #Blackburnreview
Rhode Island: #defenseneverrests
Davidson: #Curryplayedhere
Duquesne: #Ferrytofirstdivision
Fordham: #RoseHillrebuild
George Mason: #InThompsonwetrust
George Washington : #Colonialuprising
La Salle: #transfersaccepted
UMass: #guardedoptimism
Richmond: #legitdarkhorse
St. Bonaventure: #HolySchmidt
Saint Joseph’s: #hopesonBembry
Saint Louis: #StLouisblues
VCU: #inhavocanddanceteamwetrust

PK: Davidson: Solid
Dayton: Tough
Duquesne: Improving
Fordham: Rebuilding
George Mason: New
George Washington: Deeper
La Salle: Intriguing
UMass: Potential
Rhode Island: Rising
Richmond: Steady
St. Bonaventure: Sleeper
Saint Joseph's: Questions
Saint Louis: Green
VCU: Unchanged

JD: And lastly, how about a shameless plug for the team(s) you cover regularly?

DA: I'll save the "Party Like It's 1999" jokes and references, because I'm sure you'll see and hear them all year. But if all goes according to plan, the Rhode Island Rams will be in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since... yeah, you get it. Rhody returns four excellent starters including potential first teamers E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, as well as up-and-coming sophomores Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell. Add potential superstar transfer Kuran Iverson and a host of other newcomers (grad transfer Four McGlynn, freshmen Nicola Akele and Christion Thompson) and this is a team that's going to excel this season. Cue up Prince.

DB: This will be a really interesting season for the Spiders. It's probably the most talented roster than the 2011 Sweet Sixteen team, and expectations are high. It's also the thinnest backcourt Chris Mooney has had since taking over. The strength and scoring will come from inside - Allen primarily, and then TJ Cline and Marshall Wood. There's experience all over the floor, and that bodes really well for this team on the defensive end. They'll have size to match up with people inside, unlike in the past, and with only one sub-six-foot guard, will present a different look at the top of the zone-like defense. Redshirt freshman Khwan Fore will look to step into the back court and contribute, and serve as a resident rocket in sneakers.

SD: A handful of writers and bloggers stuck their neck out for Duquesne heading into that last season. I wouldn't expect to see a repeat of that in year four under Jim Ferry. The Dukes season hinges on three question marks:

1) Can Micah Mason play at the level he did to end 2014-15 over a full season?
2) Can they even become a decent defensive team?
3) Who on the current roster will lead the rebouding efforts?
If all three of these things happen, Duquesne has enough talent and depth on offense to finish in the top 100 RPI. If they get two they should return to the middle of the A-10. If one or none happens, we're looking at another disappointing season on the Bluff where they will fall short of even mediocrity. The Dukes will need to accomplish a lot to avoid this.

DD: What do I expect from Fordham this season? I expect Fordham to either turn the tables and win 15 games or fight for 10 wins and hope the new talent builds and gets better every single game. I think Jeff Neubauer has brought a ton of energy and I expect the Bronx to be packed with screaming fans for big games in December and January. 

RF: Shameless plug on St. Bonaventure: There were losses in Youssou Ndoye and Andell Cumberbatch but not the man on the bench. Mark Schmidt led the Bonnies to 18 wins and has gained the respect of his coaching peers as one getting the most out of the available talent. Schmidt appeals to the overlooked and under recruited to come to Bonavenure and prove the experts wrong. In senior Marcus Posley he has a talent (winning games over VCU and Davidson) who will not sneak up on anyone. Still, Bonnie hopes boil down to out of conference victories and in conference, the normal formula- win at home, ‘steal’ a few on the road. 

PK: Shameless Plug for Davidson: New conference, same results. That's what happened last year, as the Wildcats made the jump from the Southern Conference without a hitch, winning the regular season title. They lose the Player of the Year in Tyler Kalinoski, but they have everyone else back, an interesting situation. In their case, though, they should be fine. This team was well-balanced last year and should be again this year, and we all know Bob McKillop can coach. Look for this team to be in the mix for an NCAA Tournament bid again this season.

Shameless Plug for UMass: Derek Kellogg has rebuilt the program and has it on solid footing now. While last year didn't include another trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Minutemen got better as the season went on as young talent grew up. This year's team is heavy on returning guards and light on returning forwards, and given how important guards are in college basketball and the way Kellogg wants his teams playing, that may work out better than last year. One thing they will need to do is shoot better, as they shot less than 30 percent from long range last year and had no one shoot better than 33.7 percent from deep - not even a player who went 1-2 on the season.

Shameless Plug for Saint Louis: Last year figured to be a rebuilding year for the Billikens after a veteran team won big the year before, and that's exactly what happened. This year, they will still be pretty green, as they will have just one senior alongside nine freshmen and sophomores, so growing pains are likely, especially since all but two players started a game last season. Jim Crews will probably still be figuring out combinations with this group. Elliott Welmer should help them right away up front, as he can play inside and out.