Posted on: November 17, 2011 3:43 pm
By Matt Norlander
The game was played a 1 p.m. on a Thursday, well after the excitement from ESPN's 24-hour basketball marathon had worn off. There were, maybe, a thousand people in the Coliseo de Puerto Rico.
Still, Iona-Purdue was arguably the best televised game of basketball so far this season, which is now a week and a half old. The game was a first-round matchup in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and the Boilermakers won 91-90 after Robbie Hummel (right) coolly hit a 3 coming off a roll on the right side of the floor. Hummel scored a game-high 24 points, grabbing nine boards in the process. It's probably an ego booster -- in a good way -- for Hummel, who missed the majority of the past two years with ACL injuries.
We've well-documented what Hummel's gone through. Will his senior year be a feel-good story? Who knows. If it is, this is a great start to that. (And how great does Goodman feel to have his Hummel avatar on Twitter now?)
He looked very, very good today. Without Hummel, who knows what Purdue is.
What it's not right now: defensive-minded. The Gaels (who also didn't engage when playing on their heels) went where they pleased against a team that's been ranked 16th or better in points-per-possession defense the past five years.
Iona's MoMo Jones, who scored a team-high 17 points and took over at point guard after Scott Machado fouled out with three minutes to go, showed flashes of his bad self, as it was his turnover after Hummel's 3 that prevented Iona from getting its best shot to snag the upset. He also hit a couple of big shots before that, but Jones' M.O. is being feast or famine. Arizona fans know this all too well.
For Iona, it's a win that got away. Could end up being a critical one, too. This team has NCAA tournament talent, and if that's true, then it's got at-large-quality talent. But the Gaels lack a lot of chances on their schedule to get impressive wins. The more they lose in the next month, the less they can afford to lose any games in the MAAC, which will have Fairfield chasing them step for step.
Posted on: November 4, 2011 12:28 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 12:29 pm
By Jeff Goodman
The Metro Atlantic Conference (MAAC) Council of Presidents unanimously passed the new bylaw which allows student-athletes to receiving up to $2,000 in the cost of attendance increase.
The league put out a statement on Friday afternoon.
This will apply for men's and women's basketball scholarships in the league - and leaves it open to each school whether or not they want to apply it in other scholarship sports.
The change is immediate and will be noted in National Letters of Intent that are scheduled to be distributed in the early signing period next week.
It'll be interesting to see how many other conferences follow suit - especially in the low-major variety.
Posted on: October 28, 2011 3:01 pm
By Matt Norlander
FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- There stands the possibility, realistic, reach-out-and-touch-it possibility, this could be the greatest year in the history of Fairfield basketball.
It will chase after that prospect with a new coach, a few big transfers, yet not a tremendous amount of pressure. Sydney Johnson, who came to the Stags via Princeton in the spring, has his team pegged as second-best in the MAAC to Iona, according to league coaches and a majority of media that covers the conference. But Johnson has the best pro prospect in the league in Rakim Sanders (a Boston College transfer), as well as two guards who can play the 1 tremendously. Derek Needham's done it the past couple of years for FU, and Desmond Wade, a speedy, craft, veteran point who comes by way of the University of Houston.
They've also got a solid 2/undersized 3 in Colin Nickerson, and senior big man Ryan Olander looks even better than last year, when he came into his own.
I sat in on Thursday's practice sessions, and I saw a team with a lot of length, a lot of agility, a lot of speed and pretty good shooting. At one point, the team hit 11 straight 3s during a warmup drill. That doesn't account for much, until you consider the forwards and centers were tickling twine, too.
I was at Iona Wednesday, and with Momo Jones, I think that team's got a lot of potential. But I think Fairfield's a smidge better right now. The guard situation is the most intriguing between both squads. Each have "problems" that any mid-major program, and plenty of major ones, would envy. Iona's got two combo guards with point guard ability in Jones and Scott Machado (who we think is one of the best point guards in America -- though he's listed after Needham). Fairfield's playing with two point guards who can switch the the 2 if need be.
The change isn't drastic for any of the four guards, it's just the Gaels will likely have more turnovers in the backcourt than Fairfield this year. Inversely, the Stags won't get as much offensive production from their guards as Tim Cluess' Iona team will.
Fairfield's schedule gives a few opportunities for marquee wins, Ws they can absolutely take. Like getting the first home game of the season against Providence, who is now coached by Fairfield's former Poobah, Ed Cooley. (That game could be a little awkward, huh?) Three days later, it's at Minnesota. Tough, but winnable for this team. And that's the difference. Fairfield's got talent and toughness to take on average Big Six teams. It's not going to beat UConn three days before Christmas, but Dayton, Wake Forest and Arizona State are all ripe for the picking.
And if Fairfield can get three Ws against BCS teams, it stands a chance to earn an at-large way down the road. so long as it doesn't lose more than three conference games.
At practice, Johnson's got a cool demeanor, the staff is very hands-on, and even participating. Assistant coach Tyson Wheeler suited up for five-on-five, because FU's got three players with minor injuries sitting it out for a few more days/a week. I think Iona's going to be the team that's more fun to watch, because there's a ruggedness there, but Fairfield will be smooth. Johnson's team already looks much more in shape than Cluess'.
As for Sanders, the guy who was beat out (rightfully) by Iona's Mike Glover for MAAC Player of the Year, Johnson told me that's how he wanted it to be.
"Glover's got it done in this league," he said. "To say Rakim should be the preseason player of the year? No. He hasn't proven it in this league yet."
The ceiling for Sanders is high. He didn't pop out to me in practice, but he's not a huge practice player. I think that's part of it. He goes when the bodies fill the seats. He's motivated, for sure. He scored more than a thousand points in the ACC. That kind of player should do untold damage in the MAAC. I think he's more vital to NCAA tournament hopes than the Wade/Needham combo, which I predict will be un-guardable (generally speaking) in the league this year.
Ultimate takeaway from watching the team for more than two hours: impressed. Good camaraderie, good energy. This group was a very good defensive unit last year. I think that remains true, but expect the offense (they were awful from 3) to really get an uptick, and with that you'll see the jelling of a team that can get key wins and remain atop the MAAC race and in the thick of the bubble picture into February.
Posted on: October 26, 2011 5:16 pm
Edited on: October 26, 2011 5:23 pm
By Matt Norlander
NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- I stopped in at Iona's practice Wednesday morning. The Gaels, who five seasons ago won just two games, are now the favorites to win the MAAC in 2011-12.
They should have won the league tournament last March, but awful shooting and lackluster hustle led to a St. Peter's upset.
The reason for the return of high hopes are three-fold: Michael Glover, the preseason Player of the Year; Scott Machado, who we think is one of the 30 best point guards in college basketball; and MoMo Jones, the junior transfer from Arizona with the exciting-but-enigmatic game.
I watched Iona practice and scrimmage for more than two hours. But I'll get to those facets and observations, particularly Machado and Glover, later on. For now, I want to talk to you about what Jones talked to me about Wednesday morning.
Jones, who's letting his hair grow out and resembling Donald Glover these days, spoke for a good 25 minutes about his life, himself, the change of scenery and why it's a choose-your-own-adventure kind of time for him now.
He didn't practice. Why? Well, it actually dates back to the tournament game against Texas, when Gary Johnson and Jordan Hamilton sandwiched Jones on a breakaway layup attempt. He landed awkwardly on his knee, and thereafter he had a cracking sound -- with no pain -- for a few weeks. He dealt with it, sometimes jerking his knee into place before it cracked as a sign of normalcy/relief. That's not normal, but again, he was never in pain; he soon discovered it was worn-out cartilage that had built up over years of going full throttle on cement courts.
Jones landed on his knee at Iona's first official practice, so he took a shot and is sitting out a little while longer. He'll likely rejoin the team in practice by week's end, or Monday at the latest.
Having said that, a few tidbits from our conversation that I'm able to share. First of all, Jones said he never intended on leaving Arizona. The decision came fast, and after the season, but he's made the move because of his grandmother's illness. He wants to be close to her, to stay in daily communication and be a weekly physical presence for her, his mother, and his little sister. Iona coach Tim Cluess expected Jones to get cleared for this year due to the severity of his grandmother's illness (which is still in limbo, but doesn't seem immediate).
Jones is an entirely different guy off the floor. On it, he's arrogant beyond confident, brash and unafraid to do whatever he'd like. It's why Arizona fans got so frustrated with him. He can play the point, but he prefers the combo-guard position. It's what he couldn't do at Arizona. It's what he will do at Iona. Jones played at the prep level beside shooters like Kemba Walker and Doron Lamb. He knows how to acquiesce, so long as he's playing against seriously skilled two-guards with range. (I wonder how it will work, as Machado and Jones will go back and forth at the 1. But that's a post/column for another day.)
The guy -- guy, not kid -- wants to lead this team. I think he will, and so does Cluess. But there's still plenty for him to prove. He's probably not as good as he thinks he is, at least not right now. Few players lived and died in spurts like Jones did at Arizona. What I do know: Jones is a player obsessed with himself and his abilities. He rattled off random stats from games past I couldn't even remember taking place. I'm talking points, assists, rebounds and turnovers.
He has NBA aspirations; I don't know if he's honestly thinking about making the leap after this year, his junior campaign. From what I gather, he was debating the NBA at certain points while at Arizona. Why that shouldn't be a problem at Iona: Jones knwos the guys there. He's from Harlem and played at the high school and prep level against a number of Iona's players. He's known Machado and Glover for years and years. They were friends long before they were teammates.
Plus, Jones isn't the best player on this team (it's Glover, and Cluess would take Machado and junior Kyle Smyth over Jones right now). Though he's so, so confident, I think Jones knows how vital this season is for him.
"My life can go in one of two very different directions," he said. "I can work hard, help this team and make my dream come true, or I can ruin it."
That self-awareness, particularly with a player that voluntarily chose to go from an elite program to a MAAC one, isn't that common. Iona's going to be a lot of fun to watch. Jones will be part of that. Seeing how he goes back to being the guard he wants to be, and seeing how that improves (or, who knows, maybe it doesn't) Iona's team will be one of the biggest mid-major storylines this season.
Posted on: October 24, 2011 10:22 am
By Matt Norlander
Siena was hoping to get Lionel Gomis and Imoh Silas on the floor this season. The two African-born players were considered critical to getting the program back toward the top of its league, the MAAC. The Saints finished 13-18 last season, taking a dramatic step back from the dominant MAAC team they were the previous four years.
But on Friday, the NCAA ruled Gomis and Silas were not eligible for 2011-12, upholding its initial ruling from early September.
Siena Saints Blog writes that the compliance office at Siena is being quite diligent in digging up information that would implore the NCAA to reverse the decision once more. Silas (from Nigeria) and Gomis (Senegal) are stuck in a situation where they've found themselves prey under a new rule. Per bylaw 126.96.36.199.1, any student-athlete "who delays enrollment full-time in college is charged in his eligibility for every year between graduating and enrolling full-time in school."
The two repeated a year of schooling after coming over from Africa. There's dispute over how much education has been completed by these two. Basically, the NCAA is trying to tighten up yet another loophole that kids could expose. They don't want teams to be able to put players on the floor by skirting any type of academic requirements. But with Silas and Gomis taking prep-school courses, it's still too foggy for the NCAA right now to decidedly side on the side of Siena's interests, partly because Gomis dropped out of school for two years following the death of his mother.
Siena believes the two have completed the necessary education thresholds in order to be able to play this season. The two were delayed in their enrollment at the school, and Siena compliance is attempting to prove bureaucratic, collegiate paperwork, not gamesmanship, was the reason for the two's delayed enrollment at the school. As of now, both have three years of eligibility left.
Posted on: October 20, 2011 3:01 pm
Edited on: October 20, 2011 3:06 pm
Former Arizona transfer Momo Jones has been cleared to play this season for Iona, sources told CBSSports.com.
There were questions whether Jones would eligible immediately, but the NCAA granted him a hardship waiver.
Jones left Arizona in May, announcing he wanted to move closer to home to be close to his ailing grandmother in Harlem, N.Y. There were rumors that he was planning to transfer to St. John’s, but NCAA regulations prevented it.
Once he chose Iona, questions still surfaced regarding whether he would be eligible to play this season. We received an answer on Thursday.
With Jones in the fold, Iona is clearly the best team in the New York City area heading into the season. Michael Glover is one of the best big men in the country, while Scott Machado ranked third in the nation in assists.
Photo: US Presswire
Posted on: March 8, 2011 1:23 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2011 1:45 pm
Posted by Matt Norlander
Since all of us here at the blog are going to be bouncing around the country over the next four weeks, sharing stories of the greatest event in sports, I wanted use these digs for more than just the usual reporting, riffing and raving about the tournament.
Pictures and video can be just as engaging, if not more so, than direct text. So while you can expect more of what I got with St. Peter's last night, in terms of video, I'm also going completely underwhelm you with my amateur-photographers skillz, too.
The camera will be with me everywhere I go, and over the next month I'll consistently be uploading photos from games/cities I'm in. We're starting off with some test shots I took at the MAAC tournament. They're simple, but they're a guinea pig.
I'll check in with a heartier batch of shots from the Big East tournament tomorrow night.
Posted on: March 8, 2011 12:28 am
Edited on: March 8, 2011 1:54 am
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — This team hated each other.
We're not talking a rip-a-group-apart hate, but a brotherly hate. The kind of hate that just sits and stews, one that eventually subsides, but not before words need to be had.
As healthy a hate as hate can be. That was St. Peter's in 2009 and 2010: a group determined to one-up each other in practice and try to beat each other before it worried about beating other teams. This behavior went beyond a healthy, competitive spirit. It was stagnating the growth of its team, but in particular, the 2011 class, made partly up of Ryan Bacon, Nick Leon, Wesley Jenkins and Jeron Belin.
Then they became seniors. Then they realized they'd get nowhere in the MAAC if they didn't listen and trust their coach.
Those four men were the ones sitting with head coach John Dunne at the postgame press conference after fourth-ranked St. Peter's upset No. 2 Iona to win the MAAC championship Monday night, 62-57.
"Every day we had an argument," Leon said. "We had to fight with each other, we hated each other, but at the end of the day, it grew a big bond within the whole team."
Belin described the situation as "horrible" for long stretches of time. They simply fought over everything, basketball-related or not. You could say it's a wonder the team wasn't a victim of more transfers, especially in this jettison-frenzied era of college basketball.
"Little stuff," said Leon of the inspiration for a lot of the arguments. "Everyone was trying to be a coach. Instead of letting [Dunne] coach, we tried to coach ourselves."
The players took the packed media room through their rise of the past few years. It was a stretch that included many multiple-game losing streaks. Even before the MAAC tournament began this year, few considered the Peacocks' slog-you-down style to last three rounds.
"It was tough for us," Leon said. "We was a program that was rebuilding. We just kept faith. After losing 18 games in a row, we kept faith. The master [Dunne], you know, he put the pieces together and we just put it together as a family, as a team."
Dunne had to convince the team they weren't as fast as they thought they were. He had to make them believe that winning games in the 50s was the best way to succeed. Eventually, they bought in, and the coach praised his group for doing that, when it would have been just as easy not to.
"Togetherness, that's what it was," Belin said. "Everybody playing their part. Whether you played 20 minutes, one minute, you came in and did what you had do to."
St. Peter's is making its third appearance in the NCAAs, and it has never won a game. But that doesn't much matter right now. This was the first 20-win season for the group since 20 years. It's most definitely house money. It's very possible nobody in that program believed an NCAA berth was coming back in November. Dunne admitted as much, postgame.
Despite beating Alabama on a neutral floor, the team wasn't coming together as one normally does with so many seniors seeing so many minutes. Jenkins was thought to be lost for the season twice with hyper-extended knee injuries, and after an "embarrassing" loss to Iona (Dunne's words), the team was 8-7. St. Peter's coach admitted he wasn't sure this team had the capability to win this conference. After beating Rider on Jan. 29 to improve to 13-9, that's when he started to beileve.
"Attitude won us this championship," Dunne said.
This is a team that's one of the staunchest defensive groups in the country. You can't get that without attitude.
Attitude is what made the Peacocks hold a team that averages 80 points a game to 57 in a conference title game, where its fans were outnumbered by Iona's to the tune of a four-to-one ratio. But attitude helped pushed the Peacocks past that. It's now a positive one. Now, when a player hits the deck — something that happens, oh, 20 times per game — for the Peacocks, everyone's in a rush to help their fallen teammate up.
No more arguments, no more fighting, no more hate.
"We're the new Butler," Belin said afterward, a huge grin on his face.
Player to Watch: Wesley Jenkins. It's tough to pick a player out of this group, but Jenkins is definitely exciting. He's a spark for this team, no doubt. Jenkins has a slight frame but is just as tough-minded as the rest of his teammates. Whoever gets the Peacocks in the first round is going to feel like it's playing through mud.
Record: (20-13, 14-7)
Team Colors: Blue and White
We’re Thinking: 15 seed
Kenpom Ranking: 123
Best win: Neutral vs. 20-10 Alabama (50-49)
Worst loss: Home vs. 15-15 Loyola (65-63)
Most recent tournament history: 1995 (15 seed, lost to UMass, 68-51, in first round)Finally, some one-on-one video from tonight. The first is my interview with Dunne, the second with Jenkins. The dance-off in the hotel hallway with Iona is brought up. With Jenkins, that is.
Posted by Matt Norlander