Metro Ranking and Report: Update #5

    
December 30th, 2008

The final days of 2008, for most of the teams in the area (save the Ivies and NJIT), mean a transition into full-time conference play. Some schools still have a game or two outside of conference play later in the season, but for the most part it's all about focusing on the direct way of getting to the NCAA Tournament. Big East play begins early this week, and despite a big win over FDU Seton Hall fans have to wonder what the opener at Syracuse will bring for a team that lacks bodies inside. St. John's has been juggling injuries of late, which has forced some youngsters to step into expanded roles. And Rutgers is making some history, becoming the first school to take on the nation's top three teams in consecutive games. Pitt at home on Wednesday, and then a trip north to take on UConn Saturday.

But that's not the only league that'll require metropolitan area schools to run the gauntlet, with the NEC looking to be wide-open and the MAAC possibly being a deeper league than many expected with the preseason "Siena and the rest of them" prognostications. Hofstra has won nine of their last eleven games and have the look of a serious contender in the CAA, while Steve Pikiell has a much-improved Stony Brook squad looking to make a move up the standings in America East. Can any of these teams, at the least, set themselves up for a run come conference tournament time? That remains to be seen, but these early conference games will set the tone for 2009. 

Team of the Week: Marist 

The Red Foxes were one of the few teams in the area to play two games last week, and they went ahead and won both while snagging a pair of individual honors in the MAAC as well. Marist was competitive last week while going 0-2 in the Aeropostale Holiday Festival, but it was painfully obvious how important injured point guard David Devezin is. Head coach Chuck Martin will definitely need Devezin back for the lion's share of MAAC play, but he had to be encouraged by the play of freshman R.J. Hall at the point in wins over Delaware and Bucknell. Five and a half assists per game and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.57 is a good way to play heading back into conference play.

And don't forget the stellar play of senior Ryan Schneider, who has taken off in Coach Martin's offensive system. It was known that Schneider can put the ball in the basket, but for him to rebound the ball as well as he has this season (9.3 rpg) and last week (14.0 rpg) could mean that the Red Foxes won't finish in the MAAC cellar. And he'll earn postseason honors as well. There were some growing pains for this program early on, but Marist could very well be a dangerous team for some of the MAAC favorites in the coming weeks. 

Player of the Week: G Jeremy Hazell (Seton Hall)

The sophomore from Harlem is at it again, cementing his reputation as one of the best scorers in the Big East while also expanding his game. In a 101-70 win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday, Hazell went for 35 points and six rebounds. He currently leads the Big East in scoring at a clip of 22.4 points per game. But despite his scoring prowess, he can still improve as a ballhandler. He had five turnovers and no assists on Saturday, numbers that could make things very difficult for both himself and his team in conference play. Syracuse has played more man-to-man this season than in years past, and that may be a good thing for them heading into Tuesday's conference opener. This man is capable of hanging thirty on just about anyone. 

Other outstanding performers last week include FDU's Sean Baptiste, Marist's Ryan Schneider, Rutgers' Mike Rosario and Stony Brook's Muhammad El-Amin. 

Conference Honors

America East: Stony Brook juinor Muhammad El-Amin was honored as one of "The Best of the Rest" by the conference following last week's action. In a win over St. Peter's El-Amin tallied twenty-seven points, twenty of which came in the first half. 

Atlantic 10: Fordham freshman guard Jio Fontan was named conference Co-Rookie of the Week following his eighteen point performance in the Rams' 60-56 win over New Hampshire on the 23rd. It's the second time winning the award for Fontan, who knocked down the gamewinning shot against the Wildcats. 

Big East: Rutgers freshman guard Mike Rosario was named Big East Rookie of the Week due to his play in a 1-1 week for the Scarlet Knights. Rosario followed up a 24-point performance in a win over NJIT with twenty-six in a loss last night at #1 North Carolina. Rosario leads conference freshmen with an average of 17.5 points per game and leads the entire conference in free throw percentage (88.0%).

Ivy League: A pair of Yale Bulldogs were honored by the league for their play in a hard-fought 66-63 loss at Alabama last week. Senior Travis Pinick was named Player of the Week by the Ivy League for his seventeen points and eleven boards, while classmate Ross Morin was named to the Honor Roll for his twenty points against the Crimson Tide. 

MAAC: Marist took home a pair of honors due to their 2-0 week. Senior forward Ryan Schneider, who averaged 25.5 points and 14.0 rebounds per game in wins over Delaware and Bucknell, was named Player of the Week. Freshman guard R.J. Hall, who averaged 8.5 points and 5.5 assists in the two wins, was named MAAC Rookie of the Week. 

Schedule (December 30th-January 5th)

Tuesday 12/30

7 PM: Seton Hall @ #11 Syracuse this is the first game that will give us an idea of how the lack of size will affect the Pirates within the Big East. In Arinze Onuaku the Orange have one of the better big men in the conference; if it becomes apparent that they forget that and ignore him the look for the Hall to make this game very interesting. Eric Devendorf will also be back for Syracuse after missing time due to a university-imposed suspension. The Pirates will have to force turnovers and get the Orange to play faster than they want to if they're to steal the win on the road.
Rhode Island @ FDU
Princeton @ Lafayette
Marist @ Binghamton
Yale @ Hampton
St. Francis (NY) @ Ohio
Army @ Florida Gulf Coast
7:30: LIU @ Charlotte
8 PM: Wagner @ Kansas State

Wednesday 12/31

2 PM: #3 Pittsburgh @ Rutgers
Sacred Heart @ Boston College
Lehigh @ NJIT
4 PM: Manhattan @ La Salle
St. John's @ Providence Rutgers may be playing the higher-profile opponent on this night, but it's the Red Storm who find themselves in a far more important game within the Big East. No one is suggesting that either the Johnnies or Friars will crack the elite of the Big East, but any slim hopes of postseason play for either can be either helped or hurt in a big way in this game. Freshman TyShawn Edmondson will have to play well on the road against a solid backcourt led by Jeff Xavier.
5 PM: Stony Brook @ Air Force

Thursday 1/1

2 PM: Rider @ Iona
Fairfield @ Siena while most of the nation will focus on the bowl games being played, the top two teams in the MAAC preseason poll will meet in the Times Union Center. The Saints finally picked up a solid non-conference road win this weekend, beating St. Joseph's by a single point. But for as powerful as Fran McCaffrey's team remains, Ronald Moore has been inconsistent at the point thus far which could mean a big game for senior Jonathan Han. Individual matchup to watch: Fairfield's Warren Edney and Siena's Edwin Ubiles, two of the best swingmen in the league.

Friday 1/2

4 PM: Yale @ Bryant
7 PM: Columbia @ Lehigh
7:30: St. Peter's @ Marist these two were picked to finish in the MAAC cellar, but unlike the Peacocks Marist has shown signs recently of exceeding those expectations. As of right now it's unknown if David Devezin will be able to play, but if R.J. Hall can play like he did last week then Marist will be in good shape. St. Peter's has one of the better guards in the area that few people talk about in sophomore Wesley Jenkins.

Saturday 1/3

1 PM: NJIT @ Vermont
2 PM: #10 Notre Dame @ St. John's
Fordham @ Bowling Green
MIT @ Yale
UNC Greensboro @ Princeton
Drexel @ Hofstra the Dragons have struggled this season, but Bruiser Flint's team should still be respected as a possible spoiler in the CAA. As for Tom Pecora's Pride, they'll be looking to build on their win over Towson last month and stay on top of the league standings. Charles Jenkins will have his hands full with a defense that can make hunting for shots as fun as a root canal at times.
CCSU @ LIU
4 PM: West Virginia @ Seton Hall
7 PM: Army @ Dartmouth
St. Francis (NY) @ Wagner
Quinnipiac @ FDU
Manhattan @ Niagara The Purple Eagles are armed with the deepest backcourt in the MAAC, a good reason why they were picked to finish third in the conference. But the Jaspers aren't bad in that area either, with Chris Smith, Antoine Pearson and Darryl Crawford leading the way. The key to this one could be the frontcourt, where Benson Egemonye has been one of the league's best for Joe Mihalich's squad. As for Manhattan, Devon Austin will have to make some things happen for the Jaspers to pull off the win on the road.
Sacred Heart @ Monmouth
7:05: Stony Brook @ UMBC

Sunday 1/4

2 PM: St. Peter's @ Siena
3 PM: Marist @ Rider
3:30: Fairfield @ Iona the Gaels are still looking to find their way as a team, especially with Kyle Smyth and Gary Springer both missing time due to injury in recent weeks. While Springer is expected back soon, this is a key weekend for Smyth since he's only played in one game, leaving head coach Kevin Willard with arguably his best perimeter shooter. Scott Machado has played well recently, and he'll have to bring more of the same in this one.

Monday 1/5

7 PM: Hofstra @ Northeastern
Stony Brook @ Binghamton this game will give a clearer picture in regards to just how improved the Seawolves are this season. The Bearcats were picked to finish fifth in America East despite losing their top three scorers from a season ago, while Stony Brook found themselves in last yet again. The newcomers have played well for Coach Pikiell's team so far, most notably Muhammad El-Amin. This is a winnable game for Stony Brook, but a tight loss could tell us just as much as a win would: this team has improved.
Sacred Heart @ LIU
CCSU @ Monmouth
7:30: Manhattan @ Canisius
Columbia @ American
8 PM: Wagner @ FDU

Updated Rankings (previous in parentheses)

1. Seton Hall (9-3; 2)
2. St. John's (9-3; 1)
3. Fairfield (8-4; 3)
4. Hofstra (9-3; 4)
5. Rutgers (9-4; 5)
6. Manhattan (7-4; 7)
7. Wagner (7-3; 8)
8. Rider (6-5; 6)
9. Stony Brook (6-5; 11)
10. Marist (5-8; 13)
11. Iona (5-8; 9)
12. Sacred Heart (4-6; 10)
13. Columbia (4-7; 12)
14. LIU (4-6; 14)
15. Yale (2-7; 15)
16. Princeton (2-7; 16)
17. St. Francis (NY) (3-8; 17)
18. Army (3-8; 18)
19. FDU (1-9; 19)
20. Monmouth (2-12; 20)
21. St. Peter's (4-8; 21)
22. Fordham (2-9; 22)
23. NJIT (0-12; 23)