Canisius picked 6th in MAAC preseason poll, Niagara 11th; Valenti and Blackman to 3rd team


By Nick Veronica

Canisius was picked sixth in MAAC preseason poll, which was announced Wednesday night. Niagara was picked by the conference’s 11 coaches to finish last for the second consecutive season.

Canisius looks to build on last season’s 11-9 conference record, which earned the Griffs the fifth seed in the conference tournament. Niagara’s low ranking was expected with such a large roster turnover.

Canisius forward Phil Valenti and Niagara forward Emile Blackman were both named to the MAAC’s preseason Third Team. Blackman finished 11th in the conference in scoring last season at 13.5 ppg. Valenti averaged 9.4 points per game in 24 games, missing all of February with an ankle injury.

Iona was picked to win conference while its star guard A.J. English was named the league’s preseason player of the year.

Preseason rankings:


Rank Team (1st-place votes) Points
1. Iona (10) 119
2. Monmouth 105
T3. Manhattan (1) 91
T3. Rider 91
5. Siena 84
6. Canisius 67
7. Quinnipiac 49
8. Fairfield 42
9. Saint Peter’s 37
10. Marist 23
11. Niagara 18

Preseason teams:

First Team
G Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield, Sr.
G Schadrac Casimir, Iona, So.
G A.J. English, Iona, Sr. (unanimous)
G Justin Robinson, Monmouth, Jr.
G Teddy Okereafor, Rider, Sr.

Second Team
G Isaiah Williams, Iona, Sr.
G Shane Richards, Manhattan, Sr.
G Khallid Hart, Marist, Jr.
G Deon Jones, Monmouth, Sr.
G Marquis Wright, Siena, Jr.

Third Team
F Phil Valenti, Canisius, Jr.
G RaShawn Stores, Manhattan, Sr.
G Emile Blackman, Niagara, R-Jr.
G Jimmie Taylor, Rider, Jr.
F Brett Bisping, Siena, R-Jr.

Preseason Player of the Year
G A.J. English, Iona


MAAC Tournament Gameday: Niagara vs. Siena

MAAC Tournament First Round: 8-Siena vs. 9-Niagara,
5 p.m., Times Union Center, Albany

By Nick Veronica

Niagara opens the men’s portion of the MAAC Tournament today with a 5 p.m. play-in game against Siena, which is hosting the tournament at the Times Union Center. How convenient.

Niagara Purple Eagles: 7-13 MAAC, 8-21 overall, 4-9 road. RPI: 278. BPI: 311. Kenpom: 282. Streak: W4.

Siena Saints: 7-13 MAAC, 10-19 overall, 5-9 home. RPI: 269. BPI: 290. Kenpom: 285. Streak: L5.

So does Niagara have a chance or what? For most of the season, the answer to that question was a sad shrug followed by a “probably not.” Then Niagara got hot in mid-February and won four straight, giving it the longest active winning streak of any team in the conference.

Pair that with the fact that Siena has lost five in a row heading into Thursday’s game, and you have to think Niagara has a shot. What Siena has going for it is that it’s the host team, playing in its home arena in front of its home fans. But if Niagara plays strong defensively, limits offensive rebounds and has quality secondary scoring to supplement Emile Blackman, it could send Siena home early in front of its fans, which would be pretty sweet for the Purple Eagles.

The winner advances to play… Top-seeded Iona at noon Saturday. Fun. [Full bracket here]

Vegas says: Siena -3.5, at the time of this writing.

Players to watch: Siena’s Rob Poole was named Third Team All-MAAC for the second straight year while Niagara’s Dominique Reid was named to the All-Rookie Team. Blackman leads Niagara at 13.6 ppg while Poole’s 14.2 lead Siena. One player to keep and eye on is Siena forward Javion Ogunyemi, who had a big game against Niagara in Lewiston.

Series history: Season: Siena 2-0. All-time: Siena 47-46. All-time tournament: Siena 4-3. Tournament games held in Albany: Siena 4-1. Chris Casey vs. Siena: 0-4.

Random player tweets:

Also, Rob Poole’s face:

Bold prediction: Poole, who sat out Siena’s final regular season game with an ankle injury, hits at least four three-pointers to lead the Saints to victory.

Score guess: Siena 66, Niagara 64.

Postgame interviews: Niagara 82, Canisius 71

By Nick Veronica

Interviews from Niagara’s road win over Canisius, which stretched Niagara’s winning streak to three games…

Canisius coach Jim Baron

Jim Baron said he knew his team’s “mindset was gonna be fragile” coming into the game. I asked him what he meant by that since Canisius entered the night on a three-game winning streak.

“We were picked 10th,” he said, referencing the MAAC’s preseason poll.

Well you’re fifth right now, I said.

“We got two guys, two starters out, so we’ve been very fortunate to win those games the way we won,” Baron countered.

Translation: Everything Canisius needed to go right went right in those wins. The Griffs are toast from here on out if they don’t have their A-game.

Canisius’ Jeremiah Williams and Josiah Heath

Tuesday was the final Niagara game for Canisius seniors Josiah Heath and Jeremiah Williams, barring something wild in the conference tournament.

“Really wanted that one,” Williams said. “Really did.”

“Disappointed,” Heath added. “We got outplayed. That’s what happens.”

Niagara’s Chris Casey, Ramone Snowden, Emile Blackman

“You saw the togetherness in that run, and that’s the way they are every day,” NU coach Chris Casey said of his team’s blistering start to the second half.

Blackman was humble about his big alley-oop: “It was a great play call, great screen by Ramone. I told him it was his basket. I got the points but it wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t set it.”

VIDEO: Emile Blackman throws down alley-oop vs. Canisius

By Nick Veronica

Niagara guard Emile Blackman threw down a big alley-oop that turned the tide in Tuesday’s 82-71 win over rival Canisius. The video almost doesn’t do justice to how sick the slam was.

UPDATE: The play made the No. 4 on SportsCenter’s Top 10:

Niagara coach Chris Casey gave the credit for the play to Blackman, saying the sophomore drew up the call. It worked perfect for the Purple Eagles since there was only two seconds left on the shot clock.

Blackman finished with 18 points in the win.

Blackman enjoyed the Vine:

Gameday: Canisius at Niagara – 12/6/14

Griffs at Purple Eagles, Gallagher Center, 3 p.m.

By Nick Veronica

Canisius Golden Griffins: 3-3 overall, 1-0 MAAC, 2-2 road. RPI: 135. KenPom: 172. Streak: W1.

Niagara Purple Eagles: 1-4 overall, 1-0 MAAC, 0-2 home. RPI: 226. KenPom: 268. Streak: L3.

Vegas Line: Open: Canisius -2. Current: Canisius -1.5.

What’s at stake: Never thought we’d be saying this, but MAAC supremacy is on the line today … however short-lived it may be. Both Canisius and Niagara are 1-0 in the conference after opening wins against Saint Peter’s.

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 1.24.15 AM

Series history: This is the 175th meeting between the teams if you believe Canisius, or the 177th meeting if you believe Niagara (more on that here). What we know for sure is that Canisius has taken three straight from Niagara, meaning second-year NU coach Chris Casey has yet to beat his rival. In the most recent game between the schools on Feb. 25, Billy Baron took control in the second half and finished with 34 points to lead Canisius to a 71-65 victory.

What’s been working for the Griffs: Not a ton has been going right for Canisius on offense. The team averages under 60 points per game and makes just 35.4 percent of its shots, which ranks 342nd nationally. All-MAAC Rookie Team selection Zach Lewis hasn’t been able to find his groove yet and is shooting just .299 from the floor and .273 from three-point range. He leads the Griffs at 13.3 points per game by the volume of shots he has put up.

Forward Phil Valenti has been more productive, averaging 10.3 points a night on .490 shooting, including 7 of 14 from behind the arc. He also leads the team at 6.2 rebounds per game.

What’s been working for the Purple Eagles: See: Canisius. Niagara’s offense shoots a nearly identical 35.3 percent from the field and averages only 56.8 points per game. Offense has been hard to come by, though two of Niagara’s five games were against Pitt and St. John’s.

What Niagara can say is that it’s at least getting scoring from several sources, with four players averaging better than nine points per game — Emile Blackman (12.6), Ramone Snowden (10.8), Rayvon Harris (9.8) and Karonn Davis (9.2). Where they’ll get scoring from on a given night is anyone’s guess, but today I’d look for Snowden, who’s played in rivalry games before, and Blackman, who’s coming off a 21-point performance at St. John’s.

Bold prediction: Both teams will do something they haven’t done all season: score 65 points.

Court dedication: Niagara will rename its court for Frank and Barbara Layden prior to the game. Frank played for ‘Taps’ Gallahger (whom the Gallagher Center is named after) and later coached during the Calvin Murphy years before going on to the NBA. Murphy and Hubie Brown will be on hand for a panel discussion at the Castellani Art Museum across the street from the Gallagher Center at 11 a.m. and will more than likely attend the game.

Odd stats: Canisius is 3-1 this season when trailing at halftime. … Snowden has two double-doubles this season. Canisius’ entire roster has two double-doubles in all of their careers. … Niagara has made the fewest baskets in the country for any team that has played five or more games. … A loss would be the 400th of Jim Baron’s career.

How to follow the game: Go to it / Watch on ESPN3 / Follow along on Twitter. Remember, tip is at 3 p.m., not 7.