The MAAC is back! It is finally that special time of the year again where we brace ourselves for the crazy and wild ride that is college basketball. In this article, I will be doing a full preview on one of the most high scoring and competitive conferences in the nation, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference or more formally known as the MAAC. During this piece, I will be doing a full break down of all 11 teams in the MAAC as well as predicting a conference player of the year, coach of the year, and when all is said and done we will have a prediction for the regular season champion and a prediction of who will be cutting down the nets in Albany and punching their tickets to the dance come March. We start by previewing a team who had a tremendous 2017 regular season along with one of the most lethal offensive attacks this conference had seen in upwards of a decade.
Canisius was one of the of the more intriguing and explosive teams in the MAAC last season and entertained their fans on a nightly basis. They finished their 2017 season with a 21-12 record, went 15-3 in conference play and were the 2018 MAAC regular season co-champions with the Rider Broncs. Unfortunately for the Griffs, the postseason was not so giving, as Canisius got knocked out in the quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament to a young Quinnipiac Bobcat team, ending their hopes and dreams of playing in the NCAA Tournament. Canisius has little time to complain however as they come into the 2018-2019 season full of talent and are going to be one of the main contenders to win the conference. The Griffs are going to turn to Junior guard, Isaiah Reese to do most of the heavy lifting during the upcoming season and take over the leadership roles on the offensive side of the basketball. Last season, Reese averaged a tick under 17 points per game and was a threat to pull the trigger from three at any given moment. With leading scorer Jermaine Crumpton gone, players know they will have to step up in a big way and contribute in ways they have not previously been accustomed to. Overall, I am a big fan of this Canisius team. I think they have a very explosive offense, I think they are very well coached by Reggie Witherspoon and feel that if they can live up to what they are fully capable of, you may very well see another conference championship from the boys up north.
The Tyler Nelson era is officially over at Fairfield University and the Stags have quickly become the most average team in the MAAC. Last year, Fairfield finished their season with a 17-16 record record and finished 9-9 in conference play. Although that may seem average and all things aside was, the Stags still had a scoring threat in Nelson who averaged 22 points a game and could take over a game whenever he pleased. With him now gone, it is a feeling of, “Now what?” for Fairfield fans and the answer is quite simple. The one man who is going to carry the Stags in 2019 will be the sophomore guard from Puerto Rico, Jesus Cruz. Cruz is extremely athletic, has an above average handle and has a mid range jumper that is wetter than water. I expect him to have a huge season and carry his team to the most average and mediocre season of all time.
Iona is for all intensive purposes, the king of the MAAC tournament. The Gaels have found themselves in the NCAA Tournament the past 3 years, all in thanks to an at large bid being earned by winning the MAAC tournament. Although Iona finished just 11-7 last year in conference play, come tournament time, you know the Gaels will be the toughest out there is. This dominance is in big part to the coaching brilliance of Tim Cluess. Cluess has dominated the MAAC since 2010 and in my eyes is the most talented coach in the MAAC and it’s not even a contest. Iona is coming into 2018 feeling confident as they have one of if not the most talented players in the conference, Rickey McGill. The senior guard from Spring Valley NY is an absolute phenom and can do things on the basketball court that define the laws of physics. He is the quickest guard in the MAAC, has one of the more lethal jumpers in the conference and can play lock down defense that will make you beg for a key. He is also the type of player who has the capability to put on scoring displays as last season he put up a quick 40 piece against Rider and made it look easy. McGill is projected to win conference player of the year and I might have to jump on the train, as I still have yet to find a weakness in his game. Overall I think this Iona team is good, but not great. They play subpar defense and are not a good team in transition. I see them finishing somewhere in the upper third of the regular season standings but come tournament play, I will never pick against this team as they have shown that they are the kings and it will take a momentous effort to dethrone them.
The Manhattan Jaspers are my official dark horse in the MAAC this season. The Jaspers are coached by one of the more underrated coaches in all of America, former Louisville assistant, Steve Masiello. Masiello has been with the Jaspers since 2011 and has had an array of success, winning back to back MAAC tournament championships in 2014 and 2015. The Jaspers had some what of a down year last year as they finished the season with a record of 14-17 record to go along with a lack luster 9-9 record in conference play, but something tells me this team has a fast turnaround in them that will be ready to produce this season. Coming into the season, the Jaspers are going to be lead by their defensive unit, Pauly Paulicap. Paulicap was an absolute animal on the defensive side of the ball last year, averaging 2.6 blocks per game earning him the MAAC defensive player of the year award. The Jaspers can also put up points pending if junior guard Aaron Walker Jr. can find a way to stay healthy throughout the season. If he can remain healthy, Manhattan will be a team you should be scared of. A lot of people are counting this Jasper team out in the MAAC this year and I am telling you right now when you see this school show up on your team’s schedule, you better show up because they are legit and are going to make all the skeptics look foolish.
Marist Red Foxes
Marist to put it gently, had an absolutely horrific 2017 season. They finished the year with a 6-25 record, went 4-14 in conference play and tried to keep their heads above water all year long. But this is a new season which comes with a new slate for this Marist team. Marist has to completely start fresh and pretend that last season was just a nightmare. I am not here to bash this Marist team, but rather lift them up and point out their potential. Is the reason for this attitude because my girlfriend currently goes to Marist and would kill me if I said anything bad about them? Perhaps, but I do feel that this team does have a small upside that they can exploit during the upcoming season. If Marist wants to have any success in 2019, they are going to have to rely on their senior guard, Brian Parker to do most of the heavy lifting. Last season, Parker was an absolute menace on the offensive side of the ball, scoring 17 points a game as well as adding a hand full of assist per contest. The Red Fox’s are also going with a new Head Coach this year in John Dunne who will hopefully bring this team to a new level in the upcoming years. Overall, I feel that this Marist bunch simply does not have enough talent to compete in such a loaded conference as the MAAC. I feel that they will increase their win total from last season, but have them still finishing last in the conference standings when all is said and done.
Last year was a disaster for the Monmouth Hawks. They finished the year with a 11-20 record, went 7-11 in conference play and were battling the injury bug all season long. This year however, is a breath of fresh air for the Hawks as they are coming into the season healthy and ready to compete. Looking to lead the Hawks during the 2018-2019 season will be Sophomore guard, Deion Hammond. Hammond had himself a spectacular Freshman season and come years end, found himself on the MAAC All-Freshman team. That being said, the Hawks will have their hands full trying to fill the void that Micah Seaborn left, as he is currently trying to pursue his dreams of one day, playing professional basketball. People don’t understand how big of an impact Seaborn played on this team and how much it is going to effect this team losing him. In four years and three with the Hawks, Seaborn scored 1100 points and changed the culture of Monmouth basketball for years to come. With him gone, I feel that King Rice’s bunch will need a substantial amount of time to recover, and have them finishing the year at the bottom of the pack in conference play.
Niagara Purple Eagles
Everyone aboard the Purple Eagle express! Niagara was one of the more electrifying and exciting teams to watch in the MAAC during the 2017-2018 season. They had one of the more lethal 1-2 combos in the conference in Khalil Dukes (21.0 PPG) and Matt Scott (19.1 PPG), finished the year with a 12-6 record in conference play, and had the conference on notice the entire season. Unfortunately for the Purple Eagles coming into the 2018-2019 season, they are now without both Dukes and Scott and will have to lean on senior forward Marvin Prochet to produce heavily on the offensive side of the floor. Just a year ago, Niagara was one of the deepest and more rounded teams in the conference and they are now faced with a challenge of youth and inexperience. Oh what an offseason can do.
Quinnipiac is the most underrated team in the MAAC. Head coach, Baker Dunleavy is fresh off his rookie season under the helm of the Bobcats in which he finished the year with a 12-21 record to go along with a 7-11 record in conference play. Although on paper, the Bobcats may not be the sexiest team, they have a boat load of talent who are ready to make noise in the upcoming 2018,-2019 season. The two main players that will have to produce this season if the Bobcats want to have any shot of competing in the conference this year, are 5th year guard Cameron Young and sophomore guard, Rich Kelly. When talking about Cameron Young, I think this guy is the definition of a true playmaker. The graduate leader knows how to make plays for himself and can score the ball at an extremely high rate. If Young can follow up the season he had last year along with adding some improvements in his game this season, I feel that he has a very good shot of finding himself on the first team all MAAC come season’s end. Overall, I like this Quinnipiac team a lot. I think their coach is a star in the making, I think they have one of the better guards in the country in Cameron Young and I feel that this Bobcat team is fully capable of surprising some people and making some serious noise this year in the MAAC.
We now arrive at the overwhelming preseason favorites to repeat as MAAC regular season champions, the Rider Broncs. Rider was a human wrecking ball in the MAAC last season as they went 15-3 in conference play and ran over seemingly everyone and everything in their way. Unfortunately for the Broncs, their season ended on the lowest of lows as they were upset in the quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament by the Saint Peter’s Peacocks. Rider is now coming into the 2018-2019 season hungry to seek revenge and they have the talent to do just that. Rider is one of the few teams in the country that returns all five of its double-digit scorers from last season and all five are not going anywhere as they consist of three redshirt sophomores and two juniors. The juniors consist of two Pennsylvania natives; 6-0 guard Stevie Jordan and 6-9 center Tyere Marshall. Jordan averaged 12.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and a team-leading 5.9 assists per contest which was good enough for 24th best in the country. Marshall added over 10 points a game while grabbing 6.6 rebounds per contest. The three sophomores returning to the Broncs were also the team’s top three scorers last season. Despite missing three games, 6-5 swingman Dimencio Vaughn was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder with 16.1 points and 6.7 rebounds. He also registered three double-doubles and a season-high 34 points in a win over St. Peter’s. Jordan Allen, a 6-4 guard netted 13 points per game, but also scored at least 15 in 15 of the team’s games. Finally, Indiana native Frederick Scott averaged 12.8 points and 6.5 rebounds and led the team in field goal percentage among those with at least 100 shot attempts at 52%. Rider is also coached by reigning MAAC coach of the year, Kevin Baggett who is a top 3 coach in the conference and can matriculate a game like it is his part time job. Overall, I think this is Rider’s conference to lose and if I am being honest, it is a March Madness or bust type season for the Broncs. There is just too much returning talent along with some new fresh faces, to not see success from this small private school in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
Saint Peter’s Peacocks
The Saint Peter’s Peacocks were the cinderella story of the 2018 MAAC tournament as the Peacocks entered the tournaments as a 9 overall seed, and found themselves knocking off the top seeded Broncs and becoming the first ever 9 seed to ever beat a top overall seed in MAAC tournament history. The regular season was not so friendly for the Peacocks as they finished their 2017-2018 campaign with a 14-18 record to go along with a lousy 6-12 record in conference play. Coming into the 2018-2019 team, their is not much you can say about this team that will get you excited to watch them play. They have a decently athletic front court, but are exceptionally young and inexperience will be a big factor for the Peacocks during this upcoming year. The one bright spot that Saint Peter’s fans can look forward to this season is the much anticipated head coaching debut of former Seaton Hall legend, Shaheen Holloway. Holloway knows his hoops and fans in jersey city are buzzing about this man who hopes to take the reigns and begin a new, improved and successful era that this program has never seen before. Overall, I feel that it is going to be a growing year for Saint Peter’s and have them finishing somewhere in the middle to lower middle of the pack in the conference standings by seasons end.
I am warning you all right now, if you are a Siena basketball fan, I am sorry. This season is going to be one of the ugliest, nastiest most horrid seasons this program will ever go through. The Saints are going to have to play the 2018-2019 season without their long time head coach Jimmy Patsos, who resigned earlier this year after being accused of verbally abusing a team manager who lives with obsessive compulsive disorder. The team also lost their leading scorer to graduation and only has one player who can actually score the ball constantly in junior guard, Kahlil Richard. This is a young team who is going to go through an astronomical amount of growing pains this year. I see this team finishing at the rock bottom of MAAC by seasons end, sitting side by side with the Marist Red Foxes.
MAAC Preseason Predictions
MAAC Player of the Year: Rider G/F – Dimencio Vaughn
MAAC Coach of the Year: Baker Dunleavy – Quinnipiac
MAAC Freshman/Rookie of the Year: Canisius G – Jordan Henderson
MAAC Regular Season Champions – Rider Broncs (16-2 in conference play)
MAAC Tournament Champions – Rider Broncs