With MAAC teams participating in 27 tournaments, classics, showcases, tip-offs over the next two months, the schedule is filled with enticing out-of-conference match ups. (With the exception of Niagara at St. Peter’s to open MAAC play in November.)
Last season, the MAAC did not fair so well in their non-conference matchups, tallying a 46-63 record. The conference’s programs only mustered a handful of quality wins. The non-conference win that stood out the most last season was Iona’s 90-72 victory over Florida Gulf Coast, a NCAA tournament team in 2013.
Here are the games the league can use to turn some heads during the MAAC non-conference schedule.
Siena at UMass, Nov. 14
The Saints come right out of the gate with an intriguing matchup in their regular season opener against the UMass Minutemen. It is the ultimate first test for Siena, especially considering the fact that Jimmy Patsos’ team has been picked by some to win the MAAC this season. A tourney team last season, the Minutemen wowed the country with their impressive play in the Atlantic 10 powered by the presence of guard Chaz Williams. The loss of Williams, their undeniable floor general and team leader, could mean the Minutemen take a few steps back. But it doesn’t mean they’ll be going away. West Virginia transfer Jabarie Hands is expected to replace Williams. Returnees Trey Davis and Derrick Gordon will be relied on to assume a bigger role in UMass’s game plan. Big man Cady LaLanne (11.3 ppg and 2.2 bpg) solidifies UMass’s frontcourt. It’s not easy to play in the tightly jam-packed Mullins Center, where the Minutemen went 11-2 last season, making this game even more challenging for the Saints.
Cleveland St. at Iona, Nov. 14
The Gaels start the season against the Vikings. Both squads are projected to make big splashes in their conference. After a season that saw the Vikings go 12-4 in the Horizon League and win a total of 21 games, the team is poised to challenge Green Bay and make an upstart chance at the Horizon conference crown. However, Cleveland St. took a big hit in their roster when guard Bryn Forbes transferred to Michigan State this offseason. Forbes was the Vikings leading scorer with 15.6 ppg. Even with the huge dent in their roster, the Vikings won’t go away. CSU lost to Wright State in the Horizon League tournament semifinals, but a triumphant deep run into this season’s conference tournament is inevitable. Four starters return, including guard Charlie Lee, who led the team in free throw percentage (90.4%) and assists (4.1 apg). Iona is in a position to make a statement on the way towards the MAAC championship.
Saint Peter’s at Hartford, Nov. 16
Both programs are developing an immense amount of skill and talent. Saint Peter’s is expected to make some noise in the MAAC and Hartford will be a contender for the America East championship. This comes after a surprising and impressive 2013-14 season for the Hawks, who won 17 total games and went 10-6 in the conference. That makes this a game to watch with two teams that are climbing the ladder in their respective conferences. The key returnee for the Hawks is first-team All-America East senior forward Mark Nwakamma, who averaged 15.3 ppg and 5.8 rpg last season. Nwakamma isn’t the only senior that will factor in Hartford’s accomplishments. Senior guards Yolonzo Moore (9.8 ppg) and Wes Cole (8.9 ppg) put their stamp on the point and off guard positions, respectively. This game should provide an early litmus test for a developing Peacocks roster.
Iona at Arkansas, Nov. 30
Both the Gaels and the Razorbacks are projected to make/do big things in the NCAA tourney. An NIT team last season, Arkansas is hungry for its first NCAA bid since 2008 and coach Mike Anderson knows what he needs to accomplish in Fayetteville. The Gaels, of course, also want to get back to the NCAA tournament after they lost a heartbreaker to Manhattan in the MAAC championship. Iona is up against its fair share of talent. Forward Bobby Portis, an incredible freshman, averaged 12.3 ppg his first season. Senior guard Ky Madden led Arkansas in points (12.3 ppg) and assists (2.8 apg). The Razorbacks’ scoring offense was the best in the SEC (80.1) and with the Gaels playing on the Razorbacks’ home court it’ll make for a back and forth battle.
Manhattan at Pittsburgh, Dec. 17
Manhattan comes into this season with a number of notable departures, a coach in Steve Masiello that almost left but stayed, and a tough out-of-conference schedule. One game out of that schedule is against the Pittsburgh Panthers. Pitt is projected for an NCAA bid this season, the thought of the Jaspers playing at the Pete against also the Oakland Zoo could result in some slip-ups. But Coach Masiello has gotten his team through worse. Replacing their three stars – George Beamon, Michael Alvarado, and Rhamel Brown – is worse than one might think, but not as bad as other teams losing star players. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has the talent on his squad to push for a third straight tourney appearance. Junior guard James Robinson is the essential point guard Pitt needs on the court. Robinson was ranked six in the nation last season in assist-to-turnover ratio. Sophomore power forward Jamel Artis is an intriguing player on the notion of his inside-outside talents. Artis has the potential to flourish as the season progresses.
St. Francis (NY) at Monmouth, Dec. 23
A sleeper pick in the MAAC against a powerhouse in the NEC, this is a small conference matchup two days before Christmas to witness. Although the Terriers are projected to snag the NEC crown, their fatal loss in the tournament quarterfinals still looms large. Coach Glenn Braica has six of his nine top scorers returning. One of their best players is senior forward Jalen Cannon, who averaged 14.9 ppg last season for St. Francis. The Terriers’ scoring defense is a huge advantage, since they led the NEC in that category (66.8 ppg). Monmouth’s second season in the MAAC certainly will have much improvement and the return of guards Deon Jones (15.1 ppg and 6.9 rpg) and Andrew Nicholas (14.3 ppg) are vitally important for the Hawks’ balanced attack on offense.
Other Notable Games:
Florida St. vs. Manhattan, Nov. 15
Another tough out-of-conference opponent for the Jaspers, this game is part of the Naismith Hall of Fame tip-off in Florida. Florida State junior guard Aaron Thomas (14.5 ppg) is everything the Seminoles need to build a team around.
Iona at Wofford, Nov. 18
Coach Mike Young has led his Terriers to three NCAA tournament appearances in five years. Wofford returns SoCon tournament MVP Karl Cochran, who averaged 15.7 ppg and 5.0 rpg. Senior guard Lee Skinner, who the led the team in rebounds (8.5) will also be returning.
Iona at UMass, Dec. 30
Much like Siena’s matchup at the beginning of the season, Iona has a lot to overcome playing on the Minutemen’s home court making this game a nice finish to the Gaels’ non-conference schedule.