Iona, Rider and Monmouth are atop the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings at 4-1, again like we all had it in November. Here are the latest on whose stock is up, and whose is down after another week of MAAC play.
Stock Up: Rider – The Broncs took care of business this week with victories over Fairfield and Saint Peter’s, setting up a first place showdown against the Hawks on Monday night. One of the difference makers for Rider has been 7′ center Matt Lopez, who has become a presence that few MAAC teams match up well against. The La Salle/Utah State transfer, playing his final season with the Broncs, is averaging 6.3 rpg and has scored double-digit points in five of the team’s last six games. He missed one game at Marist with a sickness, but he has been on track since then, with two 14-point performances and leads the conference in field goal percentage (65.5%). Another reason the Broncs have come alive is sophomore Jimmie Taylor, who now understands his role in the system when playing around big men like Lopez. Meanwhile the team that head coach Kevin Baggett wanted to be strong on defense has come back from his first season, when they finished second in the conference. In conference play (small sample size notwithstanding) Rider has held teams to 0.88 points per possession, good for the best in the conference. Monday will be a great proving ground for the Hawks and Broncs to prove who might be able to push Iona.
Stock Up: Manhattan – Don’t look now, but the Jaspers have won five of their last six and have started to put back together the formula that led them to a MAAC tournament championship. Manhattan attempted more free throws (38) than field goals (34) against Saint Peter’s, scoring 30 points from the line to beat the Peacocks 68-63. On Saturday, they turned the Purple Eagles over 23 times en route to a season-high 84 points. In that contest, sophomore Jermaine Lawrence set season-highs 11 points and five rebounds. His development will be key to the Jaspers continuing their run into next week.
Stock Down: Saint Peter’s – The Peacocks’ standing as a MAAC contender took a hit with a close loss at Manhattan, followed by a blowout loss to Rider. The offense has been a concern, with the Peacocks scoring better than a point per possession in just one of their last eight games. They wrap up a three-game road swing on Wednesday at Monmouth before hosting five of their next seven against conference opponents.
What to Make Of Siena? – The Saints, picked by most to be the team to contend next to Iona, have struggled throughout the year and are now even in MAAC play at 3-3. “It’s been a very interesting year. Every time we seem to get something going good, something happens,” head coach Jimmy Patsos said following their loss to Fairfield. The Saints lost senior Rob Poole, a player about as irreplaceable on the team as Marquis Wright, in the second half of the game with an ankle injury. He returned later, but it was not enough for Siena to hold off Fairfield.
“We’re 3-3, we’re 6-9. I’ll go with the Parcells, we are what we are,” Patsos said. “I’ve asked this team this year to buy into different things. At times they do. It’s not wins and losses. I don’t judge on how many we win or lose. It’s just how did we play? Did we have a chance to win?”
It seems like for everything the Saints did in taking a step forward — winning 20 games last season and finishing fifth in the league — they have managed to take one step back this year. Many of those have been out of their control with a season-ending injury to Imoh Silas (ACL) and possibly one for Brett Bisping (toe). The absence of a rim protector like Silas and a big like Bisping have proven to be lethal to their defense, which has allowed all but one team to score better than a point per possession this season.
Stat of the Week: 3:52 – That is the total amount of time the Marist Red Foxes have led in their last three games. They did not ever lead Quinnipiac in their loss on Sunday and their only lead on Canisius was 2-0 Thursday. They held leads of 2-0 and 4-2 on Saint Peter’s until the Peacocks got ahead of the Red Foxes. Sophomore Khallid Hart returned from his left foot injury, but tied his career-low with two points, which he set originally in his collegiate debut against Stony Brook.
Quote of the Week: “Unfortunately, their coach thinks there’s only one good team in this league. There’s a lot of good teams in this league. There isn’t one team and everybody else. We feel important in the league, too. I bet you they feel pretty important tonight. Mr. (MAAC commissioner Rich) Ensor has worked for years to make this one of the best mid-major leagues in the country. This is not a one-team league. Maybe only one team will go to the show (NCAA Tournament) this year, maybe. But it is way more than one team and then everybody else.” – Monmouth head coach King Rice on whether he agreed with Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore’s assessment that the league is, “In my opinion, there’s Iona and there’s everybody else right now,” after their loss to the Gaels on Tuesday.
Quote of the Week (runner up): “I won’t cast aspersions on other teams in our league. They can put any number they want out there, but I saw the number (attendance). Wow. We are really lucky to live in Disney World of the MAAC, meaning how great a situation. If anyone wants to go in there and try to convince them other that me I will gladly pay you because I can’t seem to get that through to certain people on our team.” – Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos after their loss Sunday to Fairfield.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.