This season may very well be a big one for the MAAC. Many of the league’s most talented players return, including the reigning Player of the Year, Monmouth’s Justin Robinson.
The MAAC ranked 21st of 32 conferences in the KenPom.com rankings at the end of last season, but look for it to take a leap forward in the coming year. For comparison, the Colonial Athletic Association, with a similar level of talent, finished the 2015-16 season ranked 10th of all conferences, with former MAAC Rookie of the Year Juan’ya Green capturing the league’s Player of the Year award for Hofstra.
The battle in the standings will surely be fierce. Monmouth’s sole loss from a team that won 29 games and captured the league’s regular season title last year is guard Deon Jones. Meanwhile, Siena returns its top five scorers from a team that finished the year with 21 wins. We may very well witness a clash of these two senior-laden squads in the middle of a raucous Times Union Center come March with a spot in the NCAA tournament on the line.
4. Saint Peter’s
The Hawks will have a target on their backs coming off one of the most successful seasons in school history, but they have plenty to play for after being shut out of the NCAA tournament last March. The national media may be enthralled by the antics of the Bench Mob, but Monmouth returns what may be one of the finest mid-major teams this season, and it all starts with Robinson. The Hawks’ starting point guard and leading scorer (19.3 ppg) brings an unquenchable fire to the court. Reigning Rookie of the Year Micah Seaborn, along with Je’lon Hornbeak, Chris Brady and more have the talent to bring the Hawks back to the MAAC title game.
Siena immediately jumps out as the main challenger to Monmouth this season. The Saints have waited six years since the end of their last dynasty for another shot at the MAAC title, and they may get it this year. Brett Bisping (15.9 ppg), Javion Ogunyemi (14.9), Marquis Wright (14.5), Nico Clareth (13.1), and Lavon Long (10.6) are all back, but for all minus Clareth this will be their final swing at a MAAC title. Like Monmouth, the stakes are high for this talented, senior-laden group to get the job done now more than ever. But unlike Monmouth, the Saints won’t have to travel far from home to claim that title in March.
Although they lose a great deal through the graduations of A.J. English and Isaiah Williams, discounting Iona is no simple task. Tim Cluess’ squad has played for the MAAC title each of the last four years and five of the last six, making the Gaels difficult to bet against. Senior forward Jordan Washington should remain one of the strongest post forces in the league, and graduate transfers Sam Cassell Jr. (UConn) and Jon Severe (Fordham) should help shore up the backcourt now headlined by junior Deyshonee Much (13.0 ppg). Much led the league and ranked 10th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage last season, hitting at a 44.7 percent rate. In addition, a healthy return to action for 2014-15 MAAC Rookie of the Year Schadrac Casimir from offseason hip surgery should give the Gaels plenty of firepower from the perimeter, a sight we are used to seeing.
In contrast, Saint Peter’s has had little roster turnover. The Peacocks return their top four scorers of a year ago in Antwon Portley (14.0 ppg), Trevis Wyche (12.4), Quadir Welton (12.4), and Chazz Patterson (8.0). Another senior-laden group, the Peacocks should be able to build on their fifth-place finish last season and have the potential to upset the applecart come March.
Manhattan loses leading scorer Shane Richards (17.2 ppg) and point guard RaShawn Stores, but brings back a solid group including their next three top scorers in senior guard Rich Williams (14.8) and junior forwards Zane Waterman (11.0) and Calvin Crawford (10.8). Count out Steve Masiello’s crew at your own peril, especially when they’re able to fly under the radar—as they should this season.
Fairfield was the surprise team of 2015-16, adopting a high-tempo offense and making it to a semifinal meeting with Monmouth. However, the Stags lose the services of leading scorer Marcus Gilbert (16.7 ppg). The question will be if players such as Tyler Nelson (16.0 ppg) and Curtis Cobb (10.8 ppg) will be enough fill the scoring gap, or if a new face will step up for Sydney Johnson’s squad.
Quinnipiac once again underwent wholesale changes this offseason, as the Bobcats look for a rebound season. Guards Gio McLean, James Ford Jr., Ayron Hutton, and Dimitri Floras are no longer with the program, but Tom Moore has brought in a slew of new recruits to fill the holes. Of paramount importance to the Bobcats is the health of junior forward Chaise Daniels, who suffered a knee injury during an early December contest against Niagara. At the time of his injury, Daniels ranked fifth in the nation in blocks per game (3.6) and if fully healthy, will be a spark plug for Quinnipiac on both ends of the floor.
Rider is another team coping with the loss of their leading scorer, in this case Teddy Okereafor (12.1 ppg). However, the Broncs return the senior group of Xavier Lundy, Jimmie Taylor, and Kahlil Thomas for the 2016-17 season. The trio finished last season second, third, and fourth on the team in scoring last year and provide a solid foundation for Kevin Baggett moving forward. With a solid returning group, the Broncs have great potential to out-perform expectations.
As Reggie Witherspoon takes over the reins from Jim Baron at Canisius, the Golden Griffins will be faced with the immediate task of continuing the winning tradition Baron installed in the program. The Griffs lose graduate guard Malcolm McMillan, their leading scorer of a year ago at 14.7 ppg, as well as senior Kevin Bleeker. However, like Baggett at Rider, Witherspoon retains the team’s second, third, and fourth scorers from a season ago in Phil Valenti (14.6 ppg), Kassius Robertson (14.1), and Jermaine Crumpton (10.4).
Marist is coming off two years of single-digit wins, but trot out one of the league’s best players in Khallid Hart. The redshirt senior averaged 20.3 ppg last season, but has been bitten by the injury bug multiple times in his career. Sophomores Brian Parker (15.9 ppg) and Kristinn Palsson (8.7) will look to build on solid rookie campaigns to help Mike Maker and the Red Foxes finally get over the hump.
Niagara’s leading scorer Emile Blackman (15.8 ppg) followed head coach Chris Casey from LIU Post when Casey took over in Western New York in 2013, but seized the opportunity this past offseason to play his graduate year at Duquesne University. The Purple Eagles now turn to junior guard Matt Scott, an All-MAAC third team selection a year ago with 15.4 ppg and 7.1 rpg to lead a young group with just one senior on the roster.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.