Conference Preview: Metro Atlantic

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8.6 miles.  The distance between Iona and Manhattan’s campuses.  And the distance between the two schools that form what is the best rivalry in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.  What can make a rivalry like this even better though?  A great answer is seeing the two teams meet in the MAAC Tournament championship game with a berth in the NCAA Tournament on the line.  You want even better than that?  Well, having that same matchup take place in the MAAC title game three years in a row would fit the bill.  Each of the last three seasons that is exactly what has happened, with Manhattan pulling off the upset victories in 2014 and 2015.  Last season, the win put the Jaspers in one of the 16-seed First Four games where they fell to Hampton.  Iona ended up in the NIT — certainly not the tournament they wanted to be in after going a dominating 17-3 in conference regular season play.  As for the rest of the MAAC, only Rider (CBI) and Canisius (CIT) joined the two New York City area rivals in postseason play.

This season, the MAAC has a great chance to come down to the same two teams battling for the automatic bid.  Iona and Manhattan, joined by a dark horse pick in Siena, are the top teams in the conference, with Iona being led by one of the best mid-major players in the nation, A.J. English.  Rider, Fairfield and Monmouth have a chance to be in contention for postseason play as well, while Canisius will need a young team to come together quickly if they want to remain near the top of the standings.

Predicted Order of Finish

1.  Iona – The trio of A.J. English, Schadrac Casimir and Isaiah Williams is going to score a ton of points.  The Gaels will need Ryden Hines to step up down low now that David Laury is gone, but there is no reason they will not be the best team in the league again.

2.  Siena – Picking the Saints this high after a 20 loss season may be a shock to some, but they should be vastly improved with Imoh Silas and Brett Bisping back healthy down low.  The Saints will be strong in the backcourt as well with Marquis Wright and Ryan Oliver providing leadership.

3.  Manhattan – The Jaspers lost three starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, but do return senior forward Shane Richards and a deep group of reserves that will be asked to step up.  There is still enough talent here to be right near the top of the standings again.

4.  Rider – Teddy Okereafor, Jimmie Taylor and Zedric Sadler will combine to form a very solid backcourt, but the Broncs will need to find a way to make up for the loss of Matt Lopez down low.

5.  Fairfield – The Stags may be one of the most improved teams in the conference as they return all five starters, and have 4 seniors that figure to be major contributors.  They will be led once again by Marcus Gilbert, who averaged more than 16 points per game last season.

6.  Monmouth – The Hawks have a chance to be in contention despite losing three key players as guards Justin Robinson and Deon Jones return and both averaged more than 12 points per game last year.  The Hawks also have solid size down low with Zac Tillman and Chris Brady.

7.  Canisius – The Golden Griffins only return two starters, but they still have enough talent, bolstered by a solid group of newcomers that should help immediately, to challenge for the upper division.

8.  Quinnipiac – The Bobcats may struggle this season with Zaid Hearst gone, but the addition of JC transfer Giovanni McLean should help as he will likely pick up much of the scoring slack.

9.  Niagara – Emile Blackman and Karonn Davis will lead a solid backcourt, but the Purple Eagles have huge holes down low.  The best news is that there are no seniors on the roster, so the younger players will gain a ton of experience this year that will hopefully pay off next.

10.  Marist – Things will be difficult in Poughkeepsie without Chavaughn Lewis — and with him they only won 7 games last year!  Khallid Hart will be called upon to lead the Red Foxes this year.

11.  St. Peter’s – Marvin Dominique and Desi Washington led the way for the Peacocks last season.  This year, they are both gone, and there just does not appear to be anyone ready to fill in the gaps.  It could be a very long season for John Dunne’s squad.

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