Conference Preview: Metro Atlantic

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The Monmouth Hawks made as much noise on their sidelines last season as they did on the court, as the “Monmouth Bench” antics became national headlines, especially in the wake of key non-conference wins over UCLA, Notre Dame, USC and Georgetown.  Unfortunately for the Hawks, a 3 point loss to Iona in the MAAC Tournament championship game sent them to the NIT, though in our humble opinions they absolutely belonged in the Big Dance.  In fact, the powers that be at the NCAA seem to agree with our opinion, as the following statement was released in July: “The committee also agreed in concept with the NABC recommendation, as evidenced by past practice in the process, that criteria such as quality wins, overall and non-conference strength of schedule, and road/neutral wins were primary criteria in selecting and seeding the tournament field.  Further analysis and study of refining and possibly redefining those specific criteria for the future will be considered by the basketball committee and ad hoc group representatives over the next year.”  Although no specific selection process changes were announced, it appears that just this type of analysis is what a team like Monmouth would need in order to receive an at-large bid, especially when Tulsa was the team given a berth ahead of the Hawks.

The good news for Monmouth is that, with the exception of guard Deon Jones, pretty much the entire roster is back to take another shot at the Big Dance – and maybe provide us with some new dance moves on the Bench as well.  Getting a bid is not a given though as the MAAC will be a tough conference this season, and our preseason pick to win it all is actually Siena, a team that won 21 games last year and did not play in the postseason.  Iona, who won last year’s automatic bid and lost in the Round of 64 as a 13 seed to Iowa State, Fairfield, who played in the CIT, St. Peter’s and dark horse Canisius could all be in the hunt as well.  We will also be keeping an eye on Marist.  The Red Foxes probably don’t have enough weapons to challenge for the league title, but may have one of the MAAC’s most exciting players in Khallid Hart.

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Siena – The Saints return all five of their starters, led by four seniors – defensive monster Javion Ogunyemi, double-double threat Brett Bisping, and standouts Marquis Wright and Lavon Long.  They will also have help off the bench from three-point specialist Nico Clareth.  This team is as deep, talented and experienced as any in the conference.

2. Monmouth – Justin Robinson and Micah Seaborn will help lead the way as the Hawks attempt to defend their regular season title from last year.  Deon Jones was the only player that graduated off of last year’s squad, and the Monmouth Bench is deep enough to make up for his loss.

3. St. Peter’s – The Peacocks return all five starters from last season led by sophomore Antwon Portley. The biggest challenge for the team will be a lack of size down low, especially when compared to teams like Siena and Monmouth.

4. Fairfield – The Stags are a young team with no significant seniors this season.  They are also coming off a very solid 19 win campaign last time out.  If the frontcourt of Jonathan Kasibabu and Matija Milin can increase its production and hold their own against some of the other teams in this league, the Peacocks could be very dangerous.

5. Canisius – Three returning double-digit scorers, led by Phil Valenti and Kassius Robertson, will be a huge help for new head coach Reggie Witherspoon as he takes over for the retired Jim Baron.  Despite only 14 wins last season, the Golden Griffins could make some noise this year.

6. Iona – A repeat of last season’s run to the NCAA Tournament will be difficult without A.J. English and Isaiah Williams, but if Jordan Washington and Deyshonee Much step up their production, the Gaels could be in the hunt.

7. Manhattan – The Jaspers should be improved even without leading scorer Shane Richards.  Head coach Steve Masiello returns three starters and has brought in Zavier Turner from Ball State.  Turner was the 2014 MAC Freshman of the Year and figures to be a big piece of the offense this season.

8. Marist – Guards Khallid Hart and Brian Parker will score a lot of points, but the Red Foxes still have question marks down low.  Regardless of the questions, they should still be markedly better than last year’s 7-23 record.

9. Rider – The Broncs should be solid in the backcourt if Kealen Ives proves he is ready to take over the point from departed senior Teddy Okereafor.  A lack of size down low will be an issue.

10. Quinnipiac – The Bobcats led the nation in offensive rebounding last season, and in fact did so in five of the last six years, so hitting the boards will not be a problem this year.  Getting more scoring production out of the backcourt and improving on last year’s 21 losses will be.

11. Niagara – Junior guard Matt Scott will look to lead the team, but just getting some improvement on last year’s 7-25 record would be an accomplishment.

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