The MAAC has given us a ton of fun and excitement the past few years, from Monmouth with their bench antics, to Jimmy Patsos giving the opposing team “air handshakes”, to Tim Cluess finding a way to get his Iona Gaels into back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. The conference has a chance to be exciting again this year, though with the top teams from last season all losing a majority of their key players, the excitement may come more from league parity than anything else.
Since we do have to pick someone to win the conference, the call will be Sydney Johnson’s Fairfield Stags, one of the only teams with a significant returning cast. Iona and Monmouth, perhaps based more on their head coaches than anything else, are picked to contend, along with a St. Peter’s team that is coming off the CIT championship. Also, keep an eye on both Niagara and Manhattan. Both teams lost a ton of games last season, but are among the very few teams in the league with returning experience that could help them win games.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Fairfield – The Stags enter this season not having made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 1997. With star guard Tyler Nelson leading four returning starters, plus a deep bench, they have a real chance to break that streak this year.
- Iona – The Gaels lost three double-digit scorers from last year’s team, and only returnee Rickey McGill averaged more than 10 points per game. However, one can never underestimate head coach Tim Cluess’ ability to find a way to win games and get his team into the Big Dance.
- Monmouth – The Hawks must begin life without Justin Robinson, their diminutive star guard who is among four starters gone from last season. However, the cupboard is not bare for head coach King Rice as he does bring back Micah Seaborn and should get more production from guys like Austin Tilghman and Diago Quinn.
- St. Peter’s – The Peacocks won the championship last season. The CIT Championship that is, but a championship is a championship (and we do love the CIT here at HoopsHD). Only two starters return, but this team still has a good chance to finish in the upper division, especially if redshirt sophomore Cameron Jones is as good a player as he was projected to be.
- Niagara – Senior guards Matt Scott and Kahlil Dukes combined to average over 32 points per game last season. They lead a team that returns its entire starting lineup, but this same group lost 23 games last year.
- Manhattan – The Jaspers should be vastly improved from last year’s 10-22 record as they return their top six scorers and have Rich Williams back healthy. It may be too much to expect them to contend for the league title, but an upper division finish could certainly be within their reach.
- Siena – Jimmy “Air Handshake” Patsos is one of our favorite head coaches. He will have his work cut out this season as the Saints only return one starter, though sixth man Nico Clareth did average almost 14 points per game and has a chance to shine in Albany this year.
- Marist – The Red Foxes lost 24 games last season and then lost one of the best scorers in program history, Khallid Hart. The good news is that pretty much everyone else is back, and the roster is filled with underclassmen. Marist should be competitive this season and could be even better next.
- Canisius – Having senior Jermaine Crumpton, who averaged almost 16 points per game last season, will certainly help the Golden Griffins remain competitive. However, he is the only one of their top four scorers back and matching last season’s .500 conference record may be tough.
- Rider – The Broncs lost four starters in the offseason, all of whom averaged in double figures. That is probably too much to make up for, meaning it looks like a step backwards this year for Kevin Baggett’s team.
- Quinnipiac – The Bobcats lost 21 games last season and only return one double-digit scorer (senior Chaise Daniels). This could be a long first season for new head coach Baker Dunleavy, who is the son of Tulane head coach Mike Dunleavy, Jr.