College Basketball Preview - Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Basketball Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
OUTLOOK: Playing in a mid-major conference certainly has its disadvantates. Even when teams from a conference like the Metro Atlantic Athletic have strong seasons with well over 20 wins, but fail to capture the tournament crown they are almost always relegated to a lesser postseason tournament, if at all. Both Iona and Fairfield are perfect examples, as they won a total of 25 games in 2010-11, but failed to play on the big stage in the postseason.
The Gaels expect that to change this year with a roster that is filled with upper-classmen and just one freshman. Obviously nothing is a given, but it is hard to go against a team that is stocked with so much experience. The fact that the Stags are returning as many as four starters from last year means they'll certainly give Iona a run for the crown, while a squad like Loyola has also been building towards bigger and better things the last few years.
The Greyhounds, who kick off their MAAC schedule on December 1 with a home date against Marist, don't return to Baltimore and Reitz Arena for more than a month after that, with stops at George Washington, Kentucky and Bucknell on the slate during that stretch. Hopefully experience against harder non- conference opponents will pay dividends when the squad settles in against more familiar foes.
As for the defending tournament champions, the Saint Peter's Peacocks are seen as a team that caught lightning in a bottle. The Peacocks might have their moments in 2011-12, but like the rest of the teams in the MAAC they'll be looking up at the top three programs in all likelihood.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Iona
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Iona; 2. Fairfield; 3. Loyola-Maryland; 4. Saint Peter's; 5. Rider; 6. Siena; 7. Niagara; 8. Canisius; 9. Manhattan; 10. Marist
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
IONA: The Gaels, who finished in a tie for second place in the MAAC last year at 13-5, appeared to be well on their way to a tournament title and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but after convincing wins against Siena and Rider by a combined 54 points, Iona was defeated by Saint Peter's (62-57) so all of the team's hard work and tenacity left them with a spot in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, where they ended up losing in the title game versus Santa Clara at home in New Rochelle (76-69). Needless to say, the awkward ending to the 2010-11 campaign should have left a sour taste in the mouths of the Gaels and head coach Tim Cluess. Lucky for them, the outlook for this season is bright, thanks to having three starters back, all of whom averaged double-digit points. Tops on that list is senior forward Mike Glover, a preseason all-conference selection who led the team and was one of the league's top scorers with 18.4 ppg on the strength of his 61.0 percent shooting from the floor. One of only a handful of players in the nation able to average a double-double, Glover made it happen with 10.1 rpg. Senior guard Scott Machado (13.2 ppg) can also fill up the basket when the opportunity arises, but his value on the floor is much more as a facilitator than anything else, after ranking second in the entire nation in assists with 7.6 per game. Willing to do whatever it takes, Machado can also knock down the occasional three-pointer, but that's better left to someone like Kyle Smith, who matched Jermel Jenkins for the team lead with 75 triples a year ago. As a team the Gaels were tops in the league and 24th nationally with 8.1 three-pointers made per game, something that should continue this year as well.
FAIRFIELD: Sporting a 25-8 overall record and a first-place finish in the MAAC standings with 15 wins in 18 chances, you'd think a team would be pleased with those sorts of results. Take away the three straight defeats against the likes of Rutgers, Penn State and Saint Joseph's in a span of just eight days in November as part of the Philly Hoop Group Classic and the Stags were one of the more dominant teams in the country that few even knew about. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Fairfield lost to Saint Peter's in the MAAC Tournament and then won only one game in the NIT (62-60 versus Colorado State) before seeing it all come to a crashing halt with a 72-68 loss versus Kent State. Instead of sticking around to see if he could create a better ending for the Stags this season, head coach Ed Cooley decided to accept the head coaching position at Providence, which in turn brought in Princeton's Sydney Johnson to assume the first seat for Fairfield. Johnson, who led the Tigers to the Ivy League title last year and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, now tries to maintain defensive tenacity with a Stags squad that was actually second in the entire nation in points allowed in 2010-11 with just 58.3 ppg. Coach Johnson retains two key starters from a year ago in Derek Needham (14.1 ppg, 150 assists) and Ryan Olander (10.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 69 blocked shots), the former a threat out on the perimeter where he converted 73 triples, the latter a beast in the paint who shot an impressive 53.2 percent from the floor. Now in his second year, Maurice Barrow (6.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is also someone who brings a lot of energy to the paint and should be a viable third option for Fairfield.
LOYOLA-MARYLAND: To kick off the month of January the Greyhounds host three consecutive conference opponents in Niagara, Manhattan and Canisius all within a stretch of less than a week, but up until that point Loyola enjoys playing in front of the hometown fans just three times and that could prove to be a deadly combination for a squad that is poised to make a run at the MAAC title this year. Head coach Jimmy Patsos, now in his eighth season, experienced a stretch last year in November and December where his team lost seven of nine games, but after that the Greyhounds didn't lose back-to-back regular- season bouts the rest of the way. Unfortunately, after dropping the regular- season finale to Canisius on the road (75-58) Loyola then bowed out of the conference tournament in short order with a 70-60 setback to Saint Peter's. Back to try and respond to a poor showing in the final week of the season are Shane Walker (11.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Erik Etherly (10.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg), two guys who are central to the team's success this year. Walker, who towers over most of his teammates at 6-10, was an All-MAAC Third Team selection last season. Etherly, a transfer from Northeastern, is another big man who can be a huge force in the paint when he sets his mind to it. The first Loyola player to earn the MAAC Sixth Man of the Year Award, J'hared Hall had a stretch of eight straight games last year in which he scored in double figures, putting up a season-high 23 against Manhattan when he knocked down 6-of-8 attempts behind the three-point line.
SAINT PETER'S: Despite having one of the weakest offenses (60.9 ppg) not only in the MAAC but overall in Division I (ranked 312th), the Peacocks are now the team that has the target on their backs after winning the MAAC Tournament last year. In 2010-11, Saint Peter's really didn't have that challenging of a non- conference schedule, allowing the team to build momentum as they approached the MAAC slate, eventually finishing fourth in the standings with a record of 11-7. When it counted the most the team got hot by taking out Loyola, Fairfield and Iona in order to move on to the NCAA Tournament where they were pummeled by third-seeded Purdue (65-43). The poor offensive showing in the last game has been sitting with head coach John Dunne all this time and now he's got to get his players focused on the task at hand. Unfortunately, gone from last year's team are three starters (Wesley Jenkins, Nick Leon and Ryan Bacon) each of whom averaged double-digit scoring. In an effort to try and replicate last year's success for the Peacocks, coach Dunne will be putting quite a bit on the plate of Steven Samuels and Darius Conley, the two most experienced performers. Conley (6.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Samuels (7.1 ppg) need others to step up as well, such as Yvon Raymond (3.8 ppg) who was used rather sparingly last year. Brandon Hall has shown very little in the way of scoring, but it his ability to get teammates involved that will be more valuable in 2011-12.
RIDER: The last three seasons have been rather epic in the annals of Broncs basketball, the team winning a total of 59 games which is the most-ever during such a stretch. The squad is expected to carry on the recent winning tradition, but that could prove quite difficult given that the team is shifting responsibilities following the departures of Justin Robinson (15.2 ppg) and Mike Ringgold (12.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg). Head coach Tommy Dempsey rode his squad to a 23-11 record overall last season and a tie for second place in the MAAC with a 13-5 mark, so it is understandable if the program takes a step backwards for the time being. Leading the way this time around should be Daniel Stewart who was named the MAAC Rookie of the Year, as he asserted himself on the inside with 7.3 ppg and 7.1 rpg, his scoring output expected to grow given his changing role in the offense. Novar Gadson (13.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg) should also be another integral contributor as well, but he's coming off micro fracture knee surgery so the coaching staff may have to dial back their expectations for the time being. Brandon Penn (9.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg) will again be a strength on the glass for the Broncs, while the team works former University of Virginia guard Jeff Jones into the mix. A strong shooter who can fill up the basket, Jones has a lot of pressure to perform after sitting out last season and waiting for his chance to get back into action.
SIENA: The Saints were expecting big things from last year's team which included Ryan Rossiter (18.7 ppg, 13.2 rpg) and Clarence Jackson (14.7 ppg), but the squad somehow floundered and finished with a record of just 13-18 overall and was a mere 8-10 in conference play. Because of Rossiter, ranked second in the nation on the glass, the Saints were a tough bunch in the paint, but that will all probably change this season with the program trying to fill a major void. Head coach Mitch Buonaguro had expected to insert Davis Martens into the role that Rossiter kept, but the junior forward is now set to miss the season after having surgery on his right hip. Add to that the fact that African freshmen Lionel Gomis and Imoh Silas, both 6-8, will more than likely miss this season after the NCAA ruled them ineligible as freshmen earlier this summer due to new legislation. Needless to say, the front line for the Saints will be a work in progress and could easily be tossed around by the competition if players like 6-8 Brandon Walters (0.6 ppg, 1.0 rpg) don't play a more significant role this year. From a team that shot just 41.4 percent from the field last year (282nd nationally), the Saints bring back OD Anosike (8.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) who actually shot better from the floor (.494) than he did at the free-throw line (.450). Rakeem Brookins (9.0 ppg, 119 assists) can obviously get teammates the ball, but his lack of accuracy from the field last season (.358) proved problematic.
NIAGARA: The Purple Eagles showed some signs of life late in the 2010-11 campaign, winning five of seven games down the stretch, but because the squad was eighth in the standings it had to face off against Marist in the MAAC Tournament and was immediately sent packing in a 73-61 loss. Overall, Joe Mihalich's bunch was a mere 9-23 and won just two of 16 games on the road. Losing three starters, including Kashief Edwards (12.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Anthony Nelson (15.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg) will be tough to overcome. Marvin Jordan (11.8 ppg), the team's top three-point threat who connected on 77-of-224 opportunities beyond the arc, is the lone double-digit scorer coming back for another turn. If not for Jordan, the team would have been beyond weak from three-point range, seeing as how the group was already just 27.5 percent accurate overall (286th nationally) in that department. The only other returning starter is Eric Williams who actually made good on 50.5 percent of his shot attempts, en route to 4.1 ppg, but that's a level of accuracy that is bound to change with him being involved more in the offense. Malcolm Lemmons (5.9 ppg) has hopefully worked on his perimeter shooting heading into the new season because 22.4 percent from beyond the arc and a mere 30.6 percent from the floor overall simply isn't good enough to garner extensive playing time.
CANISIUS: Last year the Golden Griffins had four players averaging double- digit scoring, the quartet combining to account for more than 45 of their 68.1 ppg. Only one of those players is back for the 2011-12 version. Gaby Belardo, a starter in 26 of the 30 games for Canisius, was responsible for 10.3 ppg and a good portion of the unit's assists with 116 and he will again be a crucial piece of the puzzle for a team coming off a 15-15 season during which they split their 18 conference games right down the middle. Belardo may not carry the same sort of weight that Elton Frazier (12.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Greg Logins (11.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Julius Coles (10.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg) did in 2010-11, but head coach Tom Parrotta now needs him to assume a marquee role for Canisius moving forward. Belardo is accustomed to playing significant minutes, his 30.6 per game leading the program, but with that experience also comes the responsibility of being more selective when it comes to shooting the ball. As a team the Griffs ranked third in the conference with 34.9 percent accuracy from three-point range, but Belardo was just 28.0 percent on the perimeter. Considered one of the purest shooters in the MAAC, Alshwan Hymes (8.9 ppg) turned out to be the biggest threat for the team from behind the three-point line where he knocked down 69-of-181 (.381). Reggie Groves (1.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg) and Marial Dhal, the latter standing an imposing 7-3, must step up their contributions for the Griffs to come even close to breaking even this time around.
MANHATTAN: The Jaspers used to be one of the teams in the MAAC that everyone else was chasing, but the last few years have been horrible for the squad. The 2010-11 campaign was especially brutal as Manhattan won a total of just six games in 31 opportunities and was a mere 3-15 versus the rest of the league, prompting the school to cut ties with Barry Rohrssen who had a record of just 58-95 overall in five seasons and a disappointing 33-64 in conference action. A new season begins with a new direction at the top with Steve Masiello taking control of the squad in his first head coaching opportunity. A graduate of Kentucky, a region where college basketball is king, Masiello has to change the current climate of Manhattan sports in New York and will try to make that happen with the four starters he has returning from last season. First and foremost, Masiello has the luxury of bringing back George Beamon who was by far the top offensive threat for the Jaspers with his 16.3 ppg, adding 6.1 rpg as he worked hard in the paint. Remaining close to the rim should be something that Masiello impresses upon Beamon because the guard/forward tried his hand at becoming a three-point shooting threat (6-of-40) and that really didn't pan out. Michael Alvarado (11.2 ppg) is still relatively new to the college ranks so there's still time to mold his game and get him out of the shooting funk that he showed in 2010-11 when he made good on just 34.5 percent of his field goal attempts and 21.9 percent beyond the arc. Keeping Alvarado on the floor is still important though, because he led the program in assists with 82. With a collective 9.7 assists per game last year, not only was Manhattan second-to- last in the MAAC, the team was also 325th in the country. Providing some senior leadership will be Kidani Brutus (9.5 ppg), who was the top three-point threat (63-of-158) as he accounted for more than half the team's conversions from outside the arc.
MARIST: Head coach Chuck Martin must wonder to himself from time to time, just what exactly he's gotten himself into with the Red Foxes. In three seasons the Monmouth grad has won a total of just 17 games, while dropping 79, and doesn't have a single double-digit scorer returning from a roster that won only six games all of last season. On the road Marist won just once and that came at Draddy Gym versus Manhattan. Sam Prescott (11.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg), who had some eligibility issues early on at Marist, decided that it was best to move on and transfer elsewhere, a move that was mirrored by Candon Rusin (7.8 ppg) and Menelik Watson (4.7 ppg). Those moves have cleared the way for some of last year's reserves to now find some significant time on the hardwood moving forward. Even though he played in just 19 games last year and started only 13, R.J. Hall is considered a key piece of the puzzle after he tallied 9.2 ppg and delivered 51 assists in limited minutes. Dorvell Carter (7.7 ppg) is the top returning scorer among the starters for the Red Foxes. Devin Price (7.2 ppg) and Jay Bowie (6.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg) will likey see their roles increase as well. One of the lowest scoring teams in the country last season with just 60.0 ppg, Marist also had a hard time slowing down the competition as it ranked 329th nationally with a -12.2 scoring margin.
11/03 11:31:40 ET