By Rob Rose and Ryan Connelly
With the first official practices underway, the 2017-18 men’s basketball season is fast approaching. The season opens on Nov. 10 when five MAAC teams begin play. Here are our thoughts on how the MAAC will shape up this season, as well as key players for each team.
1. Monmouth (27-2, 18-2 MAAC): Key player: Junior guard Micah Seaborn
After failing to turn a 27-win season into an NCAA tournament berth, the Hawks will need a new identity after Justin Robinson’s graduation. Micah Seaborn, the 2015-16 MAAC Rookie of the Year, made the All-MAAC team last season along with Robinson. Tough non-conference matchups with Virginia, Connecticut and Kentucky will give Monmouth an edge over the other MAAC teams in conference play. Two-time MAAC Coach of the Year King Rice will have the Hawks atop the MAAC again.
2. Fairfield (16-15, 11-9 MAAC): Key player: Senior guard Tyler Nelson
After a fifth-place finish last season, Fairfield may jump into the top four in 2017-18 behind Tyler Nelson’s play. A 2016-17 All-MAAC player, Nelson is the leading returner scorer in the MAAC this season, with 19.5 ppg. Head Coach Sydney Johnson had the Stags in a postseason tournament for the fourth time in six seasons last year. Look for the Stags to make some noise in March, with Nelson the preseason favorite to win MAAC Player of the Year.
3. Siena (17-17, 12-8 MAAC): Key player: Junior guard Nico Clareth
With the loss of All-MAAC second teamers Brett Bisping and Marquis Wright, the Saints need someone to step up. Clareth was the 2015-16 MAAC Sixth Player of the Year and All-Rookie Team selection and is the Saints’ leading returning scorer with 13.7 ppg off the bench. Siena will look to bounce back after a heartbreaking loss in the MAAC Championship to Iona.
4. Iona (22-13, 12-8 MAAC): Key player: Senior guard Rickey McGill
Iona is the two-time defending conference champion. Unfortunately for the team, it just lost three of its top players, including Jordan Washington, senior forward who was awarded First Team All-MAAC. Now they will turn to senior guard Rickey McGill to lead the team along with Isaiah Still, a transfer from Robert Morris. Still was All-League in the NEC.
5. Rider (18-15, 10-10 MAAC): Key player: Sophomore guard Stevie Jordan
On a team with only one senior, Stevie Jordan will be the Broncs’ leader this season. As the returning leader in points, assists and steals, Jordan will be crucial to any success the Broncs have this season. A member of the 2016-17 MAAC All-Rookie Team, Jordan will need to take a step forward for Rider to improve on its sixth-place finish last season. Transfer forwards sophomore Devine Eke and freshman Frederick Scott, will play a key role in the Broncs’ frontcourt production. With eight newcomers to the team, Head Coach Kevin Baggett will need to develop a new rotation.
6. Niagara (10-23, 6-14 MAAC): Key player: Senior guard Matt Scott
Niagara’s top two players and senior guards Matt Scott and Kahlil Dukes are both returning this season. The Purple Eagles last season went 11-23 overall and 6-14 in the conference. Not only does Niagara have its top two starters returning but their entire starting five.
7. Saint Peter’s (23-13, 14-6 MAAC): Key player: Senior guard Nick Griffin
Last year’s No. 2 seeded team lost both of its leading scorers to graduation. With five freshmen and only two seniors, Griffin’s leadership will be needed and he must improve on the 8.8 ppg he had last season. A bye in the MAAC tournament this season is looking unlikely.
8. Canisius (18-16, 10-10 MAAC): Key player: Senior forward Jermaine Crumpton
Canisius last season was just above average at 18-16 overall and 10-10 in the conference. The problem is they did that with their best player Kassius Robertson, who is no longer on the team after transferring to Missouri. Next to step up is senior forward Jermaine Crumpton who was second leading scorer on the team last season. With only two seniors and three juniors, the Griffs will be looking for underclassmen to show what they got on the court and help them do better than last year.
9. Manhattan (10-22, 5-15 MAAC): Key player: Senior forward Zane Waterman
Last season, Manhattan struggled in the MAAC, finishing second to last. They had an overall record of 10-22 and 5-15 in the conference. The Jaspers have three returning starters. Those players include senior guard Zavier Turner and forward Zane Waterman, and junior guard Thomas Capuano. Waterman made Second Team All-MAAC last year.
10. Quinnipiac (10-21, 7-13 MAAC): Key player: Junior forward Chase Daniels
After losing two 2016-17 MAAC All-Rookie Team members to transfer, Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss, the Bobcats will need someone to fill the void. Daniels is the returning leader in points, rebounds and blocks. This season will be a rebuilding year for the Bobcats after losing two key scorers. Villanova assistant Baker Dunleavy, son of former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. will take over as head coach of the Bobcats this season.
11. Marist (8-24, 5-15 MAAC): Key player: Junior guard Brian Parker
The Red Foxes finished last season last in the MAAC and were unable to win double digit games. Parker led the team in rebounds with 5.9 and assists with 3.1 per game and is the leading returning scorer after averaging 12.9 ppg. A member of the 2015-16 MAAC All-Rookie Team, Parker and fellow junior Ryan Funk will lead the Marist offense this season.