By Brandon Scalea
Year after year, the MAAC continues to prove its status as one of the most competitive conferences in college basketball. With the start of the season right around the corner, here are my thoughts on how the conference will shape up in 2015-16, as well as the key players for each program.
1. Iona (26-9, 17-3 MAAC)
Key player: Senior guard A.J. English
This year, the MAAC is Iona’s conference to lose. Although the Gaels have been heavily favored the last couple of seasons, they have not been able to hold off their biggest rival, Manhattan, who has eliminated them both years in the conference tournament final. With assets like English and returning MAAC Rookie of the Year sophomore guard Schadrac Casimir, the Gaels are poised to win their third consecutive MAAC regular season title.
2. Rider (21-12, 15-5 MAAC)
Key player: Senior guard Teddy Okereafor
Without 7-footer Matt Lopez in the paint this year, there will certainly be a presence missing. However, Rider might be the only team with the tools in place to steal the regular season crown from Iona. Okereafor is back for his senior season after leading the team in points, assists, steals and free throw percentage in 2014-15. The Broncs also return senior guards Zedric Sadler and Shawn Valentine, as well as junior guard Jimmie Taylor.
3. Monmouth (18-15, 13-7 MAAC)
Key player: Senior guard Deon Jones
A daunting non-conference schedule this season will give Monmouth great experience heading into MAAC play, but in order to stay competitive, they will have to rely heavily on Jones. Jones averaged 12.8 ppg and ranked 15th in the MAAC in scoring.
4. Manhattan (19-14, 13-7 MAAC)
Key player: Senior forward Shane Richards
The Jaspers tend to save their best basketball for the end of the season, as we’ve seen in their back-to-back MAAC titles. If they want a ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight time, the majority of the weight falls on the shoulders of Richards, who is already Manhattan’s all-time leader in single-season (92) and career (234) three-pointers. Not to mention, Head Coach Steve Masiello is arguably one of the finest in mid-major basketball.
5. Siena (11-20, 7-13 MAAC)
Key player: Redshirt senior
center Imoh Silas
Don’t let last year’s record fool you; the Saints will be a tough team to beat this season. After giving Iona a scare in the MAAC quarterfinal last March, the Saints will look to regroup this season and will rely on the towering Silas to do the job. He missed all of last season with a torn ACL, and was granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA. He’s big, he’s athletic and he has the ability to block shots and alter the game.
6. Canisius (18-15, 11-9 MAAC)
Key player: Senior guard Jamal Reynolds
If the Golden Griffins want to reach March Madness for the first time in 20 years, they will need their veterans to step up. Reynolds started all 33 games last season and averaged 7.1 ppg and 6.6 rebounds per game. A lot of eyes will also be on senior guard Malcolm McMillan, who is in his first year with the team after transferring.
7. St. Peter’s (16-18, 8-12 MAAC)
Key player: Senior guard Desi Washington
Despite a losing record in the regular season, St. Peter’s was one game away from playing for a MAAC Championship in 2015. This year, they will try to prove that wasn’t a fluke. Washington averaged 13.8 ppg and 3.8 rebounds per game in his junior season, and will look for a more dominant role in 2015-16.
8. Quinnipiac (15-15, 9-11 MAAC)
Key player: Sophomore guard Ayron Hutton
The Bobcats have a team full of veterans and will try to use that to make some noise in the conference this season. Hutton was a key offensive player in his freshman season, and it will be interesting to see how he’s developed.
9. Niagara (8-22, 7-13 MAAC)
Key player: Redshirt junior guard Emile Blackman
Niagara last won the MAAC in 2007, and it doesn’t look like it will reach the top of the mountain this season. However, Blackman’s size and shooting ability makes him one of the best guards in the conference. The Purple Eagles are without a senior on their roster, so this team can only improve.
10. Fairfield (7-24, 5-15 MAAC)
Key player: Senior forward Coleman Johnson
After winning only five conference games last season, the Stags will rely on their pair of seniors to lead the team on the uphill climb. At 6-foot-6, Johnson was a force in the paint last season, finishing with 37 blocks in 27 games. Senior forward Mike Kirkland, who put up double-digit points in 10 games last year, will also be a factor for Fairfield.
11. Marist (7-25, 5-15 MAAC)
Key player: Senior center Eric Truog
The Red Foxes finished last in the MAAC last season, and unfortunately for them, it doesn’t look like much will change. With seven freshmen and four sophomores on their roster, their inexperience come into play. Their best bet is to keep feeding the ball to Truog in the paint, who not only shot .507 from the field last season, but also stands at 6-foot-10.