By Brandon Scalea
Last season was arguably one of the most exciting years in MAAC men’s basketball history. There was so much high-quality play, and the conference proved its worth as one of the most competitive in the country. Expect much of the same in 2016-17. Here are my predictions on how the MAAC will shape up for men’s basketball.
(28-8, 17-3 MAAC last season)
Key player: Senior guard Justin Robinson
The Hawks took college basketball by storm last year. With wins over four Power-5 programs on the road and a bench that was as entertaining as the country has ever seen, Monmouth was back on the map. The team lost only one starter — center Deon Jones — and returns largely the same team. After a loss to Iona in the MAAC-title game last March, Monmouth is hungry for an NCAA bid.
2. Siena (21-13, 13-7 MAAC)
Key player: Senior center Brett Bisping
With a 21-win season last year, Siena proved its right on the doorstep of topping the conference. This year, the Saints have the most tools in place to take a conference title away from Monmouth. Bisping is coming off a year in which he led the MAAC in rebounds and senior guard Marquis Wright is capable of taking over a game from beyond the arc.
3. Iona (22-11, 16-4 MAAC)
Key player: Senior forward Jordan Washington
The Gaels are coming off their third straight appearance in the MAAC title game and an NCAA bid. However, with A.J. English graduated, the team will be without a player who served as the heart of the team for four years. Iona will rely heavily on Washington — who’s coming off second team All-MAAC honors — and other upperclassmen. The team may not win another conference championship in 2016-17, but it will still be a contender in March.
4. St. Peter’s (14-16, 12-8 MAAC)
Key player: Sophomore guard Antwon Portley
The Peacocks were one of the pleasant surprises of the MAAC last year, finishing fifth with 12 wins. With much of the same team returning, Head Coach John Dunne will have St. Peter’s ready to get to an NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. As a freshman, Portley had nine games with 20-plus points and was named to the MAAC All-Rookie team.
5. Rider (13-20, 8-12 MAAC)
Key player: Senior forward Kahlil Thomas
Despite a losing season in 2015-16, Rider played in a lot of high-quality games, taking No. 3 Maryland and No. 17 Providence down to the wire. The Broncs return only five scholarship players this season, but Thomas, senior forward Xavier Lundy and senior guard Jimmie Taylor are ready to lead the team. The addition of graduate forward Norville Carey, a Southern Mississippi transfer, could also make for a formidable frontcourt.
6. Manhattan (13-18, 9-11 MAAC)
Key player: Junior forward Zane Waterman
The Jaspers have been MAAC royalty since Head Coach Steve Masiello arrived in Riverdale, winning back-to-back conference titles in 2014 and 2015. The team had a little bit of a down year last season; now, with the departures of Shane Richards and RaShawn Stores, fans will be seeing a lot of new faces. However, Manhattan is known for getting hot at the right time, so don’t be surprised if it wreaks havoc in March.
7. Fairfield (19-14, 12-8 MAAC)
Key player: Junior guard Jerome Segura
The Stags were another group that impressed last season, winning 19 games and earning a first-round bye in the MAAC Tournament. The team fell to Monmouth in the semifinals. Fairfield used an up-tempo style that caught a lot of opponents off guard in 2015-16. Teams will likely be ready for it this year, so look for a lower finish for the team this year.
8. Canisius (14-19, 8-12 MAAC)
Key player: Junior forward Jermaine Crumpton
The Golden Griffins’ well-respected Head Coach Jim Baron retired in the offseason, so a lot of question marks surround the team heading into 2016-17. It will likely take a year or two for Canisius to fully adjust to a new system. On a positive note, the team does return much of the same roster. Crumpton was a force off the bench last season, averaging 10 ppg.
9. Quinnipiac (9-21, 6-14 MAAC)
Key player: Senior guard James Ford
Last season was a rough one for the Bobcats, who struggled mightily from three-point range. The team’s only hope for a higher finish is if the offense gets going early. Ford was the only Quinnipiac player to start all 30 games last season, averaging 6.8 ppg and 3.9 rebounds.
10. Marist (7-23, 4-16 MAAC)
Key player: Senior Kentrall Brooks
Marist has a tough non-conference schedule this year, featuring games at Duke, at Rhode Island and at Holy Cross. These opponents should get them ready for MAAC play, but the Red Foxes will still have trouble getting out of the conference cellar. Third-year Head Coach Mike Maker will definitely be on the hot seat in 2016-17.
11. Niagara (7-25, 5-15 MAAC)
Key player: Senior forward Maurice Taylor
Emile Blackman was the heartbeat of this hapless team, but decided to transfer to Duquesne in the offseason. It is certainly shaping up to be another hard season for Head Coach Chris Casey and the Purple Eagles. The team is extremely young, as Taylor is the lone senior.