By Austin Ferguson
With Halloween just around the corner, the return of college basketball is looming. In the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), the story of the season is whether or not Iona can once again defend its championship crown. With a fifth-straight MAAC title seeming likely for the Gaels, there are quite a few teams that are ready to represent in the NCAA tournament. It is time to predict the 2019-2020 MAAC season.
1. Iona Gaels (17-13, 15-5 MAAC) Key Player: senior guard E.J. Crawford
The four-time defending MAAC champions are poised to win it all again after maintaining most of its core. Returning players E.J. Crawford, senior forward Tajuan Agee and junior guard Asante Gist earned all-MAAC preseason honors. Though Iona lost one of its leading scorers from last season, Rickey McGill, the Gaels’ addition of Isaiah Washington, founder of the notorious basketball collective ‘Jellyfam,’ will be sure to keep backcourt defenders honest. However, due to NCAA transfer regulations, Washington’s eligibility is still in the air, possibly opening the door for another team to steal a bid to the NCAA tournament.
2. Rider Broncs (16-14, 13-7 MAAC) Key Player: redshirt junior forward Dimencio Vaughn
After having another season end without a win in thhe MAAC tournament, this coming campaign is a crucial one for the Broncs. The core of senior guard Stevie Jordan, senior center Tyere Marshall and redshirt junior forwards Dimencio Vaughn and Frederick Scott, all of which were named to all-MAAC preseason teams, look to accompany a slew of returning role players and Rider newcomers to clinch their first NCAA tournament berth since 1994. The Broncs are hungry for their first MAAC title and they appear to be more than ready to break their MAAC tournament curse.
3. Quinnipiac Bobcats (17-13, 13-7 MAAC) Key Player: junior guard Rich Kelly
Quinnipiac had a solid regular season spoiled in an upset loss to Monmouth in the quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament in 2019. Though the team lost its top player from 2019, Cameron Young, juniors Rich Kelly and Jacob Rigoni are more than prepared to make up the slack from Young’s absence and right the wrongs from the 2019 tournament. With one graduate student and no seniors to be seen on the roster, the Bobcats will have to rely on their young core to push them to the MAAC championship.
4. Siena Saints (15-15, 13-7 MAAC) Key Player: sophomore guard Jalen Pickett
Siena relied on the emergence of its conference star, Jalen Pickett. Pickett, who was picked the MAAC preseason player of the year, is set to only improve in his sophomore season. The NBA draft-hopeful is not the only key to the Saints’ success. The supporting cast behind Pickett will have to overperform to put Siena in contention for the MAAC crown. Its regular season, however, will be an interesting one.
5. Monmouth Hawks (16-14, 11-9 MAAC) Key Player: redshirt junior guard Ray Salnave
The Hawks surprised in the 2019 MAAC tournament, upsetting Quinnipiac and Canisius to make it to the MAAC championship final. Though it lost handily to Iona, 81-60, Monmouth is still poised to make a solid run in the 2020 regular season, despite a schedule of tough opponents in the non-conference schedule. Monmouth should be able to hold its own against multiple conference opponents and the MAAC should be prepared for another deep run from the Hawks in March.
6. Manhattan Jaspers (12-18, 10-10 MAAC) Key Player: sophomore forward Warren Williams
Manhattan had a shaky regular season followed by a serviceable run in the MAAC tournament. Manhattan had a major upset over second-seeded Canisius in its sights, only to lose grip of it in overtime. This season, Manhattan looks to keep developing its young players, namely forward Warren Williams. If they play their cards right, a Monmouth-like run from last year could be in the works for the Jaspers.
7. Canisius Golden Griffins (14-16, 8-12 MAAC) Key Player: senior guard Malik Johnson
After back-to-back second-seed finishes and upset exits in the MAAC tournament, it seems that Canisius’ window for championship contention has closed. Roster turnover and growing pains with a new roster will occupy much of the Golden Griffins’ season. The regular season has not traditionally been a struggle for Canisius, but a plethora of potential uphill battles during the regular season may drain the Golden Griffins and prolong their stretch of failure in the MAAC tournament.
8. Saint Peter’s Peacocks (11-19, 7-13 MAAC) Key Player: graduate student guard Cameron Jones
With back-to-back injury-riddled seasons for the Peacocks, Saint Peter’s is without its former heart and soul, Davauhnte Turner. This season will be an attempt to find a new moral leader for the Saint Peter’s squad. In the meantime, the Peacocks will have to rely on Cameron Jones to clinch a third-straight tournament upset and make an unlikely push to the top of the MAAC.
9. Marist Red Foxes (8-22, 7-13 MAAC) Key Player: sophomore guard Darius Hines
Without its top five scorers from last year, Marist’s road to a MAAC tournament win is extremely narrow. A new cast of players will spend the season learning how to play with each other and another first-round exit may be in order as collateral. Its best focus would likely be to let the newcomers get a feel for the court and hope they reach their potentials to load up for a better run next season.
10. Niagara Purple Eagles (9-21, 5-15 MAAC) Key Player: sophomore guard Marcus Hammond
A year ago, Niagara almost upended the cinderella Monmouth team in the first round of the MAAC tournament. Fast forward to this year, the Purple Eagles are without their top-vetted scoring leaders. The young core from last season will have to step up and show development in order to scrape their way past the first round of the MAAC tournament, which seems unlikely for this campaign.
11. Fairfield Stags (8-22, 5-15 MAAC) Key Player: senior guard Landon Taliaferro
Fairfield’s upside is its two preseason all-MAAC stars. Guards Landon Taliaferro and Jesus Cruz both earned third-team honors and are the undisputed faces of the Stags’ lineup. The downside is trying to transition the massive additions to the team, especially the five freshmen that are new to the squad, to carrying the load of college starters in an effort to avoid being in the basement come season’s end as the coaches have predicted it to be this campaign. To Fairfield’s advantage, Siena, which was ranked last in the preseason polls last year, finished in fifth and upset Rider in the first round of the tournament.
Predicted MAAC Tournament Winner: Rider Broncs