By Dylan Manfre
One week from today college basketball will begin — amidst a chaotic and unique environment threatening the life of the season. Teams need a minimum of 13 games to make the NCAA tournament, but with the coronavirus striking at least six of of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s (MAAC) 11 teams during the preseason period, it will be one interesting season.
1. Fairfield Stag: Perhaps the top returning player in the entire conference and 2020-2021 Preseason Player of the Year Lou Lopez-Senechal is poised to dominate the MAAC yet again with her ability to run the floor, post-up opponents and shoot from deep — and she’s only a junior. Paired up graduate student and Preseason All-MAAC First Team section Katie Armstrong, Fairfield is my top team in the league.
The Stags were picked under Manhattan in the preseason coaches’ poll, but that will not hold. The Stags are going to finish first. Armstrong is a career 39% shooter from the field and 31% from 3-point range. These two players are certainly enough to put the MAAC on notice and beat preseason favorite Manhattan.
2. Marist Red Foxes: The big three of Alana Gilmer, Grace Vander Weide and Rebekah Hand are no more as the trio graduated last spring. However, Preseason All-MAAC Third Team selection Willow Duffell is returning along with senior Allie Best. I liked their chemistry last season and expect them to carry that over in 2020. Best had the second highest assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.18 last season and was an anchor to head coach Brian Giorgis’ plans. At the end of the season, I have Marist in second.
3. Quinnipiac Bobcats: I was personally surprised to see the Bobcats tied for second with Fairfield in the preseason poll. Point guard Shaq Edwards is not going to be enough for the Bobcats coming off an injury-riddled season. But the Bobcats have a lot of depth on their roster. 6-foot-5 Cat Almedia will be the typical low-post, hands-up, get the block type of player and, defensively, that might be what Quinnipiac will need to win some games.
They allowed 67.4 points per game last year, eighth-most in the league. All things considered, the legendary Tricia Fabri will craft the group into a winner as she usually does. Even last year, when it lost its historic winning streak in MAAC games, they still ended up third. Expect the same.
4. Manhattan Jaspers: I was surprised to see Manhattan named first in the preseason poll. I love that Emily LaPointe and Courtney Warley are two key returners for the Jaspers this season who bring back a majority of its roster. The two players they lost, Tuuli Menna and Pamela Miceus, each averaged 2.7 points per game over their careers so they certainly are not losing much.
Now that Rider’s and Marit’s stars from last year are out of the league this year, we may see Warley and LaPointe shine as the premier players in the league statistically. Warley was a 48% field goal shooter (sixth in the MAAC) and LaPointe was the 13th best scorer in the MAAC at 12.4 points per game.
5. Siena Saints: Guard Sabrina Piper was the leader of the Saints last season. Now it’s up to All-MAAC Third Team selections Amari Anthony and Rayshel Brown. Anthony started 27 games for the Saints last season and was an 84% free throw shooter. Brown shot 42% from the field. Without Piper on the roster, the Saints are not marching anywhere above seventh. If it were up to me, I would switch Rider and Siena in the preseason standings.
6. Rider Broncs: Head Coach Lynn Milligan has her biggest task on her desk, aside from coaching a team that lost two weeks of practice time from a positive coronavirus test. That challenge is filling the enormous hole left by graduating six seniors, including Stella Johnson, who now plays for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. The Broncs only return one starter from their 2020 MAAC championship season in junior point guard Amanda Mobley.
Taking last year’s stats, Mobley is now the leading scorer on the team averaging 9.2 points per game. Defensively, Rider’s challenge is replacing Defensive Player of the Year Amari Johnson.
Milligan has four players who are 6-feet or over, but look for Victoria Toomey (6-foot-2) and freshman Sofie Bruintjes (6-foot-4) to anchor the frontcourt. Bruintjes reminds me a bit of Marist’s Lovisa Henningsdottir, a 6-foot-2 forward who ranked fifth in the league in blocks during the 2018-2019 season, with her ability to get to the basket and create an open shot from long range. If she can play a stretch-four and run the floor, Rider will be in good shape. They won’t be atop the conference by any means, but not below seventh.
7. Iona Gaels: Iona finished 10th in scoring and field goal percentage. The roster only has one true senior in Olivia Vezaldenos and the Gaels brought in five freshmen. The preseason poll has them fifth and I believe it is largely because of their youth. I cannot place the Gaels at five without senior Morgan Rachu on the roster; she was a real asset to the program and a 39% field goal shooter and the team’s scoring leader at 12.3 points per game. The Gaels still have Juana Camilion which is one of the few reasons I think the MAAC coaches placed them so high up.
8. Monmouth Hawks: There is a youth movement in West Long Branch, New Jersey. Monmouth brought in six freshmen. The hope is one of them can be the second coming of Sierra Green who averaged 11.1 points per game. She played a big role in the wins Monmouth got last season, but losing her to graduation will be a lot to make up for.
9. Niagara Purple Eagles: Maggie McIntyre, gone. Jai Moore, gone. Those two star guards have graduated, leaving Head Coach Jada Peterson left to answer some questions about who will run the offense and be the main scorer. McIntyre torched Rider in the semifinal game in last season’s MAAC tournament, exploding for seven 3-pointers. I bet Milligan is happy she does not have to worry about her anymore. Knowing Peterson, she will compile a solid team. She has a youthful team without a single senior on the roster — this includes three freshmen.
10. Saint Peter’s Peacocks: Honestly, this team got lucky last season getting six conference wins, it’s as many wins during MAAC play as it has had in the last five seasons combined. Beating Rider in its first meeting and holding them to two points in the third quarter will never happen again. Not as long as Milligan is in town.
Saint Peter’s had its fair share of problems in 2019 and a team that is historically a bottom-feeder of the MAAC gives me little hope to think it will be any higher than eighth in the league. The biggest loss for them was senior Zoe Pero and her 1.54 blocks game, second best in the league last season. She was also the second highest scorer on the team at 12.6 points per game. Look for redshirt senior guard Kendrea Williams to be their top scoring option. She played all 30 games and led the team in field goal percentage shooting 45%. The preseason poll has Saint Peter’s ninth, I’ll lower them to 10th.
11. Canisius Golden Griffins: The main reason Canisius was placed last in the MAAC was because D’Jhai Patterson-Ricks graduated. She was a premier point guard in the league and scored 14.4 points per game, had 54 steals, shot 35% from the field and was an all-around floor general. Losing her means Canisius will have to work for every win and find its identity in the backcourt.
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