By Christopher Brooks
The first game of the men’s basketball season is only a few weeks away, and here are my predictions on how the conference will shake out, along with each team’s key player.
1. Iona (20-14, 11-7 MAAC)
Player to watch: Sean Armand
Armand, the MAAC’s fifth-leading scorer with 16.6 ppg in 2012-13, will get more opportunities with the departure of teammate and 2012-13 MAAC Player of the Year Lamont Jones. Armand is one of the premier perimeter shooters in the league, leading the MAAC in 3-point field goals made (112) and finished third in the MAAC with a .409 3-point field goal percentage.
2. Manhattan (14-8, 9-9 MAAC)
Player to watch: George Beamon
The former All-MAAC selection only played in four games last season, but will look to recover from an ankle injury. Beamon averaged 19 points, 5.2 rebounds and two assists per game in the 2011-12 season.
3. Rider (19-15, 12-6 MAAC)
Player to watch: Daniel Stewart
The Broncs have to turn to the senior leadership of Stewart to have another strong MAAC finish. The 6-7 forward was fourth in the MAAC with 7.2 rebounds per game while averaging 10.6 ppg. If Stewart can average a double-double this year, the Broncs will be contenders for the MAAC championship.
4. Canisius (20-14, 11-7 MAAC)
Player to watch: Billy Baron
Billy Baron, son of Canisius Head Coach Jim Baron, had an amazing season last year, finishing third in the conference with 17.2 ppg and leading the MAAC with five assists per game. Don’t be surprised if Baron competes all season long against Armand for the scoring title.
5. Fairfield (19-16, 9-9 MAAC)
Player to watch: Amadou Sidibe
The 6-7 forward was the MAAC’s Co-Rookie of the Year after finishing the 2012-13 season with 5.7 ppg and 7.2 rebounds per game. With a year under his belt, look for Sidibe to lead the Stags to a respectable fifth-place finish.
6. Marist (10-21, 6-12 MAAC)
Player to watch: Chavaughn Lewis
Lewis was fourth in the conference with 16.7 ppg while averaging 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists, all in his sophomore season. Another year of experience can only bring more success for Lewis.
7. Quinnipiac (8-14, 10-8 NEC)
Player to watch: Ike Azotam
The 6-7 forward finished 13th in the Northeast Conference (NEC) with 13.6 ppg while pulling in 7.9 rebounds per game, good for sixth in the NEC. Azotam is a big presence on both sides of the floor for the Bobcats, and will need to continue his strong performance if Quinnipiac wants to make its inaugural MAAC season a success.
8. St. Peter’s (9-21, 3-15 MAAC)
Player to watch: Desi Washington
As the top-returning player for the Peacocks, Washington was ninth in the MAAC, averaging 14.6 ppg last season. The 6-2 junior guard also proved more than adequate from the free throw line, finishing second in the conference with an .880 free-throw percentage, behind only Lamont Jones.
9. Niagara (19-14, 13-5 MAAC)
Player to watch: Antoine Mason
After winning the MAAC Regular Season Title, the Purple Eagles have a new look, with nine freshmen. Niagara needs Mason, the MAAC’s top-returning scorer (18.7 ppg) to lead the way. Mason missed four games last season with a foot injury, and Niagara will need him to stay healthy if it wants to compete.
10. Siena (8-24, 4-14 MAAC)
Player to watch: Rob Poole
Poole is Siena’s top-returning scorer with 11.8 ppg. He also averaged 4.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. He proved to be a strong perimeter shooter last season, placing sixth in the MAAC in 3-point field goals made (57) and seventh in 3-point field goal percentage (.399).
11. Monmouth (10-21, 5-13 NEC)
Player to watch: Andrew Nicholas
Entering its first season in the MAAC, Monmouth will look to the veteran leadership of Andrew Nicholas. The 6-6 guard averaged 13.9 ppg, 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists last season. Nicholas, a junior, has the longest tenure of anyone on the Monmouth squad.