With four starters back from a team that won an NCAA game for the second straight season, the Siena Saints are again the prohibitive favorites in the Metro Atlantic. But the conference's two other postseason qualifiers, NIT entrant Niagara and CollegeInsider qualifier Rider, are primed to challenge the Saints again in 2009-10.
The race should stay interesting as most of the league's stars are back. Eleven of the 15 players who made the 2008-09 all-MAAC teams are back, with the Purple Eagles and Saints each losing players on the list. While Siena will miss Kenny Hasbrouck and Niagara has a big hole in the middle now that Benson Egemonye is gone, both still have plenty of pieces in place to be competitive nationally. Rider brings back its lone selection, Ryan Thompson, a player who could very well join his brother Jason in the NBA next season.
So while Siena has a great chance to build its national reputation, their conference rivals are ready, and well-positioned, to make some noise of their own. More on the Saints and the nine teams trying to chase them down after the jump.
Here's a recap of last season's MAAC standings.
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Standings
(updated 3.22.2009 at 7:49 PM EDT)
|Niagara Purple Eagles||14||4||26||9|
|St. Peter's Peacocks||8||10||11||19|
|Loyola, Md. Greyhounds||7||11||12||20|
|Canisius Golden Griffins||4||14||11||20|
|Marist Red Foxes||4||14||10||23|
Now here are my picks for the 2009-10 season, presented in reverse order.
Marist (last NCAA: 1987) Former John Calipari assistant Chuck Martin will have an even more difficult time leading the Red Foxes this season, as three starters are gone off a 10-win team, including the team's top two scorers, F Ryan Schneider (15.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and G David Devezin (10.3 ppg). If the returnees, led by 6-2 G Dejuan Goodwin (6.7 ppg), 5-10 R.J. Hall (6.9 ppg, 1.7 apg), and 6-9 Korey Bauer (4.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg) are more comfortable with the dribble-drive offense, the Foxes should improve, but that may not show up in the standings. The Red Foxes play their first six away from Poughkeepsie, starting with a game at Rutgers on November 14.
Iona (last NCAA: 2006) The Gaels will fill the MAAC's host slot at the Old Spice Classic at Disney World, where they open with 2009 NCAA participant Florida State, facing either Alabama or Baylor on day 2. It could be a rough four days for them, as they may not have the firepower to compete. Leading scorer Gary Springer graduated, and he was the only Gael to average in double figures last year (11.8 ppg, 7 rpg). Kevin Willard will need his returnees, led by Scott Machado (9.3 ppg), last year's conference Newcomer of the Year, and his backcourt-mate Milan Prodanovic (6.9 ppg), to get their offense to the level of Iona's often impressive defense.
Manhattan (last NCAA: 2004) Barry Rohrssen has three starters back from a team that did well to finish at .500 in the league last season. The two losses are significant; however, as Chris Smith (13.4 ppg) transferred and forward Devon Austin (10.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) graduated. That means the Jaspers will be even more guard-oriented this season. 6-4 Darryl Crawford, the team's leading scorer (14.4 ppg), leads the returnees, while 6-4 JC transfer Rico Pickett will see immediate minutes in an effort to recover the production of Smith and Austin. The highlight of the Jaspers' non-conference schedule this season is a trip to Nashville to face Vanderbilt.
Canisius (last NCAA: 1996) The Golden Griffins could be ready to fly up the standings, as all five starters are back from last year's 11 win outfit. Senior PG Frank Turner (15.6 ppg, 4 apg) has several options when running the offense, including 6-4 junior SG Julius Coles (12.1 ppg), 6-7 junior Greg Logins (11.3, 7 ppg, 7 rpg) and 6-9, 320 lb. C Chris Gadley (7.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg off the bench). The highlight of a relatively local schedule is a trip to a holiday tournament at Southern Miss, which also features New Orleans and North Florida.
Loyola (MD) (last NCAA: 1994) Jimmy Patsos has all five starters back, so the Greyhounds should improve on the 12 wins they claimed a season ago. Loyola's strength will be a backcourt featuring the conference's leading scorer and nation's top free throw shooter, Jamal Barney (18.1 ppg), Brett Harvey (12.4 ppg), and Brian Rudolph (8 ppg), but the frontcourt should be much better this time around thanks to the addition of 6-10 Maryland transfer Shane Walker. Patsos' schedule is heavily local, with a game at West Virginia a main highlight.
St. Peter's (last NCAA: 1995) The Peacocks should improve on their 8 league wins this season, but this year could just be a stepping stone to next year, when John Dunne's three returning junior starters are ready for their swan song. St. Peter's backcourt is formidable, as PG Nick Leon (2.3 apg) and off guard Wesley Jenkins (4.3 rpg) both averaged more than 15 points per contest last year. 6-7 F Ryan Bacon is a force inside, as he averaged almost 12 points and nearly 8 boards a game in '08-09. For the Peacocks to make real strides in this league, Dunne will need more out of his bench, particularly 6-6 swingman Jordan Costner (3.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and 6-8 F Jack Hill (1.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg). St. Peter's opens at Seton Hall and will face Monmouth in a 6 a.m. game during ESPN's November 17 hoops marathon.
Fairfield (last NCAA: 1997) Ed Cooley welcomes four starters back, led by 6-7 senior F Greg Nero (12.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg), but point guard is a major issue for the Stags. Herbie Allen (9.6 ppg, 2.8 apg) graduated and last season's original starter, Jonathan Han (12.5 ppg, 5.3 apg), left the program after Cooley suspended him. Expect the Stags to be more frontcourt-oriented thanks to the presence of Nero, 6-5 junior Warren Edney (9.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg), 6-6 junior Yorel Hawkins (8.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg), and 6-9 senior Mike Evanovich (7.5 ppg, 3 rpg). The Stags will spend most of the Thanskgiving season in the DC area, where they'll face Maryland, American, and Howard.
Rider (last NCAA: 1994) Besides Thompson (18 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.2 apg), Tommy Dempsey has three other players back who averaged in double figures last year: 6-7 F Mike Ringgold (11.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg), 6-7 swingman Novar Gadson (10.8 ppg, 6 rpg), and 6-2 G Justin Robinson (10.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg). Rider's major loss is 6-3 G Harris Mansell, who averaged almost 12 points a contest last year, but his brother Patrick (2.7 ppg) could potentially replace him. The Broncs should continue to score in bunches, but they'll need to tighten things up on the defensive end to reach the next level. Rider will participate in the low/mid-major bracket of the Cancun Challenge, where they'll face Florida A&M, followed by either Oral Roberts or Sam Houston State. They'll visit Kentucky and Virginia earlier in the event. They'll also visit Mississippi State, hoping to pull an upset in Starkville, like San Diego did last season.
Niagara (last NCAA: 2007) Joe Michalich has a hole to fill down low with Egemonye's graduation (12.7 ppg, 7.1 ppg), but the return of four high-performing starters--including three seniors--means the Purple Eagles will be right in the thick of things again this season. The backcourt, featuring 5-11 Tyrone Lewis (16.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg), 6-2 Rob Garrison (10.9 ppg), and 6-1 junior Anthony Nelson (8.1 ppg), will continue to be a strength, while 6-5 swingman Bilal Benn (13.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg) does considerable amounts of everything. Look for 6-6 senior Demetrius Williamson, who averaged 7.7 points and 3 boards a game, and 6-8 freshman Scooter Gillette to attempt to fill Egemonye's shoes and production. The Purple Eagles face a challenging schedule including a trip to Auburn as part of the Glenn Wilkes Classic. They'll face Akron, UCF, and Howard in that same event in Daytona Beach. They also travel to Illinois State for a BracketBuster rematch and host Drexel in a game that starts at 8 a.m. on November 17.
Siena (last NCAA: 2009) Hasbrouck (14.6 ppg, 3.6 ppg) is the only significant loss for Fran McCaffrey, so the Saints will again be a threat to make it to the Tournament and win a game (or even two). The frontcourt is still athletic and full of talented offensive players with 6-6 Edwin Ubiles (15 ppg, 7.9 rpg), 6-9 Ryan Rossiter (10 ppg, 7.9 rpg), and 6-5 Alex Franklin (13.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg) leading the way. Ronald Moore, a pass-first PG (8.7 ppg, 6.4 apg), runs an efficient offensive unit, while 6-3 senior Clarence Jackson (8.3 ppg) and 6-2 sophomore Kyle Downey (3.5 ppg) will get the opportunity to produce in Hasbrouck's place. The Saints also welcome veteran and JC transfer Just-in' Love Smith to their roster this season. The schedule won't quite be the gauntlet of last season's, but there are plenty of intriguing contests. Siena will feature in the November 17 marathon, facing Northeastern. They also travel to Northern Iowa for a BracketBuster rematch and to Atlanta to face former coach Paul Hewitt's Georgia Tech squad. The Saints will also participate in the Philly Hoop Group Classic, where they'll visit Temple, host Delaware, and face St. John's and Brown at the Palestra.
The Saints are my pick to be kings of the MAAC again, so they'll appear in my Final Preseason Bracket on November 9. If the Saints can put together a great regular season, but slip up in the MAAC Tournament, there may be a chance for the Metro Atlantic to be a multi-bid league.
Now, to close this preview, here is my preseason All-MAAC team, featuring the best returning players from last season.
Preseason All-MAAC Team
Player of the Year: Ryan Thompson, 6-6 G, Sr. (Rider)
Remainder of the Team
Jamal Barney, 6-3 G, Jr. (Loyola)
Bilal Benn, 6-5 G/F, Sr. (Niagara)
Alex Franklin, 6-5 F, Sr. (Siena)
Edwin Ubiles, 6-6 G/F, Sr. (Siena)