MAAC Preview 2015-16

1.      Iona
2.      Monmouth
3.      Siena
4.      Manhattan
5.      Rider
6.      Fairfield
7.      Saint Peter‘s
8.      Canisius
9.      Marist
10.   Niagara
11.   Quinnipiac

All Conference:

POY: AJ English, Senior, Iona
Coach of the Year: King Rice, Monmouth
Newcomer of the Year: Je’Lon Hornbeak, R-Junior, Monmouth

First team
G – AJ English, Senior, Iona
G – Marquis Wright, Junior, Siena
G/F – Shane Richards, Senior, Manhattan
G/F – Marcus Gilbert, Senior, Fairfield
F – Isaiah Williams, Senior, Iona

Second team
G – Teddy Okereafor, Senior, Rider
G – Justin Robinson, Junior, Monmouth
G – Je’Lon Hornbeak, R-Junior, Monmouth
F – Brett Bisping, R-Junior, Siena
F – Deon Jones, Senior, Monmouth

Third team
G – Shadrac Casimir, Sophomore, Iona
G – Khallid Hart, Junior, Marist
G – Tyler Nelson, Sophomore, Fairfield
G/F – Kelvin Amayo, Junior, Iona
F – Quadir Welton, Sophomore, Saint Peter’s

1.      Iona

C – Ryden Hines, 6’10, Junior
F – Isiaiah Williams, 6‘7, Senior
G/F – Kelvin Amayo, 6‘4, Junior
G – Shadrac Casimir, 5’11, Sophomore
PG – AJ English, 6‘4, Senior
Reserves: Aaron Rountree, 6‘8, Sr.; Ibn Muhammad, 5‘9, Sr.; Taylor Bessick, 6‘9, Jr.; Vangelis Bebis, 6‘6, So.; Ricky McGill, 6‘1, Fr.
Postseason prediction: 12 seed
If you like the media ideal of basketball (high scoring, rapid tempo, lots of outside shots, little to no defense whatsoever), than you would most definitely be a fan of Tim Cluess and his Iona Gaels. Year after year, Iona has an elite offense but can’t guard a folding chair (you could say they’re “Clueless” defensively – I’ll be here all preview!). This year’s offense should once again rank in the top 15-20ish area, led by probable conference player of the year point guard AJ English and two hyper-efficient scorers, tiny gunner Shadrac Casimir (possibly the best name in all the land) and lanky forward Isaiah Williams.

English is a force – a big, skilled guard that can get to the basket, fill it up from deep (106/274 from 3 last year, 39%), and set up his prolific teammates (26.5% assist rate, 187th in the country). The son of former pro AJ English, this AJ somehow slipped through the major conference recruiting cracks and has been a monster in the MAAC (why do people keep ignoring the sons of NBA players??). He has plenty of passing options, led by the aforementioned Casimir, a 5’10, 155-lb dynamo who was shockingly good as a true freshman (94/222 from deep – 42%), and Williams, who missed 12 games with injury but had the 4th-best o-rating in the entire country last year. He’s primarily a one-dimensional shooter, though. Versatile Kelvin Amayo will provide a power guard presence, and another mini-guard, Ibn Muhammad, gives some offensive pop off the bench.

The biggest issues for the Gaels, though, will be replacing the rock in the middle, David Laury. Last year’s conference player of the year, he’ll likely be replaced by committee. Junior Ryden Hines provides size, and despite a reputation as mostly a post defender, he was very efficient last year with extremely low usage. Surprisingly, he even hit 16/40 threes – expect his attempts to rise this year if he can maintain anywhere near that rate. Depth will come from two transfers, Aaron Rountree from Wake Forest and Taylor Bessick from James Madison. Neither was particularly efficient in prior seasons, but I would expect to see a Cluess-influenced bump on the offensive end.

It’s almost useless to talk about Iona’s defense – they really aren’t going to play much of it, and they’re okay with that. Cluess banks on outscoring teams, and they‘ve actually done an average job of taking away opponents’ three-ball attempts the last two years (so what if that’s because teams can just get easy twos instead?). It wouldn’t kill them to rebound a little better defensively, though that will be a tall task without Laury.

Iona has by far the most offensive talent in the league, and it’s really going to come down to whether they can put together enough defense come early March to get over the hump back into the tournament.

2.      Monmouth

C – Chris Brady, 6’10, Junior
PF – Deon Jones, 6‘6, Senior
SF –  Collin Stewart, 6‘7, Junior
SG – Je’Lon Hornbeak, 6‘3, R-Junior
PG – Justin Robinson, 5‘8, Junior
Reserves:. Austin Tilghman, 6‘1, So.; Josh James, 6‘2, Jr.; Zac Tillman, 6’10, Jr.; BaShawn Mickens, 6‘0, R-Fr.; Pierre Sarr, 6’7, Fr.
Postseason prediction:
A very good trio of upperclassmen should lead Monmouth to its best season under King Rice (5th year) after the Hawks surprised some by finishing in the top four of the conference last year. This was after a gruesome start to the team’s MAAC membership, a forgettable 10-21 (5-13) campaign in 2013-14.

The lone senior among that trifecta is forward Deon Jones, a versatile 6’6 tweener who attacks the rim with authority. He draws fouls and converts free throws at a high rate, which is probably the most effective aspect of his game. His versatility shows in his decent steal rate, block rate, rebounding rates, and ability to knock down the occasional outside shot, and he will continue to be a tough matchup for opposing posts or wings after averaging 12.8ppg last year. He wasn’t the leading scorer, though – that would be miniature point guard Justin Robinson, a 5’8 junior who was one of the top point guards in the league last year. He showed a solid ability to get his teammates involved while also posting a quick-handed 3.3% steal rate. He also shot a solid 37% on 141 3-point attempts and should continue to be one of the top shooters on the team. The other candidate for that honor is the third member of the team’s big three and a contender for newcomer of the year – Oklahoma transfer Je’Lon Hornbeak. Hornbeak was a highly-regarded recruit for the Sooners three years ago and played in every game that he wasn’t injured for during his two years there. He gives the Hawks a multi-talented wing scorer who should immediately benefit from the slightly lesser competition of the MAAC compared to the Big 12 and could give the Hawks’ offense the boost it needs to move into the top half of the league (and possibly better than just that).

Surrounding these three are a group of role players who will be tasked with maintaining the team’s solid defense last year (115th in efficiency, 4th in the conference). Without post anchor Brice Kofane, larger contributions will be needed from juniors Chris Brady, Zac Tillman, and Collin Stewart. Brady is a very good defensive rebounder and decent shot-blocker who should start and play the most minutes down low, while Tillman is a larger fella who didn’t show much beyond decent finishing ability in his time last year. Stewart is a 6’7 perimeter gunner – he used the second-highest percentage of possessions on the team (behind Robinson) while not playing many minutes. His almost complete lack of rebounding (even the 5’8 Robinson had higher board %’s on both ends) will make it tough to play him as a stretch four, though. The remaining backcourt minutes will be distributed somehow between junior Josh James, sophomore Austin Tilghman, redshirt freshman Ba’Shawn Mickens, and true freshman Pierre Sarr – most likely whoever shows they can actually be efficient offensively while offering a defensive presence. One final x-factor is sophomore Micah Seaborn, who was suspended last year for academic reasons. He is a talented 6’5 wing who could be a perimeter matchup problem if he gets his head right.

The strengths of Robinson, Hornbeak, and Jones should be enough to allow the Hawks to contend in the conference, and the emergence of solid role players will decide the team’s ultimate fate. An NCAA tournament appearance will be tough to come by with how loaded Iona is, but it’s within the realm of possibility.

3.      Siena

C – Imoh Silas, 6‘9, R-Senior
PF – Brett Bisping, 6‘8, R-Junior
SF –  Lavon Long, 6‘7, Junior
SG – Ryan Oliver, 6‘5, Senior
PG – Marquis Wright, 6‘0, Junior
Reserves: Willem Brandwijk, 6‘8, So.; Jimmy Paige, 6‘4, So.; Nico Clareth, 6‘4, Fr.; Evan Fisher, 6‘8, Fr.; Kenny Wormley, 6‘3, Fr.
Postseason prediction:
Siena had a season from hell last year, losing two quality big men to injury for nearly the whole year – Brett Bisping (definitely an all-conference level player when healthy) and Imoh Silas. Getting both players back should be huge for the Saints, who seemed due for a promising year last year after returning nearly everyone from the 2013-14 CBI Championship squad.

Bisping averaged 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in an extremely efficient sophomore season two years ago (116.8 o-rating), and being back at full strength should allow him to improve on those numbers after a forgettable, foul-filled 5 (plus a fraction) games last year.  And speaking of foul-prone, Silas returns to man the middle, where his elite 10.7% block rate from 2013-14 will be a very welcome boost to a defense that was a sieve last year. His return is even more crucial with the transfer of Javion Ogunyemi (6.7% block rate) to Boston University, and coach Jimmy Patsos will sorely miss the ability to platoon those two given Silas’s major fouling issues (an absurd 7.8 fouls per 40 minutes in 13-14).

Point guard Marquis Wright stagnated during his sophomore year after an encouraging freshman campaign, although his assist/turnover rates of 28.9/18.9 were effective, as was his 3.3% steal rate while playing 91.1% of his team’s available minutes (27th in the country). He still needs to improve as an offensive threat, though. He will definitely enjoy having more paint finishers to dish to, as well.

As for shooters, the only returner to make more than Wright’s 13 threes was wing Ryan Oliver, who went a solid 39/111 from deep. Without graduated leading scorer Rob Poole, though, the Saints will need more outside production to emerge besides Oliver. One candidate is sophomore forward, Willem Brandwijk, who made 9/20 threes in limited minutes last year. That’s a great rate, if he can help space the floor for Wright and the bigs, it will add a nice extra dimension to the offense. I would guess one of the four recruits will find the floor if he can distinguish himself as a shooter, though the scouting reports don’t show much promise in that regard.

The fatal flaw of last year’s squad, though (and even 2013-14’s, despite their postseason success), is a combination of two things – inability to get defensive rebounds and constant fouling defensively. Silas and Bisping’s returns will help the former but exacerbate the latter, and Coach Patsos will need to figure out a way to keep opponents off the free throw line. One reason to expect some positive regression, however – Siena had the unfortunate honor of having the worst free throw percentage “defense“ in the country last year. Statistically, teams have basically no control over this, and the found points from opponents shooting a more normal percentage from the line will help (especially as the Saints continue to give up myriad trips to the stripe).

4.      Manhattan


C – Jermaine Lawrence, 6’10, Junior
PF – Calvin Crawford, 6‘8, Sophomore
SF – Shane Richards, 6‘5, Senior
SG –  Rich Williams, 6‘5, Junior
PG – RaShawn Stores, 5’11, Senior
Reserves:. Tyler Wilson, 6‘0, Jr.; Zane Waterman, 6‘9, So.; Samson Usilo, 6‘4, Fr.; Tom Capuano, 6‘0, Fr.; Akintoye Ojo, 6’10, Fr.
Postseason prediction:
Manhattan had a wild year last year, mildly disappointing throughout the conference season before an impressive blitz through the MAAC tournament that culminated in a win over regular season champs Iona. This season, though, the Jaspers (phenomenal mascot name) will proceed without do-everything wing Emmy Andujar, who graduated after leading the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals, and big man Ashton Pankey, second on the team in points and rebounds and their leading shot-blocker. Pankey decided against seeking a sixth year of eligibility (unclear whether he would have won an appeal, anyway). Those two used by far the most possessions last year, and how Coach Steve Masiello re-distributes all those available possessions to the bevy of returnees will dictate the offense’s success.

Offense was actually the team’s weakness last year, as they rode their high pressure defense and frenetic tempo to the 8th-best turnover rate in the country. Committing oodles of fouls – everyone in the rotation except one guy committed at least 3 fouls per 40 minutes, and two small-role big men managed to foul an unfathomable 10+ times each per 40 minutes – led to a free throw parade for opponents, with the fouls resulting from the team’s style (which in turn held the defense down to 104th in the country, along with weak defensive rebounding). As the team continues its pressing and brings back a lot of the same foul-prone players, I wouldn’t expect that trend to change.  

Andujar’s graduation opens up the possibility of a massive year for point guard RaShawn Stores, who was very steady and efficient last year and will handle the ball even more now without Andujar dominating the rock, and with that increase, I would expect to see both his usage and assist rates nudge upwards. His favorite passing option should be senior wing Shane Richards, who poured in 92 threes at a 38% clip last year, trailing only the Iona bombers (English and Casimir) for most in the conference. He will get ample opportunities to shoot again this year and could easily hit 100+. Juniors Tyler Wilson and Rich Williams provide other starting perimeter options, with Wilson being a turnover-prone point guard and Williams offering some shooting. Both have a knack for getting steals in the team’s defensive scheme.

The rest of the roster is far less settled, as big men Jermaine Lawrence, Zane Waterman, Calvin Crawford, Carlton Allen, and freshman Akintoye Ojo compete for minutes up front. I’ll give the edge to Lawrence as the best shot-blocker and Crawford as the best defensive rebounder for the starting positions, with the hilariously foul-prone duo of Waterman and Allen coming off the bench. Ojo is a wildcard, but will probably be too raw to contribute right away.

Manhattan is always fun to watch with its crazy pace and trapping, but it will be up to the offense to boost the Jaspers up this year. Look for big years from Richards and Stores and for Manhattan to once again be in the league’s upper echelon.   

5.      Rider

C – Xavier Lundy, 6‘7, Junior
PF – Shawn Valentine, 6‘7, Senior
SF – Zedric Sadler, 6‘3, Junior
SG – Jimmie Taylor, 6‘4, Junior
PG – Teddy Okereafor, 6‘3, Senior
Reserves: Kahlil Alford, 6‘5, Sr.; Kahlil Thomas, 6‘7, Jr.; Josh Williams, 6‘6, R-Fr.; Kaelen Ives, 5’10, Fr.; Gemil Holbrook, 6‘5, Fr.
Postseason prediction:
I’m concerned this is too low for Rider, mostly because of their excellent and experienced backcourt. Senior Teddy Okereafor (a British Baller who spent his first two years wallowing on the Havoc bench at VCU) and juniors Jimmie Taylor and Zedric Sadler have a combined 6 years of starting experience in the MAAC, and each offers different strengths to the game. Only the massive chasm left by 7’0 tower of power Matt Lopez on the inside has me questioning this team.

Okereafor is the best of the backcourt bunch, a scoring lead guard (11.2ppg) who can frequently pressure opposing PGs into mistakes (SHOCKING for a guy Shaka Smart recruited, I know) despite the Broncs slow pace (3.3% steal rate). Aside – Broncs is a wonderful name, good for them for just dropping a vowel from a real word. Teddy O can hit threes and isn’t shy about firing them, but he also averaged a solid 4 assists per game last year. He’ll be slightly more challenged to do that without Lopez to finish everything around the basket, though.

On the wing, Sadler and Taylor are very good complements. Taylor is the better offensive player, hitting 54 threes (40%) while averaging 10.5ppg, while Sadler was more of a complementary ball-handler and defender, posting his own impressive steal rate of 3.2%. In fact, Rider sported the best defensive efficiency in the MAAC, spearheaded by their effectiveness at forcing turnovers (29th in the country in forced turnover rate).  Sadler and Okereafor give them a great chance of continuing that, though replacing Anthony D’Orazio’s 3.1% steal rate will be difficult.

The team’s interior defense will not be as stout, either – though Lopez was not really a shotblocker at all, he owned the defensive glass and could body up pretty much any opponent with his size. Coach Kevin Baggett will replace Lopez with a bunch of smaller, quicker players – 6’7 Xavier Lundy, 6’7 Shawn Valentine, 6’9 Lacey James, 6’9 Kenny Grant, 6’7 Kahlil Thomas. Valentine and James in particular prefer to be on the perimeter, and Lundy can also step out and hit the occasional three (16/48 from deep last year). Thomas and Grant are the most post-focused, with Thomas probably being the team’s best returning rebounder (along with, surprisingly, backup wing 6’5 Khalil Alford). Grant barely saw the floor as a freshman last year, but his physical 240-lb. frame will be needed this year to help fill the void in the paint.

Overall, the biggest issue for Rider will be improving their offensive efficiency. They weren’t particularly bad at any aspect (outside of heinous free throw shooting), but they didn’t excel in any area, either. No player’s Ortg was over 105.4, and the team’s experienced backcourt needs to improve their individual efficiencies to help the team’s offense keep up with its defense and give them a chance to really do damage.

6.      Fairfield

C – Coleman Johnson, 6‘6, Senior
PF – Mike Kirkland, 6‘7, Senior
SF – Marcus Gilbert, 6‘6, Senior
SG – Tyler Nelson, 6‘3, Sophomore
PG – Jerome Segura, 5’11, Sophomore
Reserves: KJ Rose, 6‘1, Jr.; Amadou Sidibe, 6‘8, Sr.; Scott King, 6‘9, Sr.; Curtis Cobb, 6‘4, Fr.; Steve Smith, 6‘8, Jr.
Postseason prediction:
This is probably my boldest call of the MAAC preview. Fairfield had an abominable offense and finished 7-24, 5-15 – tied for last in the conference – but I like what they bring back (basically everyone), I think the young guys (namely guards Jerome Segura and Tyler Nelson) make solid strides, and – most importantly – I love Marcus Gilbert.

Gilbert is a stud; he played 85% of minutes last year, posted a 108.3 Ortg while using a high volume of team possessions, and as a result led the team in scoring at 16.4ppg. Fairfield’s other biggest weapon is sophomore Tyler Nelson, who was a deadeye three-point shooter as a freshman, hitting 64 treys at 42%. If he can continue to feed off of the attention that Gilbert draws and add more of an off-the-dribble game, he will form an intimidating duo with his senior cohort.

The biggest key for the Stags will be figuring out the point guard situation. Junior KJ Rose and sophomore Jerome Segura basically split duties, but their games were nearly indistinguishable last year: both showed impressive passing ability, but they also turned the ball over at alarming rates and shot like they didn’t understand the primary goal of basketball (to actually make baskets). Their respective shooting splits (shield your eyes) were .31/.29/.59 and .36/.28/.48. Neither of them could even hit free throws!! If one of them can make real strides into respectability in the shooting and turnover departments (I’ll wager on Segura), Fairfield will have a very strong perimeter group. Fairfield also brings in three freshman guards, led by Curtis Cobb – perhaps the most highly-regarded incoming freshman in the conference. Despite the depth the team returns, Cobb’s elite shooting and well-rounded game will likely find its way into solid minutes.

Up front, senior Mike Kirkland led the team in frontcourt minutes played, but I would argue the team should use the combination of Coleman Johnson and Amadou Sidibe more often. Sidibe knows his role on offense (catch ball, dunk ball) and is an elite rebounder on both ends of the floor (definitely a weakness for the Stags last year). Johnson is a fantastic shotblocker, and the more minutes he plays, the better the team’s defense will be. He needs to help himself stay on the floor though (fouls like crazy). Kirkland will probably play his share of minutes again, but he doesn’t really offer a standout skill on either end.

Fairfield’s biggest issue last year was offense. They had bad shooters taking too many shots, and the team’s atrocious point guard play was likely a major factor in that. Strides from Segura and/or Rose could unlock a decent offense with the wing scoring of Gilbert and Nelson (and potentially Cobb) with the offensive rebounding and finishing of Sidibe. Defensively, the Stags did a fantastic job in taking away the 3 ball, but finishing possessions with a board and not putting opponents on the line will help them bump up performance on that end as well. I don’t think they’ll be pushing Iona or Monmouth this year, but Fairfield should see a decent leap up the standings.

7.      Canisius

C – Kevin Bleeker, 6’10, Senior
F – Phil Valenti, 6‘7, Junior
F – Jamal Reynolds, 6‘5, Senior
SG – Kassius Robertson, 6‘3, Sophomore
PG – Malcolm McMillan, 6‘0, R-Senior
Reserves: Jermaine Crumpton, 6‘6, So.; Ronnie Gombe, 6‘8, So.; Adam Weir, 6‘4, So.; Kiefer Douse, 6‘3, Jr.; Cassidy Ryan, 6‘6, So.
Postseason prediction:
After a heinous 2011-12 season (5-25, 1-17), Canisius brought in just-fired Rhode Island coach Jim Baron, despite that his Rams had a similarly terrible season that year (7-24, 4-12). Baron has rewarded their faith, compiling a 36-22 conference record over three years since his arrival and keeping the team competitive. Baron’s squads haven’t shown a ton of consistent statistical trends over the years, but they are usually good on the offensive glass and on the perimeter defensively (taking away threes and preventing assists by disrupting offensive rhythm). Despite losing three starters, the Golden Griffins are capable of continuing the competitive trend that they have exhibited under Baron.

Senior point guard Jeremiah Williams departs, but he was only third on the team in assists and turned it over a fair amount – his pressure defense will be missed more so than his offensive contributions. Central Connecticut State senior transfer Malcolm McMillan will slide into his spot, a solid Northeast Conference player who should be a good driver and level-headed ballhandler during his only year in the MAAC. Joining him in the backcourt will likely be budding sophomore Kassius Robertson, replacing the team’s best player, junior Zach Lewis, who transferred to UMass. Robertson will help handle the ball a little well while hoping to maintain his excellent shooting percentages from his freshman year (47/38/84). At forward, Jamal Reynolds will continue his efficient slashing and finishing ways (118.1 Ortg, elite at getting to the line) while not even pretending to be an outside threat (1/3 from deep). He is also the team’s by far the team’s best rebounder despite his meager measurables of 6’4, 175. At the other forward – and having 3 inches and 25 pounds on Reynolds – junior Phil Valenti is more of a wing than Reynolds, actually leading the team in assist rate and hitting a couple threes (12/36) while being the team’s leading returning scorer. 6’10 Dutchman Kevin Bleeker will start at center, where he fills his role as a shotblocker and a rebounder without using many offensive possessions.

The depth will most likely come from two junior college transfers, 6’8 Ronnie Gombe (from Kenya, averaged 23/14/6 blocks in JuCo) and 6’3 Keifer Douse (from Canada, only managed 22 starts in 31 games at NAIA Jacksonville College) as well as returnees Jermaine Crumpton (a 6’6 sophomore who can contribute a little bit of everything) and Adam Weir (a 6’4 sophomore who needs to improve a little bit at everything). Keep an eye out for redshirt freshman guard Isaiah Gurley as well, who could find his way into some minutes this year.

Overall, Canisius has some talented pieces and a consistent coach but probably lacks the elite talent to truly push the top of the league this year thanks to the transfer of Zach Lewis.

8.      Saint Peter’s

C – Quadir Welton, 6‘8, Sophomore
PF – Elias Desport, 6‘8, Senior
SF – Elisha Boone, 6‘3, Sophomore
SG – Chazz Patterson, 6‘3, Junior
PG – Trevis Wyche, 6‘1, Junior
Reserves: Rodney Hawkins, 6‘7, So.; Travis Hester, 6‘4, Jr.; Ryan Harris, 6‘0, Jr.; Mamadou N’Diaye, 6‘7, Fr.; Samuel Idowu, 6‘6, Fr.
Postseason prediction:
I was on the Peacocks bandwagon last year, but the should-have-been-better senior trio of Marvin Dominique, Tyler Gaskins, and Desi Washington “led” the team to a blah 16-18 record. Without the team’s three leading scorers, I’m expecting a big breakout from sophomore Quadir Welton, a burly 6’8 forward who housed the offensive glass last year (30th in the country in O-reb rate), should be the team’s primary inside scoring option, putting up stats similar to Dominique’s last year (14ppg, 7rpg) while offering more shotblocking. His atrocious free throw shooting (48%) will need to improve as he gets to the line more and more though. Point guard Trevis Wyche also returns – he was decent last year, but incremental improvements in a variety of areas will help his game jump up a level from “serviceable.” Beyond those two, the roster gets a little dicey. Chazz Patterson showed some promise last year as a sophomore, but he barely shot the ball, and fellow returnee Elias Desport was even more invisible in limited minutes. Sophomores Rodney Hawkins and Elisha Boone could deliver a little more offensive punch, but they barely played last year and were inefficient when they did (especially Boone).

Coach John Dunne returns for his tenth year with the team, but he hasn’t finished over .500 in the league since his only NCAA appearance in 2010-11. That was also the last elite defense he managed to conjure from his squad, built around excellent rim protection that allowed the perimeter defenders to harass opposing shooters. Welton, Hawkins, and Desport all flashed decent shotblocking ability last year (though none will be elite), and freshman Mamadou Ndiaye could also be mildly imposing. Dunne’s best chance at success is probably to use these combined talents to re-create the 2011 squad’s defensive approach.  His teams play at a snail’s pace, meaning depth won’t be a huge concern (they probably won’t have much unless newcomers Samuel Idowu, Ryan Harris, and/or Cameron Jones show something); it would be nice to see the Peacocks run a little bit and use Wyche’s passing to their advantage. Without any elite shooting to speak of (no returnee made over 21 threes), spacing will be tight on offense, and a little more offense via transition would surely help. I’m not sure Dunne knows how to teach that style, though.

As mentioned, the team’s best shot at improving is to build on its defense; they were 108th in the country last year, and other than Dominique’s rebounding, the graduates weren’t completely pivotal to that success. Patterson and Wyche showed some sticky fingers last year, both posting top 500 steal rates (Wyche was 268th), and that perimeter pressure along with the aforementioned shotblocking could push them to 80ish in the country (would have been the best defense in the MAAC last year). I’ll keep them safely in the muddled middle of the conference, though.

9.      Marist

C – Eric Truog, 6’10, Senior
PF – Phillip Lawrence, 6‘7, Senior
SF – KJ Lee, 6‘4, Sophomore
SG – Brian Parker, 6‘2, Freshman
PG – Khallid Hart, 6‘2, Junior
Reserves: Connor McClenaghan, 6‘9, So.; James Griffin, 6‘5, So.; Kentrall Brooks, 6‘8, Jr.; Isaiah Lamb, 6‘5, Fr.
Postseason prediction:
The bright side for Marist: after finishing tied for last in the conference last year, I think they, like Fairfield, will climb out of the depths. The down side: I don’t think that climb will be as high as the Stags. There’s just not a ton here to like aside from roster continuity (and even, they lose their best player from a 7-25 team). Indeed, the team loses a ton of production in just one guy, as the graduated Chavaughn Lewis used 37.3% of shots while on the floor (a whopping second in the country) on his way to averaging 20.6 points per game. Role players Manny Thomas and TJ Curry graduate as well, but Lewis and his combination of scoring and harassing defense (47th in the country in steal rate) will be toughest to replace for a team bereft of truly impact newcomers (no D1 transfers, no JuCo transfers).

A lot of the scoring load will fall on Khallid Hart, a talented junior guard who missed 13 games near the beginning of the year (during which the team went 1-12). They were a relatively better 6-13 with him in the lineup, earning halfway-decent wins against Fresno St., Canisius, Saint Peter’s, and Quinnipiac, but without his fellow perimeter scorer Lewis, Hart will be pressed into more of a ball-handling and higher usage role. He gets to the line well, but will need to improve his passing and outside shooting as he takes on an even larger role.

The lineup around Hart is questionable. Center Eric Truog is the only respectable rebounder on the team, an area in which the team was horrifically bad last year – 348th in offensive rebound rate, 334th on the defensive end. The team has some other size beyond Truog – namely junior Kentrall Brooks and sophomore Connor McClenaghan – but their insane turnover rates of 45.4 and 33.4 and foul rates of 8.7/40 minutes and 8.3/40 make them both nearly unplayable. Besides, the 6’9 McClenaghan couldn’t even grab 10% of available defensive rebounds when on the floor anyway. Speaking of turnover issues – reserve wing James Griffin managed an assist rate of 4.4% compared to a TO rate of 40.4% (yes you read that right) all while shooting 11% from three-point range. Yeeeeesh fella. Marist will bank on some increased contributions from sophomore KJ Lee and help from some combination of freshmen Brian Parker, David Knudsen (a Dane!), Isaiah Lamb, and Ryan Funk.

Well, after writing that section, I’m even more worried about Marist’s ability to move up the standings. Coach Mike Maker is only in his second season, so perhaps the team will continue to gel with him. More likely, though, is that beyond Hart’s play, the team’s best aspect will be its nickname – “Red Foxes” is pretty awesome.

10.   Quinnipiac

C – Donovan Smith, 6‘9, Junior
PF – Chaise Daniels, 6‘8, Sophomore
SF – James Ford Jr., 6‘4, Senior
SG – Daniel Harris, 6‘3, Junior
PG – Ayron Hutton, 6‘3, Sophomore
Reserves: Alan Chigha, 6‘8, Jr.; Dmitri Floras, 6‘1, So.; Andrew Robinson, 6‘5, Fr.; Abdulai Bundu, 6‘7, Fr.
Postseason prediction:
I have a soft spot for Quinnipiac after they won me a goofy bet in December 2014 in Las Vegas, after having talked my basketball-disinterested friend into riding with them. But gone are Zaid Hearst, Ousmane Drame, Evan Conti, and Justin Harris, unquestionably the team’s four best players, with Hearst and Drame in particular being all-conference level guys (and phenomenal names to boot). In only the team’s second year in the MAAC after making the sizable jump from the Northeast Conference, Quinni sits at a very respectable 23-17 in the conference so far, mostly thanks to that class.

Coach Tom Moore’s teams have a very distinct style over the past seven years – absolutely hammer the offensive glass (O-Reb % rank in those years, nationally: 1, 1, 3, 1, 4, 4, 4), force almost no turnovers defensively (dead last in the country the last two years), and throw up brick after brick from the outside (3FG% rank the last seven years: 284, 337, 342, 343, 323, 346, 323). These distinctions are what make this year so interesting: the team’s three best returning players are all guards – namely, sophomore PGs Ayron Hutton and Dmitri Floras and senior wing James Ford Jr. Hutton and Ford combined to go 61/174 from deep, a respectable 35%, and Hutton and Floras showed solid passing instincts as newcomers. Quinni’s leading returning rebounder, the awkwardly-spelled Chaise Daniels, only grabbed a paltry 2.7 per game (with very *meh* rates), so it will be very interesting if Moore tries to replicate his normal strategy or tailors his approach a little more towards this specific team.

If he attempts to continue the glass onslaught, he will have to rely on a lot of newcomers and players stepping into new roles.      Daniels, Alain Chigha, and Samuel Dingba will need to emerge after playing sparingly last year (keep an eye on the sophomore Dingba, an excellent athlete from Cameroon who came on strong later on last year), and they will likely require some help from the team’s newcomers, junior college transfer Donovan Smith and freshman Abdulai Bundu. Bundu’s
recruiting description says it all – “he rebounds in traffic, is especially good on the offensive glass” – and my guess is he gets some minutes right away as a perfect fit on Quinni’s scheme. Smith averaged 12.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks per game in junior college and could find his way to early minutes as well.

Despite the promising passing prowess of Floras and Hutton (and some added shooting from newcomers Andrew Robinson and Daniel Harris), it’s likely Moore tries to re-create his old style because that’s what he knows. If he can find a way to keep the rebounding juiced while the team’s shooting improves as expected, they’ll finish higher than this, but I’ll say Moore has problems all year jamming square pegs into circular holes.

11.   Niagara

C – Alioune Tew, 6‘9, R-Sophomore
G – Matt Scott, 6‘4, Sophomore
G – Emile Blackman, 6‘4, R-Junior
G – Cameron Fowler, 6‘0, Junior
PG – Karonn Davis, 6‘2, Sophomore
Reserves: Marvin Prochet, 6‘7, Fr.; Justin Satchell, 6‘8, Jr.; Maurice Taylor Jr., 6‘6, Jr.; Kevin Larkin, 6‘5, R-So.; Romero Collier, 6‘1, Fr.
Postseason prediction:
I haven’t seen a lot of teams hemorrhage players like Niagara did after last year. The Purple Eagles had no seniors in the rotation, but only return 4 of their top 11 players this year due to 6 transfers and major legal troubles for a 7th guy. With losses like that, it seems inevitable that Niagara falls (HAHA! Sorry) down the standings, despite a 9th-place finish last year in the MAAC. The bright side is they do return their leading scorer, wing Emile Blackman, and their starting point guard, sophomore Karonn Davis. Blackman is a pretty darn good scorer, showing some efficiency while scoring in a variety of ways. Davis was surprisingly secure with the ball for a freshman playing point 73% of the team’s minutes; these two guys give Niagara at least a fighting chance to stay competitive.

I’m actually mildly surprised that the school brought Chris Casey back after last season’s 8-22 finish and subsequent mass roster defections. Six transfers and a dismissal do not speak well to a coach’s hold over a program, though with only two years under his belt, it’s fair to think Casey might still be finding his footing in the coaching world. To compensate for all of the roster losses, he has brought in four junior college transfers and four freshmen.

Among the newcomers, the big men are almost guaranteed to earn playing time – the team returns nobody over 6’4, so the minutes chasm is massive. JuCo guys Alioune Tew, Justin Satchell, and Maurice Taylor Jr. are first in line, but freshman Marvin Prochet will also have his name in the mix. Tew is the best rim protector of the bunch, and the team will need that with the utter lack of size among the returnees. Taylor and Prochet are good athletes, but they’re more tweeners than actual post players. The Purple Eagles’ biggest flaw last year (among many) was their interior defense, where opponents got to constantly and were not challenged once they did, and unless the new arrivals are better than anticipated right away, that issue will probably be even worse this year.

The returning perimeter foursome of Davis, Blackman, Cameron Fowler, and Matt Scott will be the strength of the team, but with this squad, that’s not saying much. I fear for Chris Casey’s job, especially if they find themselves in the conference basement this year, as I’m unfortunately expecting.