- Ky McKeon
Player of the Year: Tyler Nelson, Sr., Fairfield
Coach of the Year: Steve Masiello, Manhattan
Newcomer of the Year: Prince Oduro, Fr., Siena
Freshman of the Year: Prince Oduro, Fr., Siena
Key Returners: Rickey McGill, EJ Crawford, Schadrac Casimir, Deyshonee Much
Key Losses: Jordan Washington, Jon Severe, Sam Cassell
Key Newcomers: TK Edogi, Zach Lewis, CJ Seaforth, Roland Griffin, Gavin Kensmil
Postseason Projection: 12-13 seed
Outlook: It’s hard to find many flaws in Tim Cluess’s first seven years at the helm of Iona. Under Cluess, the Gaels have never won less than 20 games in a season and have never notched less than 11 conference wins in that timespan. On top of that, Cluess has taken Iona to four NCAA Tournaments in seven years, once even as an at-large bid back in 2012. Now with the best returning roster in the MAAC (despite some key losses), Iona looks poised to take its third straight trip to the Dance. A crop of exciting guards lead the way.
Cluess’s Iona teams have a distinct style of play, one that keys on transition and shooting from behind the arc. Last season, the Gaels ranked 14th in the country in 3P%, knocking down 39.7% of their deep balls, and 31st in percentage of total shots taken in transition. Cluess likes to run out a four guard lineup which puts immense pressure on the opposing defensive unit; this four guard look allows the Gaels to space the floor and beat opponents on the run. The flip side of this, of course, is creating a disadvantage on the glass battle and guarding the interior. Iona has never been a good rebounding team, and now with the loss of Jordan Washington and Taylor Bessick, the Gaels’ rebounding numbers may plummet even further.
To counter his lack of size on the defensive end, Cluess likes to mix up his defenses, throwing out a variety of zones (2-3, 3-2, matchup), full court pressure, and straight up man-to-man. These strategic changes give the Gaels a chance to create turnovers or force inefficient shots, which in turn starts the break on the other end.
While Iona sported four guards on the court at nearly all times last season, the offense very much revolved around Jordan Washington, a unanimous All-MAAC selection last year. Washington was so valuable in the post and on the glass, and drew the most fouls per 40 minutes in the entire country. His production will be sorely missed. With Washington gone (and Jon Severe and Sam Cassell), the offense will now turn to a trio of playmakers in Rickey McGill, Deyshonee Much, and EJ Crawford.
McGill will run the point this season, as he did in 2016-17, a position in which he excels at on the basketball court. The 6’1” guard led the Gaels in minutes played last season while posting the 5th best assist rate in the MAAC. McGill’s handling ability contributed greatly to Iona’s top 50 turnover rate, a key factor for a team that relies on guard play and running to score. Crawford was an All-Rookie Team member last season and represents the Gaels’ best shooter, cashing 44.8% of his trey balls last year. Crawford’s size allows him to masquerade as a 4 on defense, and his quickness and on the wing allows him to blow by slower forwards on the offensive end. Expect a major jump in production for the sophomore this season.
Much is a bit of an enigma. As a sophomore in 2015-16, Much poured in 13ppg and turned in a scorching shooting slash of .527/.447/.806. Then, Much basically fell off in the first half of last season, getting banished to the bench and even leaving the team for a few days. It appeared that Much regained his confidence in the latter of the year suggesting that the Rochester native should be poised for a productive scoring season.
Similar to Much, Schadrac Casimir is another guy who seemed to disappear after turning in a brilliant prior season. As a freshman, Casimir played 34 minutes per game and averaged 14.5ppg, stroking to the tune of .434/.423/.895. Hip surgery cut Casimir’s 2015-16 campaign short and he returned as a supporting piece to Iona’s lineup last year. This season, Casimir appears to be fully healthy; he should hold off newcomer Zach Lewis for a starting nod and will play a key role as a secondary ball handler and spot up shooter.
Iona has a healthy crop of newcomers bursting onto the scene this season. Zach Lewis from UMass and TK Edogi from Tulsa are two that should impact (and possibly start) right away. Lewis was an All-MAAC player at Canisius a few seasons ago before landing at UMass. He’ll slot in nicely to the guard heavy attack and should be especially valuable on the defensive end. Edogi isn’t going to be anything close to Washington on offense, but the big man is an elite rebounder and solid shot blocker. He should help sure up those two historic weaknesses for the Gaels.
Aside from Edogi and Lewis, JUCO import Roland Griffin (also formerly of Illinois State) will fill a key reserve role as a wing that can attack the basket and shoot from downtown. CJ Seaforth is a future star point guard in the MAAC – a deep backcourt may delay his impact a year, but he will be a major factor for Iona in the near term. Finally, Gavin Kensmil is a combo forward from Suriname that nobody is talking about. Kensmil is a very strong, athletic player who can handle the rock and possesses great footwork inside. He could be a sleepy impact player for this roster.
Bottom Line: Iona’s deep and talented backcourt should give the Gaels the edge in just about every MAAC contest this season. There are plenty of question marks inside and on defense, but the firepower will likely prove too much for conference foes to overcome. Expect Cluess to notch yet another Tourney bid in his 8th year at the helm.
Key Returners: Micah Seaborn, Austin Tilgham
Key Losses: Justin Robinson, Je’lon Hornbeak, Chris Brady, Josh James, Collin Stewart
Key Newcomers: Marcus McClary, Deion Hammond, Ray Salnave
Postseason Projection: NIT / CIT
Outlook: We can’t talk enough about how well King Rice has rebuilt the Monmouth basketball program. After making two NCAA Tournaments in 2004 and 2006 under Dave Calloway while playing in the NEC, the Hawks suffered through eight straight losing seasons (three under Rice) until finally breaking through during the 2014-15 season. The last two years, Rice has made Monmouth a household name, slaying power six competition, dominating the MAAC conference (35-5 record), and winning the hearts of millions with zany bench celebrations. Unfortunately, Monmouth’s two dominant seasons didn’t result in trips to the Big Dance, as the Hawks fell in the MAAC Tournament and were left off the at-large bid ticket. With four starters and 63% of their scoring gone from a season ago, the Hawks will no longer be the favorite to win the MAAC this season. However, Rice has enough talent to make waves in the regular season and steal an auto-bid in March.
Monmouth has played at a breakneck pace the past two seasons, ranking 21st in tempo last year and 3rd in percentage of field goal attempts in transition (per Hoop-Math). The Hawks particularly thrived running off the defensive glass, oftentimes leaving Chris Brady underneath to rebound while the guards leaked out to start the break. Once in transition, the Hawks guards were outstanding at getting to the rack and kicking to wings spotting up on the run.
Defensively, Monmouth was very good on both the perimeter and in the interior, ranking 33rd in defensive effective field goal percentage. The loss of Je’lon Hornbeak and Chris Brady will likely hurt their defensive prowess, and the Hawks weren’t a very good defensive rebounding team (consequence of leaking out – when they did get boards, they ran). Rebounding is key to what Monmouth likes to do on offense, so the Brady loss is enormous. Reserves like Zac Tillman, Mustapha Traore, and Diago Quinn will need to step up on the glass in his stead. Rice also likes to implement a zone trapping press, which then drops back into either a zone or straight man.
The loss of Justin Robinson, the MAAC Player of the Year, will certainly hurt, but Micah Seaborn’s return should keep the Hawks competent on offense. Seaborn was a 1st Team All-MAAC performer last season and should be one of the best players in the MAAC this year. Per Hoop Lens, Seaborn was Monmouth’s second best player behind Brady on a PPP differential, and the wing is one of the best perimeter stoppers in the league. Seaborn proved to be a knockdown shooter, converting from the field at a .458/.386/.843 slash as a freshman. Those numbers dropped to .416/.330/.828 last season, a concerning drop that appeared to derive from his uptick in usage. Now with an even heavier load on offense this season, it’ll be interesting to see how Seaborn’s efficiency holds.
Aside from Seaborn, Austin Tilgham is the guy to keep your eye on. Tilgham was the MAAC Sixth Man of the Year last season and sported an impressive 116.3 offensive rating with a .519/.455/.744 shooting slash. Tilgham is a very big guard at 6’1” 225 lbs. and is a literal bowling ball attacking the rim on offense with his rare combination of strength and speed. His 45.5% three-point shooting was on a low volume, so expect that number to drop slightly as he’s forced to jack up more shots from distance. Also, with Robinson’s departure, Tilgham likely plays the lion’s share of minutes at the point guard spot.
Monmouth has a big hole in the middle without Brady. His size, glass presence, and post-up ability allowed King Rice to run out a 4-guard lineup with Seaborn at the “4”. None of the three aforementioned frontcourt returners, Tillman, Traore, and Quinn, are proven commodities on either end. Quinn and Traore turned in strong rebounding percentage numbers when they saw the court, but also struggled with foul trouble, and neither shot well from the field. Tillman is in the same vein, with maybe a tad bit more offensive potential – he’s coming off a redshirt year in 2017-18. Pierre Sarr could be an option at the four; he’s definitely more offensively inclined than the three bigs above and is able to step outside to hit the three.
Rice may choose to throw Louie Pillari at the small-ball four spot in lieu of starting two plodding bigs. Pillari came on strong at the end of the year in a reserve role and all reports have him improving by leaps and bounds this offseason. The 6’6” wing is a knockdown shooter (the perfect substitute for Hornbeak) and can put the ball on the floor a little. Pillari is very under-the-radar player that could emerge in a big way in the MAAC this season.
The newcomers on the roster are solid as well and will need to make an immediate impact for Monmouth to contend for the MAAC title. Marcus McClary is the highest rated of the group, a 3-star lefty wing that likes to attack the rim and defends well with superior length and quickness. McClary should thrive in Rice’s transition sets. Deion Hammond is a 2-star off-guard; he’s another quick guard in the backcourt and a good shooter from deep. Ray Salnave, a redshirt freshman, is a strong and physical guard. He isn’t very explosive, but has a steady handle on the ball, suggesting he’ll be able to fill in at point guard, an area in which Monmouth severely lacks depth.
Bottom Line: Monmouth loses a ton from its electric squads of the past two years, but the Hawks bring in enough talent and have enough remaining on the roster to be competitive in the MAAC. I like to think King Rice is a good coach, this season will be telling of how good a coach he truly is.
Key Returners: Zavier Turner, Zane Waterman, Rich Williams, Calvin Crawford, Aaron Walker, Thomas Capuano
Key Losses: Tyler Wilson
Key Newcomers: Pauly Paulicap, Warren Williams, Ebube Ebube, Patrick Strzala, Nehemiah Mack
Postseason Projection: CBI / CIT / None
Outlook: After four strong seasons to start his career at Manhattan, Head Coach Steve Masiello’s Jaspers have fallen on hard times. Manhattan underachieved in 2015-16 and had its season derailed by an injury to its star player last year, culminating in a record of 23-40 (14-24) over the past two seasons. The Jaspers have made six NCAA Tournaments since the turn of the century, the second best mark in the MAAC (after Iona) and now look to notch their seventh trip with an experienced roster and the return of their aforementioned star player. Manhattan appears poised to make the biggest leap in the conference standings in 2016-17.
Turnovers and poor shooting killed the Jaspers last season. Manhattan ranked 343rd in turnover rate and 302nd in effective field goal percentage, which is sure recipe for offensive futility. Recently graduated Jasper Tyler Wilson epitomized Manhattan’s struggles, shooting a slash of .333/.143/.692 while posting a 42.5% TO Rate (that’s good for a 67.3 offensive rating, one of the lowest I’ve ever seen on KenPom).
Because Manhattan was so brutal from the field, it relied heavily on offensive rebounds and getting to the foul line to score. Masiello’s frontcourt leader, Zane Waterman, returns to keep this aspect of the Jasper offense strong. Waterman posted the highest o-rating on the team last year, converting buckets at a .547/.364/.781 slash while ranking 14th in the conference in offensive rebounding percentage. Newcomers Pauly Paulicap (JUCO) and Warren Williams will bolster the post presence behind Waterman this season. Paulicap is an active rebounder and shot blocker on the defensive end, while Williams is more of a back-to-the-basket post scorer.
The Jaspers will feature one of the better wing combos in the conference this year with Calvin Crawford and Rich Williams. Crawford is a long, lanky combo forward with a good outside shot and is also the best defender on the roster. Manhattan allowed 0.12 less points per possession when Crawford played versus when he sat. Williams is the star player, the guy who missed the 2016-17 campaign that derailed Manhattan’s season. There’s little on the floor Williams can’t do – he’ll bring a whole new scoring dynamic to the lineup that the Jaspers simply lacked last year (also, it’s nice having a bona fide go-to scorer on the floor). Expect Williams to etch his name on a 1st or 2nd All-MAAC team this season. Aside from the returners, freshmen Patrick Strzala and Ebube Ebube will fight to enter the lineup mix in their inaugural seasons. Strzala is an excellent shooter, which is always welcome in Riverdale, while Ebube will provide defensive flexibility and look to cause mismatches on offense.
Zavier Turner returns to the point in his senior season. Turner was plagued by turnovers like most Jaspers, but he proved to be a deadly shooter from the outside (40.3%). The 5’9” point guard is able to create his own shot, either in isolation or off the pick-n-roll, but oftentimes he settled for inefficient pull-up jumpers. Having Rich Williams next to him in the lineup should help him cut down on the inefficiencies. Sophomore Aaron Walker, Jr. will also get some run at the point and as an off-ball guard next to Turner. Walker is a bit of a gunner, but like Turner is able to create his own shot. Thomas Capuano will provide shooting off the pine (or in the starting five – he and Walker split starts last year). Look for Nehemiah (aka “Bud”) Mack to get a little run as well. Masiello describes Mack as an old-school type of player, one that can handle the ball and score at a high level.
Masiello has historically had good defensive teams at Manhattan, the past two years notwithstanding. The Jaspers implement a full court press, looking to speed their opponents up in the backcourt and force them into hurried shots. This pressure leads to turnovers, an area Manhattan has exceled at during Masiello’s tenure. Following the initial press, Manhattan will often drop back into a zone, mostly a 2-3 variety. Fouling killed Manhattan last season, which was a consequence of relatively weak resistance at the rim and gambling in its full-court pressure scheme. The Jaspers did a fairly good job at running shooters off the line in their zone, but rebounding and interior defense hurt them.
Bottom Line: I’m clearly bullish on Manhattan, but making a leap from second-to-last to top three is tough to do in any league regardless of the type of players returning. The offense should be miles improved from last season, but the defense will need to get back to historical Masiello levels for the Jaspers to truly compete for the MAAC crown.
Key Returners: Matt Scott, Kahlil Dukes, Marvin Prochet, Dominic Robb, Chris Barton
Key Losses: Maurice Taylor
Key Newcomers: Greg Kuakumensah, Dominik Fragala, Greg King, Keleaf Tate
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Niagara was an odd team last season. The Purple Eagles finished the MAAC regular season with a 6-14 record, but three of those wins came against league powers Iona, Siena, and Saint Peter’s, and two came against a solid squad in Canisius. This showed that, while the Eagles weren’t a great team in 2016-17, they clearly had the talent to compete with just about anyone in the conference on a nightly basis. Chris Casey’s team was one of the youngest groups in the MAAC last season, and with all five starters returning, Niagara suddenly looks like a legitimate threat to compete for the conference crown.
Niagara’s offensive attack relies on transition first (22nd nationally in FGA in transition) and pick-n-roll second. The Eagles often started possessions with ball screens, from which talented point guard Kahlil Dukes could break down the defense and find open teammates. Additionally, Niagara does a lot of action off the ball with flex screens and double down screens to free up wings for isolation opportunities on the perimeter. With Matt Scott, the Eagles have one of the best pure scorers in the MAAC; whether pulling up from downtown or driving to the tin, Scott is effective at scoring the basketball. His counterpart, Dukes, is also a high volume scorer and one of the very best free throw shooters in the country (92.1%). This dynamic duo plus knock-down shooter Chris Barton (47.4% from 3) forms one of the best backcourts in MAAC.
Most Eagle possessions begin and end with either Dukes or Scott, but the big men get involved in the offense as well. Marvin Prochet is a hybrid forward that can score in the post, off the drive, and beyond the arc. He favors fading to the top of the key after setting a ball screen in order to break down his defender off the reversal. Dominic Robb is Niagara’s most prominent post-up threat. The 6’8” forward isn’t the best finisher in the world, but his rebounding on both ends and excellent rim protection ability is invaluable to the squad.
Aside from the five starters, Casey also brings back most of his bench. James Towns and Kevin Larkin are the main returning pieces along with Dwayne Pow, a 5’10” guard who started 6 of the team’s first 10 games last season before going down with an injury. Towns and Pow will both handle the ball alongside Dukes, a guy that plays just about every minute of the game. Neither guard did well in the turnover realm last season, but both were young and should be better this year in that regard.
Of the new faces, two freshmen and an Eastern Kentucky transfer stand out to me the most. The EKU transfer, Greg King, should provide solid depth up front for a team that lacks size. Freshman Greg Kuakumensah is a dynamic combo forward with high athleticism that received plenty of offers coming out of high school. He’ll see the court a fair amount despite the returning talent due to his versatility and size. Dominik Fragala is a freshman point guard that can flat out score the basketball. His three-point shot is beautiful and his quick release allows him to be a threat off the bounce. Expect Fragala to see major minutes next season after Dukes graduates.
With all the above considered, Niagara stands to be a pretty good offensive team this season, but it’ll need to sure up the defensive end to truly compete at the top of the MAAC. Last year, the Eagles allowed a ton of shots near the rim but ranked 30th in FG% defense near there thanks to the shot deterring skillset of Robb and Prochet. However, the Eagles were a poor defensive rebounding squad (odd considering they were great on offense), which led to too many second chances for opposing teams. The biggest detriment to the Eagles defense is their lack of pressure. Niagara was a bottom 40 team in forcing turnovers last season, which allowed opponents to find good looks within their offenses. Casey will mix in a fair amount of zone, which contributes to this lack of TO prowess, but the Eagles need to get more off their full court pressure, a tactic they implemented about 13% of their possessions last season.
Bottom Line: Niagara is an enticing team due to its returning talent and high-scoring guards. In a league where most teams suffered major production losses, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Chris Casey’s squad among the top five in the standings come season close.
Key Returners: Tyler Nelson, Jerome Segura, Matija Milin, Jonathan Kasibabu
Key Losses: Curtis Cobb, Jerry Johnson, Amadou Sidibe
Key Newcomers: Ferron Flavors Jr., Wassef Methnani, Jesus Cruz, Kevin Senghore-Peterson, Taj Benning, Omar El Sheikh, Aidas Kavaliauskus
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Sydney Johnson has completely changed his style at Fairfield over the past two seasons. A former Princeton coach, Johnson brought with him the famous Princeton offense to Fairfield back in 2011-2012. But during the last two years, Johnson’s squads have shifted from a methodical, Princeton style of play to a 4-out, transition-heavy, spaced attack, fully embracing the school moniker of the “Running” Stags. With potential MAAC Player of the Year Tyler Nelson returning and Johnson’s deepest recruiting class ever entering the fold, the Stags look to compete at the top of the MAAC standings once again.
The key to Fairfield’s offense last season was shooting, particularly on the run off opponent scores and the defensive glass. With four or five shooters on the floor at all times, the Stags had plenty of weapons with which to beat their opponents. However, despite the brilliance of Nelson, Fairfield was a sub-par three-point shooting team, which, coupled with anemic offensive rebounding numbers (311th in OR%), led to many possessions lasting just a few seconds. Curtis Cobb and Jerry Johnson, two of the more prolific shooters (volume-wise) are now gone, so Johnson will look to his newbies to provide shooting from behind the arc (hopefully at better percentages).
Tyler Nelson is the metronome that will pace the Stags this season. The 6’3” senior poured in nearly 20ppg last year on .489/.391/.856 shooting and played nearly every minute of every game. Nelson’s uncanny ability to get his shot off quickly under pressure is key to his scoring prowess – even an inch of space can spell doom for a defense. He’ll be joined in the backcourt once again by point guard Jerome Segura, a fellow senior that’s proven to be a serviceable table setter but one that has yet to button down lingering turnover concerns. Segura has averaged a 28% TO Rate over his first three years, which is much too high for any player at any position. Segura is a senior leader, but Johnson has more than enough lead guard talent to pull him onto the pine if TO issues continue.
Up front, Matija Milin and Jonathan Kasibabu return to form a stretchy forward tandem. Milin is the better outside shooter while Kasibabu is the far better rebounder and shot blocker; both bigs shot over 60% from inside the arc.
The Stags were a strong defensive squad last season, ranking 3rd in the MAAC in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom. Fairfield focuses on taking away the three-ball, often by way of a trapping 1-2-2 zone, and occasionally implement a full court press. The one weakness was the paint, where teams like Siena and Saint Peter’s were able to basically have their way against the Stag frontline. Johnson has said that he plans to ramp up the aggressiveness this season on defense, pressing and trapping more with his chasm of bench depth.
There are 6 to 8 newcomers that could play a role on this team in 2017-18, and most hail from outside the USA – Johnson brings in newcomers from Lithuania, Egypt, Tunisia, Puerto Rico, Sweden, and Kuwait. One or two of these guys is going to start, which one is a mystery to me. JUCO guard Ferron Flavors (awesome name) and freshmen wings Jesus Cruz and Kevin Senghore-Peterson are my best assumption to man the third backcourt starting slot.
Flavors averaged 18ppg in JUCO last season; he’s a high-scoring combo guard with a good looking outside shot, but size may be a concern if he lines up alongside Nelson and Segura. Cruz broke out for 19 points in Fairfield’s final game in Italy this offseason. At 6’5”, Cruz is able to play at the point and on the wing; he’s also a deadly shooter and possesses excellent athleticism. Senghore-Peterson is more of a 3/4 tweener and is super versatile on offense where he can score from all three levels of the floor.
Freshman forwards (and high school teammates) Wassef Methnani and Omar El Sheikh could play roles up front. Methnani in particular is a guy I can see starting at the four for this squad at some point during the year. He’s an excellent shooter at 6’8”, can put the ball on the floor, score in the post, rebound, and block shots. His experience playing FIBA ball in Tunisia will be invaluable.
Freshman Taj Benning and redshirt freshman Aidas Kavaliauskas will provide point guard depth and challenge Segura for playing time. Benning looks like the future PG for Fairfield, a big, physical lead guard that projects to be more valuable on defense than on offense. He’s a potential playmaker on offense, but could stand for a shot improvement.
Bottom Line: This is the deepest team Johnson has ever had at Fairfield. However, almost all of Fairfield’s depth is made up of newcomers, suggesting there could be some growing pains at the onset of the year. Nelson has enough talent to carry the Stags to a top-half conference finish, but he’ll need his teammates to step up offensively for Fairfield to compete for the MAAC title. Defensively, Fairfield should be just as strong or stronger than last season – perhaps the ramped up pressure could lead to more turnover creation, an area the Stags lacked in last season.
Key Returners: Nico Clareth, Ahsante Shivers
Key Losses: Marquis Wright, Javion Ogunyemi, Lavon Long, Brett Bisping
Key Newcomers: Prince Oduro, Jordan Horn, Roman Penn, Kevin Degnan
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: 2016-17 was a disappointing year for the Siena Saints. Many pegged the senior-laden squad to compete for the MAAC title with Monmouth and KenPom ranked them #83 to start the year. After a 4-11 start it became apparent that there was significant tumult in the Saint locker room as players started to voice their frustrations with Jimmy Patsos. Despite this, Siena still finished the year strong and came within a breath of the NCAA Tournament. Now with four seniors (all starters) gone, Patsos will look to reload the roster with young talent and regain the confidence of his program.
Patsos’s teams have kept a similar style of play over his 4-year tenure. Siena is all about attacking the rim, ranking 3rd in the country in shot attempts near the bucket versus just 331st from downtown. The rim attack game leads to high percentage shots and free throw opportunities. When all else fails, Siena crashes the boards as hard as anyone in the MAAC; the Saints ranked 24th last season in offensive rebounding percentage. Our friend Jordan Majewski (@jorcubsdan) calls Siena’s offense a “modified flex” – Siena utilizes the flex screen on ball reversals, but also likes to run its playmakers off double screens and mixes in other variations throughout each possession.
On the other end, Siena takes away the three-point line at all costs, mixing in aggressive man-to-man sets with an extended 3-2 zone. However, this aggressive perimeter style often left the middle exposed; Siena allowed the 8th most chances at the rim last season. The loss of Brett Bisping could make this defensive aspect even worse and the Saints will likely take a dip in the defensive rebounding rankings, an area in which they were just average in 2016-17.
With the enormous loss of production from last year’s team, Siena will turn to Nico Clareth to handle the scoring load. Clareth is a fearless gunner when he steps out on the court, ranking 8th in the country last season in %Shots (the percentage of total team shots taken by a player when on the floor) per KenPom. The fearless shot selection means Clareth is a streaky player, one that can go ice cold or scorching hot. Prime example: Clareth went 8/11 from the floor (7/9 from 3) for 27 points vs. Monmouth on March 5th last season, then went 1/9 (1/8 from 3) from the floor for 4 points the next day vs. Iona. Chemistry-wise, it’d likely be for the best if Clareth pulled back the reigns a bit on offense this year.
Clareth will be bolstered in the backcourt by returning sophomores Ahsante Shivers and Khalil Richard. Shivers is a burgeoning talent on the wing, a player that can find his way through the teeth of the defense via the drive. Expect Shivers’s usage to skyrocket this season as he takes on a more central role in the offense. Richard will be the team’s starting point guard on opening day. The 6’0” guard struggled with turnovers last season but shot a sparkling .508/.423/.867 from the floor. He’ll need to produce and limit turnovers to hold off the incoming talent behind him.
Aside from the aforementioned returners, Patsos likely starts Evan Fisher at the five and brings Kadeem Smithen off the pine in a major-minute role. Both Fisher and Smithen performed well in the team’s trip to Montreal this offseason, Fisher in particular proved he could be a competent rebounder in the interior. Kevin Huerter’s older brother, Thomas Huerter, could also play a factor this season after demonstrating an improved game in Montreal this offseason.
Patsos brings in one of the better freshman class in the conference headlined by forward Prince Oduro, and guards Jordan Horn and Roman Penn. Oduro looks like a future MAAC star, a strong, athletic 4-man that should start immediately alongside Fisher up front. The 6’8 freshman has potential as a rim protector and fierce rebounder, and has the skills on offense to be a real threat on that end. Horn is an excellent shooter and a guy that could develop into a playmaker off the pine as the season progresses. He’ll see plenty of time on the wing along with Smithen off the bench. Penn is Siena’s point guard of the future, a heady playmaker with exceptional court vision, a good shot, and D1 quickness. If Richard struggles with turnovers, Patsos likely won’t hesitate to hand the keys to Penn. Non-freshman newcomer Kyle Degnan (formerly of Fairfield) will also contribute as a shooter (44.8% from 3 in 2015-16) off the pine.
Bottom Line: Siena loses a lot from last year’s experienced roster, but it may be for the best considering the questionable locker room chemistry. With a clear offensive pecking order led by Clareth, an emerging star in Shivers, and an enticing freshman class, Patsos should have his Saints competing for the MAAC title once again this season.
Key Returners: Jermaine Crumpton, Malik Johnson, Isaiah Reese
Key Losses: Kassius Robertson, Phil Valenti, Kiefer Douse
Key Newcomers: Takal Molson, Jonathan Sanks, Marcale Lotts
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: It’s been 22 years since the Canisius Golden Griffins last saw the NCAA Tournament. John Beilein was the coach back then, the current Michigan Head Honcho. After several years of futility, Canisius has built some momentum over the past five seasons, winning over 18 games four of those years and finishing in the top five of the MAAC standings in three. New coach Reggie Witherspoon did well in his first season at the helm, especially in the non-con where his squad knocked off the likes of Albany, Buffalo, and St. Bonaventure (at the Bonnies’ home floor). The Golden Griffins lost some key pieces, but they have enough returning and good incoming talent to make another run at a top five conference finish.
Canisius won games last year because of its offensive attack, the 3rd best offensive attack in the MAAC per KenPom. Witherspoon carried over his excellent offensive gameplan from his coaching days at Buffalo, which consists of a well-spaced floor with shooters all around and a philosophy that emphasizes the extra pass and working the ball to get a clean look. Canisius ranked 5th in the country last season in assist rate, which was helped by the fact that almost every player on the floor could shoot the basketball. The loss of Robertson, Valenti, and Douse will hurt Canisius’s shooting, but the Griffins should still be a force to be reckoned with on that end.
Canisius lost games last year because of its brutal defensive performance. Per Hoop-Math, the Griffins allowed the 43rd most shots at the rim last season and ranked 312th in field goal % defense at the rim. The three-point line was taken away, and Canisius guards forced turnovers off steals, but there was absolutely no resistance in the paint to deter post ups and penetrators.
Witherspoon played a lot of different lineups during the school’s offseason trip to Montreal, but two constants emerged. Jermaine Crumpton and Isaiah Reese tore it up in Canada this past August and look poised to lead the Griffins in scoring in 2017-18. Crumpton was spectacular last season on offense, sporting a 110.2 O-Rating on a 25.1% usage (that’s good) and shooting a slash of .523/.429/.719 from the field. Crumpton’s versatility allows him to score from everywhere on the floor, and when Canisius goes small, as it often does, the 6’6” forward has a huge advantage on the perimeter against slower defenders. Reese turned in a good freshman season, posting the 10th best assist rate in the MAAC as a point / wing hybrid and ranking 2nd in the MAAC in steal percentage. The 6’5” sophomore led the Griffins in scoring in Canada and should break out in a big way in his second collegiate season. His quickness and length combination makes him deadly in the open floor.
Malik Johnson returns to man the point guard spot, looking to build off a freshman season in which he was thrust into the starting lineup on day one. Johnson’s assist rate was strong and he proved to be an asset in transition, but he struggled with turnovers and shooting. Distributing the ball is Johnson’s primary goal, so the shooting isn’t a huge concern, but the turnover issue will need to be solved for Canisius to truly excel. Johnson was the only player to start all five games in Canada, proving A) he’s becoming a team leader and B) Canisius has no depth at point guard.
Witherspoon has to do something about his porous interior defense this season. One thing he could do is start a true frontcourt contributor next to Crumpton. Crumpton was forced into the de facto center role on defense due to a lack of big man depth (and lack of willingness by Witherspoon to play big), which hurt the Griffins on that end. Witherspoon stated this offseason that he prefers his small lineups, especially on offense, so this trend may not change, but at least Canisius has a few more options this year. 6’11” Canadian Selvedin Planincic will likely see more time at center this season after playing limited minutes in his first year at Canisius. However, there’s a good chance returning sophomore Dantai St. Louis or JUCO import Marcale Lotts challenge him for that starting (or heavy minutes) role. St. Louis proved to be a force on the glass in limited time last year and in the offseason, but a lack of offensive prowess kept him off the court in 2016-17. Lotts projects as a better scorer than St. Louis and can even step out a bit from behind the arc.
The most significant newcomers this season will be freshman Takal Molson and JUCO transfer Jonathan Sanks. Molson is a big, slashing-style wing with a pretty good jump shot – he contributed in many ways on the team’s foreign trip. Most importantly, Molson has potential to be a lock down wing defender with his size and length. Any help the Canisius defense can get is welcome. Sanks is a shooting guard that should be able to replace some of the bombing production lost from Robertson’s departure.
Bottom Line: I like what Reggie Witherspoon did in his first season up in Buffalo and think he can continue his team’s trajectory this season. Newcomers like Molson and Sanks should be enough to maintain Canisius’s highly efficient offense and added frontcourt depth could help solve the rim protection concerns. A top five finish in the MAAC is certainly attainable for the Griffins in 2017-18.
Key Returners: Stevie Jordan
Key Losses: Norville Carey, Kahlil Thomas, Jimmie Taylor, Xavier Lundy
Key Newcomers: Devine Eke, Tyrei Randall, Paxton Wilson, Karamoko Cisse, Jordan Allen (Redshirt), Frederick Scott
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: The Rider Broncs haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1994. I was going to make a reference to the popular movies and music during this time, then I realized my colleague, Jim Root, did that already in his UNLV preview. So instead of that, I’ll just jump into the preview.
Kevin Baggett has done a pretty good job during his five year stint in Lawrenceville, NJ, leading the Broncs to an 85-79 record and notching double digit conference wins thrice. Baggett’s squads have historically been strong on defense but weak on the offensive end. With the loss of four key pieces, scoring may still be hard to come by, but the defense should still be one of the better units in the MAAC.
Baggett has switched his styles up a bit over the years, including taking Rider from one of the slowest teams in college basketball in 2015-16 to one of the fastest last season. The Broncs focused on pushing off the glass into transition and looked to attack the rim at all costs. Rider ranked 6th in the country in percentage of shot attempts at the rim, but unfortunately ranked 305th in FG% at the rim. As a supplement, the Broncs relied heavily on offensive rebounding to get buckets and second chance opportunities (and defensive rebounding started most of their breaks). The loss of Norville Carey and Kahlil Thomas is going to hurt this aspect, but returning center Tyere Marshall has potential to be one of the best boarders in the conference.
The constant rim attack should also be a holdover from last season with the loss of Jimmie Taylor and Xavier Lundy, the two most prolific three-point shooters on the team. Returning guard Anthony Durham could be a source of threes this season, as could incoming freshman Paxton Wilson and redshirt freshman Jordan Allen, but overall this should still be a squad focused on getting to the rack.
Stevie Jordan will be the focal point of the Broncs’ offense, a dynamic point guard with a keen ability to find open teammates. Jordan led the MAAC in assist rate and ranked 6th in steal rate on the opposite end of the floor. Baggett likes to utilize the press in his defenses, which depends on guys like Jordan and returning wing Dimencio Vaughn being able to force turnovers. Kealen Washington-Ives will fill a sort of dual point guard role alongside Jordan, or could be used as a backup point option off the pine if one of the newcomers evolves into a reliable option.
The Broncs’ high-pressure defense assisted in their ability to limit outside shooting, but Rider constantly gave up looks at the rim. Rider gave up the 11th most looks at the rim last season, but ranked 15th in FG% defense – pretty much a mirror stat of its offense. Carey and Thomas were strong rim protectors, so Marshall and Maine transfer Devine Eke will need to step up to continue deterring shots from close range.
Eke gives Rider another post presence and rebounder inside, and word is he’s developed a bit of range in his jumper, something that will help space the floor when playing alongside Marshall. Karamoko Cisse, a JUCO 5-man, will play backup to Marshall at the center position. He’s a load inside, a strong, athletic forward that can body down low for rebounding and post position.
Of all the newcomers (aside from Eke), Tyrei Randall and the aforementioned Jordan Allen appear to be in position to make the biggest impacts on the lineup. Randall is skinny, but his length and height allows him to play multiple spots on both ends of the floor. The lefty will be a key part in improving Rider’s scoring woes. Allen took a redshirt year due to academics last season but should be all set to contribute this year. The 6’4” guard can shoot from literally anywhere and has the skill to play either guard spot. Former DePaul Blue Demon Frederick Scott could also fill a key wing role in the rotation.
Bottom Line: Rider looks destined to repeat its mediocre conference performance this season. I can’t see the Broncs taking a big jump in the standings given the loss of personnel, but they should have enough talent to at least stay competitive. Somewhere between 6th and 8th feels right.
9. Saint Peter's
Key Returners: Nick Griffin, Nnamdi Enechionyia
Key Losses: Quadir Welton, Trevis Wyche, Antwon Portley, Chazz Patterson
Key Newcomers: Kedrian Johnson, Manny Dixon, Devauhnte Turner, Elijah Gonzales, Julian Powell
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Saint Peter’s enjoyed its best season under John Dunne last year, notching a 23-13 overall record and placing 2nd in the MAAC at 14-6. The Peacocks couldn’t quite make it past MAAC Tourney champ Iona, but went on to win the CIT championship in late March over Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Dunne had an experienced roster last season led by seniors Quadir Welton and Trevis Wyche. Now with graduations, the Peacocks lose 65% of their scoring and rebounding, 86% of their assists, and 80% of their steals from a year ago. Dunne will turn to a young bench and three returning rotation players to bring the Cocks back to the top of the MAAC standings.
Saint Peter’s exhibited one of the largest offensive / defensive imbalances in the country last season. The Peacock offense (ranked #210 in adjusted efficiency per KenPom) relied almost exclusively on the three-ball, which combined with an excruciatingly slow pace of play and a lack of offensive rebounding, resulted in an overall lackluster attack. Conversely, Saint Peter’s was one of the best defensive units in the country last season, exceling at nearly every aspect on that end and ranking 36th in adjusted efficiency per KenPom. Dunne has developed a bit of a reputation for his defensive coaching prowess (and God awful execution on the offensive end), focusing on making opponents become jump shooters and taking away easy drives and entry passes into the middle. While the Cocks didn’t have an appetite for the offensive glass, they were stout on the defensive boards, a consequence of a team box-out mentality and their focus on denying the paint. It also didn’t hurt to have two of the best stealers in the country last season in Wyche and Chazz Patterson. With those two defensive stoppers gone this year, as well as the Cocks’ best interior defender (Welton), the defense may slide a little down the national rankings.
There is reason to believe the defense will hold strong, however, thanks to the return of Nnamdi Enechionyia, Nick Griffin, and Sam Idowu (and Dunne’s general coaching greatness on that end). Per Hoop Lens, Enechionyia was the squad’s best overall player last season on a points per possession basis, which was due in large part from his defensive contribution (the Cocks allowed only 0.91ppp when Enechionyia was on the floor). The senior wing, and former Samford Bulldog, started every game last year for Dunne, sprinkling a healthy dose of steals and blocks while often lining up against opposing power forwards. On offense, Enechionyia was super-efficient, as his .475/.396/.842 shooting slash suggests, but he didn’t assert himself as a playmaker or go-to guy. He finally broke out against Furman in the Cocks’ second-to-last game of the year, pouring in 18 points on 7/8 shooting. Enechionyia will look to take a major step forward this season and expand his mostly “catch and shoot” skillset.
Griffin is Saint Peter’s’ returning leading scorer, another guard that was primarily a spot-up threat in last year’s attack. His 43.4% 3P% ranked 5th in the MAAC and on the other end, Griffin proved to be a rock solid perimeter defender. Idowu is the guy to watch out for this year in Jersey City. The 6’7” forward likely slots into Welton’s small-ball 5 role (or alternatively the 4-spot next to Mamadou Ndiaye if Dunne switches to a traditional lineup), but he’ll give the Cocks a little more versatility on offense than Welton did. With Idowu’s unique ability to shoot, post up, and drive, MAAC defenders are going to have a hard time matching up with him on offense. The one issue will be fouls, an area that Idowu struggled to control in his sophomore season.
Aside from the aforementioned returners, your guess is as good as mine for which of the returning and incoming pieces carve out consistent rotation spots. Sophomore Quinn Taylor likely gets a crack at the starting five early in the year; he was an excellent rebounder on the wing last year and proved to be a valuable slashing threat on offense.
Dunne will need a starting point guard to emerge from his group of newbies. Griffin isn’t a point guard, preferring to spot-up off the ball. Luckily, Dunne will have plenty of options considering he brings in at least three PGs. The starting job will likely come down to a competition between Kedrian Johnson and Elijah Gonzales. Johnson is a good table setter, very unselfish, and exhibits good athleticism from the lead guard spot. His disruptive defense and quick hands will fit in perfectly with Saint Peter’s’ defensive philosophy. Gonzales is more of a scoring point guard, small in stature at only 5’9” but creative enough to find open looks in the paint and from the outside.
Freshman Manny Dixon and JUCO transfer Julian Powell should contribute immediately in the frontcourt. Dixon is a big-time athlete that projects as a good defender and a wing slasher on offense. Powell is also very athletic and can match up with 4’s with his shot-blocking ability. Neither wing is a much of a shooter, which isn’t ideal for the style Dunne implemented last year, but the veteran coach has been known to be fluid in his offensive attacks based on personnel. If the Cocks need another shooter, JUCO guard Davauhnte Turner could be a good option off the pine.
Bottom Line: There’s going to be some heavy regression this season as the Peacocks go from one of the most experienced MAAC teams to one of the greenest. Dunne’s defense is going to be there, which could be enough to maintain a .500 or better conference record, but the offense is questionable heading into the year.
Key Returners: Brian Parker, Isaiah Lamb, Ryan Funk, Kristinn Palsson, Tobias Sjoberg
Key Losses: Khallid Hart, Kentrall Brooks
Key Newcomers: Andrea Bernardi, Aleksandar Dozic, Austin Williams, Lasse Gummerus
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Marist hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 7’4” center Rik Smits graced the halls of Poughkeepsie back in the mid-late 1980s. Recently, the Red Foxes haven’t finished over .500 since 2008, and under Mike Maker, they’ve yet to eclipse even 10 wins. There’s some hope this season for encroaching the 10-win mark with 4 returning starters, but the loss of All-MAAC guard Khallid Hart doesn’t bode well for the school’s quest to get back to mediocrity.
The Red Foxes were brutally awful in every facet on defense last season. Ranking 330th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency (per KenPom), Marist was consistently beat in transition, at the rim, and from beyond the arc. The Foxes didn’t force turnovers and their size limited their ability to rebound the basketball. Nothing seemed to work for Maker last season, who mixed in several types of zones to go along with a traditional man-to-man. A sliver of hope for improvement exists with freshman Austin Williams coming to town. Williams projects as a stout perimeter defender with his athleticism. Additionally, Marist’s defensive stats when Khallid Hart (small sample size) was on the floor were far worse (allowed 1.15ppp) compared to when Hart sat (1.04ppp), so maybe his absence helps the defense.
So much of what Marist did on offense last season revolved around Hart – many possessions involved pick-n-rolls or isolations for Hart as the other Foxes stood on the perimeter waiting to catch and shoot. Brian Parker will be looked upon to provide playmaking with Hart out of the picture. The 6’2” point guard likes to overpower smaller defenders (he weighs 225 lbs.) on his way to the basket and ranked 1st in the MAAC in free throw rate as a sophomore last season. Parker’s backcourt cohorts are Ryan Funk and Kristinn Palsson, two spot-up shooters that offer very little outside of catch-and-shoot. Funk was brilliant from downtown last year, sporting a 40.5% 3P% on 200 attempts, but Palsson connected on only 29.6% of his 108 tries. Expect freshman wing Andrea Bernardi to see plenty of run in the backcourt this season in Palsson’s stead. Bernardi is a long, athletic wing with good shooting ability and should offer more versatility on offense for Marist. Reserve wing David Knudsen will also look to reprise his bench role this season and Richie Mitchell will also see time at the point behind Parker.
The frontcourt consists of a myriad of bodies led by returners Isaiah Lamb and Tobias Sjoberg. Kentrall Brooks was the team’s best rebounder last season, so his absence means Sjoberg will need to step up in the paint. Sjoberg proved to be a capable post presence during his time on the floor as a frosh, shooting 62.1% from the field, rebounding consistently, and providing rim protection on the other end (at least somewhat). Lamb is an undersized four that can step out on the perimeter to shoot a bit.
Marshall transfer Aleksandar Dozic and Finnish freshman Lasse Gummerus will push Lamb and Sjoberg for minutes up front this season. Both are skilled big men with size at 6’9” a piece and can shoot from the perimeter or beat their defender in the post.
Bottom Line: With the dearth of talent over at Quinnipiac, Marist has a fighter’s chance to finish above last place since 2014 (they tied with Manhattan for last season). Without Hart, the offense may struggle, and defense will continue to be a question mark. Maker will need to start showing improvements soon, or his time in Poughkeepsie could be coming to an end.
Key Returners: Chaise Daniels, Abdulai Bundu
Key Losses: Peter Kiss, Mikey Dixon, Reggie Oliver, Daniel Harris
Key Newcomers: Isaiah Washington, Rich Kelly, Jacob Rigoni, Nathan Davis, Matt Donahue
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Out with the old, in with the new. After ten years at Quinnipiac, Tom Moore leaves his post as the head man in Hamden, CT. In his place steps Baker Dunleavy, the 35-year old son of famous coach Mike Dunleavy and former assistant to Jay Wright at Villanova. Dunleavy won’t have it easy in his first year at the helm – four players transferred from last season’s 10-21 (7-13) squad including the two best players on the roster, each of whom happened to be promising freshmen and members of the MAAC All-Freshman team in 2016-17.
With a change in coach comes a change in style. Moore’s Bobcat teams had general characteristics during his tenure – they crashed the offensive boards with reckless abandon and generally avoided taking many three-pointers. Last season, Moore’s squad also looked to get out in transition more than in years past, ranking 12th in the country in adjusted tempo per KenPom. If Dunleavy brings Wright’s style of play over from Villanova, these trends will change significantly. Villanova uses ball screens, floor spacing, and the long ball to beat its opponents, and tend to play a slower brand of basketball. Dunleavy will of course want to adjust his style to his personnel, but luckily most of them are brand new and have no prior biases towards Moore’s gameplay.
Only four players on the current roster played meaningful minutes last year, and only two guys played over 15 minutes per game. Those two, Chaise Daniels and Abdulai Bundu, will be the primary forces in the frontcourt this year. Daniels is the returning leading scorer for the Bobcats, a long 6’9” post player with a decent nose for the offensive glass and capable shot blocking skills on defense. The big man is good at taking up space in the paint and using his length to shoot over defenders. Bundu has been one of the MAAC’s best offensive rebounders in his first two seasons at Quinnipiac, but has yet to break out and become a consistent source of offense. He’s capable of stepping out to the mid-range area and forms tree-like defense alongside Daniels up front.
Andrew Robinson and Alain Chigha represent the second half of the four meaningful returners. Robinson is a good breakout candidate with his athleticism and prototypical size on the wing. He can also shoot the ball, which is an area that Quinnipiac needs to see vast improvement in 2017-18. Similarly, Chigha is another good-sized wing, one that can play either forward spot and give Quinnipiac a bit of boarding and shooting. In limited minutes, Chigha led Quinnipiac in offensive rating last season, per KenPom.
With the large exodus of talent, Dunleavy will need to rely on several newcomers in his inaugural year. Isaiah Washington, a Penn State transfer, likely competes with freshman Rich Kelly for the starting point guard spot. Washington played ample minutes as a freshman at PSU, but was banished to the bench in his sophomore campaign. He’s mostly a three-point shooter that would prefer to remain off the ball, but lack of depth may force him to handle the rock. Kelly is a steady, fundamental lead guard. He won’t beat anyone with explosiveness or athleticism, but his shooting and decision making should allow him to be a valuable asset.
Aside from Kelly, Dunleavy’s remaining freshmen consist of Jacob Rigoni, Nathan Davis, and Matt Donahue. Rigoni isn’t super athletic, but he’s a crafty scorer and capable shooter. His time spent on the U20 team in Australia should benefit him in college. Donahue will serve as knockdown shooter off the pine.
Bottom Line: Dunleavy faces a tough challenge in his first season in Hamden. With so much production lost, Quinnipiac won’t be competing for the MAAC title anytime soon. But, Dunleavy has a strong coaching pedigree and learned under one of the best coaches in the country in Jay Wright. He should have this program back to conference relevance down the road.