- Matt Cox
3MW’s All Conference Team:
1. Monmouth and their 'King' Reign Supreme
Monmouth's magical run last season came to a screeching halt when incumbent league power Iona ousted them in the conference tournament title game. Just two weeks later, the NCAA selection committee put the nail in the coffin when they [questionably] snubbed the Hawks of an at-large bid in favor of some more prominent programs - Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Wichita St. to name a few. Defending conference player of the year and Monmouth's senior sparkplug, Justin Robinson, had all summer to think about that Selection Sunday letdown, which turned out to be bad news for the other 10 teams in the MAAC. After a sluggish 2-2 start in league play, the Hawks were almost untouchable for the final two months of the season, rattling off 16 straight wins to claim the MAAC regular season crown. And because ESPN is no longer showcasing the Hawks infamous bench antics on primetime television, it feels as if people have forgotten that this year's group is essentially the same team as last year's - only better. Per kenpom.com, the Hawks minutes continuity from last season to this season ranks 3rd in the country and their overall efficiency margin currently sits at 79th overall, 16 spots higher than their 95th national ranking last year.
2. Dunne's D Disrupts MAAC
For over a decade, John Dunne and Saint Peter's have been a thorn in the flesh of MAAC opponents - a byproduct of their consistently stout defensive squads - but only once have the Peacocks punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament. Back in 2010-11, the Peacocks' stymying defense, which ranked 16th best in the country, locked down a prolific Iona offense in the MAAC tournament title game, securing the school's first tournament berth since 1995. It's been a few years since Dunne has assembled a defense of that caliber, but this season's team is quietly trending in that direction. And while their overall defensive efficiency currently ranks 58th best in the nation, what distinguishes this year's team is much improved competence on the offensive end. Thanks to the steady play of veteran floor general Trevis Wyche, Saint Peter's is now scoring at the 4th most efficient clip in the MAAC, a major uptick from the the one-sided squad Dunne had back in 2010-11.
3. Siena Rides Roller Coaster Season
It's hard to make much sense of what happened to Siena in 2016-17. The Saints opened up the season as a popular pick to challenge Monmouth and Iona for the league title, but midseason chemistry rumors, a bizarre leave of absence by starting guard Nico Clareth and an absurd brawl with league foe Rider derailed any hope of a smooth sailing season. Despite the season long bumps, MAAC diehards know what this team is capable of, especially with the talented trio of seniors up-front (Javion Ogunyemi, Brett Bisping and Lavon Long), who often terrorize opposing frontlines on the offensive glass.
The awkward 11-team dynamic in the MAAC creates a unique situation with 5 teams earning 1st round byes. All tournament games will be played at Times Union Center in Albany, NY.
Best Team(s) and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed(s):
According to bracketmatrix.com, the top-seed Monmouth is currently projected as a 13-seed in the field of 68, which is assuming they take care of business in this weekend's bracket. The Hawks did some serious damage in the non-conference a year ago, putting them on the cusp of an at-large bid even after dropping the conference tourney title game to the Gaels. However, the boys from West Long Branch, NJ didn't rack up those same resume-boosting wins this year (best wins are Princeton at home and Memphis on the road), which means they'll have to be sharp 3 games in a row if the senior class of Robinson, Je'lon Hornbeak, Chris Brady and Josh James want to end their collegiate careers playing on the biggest stage.
Dark Horse Team(s):
It's probably a cop out to call Tim Cluess and the Gaels a dark horse as a 3-seed in this year's field, but the bracket sets up nicely for Iona to reach the championship game. Assuming they draw Rider in their opening round game, they'll need to avenge a head-scratching loss suffered at home to the Broncs just last week. However, even Riders' head coach Kevin Baggett would probably admit that his team's blistering hot shooting display is hardly repeatable - the Broncs cashed in on 9 of 18 from downtown and converted 64% of their attempts inside the arc. A more likely scenario in this rematch closely resembles what happened earlier in the season, when Iona routed Rider by 19 in Lawrenceville. If the Gaels can avoid the early round upset, they'll likely run into the 2nd seeded Peacocks in the Semis, who actually present favorable matchup for Iona's high-octane offense. On any given night, the Gaels are capable of unloading a barrage of 3s in a hurry and this year is no different with the plethora of long range firepower at head coach Tim Cluess' disposal (see Jon Severe, Deyshonee Much, Sam Cassell Jr., EJ Crawford and Schadrac Casimir). And while the aforementioned Saint Peter's defense is typically a tough nut to crack, Dunne's defensive style emphasizes sealing off driving lanes and controlling the defensive glass, which can leave the Peacocks vulnerable to the 3 ball. If the Gaels' path plays out as it should on paper (which we all know rarely happens), get your popcorn ready for a potential rematch of last year's championship game with Monmouth, a rivalry that was officially juiced up last January when a good ole fashion brawl broke out in New Rochelle.
(8) Quinnipiac defeats (9) Niagara
(7) Canisius defeats (10) Marist
(6) Rider defeats (11) Manhattan
(1) Monmouth defeats (8) Quinnipiac
(2) Saint Peter's defeats (7) Canisius
(3) Iona defeats (6) Rider
(4) Siena defeats (5) Fairfield
(1) Monmouth defeats (4) Siena
(3) Iona defeats (2) Saint Peter's
(1) Monmouth defeats (3) Iona