(Compare to our preseason preview here)
- No Justin Robinson, Big Problem: There were other factors here (Micah Seaborn's injury, the graduation of 3 other senior starters), but the biggest issue for the Hawks was the loss of MAAC POY Justin Robinson. The star PG tore apart the conference for three years, but depressingly, he never played in the NCAA Tournament - and Monmouth is a long way from getting there in 2018.
- Golden Griffs Rise to the Top: Behind the terrific twosome of Isaiah Reese and Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius stormed to a 15-3 conference record and tied for the title despite being picked 9th by the league's coaches in the preseason. Crumpton was an established MAAC scorer, but Reese's emergence from a promising freshman role player to a conference POY candidate as a sophomore was an incredible leap. In a weird twist, it might actually help Canisius to have lost the tiebreaker - they'll avoid Iona and Rider until the title game.
- Sophomore Sensations: The team that won that tiebreaker, Rider, may find itself right back in the MAAC winner's circle in 2018-19, as everyone in the rotation except glue guy Anthony Durham returns next year. Five of the Broncs' six best players are sophomores, so no matter what happens in the tournament this year, Coach Kevin Baggett and the rest of Rider Nation will gain valuable postseason experience. The bad part of the draw - a healthy Seaborn would make Monmouth very dangerous (and they already beat the Broncs once), Rider only beat St. Peter's by 4 and 3 points in their two meetings, and ultra-talented Iona could await in the semifinals. The young guns will have earned the title if they're able to win it.
The hotbed of hoops that is Albany, NY, hosts the MAAC, played in the same gym where Siena has its home games (the Times Union Center). One small idiosyncrasy in the schedule - the 1 and 2 seeds play their quarterfinal games on Friday, while the other semifinals are on Saturday, affording the top teams extra rest if they win (interpret that as helpful or harmful as you wish).
What to Watch:
- Will Iona be able to salvage a disappointing season? Many (including this site) had the Gaels pegged as the MAAC favorite in the preseason, potentially in runaway fashion. But that dominance never emerged, as poor rebounding on both ends and (surprise!) a weak defense under Tim Cluess held them back. The backcourt can fill it up in a hurry with shooters and scorers galore (and Zach Lewis should be healthy after missing 2 games to illness), but if TK Edogi and Roland Griffin don't get any defensive help, the Gaels will continue to struggle.
- Can Siena make another run? The tournament hosts knocked off a beloved Monmouth squad last year in this event, thanks to the homecourt advantage and an out-of-body experience from Nico Clareth. This year's team is...a lot worse (to put it lightly) and extremely young, but you never know what Jimmy Patsos will try to pull off in a win-or-go-home setting.
- Injuries could have a big effect here - Niagara's Matt Scott has missed three straight games and was last seen in a walking boot, and Micah Seaborn's knee is constantly balky. That's two of the ten best players in the league, so keep an eye on their health as the games get rolling.
- Despite the overall balance of the league, the most likely scenario still involves the top two seeds (Canisius and Rider) meeting in the title game. They split their two regular season meetings (home team won each time), so a rubber match on a neutral floor feels like exactly what this league deserves.
Who Will Win:
- Iona - Tim Cluess has long had success in this event, including taking down Monmouth in 2016 and beating host Siena in the title last year. The talent is all there, too, although you'd like to see the team playing a little better down the stretch (lost 4 of last 6).
If Not Them, Then:
- Rider - The youth scares me a bit here, as does the exceedingly unfavorable draw - Monmouth w/ Seaborn, Iona, Canisius would be a hell of a run. No one is hotter, though, as they've won 11 of 12 and just put 110 on Iona on Sunday. One last concern - the Broncs only shoot 60.7% from the free throw line, 349th in the country, a factor that always seems to show up in single elimination tournaments.
- Canisius - The Golden Griffins should be able to score with anyone given their fearsome top two (and the continued emergence of freshman Takal Molson as a legit third banana), but their defense is reliant on a major facet that scares me in a tourney setting - forcing turnovers. If the game slows down a bit (as it tends to do in do-or-die games), opponents will take better care of the ball, and if Canisius can't force TOs, their defense is pretty soft inside.