Player of the Year: Isaiah Reese, Jr., Canisius
Coach of the Year: Kevin Baggett, Rider
Newcomer of the Year: Nick Rutherford, R Jr., Monmouth
Freshman of the Year: Jalen Pickett, Siena
Key Returners: Dimencio Vaughn, Frederick Scott, Stevie Jordan, Jordan Allen, Tyere Marshall, Anthony Durham
Key Losses: None, really
Key Newcomers: Kimar Williams (FIU), Ahmad Gilbert (Minnesota), Ajiri Johnson
Outlook: After a tremendously successful 2017-18 season that saw the Broncs tie for the MAAC regular season title, the postseason ended in heartbreak after they flamed out in the MAAC quarterfinals, something that has unfortunately become an annual tradition for Kevin Baggett. This year offers a golden opportunity to change that, though, as Rider returns nearly everyone of note from that 22-win team – expectations will be high, but given the roster at hand, those lofty hopes are warranted.
That roster is keyed by wing Dimencio Vaughn, a multi-talented weapon who is one of the best defenders in the conference. He often plays at the top of Baggett’s various zone trap schemes, and his length and anticipation make him a nightmare for opposing ball-handlers as they try to initiate offense. He’s also a wrecking ball on offense, using his strength to bully smaller guards and lead the Bronc charge to the free throw line, a key source of Rider’s scoring. Fellow forward Frederick Scott is more of a 3/4 ‘tweener, but he is another inside/out threat who creates issues with his positional versatility.
Lead ball-handler Stevie Jordan is the straw that stirs the drink on offense, getting into the lane with relative ease and drawing extra defenders. This means Vaughn and Scott are often attacking scrambling close-outs, giving them the option to shoot or drive. Jordan Allen vastly prefers the former, and his efficient perimeter scoring helps keep the offense balanced. Things get a little iffy when he attempts to drive, though: he shot a better percentage from deep (38.5%) than inside the arc (37.9%). FIU transfer Kimar Williams should eat up the backup minutes that Kaelen Washington-Ives takes with him, making for a seamless transition in the rotation.
The Broncs bring back outstanding team defender Anthony Durham, but two other wing options – Minnesota transfer Ahmad Gilbert and sophomore Tyrei Randall – have potential to steal some of his minutes. After starting every game a season ago, Durham has a major head start to retain that spot, but Gilbert raises the team’s ceiling given his size and athleticism.
Scott likely continues his role as the 6th man spark plug, with junior big man Tyere Marshall resuming his role as the man in the middle. However, when the three-man combination of Scott, Vaughn, and Marshall got on the floor together, the Broncs struggled mightily defensively last year, relative to other options:
While some of that can be attributed to small sample variance in opponent shooting from three-point range (they shot an absurd 44% from deep against that trio), Baggett’s zone schemes often leave Rider exposed from the perimeter, cutting through their defense. Marshall’s offensive rebounding prowess heightens the team’s attack, and the Broncs could be one of the nation’s best in that regard with Vaughn, Scott, and Marshall all on the floor together, but they need to find a way to combat the perimeter deficiencies. They're three of Rider's five best players, so finding the best way to play them all together is perhaps Baggett's most important challenge. The importance of Gilbert and Randall is accentuated by this concern, as the Broncs' best lineups might still only consist two of those three.
Bottom Line: With so much talent back, the Broncs should be the preseason favorite to win the league and potential upset pick should they make the NCAA Tournament come March. Baggett’s defense and the team’s relentless attacking style make them a difficult matchup, although they tend to get lit up by strong shooting teams. I wouldn’t be psyched about gambling on the Broncs due to their miserable free throw shooting – figure it out, Freddy (45%) and Tyere (54%) – so tread lightly in that realm. Even so, Baggett will most likely snap his ignominious quarterfinal streak and potentially earn his first NCAA bid. With so much of the roster’s talent residing in the junior class, the next two seasons could bring great things to Lawrenceville.
Key Returners: Rickey McGill, EJ Crawford, Roland Griffin
Key Losses: Deyshonee Much, Shadrac Casimir, Zach Lewis, TK Edogi
Key Newcomers: Isaiah Still (Robert Morris), Asante Gist (Eastern Kentucky), Ben Perez (JUCO), Tajuan Agee (JUCO), Niksa Nikolic (JUCO), Jahnathan Maxwell (JUCO)
Outlook: Even in a “down” year for the Gaels, Tim Cluess and the boys still managed to crash the MAAC party and earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, a tradition that has to drive the conference’s other coaches to the brink of insanity. His ability to bring in impact players by any means necessary – recruits, D-I transfers, JUCO transfers – constantly maintains the roster’s potency, and that will be true once again this season. The 2018-19 Gaels will feature a few homegrown pieces, but a massive share of the production will come from imports from a variety of other schools.
Following in the illustrious footsteps of Scott Machado and AJ English as the maestro of a Tim Cluess tournament squad, Rickey McGill sets the tone for the transition-heavy, perimeter-oriented attack. McGill is a quick penetrator with tight handles, adept at getting into the lane and making sound decisions once there. The roster simply didn’t have someone who could create shots like he could last year, and the on/off numbers magnify his importance:
The difference between having McGill (+11) and not (-21) is one of the most insane gaps I've seen on the Hoop Lens site. It's basically the difference between a MAAC champ and a bottom 10 team in college basketball; the worst team in the country, Alabama A&M, was -22 overall.
Fellow returning double-digit scorers EJ Crawford and Roland Griffin feed off his penetration, with Crawford serving as an inside-out threat at 6’6 with a smoother jumper, while Griffin is more of a power interior player. Crawford may emerge into the next Iona star with so many departures from last year's high-scoring roster.
The roster attrition hits the Gaels’ shooting particularly hard, as over 200 makes from distance depart New Rochelle. For a team that’s extremely reliant on spacing and shot up shooting – Cluess has always emphasized the three-ball – that’s mildly concerning, at least until you factor in the promising crop of newcomers entering the program. Division I transfers Isaiah Still and Asante Gist (eligible in December) can both light it up, particularly on the quality looks generated by McGill and the Iona attack, and freshman Payton Hudson and JUCO transfer Ben Perez are no slouches from deep, either. Gist (and perhaps Hudson) also allows Cluess to play dual point guards, a configuration he loves (the more ball-handlers, the better). Perez hails from storied program South Plains, and I was impressed with his tape – he plays in passing lanes defensively and has some craft off the bounce; he’ll fit into the Iona system quite well.
Cluess also dipped into the JUCO ranks to replenish his frontcourt. There’s no Jordan Washington here – don’t expect to see many post ups from the Gaels – but Niksa Nikolic, Tajuan Agee, and Jahnathan Maxwell are all active bodies who will run the floor and hit the boards. The biggest wild card is redshirt freshman Andrija Ristanovich, a skilled Serbian big man who missed last year due to injury. He’s not a true center, but his shooting at his size would give Cluess a major weapon with which to space the floor.
Cluess has traditionally been held back by his defenses, throwing out a variety of junk zones and presses to confuse opponents. The Gaels need only be “acceptable” on this end; with McGill and the rest of the perimeter weapons, the offense will once again lead the way.
Bottom Line: Iona once again has imported talent from all over the place to assemble a formidable roster. Machado (13.6ppg, 4.9rpg, 9.9apg) and English (22.6ppg, 5.0rpg, 6.2apg) both had monstrous senior seasons, and I woudn’t be surprised to see McGill have a blend of those years (16ppg, 5rpg, 7apg is within reach, in my opinion). Expect Iona to once again be near the top of the league, causing opposing coaches headaches come MAAC Tournament time.
Key Returners: Cameron Young, Rich Kelly, Jacob Rigoni, Andrew Robinson, Abdulai Bundu
Key Losses: Chaise Daniels, Isaiah Washington
Key Newcomers: Kevin Marfo (George Washington), Travis Atson (Tulsa), Tyrese Williams, Matthew Balanc, Tyree Pickron, Savion Lewis
Outlook: The record may not have shown it, but the atmosphere surrounding Quinnipiac took a significant positive turn last year following the arrival of Baker Dunleavy from Jay Wright’s Villanova staff. He started bringing in fresh talent nearly immediately, both freshmen and transfers, and installed the spread attack that has made Nova nearly unguardable in recent seasons. The personnel on the roster wasn’t recruited to play that way, though, as previous longtime coach Tom Moore espoused a fanatical offensive rebounding approach that mostly centered around playing volleyball on the glass. Another year in the new system – with several significant additions – has the Bobcats primed for a big leap up the standings, particularly following the eligibility waiver granted to star player Cameron Young.
One of Dunleavy’s first moves as head coach was to secure the commitment of the present and future engine of the offense: rising sophomore point guard Rich Kelly. Quinnipiac runs a ton of pick-and-roll, and having a savvy maestro to facilitate that system is crucial. Kelly had a few ups and downs in his rookie season, but the promise was clearly there. He’ll be even better for it this year, having taken some lumps and persevered through some tough games.
Of course, a team can’t run as much PnR as the Bobcats did and only have one facilitator. Young and the departed Isaiah Washington were also frequently featured, and Young’s combination of size at 6’6, vision, and explosion made him a force when going downhill. Like Kelly, though, he struggled to convert from the outside in a three-point heavy offense (7th-highest attempt rate in the country), which limited the offense’s upside. Luckily, Aussie sophomore forward Jacob Rigoni proved to be a deadeye shooter right away, burying nearly 46% of his 165 attempts. He played a vital role in keeping the floor open for drives and two-man action: per Hoop Lens, Quinnipiac scored 1.06 points per possession with him on the court compared to just 0.97 without him, basically the difference between a decent-to-good offense and a bad one.
Two additions via the transfer wire also raise the Bobcats’ ceiling: big man Kevin Marfo (George Washington) and Travis Atson (Tulsa). Both struggled as freshmen at their previous stops, but they bring a ton of potential to Dunleavy’s system: Marfo was a three-star recruit at GW, an ox of a big man who will immediately be one of the MAAC’s best rebounders, and Atson is a versatile forward whose 3-point shooting at 6’5 fits the 4-out offense perfectly. Marfo will challenge Abdulai Bundu for a starting spot, though they’ll rarely (if ever) play together given Dunleavy’s preference of avoiding two-big lineups. The freshman class also looks to have some impact players, chief among those being Tyrese Williams, a combo guard from the Bronx, and Matthew Balanc, a bouncy guard from the DMV area.
Dunleavy hopes the newcomers can help improve the Bobcats’ porous defense, as well. Quinnipiac ranked a dismal 313th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, struggling with the league’s many high-scoring guards and getting torched from behind the arc. Continuity and experience in the new scheme should also help, especially given how much Dunleavy (and his mentor, Wright) love to change looks on this end.
Bottom Line: Dunleavy is building the Quinnipiac program the right way, and the administration has already acknowledged that – he received a contract extension after just one season at the helm. As the roster becomes more and more suited to his style and he incorporates “The Villanova Way” into the school’s fabric, the sky is the limit. And that success may come sooner rather than later – Young, Kelly, and the newcomers look primed to make a big leap in the MAAC this year, provided they can clean up the defense and hit a few more perimeter jumpers.
Key Returners: Isaiah Reese, Takal Molson, Malik Johnson, Jibreel Faulkner, Jonathan Sanks
Key Losses: Jermaine Crumpton
Key Newcomers: Mervin James, Ivan Hadzic
Outlook: The Golden Griffins were the surprise of the league last year (well, one of them, at least), tying for the MAAC regular season title despite being picked 9th in the preseason coaches’ poll. Almost everyone is back from that team, including POY candidate Isaiah Reese and budding star Takal Molson, but the one loss is a huge one. Jermaine Crumpton was only 6’6, but he had the density of a dying star at 230 pounds, allowing him to frequently man the nominal center position, creating matchup chaos for opposing coaches. Reggie Witherspoon has several options to fill those minutes, but none are as unique a player as Crumpton, meaning the Griffins will need to adjust to stay at the top of the league.
Perhaps the best choice is playing a slightly more conventional 4-out, 1-in lineup featuring Dantai St. Louis (returning from injury after missing most of the 2017-18 season with a back injury) or Marcale Lotts in the middle. Neither will be terribly productive on offense, but with shooters like Reese, Molson, Jonathan Sanks, and freshman Sam Rautins (young brother of Syracuse’s Andy) spacing the court around them, they can make an impact via energy rebounding and finishing.
The offense will run through the backcourt, with Reese running most of the action as a bigger wing initiator. He’s a talented pick-and-roll operator with a knack for choosing when to go all the way to rim or pull up, and he will find the roll man (or a pick-and-pop shooter) if that’s what the defense gives him. Without him on the court last year, the offense collapsed:
Molson and Malik Johnson can also create for themselves and others, which is part of what makes Canisius so tough to guard – they always have more than one way to generate shots, using that versatility to attack the weak points of a defense. That also results in them being one of the best ball-moving teams in the country, constantly making the extra pass to punish slow or absent rotations.
The biggest issue last year was the defense, as Witherspoon’s turnover-focused system was constantly beaten to the rim, whether it be via drives or simply due to undisciplined gambles for steals. Canisius’s shot distribution was alarming: per hoop-math, 41.6% of opponents’ shots were from the highly-efficient “at the rim” area, 33rd-highest rate in the country. The Griffs rarely played a shot-blocker (Crumpton and Jibreel Faulkner didn’t scare people, and Lotts was somehow basically invisible to would-be finishers despite standing 6’8), meaning that those shots were not particularly challenging, either. As such, they’ll continue to struggle to defend teams who make a major point to attack the paint (like Rider, for instance).
Bottom Line: Canisius should stay in the hunt thanks to Reese’s prodigious talents and a strong supporting cast, but truly contending for the top spot will require someone else (likely Molson) rising to the level of “second star” to help replace Crumpton and his irregular game. The offense probably takes a small step back, but the defense may continue to struggle as long as the Griffins continue to give up so many attempts at the rim. Best guess is a monster season from Reese (20-6-5?) that ultimately can’t quite drag Canisius back to the conference’s peak.
Key Returners: Ray Salnave, Deion Hammond, Diago Quinn, Louie Pillari, Melik Martin
Key Losses: Austin Tilghman, Micah Seaborn, Zac Tillman
Key Newcomers: Nick Rutherford (Florida Atlantic), Samuel Chaput, Nikkei Rutty
Outlook: After twice nearly pushing the NCAA Tournament rock to the top of the MAAC mountain in 2016 and 2017, King Rice starts his Sisyphus-esque journey anew at the bottom of the slope. Gone are Micah Seaborn and Austin Tilghman, the last primary rotation pieces from those famed Hawks teams, but Rice can look to a tantalizing new backcourt to help him compete for his elusive first NCAA bid. Last year was mostly a lost season as Seaborn struggled to stay in the lineup (and play effectively when in it), but the youngsters did get chances to cut their teeth against legitimate competition.
Following Tilghman’s departure, Nick Rutherford should take over as the starting point guard, a crucial role in Rice’s transition-heavy attack. He plays a lot like his predecessor: excellent passer, slightly prone to turnovers, not much of a perimeter jumper, gets to the line quite a bit. The difference is that Rutherford does it more with speed, while Tilghman used his bulky 6’1, 230-pound frame to bully smaller guards. Sophomores Deion Hammond and Ray Salnave should start on the wing (though Salnave was used as more of a microwave bench scorer late in the year), with Hammond being the resident standstill gunner while Salnave is a bulldozer who prefers to get to the rim. Freshman Samuel Chaput is another option as a lead ball-handler; he’s more of a jitterbug type, but he’s adept at finding shooters and rim runners in transition, which could earn him immediate playing time.
From there, Rice has some lineup flexibility. Melik Martin and Louie Pillari bring opposite games to the table – Martin is a switchable defender whose offensive game is a major work in progress, while Pillari (famously part of the 2015-16 bench mob) is a knockdown shooter from distance.
Like Pillari, Diago Quinn played limited minutes on those prime Hawk teams, and he’ll be used as a post-up option when the transition attack stalls. This is a trick Rice likes to pull: having a wide body big man who can anchor the paint and throw his weight around against teams that might be playing smaller to combat the transition game. Quinn’s (lack of) mobility necessitates some zone on the defensive end, though, which results in giving up a steady stream of open threes. Rice will need to turn to Mustapha Traore or freshman Nikkei Rutty if he wants a more versatile defender in the paint.
Bottom Line: Monmouth has some budding weapons on the offensive end, and his three-headed guard lineup echoes that of Justin Robinson, Micah Seaborn, and Je’lon Hornbeak. If the team can cut down fouls and turnovers, two issues that plagued them last year that will go a long way towards enhancing the team’s efficiency on both ends, giving them a chance to play with the MAAC’s true contenders. More experience for Salnave, Martin, and Marcus McClary should help in that regard. Ultimately, though, losing a talent like Seaborn could prove difficult to overcome right away.
Key Returners: Jonathan Kasibabu, Jesus Cruz, Aidas Kavaliauskas, Wassef Methnani, Matija Milin
Key Losses: Tyler Nelson, Jerome Segura, Ferron Flavors
Key Newcomers: Landon Taliaferro (JUCO), Neftali Alvarez, Felix Lemetti, Calvin Whipple
Outlook: Sydney Johnson’s emotional send-off to Tyler Nelson late in the latter’s final game in a Stags uniform was one of the iconic images of the 2017-18 season, exemplifying in one fleeting moment the bond that should exist between coach and player, teacher and student, mentor and mentee. Johnson must now forge ahead without Nelson, Fairfield’s all-time leading scorer (career and single season) and three-point shooter. His roster has some intriguing pieces (particularly from the international ranks), but whether that promise emerges into actual production and success is one of the MAAC’s bigger question marks heading into a new campaign.
As one 22ppg scorer departs, another arrives – of course, Landon Taliaferro’s considerable production was in the junior college ranks, not the MAAC, but he might be the team’s primary perimeter scorer after leading JUCO ranks in threes made. He’s not a great athlete, though, and despite showing some craft off the bounce, his calling card will be his deep range. Lithuanian point guard Aidas Kavaliauskas will be primarily responsible for setting him up for these looks, a heady passer who quickly became the team’s starting point guard after missing the season’s first 13 games. He rarely looks to score, though, which means Taliaferro, Jesus Cruz, and highly-regarded freshman Neftali Alvarez will need to put up points. Cruz and Alvarez are both Puerto Rican natives, with Cruz coming off a productive freshman season as the team’s most disruptive defender and Alvarez offering tantalizing potential as a scoring guard who can also create for others. Swedish freshman Felix Lemetti may also earn some minutes due to his junior national team experience and scoring prowess.
Speaking of international flavor, the roster also includes a plethora of foreign forwards who will compete for playing time: a second Swede (Kevin Senghore-Peterson), a Tunisian (Wassef Methnani), a Serbian (Matjia Milin), and an Egyptian (Omar El-Sheikh). That doesn’t even mention Congolese big man Jonathan Kasibabu, a lock to start and the team’s most productive rebounder and shot-blocker. Johnson tried any number of lineup combinations between them last year, but as the Hoop Lens numbers show, the team needs Kasibabu on the court:
Of the more unknown quantities, sophomores Senghore-Peterson and Methnani are biggest names to watch: Senghore-Peterson played for the Swedish U20 team at the FIBA Euros this offseason, while Methnani bristled with confidence during his freshman campaign and flashed potential as a multi-dimensional scoring threat.
Despite the glut of bigs, Cruz will probably play “power forward” at times to allow for quicker, more frenetic lineups. The Stags run some full-court pressure (19% of the time last season, per Synergy – 34th-most in the country), so having three guards along with the versatile Cruz makes that scheme more potent. Fairfield isn’t always pressing to force turnovers, but even rotating and recovering will prove easier with more foot speed on the floor.
Bottom Line: Fairfield nearly made its first NCAA Tournament since 1997 last season, but the loss of perhaps the program’s best player ever along with his chief sidekick (Ferron Flavors) could be too much to overcome this year. The roster has a high degree of variability given how little is still known about many of the imports, but if Taliaferro and Alvarez can provide some immediate points, perhaps the Stags can stay competitive with the MAAC’s top squads.
Key Returners: Marvin Prochet, James Towns, Dominic Robb, Greg King, Chris Barton
Key Losses: Kahlil Dukes, Matt Scott
Key Newcomers: Ousmane Diop, Marcus Hammond, Raheem Solomon, Steven Levnaic
Outlook: Following an excellent season in which the uptempo Purple Eagles finished third in the MAAC behind a terrific offense, they return all but two rotation pieces – problem is, those were by far the two most important players on the team. Coach Chris Casey faces a dilemma regarding his team’s style: try to elevate everyone else in the roster up a spot or two in the pecking order, or fundamentally alter the way Niagara plays? The roster has some candidates to replace the departed production, but that’s by no means a certainty.
Kahlil Dukes and Matt Scott combined to use 54.5% of Niagara’s possessions when on the court last year, meaning there’s a sizable chunk of shots available for the taking – players like James Towns, Marvin Prochet, and Keleaf Tate will need to ascend the offensive food chain, taking much larger bites of the scoring pie. Casey will also need some contributions from his freshmen, especially Marcus Hammond and Raheem Solomon in the backcourt.
The guards are especially important because of how the Purple Eagles play, which is to say: go, go, go at all times. Niagara played at the nation’s 10th-fastest pace, attacking downhill any chance that presented itself. Defensively, though, they slowed the game down somewhat – to steal from a hockey analogy, the result is that the court feels “tilted” towards the Purple Eagles’ offensive end. Tate and Towns struggled on a relative basis in these situations last year, so they’ll have to improve if the offense is to match last year’s squad, which ranked 2nd in the MAAC and 88th in the country, per KenPom. Part of that was because the 17-18 team never turned the ball over – Prochet and Dominic Robb exemplified “playing within themselves,” not over-extending their skill sets. Without Dukes and Scott to set them up, though, expect some regression in that department.
If the transition attack stalls, the Purple Eagles will look to attack weak perimeter defenders via PnR or isolation. Towns is particularly appealing as a breakout candidate for this reason: he scored 1.255 points per possession in isolation (98th percentile nationally) and 0.974 ppp in PnR (89th percentile). If he maintains anywhere near that level of efficiency with his likely usage bump, he’ll be an all-conference player.
After being one of the country’s most imbalanced teams last year (offense was >>> defense), they’ll likely meet closer to the middle this year. The interior defense is stout – Robb is a terrific shot-blocker in the middle of Casey’s mix of defenses, and Prochet and fellow senior Greg King can also affect would-be finishers. Like many MAAC defenses, though, the Purple Eagles were scorched by hot perimeter shooting, and they rarely stole possessions via turnover. Additionally, the entire defense is constantly looking to leak out into transition (particularly the guards), and Niagara’s defensive rebounding has been consistently subpar under Casey’s watch. Ousmane Diop is a promising freshman big, but he may struggle to get on the court given the experience up front.
Bottom Line: Even with two all-conference stars and an outstanding MAAC offense, the Purple Eagles still only managed a third-place finish and a quarterfinal loss in the league tournament, so this year could be a struggle. With so many players having to step into more prominent roles, I’d expect the offense to regress, but the role player continuity should help the defense somewhat. A more balanced Niagara team probably ends up floating in the middle of the conference standings, as well.
Key Returners: Brian Parker, Ryan Funk, David Knudsen, Isaiah Lamb, Aleksandar Dozic, Austin Williams, Tobias Sjoberg
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Darius Hines, Luke Nedrow, Matthew Herasme
Outlook: In one of the most shocking coaching changes this offseason (a coach switching within the same conference is all kinds of rare), John Dunne sailed up the Hudson River from St. Peter’s to Poughkeepsie to take over at one of the country’s most moribund programs. Marist hasn’t finished above .500 – overall or in the MAAC – since 2008, and while times aren’t quite as tough as 2010’s miserable 1-29 campaign, the Red Foxes have only won 28 games total in the past four seasons. Although Dunne wasn’t a prolific winner while in charge of the Peacocks, he does offer some credibility in the league as a well-respected defensive mind.
That high-pitched screeching noise you hear is the sound of Dunne slamming the metaphorical brakes on Marist’s tempo. Dunne is famous (infamous?) for his plodding offensive systems in a typically uptempo league; if the MAAC was a highway, his St. Peter’s squads were constantly the car crawling along in the left lane. In 2017, nine of the league’s 11 teams finished in the country’s top 143 in tempo, per KenPom; Dunne’s Peacocks ranked 347th. Last year, Marist played at the nation’s 96th-fastest tempo; St. Peter’s was 350th.
The most important area of improvement will be on defense. That crawling tempo is fed by a disciplined, hyper-physical man-to-man that packs the paint with the four off-ball defenders (while pressuring on-ball). Sophomore Austin Williams and senior Isaiah Lamb will likely take the on-ball duties most often, given their relative knack for deflections in Mike Maker’s zone-heavy scheme. Freshman Darius Hines will also get a crack at that spot due to his quickness. Off the ball, Dunne’s system gives up myriad open threes (they want you to shoot over them, not get to the basket), so hot shooting teams can have field days (watch out for Iona and Quinnipiac, fellas).
Offensively, Marist’s plethora of returning production should actually fit fairly nicely into Dunne’s spread-out attack. As evidenced by the pace, they’ll mostly eschew transition opportunities, instead focusing on executing in the half-court and creating open shots via spot up or off of pick-and-roll action. Brian Parker was extremely ball-dominant last year, and he shows promise in the pick-and-roll, that may continue once again. The Red Foxes have the shooters to space the floor around him – David Knudsen and Ryan Funk are knockdown wings at 6’5 and 6’6, respectively, and even big man Aleksandar Dozic can step out at times. Tobias Sjoberg is a nice complementary big man (though he’ll need to learn the nuances of playing as a roll man). Finding scorers has never been Dunne’s forte as a coach, but between Parker/Hines and the shooting dotting the roster, that may be a relative strength of the 2018-19 Red Foxes as the team acclimates to Dunne’s defense.
Bottom Line: Dunne faces an uphill battle to drag Marist back to relevance, but his disciplined style could lend itself to a quicker turnaround than necessary. The Red Foxes won’t win the league, but incremental improvement in year one with basically every player back is a realistic goal. The players-to-scheme fit question marks are real, but given his track record in the conference (plus, he’s 5-1 against Marist in the last 3 seasons), he should command respect in the locker room right off the bat.
Key Returners: Khalil Richard, Evan Fisher, Khadeem Smithen
Key Losses: Prince Oduro, Ahsante Shivers, Jordan Horn, Nico Clareth, Roman Penn
Key Newcomers: Jalen Pickett, Braedon Bayer (Syracuse), Georges Darwiche, Sloan Seymour
Outlook: In one of the strangest odysseys of the offseason, Siena ultimately parted ways with Jimmy Patsos after five uninspiring seasons, bringing new meaning to this iconic gif of him shaking hands with no one:
Rumors circulated that they were trying to get him fired with cause to avoid paying out the rest of his contract, and the ensuing search for his replacement was mired in mystery as well (at one point, Patrick Beilein seemed like a lock for the job). Following a little of a will-he-or-won’t-he dance, Jamion Christian took the job, and his successful tenure at Mount St. Mary’s offers hope that the Saints can get back on the right track soon.
Christian brings in a distinct system that may be a bit of a culture shock to the returning Saints. During his tenure in Emmitsburg, Mount St. Mary’s was known for its “Mount Mayhem” defensive approach, a high-pressure and steal-reliant scheme that somewhat mirrored Shaka Smart’s Havoc squads. Patsos’s 2017-18 Saints, though, were one of the least turnover-reliant teams in the country, opting instead to stick to more rigid defensive principles. One thing that should stay consistent, though, is the heavy dosage of zone, as both coaches weave plenty of different looks into their gameplans. Of the returners, Khalil Richard and Kadeem Smithen seem like the best bets to fit in immediately; all are quick, aggressive guards who may produce more tips and deflections on defense in the new approach.
Those two will also increase exponentially in importance on the other end, as well. Christian runs one of the most pick-and-roll-heavy offenses in the country, counting on his main ball-handlers to score and create opportunities for others. Roman Penn would seem to have been the perfect new maestro as a rising sophomore point guard, but he transferred to Drake, meaning the responsibilities likely fall to Richard and Smithen. Jalen Pickett should play immediately as a freshman, hailing from the acclaimed NYC AAU team City Rocks. His quick hands at the top of a zone stood out on cursory film viewings, leading me to believe he’ll start right away simply due to his fit in the Mayhem scheme. Georges Darwiche, a Romanian import, is a dark horse candidate to steal some lead guard minutes as a freshman, as well.
Christian has long understood the importance of the three ball on both ends, focusing on getting as many chances as possible for his usually-potent group of shooters while limiting any chances for the opposition. The aforementioned guard group can all shoot a little bit, and returning stretch fours Evan Fisher and Thomas Huerter plus freshman Sloan Seymour give the frontcourt some range as well. Sammy Friday likely steps in as the roll man in the PnR as basically the only true big on the roster, and Christian will hope he can provide some defensive presence in the paint, as well.
Bottom Line: After a coaching transition, expectations in Albany should be low as Christian installs his system and brings in players fit to run it. The current pieces aren’t terrible, but they weren’t recruited to press or run pick-and-roll. One (unfortunate) way the pieces do fit: Christian’s teams have been some of the worst in the country on the defensive glass in recent years, mostly due to gambling for steals and playing so much zone, and that seems a near lock to continue given the current roster’s makeup. This season may be a bumpy ride, but Siena hired a good one, and change should come sooner than later.
10. Saint Peter's
Key Returners: Davauhnte Turner, Sam Idowu, Quinn Taylor, Cameron Jones
Key Losses: Nick Griffin, Nnamdi Enechionyia, Elijah Gonzales
Key Newcomers: Manny Dixon (redshirt), Mikko Johnson (redshirt), Majur Majak, Klay Brown, Dallas Watson
Outlook: Peacocks can’t fly, but longtime St. Peter’s coach John Dunne still flew the coup after 12 seasons at the helm. Yes, I’m aware of how lame that joke is, and yes, I’m still proud of it! Longtime Seton Hall assistant Shaheen Holloway takes over, and while he’ll likely look to maintain the physical mindset that pervaded Dunne’s program throughout the years, he’ll also likely remove the parking boot and play with a little more tempo than past SPC teams.
Fun fact: Dunne was also a Seton Hall assistant before coming to Jersey City (under then-coach Louis Orr), so the administration is clearly hoping to find gold on that staff once again. Alright, fine, calling Dunne’s record of 153-225 (92-132 in MAAC play) “gold” is pretty unfair to the chemical element, let’s say they’re hoping to find “tungsten,” because apparently it’s the strongest natural metal, and Dunne’s teams were tough, if nothing else.
Holloway has worked under Kevin Willard since 2007 (while at new conference rival Iona), and thus I’m inclined to believe he’ll play a similar style to his mentor. That has traditionally meant a stout defense predicated on toughness, finishing possessions, and taking away good shots. We’ll likely see some zone and press looks thrown in as change-ups, but a continuation of Dunne’s man-to-man will determine the Peacocks’ success defensively. Samuel Idowu should be a perfect fit under his new coach, an aggressive big man who can protect the rim, clean the glass, and get bucks on offense. His weakness has been foul trouble, but as a senior, Holloway will need him to stay on the floor. Majur Majak was a recruiting steal, but he’s still fairly raw; while his monstrous length would be a deterrent in the paint, he’ll struggle with physicality until he gains more weight. Mamadou Ndiaye and Derrick Woods (Delaware transfer eligible in December) will provide some spot minutes, but neither is likely to be a big contributor.
That means we should see quite a few four-guard lineups featuring Quinn Taylor or Manny Dixon as the second “big,” giving Holloway a great deal of speed and versatility on the floor. Dixon was also the all-time assists leader at his New Jersey high school, displaying the vision he possesses at 6’5. Given the roster makeup and the coaching change, the Peacocks should play in transition far more than in years past, and Dixon (plus returners Davauhnte Turner and Cameron Jones) should thrive in a more open scheme. Even in the halfcourt, I’d expect them to play a very downhill, attacking style, that emphasizes easy buckets. Turner, Jones, and freshman Klay Brown and Dallas Watson can provide some floor spacing, though the newcomers will need to prove they’re ready for MAAC hoops (Brown is more physically mature, so he’ll probably get more minutes).
Bottom Line: A new coach who’s never been in charge of a program, a significant style shift, and a thin rotation that will rely on several freshmen are causes for concern here, especially since the few “proven” returners only managed a 6-12 league record. Idowu and Turner are nice senior rocks in a transition year, but they may not be enough to prevent a difficult year. If the freshmen (and redshirt freshmen) show promise, Holloway should at least able to build around them and sit-out transfer Nazeer Bostick come 2019-20.
Key Returners: Pauly Paulicap, Thomas Capuano
Key Losses: Rich Williams, Aaron Walker Jr., Zavier Turner, Zane Waterman, Calvin Crawford
Key Newcomers: Daniel Schreier, Elijah Buchanan, Christian Hinckson, Tyler Reynolds (JUCO), Warren Williams (redshirt), Samir Stewart
Outlook: Ol’ Stevie Masiello has some work to do in the heart of NYC, as the Jaspers graduate five of the team’s six most productive players from a team that limped to a 14-17 record. Of course, picking Masiello in the conference basement for the second time in three years is risky business – the Rick Pitino disciple has a solid history of success in the MAAC, so another struggle-filled season would be a surprise.
The roster is a slightly strange fit for how Masiello wants to play, which like his mentor, is pressure-heavy defensive approach that thrives off turnovers, strangling opponents into constricted spaces with a variety of creative trapping schemes and turning those steals into instant offense on the other end. The strength of this team is in the frontcourt, though, as Pauly Paulicap is a rebounding force, 6’9 redshirt freshman Warren Williams oozes potential, and the most lauded incoming recruits are 6’7 Christian Hinckson and 6’9 Daniel Schreier. To Masiello’s credit, he’s emphasized the offensive glass more and more lately, and that should continue this year behind that group of bigs (plus former Rutgers center Ibrahima Diallo). Hinckson is a true 3/4 ‘tweener, giving Masiello the option of playing more of a smaller/more versatile lineup alongside a center, but expect to see quite a few lineups with two true bigs a la the Paulicap-Zane Waterman combo last season.
That doesn’t seem conducive to pressing like crazy, but Masiello will likely try to make it work with a young, quick backcourt. Nehemiah “Bud” Mack should handle lead ball-handling duties after a year learning under Zavier Turner, and although he was nearly invisible on offense last year, he could be a terror on-ball given his stout frame, quickness, and anticipation. Both Elijah Buchanan and Samir Stewart should see minutes as freshmen, as well, battling with JUCO transfer Tyler Reynolds and incumbent standstill shooter Thomas Capuano for playing time/starting roles. Capuano is a true sniper – he hit 51% of his 61 three-ball attempts – but his lack of defensive impact hurts the press. I’d also expect to see Mack and Stewart play together at times, and the combination of the two burly creators should aid the offense.
With all of the skilled guards in the MAAC (Stevie Jordan, Isaiah Reese, Rickey McGill, Rich Kelly, etc etc), the Jaspers could get sliced up when pressing. It’ll be up to Masiello to make the necessary adjustments – he likes to press no matter what, but if it’s getting picked apart, will he switch to something more conservative? Similarly, on offense, it’s unlikely the Jaspers knock down 40% of their threes again (14th-best in the nation) with the loss of their four most prolific shooters, so emphasizing the rim attack even more through Paulicap, Williams, and Hinckson even more than last year might need to be a priority.
Bottom Line: With the extreme loss of talent and lack of true impact newcomers in the form of D-I transfers or high-level freshmen, this looks to be a tough year ahead in Riverdale. Masiello needs to use this season as a springboard for his youngsters, teaching Mack, Williams, and the true freshmen the ins and outs of his system and letting them take their lumps. He’ll hope they at least show flashes of promise against the MAAC’s elite, building hope for a bounceback sooner rather than later.