- Jim Root
3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Cameron Young, R Sr., Quinnipiac
Coach of the Year: Jamion Christian, Siena
Newcomer of the Year: Jalen Pickett, Fr., Siena
Freshman of the Year: Jalen Pickett, Siena
1. Maalaaise in the MAAC
I'm not sure that's as clever of a title as I think it is, but I'm also not sure this league warrants even middling amounts of creativity this year. The MAAC plummeted to 28th in KenPom's conference rankings this year; for context on how poor that is, here's the league's rank over the last 5 seasons: 20, 19, 21, 19, 17. Zero teams rank in the top 200, and the tournament champ likely won't do better than a 16 seed. Yuck. For NCAA supernerds, it's reminsicent of the Big West's one-year plunge to 28th in 2017.
2. Christian Saves the Saints
Siena's long, confusing offseason coaching search proves that it doesn't matter how goofy the process is, as long as you end up with a great hire. Jamion Christian came over from Mount St. Mary's in the NEC and immediately instilled a new order in Albany, grinding the tempo to a halt and using the shooting of his bigs to make Siena tough to guard. Credit to him for playing a style that fit his roster, instead of forcing his “Mayhem” brand onto a group of players ill-equipped to employ it. Oh, and it helped to stumble on an NBA prospect as a freshman recruit (Jalen Pickett).
3. Cluess Solves the Puzzle
As the sky fell in the MAAC, one constant remained: Tim Cluess. After an insane preseason tussle in which a player punched an assistant coach, the Gaels scuffled to a 7-15, 5-6 start to the year, seemingly assured of being Cluess's worst team in his Iona tenure. And while they still are by advanced metrics, the Gaels did rip off 7 straight wins to end the year, taking advantage of the vulnerable (read: bad) MAAC to earn a relatively shocking outright regular season title.
Nothing fancy going on here, format-wise. It’s four rounds over five days at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York - no re-seeding, no campus sites, etc.. Consider me a critic of splitting the quarterfinals into two days, though. I know the intent is to give the 1 and 2 seeds an extra day off before the semifinals, but I’ll forever be a “four games in a day” loyalist (mainly because I love daytime basketball while at work).
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
Here's my sincere, honest answer: there is no best team here, and they're all going to be 16 seeds. Iona, Quinnipiac, and Rider could maaaaaaybe sneak into a 15 if 4-5 other conference tournaments descend into total chaos, but that's being generous.
As there's no homecourt advantage in the MAAC (everything is played in Albany, NY), it's hard to say Iona is really the "favorite," despite the fancy "1" next to its name. Of course, Tim Cluess has won this event enough times that writing him off would be idiotic, so we'll give him that honor until proven otherwise.
Dark Horse Team
My pick, however, is a little more off the wall: #5 seed Siena. The tournament is played in the Saints' backyard, they have shooters that can get hot, their tremendously well-coached, and they have a mega-stud in Jalen Pickett who can take over games. They're also comfortable playing grind-it-out games after ranking 352nd in tempo this year. The main concern with Siena is that they will (probably) have to beat 3 of the conference's top 5 teams to win the title, while some of the other contenders - Quinnipiac and Canisius in particular - should have far easier roads.
(8) Marist over (9) St. Peter’s
(10) Fairfield over (7) Manhattan
(6) Monmouth over (11) Niagara
(1) Iona over (8) Marist
(5) Siena over (4) Rider
(2) Canisius over (10) Fairfield
(3) Quinnipiac over (6) Monmouth
(5) Siena over (1) Iona
(3) Quinnipiac over (2) Canisius
(5) Siena over (3) Quinnipiac
Welcome to the dance, Jalen Pickett! This would be Coach Christian’s third NCAA bid, and it would likely result in his third trip to Dayton, as well.