RTC Conference Primers: #17 – MAACPosted by Brian Goodman on October 19th, 2011
Ray Floriani is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC.
Reader’s Take I
- Conference Tournament Changes Venues: The MAAC championship will be staged at Springfield’s MassMutual Center. How the March 1- 5 event manages to be received and attended will be followed closely by many observers. The conference and MassMutual Center staff have been working feverishly to provide the best possible product for fans. With the nearest school, Siena, roughly 90 miles away, providing an attractive event to draw fans is paramount and, as noted, will be tracked. The MAAC will have the tournament in Springfield from 2012-14.
- MAAC Participates In Non-Conference Events: The MAAC will be represented in the annual Sears BracketBuster event in February. The conference will also host the Old Spice Classic in Orlando during the Thanksgiving weekend (with representative Fairfield a legitimate threat). Prior to March, a few MAAC schools will test out the MassMutual Center in the expanded Hall of Fame Classic on December 9. UMass will face Siena and Fairfield opposes Old Dominion.
- Glover Fits For Wooden List: Iona senior forward Michael Glover has been named to the Wooden Award preseason Top 50 list. Glover transferred from Seton Hall to Iona and instantly made an impression as one of the MAAC’s brightest stars last season.
- New Coaches On Board: Sydney Johnson takes over at Fairfield and has a wealth of talent on hand. Johnson got his start in D-I basketball only seven years ago as an assistant for John Thompson, III, before spending four seasons as Princeton’s head coach. Steve Masiello is the new man at Manhattan. Masiello does not have the talent Johnson has, but is not short on enthusiasm and expectations. Masiello knows the MAAC well, having assisted Bobby Gonzalez for several years at Manhattan before heading to Louisville to work as a member of Rick Pitino’s staff.
- New Media Deal: The MAAC recently reached a six-year rights agreement extension with ESPN for enhanced coverage of men’s and women’s games on multiple platforms. The agreement will include the men’s championship game on ESPN or ESPN2 and the women’s title contest on ESPNU. “The ability to have extensive nationally televised opportunities across ESPN platforms is important to the growth and recognition of the MAAC,” said conference commissioner Rich Ensor. “This agreement comes at a crucial time when schools are looking to their respective conferences to provide such exposure,” he added.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Fairfield (25-8, 15-3)
- Iona (25-12, 13-5)
- Rider (23-11, 13-5)
- St. Peter’s (20-14, 11-7)
- Loyola (15-15, 10-8)
- Canisius (15-15, 9-9)
- Siena (13-18, 8-10)
- Niagara (9-23, 5-13)
- Manhattan (6-25, 3-15)
- Marist (6-27, 3-15)
All Conference Picks
- G: Derek Needham, Fairfield junior (35.2 MPG, 14.1 PPG, 4.5 APG) – A starter from the time he walked on the Fairfield campus, Needham is a combo guard who can score and defend on the other end with equal expertise.
- G: Jeff Jones, Rider senior (sat out 2010-11 per transfer rules, averaged 7.2 PPG and shot 43.5% from three for Virginia in 2009-10) – Jones will be an impact player at Rider. He will immediately strengthen the guard spot, just what coach Tommy Dempsey needed.
- F: Michael Glover, Iona senior (18.4 PPG, 61% FG) – Last season, Glover made his presence felt in his first season in New Rochelle after transferring from Seton Hall. Glover is as good as any inside player in the conference and could start for a number of power six programs.
- F: Shane Walker, Loyola senior (29.4 MPG, 11.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG) – Walker averaged double figures (11.1 PPG) and rebounded well (7.1 RPG) last season. Despite checking in at 6’10”, he can produce on the perimeter, as he shot 37% from three (23-62) last season. As a senior, Walker should be even more of an impact player as Loyola challenges for league honors.
- G/F George Beamon, Manhattan junior (16.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG) – Scoring from Beamon (16.3 PPG) was one of the few bright spots in Riverdale last season. In addition, the talented swingman can rebound.
Fairfield (NCAA seed: #13) – Ed Cooley left for Providence, but Sydney Johnson inherited a situation where the cupboard was far from bare. Back from the MAAC regular season champions are four starters. Derek Needham (14.1 PPG) is a marquee performer at guard. Seven-foot senior Ryan Orlander (10.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG) handles duties up front, and Rakim Sanders is eligible after coming aboard from Boston College. The Stags are as loaded as a MAAC team can be – this group is the real deal – but with the conference being a traditional one-bid league, the margin of error is thin.
- Iona –The Gaels are a veteran battle-tested team that finished as runners-up in both the MAAC and CIT postseason events. Guard Scott Machado (13.2 PPG) and forward Michael Glover headline Tim Cluess’ strong unit, but if Arizona transfer Momo Jones is granted a hardship waiver, enabling him to bypass the usual transfer year spent on the bench, the Gaels will only charge harder at the Stags. Outside of those concerns, free throw shooting is an area for improvement. The Gaels were 66% from the line (7th in the MAAC) last season. In a conference where a number of one- or two-possession games is a certainty, you need accuracy from the charity stripe.
- Rider – The Broncs lost two excellent players, but are still in serious contention this season. Tommy Dempsey has senior swingman Novar Gadson (13.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG) as well as senior Brandon Penn (9.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG) and sophomore Daniel Stewart (7.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG) up front as well. Add an outstanding transfer from Virginia in guard Jeff Jones and the reason for high expectations here is clear. There are a lot of pieces in place for an excellent season. On the inside game, the Broncs could use better work on the offensive glass, as they had a negative margin (-3%) last year in MAAC play.
Watch Out For…
- Loyola – There’s enough experience and talent to make a run should one of the other contenders falter. Shane Walker, a 6’10” senior, is one of the conference’s marquee talents. Erik Ehterly (10.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG), a 6’7” junior, is another productive scorer and rebounder. What the Greyhounds need is better perimeter defense. Conference opponents clicked on 36% of their shots beyond the arc, which put them in the bottom half of the category. The Greyhounds also surrendered a 50% eFG mark in league play.
- St. Peter’s – The Peacocks lost several key players off their MAAC postseason championship team. Coach John Dunne does have some returning veterans to work with, but I’d be surprised to see them challenge once again. The junior returnees, guard Steve Samuels (7.1 PPG) and forward Darius Conley (6.2 PPG) will be counted on to increase production to ease the personnel losses from last season.
- Siena – The Saints fell from recent conference dominance back to earth last season. Mitch Buonoguro lost his top two scorers, but there is talent still on hand. Forwards O.D. Anosike (8.9 PPG), a junior, as well as senior Owen Wignot (6.6 PPG) are back. Sophomore Rakeem Brookins and senior Kyle Downey strengthen the guard spot. One of the things the Saints did a good job of last season was defend, as they allowed a 99.7 defensive efficiency clip in conference play. There’s no reason to believe that won’t continue but putting points on the board (98.2 offensive efficiency in the MAAC) is a priority.
- Canisius – Only one starter returns for the Golden Griffins, who may be in for a tough year in Buffalo. The lone returnee is Gabby Belardo (10.3 PPG), a senior guard who won a few games with late-game heroics. Alshwan Haynes (8.9 PPG), a junior guard, is a three-point threat who will be counted on to provide additional scoring. What Canisius needs is inside contributions courtesy of 7’3” Marial Dhal, the tallest player in conference history. Dhal is a senior and coach Tom Parrotta will expect a lot more than his 0.4 PPG of a year ago.
- Niagara –Last year’s 9-23 campaign was one Joe Mihalich and company would prefer to forget. Prospects should be much better this season and a climb closer to the first division is in order. Among the returnees, sophomore guard Marvin Jordan (11.8 PPG) represents a perimeter threat and a player to watch. Who will clean the glass, though? The Purple Eagles lost their top rebounders in Kashied Edwards and Anthony Nelson. The likely candidates include a pair of 6’8” juniors, Eric Williams and Scooter Williams, who will be asked to increase their performance.
- Manhattan – New coach Steve Masiello promises the Jaspers will be the hardest-working, best-conditioned team around. That remains to be seen. What is certain is that Masiello has a pair of proven scorers on hand. Junior swingman George Beamon (16.3 PPG) and sophomore Michael Alvarado (11.2 PPG) represent a tested scoring tandem. Masiello enters a situation not completely devoid of talent, but the culture and mindset need to be altered. In recent seasons, it’s been an uphill climb for the Jaspers.
- Marist – Four starters return, but cynics will point out that none of them averaged double figures last year. Sam Prescott, a guard and double-digit scorer, decided to transfer. Candidates to put points on the board are junior swingman Dorvell Carter (7.7 PPG) and classmate and guard Devin Price (7.2 PPG). Marist needs better defense, however. Getting some early victories would help immensely for this program, which has been stuck in a tailspin for several seasons now, but the defense has been full of holes.
Reader’s Take II
Spotlight on… the NCAA and Lionel Gomis
Siena signee Lionel Gomis, a native of Senegal, pursued college basketball for the purest of intentions: to obtain an education. When he was 14, he was shaken by the death of his mother, and he eventually fell under the watch of the Sports for Education and Economic Development Foundation (SEEDS), which connects schools in the US with collegiate hopefuls around Africa (the same organization brought Cincinnati junior Cheikh Mbodj and Syracuse sophomore Baye Moussa Keita to the states). Last month, Andy Katz reported that a sea of NCAA red tape hit Gomis when he was declared ineligible to suit up for this season. The ruling stemmed from a complicated piece of legislation which mandates a certain window in which a student-athlete from a foreign country must complete his or her high school core curriculum. It was revealed that Gomis dropped out of school for two years around the time of his mother’s death because his family no longer had the money to send him to the private school he attended, and failed to make all of it up at his New Jersey prep school in time, leaving him short of the NCAA’s requirements. Lionel was originally handed an unusual punishment of having to sit out his freshman, junior and senior seasons (but not his prospective sophomore season), but Indianapolis softened and has allowed him three seasons of eligibility, though he must redshirt the 2011-12 campaign. Siena is still appealing that ruling, and the web of paperwork the NCAA requires in cases like this is staggering at best, but credit is due to the powers that be for taking the high moral ground.
The MAAC isn’t deep from top-to-bottom, but the race between Fairfield and Iona will be as good as any in the mid-major ranks. The conference will be led by individual talents long established in the MAAC like Glover, Machado and Needham, but a few high-profile transfers will have the opportunity to leave their marks. The MAAC is going through some changes in structure, including the new championship venue and media deal, and its visibility should only grow.