The MAAC is a ten member conference that hosts games from cozy campus locales to public arenas as Madison Square Garden, Arena at Harbor Yards and Times-Union Center to name a few.
Once again the conference will host the Old Spice Classic. The eight team event is November 26 through 29 at the Milk House Arena located in the Walt Disney World Resort Complex. Iona represents the MAAC with Alabama, Baylor, Creighton, Florida State, Marquette, Michigan and Xavier rounding out an impressive field.
Rivalries are huge. The charter membership gave us two games in the classic ‘Battle of the Bronx’ with Manhattan and Fordham. Iona and Fordham also got the pulse beating quicker. Membership has altered over the years but rivalries, largely due to geography and tradition, still are a big part of the MAAC. There’s Iona-Manhattan. Upstate is Niagara-Canisius, a ‘holy war’ from the old Little Three Days. Then there’s Marist-Siena. The latter has the upper hand of late but that’s another meeting where you throw the records out the window. Bragging rights are at stake.
Iona captured the first title in 1982 with an overtime victory over St.Peter’s. The semis and finals were at Meadowlands arena (now Izod Center) in East Rutherford, NJ.
Jeff Ruland did not play in the MAAC. The 1979-80 was his last in a Gael uniform but he is a part of MAAC history having returned to coach his alma mater and leading them to three MAAC championships.
Predicted Champion.Siena (NCAA #9). The Saints return four starters from a club that went to the second round and gave Louisville fits before exiting in a close contest. It was the second straight year the Saints earned a first round win in the NCAA Tournament. The lone loss was 6’3 guard Kenny Hasbrouck. Beside being MAAC Player of the Year and a double digit scorer, Hasbrouck provided outstanding leadership and inspiration to Fran McCaffery’s club. Filling in his spot will be Clarence Jackson, a dangerous three point shooter who can create his own shot. Ronald Moore, an outstanding lead guard, triggers the attack. The Ryan Rossiter, Edwin Ubiles, Alex Franklin backcourt is hands down the conference’s best. McCaffery has a habit of scheduling higher level opponents, usually on the road. It’s paid off as the Saints are a confident, battle tested group. Come tournament time they enter a game planning to win not just hoping. The mix of returning talent, recent success and proactive attitude make Siena the MAAC favorite. Given their recent NCAA success and strength of schedule Siena could be a #6 or #7 seed if things go right.
WYN2K. The Metro Atlantic, or the MAAC in local parlance, is a league that usually has a handful of good teams that can consistently compete with the mid-majors and beat the low-majors, but just doesn’t have the horses to run with the high majors. As a case in point, the league went 1-19 against BCS teams last year (Marist 63, Minnesota 56), but still managed to have one of the best low-major records against nonconference opponents over the last three years (122-174, .412). This is also exhibited by the league’s average seeding (#13.8) in the NCAA Tournament over the last decade – only two times has the MAAC received a #16 seed (2001 – Siena; 2007 – Niagara), and both times it won the PiG as a result. As such, the league is typically competitive at the top, and this year is no different as we can foresee as many as five teams making a run at the title.
Predicted Champion.Loyola (MD) (#15 seed NCAA). We’re a bit of a sucker for a great turnaround story, and none this year could possibly be better than Loyola. In 2004 the Greyhounds endured a 1-27 season, tied for the fewest victories in D1. Enter Jim Patsos, a smooth-talking optimist who guided Loyola to 6 wins, then 15 wins, then 18 wins last season as he has re-energized the program. Now in his fourth year, the Greyhounds are poised to win the MAAC and earn an NCAA bid, led by former transfers such as Gerald Brown (22.2 ppg – #8 nationally) from Providence, Hassan Fofana (a 6’10 bruiser) from Maryland and Joe Miles (an instant-offense guy) from Marshall. With four returning starters from a 12-6 conference record last year, we think that Loyola is the team to beat in the MAAC this year.
Others Considered. Siena is another school that returns a slew of talent from a 12-6 team, including Kenny Hasbrouck, the 2006 MAAC ROY and an all-league selection last year. The Saints won nine of their last ten games last year before losing to Niagara in the MAAC title game, but we feel that the loss of big man Michael Haddix gives Loyola the edge here. It will be a close race in any case. Last year’s regular season champ Marist returns a good amount of experience and adds some key transfers (including former Syracuse guard Louis McCroskey), but the loss of second-round NBA draft pick point guard Jared Jordan, who led the nation in assists for two years in a row, will be tough to replace. We also expect Manhattan to make some noise this year, as the Jaspers return seven sophomores from a team that surprised the MAAC by going 10-8 last season. Niagara also should be mentioned even though it lost four starters from its NCAA team; after all, the Purple Eagles have won two of the last three NCAA bids, and the one starter returning is all-MAAC forward Charron Fisher, who will be assisted by the MAAC conference tourney MVP Tyrone Lewis. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention Rider, if for no other reason than they have an NBA prospect named Jason Thompson on the team, the only returning 20/10 player in all of D1 this season.
Games to Watch. We’re still in the low-majors, so only one game matters.
MAAC Championship Game (03.10.08). ESPN2.
RPI Booster Games. The MAAC doesn’t play many BCS games in a typical season, and this year is no different with 21 on the slate. As always, there are a few opportunities to grab a handful of wins against some BCS bottom-feeders in addition to improving the overall profile of the league simply by showing up and taking your medicine.
Siena @ Syracuse (11.12.07)
Marist @ Miami (FL) (11.15.07)
Stanford @ Siena (11.17.07)
Loyola (MD) @ Seton Hall (11.20.07)
NC State @ Rider (11.22.07)
Fairfield @ Georgetown (12.01.07)
Niagara @ St. John’s (12.15.07)
Loyola (MD) @ Illinois (12.28.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Once again, for the record, zero.
Neat-o Stat. Former Pitino assistant Kevin Willard takes over for Jeff Ruland at Iona after the Gaels’ horrendous 2-28 performance last season. How do you lose that many games? Well, first, you turn the ball over on more than a quarter (26.1%, 329th nationally) of your possessions; and second, when you manage to hang onto the ball long enough to get to the foul line, you convert at only a 57.7% rate (334th nationally). Iona lost six conference games by <5 points or in overtime – you think extra possessions and making foul shots might have helped?
64/65-Team Era. The MAAC is 5-24 (.172) over this era, which actually accounts for the second-best record among the traditional low-majors (only the Mid-Continent is better), but this is a little misleading because two of those wins were from PiGs. As we stated above, the league tends to receive a favorable seed (among low-majors), averaging a #13.0 over the entire period. Still, only three teams have managed to win a true first round game, and one of those was as a surprising #4 seed (1990 – LaSalle and Lionel “L-Train” Simmons over #13 Southern Miss 79-63 – believe it or not, we found a clip of the L-Train in action in 1988 below). The other two upset victories for the MAAC were in 1995 (#13 Manhattan over #4 Oklahoma 77-67) and 2004 (#12 Manhattan over #5 Florida 75-60). Seems as if only the Jaspers can pull off the upset from this conference.
Note: video cannot be embedded, so double-click on the YouTube logo above to get it to play.
Final Thought. The MAAC as a whole has seen better days, but really it’s the bottom half of the league that’s keeping it down. It’s an exaggeration, but it seems as if every year the worst team in America (as judged solely by records and media coverage) comes from the MAAC. Several years ago it was Loyola, and last year it was Iona. Part of this probably derives from increased media attention due to its location of schools centered in and around New York. Nevertheless, the perception of this league is worse than its actual performance. Still, it has been slipping a smidge over the past couple of years and it needs to put together a strong season this year to earn back some of that respect.