2008-09 Season Primers: #17 – MAAC

Posted by rtmsf on October 26th, 2008

Ray Floriani from College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the Northeast (NEC) and Metro Atlantic Athletic (MAAC) conferences.

Predited Order of Finish:

  1. Siena    (15-3,  20-8)
  2. Niagara   (14-4,  21-10)
  3. Fairfield   (13-5,  19-10)
  4. Rider    (12-6,  19-10)
  5. Loyola (MD)   (11-7,  16-13)
  6. Manhattan   (9-9,  16-13)
  7. Iona   (7-11,  11-17)
  8. Canisius   (6-12,  10-19)
  9. St. Peter’s   (5-13,  11-18)
  10. Marist    (4-14,  10-20)

WYN2K. The MAAC was formed in the 80s and tipped off the 1981-82 season.  Yours truly covered the first MAAC contest ever, an Iona romp over Army at the Gaels’ Mulcahy Center. The MAAC began with six charter members – Army, Fairfield, Fordham,  Iona, Manhattan  and  St.Peter’s. Four schools – Fairfield, Iona, Manhattan  and St.Peter’s - remain from that original group as change has altered the league over the years. The conference tournament previously alternated between Buffalo and Albany, but two years ago it was in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Last year Albany, NY, hosted it and will once again showcase it come this March.  Some brief notes…

  • Siena, the defending champion, returns a strong cast with three players who could be considered for player of the year honors: 6-3 senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck, 6-6  forward Edwin Ubilies and 6-5 forward Alex Franklin, both  juniors.
  • Niagara’s fine junior guard Tyrone Lewis was MVP of the MAAC tournament as a freshman. Niagara captured the title in 2006-07.
  • Niagara and Canisius (the ‘dreaded’ western New York swing) are a few miles apart, but six of the league members – Rider, St.Peter’s, Iona, Manhattan, Fairfield and Rider – are within a 120 mile radius, which makes for a not too distant road trip.  

Predicted Champion.  Siena (#13 NCAA).  The Saints captured last season’s MAAC tournament championship, then gave a great showing in the NCAAs, as Siena defeated Vanderbilt 83-62 (see below) before falling to Villanova in the second round. That momentum of March should carry over into this year as coach Fran McCaffery has virtually everyone back.  Siena, in theory, could make this a two bid league.  If the Saints earn 15 or 16 conference wins, have a respectable non-conference showing against a murderous slate and get knocked out of the MAAC tournament, they could go as an at-large based on last year’s strong NCAA showing. That idea, however, is not one the competitive McCaffery is looking at as a realistic option, nor is it likely to happen.

  

Others Considered.  Niagara and Fairfield are the prime candidates. The Purple Eagles return an outstanding guard in junior Tyrone Lewis. Big East transfers Bilal Benn (Villanova), a 6-5 guard and 6-2 guard Rob Garrison (UConn) will contribute to a strong cast. Fairfield has a defensive reputation anchored by 6-8 junior Anthony Johnson (7.3 RPG and 43 blocks). Senior lead guard Jonathan Han is vital on offense. Han averaged 11.7 ppg while handing out 6 assists per outing. Rider is a dark horse. The Broncs have a sharpshooter in senior guard Harris Mansell (13.7 ppg) and return another Thompson. Ryan Thompson, Jason’s brother, is a 6-6 junior forward who is a strong player (15 ppg) in his own right. 

Key Games/RPI Boosters.

  • Rider @ St.Joseph’s  (11/14/08)
  • Fairfield @ Memphis  (11/15/08)
  • Niagara @ Villanova (Hoop Group Classic – Philadelphia)  (11/19/08)
  • Siena v. Tennessee  (Old Spice Classic) (11/27/08)
  • Marist @ Memphis  (12/2/08)
  • Rider v. Rutgers (Trenton)  (12/3/08)
  • Niagara @ Loyola (MD)  (12/7/08)
  • Seton Hall v. St.Peter’s (Jersey City)  (12/13/08)
  • Siena @ Pitt  (12/17/08)
  • Iona @ Ohio State  (12/20/08)
  • Marist @ St. John’s  (Holiday Festival)  (12/20-21/08)
  • Fairfield @ UConn  (12/26/08)
  • Loyola (MD) @ Duke  (12/31/08)
  • Siena @ Kansas  (1/6/09)
  • Manhattan v. Iona (MSG)  (1/24/09)
  • Siena @ Niagara  (2/27/09)
  • Loyola (MD) @ Iona  (3/1/09)

Neat-o-Stats.  

  • Jimmy Patsos has been on the job four years at Loyola (MD) and he has the second LONGEST tenure in the conference. The ‘grey beard’ among the group is Joe Mihalich who has been at Niagara for a decade.  Mihalich has only had one season below .500 during his tenure.
  • Siena committed only 11.1 turnovers per game last season. Their turnover rating (TO divided by possessions) was 15.4 (anything under 20.0 is excellent).
  • Niagara has won at least a dozen MAAC contests in 8 of the past 10 seasons. 

65 Team Era.  MAAC schools have been a traditionally tough out and in several cases, got a win under their belt before a competitive second round exit. The conference is 6-25 (.194) over the era, but two of those wins are from the PiG (2002 and 2007).  But in four of the last seven NCAA Tournaments, the MAAC has won a game in the Big Dance.  Last year Siena thoroughly dominated #4 Vanderbilt in the first round, which should help the Saints cause several ways this winter.  Besides Siena, LaSalle (1990) and Manhattan (1995 and 2004) were the other conference schools to post a first round NCAA win.   

Final Thoughts.  

  • It was ironic that NBA scouts monitored the progress of Rider big man Jason Thompson last winter because the MAAC, for years, has been known as a guard oriented league. Thompson was the twelfth player to go in last June’s NBA draft. 
  • The MAAC runs a unique postseason tournament (others conferences do it but there aren’t many) in that  both the men and women play their tournaments at the same site. This gives the true hoop junkie a chance to see each school’s program showcased on the men’s and women’s side. It also makes for a real ‘good feeling’ atmosphere that reaffirms what college athletics is all about.  It’s not uncommon to see a men’s team take a break from preparations to sit in the stands and cheer the women’s team on and vice versa.
  • Under the watch of veteran Commissioner Rich Ensor, the MAAC has been a pleasant media experience and the same for its fan base.
  • Cold winter nights at Manhattan’s Draddy Gym are classic.  Where else can you sit press row with the ‘ubiquitous’ Ronnie (the ultra Jasper supporter) on one side and the school’s president, Brother Thomas Scanlon, on the other?   
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