Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC Conferences.
SOUTH ORANGE , NJ – Looking at the non-conference schedules you can’t accuse Loyola or Siena with loading up on sure Ws. Loyola had a stretch of 7 games in 16 days where the Greyhounds faced an ACC team (Boston College) , three defending conference champions (Mt. St.Mary’s, Cornell and Davidson), a preseason conference favorite (Vermont) and Tennessee St., who played in its conference championship game last season. Loyola did defeat Mt. St. Mary’s and Tennessee State but came up on the other side of the ledger in the remaining contests.
Ray Floriani of College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and the NEC Conferences.
NEW YORK CITY – Niagara placed two on the weekly honor roll. Tyrone Lewis was a co-player of the week for his 20 point, 8 block outing in a win over Towson. The eight blocks is not a typo. Lewis, a 5-11 guard, just missed the school record by one. Naturally he set an NU record for guards. Presumably he also has some kind of record for rejections by players under six feet in height.
Co-Player of the Week with Lewis was Brett Harvey, a junior guard for Loyola. Harvey averaged 23.5 ppg and a gaudy 4.0 assist/turnover ratio as the Greyhounds split a pair their opening week.
Kasheif Edwards, a 6-5 freshman forward for Niagara earned Rookie of the Week for a five point, nine rebound outing off the bench in a win over Towson.
Caught Marist’s narrow two point loss at Rutgers last week in the Garden State Classic. Off that contest a number of observers were surprised the Red Foxes were picked at the bottom of the MAAC. They did have a change or overhaul of personnel and there is a new coach in Chucky Martin. He brought the dribble-drive motion offense learned under John Calipari as an assistant at Memphis. The DDM proved to be tough to defend and was instrumental in keeping Marist in the contest. Two nights later, the Red Foxes were routed at home by St. Bonaventure. It’s going to be that type of year. Still, the DDM will be a challenge for conference schools and don’t be surprised if Martin’s club pulls a few surprises along the way.
The Jimmy Patsos incident the other night was a bizarre one to say the least. Patsos can be a little on the ‘vocal’ side on the bench. In a game against Cornell this week Patsos earned a T (technical foul). To his credit he tried to avoid a confrontation with an official and risk ejection even to the point of seeking refuge with Loyola AD Joe Boylan in the stands. From all accounts, the official seemed to continue the exchange by yelling at the bench. I’m not here to criticize an official (I have been officiating two decades and know we are not perfect). I will say the camps I attend for officiating want you, if a T is warranted, to make the call and get back in position away from the bench. Let a coach do something crazy to earn another one but avoid being confrontational.
Saw MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor at Coaches vs. Cancer at MSG. Ensor was stopping by before heading to the Old Spice Classic which the MAAC operates. Why aren’t you in Puerto Rico (for Fairfield) I asked. “Even for me that would be a bit much,” he said laughing. Ensor and Co. are excited about the Old Spice Classic which features a Tennessee-Siena meeting in the opening round.
Ray Floriani from College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the Northeast (NEC) and Metro Atlantic Athletic (MAAC) conferences.
Predited Order of Finish:
Siena (15-3, 20-8)
Niagara (14-4, 21-10)
Fairfield (13-5, 19-10)
Rider (12-6, 19-10)
Loyola (MD) (11-7, 16-13)
Manhattan (9-9, 16-13)
Iona (7-11, 11-17)
Canisius (6-12, 10-19)
St. Peter’s (5-13, 11-18)
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)
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.
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?
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.