Saturday, October 15, 2005

MAAC Conference Preview


The MAAC regular season title race went down to the final day, when Rider defeated Niagara to gain a share of the championship. Only two other teams finished with ten or more wins in conference play, and the two aforementioned clubs were the only ones that were more than two games above .500 overall. Niagara went on to win the conference tournament, and gave Oklahoma a game early in the first round before getting blown out in the second half. This season should be another competitive one that has several teams in the mix for the title.

Favorites: Iona return four starters from a team that should improve last year's .500 record. The best backcourt in the league returns in All-Conference players Steve Burtt and Ricky Soliver, along with playmaker Marvin McCullough. Inside, they lose Greg Jenkins, but have several players capable of picking up the slack. Kiril Wachsmann returns at one forward spot, while Anthony Bruin is expected to have a breakout season. Manhattan has one of the best-kept secrets in the mid-major world in wing CJ Anderson. He can carry the Jaspers throughout the season if needed. The backcourt of Jason Wingate and Jeff Xavier is very solid, while Kenny Minor provides depth on the perimeter. Arturo Dubois can be a dominant player down low, and incoming freshman Devon Austin is expected to be a stud.
Frontcourt depth is also there in Mike Konovelchick.

Contenders: Canisius has one of the best all-around guards in the league in Kevin Downey, who is an excellent scorer, as well as a solid rebounder and assist man. He has a great supporting cast on the perimeter. Chuck Harris and Jon Popofski both averaged about double-figures in points a season ago, while Baylor transfer Corey Herring should add depth on the wing. Up front, Darnell Willson was a solid producer in point and rebounds. Lamar transfer Ola Matti is expected to contribute in the frontcourt. Marist has possibly the best perimeter duo in the league in point Jared Jordan, who averaged 12 points, and over 4 boards and 6 assists last season, and Will Whittington, possibly the best three point shooter in the country. They carry the team. The froncourt tandem of Ben Farmer and Ryan Stilphen need to take some of the pressure off the perimeter.

Sleepers: Loyola can really sneak up on some teams this season. They return four starters, but it is the addition of two transfers from Maryland that give them the potential to make noise. Guard Andre Collins might develop into one of the best players in the league, while Hassan Fofana provides the Greyhounds with a legit post player. Charlie Bell and Shane James are two solid scorers that return on the perimeter, while Brad Farrell, Freddie Stanback, and Sean Corrigan form a good trio in the frontcourt. This team could be dangerous late in the season. Rider loses its best player from a year ago in Jerry Johnson as well as several other important players. However, they return a solid quartet that will keep the Broncs in the hunt. Forwards Jason Thompson and Edwin Muniz could comprise the best forward duo in the conference by the end of the year, while Paul Thompson also will be a major player in the frontcourt. On the perimeter, Terrance Mouton should increase his production and become a go-to-guy player in the backcourt. The newcomers are also expected to make an impact.

Rounding Out the Pack: St. Peter's has the best player in the conference and the best scorer in the country in 5-9 Keydren Clark. However, he is basically all that the Peacocks have. When he's off, St. Peter's stands no chance of winning. Clark is trying to become the nation's leading scorer for the third straight season. Fairfield has a very good perimeter trio in All-Conference performer Terrence Todd, DeWitt Maxwell and Michael Bell. If someone in the frontcourt steps up and starts producing major numbers in the paint, the Stags will beat some teams. Niagara loses the best player in the league in Juan Mendez, and won't be able to replace him easily. Guards Lorenzo Miles and James Mathis will have to pick up some of the slack left by the departing seniors, while forward J.R. Duffey also returns as a starter. Kent State transfer Clif Brown is expected to make an impact. Siena has one of the top players in the league in 6-6 forward Michael Haddix. A stable of guards contribute on the perimeter. Al Fisher returns as a starter, but Antoine Jordan, Kojo Mensah, Tay Fisher, and David Ryan all are decent producers in the backcourt.

Prediction: This should be one of the most competitive conference races in the country. Iona has an excellent backcourt in Steve Burtt and Ricky Soliver, but no legit post player. Manhattan may have the best balance in the league with CJ Anderson and Arturo Dubois. Canisius, Marist, and even Loyola all have enough talent to make a run in the conference tournament. In the end, though, Iona will find a big man to complement their perimeter talent and will win the automatic bid. The Gaels should go to the NCAAs this season.

Player of the Year: Keydren Clark, PG, St. Peter's

All-Conference Team:
G- Keydren Clark, St. Peter's
G- Steve Burtt, Iona
G- Kevin Downey, Canisius
G- Will Whittington, Marist
F- CJ Anderson, Manhattan

Second Team:
G- Ricky Soliver, Iona
G- Terrence Todd, Fairfield
G- Jared Jordan, Marist
F- Michael Haddix, Siena
F- Jason Thompson, Rider

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