Friday, October 24, 2008

MAAC Preview


The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference might have had arguably the best league race of any conference in the country last season. Six teams finished within two games of each other at the top of the league, with Siena and Rider tying for the regular-season championship at 13-5. Niagara and Loyola (Md.) finished one game back at 12-5, while Marist and Fairfield were 11-7. Siena got the top-seed, while Marist received the No. 6 seed. In the conference tournament, Siena made use of its No. 1 seed and won the automatic bid, relegating Rider to the College Basketball Invitational. The Saints pulled off a major upset in the NCAA Tournament, beating Vanderbilt in the first-round before falling to Villanova. Don’t expect such a close league race this year – there is a clear favorite.

Favorite: Siena will be one of the top mid-majors in the country this season. The Saints pulled off an upset of Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in March, and they have the pieces to go a round further this season. Kenny Hasbrouck is one of the best guards in the mid-major world, and might be the best player in the MAAC. Edwin Ubiles is an outstanding wing who can really fill it up offensively, while Alex Franklin is a scoring and rebounding machine in the low-post. Two more starters also return in point guard Ronald Moore and forward Josh Duell.

Contenders: Fairfield finished tied for fifth in the conference last season, but the Stags return all five starters. The leader is point guard Jonathan Han, an all-conference candidate who can really pass. Herbie Allen will start next to him. Up front, Anthony Johnson is a very good player at both ends, while Greg Nero and Mike Evanovich are also back. Niagara needs to replace Charron Fisher, who was second in the country in scoring and also averaged 10 rebounds per game. However, the Purple Eagles have the pieces to make run. Tyrone Lewis is an all-conference guard who can fill it up, while Anthony Nelson also returns as a starter. Transfers Rob Garrison (Connecticut) and Bilal Benn (Villanova) will make immediate impacts. Benson Egemonye is the leader up front. Rider will be without lottery pick Jason Thompson, one of the best players in the country last season. The Broncs’ star will be his brother, Ryan. One of the best and most versatile players in the conference, Thompson can do it all. Scoring wing Harris Mansell will start next to him, while Justin Robinson is also back as a starter. Expect Mike Ringgold to pick up his game, while Lamar Johnson will step in for the departed Thompson.

Sleepers: Loyola (Md.), like seemingly every team in the league, lost a marquee player in Gerald Brown, a two-time all-MAAC guard. Picking up the slack will be guards Marquis Sullivan, Brian Rudolph and Brett Harvey. Furthermore, Providence transfer Jamal Barney is eligible. Newcomers will need to make an impact up front, especially freshman Anthony Winbush. Iona improved drastically last season, which isn’t saying much, considering the Gaels had just two wins the year before. If they want to improve this season, it will fall on the shoulders of a very solid forward duo, all-conference candidate Gary Springer and Devon Clarke, an athletic finisher. Look for Louisville transfer Jonathan Huffman and redshirt sophomore Alejo Rodriguez to help out up front. The backcourt is deep, with returnees Milan Prodanovic and Rashon Dwight and newcomers Kashif Pratt, a Seton Hall transfer, and freshman Jermel Jenkins. Manhattan lost just one starter and has the pieces offensively to make noise. Antoine Pearson and Chris Smith are both talented guards, while Darryl Crawford could move into the starting lineup. Devon Austin could blossom into an all-conference player, and Andrew Gabriel is also back.

Rounding out the Pack: The good news for Canisius is that the Golden Griffins return all five starters. Of course, those five starters went just 2-16 in the MAAC last season, good for last place in the league. Frank Turner is one of the best all-around guards in the conference, while Jovan Robinson and Bob Bevilacqua return. Greg Logins, shot-blocker Tomas Vasquez-Simmons and Hofstra transfer Chris Gadley anchor the frontcourt. Marist is a long way removed from its days of Jared Jordan and Will Whittington in the backcourt. Just one starter returns from last season, guard David Devezin. Aside from him, Ryan Schneider and DeJuan Goodwin are the top returnees. JC transfer Javon Paris and several freshmen will make immediate impacts. Saint Peter’s has won a combined 11 games in the past two seasons, and will look to improve on that number this year. The perimeter trio of Wesley Jenkins, Darrell Lampley and Nick Leon is a good place to start. Up front will be Akeem Gooding and Ryan Bacon.

Prediction: The MAAC had an outstanding race for the title last season – it might be the exact opposite this year. Siena is clearly the best team in the league, as the Saints have perhaps three of the four best players in the conference and the experience of winning an NCAA Tournament game. If they start reading their press clippings or overlook their opponents, they can certainly slip-up. However, the conference as a whole lost a lot of talent and the contenders are simply not as good as they were last year. The difference between Siena and the second-place team might be bigger than the difference between the top six teams was last season – and that might be only a slight exaggeration. With Kenny Hasbrouck running the show, Edwin Ubiles creating match-up problems and Alex Franklin dominating down low, the Siena Saints are poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament – and maybe get to the second weekend.

Player of the Year: Kenny Hasbrouck, G, Siena

All-Conference Team:
G- Kenny Hasbrouck, Siena
G- Ryan Thompson, Rider
G- Tyrone Lewis, Niagara
F- Edwin Ubiles, Siena
F- Alex Franklin, Siena

Second Team:
G- Jonathan Han, Fairfield

G- Harris Mansell, Rider
G- Frank Turner, Canisius
G- Marquis Sullivan, Loyola (Md.)
F- Gary Springer, Iona

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