The second of our two previews in the "32 In 32" series is a league we have been fortunate to cover extensively over the last three seasons, and will once again in the 2013-14 campaign. Last season's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference results saw an astounding seven teams finish the conference schedule at .500 or better, with the championship game between Iona and Manhattan being a matchup of the fourth and sixth seeds in the MAAC Tournament. This year, the MAAC welcomes Quinnipiac and Monmouth from the Northeast Conference; who we previewed this morning, and loses Loyola to the Patriot League, with the eleven-team league playing out as follows according to our preseason analysis:
1) Iona - On paper, the Gaels may not be a match for Manhattan, but the reigning MAAC champions proved last season that their overall depth is greater than their individual parts when they managed to emerge from a morass in which they lost six of seven games; each by three points or less, using that stretch as an impetus for their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, and it is not out of the realm of possibility to suggest that the Maroon and Gold will do it again. Last year, Iona lost Scott Machado and Mike Glover. This time around, it is Momo Jones and Taaj Ridley who have graduated, but Tim Cluess has once again reloaded to provide adequate support to senior guard Sean Armand, who could very well be the Player of the Year in the conference by the time all is said and done. Armand will get help from junior Tavon Sledge and Marshall expatriate Kelvin Amayo in the backcourt, while bruising junior forward David Laury is a walking double-double. The Gaels' trademark length on the wings is once again present in Tre Bowman, who had the game of his life in the MAAC championship, as well as junior college transfer Isaiah Williams and Rutgers castoff Mike Poole, who will provide leadership and battle experience from the Big East to bring the road to the field of 68 through New Rochelle as the intangibles for the Gaels will enable them to match up better than most of the nation.
3) Canisius - Not too far behind the top two are Jim Baron and the Golden Griffins, who can take a lot of people by surprise if Iona and Manhattan duel one another into defeat over the course of the season. Baron's son Billy, the Griffs' senior point guard who could very well be the preseason choice for MAAC Player of the Year, returns to lead Canisius on the heels of a first team all-conference honor during a season that ended in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Stetson transfer Chris Perez could have a David Laury-like impact on the team with his immediate eligibility, and will be a big help to Baron in the backcourt while brothers Jordan and Josiah Heath take care of business in the paint alongside burgeoning big man Chris Manhertz.
4) Quinnipiac - The first of two newcomers to the MAAC brings a physicality and hard-nosed rebounding attack unlike any other in their new league. Head coach Tom Moore will have the Bobcats in every game thanks to the intensity he has instilled in his players, honed to perfection during his time as an understudy to Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun at the University of Connecticut. Senior Ike Azotam and junior Ousmane Drame are the next best frontcourt tandem outside of Manhattan's aforementioned trio, and their battles with the Jaspers will not be for the weak at heart. In the backcourt, Zaid Hearst will make the motor run for a unit that welcomes Umar Shannon from former rival Saint Francis University, and hopes for increased production from Kendrick Ray and James Ford. Remember this name, though: Evan Conti. The junior from Bayside, who played his high school basketball at Holy Cross, fits the bill of the typical MAAC guard, and has been sitting on a breakout season since he arrived in Hamden. A gifted shooter who can knock anything down from almost anywhere on the court, don't be surprised to see Conti have several big games early and often for Quinnipiac this season, making the Bobcats' first season in the MAAC a successful one.
5) Siena - Every year, one team always comes up from the bottom of the standings to finish near the top, and with a new coach, no less. Two years ago, Manhattan engineered a fifteen-win turnaround to finish third in the MAAC in Steve Masiello's first season. Last year, Rider quietly finished second for Kevin Baggett in his first year. This season, our pick for that title is the Saints, with Jimmy Patsos having bolted Loyola for Loudonville to replace Mitch Buonaguro. Patsos' uptempo style has already made differences in several of his players during Siena's trip to Montreal last month, most notably shooting guard Rob Poole and freshman Marquis Wright, who will start at the point. Evan Hymes also returns, and should be ready to go for opening night after suffering a broken hand in Montreal. Up front, Siena may be somewhat undersized with Brett Bisping and Imoh Silas at the forward positions, but Patsos has made up for it with the signing of Lavon Long, who arrives in the capital region with mounds of hype and a game that will win him his share of fans sooner rather than later.
6) Rider - What the Broncs lack on offense, they make up for on the defensive end, a strategy that lifted Rider to a second-place finish in the regular season a year ago. Despite the loss of Jonathon Thompson, Kevin Baggett's team still returns two potential all-MAAC honorees in Anthony Myles and Daniel Stewart, the latter of whom can be a double-double per night player after averaging over seven rebounds per game last season. The key for the Broncs this season will be the transition of Zedric Sadler and Junior Fortunat from reserves to starters. If they can increase their offensive production enough, Rider may finish higher in the standings.
7) Marist - The Red Foxes welcome a new coach to Poughkeepsie after Jeff Bower was plucked from his former line of work in the NBA to replace Chuck Martin, and the former New Orleans Hornets coach and general manager has a deceptively strong roster that he is quietly building with the same professional tools he used around the likes of Chris Paul and David West. Led by 6-10 senior Adam Kemp, who is a triple-double threat when he gets into a shot blocking groove, Marist also has two swingmen in Jay Bowie and Chavaughn Lewis; he of the overtime buzzer-beater against Iona, that can step up and contribute at least fifteen points on any given night. Junior point guard Isaiah Morton may only stand 5-8, but after averaging nearly four assists per game last season, the New Jersey native is a dark horse candidate for all-MAAC honors this season.
8) Fairfield - Usually, the Stags are much further up in the standings, but this will be the biggest challenge for head coach Sydney Johnson since he replaced Ed Cooley two years ago. Gone are warrior shooting guard Derek Needham and floor general Desmond Wade, not to mention swingmen Colin Nickerson and Keith Matthews, leaving Fairfield extremely lean in the backcourt. Seton Hall transfer Sean Grennan and sophomore Justin Jenkins, who was praised last season by legendary Fairfield play-by-play voice and friend of the site Bob Heussler, will need to pick up the slack in more ways than one in order for the Stag front line to make their presence known. Joining sophomore Amadou Sidibe up front will be senior swingman Maurice Barrow and both Gilbert brothers, as 6-11 junior center Malcolm joins younger brother Marcus after transferring from Pittsburgh.
9) Niagara - The Purple Eagles join Siena and Marist in making a coaching change, as former St. John's assistant Chris Casey moves to Monteagle Ridge as the successor to Joe Mihalich, who replaced Mo Cassara at Hofstra in April. Anyone who argues that Mihalich took everyone with him to Hempstead is sorely mistaken, as Casey inherits a solid roster led by junior shooting guard Antoine Mason, whose older brother Anthony Jr. played at St. John's while Casey was an assistant to Norm Roberts. In addition to Mason, Marvin Jordan may just have the most lethal outside shot of anyone in the conference, and the two will be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Tahjere McCall. Up front, Casey welcomes a seasoned group to the Niagara interior, led by Monmouth expatriate Marcus Ware; who will play immediately as a graduate transfer, as well as former Rhode Island swingman Rayvon Harris and redshirt junior forward Joe Thomas.
10) Saint Peter's - One thing must be remembered when estimating a John Dunne team, and that is the fact that few can do as much with what is perceived to be so little. The Peacocks may still be far away from contention, but Dunne has built the foundation in the backcourt with freshman point guard Trevis Wyche, who should make an impact immediately alongside one of the most underrated players at his position in Desi Washington. In addition, Fairfield transfer Jamel Fields and senior Chris Burke give Saint Peter's its best guard depth in recent years. Up front, junior power forward Markese Tucker and junior college arrival Tyler Gaskins should ease the pressure on Marvin Dominique, who is eligible once again following his year in residence after transferring from Tom Pecora's program at Fordham.
11) Monmouth - The Hawks will not be in this position for long, as head coach King Rice has built a young roster with intentions of a long build toward success in the future. Towson transfer Deon Jones, who averaged ten points per game as a freshman, joins Andrew Nicholas as an impact player for Monmouth, while Tyrone O'Garro and Khalil Brown will provide a kind of athletic forward that the Hawks' opponents will have a hard time adjusting to at first. Rice does have one advantage, however, and that is size; in the form of 6-10 twin freshman towers Zach Tillman and Chris Brady, the latter of whom is a product of Harborfields High School on Long Island, notable for being the alma mater of Mariah Carey. Fellow newcomers Josh James and Justin Robinson will provide much-needed backcourt depth as well as Monmouth gets acclimated to their new league.